Monday, August 29, 2011


Happiness post, long overdue.
Previous post was entirely handled from my iPhone. I was able to easily download and use the appropriate apps. And I played with some editing features to mask out the background detritus and punch up some color.

Texas finally sent us some summer heat! Turns out that I'm not slow at entering a pool if I've been basking in the sun for a half hour in 99•F heat. And sunbathing is actually *doing something* even if it is remarkably like napping in the condo. I'm making vitamin D! And after four weekends of basking, my tan areas don't readily burn now. They either tan or freckle. And my freckles make me smile.

Recently renewed my gym training credits. Still cost a lot but not as much as it could have. I should be set for another year. I like not thinking at the gym; so much better for me to show up and do what I'm told. My other gym activity, the dancing, does make me think, but it's different thinking than I'm used to, being primarily about physical learning. This latest dance sequence took me three classes to get all the moves learned, rather than the usual two, but was quite satisfying. And cardio inducing.

Money Money Money

My brother cracks me up. In his current sales job, he has an assistant. He pretty much works all the time on weekdays. A couple weeks ago he wanted to take a day off and asked his assistant to handle everything that day. To avoid being *that boss* who starts taking off for golf and dumping the work on the assistant, he gave her a cash bonus. Then, he went insane.

He explained to me that the payoff had been delayed because the vault wasn't open at the bank. I wondered why he needed vault access - just how big was this one day bonus? Yeah, it is during one of his best quarters ever but c'mon.

Turns out he was looking for $500. In ones.
5 packs of 100 dollar bills

Then he labeled up a lunchbox.
lunch box with MONEY in marker on the side

Hrm... How to arrange?
hello Kitty lunchbox on pile of money

First arrangement is the classic flat stacks.
Two piles facing up in box

But my favorite is vertically stacked bills all in one row.
Lunchbox filled with ones stacked on edge

He says his assistant both loved and hated it - rightfully so because it is a little evil to give out 500 dollars in ones. But it's also hilarious. And the FedEx guy keeps asking if she's got her moneybox with her because he perpetually needs the change. I'm willing to bet this isn't a bonus she's ever likely to forget.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Trader Joe's Pasta Recipe

This tastes amazingly delicious for very little effort. Buy a hard avocado once a week, and 3-9 days later, you'll have a perfectly ripe avocado and a new hard avocado. Aside from that, everything else in this recipe can live nearly forever in your pantry or fridge. Asterisks are for notes at the end for my helpful hints.

Trader Joe's Pasta Recipe (all ingredients available at or speciality of TJ's)
Serves 1***, from the kitchen of Cranky Otter

TJ's Lemon Pepper Pappardelle - 1/4 package, boiled in salted water to desired doneness.
TJ's Grapeseed oil - 1 glug (t to T as desired)
TJ's Olive Tapenade, 1T. or Marinated Artichokes, 2-3 segments, chopped
Dorot frozen garlic cube
Avocado, 1/3*, chopped
TJ's pine nuts, 1-2T
TJ's shredded parmesan cheese**, small handful
salt and pepper to taste

Can be made in the pasta pot after boiling if one pot cooking is desired. Otherwise, while pasta is cooking, put a glug of oil in a shallow pan. Add the pine nuts and coat with oil. Add frozen garlic cube and stir to unfreeze. Add in the avocado and olive tapenade (or chopped artichoke). Stir until heated through and pasta is done. Drain pasta and toss with warm ingredients in pan. It's ok if some of the pasta water gets transferred - just cook until it boils off.

Transfer to plate and sprinkle with shredded parmesan**. Enjoy!

*Note 1:
To get 1/3 of an avocado, slice it like a mango: put the stem end up, place a finger over the stem, then slice down at the edge of the finger.
This leaves an easily refrigeratable portion with seed still in place. Doing this on either side slices off about a third on either side and leaves about a third surrounding the seed. Instead of having to whack at the seed with a butcher knife to remove it, after slicing off either side which exposes a little of the seed, merely slice out the stem with a shallow v cut, peel the middle section, and slice or peel it off the seed.

**Note 2:
Keep shredded cheese in the freezer; when needed for topping, it's then always at the ready. To have very hot food, add frozen cheese before removing from pan and keep covered for about 30 sec to heat it up. To make freshly cooked food the ideal temperature for immediate eating, toss the frozen cheese right on the serving. As it gets stirred in, the food cools to edible temperature as the cheese melts. I also use this trick with frozen peas or corn - but only one is left unheated if using all the options.

***Note 3
Easily scale this dish up to 4 servings (whole package of pasta) by roughly doubling the oil and nuts, tripling the olives or artichokes, using the whole avocado, and more handsfuls of cheese.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Cheap Shot

I finally got my giant flat-screen LCD HD TV hung up on the pivoting bracket. Switching TVs necessitated a new cable box and I decided to spend the $5/month extra fee to get the DVR capability. Now, like TiVo, I can record shows and watch them later, while fast forwarding through the boring bits. I've found that I'm more willing to try unknown shows if I can record them and check them out later. (Latest excuse for not blogging...)

In such a manner, I recorded the second episode of "Top Shot", which pits sharpshooters against each other (but not on opposite sides of the barrel) in various shooting contests: sharpshooting, speed shooting, varied weaponry, etc... It looked like an interesting way to see some entertaining "Old West Exhibition" style shooting and get an overview of modern weaponry. It turned out to be not only a lot of bullshit, but a lot of sexist bullshit. You want an example of how women are drummed out of boys-club experiences? Watch Top Shot. Scratch that; I can't recommend it.

Admittedly, I didn't see the first episode, I just know that it ended with one of the two women going home. I caught the second episode that ended with the second of the two women going home. If pressed, the producers could hardly have picked an elimination exercise more likely to get women kicked off. Apparently in the first episode, they did individual shooting and the top 8 got on "team blue" and the bottom 8 got on "team red". Then they pitted the teams against each other. The loosing team, individually votes in front of everyone who they want to kick off. The top two vote getters are pitted against each other in a shoot off. On the surface, it's fair. In practice? Anything but.

When you have 7 guys against 1 woman who are asked to pick their team, and BOTH teams give the lame "I don't think she's strong enough" excuse, that's blatant sexist bullshit. The lady I saw was deadly accurate when she shot, and was no faster or slower than any of the guys when doing the paltry obstacle course. You're not carrying 100 pounds through miles of quicksand folks, you're running 20 yards through dirt. Anyone, man, woman, girl, boy, in any reasonable shape would be "strong enough" to be competitive in these challenges.

I also have to admit I don't like elimination challenges that start by joining competitors into "teams", forcing a false dependence and comraderie that will have to be shattered as soon as the bonds are formed. I find it cruel rather than entertaining. I find that the people perceived as strangest are kicked off first independent of talent, then the strongest are drummed off when their threat level starts getting up, then the winner is the most conniving of those with the mediocre skills. I can tolerate the pair challenges in Project Runway or Design Star because the pairings only last one challenge and part of what they're screening for is the ability to work with difficult divas. Here, they're just looking for ways to torture the contestants and get off easy in setting up challenges.

Back to my complaints about Top Shot specifically. Admittedly, I didn't listen to most of the bullshit blather when the "team" discussed who they were going to kick off. But from watching the team interaction during the practices and challenges, I wouldn't have picked either of the ones they chose to drum off. For one, the woman was a SWAT instructor, current police sargeant, and former deployed Army. She has shot things, things that matter. They kept playing up how one of the guys was a former SEAL, but had she been a man, she'd have been ranked second. But being a woman, they majority good ol boys voted her off from the first shot. Frankly, I was stunned. Although, I could kind of see why they picked the guy - he was self taught and had no official shooting credentials, has awkward form and isn't particularly precise. He's an enthusiastic puppy who likes to shoot shit in the yard.

Now for the single and only reason that she's a woman, they've picked off as "weakest link" someone who would have been *celebrated* as among the most valuable had she been a man. And it was allowed. Because they didn't need to give good reasons, logical reasons, or fair reasons, they just had to have enough boys that thought women couldn't hack it and it only took 3. Not even a majority.

I wish I could say she blew through the competition and came out victorious but she did muck up the elimination challenge. In practice, she was at or near every bullseye, and clearly excelled in accuracy. She was informed that it would be a speed competition and given some pointers for being speedier. When it came down to it, she didn't take to the pointers and she didn't shoot fast enough. But looking into that specific challenge, I can see why. The challenge was a "friend/foe" shooting gallery, and she's spent the last 15+ years of her life learning that it's better not to shoot a foe than to shoot a friend. The point calculus due to her background is between "shoot any friend and you lose" and "a friend shot is 10X as bad as a foe shot". Given a choice between a bad shot and no shot, she won't shoot.

The shooting setup was blue and red lightbulbs on a rotating rack. There was 10 seconds for each of 6 rows of bulbs, and the contestants had to shoot as many red bulbs as possible, and they probably put in around 30. The scoring, however, was red=+1, blue= -1. I'm almost certain that her training made her so reluctant to shoot foes that she undershot significantly for fear of the -1, which wasn't that big a deal. To call in another TV analogy, in the charming "Suits", an excellent test taker is counseling a testing-phobic co-worker on test taking strategy. "You're so worried about the trick questions that you overthink the easy questions. Even if you miss all the trick questions, there aren't so many that losing them would cause you to do worse than you're doing now by overthinking the easy ones." It was exactly the same situation here. She was so concerned about not hitting the blue lights that she didn't hit the red ones either because she didn't shoot fast enough. It was painful. The only reason I think the contest in itself was fair is because the light bulbs were small enough to demand accuracy, and they were really at the limit of what quick-draw-boy was capable of, based on his practice sessions. But he was more flexible, focused on speed, and didn't let the fact that he hit "friend" targets slow him down.

It makes me wonder what the score would have been if "friend" targets were -10? With the scores from above, he still would have won. But if he had known that blue lights were -10 instead of -1, would have have made the same number of red shots? If she had had more time to digest the fact that "-1 for foe", the last instruction given before starting, is not a flat out lose, would she have shot faster? In the end, she choked and got eliminated, but by damn, she didn't hit any friendly blue lights. But had she been a man with the same qualifications, she never would have been in that elimination round to begin with.

Now how would this contest be less sexist? First, until women have about 30% representation, they're seen as "generic woman representing all women" rather than as individuals. I don't expect male dominated endeavors to solicit 50/50 men/women for shows like this, but I do expect them to make more than a token effort at recruiting enough women that they'll get a good selection for the final cut. They needed 5-6 women, at least, for the 16 final numbers to reduce the chance that all the women will be cut before they can make themselves known. Because the guys who voted the ladies off? Did not distinguish themselves in any way. Just by virtue of being a boy they were "proven" and not subjected to excess, skewed, unwarranted scrutiny and bullshit assumptions. Having at least 5-6 women means that at least one woman will make it to the top 50% - because all these shooters are good enough that the wins and loses are nothing more than a weighted random number generator and therefore mostly probabilistic - and by the third show, some guys are going to piss off some other guys sufficiently to overcome the "she doesn't have a dick" factor.

Were I to do this show, I would, as stated, do better recruiting of women so that the final field had enough women to be representative. Then, I would change how the eliminations were handled. Even keeping the team situation, I would make sure that no woman wound up alone against 7 guy "teammates". Further, the first 2-4 elimination challenges would be random draw - only the team could vote for one person with immunity to the draw. That way, the top vote getter would *not* be eliminated rather than the reverse. Either that, or have some way of scoring individuals within the team events and taking the lowest two scorers, and make sure those scores can be fairly obtained by both sexes. (Holding a rifle at arms length for several minutes, for instance, would not be a fair screen. Using a gun too small for one's hand might be...) After those first couple of eliminations, then they could switch to some other method, like voting for who goes, but not until they have a chance to assess the other people through enough actual challenges so that there's a chance that the /voters will be assessing skill and risk to themselves rather than on surface differences. I would make the first two challenges less physical, more about mental and shooting acuity, so that the assumption that women "won't be strong enough for the team" doesn't get a foothold in the thinking. Lastly, I'd spend a lot more time talking about guns, targets, ammo, and shots, and spend a lot less time on all the bullshit playground/MTV "reality" show bullying and pop psychology. These people are there to shoot, let them shoot. If I hadn't DVR'd this show, I'd never have even made it to the competition, it was that awful.

Interestingly, there weren't that many men of color, and one was the former Navy SEAL (now football coach) installed himself as "leader" of the blue "team". It pissed me off that he voted to shuffle off the woman, but he's a man's man all the way, so it's not surprising. I do kind of wonder how the black men will fare now that the women are gone. The excuse to get rid of this guy will be that he's an overbearing ass, which will be true, but he's game, into winning, and as good a shot as the rest, and I think he'll either be ousted because he's good and therefore a threat or because he's black and therefore different, but the underlying reason won't be deconfoundable. If one of the black guys makes it to the top 4, I'll be convinced that their color wasn't a factor. But since I'm never watching the show again, I'll never know.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

I Have a College Pal

Another reason for not blogging, which should be a reason *for* blogging is an absolute embarrassment of visiting friends.

A couple weekends ago, a friend flew through LAX on his way between South Korea and Boston. Being a good friend, I hauled his jet-lagged ass over to the open street vendor section of the X-Games and made him wander around in the heat. It was worth it for the "Shark Week" foam had and 3 samples of Loctite, along with my awesome record. Yes, I have and X-Games record. Ok, it's made of vinyl and has dripped paint spun on it, but I love it. In my defense, I bought him wine and food afterward.

The next day, other friends were in town. I'd flow to their wedding but haven't seen them since around the existence of their oldest child. She's now 5 (or maybe near 6) and has a younger brother. Cripes! We had a fun, low key time hanging out in Pasadena, his old stomping grounds from back before the urban renewal efforts. I hadn't noticed the pawn shop and adult store a ways down Colorado as being anything odd until he pointed out that they're the last of a dying breed in that part of town. Huh. Their kids were well behaved at dinner despite having a long day and being 3 hours time shifted, so we also had a good time. And wine. It was good wine, and it was good to see them doing their thing.

This last weekend, I spent a couple days up at Yosemite. It took about 3 hours longer to drive there than I'd expected, but I went anyway and was glad of it. I met up with a friend whose wedding I was actually in (chorus), but had only kept track of via her/their christmas updates to mutual friends. But she's on Facebook and now lives not far from my parents, so I saw them briefly in March and they invited me to hang with them at a cabin in Yosemite. Excuse me. The Cabin. It was an awesome Cabin. It had a spare cabin. Between The Cabin and the bunkhouse there were 5 bedrooms and two bunk areas and enough space in the common area. And enough space was needed because there were about a dozen adults and half again as many offspring. My friend and her hubby have 4.

I managed to squeak in just after midnight on thursday and bunk in the loft. We got up early on friday and rented rafts for cruising down the Merced river and seeing the big sights. (I need a less cumbersome way to upload pictures, or there would be some here.) The great thing about having kids along is that I can say "we swam in the river" without actually having to get in over my knees, myself. Because that is one frigid river. But it was great fun to raft it and get pictures of us kicking around in front of internationally beloved scenery.

To top that off, we spent a couple hours swimming in a nearby lake (in this case, I was full in the warmer water) and jumping on and off the bouncy diving rafts provided. The we cooked s'mores, took in the stars, played games, and generally had a very fine time. I tagged along the next day to see Bridal Veil Falls and the Tunnel View, then we split ways - them to the San Fran area and me to the Glacier Point overlook and Giant Sequoia grove before heading back to LA. I'm so glad I got to hang out with my friends and their gigantic extended family and have such a pleasant time.

And that I got to drive mostly in the dark when most of the traffic has gone home so I can cruise at my desired pace without someone blocking my way for no good reason. Yet again I made it up the grapevine without hardly any encouragement to my car at all. It's favorite thing to do is cruise fast up hill apparently. Even after I'd treated it to about 5 hours of switchbacks next to cliffs and wildfires and campers.

Next up I need to visit my grandma, and I've been trying to see a friend in Oregon but the air fares are kinda pricey. I'd also like to kick back over to Boston, but didn't get to go for work, so have to make other plans. Anyone coming to LA sometime soon, sing out. I have couch space (with real sheets) and like excuses to show my friends around.

[Title is the start of a Moxy Fruvous song, known to all Fruheads. Imagine I used two umlauts.]

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

I Shimmer on Horizons

Still working on the Thailand update, no longer willing to put it on the critical path to getting other blog entries out. It's been almost a month since my last drink post and I'm full of excuses. I'm feeling much better, but that means I'm doing other stuff. But not enough other stuff that shouldn't be tossing up blog posts especially since I've composed about 40 in my head.

This one is about gold. I just heard on the news that gold hit $1800/t.oz. They did mention that back in the early '80s, the then high $800 price would inflation adjust to $2400, so it's not an all time high as such, but it's damn close. It was around $300/t.oz when I started paying attention. It didn't do much for a while, but did trend steadily up. Shortly into Bush's second term, it angled up fairly sharply. Prices fell again after Obama's election, but then took off even more steeply than before. Last week, I think the slope up is higher than it has ever been.

People buy gold when they think their reserve currency isn't going to hold value. The US$ is the reserve currency of choice. Many countries also peg their currency to the dollar - their exchange rate changes as ours does. Only the fact that there doesn't seem to be a strong contender for runner up reserve currency (yet) makes me think we'll be able to stick it out and squeak through the rest of the recession without falling from the top of the heap. We've toppled lots already, it's just that we've taken everyone else out with us, for the most part, so the relative positions aren't that different. So what the high gold price says to me is that people are dumping dollars for bars. This is not good news. Anyone holding gold will be able to jump into a different currency.

Another point in our favor is that we're currently "too big to fail". The countries with money pegged to our currency would prefer we don't fail. At this time, China doesn't want the top currency slot as it makes their goods too expensive (and for a million reasons I don't know). But people buying up gold, and perhaps deciding not to track our currency is bad news for us.

I'm still not totally clear on the ramifications of countries "defaulting". Iceland's banking economy crashed, but people still live there, in houses, and go to work like they always did so how is that different from any other place with high unemployment in this economy? I can't quite wrap my mind around it. But what is clear to me is that when the US economy tanks, there's significant collateral damage. And we have bullies in congress willing to throw our economy in the toilet to avoid asking people with money to part with some of it. It's a line that I don't think has ever been crossed before - willing to risk default at all, regardless of the stakes or conditions. And it's a batshit crazy thing to do.

By proving that we've got batshit crazy folks holding our economy hostage, especially to avoid taxing wealthy folks, we may have hit the tipping point in whether or not people are willing to ride this bad economy out with us to the "not so much" side of the equation. But lacking better options, they buy gold and hope someone grows up and starts talking sense. We can argue all day about what wealthy is or isn't, but for me it's someone who has a steady income that is substantially more than they need, and enough to get through several minor and a few major disasters. If you're one car accident or bad cold away from financial ruin, you're not wealthy. And given the lack of health care coverage, even for many "covered" folks, more of us are in that situation than not so probably some people reading this are thinking "I would really rather not pay more taxes right now" and I'm thinking you're not who I'd be taxing.

As I understand it, most known civilizations fall when they've either consumed all their protective resources (trees on Easter Island and Haiti) or the rich get so rich that they no longer give a damn what the peasants think. The strongest civilizations have a middle class that is educated and economically well off (although everyone can't be "wealthy") and enough resources to care for the truly poor and unfortunate. What I didn't even really ponder much until recently is that with the size and relatively recent mining of resources, the US isn't "great" just because we're "free". It's because we have so many natural resources that we haven't destroyed all our options yet and had to pare back. Surely the democracy thing isn't nothing, but we can't keep treating mining the country and expecting more to be around the next corner. Mining isn't like harvesting. Some stuff won't grow back.

And this ramble has gone a bit off topic because I'm out of practice with blogging coherently. At any rate, I look at the gold price and I'm pretty afraid of what it says. The only thing that keeps that fear in check is that we're too big to fail right now. That and burying my head in romance novels. Which is where my head is going right now. Feel free to school me in the comments. To quote a favored blogger, Ta-Nahisi Coates, talk to me like I'm stupid.

[Quote from Shimmer by The Throwing Muses which includes a line about being dressed in shiny gold. I can listen to that song as often as 3 year olds can watch The Lion King video.]