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Category: life

Colin Kaepernick, Nike, and Pat Tillman

Two days ago, Nike made headlines with a new advertising campaign featuring NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who hasn’t worked in professional sports for several years due to being blacklisted for his protest of police violence against minorities during the pregame rendition of the national anthem.

A day after the unveiling of the campaign, a response using the image of Pat Tillman, an NFL player who left his NFL career behind in order to enlist in the military, and who died fighting in Afghanistan, in an attempt to mock and discredit the Nike campaign, and to make a statement seemingly in opposition to the protest against police violence.

Opponents of justice and phony patriots have attempted for years to cast Kaepernick’s protest as unpatriotic and disrespectful to veterans.

See, here’s the thing about that.  If you wanted to cast Pat Tillman’s death in the most flattering possible light, you would say that Pat Tillman walked away from a multi-million dollar career to selflessly give his life defending American freedom.  There’s a lot of problems with that, but for the moment let’s grant it, to give pro-Tillman/anti-Kaepernick advocates their strongest argument.

For the freedom that Tillman died defending to be worth anything, it must be freedom for all Americans. Wrapped up in the concept of freedom are the rights that, although enshrined in our Constitution and in the Declaration of Independence, are routinely denied to black and brown people without due process or recourse.

This is at the very heart of Colin Kaepernick’s protest during the national anthem.  If Pat Tillman died to protect the rights and freedoms of Americans, that must include those rights and freedoms that are denied to Americans whom Colin Kaepernick is speaking for through his protest.  And if so, then using Pat Tillman’s sacrifice to denigrate Colin Kaepernick also denigrates Pat Tillman.

Kaepernick has stood on principle for his right to express his views and to make peaceful protest against injustice, which is a right guaranteed to him by the Constitution, and has done so at the cost of his NFL career, representing tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars.  The fact that Nike would contract with Kaepernick, paying him money to endorse their products does not in any way negate this, any more than the act of resigning in protest from a job for reasons of principle would be negated by finding other employment.

Kaepernick may not have died in a foreign battlefield, but his sacrifice is nonetheless real. Death is not the only sacrifice, and though people be willing to give their lives, none should ask or require this as the only measure for “true” sacrifice. 

Using Tillman’s image and sacrifice in this way is an attempt to drive a wedge between Tillman’s life and the highest, most sacred principles that the nation he died serving was founded upon, and an attempt to drive a wedge between Americans. Recognizing this, I am able to recognize the sacrifices of both men as being for the same cause.

Life is funny

Life is really funny.

For most of my time, I haven’t thought much about refrigerators, or had any choice in which refrigerator I had.

Growing up, there was The Fridge. It was yellow. It had food in it. It made stuff cold.

I went to college, I had a tiny dorm refrigerator that, I guess, worked OK. I never had any problems with it that I’m aware of.

I rented apartments, they came with appliances, they worked, I neer had any problems.

They were never anything fancy. Just an insulated box with a compressor and a light inside that goes off when you close the door. No ice maker, no water dispenser. No fancy finish, just some boring neutral color.

I bought a house, and it came with appliances, and the worked. I didn’t have extra money to drop on something better if what I had was fine. The refrigerator that came with the house was made in the 1980s, and was about 30 years old this year. It worked very well. I never did anything to maintain it, it never broke. It just worked non-stop for 30 years, the way an American made major appliance should be expected to. I’ve enjoyed about half of that time, if enjoyed is a word you can use with owning a boring kitchen appliance that does nothing except for work for three decades without complaint.

The only problem with it was that the light socket didn’t make good contact with the bulb, so when the door opened, it would flicker, and for the last however many years, most of the time the light wouldn’t come on at all. I fiddled with it, but it didn’t help.

Then one day my mom sells her house and is giving away stuff, and I claimed the baesment refrigerator. It was nice, slightly bigger, and only twelve years old. A Maytag. They’re dependable. I rented a truck, and my cousins helped me move it to my place, and then I gave my old, still working refrigerator to one of them.

Only, the Maytag had its door hinge on the wrong side. But that wasn’t a problem, that’s reversible. Easy to do with a screwdriver and the manual, which my mom kept in a ziplock bag in a manila folder, along with the warranty info, long since expired, and the original receipt.

So we switched the door, so it opens to the side that is convenient for accessing food when I’m cooking, which happens sometimes. And the light works. And it’s slightly bigger. And a decade newer. I figured I was set for another 20 years at least.  Who knows?

I noticed in the first couple of days that the “new” refrigerator was taking a long time to get down to temperature.  I think it took about 2 days, maybe it was 3.  But it did eventually get cold. 

Then it got really cold. The refrigerator was down around 33F, and then the next day I opened it and found that a bottle of water had frozen, shattering fragments of glass all over the place.  I cleaned it up and adjusted the temperature setting, and it warmed up a degree or two, still staying around freezing.  The thermometer I kept in there said 31F, but that’s below freezing, and nothing else in there was frozen, so I think it’s not quite accurate.  I love drinking ice cold water, so I was happy.

One thing the new refrigerator didn’t have was a tray for storing ice cube trays. This was annoying, since having a place to put the trays so they could work without spilling was a big convenience, and meant that you could use the rest of the space in the freezer more efficiently. I searched online for parts, and found out that pretty much everything for the Maytag wasn’t available any more — discontinued, out of stock. What’s more, I couldn’t even find a rack or shelf or tray for storing the ice cube tray. I tried eBay, there wasn’t much, and it was confusing to confirm that a part was for my model. It was annoying. I found a bin for finished ice cubes, but nothing to hold the trays while they were working. 

I don’t use the freezer nearly as much, so it wasn’t until maybe a week or more that I noticed the frost problem. I went to get an ice cube and noticed that frost had accumulate along the top edge of the door. I surmised that the door seal wasn’t sealing completely, allowing some air in, bringing with it moisture that would condense and freeze, turning into frost.  The ice built up and made the seal worse.  I’d open the door, knock off all the ice, wipe down with a towel, and close the door again, pressing firmly. 

It didn’t work.  I kept the ice at bay, but it kept returning. From 12 years of being on the left hinge, the door seal had compressed, and now that the hinge was on the right side, that left a gap that closing it firmly just couldn’t close.

I also noticed that the refrigerator made a high pitched whine, loud enough to be annoying. In reading the manual, I found out that this was normal. I didn’t like it. I thought about buying a new refrigerator at that point. But I didn’t want to spend the money right now, so I figured maybe next year. I’d take my time and do research and wait for a good sale.

This week, the temperature in the refrigerator compartment went north of 40F.  I worked at a grocery store once, so I knew that this was the threshold for safe food storage. I was concerned.  I tried turning the temperature setting back down, but a day or two later, it was still 40°, maybe 41°.  Then 42°.  Then 43°.

I took a look inside the freezer, it was still holding steady at 0°F, a good strong temperature. I cleaned the frost off the door, and looking more closely, noticed more frost along the ceiling. I cleaned that off too.  There was more frost along the back wall. I noticed that there was an air vent on the back wall, and that it was covered with ice.  Oh.

I looked inside the refrigerator. There were a couple of holes in the ceiling, which I felt no air flowing through.  I tried putting my finger into the holes to see if I could feel ice, but I couldn’t.  I only felt the foam insulation.  It felt warm.

I took my hair dryer and tried to defrost the freezer compartment.  I succeeded in melting the ice I could see, but if there was ice in the duct connecting the freezer compartment to the refrigerator compartment, I don’t think I got it.

The temperature in the refrigerator went up to 47°. Nothing in there was safe to eat any more. It had turned into a botulism farm. The freezer compartment temperature went up to 11°F, but it went back down to 0° by the next morning.  The temperature in the refrigerator went up to 49°.

I started shopping. After a lifetime of not caring or thinking about refrigerators, suddenly I had to make a choice, and suddenly now everything mattered.

I measured the nook in the kitchen and noted the dimensions the new unit would need to fit. I researched styles, features, manufacturers, models. I went to six stores and looked at them in person.  I considered shelving. Ice makers. Water filtration. Top Freezer. Bottom Freezer. Side By Side.  French Door. I compared warranties.  I read reviews.  I checked prices.  I made a spreadsheet.  I opened tabs by the dozen in my browser. I read reviews. 

I questioned the reviews.  What did some random refrigerator owner know?  Did they have the same concerns as me?  Do they understand engineering and manufacturing? Have they tried all the other models out there and therefore know that theirs is really the best? Was their specific experience representative of all examples of that model, or did they get a lemon? Were they even humans writing real reviews, or were they fake reviews written by shills trying to sway public opinion to buy the wrong refrigerator? The more I read, the less I knew. The more uncertain I became.

Within 72 hours, I’d saturated my mind with research and reached the limits of my patience for indecision.  I needed to dispose of my botulism farm and put this episode behind me so that life could resume. I told myself that I didn’t need to make the perfect or even the best decision, I just needed to make an adequate decision. I reminded myself that for 43 years, any old refrigerator was just fine. Why should this purchase be such a conundrum?

Based on the in-person impression I’d gotten from store visits, my internet research, and my meticulous note keeping, I had decided that I liked one model in particular more than the others I’d looked at.  I wasn’t sure that it was the best for me, it wasn’t vastly superior in every way. But I liked the size, the shelves, the price. The reviews were very positive, but one or two of them mentioned that the freezer compartment didn’t get down to 0°F like it should at the recommended setting. Some reviewers recommended turning it up to max cooling, others said it wasn’t a good model because of this deficiency, and to look for something else. 

Concerned, I thought about it overnight. I shopped some more, and found a merchant that was running a sale, and it was the cheapest price I had found yet for this model, and several hundred less than most of the other models I’d considered. I added to cart and got the complete price for it, and printed it out.

I reasoned that I could go to the store in person and ask questions about returns, and if I could do a return after delivery, and if I liked the answer I got, I’d go ahead and buy it, try it out for a time, and if it didn’t get cold enough for me, I’d return it and pick some other model.

This saga is far from over.  Delivery will take place on Wednesday.  I’ll have to observe the temperatures over several days to see how it performs. I’ll have to decide what to do.  I hope I won’t have to return it and start over. I hope I won’t have to think about it again for a decade at least, and three would be better.

It’s just weird that something that never mattered for my entire life so far should become such a dilemma when a situation arises where I have to make the decision. Even though it’s only a couple hundred bucks, it’s a decision with potentially decades of repercussions.  So much responsibility!

Sometimes life is better when you don’t have so much control, and don’t have to make choices.

Conway’s Mustard Steak

This is a very simple preparation and primitive cooking method, but the results are extraordinary. This is an old family recipe I learned a long time ago from a good friend.

Ingredients:

  • Steak (should be a large, thick cut of beef, such as London Broil, or Round Steak, at least 1.5-2″ thick.)
  • Ordinary yellow mustard (French’s, etc.)
  • Common table salt

Supplies:

  • Charcoal briquettes
  • lighter fluid
  • charcoal starter chimney
  • Fire starter

 

  • Casserole dish
  • Paper towels
  • Serving platter
  • basting brush
  • BBQ tongs or fork
  • Serving knife

Instructions:

Preparation:

1-2 days ahead of cooking:

  1. Dry the meat with paper towels, then apply a thick coating of yellow mustard with the basting brush until steak is completely covered on all sides.
  2. Sprinkle very liberally with salt until mustard achieves a paste-like, crusty consistency.
  3. Lay in casserole dish for 24-48 hrs in refrigerator, marinating.

Fire preparation:

  1. Fill charcoal starting chimney with briquettes. Wad up paper towels or newspaper, douse with lighter fluid, and place under the chimney. Don’t put fluid on the charcoal.
  2. Light the paper with the fire starter. The coals should ignite easily, and be ready in 5-10 minutes. Let them burn in the chimney until they are glowing orange, then spread them out on a scraped area of bare earth the ground, or in a fire pit, or in a charcoal grill.
  3. Make sure you have sufficient lit charcoal to cover the ground with a good, thick layer of coals, with no gaps between them, covering an area at least twice the size of the meat.  This may be more than 1 chimney full of coal, so be sure to get enough going before you start cooking.

Cooking:

  1. Lay the steak directly on the coals, ensuring that the coat of mustard is still intact on the side touching the coals. (Usually, this will be the top side of the steak, as the juices in the bottom of the marinade pan will tend to wash the mustard off the bottom of the steak. Re-apply more mustard and salt on the now-exposed bottom side of the steak to restore a complete coating. The mustard will sear into the meat, protecting the meat itself.
  2. Once the meat is on the fire, let it sit. Don’t touch it or poke it.
  3. Let the steak cook for a long time. Exact cooking time will vary depending on thickness of the meat, but 10-20 minutes or even longer is typical.
    1. Don’t use a clock, however; rather, watch the steak for signs that it is ready. When you start seeing blood droplets appear on the top side of the steak, it will be ready to flip within a few minutes.
    2. Wait until you see droplets coming up all over, not just in one place. Then, using the BBQ tongs or fork, lift the steak off the coals, and knock any coals that have adhered to the meat off, then lay the steak back down on a fresh section of coals.
  4. Continue to cook on second side, once again waiting to see blood juices coming up through the top surface of the steak. It should take significantly less time for the second side to cook through.
  5. Once blood is again visible on the top side remove from the fire, knock off any stuck coals, and rest on the serving platter for about 4-5 minutes.

Serving:

  1. Slice thin and serve.
    1. Steak should be perfectly seared on the outside, and a full-spectrum gradient of done-ness should be evident through the cut, from well and crispy to rare or even blue in the middle, depending on the thickness of the cut and the cooking time.
    2. The mustard and salt flavor will have permeated the meat throughout, and especially the outside crust will be intensely flavorful.
  2. It will not need any additional seasoning or sauces.
  3. Serve with corn, potatoes, or other favorite BBQ side dishes, and your favorite beverage. Goes excellent with beer or a fruity alcoholic punch, margaritas, etc.

Guppy’s Great Steak

Ingredients:

Supplies:

Instructions:

Preparation

  1. Fill the charcoal starter chimney with charcoal.
  2. Put a couple of wadded up paper towels that have been doused with lighter fluid underneath the chimney, and be ready to go in 5-10 minutes. Don’t put fluid on the coals.
  3. Light the paper towel wad. The coals should ignite easily. Let them burn inside the chimney until they are glowing orange, then distribute in the bottom of the grill.
  4. While the coals are getting ready, prepare the meat.
    1. Meat should be close to room temperature, or slightly cooler.
    2. Pat meat dry with more paper towels.
    3. Once meat is dry, rub with steak salt and Montreal seasoning until both sides are coated.

Cooking

  1. Lay steaks over the hottest part of the grill, and cover the grill.
  2. Don’t touch the grill again until it’s time to flip. Let them set there for about 3 minutes for medium rare.
  3. Flip once, then replace the lid and leave it alone for another 3-4 minutes.
  4. When you flip the corners and edges of the filets should just be starting to char, and you should see grill marks seared into the surface of the meat.
  5. After flipping and waiting for the second side (about the same amount of time as the first side, or slightly less), pull from the grill, and then let them rest for a few minutes.
  6. While resting, apply 2-4 drops of liquid smoke on the top of the filets, and let it absorb.

Serving

  1. Slice thin and dip into the A-1 and stadium mustard. Put mustard on one half of a slice, and A-1 on the other half, and let the flavors blend together in your mouth. For best results use mustard that has aged in refrigerator for 3-4 years. It will have a mellow flavor and a creamy texture.
  2. Serve with grilled mushrooms and vegetables and your favorite beverage.

Why I’m “meh” on the SpaceX Falcon launch

This image could have been produced by MTV 35 years ago, for a lot cheaper.

This image could have been produced by MTV 35 years ago, for a lot cheaper.

I’m very meh on the success of the SpaceX Falcon launch yesterday.

I mean, I guess it’s good that someone still gives a shit about escaping Earth orbit enough to actually do it. It’s a wonder more of us don’t, considering how things are here. We need to be more ambitious about space.

And it’s nice to know that we still have the capability to launch a decent rocket. The Falcon heavy lift vehicle test’s success is a good thing. And I guess since it was just a test launch, maybe that’s why they chose to lift a Tesla Roadster instead of something actually useful, putting at risk billions of dollars in R&D for something serious.

But it’s incredibly sad to me that it’s a billionaire taking a joyride, publicity stunt putting one of his car company’s cars up there, instead of science gear, or habitation infrastructure, or something industrial. The money that put that car up there could have saved thousands of our frankly worthless lives were it spent on the right stuff.

I said as much when Guy Laliberte from Cirque du Soleil went up to squirt water around his capsule and play with it in zero G, too, and everyone thought I was harsh and wrong.

Well, you’re wrong. Shit down here is serious and it’s seriously broken.

Time for billionaires to fix some of it, since they’re responsible for so much of it.

Eleven reasons why It (2017) wasn’t scary for me

  1. No giant spider.
  2. It is a clown that gets it’s ass handed to It more than once by a small group of loser children.
  3. It is really a demon-thing, but doesn’t even require a +1 weapon to deal damage to it.
  4. Whenever It gets hurt by the loser kids, It usually retreats, or else flips out twitching and jerking for a few seconds. It’s kindof a wimp.
  5. It bites Georgie’s arm off. Real scary, right? But there’s almost no pain reaction from him, I guess because he’s in shock? But this recalls the Black Knight from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. “Tis but a scratch! I’ve had worse!” Apart from when Henry Bowers uses his knife on New Kid Ben, I didn’t get any sense of horror from the gore in this film.
  6. Any time It’s around, there’s red balloons. I guess they’re supposed to be threatening and creepy, but they’re really just a giveaway: OK there’s another balloon get ready for It to try to scare us again. Get ready to not be surprised! Literally every single jump scare foreshadowed.
  7. It doesn’t seem to be capable of hurting anyone unless they’re scared. Literally the only thing they have to do is stand up to It, or realize that It’s mind-tricks aren’t real. It’s hard to be scared of something that isn’t real, or is only real in your head.
  8. When big brother Bill encounters It (in the guise of little lost Georgie) in the basement, and It starts repeating “we all float down here” and turning “scary”, I’m thinking “OK he’s just glitching out. Someone needs to file a bug report, and then we can patch it.”
  9. It mostly likes to scare people by turning ugly. Deformed, decaying walking corpses, and that sort of thing. But years of informal sensitivity training has enabled me to empathize with people who have severe appearance deficits, rather than feel repulsed by them. I want to help It feel accepted, as though It too is capable and worthy of being loved.
  10. The creepy house at 29 Niebold Street is pretty overboard. Hey, it’s not like that place doesn’t scream “haunted”. It obviously put a lot of effort into decor. But did It really have to go with “late 19th century cliche American Victorian?” It’s literally the most obvious place in town It could have picked to make It’s home. Send in the crack team of loser kids!
  11. We have a much worse clown in the White House, and he’s threatening to destroy the world in a nuclear exchange with North Korea. What I wouldn’t give for there to be a supernatural demon that only eats a few children once a generation instead of this president. Literally every single day in 2017, the news is worse than a statistically abnormal number of missing children in a small town.

Overall I enjoyed It, for the acting and the casting, and especially the humorous/lighthearted moments when the kids are just being kids. The children who act in the film look and feel like real children. That much, was great. But I didn’t feel scared. The teaser trailers made it seem like It would be a lot worse than it was.

Recipe: really good very cute boyfriend stir fry

When I’m cooking at home, I like to do stir fry dishes in my wok. Recently I have been doing this, and have been finding that I have been feeling extra-well, and more energized on days after I have the following for dinner.

So maybe it’ll help you too. It is easy to make, reheats well, and you end up with an amount of food that you can turn into about four or five good meals.

really good very cute boyfriend stir fry

Ingredients:

  • rice
  • tofu
  • broccoli crowns
  • white onion
  • green onion
  • canned water chestnuts
  • canned baby corn
  • snow peas
  • crimini mushrooms
  • baby bean sprouts
  • sesame oil
  • teriyaki sauce
  • hoisin sauce
  • soy sauce

Equipment:

  • Rice cooker
  • Wok
  • wood spoon
  • large pot with lid

Preparation:

Rice.

Start the rice first, because it takes the longest. Depending on the type of rice you use, it will take a varying amount of water and cook time, so I can’t get too specific on this. Just watch carefully the first few times you’re cooking the rice and learn what works with a specific variety.

Some people say you should soak and rinse the rice before cooking. I don’t really bother with that; just a couple minutes of soaking, while I’m chopping the vegetables, and no rinsing.

Press tofu.

Take the tofu out of the container, and press it between two plates with a weight on top. This will squeeze out excess water, resulting in firmer tofu. After pressing for about 20-30 minutes, you can cut it into cubes. You can get away with less press time if you want, but less than 10-15 minutes is not recommended.

Chop vegetables.

Chop the different vegetables up into bite-size pieces. If you want you can save some time by buying pre-sliced vegetables. I usually get pre-sliced mushrooms, water chestnuts, and baby corn.

For the green onions, you just want the pieces to be about a quarter of an inch long.

The water chestnuts and baby corn come pre-sliced in cans, but you’ll need to strain them.

Cooking

Note: With a few exceptions, I don’t really bother with measuring ingredients. Learning to cook isn’t about following precise steps exactly every single time. It’s about exploring and experimenting and being observant and understanding.

Measuring makes it easier to repeat a result, but only if the ingredients are constant. The thing with vegetables and other ingredients is, they’re not very constant. They vary depending on season and freshness.

So the amount of oil or sauce or temperature or cook time that might be good for one session might not work for another, or according to your taste.

You develop a feel for this over time. Vary and experiment until you feel like you know what you’re doing and know what works for you. Use your eyeballs and your head. Use your tongue. This recipe will tell you what I look for when I’m cooking and how I estimate, not how to be scientific and rigid with your cooking method.

  1. Start the rice cooker about 10 minutes before you start cooking the rest of the vegetables.

    I’ve found the type of rice I usually cook takes about 20-25 min to be done, and the wok items take about 10-12 minutes or so to do.I use a rice cooker that I bought at a drug store for $10 like 17 years ago, nothing special (but it’s a really well made and well designed appliance and I’m happy with it).

    Some people use super fancy rice cookers made in Japan, that cost $150+ and use sophisticated sensors and computer programming with AI and fuzzy logic to do perfect rice every time with no fuss. There’s nothing wrong with that. At all. The Japanese know WTF they’re doing with their rice. Someday maybe I’ll buy one myself.

    With my rice cooker, it just has a setting for “warm” and a setting for “cook”. It’s supposed to switch automatically to “warm” after the water boils off. I’m not sure how it knows to do this, I expect maybe it’s by weight but who knows.

    But usually it’s wrong, so I have learned to watch it and flip the switch manually. I just need to keep an eye on it, checking on it after about 15 minutes to see how much water has evaporated.There’s a narrow window (maybe a minute or two, tops) between the water boiling away and the rice at the bottom of the pan starting to burn. That’s what you watch for. When the rice is done, the water should be boiled away leaving moist steamy grains of rice that may stick together or not depending on the variety and whether you washed and rinsed it.
    Sometimes, I see little holes in the rice, that look almost like someone took a bunch of chopsticks and stuck them in the rice, then pulled them out when the rice firmed up enough to stick that way. These holes are created by the streams of steam bubbles coming up through the boiling water. You don’t see them until toward the end when the rice is ready, and they don’t always form. But if you do see them it’s a good sign that the rice is ready.

    My rice cooker has a second stage to it, a basket that goes on the top of the cooking bowl, which you can steam vegetables, dumplings, or other food in. I put the broccoli in here. If your cooker has this feature, you can do that too, if not just stir fry it in the wok.

    Broccoli is done cooking when it is still bright green and stiff and crunchy. It is overdone when it starts to wilt, turns a darker green with a brownish tinge, or gets mushy. Basically, you just want the broccoli to be hot, not to break down the cells of the plant that make it crunchy and crisp.

    Fortunately it takes about the same amount of time to steam the broccoli as it does to cook the rice. But you may need to pull the broccoli a little early. Just lift the lid and check on it after about 10 minutes and see if it looks good.

    I don’t put anything on the broccoli while it’s steaming, just let it steam on its own. After it’s done steaming, I’ll throw it in the wok for a few seconds to a minute, taking care not to overcook it, to get some flavor from the sauces and oil.

    As soon as the rice cooker is set up and going, I turn my attention to the wok and the vegetables.

  2. Throw some sesame oil into your wok, and ignite the burner under it. Gas stove top is the only way to fly here. A “splash” of oil, enough to coat the cooking surface and leave a slight puddle is sufficient. You’re not deep frying, so you don’t need to cover the ingredients in oil, you just need enough to keep them from burning to the cooking surface of the wok. As you run through adding the different ingredients, you may need to add a little more oil at times.

    Tilt the wok so the oil flows over the entire inner surface, as close to the edge as you can get without spilling the oil. Then put the wok on the burner and let the oil flow back down to the center and get good and hot. If it starts smoking, it’s ready, but it’s also ready before then. It only takes a minute or so to heat up good and hot. Woks are made from thin metal that heats up quickly, and don’t retain the heat very long. It should be hot enough to start cooking very quickly.

  3. Now, cook the vegetables and tofu in the wok. Wait, tofu’s a vegetable too, right? Whatever, just cook the vegetables.

    Starting with the thickest, sturdiest vegetables, working my way down to the flimsiest, I cook each ingredient with a little bit of teriyaki and hoisin sauce, and throw on a little soy sauce as well.

    The sauces help flavor the food as well as keep it from drying out while it’s cooking in the oil. Oil heats up much hotter than the boiling point of water, so it can really dry out food from the outside in and turn it crispy. That’s what deep frying is all about — drying out the surface of the food, making it crispy. But with stir frying, you want to preserve the moisture in the food, and just give it a light coating of oil so it won’t stick to the wok. The oil helps transfer the heat into the food. But you don’t want it to dry out or it will burn. So you add a little sauce to help balance moisture and add flavor.

    It’s easy to use too much sauce, but there’s no strict guideline on how much to use. When I first started my wok experiments, I used too much, and my food didn’t taste like the food it was, all I could taste was the sauce. Now, I use less, and it flavors the food, the sauce doesn’t mask the food and become the entire flavor.

    You don’t want a deep pool of sauce at the bottom of the wok that the food is boiling in; you want a coating of sauce that you can stir the food in.

    Soy sauce is the most watery of the three, and adds moisture to the food while also adding a salty flavor. Teriyaki is sweet. Hoisin is sweet and a little hot. I find these blend well together, but you can experiment with other types of sauces. Fish sauce, oyster sauce, sate sauce are all worth looking at, as well as others.

    If you want to you can also toss in other spices, such as ginger or dried chili peppers, or whatever else you want. These can add even more flavor. But resist the temptation to overwhelm the dish with these flavors. Strong spicy dishes can taste great, but if you dial back and let the spice accent the food flavor rather than smother it, it’s even better.

    I know lots of people like to flip and toss and catch their food with the wok, and this is considered the correct way to use a wok, but I don’t find this to be all that necessary. I just stir it with a large flat wooden spoon/spatula thing, and it works just as well, without risk of spilling the food or straining my wrist. If you enjoy flipping the food around and being a showboat, knock yourself out.

    The purpose of stirring the food is to move it around so it doesn’t stick to the wok and burn. Also it helps even out hot spots so that everything cooks to an even temperature. Also it helps distribute the spice and sauce over the whole surface of each piece of food. Also, it helps the food flip over so it gets cooked from all sides, not just the side it happened to land on when it landed in the wok. And if you’re cooking more than one ingredient together, it helps them to mix. That’s it.

    As each ingredient is cooking, I sample a piece every now and then to see how it’s doing. Once it’s done how I like it, I transfer the food from the wok to the pot, and put the lid on it to keep things warm. I work my way through the ingredients, doing the thicker, sturdier foods first, and cooking them longer, and the lighter ingredients last, cooking them briefer. Items like baby corn, water chestnuts, onions, mushrooms, and tofu all take longer, several minutes, and can be done together if they fit in the wok, or done separately if there’s too much. Broccoli takes long too, unless it’s already steamed, in which case it just needs a short bath in the sauces. Items like spinach leaves, green onion, and baby bean sprouts don’t take long at all, and can be thrown in toward the end for a minute or less.

    Tofu is done when it starts to brown on the edges and develop a bit of a skin. If it’s not pressed enough to remove enough moisture, it may not brown on the edges or develop a skin, so keep that in mind. If you want to, you can do meat instead of tofu: chicken, beef, shrimp, or something else. Be sure to cook chicken thoroughly.

    Once all the ingredients are done, mix them up in the pot and then scoop it out and serve with the rice.

The death of (open) Instant Messaging?

Instant Message services were a Big Thing in the 1990’s and early 2000’s. Everyone seemed to use them, and all the wannabe big players on the internet were offering some form of instant messaging. AOL, Yahoo, MSN, Google, you name it, everyone had a service. It was a great way to contact friends, as well as continue conversations started in real life with recent new acquaintances.

There was much competition among the providers to see who could get everyone to use their client and their protocol. Users understandably didn’t want to have to install and run a half dozen different clients to do the same exact thing with all these different services, so naturally they rebelled and gravitated toward open source clients that supported multiple protocols, perhaps not with all the bells and whistles, but well enough to conduct basic text-based instant messaging with their contacts.

Many of these were closed protocol services, meaning that they were intended to work only with a proprietary client, which (tried to) force users to connect to the service with the official client. There were numerous open protocols competing for users as well, and open source multi-protocol clients, which mainly promised a better user experience (with no advertising) and often better privacy, and other useful features such as chat logging and a plugin framework that allowed greater customization and extensibility. gAIM, initially an open source implementation of the AOL Instant Messenger, later morphed into a multi-protocol client that rebranded itself pidgin, to avoid confusion with the AOL-trademarked AIM. There were also Trillian and ICQ which offered similar open source clients with multi-protocol flexibility.

For several years the closed services fruitlessly tried to lock out these open source clients, forcing people to update frequently to keep compatible. Eventually service providers relented and gave up the arms race to lock out the open source clients, and things settled down and became peaceful for a time.

Then came Facebook. The rise to dominance in the social media sphere resulted in a decline of other messaging services. For the last however many years, I’ve mostly used Facebook messages, because that’s what everyone seems to use anymore. Social applications go where the users are, and facebook has the users. I can’t remember the last time anyone has attempted to contact me through my AIM account, and I’ve never really used YahooIM or MSN Messenger, although I technically have accounts because they came for free with a Yahoo or MSN or Hotmail account. I also use gmail chat sometimes, but also with diminishing frequency.

So, when I bought a new laptop back in March, it wasn’t a high priority to set up my pidgin accounts right away. I only got around to trying it just this last weekend. I do a lot of fb chat on a daily basis, but I just used the desktop website for that, and didn’t really notice anything missing by not logging into the other services.

All of a sudden, I can’t use most of my accounts through pidgin.

  • My AIM account has an SSL error when I try to connect through pidgin.
  • The Yahoo IM service is being shut down soon as part of Yahoo’s continued decline into irrelevance.
  • My google accounts warn me that the login is insecure, and recommends that I not allow it. I take my google account security seriously, so I heed this warning. I’m unclear if there’s a way to use pidgin to connect to gTalk securely, but I haven’t really looked into it as yet; if I need to I have the Google Hangouts app installed on my phone, and I can use the gmail web client to chat with people. It’d be nice to have everything in one place, and I’d like that place to be pidgin, but at least I can still access the service.
  • Facebook seems hellbent on closing off instant messaging services to Messenger only. I’d rather never talk to any of my friends ever again than be forced to use Facebook Messenger. The only other reliable method of messaging through Facebook remains the full desktop website; mobile crashes when I try to use it for messaging from an actual mobile device. And FB nags me to try Messenger whenever it thinks to. On my smartphone, Facebook wants me to install Facebook Messenger, which I DO NOT WANT. They started locking out mobile website users of their messaging feature, such that my browser crashes if I try to access the feature through m.facebook.com. I switched over to Trillian for Android, which worked for a few weeks, and now it too has issues. At first I noticed that I could not receive incoming messages that had hyperlinks or images. Now, I can’t even send plain text, although I can still receive it. Hopefully this is something the Trillian developers can work around, but it is looking like FB has resumed the arms race to lock out independent clients from accessing the service.
  • Livejournal has always embraced openness with its messaging, using XMPP for its protocol. So it works well with pidgin still, and out of the accounts I accessed through Pidgin it seems to be the last one standing. But it was never a popular IM option even when LJ was one of the top social media sites, and LJ has been a ghost town for years.

My assumption is that proprietary services want to force you to use the official clients so they can shove advertising down users’ throats, and so they can completely control the user’s client-side experience, including sideloading non-optional unwanted software (what we’d normally just call malware if the purveyor wasn’t a big corporation who feels entitled by EULA/TOS to do whatever they want to their users).

And so it goes with the way of all things, that they fade and die as time goes on. It’s a little bit sad to see the old mainstays fading to irrelevance. But mostly annoying that the protocols that are still going strong have been pulling away from the open clients.

The Decline and Fall of the The Walking Dead

[Editor’s note: I started writing this post shortly after the last episode of season six aired, back in April… then promptly forgot about it, until season seven started last week. In light of the outpouring of fans and critics complaining about the season’s first episode, I decided to finish up and publish.]

I’m thinking about this season’s last episode of The Walking Dead. The big season ending cliffhanger in which we’re finally introduced to Negan, and he brutally beats (likely kills) one of the central cast members, and we’re left to wonder who until next season.

My feelings on the show are pretty mixed. I definitely like TWD, overall, and moreover, I am predisposed to like it. But I increasingly find myself wondering why as the show grinds on. Mainly, I think, it comes down to the characters that I’ve grown attached to: Glenn, Daryl, Carol being my favorites. They’re played by great actors, and viewers have grown very attached to them over six seasons. But what really hooked me was the strength of the writing in the first season, and the realism of the situations that the survivors faced, and the realism of their responses to it.

There was a serious external threat represented by the zombie outbreak and the collapse of civilization, but also internal struggles as people who probably would ordinarily never cooperate or interact with each other were thrust together by circumstances and forced to cooperate for a chance at survival. Disagreements and conflicts and strained loyalties. And the choices the characters made had real, life or death consequences. People died on the show, just about every episode, and they were often characters who you cared about.

But also, there were the pragmatic, immediate matters of survival at hand. What tactics work against zombies? What about a huge number of zombies? Forgetting about zombies, how do you do basic survival when civilization has collapsed — how do you eat? Stay warm? Take care of your health and hygeine?

As the show has worn on, though, these things that made it interesting have been replaced or receeded into irrelevance. It’s taken for granted that they know how to survive. They are shown foraging, farming, and scavenging, but we never really see them starving, or shivering, or too weak to go on. They’ve gotten competent with fighting and know anti-zombie tactics so well that zombies are no longer a threat unless the show decides to make a stealth zombie come out of nowhere for a deus ex machina kill. Death spares the central cast, making it tame and predictable.

[[PUT SOMETHING HERE ABOUT HOW THE SHOW AT ONE TIME GAVE A FALSE HOPE OF FIGURING OUT WHAT WAS CAUSING THE ZOMBIE OUTBREAK AND STOPPING IT]]

For a time, the series dangled some hope of answers and a resolution. We might find out what caused the zombie apocalypse. There might even be a way to cure it. But those hopes were blown up in a memorable episode a few years ago, and since then, apart from a false hope in the form of Eugene’s story that he needed to get to Washington, D.C., there really hasn’t been any sense of direction. The cast have not been on a quest to go anywhere or accomplish anything, it’s just been an endless sequence of running into people, running into zombies, running into people, running into zombies, and most everyone they run into ends up dying before too long, but the central cast had started to take on an aura of invincibility.

Encounters with the living follow a formula: Either the other group is brutal and threatening, cannot be trusted, ever, and must therefore be destroyed; or, the other group is soft and weak, cannot be relied on, and must be exploited until their inexplicably stable pocket of civilization is overrun by either zombies or stronger people. We pick up a few new cast members who have the potential of making it with the protagonist group, but these people are all marked for death, and the idea is that we’re supposed to start to develop feelings for them before the show rips them from us, usually in some meaningless, almost accidental incident that is there mostly for its shock or horror value, which due to the contrived and predictable nature of the setup, is always diminished and weaker than intended.

Because there’s not enough time to allow for meaningful character development at the pace the writers want the show to take, we mostly don’t get any. There’s hints of possibility that go unexplored as the main plot hurtles past at highway speed. In many ways it feels like what makes it to broadcast is the “digest version” of a larger, richer story that we’ll never get to see. I guess that’s why the book is always better than the screenplay production. Yet, it’s frustrating. And if they could simply choose to take the time, you know they could make the show 10 times better than it ends up being. Essentially every character’s arc is left unfinished, or truncated. This could be the tragedy that we crave if it’s in full development only to be cut short by an untimely, horrible death. But despite the cornucopia of death that the show loves to present to us, almost none of it seems to hit us that way — the recent death of the doctor character just as she’s starting to come into her own being one notable exception, but all the more glaring due to its singularity.

Also, the central characters are so safe that the show’s writers are forced to have them make stupid decisions for no apparent reason. Carol’s most recent apparent death wish and her decision to leave the group again, for no real good reason, being the latest example of this. But we see it again and again, and it feels like it’s only an excuse to put a central character in danger, only to have the show pull its punches and spare them from harm.

Now, with the Negan kills ????? cliffhanger, the show is promising us a bloody, brutal end to one of our favorite characters. I’ve admired The Walking Dead for its willingness to kill characters, as TV shows so seldom often do. It was far more interesting to watch TWD knowing that it would not pull punches and spare a character just because they were a fan favorite. But this cliffhanger, I think, is too much for me. It’s like the show is using the spectacle of execution as entertainment. Death on the show wasn’t for entertainment, at least not for me, it was there to illustrate that TWD was a different sort of show, where, just like in real life, death doesn’t play fair, and that made me feel like characters were really in peril whenever there was danger.

I haven’t watched the first episode of Season 7 still, and after reading a lot of people’s responses to it, I’m not sure that I want to.

I won a contest

Last month, a youtube channel I follow called The No-Swear Gamer had a contest to win a knitted Space Invaders hat made by SETXNerdery. I went over to NSG’s facebook page, entered the contest, and to my surprise, I won!

The hat arrived in my mail on Friday, and I have to say, I really like it. Even if I don’t especially like winter.

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The acrylic yarn is soft and the hat is warm and fits on my head pretty well. SEXTNerdery has some other hat designs that are fun if you’re a retro gamer, so give them a look.

No Swear Gamer does a nice job of reviewing classic games for the Atari and other retro consoles, and provides a lot of detailed information, including some secret information like easter eggs. He has a good knowledge of his subject and doesn’t rely on stunts or gimmicks to attract viewers (aside from the occasional hat contest) — just solid information and opinion.

csanyk.com © 2016
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