Friday, January 30, 2009

Food for Thought #2

All these vegetarian enchiladas need is a nice bowl of pinto beans or maybe some refries slopped on the plate. Oh, and some salsa on the side.

Photo source: sweet and saucy

I need a logo for this series. Any artist types got an idea?

Appetizer: Look to your left. What color do notice see first?
Suna is wearing a quiet brown jacket and shirt. She usually picks a much more festive pallet, so brown is very noticeable. I like it.
Soup: What type of beans do you enjoy most?
Pintos. They are very flexible. You can put them in chili (if you don’t follow the Terlingua rules), serve them in bean broth, or fry them again. I love them.
Salad: What was the most interesting thing that happened during the last week?
To me it was that a CEO acted with dignity and honor rather than taking the money and running. See my post about Howard Schultz yesterday.
Entré: What was the most difficult decision your had to make in the last year? How did you decide?
That would be the decision to sell part of the old family homestead. I needed the money, but I didn’t want to do it. Finally, Dad said he couldn’t take care of it anymore and wanted a neighbor to have it. The neighbor offered a really fair price, and it was done.
Dessert: Among your friends and family, who has the next birthday?
I think that would be TrackGrease, on the 10th of February.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks, showed real leadership this week.

Photo scource: Pro Commerce

Everyone knows that the economy sucks right now. It seems we learn of more closures and layoffs every day. If fact, the latest number from the government show the highest number of people on unemployment this week since statistics were tracked. And that doesn’t count those on a special extension enacted last year. (In case you aren’t depressed enough already, Stateline.org has a state-by-state breakdown of unemployment.)

So I wasn’t surprised to learn this morning that Starbucks closing another 300 locations and reducing payroll by thousands. This action comes after Q1 profit fell by 69%.

I listened to Wendy Kaufman’s article (NPR.org) with growing numbness until something unusual caught my attention. Chief Executive Howard Schultz is showing incredible leadership and responsibility in his drive to turn the company around. Schultz has taken the remarkable step of asking the board of directors to reduce his base salary to $10,000 from more than $1M last year.

Contrast this determination with the actions of Merill Lynch CEO John Thain, who spent more than $1.2M (Wall Street Nation) redecorating his office while his company burned around him. (Hampton Roads has his complete shopping list.) While negotiating the sale of Merrill, Thain and the board also pushed through measures to speed their bonuses before Bank of America took over. These bonuses totaled several billion dollars while the company lost more than $15.3B in one quarter. In my humble opinion, that constitutes theft of the stockholders’ equity. Thankfully, I have never owned Merill stock.

So I want to nominate Howard Schultz for some kind of award. He is actually walking the walk instead of just expecting his employees to cover all the slack.

While most CEOs don’t come anywhere near Thain’s Nero-esque behavior, you also don’t hear of many of them offering to cut back their salaries.


6 February 2008 Update: The economy continues to real under the weight of the theivery of those who had the helm of some of the world’s largest financial companies. Even relatively conservative outlets like The Motley Fool, an investment firm and advisor, are calling for blood. See “Hundreds Should Go to Jail.”

Monday, January 26, 2009

The Sweet Smell of…I Can’t Smell Anything

This has been the problem for the last few days.

I am still breathing—not that I was in great danger of not doing so. I was down part of last week with a cold that kept changing its symptom profile, but basically moved between my throat and sinuses. But no pneumonia this year!!

Suna was a darling this weekend and took great care of me. I propped myself up on the couch in the media room, and she kept the household running and nursed me back to health.

So today I am back at work wrapping up a project that went fairly well, if not perfectly. I have other reasons to be slightly optimistic about the future, even if much of what I touched last week underwent a mystical transmogrification into steaming piles of fecal matter—a cosmic situation with which I am not totally unfamiliar. I think I see the light at the end of the tunnel, but I am a little worried about that chugging sound.

So that is what I am grateful for this week: progress in spite of setbacks, kindness and love in the face of human frailties and mistakes.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Friday’s Feast Remembered and Honored

There used to be a blog called Friday’s Feast. Each Friday, it asked five questions and asked its readers to answer them. The questions were presented as a menu, and five questions was just about right—enough to be interesting, not enough to tire the reader.

Many chose to answer in the comments section of the blog, but I always posted my responses in my own blog. Friday’s Feast was so successful that it left Blogger and went out on its own. After awhile, it stopped appearing. Finally, the new URL stopped working. Friday’s Feast was no more.

Well, I always enjoyed answering the questions and reading the answers my friends posted in their blogs. So I’m going to try on the mantle of Inquisitor, breaking out the dreaded Comfy Chair and Soft Cushion.

I’m calling this new initiative, “Food for Thought.” Each post will contain five questions presented as a menu, as did Friday’s Feast. Just below the questions, I will answer as honestly as I can. I don’t think it’s fair to ask questions you wouldn’t yourself. The first comment will contain the code for the questions so that you can post them in your blog.

If you want to answer in the comments, feel free. If you want to answer in your own blog, please post a link to it in the comments.

Food for Thought

Without further ado, here is the first menu:

Appetizer: Who is the person physically nearest you right now? What is that person doing?
Suna is sitting on the other side of the bed and knitting as I type. She is waiting for a phone call. (I am typing this blog ahead of time.)
Soup: Hit Shuffle on your mp3 player. What do you like most about the song came up? (If you don’t have an mp3 player, use the song currently on your favorite radio station.)
The song that came up is “Body Is a Car” by Four Bitchin’ Babes. They are one of the most innovative groups of the last decade. Four singer-songwriters who sing well together, their music is both musically interesting and lyrically funny. Although at times, as in this song, they show a deeper nature. “My body is a car driving my soul around.” The song then pushes the metaphor to in several directions. That said, it is not my favorite Bitchin’ song.
Salad: What is your favorite restaurant?
I guess it wouldn’t surprise any of my faithful reader if I said, ”Mesa Rosa.” But I think eating there is helping me put back on some of the weight I fought so hard to get rid of.
Entré: What are you most looking forward to in the Obama administration? What do you most fear? (Even Republicans has something to hope for, and even Democrats have something that they fear.)
I am most looking forward to have a leader with moral integrity instead of situational ethics. I am so tired of the “torture is wrong when they do it to us but OK when we do it to them” mentality.
What I am most fearful of is that some bigot with a telescopic sight will bring this presidency to an early end. I’m not sure the country could survive that.
Dessert: What made you laugh hardest in the last 24 hours?
My head has been too stopped up to do much laughing over the last few days. I do remember laughing really hard at something on the Daily Show last night. Unfortunately, I the Nyquil keeps me from remembering what it was.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Today’s the Day

So I had this song going through my head on the way into work today. “I’ve got this feeling today’s the day.” It’s by America. Wonder what the significance is…Hmmmmm.

Monday, January 19, 2009

A Nice, Cold Can of Pepsi One

I’m also grateful that I can drink colas again. Pepsi and Coke both market products made with sucralose. And who am I to argue with Mariah Carey.

Photo source: Hollywood*Rag

I love winter in Central Texas. While other states—even the more northern parts of Texas—fight blizzards and frozen winds, winter is usually much milder here.

We do get the occasional snow flurry or, when it’s really bad, an ice storm. But most of the time, it’s really kinda pleasant.

Winter turns my truck into a refrigerator. I go out at lunch and retrieve a wonderful Pepsi One from a box in my car. I pop the top and get nice, cool tastiness. Not like the summer when the heat sometimes causes the ends of the can to bulge most worrisome. (I have never had one of the cans give way in the heat, but I wouldn’t be that surprised if it happened.)

So for now, I’m grateful for the cooler weather enjoying and the soothing Pepsi.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Regional Band Concert

Region 26 BandThe pictures I took all came out a bit dark, but you can see them on Facebook.

I knew a month or more ago that TubaBoy had made Regional Band. That’s quite an accomplishment, and he deserves it. He is quite a talented tuber…er, tuba-er…tuba-ist? He is very talented even though he never practices at home.

I found out yesterday that the Regional Band concert was today in Georgetown. Suna, Beccano, and I piled into the truck to trek to the town of Georges.

It turns out that TubaBoy made Regional Symphonic Band. The Regional Concert Band opened the show and had a much more accessible program, including one piece that caused us to buy the CD they were recording.

The Symphonic Band played some very modern music, one piece of which included dodecaphony—a musical technique that uses all 12 notes of the chromatic scale. I didn’t know they were supposed to play all 12 notes at the same time. It was rather painful. On the up side, they closed with several pieces by Leonard Bernstein. As the musical heir to one of my favorite compsers, Aaron Copeland, this part of the show was most enjoyable.

We Need a Shed

Here is a picture of Buddy for no apparent reason.

It’s official. Today, I have officially given up on trying to turn the garage into a usable space.We just have too much crap stuffed into there, and neither Suna nor I seem to be much good at weeding.

The only solution I can see is to break down and build a storage shed. I looked at plans last year, and I think we settled on a layout. Now we need to decide where to put it and get approval from the yard Nazis…er…I mean the friendly neighborhood association.

I think I can build it myself for at least a little less than a prefab unit would cost. And it will look much nicer and be more durable than a prefab unit. Besides, I’ll have the fun of construction.

I marked a location in the back yard with sticks so Suna could see where I want to put it. It is in an area where grass won’t grow, and I will only have to do minimal tree trimming. She agreed that would be a good spot.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Marketing Geniuses

This innocent looking device is the evil autodialer. It’s what enables marketeers to call thousands of people a day. It can also hijack calls you make at a pay phone and place them on a more expensive carrier. I know of no legitimate use.

Photo source: Lakewood Conferences

Who thought of combining an autodialer and a voice recorder for marketing?

Who ever it was is one intellectually damaged subhuman. I don’t care what the actual message is, all I hear is, “As a valued TermiTroll customer, we wanted to let you know that we don’t care enough about you to call you ourselves.”

That really makes me want to buy their product—about as much as the sound of multiple police sirens outside my hotel makes me feel safe in a strange city.

And while I’m on this rant, who thought of having an autodialer call you up and ask you to hold for a sales representative? I mean, really! Has anyone ever done that?


17 January Update: This morning I stayed on the line with that Auto Warranty Scam just to cost them some additional money for the call. Even if they’re using VoIP, there is some cost associated with the duration of the call.

I spoke with a polite guy who said his name was John and had a Midwestern accent. He claimed that the scam is run by General Motors. He also claimed to be unable to remove my number from their autodialer. How convenient for him.

So here’s what I recommend. Every time you get one of these calls, stay on the line to drive up their costs. When you get a sales agent on the phone, be polite or rude as you choose, but tie them up as long as possible. The longer they’re on the phone, the less likely they are to hoodwink some weak-willed person with scare tactics.

The only way to fight this kind of telephone abuse is to cost them money. And time is money.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Dealing with Ambiguity

I took tens of variants of this shot trying to figure out what the settings on my camera do. I’m posting it here as a bit of centering artistic relief.

I have a lot to be grateful for this week. Mostly, I’m grateful for a supportive family and the ability to support them in return.

My job at the Fruit Company is still up in the air. They haven’t told me that the contract is being renewed, but neither have they told me not to come back. I’m on a week-by-week basis, and I am grateful for every check I get after the first of the year, which was my original termination date.

Luckily, I have recently had a couple of calls from other recruiters. So, even if the Fruit Company’s finances don’t allow them to renew my contract for another quarter, I have other opportunities in the works.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Firewood Bin

Here are the bones of the new firewood bin, constructed partially out of recycled materials.

Suna wasn’t feeling well by the end of church today. So we came home instead of attending the steering committee meeting as we had originally intended. That meant I had plenty of time to finish the project I started yesterday.

I used as much recycled material as I could. Unfortunately, I underestimated the amount of exterior grade 2x4 I had. That meant I couldn’t put the top brace on that I intended.

I laid this leftover mesh across the frame to help with smaller pieces.

But that isn’t a problem. I can use 1x2 instead of 2x4. That way I will have a lot more head room to work with, and the bin will be just as sturdy. In fact, I used so many deck screws that I probably don’t need to worry about the top brace.

Here it is with a little wood.

I will anyway.

After I finished, I had just enough daylight left to start loading firewood. I was able to clear one whole pile of trimmings. Soon there won’t be any brush piles left.

I wonder if we will be able to get grass to grow back there.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Procrastination—AKA: A Typical Saturday

The fence repair did get done—eventually. Here you can see how good the soil looks in the new flower bed. All those leaves composting in the woodpile helped a lot.
Future Wood Pile This is where I will build the firewood holder—between the fireplace and the gate. It seems like a logical place to me. I should probably get another drain extension, although I had to at almost $10 per length. Someone is making money on these things.
Chipper Pile The chipper turned a brush pile into nice mulch. This is where the dead fence boards and most of my scrap lumber from other projects will eventually wind up.

Today was the perfect day for working in the yard. The highs climbed up to the mid-fifties, and even though the wind was brisk, it was not too chilly to enjoy the sunshine.

Well, it was a little brisk, and I realized that I didn’t have a work coat that would stand up to the combination of temperature and wind. So my first task was a trip to Goodwill, where I got a nice oversized flannel jacket and a couple of sweaters.

Then I was off—to the knitting store! I stopped in to see Suna, and we went to Starbucks for a cup. Or we would have, but they were out of coffee. They emptied two different pots to give Suna hers and told me I was welcome to wait. I chose not to.

I dropped Suna back at the knitting store and went to the home center for some stuff. I got some fence boards for the repair, a night light for the hall, some cup hooks for the master bath, and some pier blocks to build a firewood holder. Then I headed back to the house.

Inside the fence and behind the repair was a pile of boards left over from when the evil neighborhood association made us tear down Beccano’s tree house. So the first step was to sort those out and remove the remaining nails. I know I should have done that a long time ago, but…

Next, I strung out an extension to the downspout that will run underneath the firewood holder I plan to build behind the part of the fence I hadn’t yet repaired. I noticed that these was a high point in the middle of the run. Since water doesn’t usually flow uphill, I got out the trusty action hoe and a rake to change the grade a bit. That left a pile of well composted dirt.

A shovel solved that problem. I moved the dirt to the new flower bed extension, but it still wasn’t quite right. Luckily, I still had the garden rake at hand to level the bed until it was just right.

By this time it was starting to get colder…and darker. I went back to the garage to find my hammer. It was finally time to take down those pesky rotted fence boards. I knocked down the bad one and damaged the one next to it enough that it had to come down, too. Then I aligned two of the replacement boards. That’s when I noticed that sometime between when this house was built and now, the standard size for narrow fence boards shrank from just under four inches to just under 3½ inches. That means any fence repair now requires removing at least three boards, replacing them with two different sizes, and using a table saw. Sigh.

I have a few of the wider boards left over from a failed attempt at rebuilding the gate (I put it together backwards). So I was set. All I had to do was knock down three times the number of boards I had intended to replace at that spot, meaning I don’t have enough to do the other repairs I planned. No problem there as it was now too dark to continue by the time I finished ripping the wide board to size and the old boards to fit through the chipper.

I did get one thing accomplished today, so I can say that this does not qualify for what one of my friends calls adult-onset ADD.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

It’s Not What You Think

What this post is all about

All photos except this one
by Beccano

I realize I haven’t been as faithful about posting to this blog as I should recently, but I finally have something interesting to write about that Suna hasn’t already written about better. Sigh.

Today, I learned a new application for an old skill. I was even able to use one of the same old tools.

It all started out innocently enough with me starting to clean out the garage after stuffing it full of by-products after Thanksgiving, the wedding, and Christmas. After moving the shredder out—BTW, I got the shredder running and finished demolishing the wood pile in the back yard. Now there’s only ongoing maintenance to use it for—I noticed the basil I had hung to dry.

So I interrupted my garage progress and brought the basil in to process. From the three plants I salvaged after an early freeze, I got an 18-24 month supply of dried basil and $10-$20 worth of seeds. I know the seeds are viable because volunteers were coming up in September.

Stripping the leaves and flowers is easier if you start at the end and strip toward the stem. I figured that out when I was mostly done.

Here’s final the process (I refined it as I went, so this doesn’t quite match the photos.):

  1. Lay an album cover—one that folds open—on flat work surface and place a colander on top of it.
  2. I supplemented the work surface with a large cutting board. The extra height makes it easier to pick up the album cover when you need to.

    I used A New Life by the Marshall Tucker Band. I don’t think any of these large Southern boys would mind their album being used to clean the seeds out of a food product, or anything else for that matter.

    OK, you don’t really have to use an album cover. Any bendable flat surface will do. You just need a stiff surface than can form a funnel when needed.

    I found that shaking the seeds onto an album cover or other light, stiff surface works best. The cutting board shown here provides too much friction.
  3. Strip some leaves and buds from a basil branch.
  4. I started out the wrong way, of course. It works much better if you start at the end of the branch and work back toward the stem. The leaves and flowers just fall off that way. Some people would not want the flowers in the final product, but I think they add more fragrance and flavor than just the leaves. They are…sweeter.

  5. When you have about two inches in the colander, shake the colander and allow the seeds to fall onto the album cover.
  6. You can use a coarse sieve if you have one with holes larges enough for the seeds to fall through. Some of the finer leaf product will also fall through the colander.

  7. Set the colander aside.
  8. I eventually put down another sheet of paper to catch any fallout while the colander was at rest.

    Keep tapping and lifting until most of the seeds roll free. As I worked I found it was better to let the seeds roll onto a piece of paper. It’s easier to use the paper as a funnel than to pick the seeds up on the knife.
  9. Lift the album cover to about a 30° angle, and tap it with the back of a wide blade knife.
  10. I found it was best to fold a sheet of paper to form a back stop and set the edge of the album cover on it. As you tap the album cover, the seeds fall faster than the leaf product. Keep tapping until the seeds run off onto the paper. If the leaf product approaches the edge before all of the seeds fall off, take the sharp edge of the knife and lift the mixture higher. Some of the seeds should roll off as you do so.

  11. Put the seeds in a container for later use.
  12. You can leave the leaf product on the album cover along with a few seeds.

    Crush the leaves and flowers between your hands.
  13. Lay the album cover flat on the work surface and place the colander back on it.
  14. Crush the remaining leave and flowers between you hands, letting the product fall back into the colander.
  15. This is my favorite part of the process. Your hands smell great!

    You are accomplishing a couple of things here. The pressure releases the seeds from the flowers and breaks the dried leaves into more usable chunks.

  16. Lift the album cover to about a 30° angle, and tap it with the back of a wide blade knife.
  17. Yes, this is a repeat of Step 5. The same guidelines apply. Just keep pushing the product back to the top of the album cover until it is as clean as you can make it.

  18. Place the seeds in your seed container and the cleaned leaf product in a separate storage container that will look good in your spice cabinet.
  19. If you grow your own, you know that fresh herb always tastes better than dried. The surprise is that home grown dried herbs taste better than store bought herbs. I actually prefer them to fresh herbs frozen in ice cubes.

  20. Repeat this whole procedure until all plants are processed

When I was done, the smaller stems went onto the compost pile. The larger ones went into the brush pile. Eventually, the larger pieces will all go into the shredder and become part of the bark mulch that helps keep my flower beds healthy.