Suggestion–

Since I'm posting here but very rarely and spending most of my online time either blogging over at AmericaBlog or working or whatever, the recommendation for reaching me is to use the contact form on this site, or else email me directly if you happen to know my address. (Ain't gonna post it here though, because I don't want the 'bots to harvest it.)

Posted in Just stuff | Comments Off

So…

Anyway, I'm blogging over on AmericaBlog.com these days.

Much more enjoyable to have hundreds, if not thousands of readers.

Posted in Just stuff | 25 Comments

Boston bombing

Open message to the perpetrators: I don't know who you are or what your cause might be or what you think your justifications for your act of horrific violence might have been. I don't care. Nobody cares. You will never win because there are more good people than there are of you.

Want some evidence? Watch the videos and see how many people run toward the explosions, to help the wounded.

One thing I do know: There is a special place in Hell waiting for you. You are a monster.

Posted in Commentary, Editorial, News | Comments Off

9 years and counting: Opportunity

I just saw in the news how the Opportunity rover on Mars just entered into its 10th year of operation, with what its NASA operators say is still remarkably good electronic and mechanical health.

That's 108 months. Both it and it's twin rover, Spirit (which sadly stopped operating in March 2010) were expected to survive only for a three month mission. It was thought both would become covered with dust during the Martian winter and run out of juice — but they didn't.

To do the math for ya, Opportunity has lasted 36 times longer than its original mission. And to put that in perspective, given an average life expectancy for Americans born recently of 78 years, that'd be the equivalent of surviving 2808 years — and still being reasonably healthy.

We've definitely gotten our science-dollars worth out of those little rovers.

Posted in News | 1 Comment

Oh yeah, I forgot to mention…

…that we've moved, and thus the little weather widget in the right-side column now reports from our new weather station location in Tijeras, NM.

We're both really, really hoping this is the last relocation for a very long time.

Posted in Life in New Mexico | Comments Off

A few things…

First of all, gonna… well, not exactly eat crow, but issue a correction.

I did, in fact, get Windows 8 Pro and installed it on my system, and I only find it about 33% sucky. Best fix of all was to add Start8 from Stardock, which I was able to get free because I subscribe to their OpenDesktop program. It does feel a little bit faster, but I wouldn't say the difference is huge, especially since I already had SSD acceleration on my system drive. Why did I go for it? The price. Microsoft was offering the upgrade to Win8 Pro for just $40 and I couldn't pass it up, not when the usual upgrade price will go up to around $130 (system builder DVD) to nearly $300 (full retail version) after the first of the year. (Guessing based on Win 7 Pro pricing.)

Start8 is a lifesaver, by the way, and between it and Tweak8, I barely know that the horrible Metro/Modern UI even exists. My system boots up straight to the desktop, no muss, no unlocking, and most of all, the Windows keys on my keyboard bring up the traditional Start menu.

I can hardly wait until Stardock comes out with a Win 8 compatible version of WindowBlinds, a UI customization program that lets you 'skin' your windows however you like. I really, really dislike how Microsquishy made it all but impossible (for now) to truly customize the look and feel of the desktop.

Second item: We hateses iTunes 11.0. Loaded it up, then couldn't find anything. Finally got the sidebar and status bar re-enabled. But then they dumped the dynamic playlists in favor of their new "Playing Next" feature. With 10.7, if I shuffle a playlist, I can see right there on the screen what's coming next. For 11.0? I have to go click on little icon on the UI, which'll show the list, but it's not persistent. I also didn't realize that in fact I do use the old 'coverflow' feature — and Apple dumped that, too. Nothing to replace it; it's just gone. Meanwhile, the ONLY place in the entire display that consistently shows what is currently playing is at the top of the screen, in the little player area. The browse lists don't update or shift to the currently playing song, overall making the new iTunes LESS usable, informative, and dynamic than the previous version. So I downgraded to 10.7, restored the library, and turned off automatic updates. Maybe I'll take a look again in a few months or so, see if Apple has relented at all on the klunkiness of the design.

Third item: Damn Mozilla…and thank you, Mozilla, for 'End of Lifing' Thunderbird, the open-source mail application with which I've had a longstanding love/hate relationship. Early on, it was the perfect replacement (for me anyway) for Microsoft Outlook. To my thinking, it was also a hell of a lot safer because it didn't store everything in a single humongous mail file. But over the years, they've broken more things than they fixed, and added UI elements and features that made it less usable. They were also fast-tracking releases over the previous couple of years — and this had the extra effect of constantly causing add-ons to be declared incompatible. Adding new accounts became a nightmare. And apparently not long ago, Mozilla announced it was ending development. To be sure, Thunderbird still works, but in addition to no new development, this also means the existing problems and bugs are likely not to be fixed. This latest release (17.0) broke my news feeds — now none of them will do anything but load the full web page when what I want is summaries.

Anyway, long story short, I decided to give Postbox a try — and I mostly like it. True, I've had to lose a few add-on features, but on the other hand, it's fast and seems really stable. Plus its interface is sufficiently like T-bird (has some of the core code), it's not like it's a complete shock to use. Nice thing is they've been dropping the price like crazy — used to be $30/license, now during the holidays it's only $7.

Posted in Reviews, Technology | 4 Comments

Windows 8…

These are just my opinions here, but I'm feeling a bit of deja vu here regarding Windows 8 and the new Microsoft Surface tablets.

The Surface reminds me of the Zune, which was a product line intended to compete directly with iTunes and the iPod. It made a bit of a splash, but never really caught on. Thing is, the Surface costs essentially the same as an iPad, and even though in fair disclosure I do not especially like Apple computing products, I think Apple's iOS user interface is way, way, WAY more usable than the fluorescent-pastel atrocity which is Windows 'Modern' (renamed from 'Metro' probably because of all the reviews out there from people saying they hate it).

And Windows 8 itself? Maybe it's quicker than Windows 7, but honestly, with an Intel SSD boost for my main hard drive, my boot time is only about 20 seconds anyway — and I have a fully customizeable UI that doesn't make my eyes want to bleed every time I look at it.

As I mentioned in another post, I beta tested Office 365, the successor to Office 2010 — and I hated it. All the visual cues and sharp contrast I was used to in Office 2010 (and 2007 and 2003) were gone, replaced with a washed-out low-contrast white-gray windowed interface that literally added time to my ability to locate frequently used functions.

Here's the thing that Apple recognized that Microsoft seems utterly oblivious about: Desktop/laptop work and touchscreen use are different. This should translate into different UI designs — which Apple has done and Microsoft has chosen to reject.

People working with a traditional computer and doing more than one thing at a time actually like and prefer multiple windows and a UI that makes it easy to locate and use frequently accessed applications and functions. There's lots more screen real estate available and a good UI will take advantage of it — especially for people with multiple monitors. You can take the icons and give them unique, identifiable shapes and labels.

Those using tablets have different needs and are usually doing just one thing at a time. There, if not for the inherent ugliness of color choices and user-antagonistic decision to make all the Metro 'tiles' look pretty much the same, the Win8 UI almost makes sense. But as others have already noted, there is much more you have to remember, such as where the hot-spots are on the screen so you can access functions.

Once more: So not an iPad fan here. I don't even own one. But I have friends who do own them, have had a chance to play with an iPad for several hours and generally liked the experience. My main barrier to entry is the expense and the fact I'd have to spend even more to come close to matching the application software base I've built up over the years for my Windows desktop systems.

While I don't think Windows 8 will be the disaster Microsoft BOB was, I do believe the comparisons with Vista are inevitable — only in this case, instead of Vista's well-documented functionality flaws, it's the human interaction and usability factors. Just as one anecdotal point of data, when Win 7 was coming out, I immediately began upgrading my Vista systems to it.

I have no such plan for Win 8.

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My summer project – finally done

Back when we were living in the Santa Cruz mountains of California, one winter there was a horrifically bad wind/rainstorm. Even from the house, we could hear loud crashes from down on our 10 acre plot of mixed oak, madrone, and 2nd-growth redwoods.

It was often my habit to go hiking in those woods and I'd even improved some game trails into decent walking trails. Down at the lower edge of our property, I found what had happened during that storm: A large stand of mature second-growth redwoods had been undermined by water and the wind took them down, one after the other. A giant's pile of pick-up sticks.

We had those downed trees turned into serviceable lumber, decent redwood being not that easy to get. Sold off a lot of it. However, in my scouting, I found something else on our land.

An old-growth log, no doubt from a tree that had gone down at least 20 or 30 years before we bought the place. It looked like it had been hit by lightning, and then fell over. Much of the trunk was rotten and unusable after that long just laying there in the woods. But some of it was still good — and if second growth redwood is expensive these days, old growth is astronomically priced. We had some milled into planks, and some into raw slabs, intending eventually to use them for furniture.

Life intervened, we ended up selling the house and land, and couldn't take all of that lumber with us. But we took a lot of the best, and picked four of the best slabs we could find among the dozen or so we had cut, and stuck them into storage along with rest of our belongings, as we then spent three years in India.

Coming back home, we hauled those heavy slabs from rental house to rental house, and this summer, Stephanie finally goaded me into doing what I'd said I wanted to do all along: Turn one of those slabs into a desk for myself. She'd already built me the simple but very functional fir trestle-style base, but until this past week, all I had on it was this horrible Ikea plastic-laminated table-top. It was sturdy and functional, but the years hadn't been kind and chips were starting to come off it.

Months ago, Stephanie discovered how to build us a slab-leveling device, using boxes and sliders and our router with a special bit. After that, it was in my hands as I figured out how to properly sand this unusual old-growth redwood, now trimmed and shaped. The first thing I had to do was patch the various flaws and insect holes any piece of wood will have. Then came the sanding, first with a belt sander, then an orbital, and finally with wooden block. In places, this type of redwood is soft, but on the grain it's hard, so my initial efforts were very uneven. Eventually I got it mostly sorted out.

Then came experiments with various mixtures of Tung oil, boiled linseed, mineral spirits (for thinning and control), and oil-based polyurethane. The oils were to help bring out the grain color and texture, and to give the wood a small degree of sealing and protection. The poly, however, was necessary to turn it into a durable but attractive desk that wouldn't scratch or gouge easily. In one memorable mistake, I completely screwed up the finish and had to sand it all off to try again. On the plus side, I was able to get the top side to be more evenly flat.

I applied the finish with foam brushes, and the project being what it is, there are visible imperfections. On the other hand, it still looks pretty darned good for my first effort in furniture finishing, and I think the initial Tung/linseed oil treatments did a fantastic job of bringing out the grain highlights, including visible flame-patterns. The most amazing part to me, as I sit here and look at it, is it's a single piece of wood. No laminate, no separate pieces glued together as is common in furniture-making. One giant desktop slab.

Maybe someday I'll take another stab at refinishing it, but that'll only be if/when we get a proper compressor-driven spray system set up at our next place. So — here's a couple pictures. The desk itself is about 72" long and 33" wide, although only the side and front are rectangular; the back is slightly curved in two spots to show off a couple of knots I just didn't have the heart to take out.  You can kind of see them in the photos, but they're not super obvious.

The first picture is just the desktop, to show off the gorgeous redwood grain. The other shows my computer set-up. The photo credit, by the way, for the graphic being shown on my dual-screen rig is by Ryan Bliss, of DigitalBlasphemy.com. I simply cannot recommend his work highly enough.


Posted in Just stuff, Life in New Mexico | 4 Comments

Perfect Paneer

While living over in India, my spouse and I first learned of paneer, and grew to love it. Essentially, it's close to cottage cheese, except with all the liquid removed and the resulting curds often pressed into a more solid form.

Making paneer is ridiculously easy, and basic paneer requires nothing more than milk, lemon juice or white vinegar, normal kitchen equipment, and some time.

The following recipe makes one pound, which is plenty for a 4 serving meal such as stir-fried vegetables or fried rice with paneer.

Ingredients:

  • 1 gallon milk (2% okay, whole or raw is better)
  • 1/3 cup lemon juice (can substitute white vinegar) mixed with 1 cup water
  • 1 tbsp flour (any kind)

Options:

  • Spices are optional and limited only by your tastes and imagination; plain paneer is still yummy anyway
  • Same with minced veggies such as chiles, onion, garlic, etc.
  • For the lactose intolerant and/or vegans, it is possible to make this with high fat soy milk (4-5g/serving), but essentially you are just making tofu.

Notes:

  • Yes, this can be done as a 1/2 gallon batch, too. Just cut the lemon juice (or vinegar) and flour in half, too
  • If you want richer paneer (and more of it), you can fortify the milk fats by adding a pint of heavy cream or up to a quart of half & half, but be aware the mixture will have a greater tendency to foam up as soon as it reaches boiling temperature, so you have to watch more closely.

Equipment:

  • One large pot big enough to hold all the milk at once. I use a heavy non-stick stock-pot.
  • Colander and either muslin cloth or several folds of cheesecloth (I prefer muslin, easier to work with and paneer doesn't stick to it as much).
  • Large capacity food processor with a dough blade

Heat the milk over medium heat stirring very frequently. Don't let the milk burn or scorch. A decent food thermometer can be a handy way to track the temperature as it approaches boiling.

As soon as the milk begins to boil, turn down the heat to low and, while continuing to stir, slowly add the watered lemon juice. As soon as it's all in, it should be less than 30 seconds before you notice the curds beginning to form and the liquid becoming milky-clear. If not, you can add more raw lemon juice a bit a time. Keep stirring until the curds are well-formed and solid-looking. Turn off the heat and wait about three minutes.

Pour it all into the cloth-lined colander and let the liquid drain off. For this part, it might be helpful to have another person hold onto the cloth for you to keep it in place.

Note: The liquid is whey — just like from the Miss Muffet nursery rhyme about her eating her 'curds and whey'. It's usuable for lots of purposes, including making tasty baking dough or flavoring certain kinds of soups. At the least, consider saving it in a bucket and dumping it (after it's cooled, of course) on your garden because it's still chock full of good nutrients which your plants will love. I read somewhere that the whey can be used as a curding agent in future batches, instead of lemon juice or vinegar, but haven't given this a try yet.

Rinse the curds thoroughly with cold water; this gets rid of the remaining whey as well as the lemon juice. Gather up the cloth, twist it together and squeeze the liquid out. At this point, I like to tie it up in a ball for a while to let more seep through. Maybe 15 minutes later, I squeeze again until I can't get any more liquid out.

The paneer ball inside your cloth will look pretty solid, but tend to fall apart at the slightest touch. Some folks do like their paneer at this point…but to really make it Indian style, you'd have to then spend the next half an hour or more making a huge mess as you knead it into a solid form and then let it sit under a heavy pot for a few hours.

This next part is where my recipe departs from the others: How to keep the paneer from being so damned crumbly.

Fortunately, there are food processors (aka, a Cuisinart). Put all the paneer into a food processor equipped with the dough kneading blade. Add the tablespoon of flour (this helps it stick together, acting as a bonding agent). Run the processor on pulse and low speeds until the paneer breaks down and reforms into a fairly cohesive ball. It'll take about 2-4 minutes and is done when there are no more curd crumbles. If you have a small processor, do this step in multiple batches.

You'll probably need a spatula to get it all out and off the dough blade. Put the paneer onto a non-stick tray or a plain dinner plate. At this point, it'll have the consistency of thick dough and pretty much stick together without any help. Shape the paneer into a rectangular slab about 1-inch thick and put it in the fridge for about an hour to set up. (Covering with plastic is optional… the paneer will dry out somewhat more if you leave the plastic off.) Once set, it should come off the plate or tray without breaking or crumbling.

If you don't have a food processor of any kind, yes, you can hand-knead the paneer, but be prepared for it to be messy and time-consuming. No idea how to keep it from sticking to my hands like crazy, which is why I recommend the processor method instead.

That's it. One gallon of milk will produce about one pound of paneer. The batch I made a couple weeks ago with an extra quart of half & half ended up as 1 1/2 pounds. You can use it just as you might use tofu in dishes, although unlike tofu, paneer can be shredded or grated (gently, but it does work) or re-crumbled. It will keep for several days to a week in the fridge or up to months in the freezer. What we usually do with our pound of paneer is cut it into three equal pieces, two to be frozen, and one for use in a given week's dinner some night.

One of our favorite paneer recipes is to slice it into small chunks and fry them separately in olive oil & spices until just beginning to brown on the outside. Then add this to a vegetable stir-fry in the wok. Unlike tofu, paneer has a taste all its own — mild, buttery, cheesy — and a far more 'meaty' texture. It's amazing.

As noted above, you can make flavored paneer by adding whatever spices or ultra-finely chopped vegetables you like to the milk as it's heating up. We did this with another gallon of milk the other day using dill and dried chile flakes. Very tasty.

Posted in Just stuff, Living in India | Comments Off

When 27 is greater than 52…

To give you a sense, 27% of our users (measured by % of visits) use Macs, compared to 52% who use Windows. Another 15% use some Apple mobile device. So as you can see, our audience tilts heavily in the Mac direction. Android makes up about 4% of our visits.

via Why No Android App? | TPM Editors Blog.

This is just one of those intellectually lazy statements that bugs me enough to break my lengthy no-blogging silence.

A Mac is not the same as an Apple mobile device. Even if that's a given and the point you're trying to make is a sizeable number of visitors to TPM own Apple products, adding 27% to 15% still only results in 42%. Which is still less than 52%

So, no. While I read Josh Marshall's TPM every day, his audience does not tilt heavily in the Mac direction. It tilts quite heavily in the Windows direction, to the point where you have to add the stats for two different classes of devices to get even close.

Special bonus observed intellectual laziness: Not a TPM issue, but just something else I've noticed in reporting from just about every media outlet out there, including many of the more liberal sources. The proposed Democratic tax cut as passed in the Senate — or rather, the extension of the Bush tax cuts — is not a tax cut limited to those earning less than $250,000/year. Put that way, it sounds like if you earn just one dollar more than that much, you get nothing. This is not true. It's a cut for everyone with an income, but just limited to the first $250k. Even a billionaire gets something from it. Just not the tens or hundreds of thousands extra the Republicans seem obsessed to give them.

Posted in Commentary, Editorial | 2 Comments