Wednesday, December 31, 2008

So Long 2008

Yeesh, what a lame year! Post your resolutions and hopes for 2009.

Monday, December 29, 2008

On beards, the manly mane and bane

If anyone has noticed my new profile picture, it shows me with a month-long gray beard. I allowed it to grow mainly because my razors were having an increasingly difficult time dealing with it. After it got long enough I noticed that I seemed to receive more respect. That was not unwelcome, but there was a downside to it also.

You see, little Linnea, about 15 months old came to see us, and, after having known me all her short life as clean-shaven, the new appearance put her off. She just could not face my face. Not wanting to frighten my little granddaughter, I decided to shave it off. More accurately, I used machine clippers, then shaved the rest. The result was pretty stubbly.

The beard itched anyway, but, it grows naturally. It is a man's natural state. It sure is a nuisance though. Lynnis can't find my Double Duck straight razor, so I'm condemned to finding an alternative. I'm thinking of an old style double edge razor available on special order. They don't clog.

I don't know how people like Chris and Quick tolerate their long beards for long. What did people do before razors were invented ?


Purebred sebastopol goose shipped from Oregon: $70
Vet bill for coccidiosis: $105
Double shot of wheatgrass juice: $4

Chortling coming from the bathroom: priceless

Review of an Important New Movie

By new, I mean a movie released in the last 20 years - in this case 2007, so very new indeed.

Mr. Bean' s Holiday is a beautiful, moving, meaningful movie on the phase of the life of Mr. Mister Bean, an English gentleman suffering from autism who wins a vacation to the Cannes Film Festival.  Have others seen it? This is such a cultivated crowd, perhaps all of you have. If you haven't I don't want to spoil the plot. I will say that the film includes one of the most powerful performances of the aria " O mio babbino caro"  from the opera Gianni Schicchi that could ever be, performed by Bean himself. I can't imagine any coloratura soprano doing it better. Let me know if you think the violence is excessive.

So, has anybody seen it?

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Pictures from our latest cheesemaking

Guy made farmhouse cheddar cheese again yesterday.  He is so eagar to try the one we have already made, but it is not fully aged yet.  The leftover whey from the cheddar looks much cloudier then the whey from our mozzerella, so he tried to further render it into whey ricotta. Something must have gone wrong, because it only yeilded about a tablespoon of ricotta, and the whey still looks cloudy.

The whey being heated for whey ricotta

The cheddar curds, after being drained

Draining the curds

The cheddar, after being pressed overnight

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Hillbilly technology

There is a new blogosphere site "Hillbilly Technology" at Pick up lots of mechanical tricks there. Farming too most likely. The site has West Virginia street cred although located in Maryland.

Friday, December 26, 2008

I tried Bluetooth

Sometimes on the internet there hour long "radio" programs I like to listen to but it is a nuisance to need to sit at the computer. So, since I was sending an order off to Tiger Direct anyway for network attached storage, I decided to add a Bluetooth headset to order.

Bluetooth is a short range wireless technology optimized for audio transmission. It can also do IP networks if you want. You need to add a transmitter to your computer if it doesn't already have one. I bought a "dongle" for about $10 for the transceiver. It plugs into a USB port. The Motorola headset was about $39. Cheaper sets are available, but I wanted stereo because of my hearing problems. A headset with a microphone build in is about $90 and is worth it if you want to do handless phone service. Many wireless phones have Bluetooth built in to them.

Installing the software wasn't difficult but figuring out how to use it took a little effort. The difficulty was that many Bluetooth protocol services are available. Finally I settled on "Advanced Audio" service and it worked. A similar service is for telephone hookups. The Motorola S9 headset uses a password of 0000 and you need to know the password. You can also set up a short range IP network to hook up your laptop computer. Some laptops have Bluetooth built in, others require a dongle. The range is around a hundred feet, but as with all RF, your exact position and orientation will matter.

help, I'm trapped here in the title window, Can't put text into the big box! Can't edit! send paper and pencil, hillbilly caught in spaceship, gasp...

Escape pod arrived, piloted by Gordon, phasers set to byte. In his highscoool yearbook there was a whimiscal futuristic few sentences for each graduate, going out for a long pass-what was to come. The scene for Gordon was him exiting a spaceship that had just landed. So there. Longggggg pass, but caught, touchdown, all these years later. We're breathing Firefox air now.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

The Hawks are Circling Chrissy's Chickens

Today there are three hawks circling above Chrissy's chickens. Several have been killed already. I don't have a shotgun handy, but, I've been told that netting has been installed above the chicken yard and the chickens are permanently cooped up there. It might work. They are not free range anymore. When hawks get hungry though, almost anythng can happen.

I don't like to hunt but it doesn't bother me to defend domestic animals against violence. All of which brings me to an idea I've had for improved shotgun pellets. The general idea is to make the pellets in the shape of a raindrop, kind of like a bomb. Attached to the bomb shape would be winglets angled at about 8 degrees to the line of flight. The idea of the winglets is to make the pellet spin, improving accuracy. Since the cross-sectional density of the entire affair would be considerably greater than a sphere, it should have a considerably greater range than an ordinary shotgun pellet.

Making the these kinds of pellets would be a challenge. Casting them might be impractical for such a small size. I'm thinking of using a press to forge lead wire into a series of progressive shapes. Jon has suggested that he has read about people dropping molten lead from a very low height of a few inches directly into water. It is said to create a raindrop shape that carries very well.

All this is just speculation for now. I have my generator project to finish and also a paper to finish on chromosome disruption.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Happy Hanukkah

Hanukkah is about making due with what you've got so Brian made Karen an impressive menorah out of rachets. It's the nicest one I've seen, I think.

Saturday, December 20, 2008


A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, [...skill removed by blog poster], conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.
--Heinlein, The Notebooks of Lazarus Long

This sort of goes with my feeling that we all need to hone our skills or develop new ones to aid us as the economy collapses. I just racked my second batch of pear wine today. I'm glad Guy knows how to make beer. I'm glad Jon has a machine shop and is good at farming. I think a good challenge for everyone who reads this blog would be to work on a new skill this year. What will it be?

Monday, December 15, 2008

Blue Eyed Devil

Old Bastard and I had a face-off today. His little goose offspring are now grown, but he continues to assert his ganderly protection of his family as any good gander should do. But he goes a bit overboard it must be said. I was just walking by and he started intimidating me. Not being exactly a masculine wimp myself, this grandpa stooped down and extended my hand toward Old Bastard so as to imitate a goose neck with my hand. I even snapped my fingers open and closed so as to imitate a goose beak.

Well, Old Bastard and I had played this game a number of times before. On other occasions, I had quickly grabbed his neck or beak and held it briefly to show who had the most testosterone. On this occasion, Old Bastard remembered and was wary. But, finally he got close enough that I made an attempt at his head. But he knew what to expect. He escaped my grasp and quickly backed off with a loud squawk at my temporary grasp.

So, who is the blue eyed devil ? Old Bastard or me ? For that matter, which of us is the Old Bastard? From his perspective, it is undoubtedly me. From my perspective it is him. That is what politics is all about I suppose. Old Bastard certainly does have lovely blue eyes though.

While on the subject of beastly relations, I can not help but post this link about rhinos and elephants. Even better, is that the writer of the piece is Cecil Adams, the famed Chicago know-it-all.

Minnesota College opportunities

For the college bound interested in a Scandinavian background college here is a good one to consider. Gustavus Adolphus college has majors in many areas. Paabo recently presented some of his interesting Neanderthal DNA data at the college's yearly Nobel lecture series.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

great gift idea and support a local artist

My coworker's girlfriend does these really cool sandcarved stone pendants. Check it out at

Saturday, December 13, 2008

The cheese has been waxed

With farmhouse cheddar, you are supposed to let the cheese dry for a few days until it developes a rind, and then wax it. We suspect ours might have a problem with excessive moisture, because it was not fully dry after nearly a week. We waxed it anyway. We just have to wait and see how it turns out. It still has to age for a month.

Wondering Where We are Going...

From the Wall Street Journal
President-elect Barack Obama's economic team is considering an economic-stimulus program that will be far larger than the two-year, half-trillion-dollar plan under consideration two weeks ago, according to people familiar with the team's thinking.

ie They are talking a trillion!!! (A one with 12 zeros!!!!)
I found some blogposters (Rich) at CR to distill what that means:
The solution is to float the biggest possible stimulus package, pump it into stimulating production of goods and services, and simulataneously tank the dollar to make those goods and services very affordable to the world.

Conversely, you could tank the dollar first and then float the big stimulus package possible. The order makes no difference. I actually think they are tanking the dollar in advance of the stimulus.

The bagholders are all long-term debt holders and pensioners of dollar-denominated assets. Also, foreign exporters into the U.S. market.

The dollar will fall against all other major currencies. But beyond that, all major currencies will fall against the value of goods and services. It's called hyperinflation.

Apparently, this is how certain problems will be "solved". Social Security will be solved if the inflation adjustments lag with true inflation. It's not hard to imagine that happening! Too bad for the elderly who depend on the payments or those of us who would like to retire some day. Obviously, inflating the currency will also solve the problem of overpriced housing.
And where is the trillion going to come from? Already the US owes more than it can possibly pay back. The way to stay solvent in this scenario is to debase our currency against other world currencies, thereby making the debt cheaper, relative to goods. My thinking on a response to all this is very down to earth. It's time to start living like Uncle Jon and get good at gardening and have a lot of tools. Be able to produce something.

PS Slightly off topic but not really: I just finished reading "Mortgaging the Earth", a book on the World Bank. In that book we learn that Larry Summers, Obama's choice for head of the National Economic Council, in 1991, while serving as chief economist for the World Bank, authored a private memo arguing that the bank should actively encourage the dumping of toxic waste in developing countries, particularly "under populated countries in Africa," which Summers described as "UNDER-polluted."

Thursday, December 11, 2008

picture for lona

from innes (they were talking about this on the phone)
"i've got several more of this kid painting, I liked the colors and the way the light hit"
I meant to post this earlier today but I forgot to:

Happy birthday, Lona!!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Say Cheese!

For a few months now, Guy and I have been making our own cheese. Well, actually, Guy usually makes it while I watch the baby, which makes it a joint effort. We started with Mozzarella, and had a lot of success. From milk to cheese takes only a half hour! And its easy too! We use the leftover whey to make delicious bread. This past weekend we finally ventured into the world of more complex cheese making.

We decided to make Farmhouse Cheddar, because we eat a lot of cheddar and this recipe seemed reasonably simple and only needs to age for a month. With all cheese making(I think - maybe just some of it), you have to start with milk that is not ultra-pasteurized, we have been able to find it at MOM's, and its from Pennsylvania, local enough for me. You do have to be careful to raise the temperature of the cheese very slowly, but we found that the hardest part of the process was finding weights to press the cheese, to expel more of the whey.

That is a cutting board on the bottom, with a stainless steel cheese mold, the cheese is inside it, being pressed by a empty tin, weighted down with a bocci ball set, 3 heavy books and a box of photos. 50 pounds for 12 hours. That tower didn't last, and we moved it to the bathtub, where we tied the bocci ball ropes to the handicap railings in the tub and put our 20 quart pot of water on top of it.

In the end, we have 2 pounds of organic, local, homemade cheese! It is drying right now, tonight we will wax it, and then it has to age for a month. I can't wait!

Mozzarella Cheesemaking Kit
Home Cheese Making: Recipes for 75 Delicious Cheeses

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Free bread, not even from dumpsters!

My boss and I found a new thrift store in Herndon, VA today and it was P-A-C-K-E-D like it was black Friday at Wal-Mart or something! I think the poor economy has many people looking to thrift stores for holiday shopping and this is great for a number of reasons:

• I got LOTS of great presents for under $20 (and you will just have to wait and find out!)
• Stuff ends up getting a second life instead of going to the landfill
• You are supporting a local business
• The proceeds benefit people who can’t even afford to shop at thrift stores
• It is run by volunteers which fosters a strong sense of community

By the checkouts they have baskets full of delicious Trader Joe’s bread that has a sell-by date of today. There stands a sign that says “Free bread is for you, not the birds!). I got a loaf of Ezekiel bread* (my fave), sourdough, and fiber muffins.

This gift of bread reminded me of Russell Benedict.

I doubt that Annie remembers him but he was her Dad’s best friend and an early champion of dumpster diving. He used to go to grocery stores and fish baked goods and other palatable food from the dumpsters to give to the poor (like us!). I remember him giving Annie and me boxes of Little Debbie cakes and hostess pocket pies (not his most nutritious finds) and telling me that I shouldn’t stand on the dog’s tail because even though he almost knocked me over when he wagged it, it can’t feel very nice to have someone stand on it.

Sometimes Russell would get in trouble with the stores for taking from the dumpsters.

In his wallet he always kept a worn out letter, supposedly from Mother Theresa, commending him for his work to feed the poor. Whenever a store manager would hassle him he would whip out that letter and they’d go “Oh, sorry! Here, take whatever you want!” With that the food started to bypass the dumpster and he built a network that got lots of people fed.

We all can benefit from the value of free bread, even if we can afford to buy it ourselves.

It is ennobling to be on both the giving and receiving ends charity.

*(Side tangent: Apparently Ezekiel bread is missing a special ingredient that would make it authentic "....and thou shalt eat it as barley cakes, and thou shalt bake it with dung that cometh out of man, in their sight. And the LORD said, Even thus shall the children of Israel eat their defiled bread among the Gentiles, whither I will drive them." (Ezekiel 4:12-13))

Sunday, December 7, 2008

The Dachshund Song

This is in tribute to Lynnis

A day that will live in infamy

Pearl Harbor Day. September 11, 2001. The attack on the Cole. Madrid. London subway. Mumbai. Remember the Maine.

It pays to be prepared. You just never know when some bastard is going to stab you in the back. Good preparation does not mean just weapons but also disposition of yourself and your assets. It also means after attack survival.

I remember 9-11-2001. I was on my way into DC for a medical appointment. I was probably the only person in the country unaware of what had just happened in NY. The attack on the Pentagon had not yet occurred. I got off a nearly deserted subway downtown and went to my appointment. No answer at the door. Unknown to me the doctor was in an enormous traffic jam on 395 due to the Pentagon attack. I gave up waiting and went outside and saw the smoke rising from the Pentagon. Someone on the street filled me in on what they knew: something about an airplane crashing into a NY skyscraper. He thought that DC was under attack. Get out of town he said.

My friend William Caswell was aboard the plane that crashed into the Pentagon. Bill and I had gone through the undergraduate physics program together at Maryland. He later got his PhD at Princeton in quantum chromodynamics. You can read about his career on Wikipedia. Imagine how I felt when later I learned of Bill's fate. At home in Accokeek, the odor from the Pentagon drifted to us some 20 miles away. All the subsequent week or two fighters were flying CAP over the DC area. I watched them maneuver at night, keeping each other alert by sneaking up on each other.

I remember 9-11. A few are still around to remember Pearl Harbor. It seems like it will never end. It won't end.

Do It Yourself Driveway Gate

When I wanted to build a driveway gate I found a paucity of instructions on how to go about it so I will detail the process. First I dug holes on each side of the driveway to sink 4x6 pressure treated posts. The posts were set in place with quick setting concrete. Use a level to make sure they are straight up. Then I ordered an adjustable gate frame from Fox home center (see To span a driveway you need 2 adjust-a-gates, plus 4 2x4s. The hinges and latch come with the gate. I installed the adjust-a-gate according to the instructions which was easy. It's a clever design that lets you easily get the second gate even with the first. The final step was to make it into some kind of artistic statement. I took a walk along the river and gathered interesting driftwood and also walked in our woods looking for dead mountain laurel branches. I made a frame of 1x6 horizontals with 2x4 uprights on the edges and natural wood uprights for spokes and used screws to attach everything together.
Total materials:
2 2x6 pressure treated
2 50 lb. ready mixed concrete
2 caps for the posts (optional)
6 2x4 pressure treated
4 1x6 pressure treated
14 gathered upright pieces
3 inch, 2 inch and 1 and 1/4 inch screws
Oh, and I bought a cordless drill for the work I had to do down at the end of the driveway. Other tools were a circular saw, a level and a post hole digger.

Friday, December 5, 2008

The NRL dish

In the 50s and 60s the government had Nike missile bases surrounding Washington, DC. Some of you kids have visited the radar dish there. Imagine my surprise when I ran across this website about it.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Squash 2 Π - Part 2

A squashsicle this big takes days to thaw, but we managed eventually. Next you add the spices and puree the squash. We have found that the hand blender works better then the food processor.

Makes 1 pie:
  • 3 cups pumpkin mush
  • 4 eggs
  • 1.5 cans (12oz can) of evaporated milk
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1.5 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh ground ginger (or more if you like it zesty)
  • 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Next, make your pie crust. I mix flour, a pinch of salt and a stick of butter in the flood processor.
After it is well mixed, add a little water until this happens.
Roll the crust out, and put it in the pie pan. Pour in the Squash mixture.

Bake at 425 F for the first 15 minutes. Turn the temperature down to 350 F and bake another 45 to 60 minutes, until a clean knife inserted into the center comes out clean.

We doubled the recipe, so we got 2 pies. And we still have pumpkin mush left over.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Get Well Wishes to Leo

Haven and I just got back from visiting Leo in the hospital. He did not seem to be in pain but he did have a lot of discomfort from the IV insert thingamabobby. I chatted with the doctor a little who said the case was unusual in that a young healthy person can usually fight off these kinds of infections. They are running tests and will do a more invasive test in a couple of days if they need to. Leo, I know you will read this --- remember the visualization exercise...breathe in white healing light...breathe out dirty impurities. Visualize your white blood cells fighting the infection. Get well soon.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Skype me, baby!

I just started using skype recently, and would like to be able to talk to my nieces online but they don't have webcams. Woot has a two pack of webcams for $13 today. *hint hint*

How to save 30% on almost anything!

With the holidays coming and most of us feeling poor I thought I'd share some misering tips! I am always finding fantastic deals on ebay, and here's how to make them even better. Microsoft's products suck so bad they will give you payola for using them. They owe me $200 just since yesterday for things I was going to buy anyway. Here's how:

1) First find something you want on ebay with a buy it now using your regular search methods. Then open internet explorer and go to do a vague search for the product you need. You may need to tweak your search terms so it knows you are looking to buy something (Fig 1)

2) On the results page look for the $ sign showing you can get cash back at ebay (Fig 2)

3) Click through the link and look for the microsoft cashback sign at the top of ebay, then edit the search until you've found just want you need. You can even paste in the item number from your previous search. (Fig 3)

4) You must use "buy it now" within an hour of your search and you must pay with paypal.

5) IMPORTANT: On the last page where your payment receipt is from paypal you must click "Claim your microsoft cashback". You'll have to sign up for a microsoft live account which can use your email address as the login. Your cashback should show up as pending shortly and in 60 days you can request it to be dispersed (the waiting period it so you can't return the item). You can get your payola by check, paypal, or deposited to your bank account.

I hear microsoft is discontinuing so this opportunity may not be around much longer.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Artistic elephant

You won't believe this one. Maybe I don't myself. I suppose a photo sequence can be faked. Maybe a human did it. But at face value, an elephant did this amazing art work. Look at the whole sequence top to bottom. That elephant can paint better than I can.

I'm ever so glad Lona and I contributed to the Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee for retired circus elephants. Only females are accepted because of the impracticality of dealing with a bull.