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Working for a bit

I noticed that I last posted when I was out of work, nearly a year ago. I am coming up on the first anniversary of the layoff, but I’ve been working for a month now, at a place called Bruker Detection, which is related to Bruker Diagnostics, but the connection (as well as the connection to Bruker Daltonics and the other Bruker subsidiaries) is unclear to me. As long as it’s clear to the accountants, I guess that’s enough. It’s a contract, though, and due to expire in October. (My security badge runs out on 10/10, so that’s a hint.)

But I’m enjoying the work, I find that the people are very nice ( and on average, VERY intelligent), and I’m learning new stuff to put on my resume. Hopefully the next period of unemployment won’t be 11 months long.

I’m unemployed and looking for work

Not that anybody really reads this blog much, but I am looking for work as an embedded software engineer. My resume is current and I would appreciate any leads that you might send to me.

Spinning wheels go ’round and ’round

Not being enough of a geek already, I’m adding to my bag of tricks. I took a class on spinning fiber into yarn a few weeks ago with Ann Corbey at The Fiber Loft in Harvard, MA. I got to try a couple of wheels that were OK, but didn’t really enthrall me, but I learned a bit about spinning, and I learned a bit about what sort of wheel I might like to own.

This past weekend Peg and I were in Maine anyway (for another hobby-related event – Lobstercon ), so while in the area I took the opportunity to test drive two spinning wheels in two different shops. At Halcyon Yarn in Bath, ME, I tried the Kromski Fantasia, and at Spunky Eclectic in Lisbon, I tried the dual-treadle Fricke.

I ultimately settled on the Fantasia, and a lot of the reason falls to Peg. She said that the look on my face when I sat down at the Fantasia told her I’d found the right wheel already.

UPS should be delivering the wheel tomorrow afternoon. I’m kind of excited.

Of course, one does not need just a spinning wheel. There are all manner of accessories to purchase over time. One of the first is a niddy-noddy, a device upon which yarn is wound from the bobbin to both balance the twist and measure the yarn. Some folks dye the yard on the niddy-noddy as well.

Looking around at various vendors, I found that the durn things range in price from about $28 for unfinished wood to $50 or $75! It’s three sticks, people. Yes, they are often lathe-turned and beautiful, but I don’t think so. I read the Wikipedia article referenced earlier, which mentioned that “budget spinners” have fashioned them from PVC. A stop at Home Depot last night yielded two 10 foot pieces of 3/4″ rigid tubing and four TEEs. A bit of measuring (two 6″ pieces on either end and a 18″ piece for the main bit), and a minute of assembly provided me with a niddy-noddy for a price I haven’t even calculated yet. I paid $6.20 for the materials. I have enough tubing left for at least three more, TEEs enough for another, and the TEEs were cheap. I estimate that they are going to be about $2 each – not even in quantity. (I wonder if the local yarn shop might have a market for dead-cheap niddy-noddies?)

Stay tuned!

 

Guest opinion from my friend Jonathan:

This horror will not go away even if we could remove every gun from America. Timothy McVeigh did not use a gun, and the Columbine killers made bombs as well.

The problem we need to solve (and fast) is the fact that we are producing so many (or any at all) young people who consider these actions to be very real options in their tortured lives.

There was an abundance of guns in the 50’s (we’ve always had guns in this country) but these things almost NEVER happened. We have a culture that glorifies violence, makes a scary percentage of the population (especially prevalent among the nation’s youth) feel utterly hopeless, and has seen a precipitous drop in moral awareness as we systematically rejected traditional sources/institutions (organized religion etc…) and have yet to replace them with anything that might work as well. Note: I’m an agnostic and not a fan of organized religion, but there needs to be some universal moral force in play.

Parents, families, schools, the media and popular culture have abdicated their roles and responsibilities in creating a network of influence that cannot be legislated. Call it mind control, manipulation of the masses, the suppression of free thought, but we have failed to do what every successful society has done since we climbed down from the trees, and that is instill in every member of society the value of life, the importance of collective adherence to a code of acceptable conduct, and respect for their fellow man (or countryman at minimum).

When a teenager of a broken home with minimal supervision, who perceives he has no future, is not inspired by school or other institution, is angry and alienated from everything and everyone (all of whom have failed to acknowledge or understand the tell-tale signs), acts out the anti-social, misanthropic violence he sees in his daily diet of ultra-violent video games and movies, all we can come up with is to get rid of the guns.

More than 40,000 people (more than a jumbo jet load every single day) die in auto-related tragedies every year in the US. Do we react to the epidemic of this roadway carnage, and drunk driving, by an outcry to ban all cars? No, we launch massive campaigns to educate people about the BEHAVIORS that cause these actions.

As with virtually every aspect of modern life, this issue is rife with complications. But simply getting rid of all the guns will only result in the these same individuals blowing up a school bus full of children to make the same desperate, extreme statements. It is a widespread cultural problem that will only go away when we address it as such. How many innocent people have to die before we realize why it’s happening?

Hell in a Handbasket

My blog. My opinion, whether you agree or not.

I’m moved to tears by the recent killings in Newtown Connecticut. A clearly disturbed kid of merely 20 years forced his way into the elementary school and killed 20 children, five adults, and himself. He had previously killed his mother at home after stealing guns that she had legally purchased and possessed.

The hue and cry of those that oppose guns is, understandably, to make it more difficult to buy guns. From that perspective, it’s a reasonable approach. But it’s an approach that doesn’t get to the heart of the matter. It’s an approach that cannot work.

Making it harder to get guns is not the answer. Guns are already hard to get. With few exceptions (black market notwithstanding), in order to purchase a gun, you have to have a license, so you are known and vetted by the local and state police. In order to purchase a gun, you have to pass an on-the-spot FBI background check, so you are known and vetted by the FBI. In order to purchase a gun, you have to purchase it from a licensed dealer or someone who knows you.

It will never be impossible to get guns. There will always be a black market. Heroin is illegal. It’s pretty easy to get. (heroin deaths in Massachusetts have risen 6-fold over the past 13 years). Marijuana is illegal. It’s pretty easy to get. If guns are made illegal, they’ll still be easy to get – machine guns are illegal, but they’re still used on the street by criminals, mostly by drug cartels.

It’s not the guns, clearly evidenced by the recent attack in China in which 22 children and an adult were wounded by a knife-wielding attacker. Thankfully, those people will apparently survive.

It’s not the guns, as evidenced by all of the guns in the country during the 1940’s, 1950’s, and 1960’s. There were no mass murders like what we’re seeing today.

It’s not the guns, as evidenced by the Oklahoma City bombings. The bomb was made of fertilizer and diesel fuel. I’ve known how to make that kind of explosive after reading a Field and Stream article while I was in junior high. (yet I’ve never blown anything up).

It’s not the guns – it’s the people. But how?

What is it that makes people do these terrible things, whether they use guns, knives, Sarin or Ricin? Or trucks full of explosives?

What is wrong with a society that produces people who think it’s OK to blow up a building in Oklahoma City?

What is wrong with a society that produces people who think it’s fun to poison a subway?

What is wrong with a society that produces children who think it’s OK to go shooting in a theater, mall, or elementary school?

As long as these people are being produced by society, there will be a danger of mass killings like this, regardless the tool used to do the killing.

What is wrong with these people, and how do we fix it?

I just wish I had an answer.

 

 

Slush

Slush. It’s an “old family recipe”, but only insofar as I learned it from my mother and haven’t noticed it being referenced elsewhere. Perhaps it will become your “old family recipe”, too. It certainly predates the “Slurpie” from 7-11 fame (1965).

The lemonade concentrate can is the traditional measure.

1 can (any size) frozen pink lemonade concentrate
1 can whiskey [1]
2 cans water
1 jar maraschino cherries, stems or no at your preference.

In a freezable container, combine all ingredients, including the syrup
from the cherries. Stir. Freeze at least overnight.

The result after freezing is the Slush.

[1] By tradition, one must use the cheapest available whiskey. I thought I did well last year, purchasing a fifth of Kentucky Bourbon for $8.95. It might have been Old Forester. This year I picked up 1.75 l of Old Crow for $12.99 at the New Hampshire Liquor and Wine Outlet. Score!

“Faux”sotto

I have in the past made a number of batches of risotto, which is delicious and rich and creamy, usually overflowing with Parmesan cheese, because I don’t have to make a profit.

But making “real” risotto takes time, most of it right at the stove top. A typical recipe for risotto would include a cup of arborio rice, a half cup or so of finely chopped onion, a cup of Parmesan, four or five cups of chicken or beef broth at a simmer, and some nice olive oil. Oh, and I usually finish it with about two or three tablespoons of butter. (Oh, God, why am I overweight?)

The onions are sauteed in the olive oil, the rice is added and that’s sauteed as well. Then the broth is added about a half cup at a time, stirring more-or-less constantly, until it’s absorbed, and the process repeated until the rice is done (al dente), about 25 minutes or so later. Then the butter and Parmesan are stirred in. Delicious, but I’m at the stove for a half hour or more.

That’s risotto. Now, fauxsotto is much easier.

I picked up a package of fresh pico de gallo at the supermarket, about a cup or so of coarsely chopped onion, red pepper, jalapeno, and just a touch of cilantro.

Into the skillet went about two tablespoons of olive oil and half of the pico de gallo. Saute for a bit, then add a cup of long-grain rice, and saute that a bit. Then add two cans of chicken broth. Bring that all to a boil, turn the flame down, cover, and simmer for about twenty minutes. Voila.

It’s not as good as risotto, but about 90% easier and 20% faster. You could probably toss in the Parmesan and butter and get it even closer to risotto, but I didn’t even bother. There are about a million variations on this theme that could be done, but I’m just starting.

Until next time, bon appetit!
(love you, Julia!)

Ravioli (Reprise) B-

Peg was willing to go a B. I called it a C.

At least it was a decent experiment…

I tried for whole wheat pasta, but whole wheat has a lower gluten proportion than semolina – somethimg I neglected to take into account. So there wasn’t enough water in the eggs, so the whole wheat pasta just didn’t hold up. I switched back to semolina in time to make dinner. That pasta was OK but I rolled it too thin and it was difficult for the ravioli to hold up.

Ravioli filling was

  • finely diced chicken breast
  • finely diced sun-dried tomatoes (packed in oil)
  • Italian seasoning (a mix of dried herbs)
  • a finely diced shallot
  • some diced garlic
  • some olive oil

I really need to get a ravioli press – making them by hand is a real pain in the ass. A lot of them broke, spilling chicken and tomato bits into the boil. It was ugly. And frustrating to see the raviolis break open like that after putting in the time to make the filling, pasta, and assemble them!

The sauce was pretty good:

  • 3 T butter
  • 3 T flour
  • 2 C milk
  • 3/4 C tomato puree
  • 1 T dried onions
  • 1 T Italian seasoning
  • salt
  • pepper

Make a roux with the butter and flour, cooking it until bubbling, but not enough to brown it. Whisk the milk in gradually, avoiding lumps (!). Stir in salt and pepper to taste, along with the Italian seasoning and onion.

Let the mixture thicken up nicely, then whisk in the tomato puree. Adjust salt and pepper.

Cook the ravioli in rapidly boiling water, drain. Serve with sauce and grated Romano or Parmesan cheese.

The filling would have been better with ground chicken and sundried tomato pesto. As it was the chicken and the tomatoes were both kind of tough and rubbery, and Peg and I think that could have been avoided with ground chicken. Since the tomatoes were rubbery, I thought pesto would be a better approach.

TSA At Your Service

Welcome home boys — TSA interrogates our soldiers

(This was emailed to me recently. There’s no way to really vet the information, but it didn’t show up on Snopes as bogus…)

As the Chalk Leader for my flight home from Afghanistan, I witnessed the following:

When we were on our way back from Afghanistan, we flew out of Baghram Air Field. We went through customs at BAF, full body scanners (no groping), had all of our bags searched, the whole nine yards. Our first stop was Shannon, Ireland to refuel. After that, we had to stop at Indianapolis, Indiana to drop off about 100 folks from the Indiana National Guard. That’s where the stupid started.

First, everyone was forced to get off the plane-even though the plane wasn’t refueling again. All 330 people got off that plane, rather than let the 100 people from the ING get off. We were filed from the plane to a holding area. No vending machines, no means of escape. Only a male/female latrine.

It’s probably important to mention that we were ALL carrying weapons. Everyone was carrying an M4 Carbine (rifle) and some, like me, were also carrying an M9 pistol. Oh, and our gunners had M-240B machine guns. Of course, the weapons weren’t loaded. And we had been cleared of all ammo well before we even got to customs at Baghram, then AGAIN at customs.

The TSA personnel at the airport seriously considered making us unload all of the baggage from the SECURE cargo hold to have it reinspected. Keep in mind, this cargo had been unpacked, inspected piece by piece by U.S. Customs officials, resealed and had bomb-sniffing dogs give it a one-hour run through. After two hours of sitting in this holding area, the TSA decided not to reinspect our Cargo-just to inspect us again: Soldiers on the way home from war, who had already been inspected, reinspected and kept in a SECURE holding area for 2 hours. Ok, whatever. So we lined up to go through security AGAIN.

This is probably another good time to remind you all that all of us were carrying actual assault rifles, and some of us were also carrying pistols.

So we’re in line, going through one at a time. One of our Soldiers had his Gerber multi-tool. TSA confiscated it. Kind of ridiculous, but it gets better. A few minutes later, a guy empties his pockets and has a pair of nail clippers. Nail clippers. TSA informs the Soldier that they’re going to confiscate his nail clippers. The conversation went something like this:

TSA Guy: You can’t take those on the plane.

Soldier: What? I’ve had them since we left country.

TSA Guy: You’re not suppose to have them.

Soldier: Why?

TSA Guy: They can be used as a weapon.

Soldier: [touches butt stock of the rifle] But this actually is a weapon. And I’m allowed to take it on.

TSA Guy: Yeah but you can’t use it to take over the plane. You don’t have bullets.

Soldier: And I can take over the plane with nail clippers?

TSA Guy: [awkward silence]

Me: Dude, just give him your damn nail clippers so we can get the f**k out of here. I’ll buy you a new set.

Soldier: [hands nail clippers to TSA guy, makes it through security]

To top it off, the TSA demanded we all be swabbed for “explosive residue” detection. Everyone failed, [go figure, we just came home from a war zone], because we tested positive for “Gun Powder Residue”. Who the F**K is hiring these people?

This might be a good time to remind everyone that approximately 233 people re-boarded that plane with assault rifles, pistols, and machine guns-but nothing that could have been used as a weapon.

Can someone please tell me What the F**K happened to OUR country while we were gone?

English Onion Soup

(After watching a Jamie Oliver show on the Cooking Channel)

  • 4 cloves of garlic, smashed and peeled
  • 4 shallots, sliced
  • sage
  • 3 large red onions, sliced
  • 3 large white onions, sliced
  • 3 leeks, cleaned, trimmed, and sliced
  • 3 yellow onions, sliced
  • 3 T olive oil (maybe a bit of butter too?)
  • 3 cans of beef stock
  • bread for large croutons
  • grated cheddar cheese

Onion Soup

Final Product

Jamie made it look dead simple, and it was, plus I got to use my new food processor! I’ll reduce everything next time – I had a bit too much oniony stuff relative to the beef stock. Or maybe I’ll just make sure I have more beef stock around!

But the olive oil was put into a large pot (it’s 8 quarts or better), and the sage and garlic was tossed in as well. Jamie used sage leaves, but I just had ground. I don’t have an English garden and a gardener, either…

The leeks, shallots, and onions were tossed in shortly after, seasoned with salt and pepper, stirred around a bit, and then just left to cook, slowly over medium heat, for about an hour, stirring every fifteen minutes or so. They lost about 75% of their volume over time.

Then I poured in the beef stock, and brought it back up to simmer for another fifteen or twenty minutes.

Slice the bread into half-inch thick croutons. If you have the presence of mind to do this ahead of time, the croutons can dry out a bit to their benefit.

Ladle soup into oven-proof bowls, arrange a crouton or two to cover the soup, then cover the croutons with the cheddar. Pop under a broiler for five or ten minutes until the cheese is melted and browned.

Yum!