Monday, June 30, 2014

The Carnegie Library, Main Branch, is Too Inviting.

I went in the Carnegie library for the first time last week. It’s an impressive stone building right next to where I work. I picked a book at random from the card catalog on the internet before I went, and used it as a goal so I wouldn’t look confused and aimless while I was there.

The front rooms of the library are too inviting.  It’s like a birthday party in there. Brightly colored “Ask a Librarian” and “Did you know…?” and “Dig into gardening!”.  You have to wander out a back door under a small sign that says “mezzanine” to get to the musty.  Library of Congress is on the mezzanine and second floor, Dewey on the third. Both, huh.

I couldn’t find the stairs to the third floor (my book was numbered in Dewey: 937 point something; a 1916 translation of Caesar’s “Commentaries on the Gallic War”) before an aggressively friendly librarian saw me looking lost. I stammered out a description of my fake goal. He variously directed me to several places where I might look up other resources, but discouraged me from 937: we don’t use Dewey anymore; some of those books are more than 40 years old; we’re still going through them to figure out what can be saved and what needs replaced.  I can take you up there if you really need something…

But, I excused myself as quickly as I could and vanished down a random Library of Congress-numbered aisle. I didn’t want to be helped.  What I wanted was to walk down a long aisle between old and new books of mismatched sizes, under fluorescent lights. I wanted to stop somewhere where the books had serious-looking spines, and grab a tall, heavy blue hardcover with unbent white pages. I wanted to skim the introduction and be welcomed by some random academic who warmly assures me that finally an overview of this topic is collected together in one volume. I wanted to read just far enough to find out something that I didn’t even know you could know about. 

Then I’d put it back on the shelf, a little uncertain at first about where it went, but I’d check the number carefully. The label on the shelf asks you to leave the book out rather than put it back — I like to imagine that if the book is shelved in the wrong place, it could be lost for 40 years before some wandering volunteer finds it, lifts her eyebrows in surprise, and drops it into a reshelving cart. But I always reshelve the books myself anyway because I like to feel like I’m a library insider.

I guess I have an odd sense of what’s inviting.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Clouds, sideways

(It looks better in a wider view on the vimeo site: Clouds sideways).

This is a slitscan manipulation of timelapse clouds by Matt Conroy. Time runs left to right across the frame; the black stuff at the beginning is a pine tree at the left side of Matt's video.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Pumpkin liqueur

I'm trying a pumpkin liqueur -- we ended up with a vast pumpkin from Gathering Together farms, and it's got to be et.

I found this pumpkin liqueur recipe and tried to follow it, but it makes all kinds of no sense:

  • How the heck much is 24 ounces of pumpkin? I chopped it raw and used 4 cups.
  • Boil four cups of pumpkin in the juice of one lemon? Not possible. So I kept adding enough water to keep it from burning. It probably spent a half-hour on the stove total.
  • I tried straining it, but it seemed like a waste of effort -- every other recipe I've used involves big chunks of stuff soaking in the liquor, then you strain at the end. So I just dumped it in there, pumpkin, lemon peels, and all.
  • Instead of 6 oz of sugar, I used "some" sugar. Probably less than that; I'll add syrup when I'm done.
  • I don' t know how much rum I used. probably a little more than they called for.
I'm not optimistic about this one, but we'll see.

UPDATE: I gave it a couple weeks, then strained it and added sugar water to it. The result was something like limoncello. No pumpkin flavor at all. Not great limoncello, but not undrinkable; I kept in in the freezer and drank it in small amounts as an after dinner sippy drink. If I were to try this again, I'd use a pie pumpkin (they're sweeter), maybe add some sugar during the first stage, and of course no lemon. Maybe add pumpkin pie spices after it's done, but I'd want to taste it without them first, because I think they'd overwhelm the pumpkin.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Concord Liqueur Experiment

I'm trying a liqueur making experiment, and I'm blogging the recipe so I don't forget what I did in case I like the result. I didn't find a good recipe on the internet anywhere so I'm just making this up. Any advice is appreciated.

  • 3 cups (loosely packed) of Concord grape skins
  • 2 cups Everclear
  • 2 cups distilled water
The plan is to let it sit about a month, then strain it and add sugar and water (maybe 2 cups sugar, 1 cup water, premade into syrup), and let that sit for another few weeks.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

A frozen old friend

So I was just googling people I haven't seen in a long time, and I found an article about some friends of mine, Mary Margaret and Jim Glennie, who I knew when I was in college. Jim died of a brain tumor, and had his brain cryopreserved in hopes of reanimating it some day; and Mary Margaret is signed up for the same treatment.

I don't know enough biology to say anything intelligent about whether this process could work. Seems far-fetched. But Mary Margaret's logic was sound: she pays some amount of insurance to Alcor, for a few decades, and gains some probability, however small, of a long, interesting, unimaginable life in the distant future, by the side of loved ones you're guaranteed to lose otherwise. If you can afford it, and you don't believe in any metaphysical afterlife, then why not? It's a bit like a materialist's version of Pascal's wager.

All the same, I don't see myself signing up. I have faith that, a society that had the technology to revive me wouldn't need me. They'd be bringing me back out of nostalgia or contractual obligation, and in a society with that kind of technology, I'd basically never die. I'd be the same kind of quaint annoyance as the crappy old buildings you can't knock down when historical preservationists take things too far. I mean, I like to think of myself as a beautiful and unique snowflake, but one coffee table book of snowflake pictures is about all anyone can appreciate. I'll let Jim and Mary Margaret fill that role. They'll make fine ambassadors to the future.

(Thanks mysza831 for the photo)

Monday, June 29, 2009

Lazy Substitutiony Vegetarian Mofongo

I got envious of Andrew's culinary adventures without me in Oregon, and decided to make one of my own favorite things, Mofongo.

I did it extremely lazy, and made lots of substitutions, and it still came out really good. I think the mofongo recipes you find out there are way too fussy. Or maybe I just have tin taste buds...

Anyway, here's what I did:

Lazy Substitutiony Vegetarian Mofongo

  • 2 green plantains
  • 1 package of LightLife SmartStrips, the tasty vegetarian meat substitute with the stupid name. If you like to eat pigs, put bacon or pork in instead as a meat substitute substitute.
  • 5 guks of olive oil (turn the bottle upside down and listen: guk guk guk guk guk STOP)
  • Too much garlic powder
  • One package of shrimp ramen
Peel the plantains. They're awkwarder to peel than bananas. Chop them into pieces like half an inch thick. Fry them on medium heat for a while in a little too much olive oil. If your frying pan isn't small and stupid like mine, then you'll probably need more guks. Anyway, turn 'em and don't burn 'em. They don't even have to brown, but you want to make sure they're mostly cooked inside.

Lift them out of the frying pan with a holey spatula so most of the grease is left in the pan, and put the strips in the there and start them frying.

While they're frying, mush up the plantains. Mine were kinda crusty from cooking, so it wasn't easy, and like I said I don't have any kitchen equipment to speak of, so it was a little spoon and a too-small bowl. Maybe you have an electric plantain-o-matic you got at your wedding and haven't used, but don't go crazy and overmush them; you want tasty chunky texture.

Next you're supposed to prep a cup of bouillon. Like I have bouillon. Instead I used half of the flavor packet from the shrimp ramen, too much garlic powder, and maybe a little less than a cup of water. I know what you're thinking, but shut up, it came out good.

When the strippies have browned a little, I took a little more than half of them out, because there were too much. Having no containers left, I put them in a tupper, and it started to melt the bottom. So I floated it in the sink in the hopes it would keep the plastic from melting through, ruining my leftovers AND my tupper. You don't have to do it this way, if you have fancy french-chef kitchen stuff like "non-plastic bowls". Anyway, the sink trick totally worked.

Put the mushed plantains back in the pan, and then pour the ramen packet garlic water in there, and it'll make all cooking noises and smell good.

Oh yeah, you should have cut those strips things into smaller pieces before cooking. But it's not too late -- just attack them with the spatula. It'll slip and you'll get grease everywhere, but that's what cleaning up later is for.

Anyway, keep playing with this watery chunky mess, and as the water cooks down, the plantains will kind of soak it up and finish cooking, and you'll want to take it off the heat when it's dry.

It's supposed to be served on a plate in a kind of big snowball-sized lump. Mine is served in a lump that happens to be exactly the same shape and size as my one big cooking spoon. Same shape, you'll notice as the rice, which I did in a pan, not a rice maker, because I don't have one, and it came out perfect even though I was doing two things at once, because I'm master Plastic Chef.

Also? Beer and avocado.

Monday, May 18, 2009

The cost of gay marriage

The Economist's blog reports that the head of the Republican
party, Michael Steele, is saying that gay marriage costs employers money, because more of their employees will have spouses that employers must provide health insurance for.

I'm not getting it. I thought the GOP opposed gay marriage because they think it encourages and increases homosexuality. Of course I think they're mistaken. But if their absurd strategy works, gay employees will eventually give up on being gay, marry the opposite sex, and employers will have to pay insurance for those opposite-sex spouses. (and perhaps they'll even be more likely to end up with children to insure)

But suppose the strategy doesn't work (as I suspect Steele knows that it won't). Suppose people are gay just because they're gay and not because creeping liberalism lured them into it. Then what Steele is saying is pretty explicitly awful: we admit that banning gay marriage doesn't have the positive moral effect we intend, and in fact we're depending on that failure to save money.

It's like if you decided to train a horse to talk by only feeding it when it said "please". Maybe your horse won't learn to talk, but think of all the money you'll save on oats!