Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Geek humor

A friend sent me to xkcd this week too look at the semi-log plot of the known universe from the surface of the earth, in comic form. Of course! Genius.

Here's another bit I find funny.

"Sometimes the best fun looks like boredom." Truth and highly correlated to websurfing.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Slow Coach

I've had 2 memorable occasions to witness the dramatic turnaround that can happen when a bad leader is replaced by a really good one. I'm hoping for a third, in our next Presidential election.

When I took an ill-advised turn in sales, one of our discussions during training was that roughly 15% of people would buy no matter what we said to them. They were committed to buy from the time they accepted the appointment. Roughly 15% of people weren't going to buy no matter what we said to them. It was our job to identify these people and stop wasting all our time as soon as possible. The remaining 70% in the middle were neither committed nor uncommitted. These were the people affected by our salesmanship, demeanor, and the ones we were pitching.

Somewhat like a bell curve, I've found this proportion, to some degree, to be in play in a lot of things. Some parents are extremely bad, some are extremely good, but roughly 70-80% are "normal". When they have "normal" kids all goes well. Some kids will turn out well regardless of parenting, some kids will turn out badly regardless of parenting. Kids in the middle will be either fine, great, or bad depending on which parents they get matched up with.

In sports, most teams get a perfectly reasonable coach. Some get exceptional coaches and go on to fame and fortune. Some reasonable coaches get exceptional players with similar results. Sometimes the great players overlap the great coaches and we talk about them for decades. Sometimes perfectly reasonable players get a rather bad coach. This happened to my high school volleyball team.

As a freshman, we shared the training gym with varsity players and watched some of their games. Our team consistently lost and our coach would berate the players publicly. Some cried. At games. They all played hard, but it just wasn't enough. The next year, we thankfully hired a new coach. It was evident from the first day of training that things were different this year. There was more structure - not just physical punishment training but physical training in court coverage patterns. We didn't just pass balls back and forth, we ALWAYS passed them to the setter's position (or rather, we tried; there's a reason I turned back to swimming). And we got shouted at, but with encouragement. If someone needed correction it was done without humiliation. The result? The varsity team, comprised mostly of the same players as the previous year with a couple freshman(!!) added, went to state and did respectably. The same players, the same drive, new coach. The coaches had a different vision and different priorities. The team went from last in league to one of the top.

In seventh grade, I escaped from band and joined the chorus. It was chaos. We gave one of the most embarrassing concerts ever suffered through by parents and singing kids of the generation. It was hard to pin down exactly what went wrong when the answer was everything. No one died or fell off bleachers, but that's the best you can say of it. The next year, we thankfully hired a new choir teacher. There was class discipline from day one. We learned to cut off at the same time. We learned how to form proper vowels and stay on pitch. We sang interesting and challenging music. The teacher formed 2 additional choruses and ran them well. Our school musicals were terrific. Exactly the same group of kids, entirely different outcome. I don't think I was the only kid to be flabbergasted by the difference. The parents were thrilled.

Sometimes people toss around the idea of how one guy, even in the top role, can so profoundly affect a country. Well, some call the effects of a really charismatic leader the "Cult of Personality". I posit that our current president has presided over a culture of fear - I think I'll call him a "fearfulist". Keeping the populace in a constant state of fear, not quite terror, enough to function at a subsistence level, but not relaxed enough to quit the fight/flight reaction and think long term. Keep presiding over crises that must be *attended to NOW!!!* and threaten anyone who doesn't like their proposed solution with being unpatriotic. While they are masterful at doing this particular manipulation, they seem a little slow on the uptake in just about every other aspect. Bullies can be clever and effective as bullies without being smart. I still haven't figured out how that works, but there it is. And without hesitation I would call Bush and Cheney and their administration one of the worst ever. Partly due to malfeasance and partly due to incompetence all of which they've made people too afraid to call them on.

That the populace goes along with this doesn't make them evil or dumb. It means that the leadership sucks. And roughly 15% on either side is unpersuadeable. But the 70% in the middle is critical, and needs, from my perspective, to think of how good things can be if we give up the fear.

What I'm hoping for in the next president is one who looks past the fear and into the future. Exactly the platform Obama proffers. I do honestly think that with the same populace and the same congress with a different leader at the helm we can completely turn the country around. Maybe not as dramatically as in the case of volleyball and choir, but we can start the process: stop being bullies; start being allies; maintain our infrastructure; strengthen our international standing. I've seen how one person can make the difference. Obama may not be Alexander the Macedonian or Peter the Great or even JFK. But he can rouse an American crowd like no one we've seen in decades. He's open to new ideas and he respects people with expertise and believes in science. Better, he believes in the American Dream. He's lived the American Dream. And unlike the current administration, doesn't want to pull up the ladder after him once he gets there, but wants to make sure the American Dream applies to everyone. And a coach who is guided by that notion, is one I want to put in charge.

Beer Bread Recipe

With the proviso that I've only tried recipes I think will be tasty, I have yet to try a bad recipe from the Williams-Sonoma Kitchen Library cookbooks. Even when I muck around with it a bit, like I did with this one. It's supposed to be a hearty rye bread but I had no rye. I still wanted it hearty and a bit dark and what I had on hand was some flax seed. Since flax is oily, I didn't do a full substitution for rye. It came out as a hearty bread, a little darker than white bread, and super moist. It makes 2 loaves about 14 oz/440g each. From Bread book ISBN 0-7835-0316-4 page 34 and as I've modified it is:

Scandinavian Beer Bread
WS IngredientsMy Ingredients
1 pkg active dry yeast (2.25t/11.25ml)scant 3T active dry yeast (~13-14ml)
3/4c warm water 110F/43Csame, also 6 fl oz/180ml
1c dark beer like Guiness warmed to 110F/43CSam's Oktoberfest, same vol also 8fl oz/250ml
1t saltsame, also 5ml
2c (6oz/185g) rye flour1/2c flax seed ground. Bought rough ground then reground finer in coffee grinder
3-3.5c unbleached bread flour (500g give or take)4-5c all purpose flour to touch
1/4c (2oz/60g) unsalted buttersame
1/4c (2 fl oz/60g) dark corn syrupsame
1 egg white, beaten for glazedidn't glaze
Mix it up
Heat up the water and test with thermometer or calibrated finger to not exceed 110F. Stir in yeast, let stand 5min, should start bubbling.
Mix together (I sift it) rye flour and 1c of bread flour OR the flax and 2c white flour. Stir in warm beer and yeast mixture. Cover and keep it warm for 1 hour.
Melt butter and add corn syrup. Low heat on stove recommended. Cool to 110F then add to yeast/flour mix.
Stir 1.5-2c flour into mix and start to knead. Add more flour if too sticky. They say to cover and let it rest for 30min before really getting into the big kneading set, but I didn't.
Knead by hand about 15 minutes adding flour as necessary to keep dough smooth and elastic. Or 10 min by machine. I knead my bread in the mixing bowl.
Clean out a bowl (say, the mixing bowl), and lightly grease it with oil or butter. Toss the dough ball around in it to also coat it. Cover and let rise until doubled, 60-75min.
Punch down dough and kneed for 2 minutes or so. Divide in half and form each piece into your favorite shape. Grease/flour pans or sheets and put the bread in/on. Cover with towel or plastic wrap and let rise until doubled, 45-60 min.
Preheat oven to 350F/180C during 2nd (3rd) rise. Optionally brush loaves with glaze and/or slit tops.
Bake until browned and loaves sound hollow when tapped on the bottoms, 35-40min. Wrap in kitchen towels to promote a soft crust and place on wire rack to cool.

I'm always tempted to do a bread tutorial whenever I pass along a recipe. Many people are intimidated by bread in these modern times, when in past generations nearly everyone made bread. There are varying degrees of success, sure, but it's hard to really mess it up. Your basic bread, like beer, needs 4 ingredients: flour, water, yeast, and salt. That's it. Anything else is to make it taste or feel or look a little different so is therefore optional to the whole concept of bread.

Here's how to not muck up your bread:
  • Don't kill the yeast with heat - hence the 110F repetition. Don't go over 115F and you'll be fine. If you can keep your finger in the water, it's probably fine.
  • Use fresh flour. The best bread I ever made was from the flour I bought from the King Arthur VT mill the day before. The worst was a bitter nasty thing from two year old flour and that failed french business last week. If your flour tastes bitter, get new flour.
  • Mix in flour gradually. 1/2 to 1 c at a time when liquidy, 1/4 when dry-ish. Don't mix in too much flour like I did with my failed french loaf. I didn't measure then mixed it all in at once, and got a texture resembling crumbly pie dough, which I knew was a problem. Had I added it in 1 c at a time instead of 4+ at once, I would have been fine. I eventually added enough extra water, and put in more yeast, but I must have mixed in something unclean, or the milk ingredient didn't like sitting out overnight, to put the final nail in the coffin.
  • Less flour is almost never a problem. I tend to knead dough until it starts to get past "smooth and elastic" and get sticky again, then stop to let it rise. If this happens too early in the kneading, add a 1/4c of flour and keep going.
  • If you're in a rush or the kitchen is chilly and drafty, heat the oven briefly then turn it off. Let the dough rise there where it's warmer.
  • Cover when rising. Use whatever is handy - clean towel, saran wrap, platter. Keeps the surface from drying out. But if it does, mist it with water and knead back in.
  • How do you know if it's doubled? It looks significantly bigger and poofier rather than just a little bigger. And if you poke it with a finger it doesn't rebound very fast. If you think it isn't rising, wait another 20-30 minutes. If you're right, mix in more yeast. Most likely, it just needed more time. Not all yeast rises at the same rate.
  • What if I let the second rise go on too long and the dough gets so distended it starts to deflate? No problem, just punch it back down, reform, then re-rise only use a timer this time.
  • Make sure your hands and nails are clean and your kneading surface is clean.
Go make good bread! If you're not up to beer bread, mix 1c warm water with a package of yeast. Let it stand for a few minutes while you sift 2c of flour with 1t of salt. (aha! all our bread ingredients already) Mix yeast water with flour and stir. Keep adding 0.25 to 0.5 c of flour until stirring is hard, then knead. Knead 'til smooth adding 0.25c flour when sticky. Rise for an hour. Punch down. Form into 2 loaves, rise for 45 minutes. Bake at 350F until it turns golden brown and starts to smell good. Easy peasy.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Show Me the Money

Frankly, I'm relieved that it looks like congress is growing a backbone and not letting stand the "oh just give me a check for 5% of the GDP to spend as I like with no oversight" concept.

$700 Billion/$300 Million Americans (including all those tax earning babies) is $2333.33 per person. Because, you know, I don't need that money for my own mortgage payment. Actually, that's about a month's worth of housing costs for me - M1, M2 and HOA fee. And since roughly half (I'm guessing) of the country isn't earning taxable money, that means it's 2 months of mortgage payment I'm being asked to allow the government to give to some someones who played fast and loose with.... my mortgage.

This administration is great at waiting uselessly on the sidelines until things spin out of control where they dive into action saying "We MUST do SOMETHING NOW!" As a process engineer, I'm really appalled this method of dealing with things. As a citizen, I see this happening again and want to scream. Isn't this how we got into the Iraq war? No planning, just "let's do SOMETHING NOW" so we look like are solving a problem. It's like putting the wrong guy in jail for murder. Now you've ruined an bystander's life and the murderer is still on the loose. But hey! You have a conviction so the populace is complacent and you get a promotion.

If the crisis is preventable, steps should be taken to curb it when it starts showing up as a major thing. Then, whether it snowballs due to lack of attention or just having some new bug in the works, a smallish, focused team of knowledgeable people need to assess the problem immediately, educate those with the authority to do something, and jointly institute containment. The containment buys time to dig into root cause and see what can be salvaged. Once the root cause is determined, steps should be put into procedures/policy to make the occurrence either impossible or much less likely in the future. And if it's only 'less likely', some detection method must be put in place.

I find it hard to believe that a $700 BILLION blank check is a viable "emergency containment" effort. Saying "we won't let you drown" in public is. But saying how? That requires a little more thought. If we really must throw public money down this rathole, I want some confirmation that it's being spent wisely, for the sole purpose of keeping our currency afloat. On one hand, if this $$ prevents my money from being worth half of what it is today, it might be a good idea. But if it goes to golden parachutes I will be livid. There must be oversight to make sure the money is being used for its intended purpose.

And that means this money had better not be used to fund more CEOs. I think all the top brass (CEOs, VPs, majority shareholders) in all corporations involved should lose their homes, quite frankly. While I'm tempted to toss them onto the street I'll allow that they need to live somewhere. Sell all their existing homes and move them into something that costs half as much as their current primary residences' appraised value, with no vacation homes or city/country homes. They get one per family. Any big toy collections? Get sold. Any and all stock options? Null and void. Any bonuses? Clearly not earned. If a regular person drove their industry into the ground, they'd lose everything. Why not these corporate execs who are losing not just their money, but mine too?

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Good Bread

Having a hard time coming up with a theme of something to post without my head exploding or just having the place fill with blather. I'm *this close* to being done with Cryptonomicon, which means I get my life back! There's a reason I don't usually read 900 page books. While in theory I would love to wallow around in the book-world for days, in reality I can't commit that kind of time to it on a regular basis. And I can't leave it and wander away because I might not come back. I thought I would get it all done yesterday, and came close. But there was a bread incident.

I was shocked to my toes a couple years ago when I heard Rachel Ray say "I'm not good at baking". What?!?!? Aren't you the star of 80 cooking shows??? Turns out that cooking and baking are two different categories of skills and supplies! Who knew? Not me. Of course now that I think of them as separate things, it makes kitchen organizing easier. Me? I like to bake. Mostly bread, sometimes cakes, cookies, or other funky things. I'm ok at cooking but miserable at meal planning and shopping to a list, so all the fun gets sucked out. But baking. I can do that.

This weekend, I volunteered to bake bread for a potluck. I got started a little later than I thought because I puttered around cleaning the bathroom, then had to take a shower so I wouldn't contaminate the baking, and it all took longer than I expected. Anyhoo, I'd picked out a few recipes the previous night: Scandinavian beer bread, Portugese corn bread, and DOE French bread. I had most of the correct ingredients on hand. I had to sub in some stuff for the French bread and didn't measure carefully (very bad in a baker) because I was in a rush (not a good enough excuse, I was lazy). The beer bread came out great and people loved it. The corn bread was fine but nothing to write home about. The french failure didn't even rise, though I knew I hadn't killed the yeast.

The french lump sat in the bowl during the party. It wasn't quite dead when I got home yet still hadn't risen appreciably, so I kneaded in a little more water and let it sit overnight. In the morning it had a bit of a sourdough smell to it, so I punched it down and made two loaves. After a couple HOURS of raising, they still were small and I decided just to get it over with. They baked up a little more solid than the average french bread. But that sour smell came out like stinky feet, and not in an "oooh, that's a tasty cheese" stink, but something even more foul. I tossed both loaves in the trash and took the trash outside immediate-l-y. Then I spent a fair portion of sunday washing everything in the kitchen that could possibly have been contaminated by the spores of whatever caused that stink. (Hopefully not much since I raised it covered then proofed it in the little oven.) Still and all, it was a lot of scrubbing. And less reading.

I did get over to a local art fair sunday too. By local, I mean a 5 minute walk, so there's no excuse not to go. The number of people selling pottery with faces was up to 3. ("Kim's pottery" in my sidebar is one of them.) So all in all, I baked bread, went to a party, made serious headway on my book, cleaned the kitchen, did all the laundry (found the missing Dreft stain remover in the bottom of the hamper!), and wandered through art. Not bad, not bad.

When I started this post, though, I was just going to do my happy things for today. But I suppose the Rachel Ray epiphany had been circling the brainpan for a while so it doesn't surprise me that it escaped now. Along with these happy things:
  • Today was the first of 3 days of training at work. Unlike many training classes, I'm learning useful things! I've been using JuMP software for a decade or better but never had formal training and never had enough time to poke around learning to be adept for the sake of it. What I've learned today will make my life so much easier and my data manipulation enough faster that I've already got my money's worth. You can pre-set the direction that the histograms go and not have to do it manually every time! I understand the journal feature now. Yay!

  • The date's birthday was today. Since I didn't find out until last night - and his parents took him out - I didn't really have anything for him but smooches, but he seemed ok with that. (Oh, yeah, and my tonsilitis cleared up. I'd say it happened on it's own - meaning no antibiotics - although I sure used a lot of listerine and nasal rinse this week to hasten its demise.)

  • I went to the grocery store and got in and out with minimal wandering around in a dazed stupor and actually found all the things on my list.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Hardly Working

Quick Political tidbits for the day. Much angst. Skip to the "---------" if you want just the happy updates.

Bush: One of the top headlines today is "Bush says he's working hard on economic turmoil", emphasis mine. Every time he says he's "working hard" on something, it means I'm probably trying not to snort Dr. Pepper out my nose while laughing hysterically. It means something has gone horribly, catastrophically wrong and he has only just noticed, when most of the country could have given him a head's up months in advance of that announcement. It means he's playing catch up. It means he's being utterly useless. Worse than useless. I am just counting the days to where I never have to hear of another absurd piece of garbage about him working hard while the rest of the country is bleeding through the ears.

Palin: At a town hall meeting someone "volunteered" a highly engineered softball question asking, in about 5X this many words, which skills she has that can be applied to foreign policy negotiations. She said she's "ready" and "enthusiastic". That's what you need in a band booster, not a VP. She couldn't volunteer even one skill to discuss in an overly friendly forum. Ok, clearly she's such an underqualified bully that she barely deserves discussing. What brought me to it is that SOMEONE needs to point out that she was asked for a skill and couldn't give one because the NPR summarizer failed to point out this obvious defect.

It's not reporting to just echo soundbytes; it's being lazy. It's not bashing to point out defects to a populace less entrenched in the lingo. It is the journalist's duty to analyze and interpret what is being said, to provide context for understanding. I have seen or heard very little of this is years, but it's starting to turn around. Playing sound bytes without analysis and calling it news is like throwing raw tomatoes at me and calling it serving marinara sauce.

McCain: Found out a couple things recently. No, I was never going to vote for him anyway, but here's why you shouldn't either. (1) One of his primary economic advisors was the same guy who degregulated the very things that are causing our economy to crash this year. This guy wrote up the bill and pushed it through congress 5 days before Christmas, knowing there would be little challenge and no time for assessment. No matter if McCain distances himself from him now, his fist is in the basic policy and strategy McCain is working from. (2) After graduating in the bottom 5 of his naval academy class, he crashed 5 planes. That sounds like a lot to me. No one but an admiral's son would be given a pilot slot for that lousy class rank nor kept it after several crashes. My friend's husband is a highly competent pilot and reviewed the available literature. His assessment is that one crash was not his fault, one could go either way, and the other three were almost certainly due to his lack of competence. Hardly the grand war hero. And as far as I understand it, other pilots are not fond of him.

While it's hard to say that a 72 year old man should be judged on his college record, part of his "appeal" is his war experience. But by all accounts, he was miserable at that. And while someone has to graduate at the bottom of the class, do we really want that person to be president? Lots of people grow up a lot after college. Do smarter things. I'm not convinced McCain is one of those people. He's still a thoughtless hothead who gets the people around him into hot water. Not someone I'd like at the helm in these trying times.

Biden: Sponsored the "Violence against Women" act that led do a reduction in battered and killed women, and in men killed by the women they batter by making police and legal response to domestic abuse more standardized. I hear it was overturned as unconstitutional, but it's a step in the right direction that shows he values the quality of women's lives. Unlike some other VP candidates we can now freely ignore.

Obama: Calm, cool, collected, and talking to every big name expert in economics. Go to the head of the class. Oh, wait, he kinda did that already. Maybe not valedictorian, but they don't put just any old schlub in charge of the Harvard Law Review. Competence makes a nice contrast to some other presidential candidate I could name.


Other stuff going on today unrelated to politics. All good, but too lengthy to waste space with bullets.

I woke up feeling like it was Friday. I got a text from handy boy - I can't really call him flake boy after all the lovely cabinet work - asking was it Friday yet? I got to work and the guy who was supposed to bring Friday breakfast? Brought it today! It was Hawaiian which means there was Spam. Ask most mainlanders if they eat spam and they say no. But give it to engineers and they will take it without question. I still have an actual Friday to get through, a technical document to write, and then have a class in advanced JuMP analytics Monday and Tuesday. But yay! Food! At least Friday is Talk like a Pirate day.

There are a couple of techs I work with. I like them and think they look cute together. I have been dying to ask if they're still dating, but figured it was none of my business. Turns out they're no longer dating - they got married this weekend! Yay! They're both very friendly, upbeat people. I think it'll work out for them.

I've been slogging, just slogging through a re-read of Cryptonomicon. I loved that book when I read it the first time. I'm seeing a lot of infodump in it now, and a lot of blather that doesn't move the story forward much. But there are enough bits of genius, interrelation and hilarity that it's all worthwhile. "Randy, how common is 'Waterhouse'"? I hit page 516 (of 900 some) and got to the "pig truck incident" involving the running theme of "enhancing shareholder value" and a jeepney's "secondary, ternary, and quaternary honking systems" that made me laugh until I cried. It took me 15 minutes to get to page 518. Shortly after that, a scene started in Bobby Shaftoe's POV and I was expecting the infodump and it went a completely different direction, following Shaftoe's addled train of thought. I think the problem I had with Quicksilver (aka "Craptonomicon") was that there was lots of the slogging without sufficient early payoff. I think I made it to page 200 and still had no idea where it was going or why I should read it. Snow Crash I loved from the first page.

I assembled my second to last cabinet of the current batch - the 12" base cabinet for the trash can. It's loverly but it was more fun and 3X faster to do the assembly with handy boy, so I'm going to wait until he's available before diving into the corner cabinet. I've submitted a request for a quote to a local sheet metal shop to resize my range hood. I'm hoping to hit up IKEA soon and order the final batch of cabinets. And see if I still like the sink I picked out at Lowes.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008


Or, preaching to the choir. But I can't not say it!

So while I'm thrilled to pieces that Obama is the front runner, it hardly matters. As long as he brings a different group of advisors and cabinet members and judicial appointees to the table, things will change and a vote for him will do the work we need it to do. Fortunately, Obama is a standup guy who tries to lead from the front, demanding competence rather than deference, which will be a nice change.

A good and a bad thing about voting for one of two people as president is that you really don't have to know a lot about them in order to pick. I can't enunciate all of Obama's energy plan or economic ideas. I do know that I respect some of the people he's consulted to contrive these plans, which is a good sign that he prefers experts to loyalists. But what this election comes down to is not between some guy you may or may not like and "the best of all possible options" (although I think Obama comes as close to that description as we're going to find in a human being). It is not voting for most of what one party promotes and some of what the other party promotes. It is this administration or not. It is voting for Thing One or Thing Two.

Four years ago, there were chants of "anyone but Bush" that somehow petered out with Kerry's nomination. He was a nice enough guy and an actual war hero who got his boat patrols out alive, but was a dry stick who couldn't rally the troops enmasse. He left people feeling, "meh" and let people forget that the choice wasn't about him, it was about him being "anyone but Bush". We lost sight of the fact that by not caring about Kerry, we were allowing Bush four more years to wreak his loyalist, lawless havoc on our nation. Now we know.

If you are undecided, look around. Do you have more purchasing power and disposable income now than you had 6 years ago? Do you feel safe from unreasoning fear? Do you still like to fly? How's your home equity? Did your bank close this year? Have you ever heard of a major bank closing in this generation for incompetence? How is your neighbor doing? Are there more abandoned homes in your neighborhood? How's your ability to travel overseas on a budget? Who do you think our international allies are? Are you afraid to show your American passport widely when abroad? Have you started using your dual citizen passport to make things easier? Have you had a major interstate fail for anything but an act of god? Are your health care costs going up or down? Has the ratio of income of the CEO you work for to your income increased or decreased? Do you feel pride when you look at our president? Our vice president? Our political prisoners?

If you feel safe and happy and prosperous and free of fear, and pride in our country's actions and think your fellow neighbor is doing as well as you and you think the path we are on is all sweetness and light and will somehow help us defeat the tactic of terrorism, the tool of the oppressed, then by all means vote for Thing Two.

But if you've had enough of the nonsense, vote Obama. Please.

Monday, September 15, 2008

About Halfway

Here's today's progress. Have to figure out level on my little base cabinet and stuff the drawers in, but aside from that and putting up the pulls, I'm done with the current batch - and got most stuff crammed back in. "That's not a cabinet, that's a garage!" the boy said of the over-fridge monster.

While wiping down the walls, I realized that there were patches of the wall that had never had paint on them and were absorbent. I thought that might be bad, so I got out some random paint I have no plans for and now there are yellow patches on the wall. They will not stay there, but they make the pictures look unfinished. He was very patient while I put up all that yellow paint. Only rolled his eyes once or twice.

And here it is all put together! Well, minus 4 drawers, but it's done enough there are no mission critical parts left before reloading.

kitchen cabinets with doors

So I reloaded. And it gets better - after working all day to finish up most of the cabinets we could install, the boy (Justin) helped me clean up! OMG! Unprecedented. Here's the cleaned up, restocked version.

kitchen cabinets with stuff inside

So a bit more work with the drawer stack (turns out I have a piece of marble slab just the right size to serve as a temporary countertop), and putting on my hardware, some paint and a bit of fiddling with the range hood and I'll be all set to start the last half!

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Kitchen Aide

So the boy keeps saying he'll help me with my cabinets. He's a little flaky about showing up for things so I haven't been holding my breath. But he got all fired up to help this weekend, took a half day today, and significant progress was made. It looks FANTASTIC already!!! I'm so exited! (I just can't hide it.)

Here's the starting point. Notice the canning pots and Zojirushi "gourmet d'expert" and various trays on top of the cabinets because there's no interior space in the kitchen that fits them. While I like the color enough I had it matched to get the living room neutral wall color, I'm not so keen on the 1983 styling. But mostly it's a problem of my stuff doesn't fit in them.

kitchen cabinets and clutter before

There's a narrow vertical cabinet that is a 1/4" too narrow for my lazy susan to fit in. I use that lazy grrl for my cooking oils and whatnot. It has been living in my pantry and baking supplies and candy sprinkles lived by the stove. Not handy. No sir. I've tried going without the spinner but I knock stuff over. I tried to find a smaller one, but then the fixed shelf was in the way too. Plus the doors are odd. On the left, even though it's more functional to have left hinges on both doors, it feels awkward every time I use it. I'm all for function, but this was just weird. See?

old kitchen cabinets with doors open and two adjacent left hinged doors in the corner

Prior to today, my dad and I assembled the 3 cabinet stack for the upper left corner. Yes, those drawers are sideways. See, I'm all for odd, but not awkward. I'm going to use those as pull out spice racks. If too many people think it's just nuts, I'll fill in the holes before I sell.
3 kitchen cabinets stacked. Middle cabinet has 8 wine cubbies and 2 sideways drawers.

Then dad and I did some tourist stuff and hung out. He patched some walls and did other projects that required time and being handy. Instead of putting cabinets up, I took him out to Brophy Brothers and he got the platter that would probably put me into anaphlactic shock, but looked excellent.

kitchen cabinets

Today, I decided to start at the corner where I already had cabinets built. We managed to pry the old cabinets off, but it was tricker than expected because we couldn't see all these nails from the front.

back of old kitchen cabinet with needle nails

The boy and I got going and realized we should probably start with the over-fridge cabinet as that would set the height for all the others. We assembled that cabinet in no time! Seriously, like the whole cabinet was together in the amount of time it took me to put the backs on those other cabinets. So we did the adjacent cabinet and that was superfast too. It probably helps that the boy has mad carpenter skilz since he used to be a cabinet maker. Handy :)

Then we had to take those cabinets down, but by then we knew some of the tricks with the nails, and here he is cutting away the several layers of paint that also didn't want to let go.

J detaching kitchen cabinets

Finally, success! All my upper cabinets have come down and are in the boy's truck to go away. We've started putting up the cleats that IKEA cabinets hang from. The one of the left we have to move up a little tomorrow...

bare kitchen wall with orange and white paint areas

Of course, the other side of the kitchen doesn't look nearly so neat. Most of the cabinet contents are in the living room, but some of them and tools and boxes of doors and all sorts of stuff make a rather alarming still life.

counter top covered with useful detritus

With all the demo and constructing and quite a bit of measuring and hoisting, the first two (2nd and 3rd of the kitchen, 1st two of this wall) cabinets are up! That over-fridge cabinet is a heavy monster. I can fit in it with the doors shut. Even better, so can the "gourmet d'expert" and my cookie serving trays. The deeper cabinet fits much better in the space and looks great. Due to a little learning curve, we had to mount it twice. And now, miracle of miracles, I can actually fit my cooking supplies next to the stove!

New kitchen cabinets open over fridge and near stove showing off supplies on lazy susan

And here are the cabinets with the doors shut to show them off. They're IKEA Adel White. I love the cherry too, but it was too dark for my cave. Also lets me buy white appliances. I was worried the tall cabinet would be too close to the fridge, but it's just perfect. Had I gone 12" instead of 15", I couldn't get it with glass, which I really wanted. You'll see why when I'm done. In the meantime, kudos to IKEA for engineering mostly straightforward pieces that are easier to put together correctly than not.

2 kitchen cabinets with doors shut

Ta Da! I'm not quite sure the picture captures just how great these are, what with the extra paint and tarps still in place, but if I waited, you might never see them. And the boy's got to come back for more, since I can't kiss him with the tonsillitis going on, and I think he deserves a big smooch. I took him to Brophy Bros too, but it's not quite the same.

Friday, September 12, 2008

A New Hope

I've mentioned before that I have non-restful sleep. Acupuncture can and does help, but less so recently with new practitioners. I have now had 2 sleep studies: eight years ago and eight weeks or so ago. The results from the most recent one were as frustrating as the first - slight airway obstruction, but nothing they'd really do anything about. I snore and get minor apnea on my back. 93% sleep efficiency. Which *I* would interpret to mean I should be 93% more rested than when I went to bed. And I did sleep pretty well and do OK the following day at work with the whole staying awake thing.

But in the ordinary way of things, I'm often as tired when I wake up as when I go to sleep. People say "get up, move around, get going". I do this for work but I get up late almost every day. And I spend a couple hours in a "brain fugue" that I try to hide with busywork. Or if I'm at home, I get up in the morning and need a 4 hour nap 2 hours later. I either miss most of the day or I'm dragging all day. I've tried exercise, I've tried not-exercise. Neither is significantly better. Certainly I don't feel 93% rested, pretty much ever.

Recently I had a week or more of lousy sleep. I use Breathe-Rights on my nose to increase my breathing volume capacity. I sleep on my side so I don't snore or have apnea episodes more than 1/hour. I treat my allergies and use sinus rinse to clear out post nasal drip. I do not have a TV in the bedroom. It's pretty dark. I do have a fan which provides white noise. My bed is comfortable. I've reset my thermostat for improved sleeping. So what's going on?

The nothing sleep result is frustrating because clearly SOMETHING is wrong. So what is it? In apnea, it can get worse when snoring stretches out your uvula or other soft tissues collapse to tighten the airway. I don't appear to have any collapsing tissue, but I DO have a super-extra-ginormous tonsil thanks to mono that wasn't diagnosed for weeks because the med-center at school flubbed the test. It was biopsied at some point to make sure it wasn't cancerous because it does hurt.

I also just looked over my lung function test from the Allergist. It's pretty good. Probably because I'm a singer and swimmer and extremely good at following breathing instructions. But it also mentions "slight airway obstruction". It's noticeable to the machine, but not considered terrible.

While talking with the pulmonologist the other day, I was getting fed up. And we started talking about the tonsil. It is big and ugly. I surrendered my adenoids (which I just found out is a single object) 30 years ago, but they left the tonsils. I'm starting to wonder if my tonsil is *just* big enough to cause breathing obstruction while I sleep. Not enough to wake me up, but enough to make my body struggle. Awake, I can do a manual override. Awake, I have superb diaphragm control. Perhaps not so much in sleep. That and the fact that it is chronically painful (low level pain - like 2-3 of 10 - and chronic pain interferes with sleep make me think that a tonsillectomy is in order.

TMI warning:
If you don't like gross bodily functions, skip next paragraph.

Other tonsil fun. My big tonsil has external caverns which catch crap which turns into unattractive yellow pearl like objects. I just found out these are called Tonsilloliths. I haven't had any in a while, but have had a bunch of slimy proto ones for the past couple days. Turns out this is tonsillitis according to wikipedia. I've been gargling with Listerine, since it's the chlorine bleach of the mouthwash family I keep it around for aggressive disinfection. Weirdly, though, I have actually been feeling really good this week, NOT sick and tired, so I don't know how much its affecting me aside from trouble swallowing and unattractive throat goop, which is thankfully not smelly.

Tonsillitis has focused my attention on the big tonsil though. I'm getting seduced by the idea of removing it. My other tonsil is small and by all accounts healthy. Maybe they can leave that one in. But I'm wondering if this minor surgery could actually help fix me.

Wikipedia also says this, "Hypertrophy of the tonsils can result in snoring, mouth breathing, disturbed sleep, and obstructive sleep apnea, during which the patient stops breathing and experiences a drop in the oxygen content in the bloodstream. A tonsillectomy can be curative."

It makes sense to me that such a minor tweak could make all the difference to my mysterious sleep disorder. It would be fabulous.


Update: How quickly I go from hopeful to furious. I've now done some websurfing on tonsils and sleep. On nearly every site it mentions "enlarged tonsils are often removed to improve sleep." You don't say.

I've had an enormously engorged, inflamed and chronically painful tonsil for roughly half my life. I've asked better than a half dozen doctors about it. I've seen better than 2 dozen doctors for sleep issues. There was even some overlap. Yet not ONE, until the pulmonologist allowed that a tonsil might constrict my airway, ever suggested, hinted at, or otherwise indicated that removing my giant tonsil could help me sleep. One told me he doesn't remove them unless they're cancerous and mine isn't. I lost half my 20s to sleep related problems, and roughly half of the last year I haven't been doing what I'd like due to exhaustion. This problem has made me ineligible for private disability insurance. And my problem could possibly be fixed with a little open mouthed surgery under local anesthesia????

I wonder if this was my sleep problem as a kid. I even had to be dragged out of bed to open Christmas gifts. I was late to elementary school. I don't know how much is lifelong and how much is post-mono. I've sprained my ankle getting out of bed in the morning. I'm chronically late to work so I always pick jobs with "flex" hours - not so flex that I can be nocturnal though. I had 2 weeks of restful sleep after a successful hernia repair then reverted to normal after the nerves developed neuropathic pain. (contraindicating a tonsil problem, true). It's the only two weeks in my entire life I woke up before my alarm clock and stayed awake.

On one hand, fixing the problem would be thrilling. On the other hand, I have suffered grievously for years. To find out that all my doctors are so maddeningly incurious about sleep and dismissive of tonsils that it never occurred to any single one of them to mention it to me, when it is all over the web, is a little more than I can take in right now. I think that if it works, I will write to every health care provider I can remember and let them know. And try not to call them a dismissive, incompetent ass. Then again, like many other things, it might not work. Or I might need another hernia repair. Or...

Thursday, September 11, 2008


"They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety."
Ben Franklin

I could not think how to say this, but retired Navy SEAL Tom Rancich could.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Global Weirding

There's been a political brouhaha on the book club. And as usual, someone explains why someone else's foolish ideas are not, in fact, pure and shining gold, and those debunked people raise a hue and cry about being treated unfairly, however neutrally expressed. Naturally, these are the same people who will bash the heck out of the people they disagree with and do it with a smile. Pointing out where the government misleads people makes the squawkers' question someone's patriotism and the patriotism of their sources, right along with the GOP party line. Whereas someone from the non-GOP side is far more likely to say, "I see your opinion and I disagree." I haven't really been taken to task personally during this go round, but I've gotten better about not getting baited.

Not everyone is perfectly considerate every time, but by and large (except for the usual suspects) this last round has shown pretty good behavior. And remarkably coherent arguments. Still, there are people who just don't want to see politics on the book club and while I can't blame them, I honestly believe another 4 years of this party in power will destroy our country in a way we can't reverse in a decade. I think the way it stands now, we have a chance. So we can't afford to stay silent ANYWHERE.

Partly, considering all I want to say, I've been pretty restrained. This has led to all my energy being tied up in, to borrow a phrase from Sarah F., getting "batshit insane with rage" over the current election and soundbytes, that the GOP is getting any positive airplay at all. Since my blog here is a place for me to defuse the brainpan, here's some of what I want to say. It would be more coherent if there wasn't so much screaming in my head.

President Bush and Vice President Cheney and their staffs and advisors (where they can be included) from the past 8 years should be:
  1. Impeached for treason. The leak on Valerie Plame came from the top. It didn't just ruin a woman's career. It ruined an entire CIA information network. And I bet anyone looking on started looking hard at anyone she ever spoke with and probably quite a few of them ended up dead. Does this make people want to help the CIA in the future, knowing that the president with turn traitor and turn on you? Not so much.

  2. Impeached for actively working to subvert the constitution. It's breaking the law to wiretap without warrants. They knew it then, they know it now, and yet they still argue that it's ok. How does it make me safer to remove my constitutional protections against overreaching government authority getting out of hand? It doesn't.

  3. Tried for war crimes. If we can't get them for starting a war on false pretexts and spurious, even disproved, data that left about a million people in that country dead, we should get them for breaking faith with the Geneva convention and using torture and special rendition and indefinite imprisonment.
No, I don't think I'm overstating the case. Turning in a CIA operative is one of the definitions of treason. The President swears to uphold the constitution. That's his/her primary job. Anything else is secondary. Yet there's been none of that. And waltzing in to a sovereign country to "avenge" a terrorist attack perpetuated by someone who has as much to do with the country's leader as Bill O'Reilly has with Michael Moore. Which is to say nothing - they were enemies. Which doesn't even get to where they appointed unqualified people with know knowledge of the middle east in general or Ira.q in particular to deal with the aftermath.

It just makes my stomach turn to think that people think it might be a good idea to give this current party another chance to "work things out". Especially seeing McCain toeing the party line on everything, including torture. Growing up, studying civics, I always thought 4 years could never get bad enough to wait out. As an adult, I've had the opposite proved. This party needs to be overturned with all possible haste. And lo and behold, we not only have someone we can use to vote against them, we can honestly feel good about voting FOR Obama. He'll bring in a fresh look with new advisors who are technically savvy, well educated people. Even if he does nothing but get the current appointees out of the way, he will be a success. But I do expect and hope for greater change. For the better.

Despite the simmering ire, there were good things today:
  • I handed off my SWE secretary duties and archives to the new secretary! Done, done done!

  • NPR this morning had a lady on who is writing to people at nursing homes. She pointed out that the generation in assisted living was a big one for letter writing. I realized that while I can't call one of my grandma's anymore, I can write letters. So I did. I sent the other one her 92nd birthday card.

  • NPR this evening has a WONDERFUL podcast on energy and oil and why the republican convention's chant of "drill baby drill" is not only ridiculous but backward and stupid. (We knew that.) He talks a lot about how our senators dithering on or voting against alternative energy funding is sending quality engineering jobs and patents and innovative technology overseas to Germany, Japan, and Denmark. He also talks about how government should be used to reward good and punish bad behavior and has great ideas which can be implemented. Please give it a listen. If you like it and the link is wonky, it's Tom Friedman on Fresh Air.

P.S. If this blog goes silent after this posting, it's because it is no longer a free country where we can disagree with the president with impunity.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Double Standards

For anyone who gives "liberals" like me crap about calling out lies and mudslinging and bullshit as lies, mudslinging, and bullshit, this is why I bother. That these people can keep a straight face when they flip flop to this degree astounds me.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Innovation Collaboration

I've been reading Technology Review. One of the problem with reading magazines is I get all these great notions about how the world works and how I could make it better that I have little hope of ever acting on, which can be depressing. Especially when the issue is has the annual list of "Top 35 Innovators Under 35" and I just turned 36 and haven't made a killing at anything or... well, I'd say "brought something new and cool to market". But I guess that's not quite true. I used to make sensors for airbags that are now in the Wii-mote and they were novel, useful, and innovative. They weren't my idea, but I was a small part of the team that made it happen.

One of the things about the world is that no one does anything all on their own. At least not anything good. The best tattoos are a collaboration between the artist and the canvas who commissioned the work. The best and worst thing about glass for me is working in a team, relying on others' skills to complete a project successfully. I can blow some glass on my own, but I almost always feel better about stuff I made collaboratively.

At work, we have photo, etch, metals, dielectric and implant engineers. I take care of sputtered metals, another engineer takes care of evaporated metals. I'm developing a new process that is not working as smoothly as I expected. And while my role in making it happen is imperative, if I get hit by a bus, someone else will eventually be able to solve this problem. So I'm important, but not essential.

I think I'd like to see myself doing something where I feel more essential. I keep thinking I should have a bigger role in creating something in order to feel successful. Yet on a day to day basis, I want to be inessential enough to be able to take vacations and naps. And I don't send out email updates about glass. I don't know how to imagine a life where I'm the driver behind a grand scheme because I'm not good at organizing people (I should stop repeating that to myself, I know, I am working on the skills) and my imagination in that regard - how do I imagine a day at work? - is lacking. On the other hand, I can pay my bills, take vacations, I have friends, I eat well, I could exercise more, and blogger lets me keep my thoughts here for free. All ways I define success and happiness.

In the meantime, I have thoughts I think are important. I'll just leave them here so I don't lose track.
  • Why don't we harness the heat in a car interior to charge batteries? The vast majority of cars drive in the morning and at night and sit idle in the sun all day. Even in northernish lattitudes, the inside of the car gets hotter than the surrounding area. Even in dim sun there are temperature differentials. Why not install a thermoelectric converter that just chugs along all day powering up your car batteries from this heat? This wouldn't provide enough energy during the drive - use it on a hybrid or to supplement a plug in car. But if it could significantly offset the amount of gas or power plant fuel needed, and happens when you're not around, that's all to the good.
  • I just read a book that had all sorts of fun turns of phrase in it. I would love to use one of the scanner pens to highlight quotes, but I'm not going to sit near my computer to do it and the only wireless one I saw was all excited about copying whole pages. NO!!! I just want 4 or 12 words at a time. And I want it to look up the ISBN so the quote can be saved by book/author/page, time/date and tagged as a "colorful turn of phrase", "fancy idea", "musing on the nature of life", "idea for a date", etc...
  • I would like some of my webstuff to be in different frames, but I can't handle the constant scrolling. I'd like to shrink most of my toolbars and replace them with a IM window, a bookmark set. A list of topics to explore when bored. A notepad to put the "TBR" links that I don't want to bookmark exactly, but don't want to lose yet either. (Actually, this might be my big idea here - the TBR bookmarks - although they'd probably all be obsolete before I checked them out.) But I would want all this stuff to be peripheral to the main screen while still having a presence without being a chaotic presence.
  • It would be kinda cool to have my email be in a message board format where I can "expand all" so I don't have to leave windows and return, but scan for stuff I want to see and move on. If I could tag the messages without waiting for anything to "take" but the typing/clicking, then set up rules for messages AFTER I've read them, rather than before that would move the messages to relevant folders, that would be awesome. Some email is just chatting, some is archival (not much), some I want to hang on to for weeks but not years. Or I want to save a snippet, not the entirety, without losing the source/time/date or having to create a whole new fileset that I then have to organize.
If you guys have any ideas about things that would fix your day that you'll probably never do yourself, go ahead and post . If I ever make a fortune on it, I'll treat you to a nice dinner.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Talk Fast

I've been channel surfing today and reading internet news. Turns out I have a lot more respect for Pam Anderson than Sarah Palin. Whenever Pam speaks, she speaks quickly with a sharp wit. And as near as I can tell she hasn't gotten where she's at by putting down or restricting the choices of other women.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008


I went shopping for undies and bras today. Since I got laundry in the condo, I'm no longer on the "buy new instead of rounding up quarters for laundry" plan. And I'm running out of good underwear. I'm rather down to the stuff I set aside because it fits weird or is plain and boring or just plain ugly. Mostly, I like to wear nice undies. But they've been having some issues. Like the red ones, so:

tangled laundry

So I need new ones. Generally, I like the fit of the Lane Bryant ones, and they tend to be flirty, but they left the local mall recently so I'm outta luck there. Today, because I parked near there and they sell it, I tried my luck in at Macy's. I hope to tell you, I've never seen such a collection of granny panties before in my whole life. But they did have about 3 or 4 dozen racks of bras. I asked the salesladies for help finding my size, which I'm convinced is the bra equivalent of the collosal squid. I would say the unicorn, except that they were able to find me 4 bras. Ok, 3 different styles one of which came in two colors. Of dozens and dozens and dozens of styles, they had 3 in a 40B.

Thankfully, another plus sized shop opened up, but despite being named "Torrid" their underwear selection was way more paltry and a lot less sexy than Lane Bryant. I did get three pair there, one of which has panda faces on it. I vetoed the biker style skulls or the white with dangly charms. But that means I now have 3 pair of cute cotton panties instead of 3 pair of flirty, silky panties. I asked about my bra size and was assured they carried it, but they only had a couple in stock. DDDs they had all over the place - once you get to 40 apparently you're expected to have a rack and a half - but once again the Bs were scarce.

So I'm done with the mall. I'm just going to head back to Mecca after work this week. I don't know who made the decision that Target is going to carry 40B bras and sexy undies in XL, but I love them for it.