Thursday, January 29, 2009

Readin': The School of Essential Ingredients

What a wonderful book!

Last night I ventured out to Third Place Books to pick up the second book in the Philip Hamilton series (which I have not yet written about, but I will, soon. I hope) and to see if there were any others from the Sharing Knife series or anything from Elizabeth Bear (author of the Jenny Casey trilogy and Carnival (which I have finished but not yet written about)). I was able to pick up the Hamilton book, Passage, the third volume in the Sharing Knife series, and another Elizabeth Bear book (don't remember the title and don't have it nearby at the moment). What I had not expected was that I would come away with another book entirely.

As I go to the entrace of Third Place Books, I noticed the usual display for coming author events. Right there in the middle was a poster for Erica Bauermeister's reading this coming Thursday supporting her first novel, The School of Essential Ingredients. I rarely buy hard cover books, except as presents. I made an exception in this case. I have been friends with Erica's husband, Ben, since 1988 when I worked in the Tech Support organization at Aldus. In addition, my brother, Tom, taught at the school where Ben and Erica's two kids were educated. After reading the flyleaf, I figured it would be worth the read. How right I was.

The School of Essential Ingredients tells the story of a once-a-month cooking class held at Lillian's, which is both the name of the restaurant and the name of the proprietor/chef of the restaurant where the classes are held in the kitchen. The story is told through the experiences of each of the participants in the class, flipping back and forth between the present (in the cooking class) and the past (what memories the cooking class is calling out of them). The book positively glows; the prose is absolutely gorgeous. To me, the most amazing work she does is in her descriptions of smells and what they evoke. Each of the people in the class, starting with the teacher, is given a chapter.

Another aspect of the book that I loved was its deeply positive, hopeful attitude toward each of the characters. They are all revealed in the complexity that each of us human beings possess, but it is done in such a gentle, strength-based (as my social worker wife is so fond of saying) way. Each character reveals themselves in many ways, but is also revealed through the eyes of the other characters as well.

I started the book as soon as I got home and finished it before going to bed last night. It's not that long a book (237 pages, I think), but the story is well paced and the writing is so exquisite that I couldn't put it down. Well, I could have, but I chose not to do so.

If you know someone who loves to cook and loves to read, please give them a copy of this book. They will thank you for it. And, oh, by the way, read it yourself before you hand it over. It is that good.

Very highly recommended.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Back in Business on my desktop machine at home

Well, I got my home desktop computer (an ancient Dell Dimension 8200) back up and running today. Yay!

As you may remember reading, we had the power go out during the night a couple of weeks ago. I was too lazy to get out of bed at midnight and unplug this machine. I paid for that laziness because, a couple of hours later the power came back on and when it did, my video card got fried. The screen display was all confused with random blocks of color showing all over the screen when it should have been just the black and white Dell startup screen. It got worse from there.

Well, being the cheapskate that I am, I tried to get an old video card from any one of a couple of buddies at work. After two weeks, I got two video cards from Josh, but neither of them did the trick. So this afternoon, I made the 25 mile trek to Fry's Electronics in Renton and picked up a new video card (nVidia e-GeForce 6200, 256MB, AGP bus) for $59.99. Brought it back home and, two hours after starting out for Renton from Lake Forest Park, I am working at my machine upstairs.

This is the machine that has the software for my Canon camera, so I should be able to start having posts with pictures again soon.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Hoops: UW men now Number 1 in the Pac-10

Today's game at Hec Ed was awesome. All of the guys that needed to come up big did, our second half defense was really good, our foul shooting was above 80% and we never backed down from UCLA. Result: Washington 86 - UCLA 75.

The first half was a scramble. UCLA put us down 7-1 at the start, but we fought back and then kept within a couple of points for the rest of the half, finishing with 38 to their 39. Second half was a different story. We clamped down on defense, shot reasonably well, and kept getting to the foul line ( by my count we were 36 for 42, 85.7%) Jon Brockman had 18, Venoy Overton had 10, Isaiah Thomas had 23, Justin Dentmon had 16 (including 10 of 10 from the foul line), and Quincy Pondexter had 10. 

This game had a ton of pressure to it going in; UW was tied for first with UCLA and both teams wanted the win. I was pleased to see how well controlled UW was in their aggression. They started tough and stayed tough the whole way.

On the other hand, this had to be one of the most poorly officiated games I have seen in quite a while. That in itself is saying something as Pac-10 refs are not known for the quality of their calls. I guess the thing that bothers me most is the inconsistency of the calls; they were letting UCLA hammer us unmercifully down low and wouldn't call a thing, then on the other end they called some of the most ticky-tack fouls. In addition, they missed some really simple travelling calls. Now, I'm not one who thinks that refs should call everything they see; but when a violation results in a competitive advantage for one team, it should be called. Didn't happen that often today.

In any case, it was a satisfying win and Washington now sits alone atop the Pac-10 basketball standings after sharing that position with UCLA and Cal for the past week. Cal lost to Oregon State on Thursday and you now know what happened to UCLA.

On another topic entirely, I have finished four books since I wrote last. I am not going to write about that now, but I do have stuff to write one of these days. My main excuse is that my home computer is on the fritz. A couple of weeks ago we lost power in the middle of the night for about 2 hours. When it came back on, I think it fried the video card. Since that time I have tried to get a replacement from some of my friends at work so that I could troubleshoot the problem. Josh gave me two old video cards last night and I tried one this morning. No Go, unfortunately. One card was a PCI card, the other was some other bus structure (don't know what it's called). My monitor does not have a standard VGA 15 pin connection, but one of those square, digital ones. Unfortunately the PCI card that fits in the machine doesn't have that connection. Guess I'm going to have to go pick up a cheap video card at Best Buy or something.

For the time being, I can write from my wife, Diane's, MacBook Pro.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Hoops: You can't spell Suck without USC

After last night's game at Hec Ed (and Cal's loss to Oregon State of all teams!), the Huskies find themselves tied for 1st place in the Pac-10 with UCLA. Guess who we play tomorrow afternoon? You got it right in one; UCLA. At the end of the game we will either be in 2nd (possibly tied, though, who knows, maybe Oregon will beat Cal as well) if we lose, or 1st if we win. Yeehah!

The game was a wierd one; lots of typically poor Pac-10 officiating. Plenty of bad calls on both sides, so I guess it balances out. But it did seem to me that alot more fouls were called on USC than UW. They did have 3 guys foul out and no-one on UW fouled out. That being said, USC was a very impressive team; they are big (their 5 starters were 6'5", 6'7", 6'7", 6'9", and 6'9"), fast, and highly athletic. I don't have the stats on it, but they seemed to be blocking an amazing number of our shots and changing quite a few others.

Jon Brockman had an abysmal offensive night; he scored 4 points, all from the foul line on 4 of 6 shooting. He did pull down 13 rebounds, so that was good and he was, as usual, a solid presence in the middle. He just couldn't buy a bucket to save his life last night. Quincy Pondexter and Justin Dentmon kept us in it to begin with. MBA (Matthew Bryan-Amaning) and Isaiah Thomas also gave us a bunch of points. At the end it turned into a foul shooting contest and we won it. By my count we were 32-40 (80% is way better than we usually shot last year when we were the worst foul shooting team in D1). Dentmon, MBA, and Pondexter were perfect from the line; all 8 misses were from Isaiah and Jon.

Overall, it was an exciting game to watch and we came away with the win; UW 78, USC 73.

The other big excitement last night was the pre-game ceremony. They retired Brandon Roy's #3 jersey. That's only the second number retirement in Husky history; the other being Bob Houbregs from the 50s. I brought along my camera to get some shots of the ceremony and was rudely awakened to a UW rule when I got to the doors of Hec Edmundson pavilion. Cameras are allowed inside only if you have a media pass. With 20 minutes left to go before the ceremony started, I had to hoof it all the way back to my truck parked in the University Village parking lot to store the camera bag safely and then return to the arena. I made it with a couple of minutes to spare, but I was mightily pissed off. If they are going to have a rule like that, the least they could do is let you know by posting the rule somewhere. Nope, learn from experience. Sorry, dude.

On the other hand, the ceremony was pretty cool. Brandon Roy got the noisiest ovation I have ever heard at Hec Ed and it went on for a long time too. Very cool guy. He is an example of the positive effect good parenting and coaching can have in your life. When he was a UW freshman, he was a punk. Went into the NBA draft, found out he wasn't going to get drafted, pulled out, screwed around in school. His dad took him in hand and had him working at the Port of Seattle on the docks (where he worked) as long as he wasn't in school. Once he got back to school a little humbler and harder working, Lorenzo Romar guided his athletic becoming over the next three years. NBA Rookie of the Year, NBA All Star, leading his team as point guard. Not a bad end to the story and it isn't even close to over

Tomorrow's game against UCLA will be crucial. My son, Walter, will be going with me. Should be a good time.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Readin': The Tears of Autumn

I just finished reading one of the best spy novels I have ever read. Now, I don't mean that to seem more praise than it is. I don't generally read spy novels, I'm not all that interested in them, but this one was great on so many levels.

The book is The Tears of Autumn by Charles McCarry. The language of the book is poetic, which seems odd to say, but the main character, Paul Christopher, whose cover is as a journalist, is also a published poet. McCarry writes gracefully and well. The author is described on the back cover as having been "an intelligence officer operating under deep cover in Europe, Africa, and Asia." He uses all of those as settings for this novel and writes of them quite convincingly.

The novel's main thrust is an explanation of the assasination of JFK in November 1963. I'm not going to give the whole plot away, but Americans, Russians, Cubans, and Vietnamese (both North and South) are all mixed up in it. You can be sure that almost nothing you read here will have shown up in The Warren Report, the supposed definitive answer to who killed JFK, but perhaps not why. The Tears of Autumn goes into the 'why' of the assasination, but also covers the who and how as well.

The book is chilling in its exposition of intelligence tradecraft and the underlying motivations of the people who practice it. Apparently there are several Paul Christopher novels. I've read two now, The Miernik Dossier and The Tears of Autumn. You can be sure that I will be looking for more of them as these first two have been first rate. Highly recommended

Monday, January 12, 2009

Hoops: UW 85 Cal 88 in Triple Overtime!

What a bummer!

Saturday afternoon's game between the UW Huskies and Cal Golden Bears was a bittersweet one. The Huskies had several opportunities to win it, but they just didn't put it away. They were up by 11 with 9 and a half minutes left, but they let that slip away and ended up tied at the end of regulation. Each team scored 6 in the first overtime. In the second OT they were up 77-74 with about 10 seconds left. One of Cal's guards drove the lane and made the layin. Unfortunately, Isaiah Thomas fouled him and he made the bucket to tie the game again.

Lots of woulda, coulda, shoulda in the game. John Brockman scored a bunch of points and had a ton of rebounds, but he went 2 for 8 from the stripe (including missing 2 in the 3rd OT). Just one more and we wouldn't have had to go through 3 overtimes! Oh well. You have to give Cal credit. They are a very tough team and their starting guard duo is awesome. Jerome Randle, the point guard, scored 23 before fouling out. Patrick Christoper scored 26 points including 4 3s.

Our starting guards are not slouchs by any stretch of the imagination, either. Thomas scored 22 including some incredible 'circus shot' layins. Justin Dentmon scored 24 and his foul shooting (13-16 by my count) kept us in the game on many occasions. Anytime you get 46 points from your starting guard pair, you're going to do well. Add to that how tough UW is on the boards and you have the makings of a really strong team.

Unfortunately for us, Quincy Pondexter pretty much disappeared in this game. He only had 5 points and he made some crucial turnovers. He did, however provide some good defense, so there are some positives there as well. He is such an enigma to me. One game he'll be on fire; the next he'll disappear. I really trust Lorenzo Romar as a coach, though So I believe that he sees something there that I don't; because, if it were me, he wouldn't be in the starting lineup.

Oh, well. Next week we travel to Eugene on Thursday for Oregon and Corvallis on Saturday for Oregon State. It'd be good if we could win both of those. We'll see.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Readin': The First Law - Last Argument of Kings

Joe Abercrombie finished up his First Law fantasy trilogy in spectacular fashion. There were several astonishing surprises in this third book, Last Argument of Kings (Louis XIV had that printed on the barrels of his cannons). As usual, there was plenty of fighting and military action, but Abercrombie's truly incredible achievement was how deeply and relentlessly he delved into the mental and emotional lives of so many of his characters.

Who would have ever thought that anyone could come to have sympathy for a ranking member of the Inquisition? Or that that man was capable, given his day job and the daily humiliations his life entailed, of extraordinary sensitivity and kindness? Yet this same man deposed his boss, was threatened with death by a man he had ruined and sent off to prison, and then recruited that same man to be his lieutenant. Directly after the recruitment they go off to torture the old boss for amusement more than anything else. Fascinating stuff, really.

Several of the other characters emerge and grow in surprising fashions. Two become kings; neither one likes it. Another, a commoner, becomes Lord Marshal of the realm. Amazing stuff.

I finished that book during my vacation time between Christmas and New Year's; the company where I work asked all of its North American employees to take that week off. I did so gladly; always willing to be a company man when it works out to my benefit as well!

Of course, I had to make sure that I had other books lined up once Abercrombie's was finished. One of our family traditions is to give everyone an inscribed book as a Christmas gift. This year, I got two spy novels by Charles McCarry; The Miernik Dossier and Tears of Autumn. I finished The Miernik Dossier yesterday. The books were originally published in the mid 1970s and have been reprinted in paperback in the past couple of years. The Miernik Dossier is written in a fascinating style; as though it was assembled from disparate bits of intelligence material gleaned from a wide variety of sources for the benefit of an unnamed audience that wished to have a closer understanding of how intelligence operations worked. Very well done and well worth finding. I have started Tears of Autumn which takes place in 1963 and deals with the assasination of JFK as its central puzzle. I'm not very far into it, but am well hooked by the writing and exposition of the central character, Paul Christopher. Good stuff and well worth reading.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Hoops: UW 84, Stanford 83

I went to the first home game of the Pac-10 season last night at Hec Edmundson Pavilion. Though it was the 15th game of the season and I've been watching since the beginning of November when they started, it was like the beginning of the real season last night. In all of the games before, even though the Huskies were doing well, there was an attitude that said, "Yeah, well, we're playing hard and all, but this isn't the real test yet."

Now it's the real testing time.

Stanford has a good team. They are much different than they were with the Lopez twins on the floor. I thought the best pre-game quote was Mitch Johnson's, "The biggest difference is that we're missing 14 feet in the middle." The Cardinal are a much faster team and they shoot very well from all over the floor (56% in the first half, 41% in the 2nd). There was no point in the game where they were behind by more than a couple of points and for a good portion of the game they were ahead.

It looked, again, like the Huskies poor performance at the foul line (22 of 34 (64%) by my count) was going to come back and haunt us (Stanford missed only two free throws that I remember), but we made them when we needed to. Jon Brockman, who has been shooting much better free throws this season (he was abysmal last year) seemed to go back to his old ways last night. He only hit 3 of 10. Whatever. We still came out with a win and are now 2-0 in Pac-10 play.

Saturday's afternoon game against Cal will be a tougher test. I can't wait..

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Tunes: Rebirth Brass Band live at The Tractor Tavern

Last night we went to the wilds of Ballard, a formerly Scandanavian enclave in Seattle that is now becoming one of the 'hip' places to live. There are still traces of the 'old' Ballard, but they are just that, traces.

One of them is The Tractor Tavern, just down the street from Hattie's Hat (a bar that has the reputation for serving very strong drinks, or so a 12-step friend of mine told me) in the commercial section of the neighborhood. Rebirth Brass Band from New Orleans was scheduled to play at 9:00 p.m. that night. Given that they are a product of New Orleans, I expected that they would arrive late, start late, and play long and late. We met some friends and ate at Lombardi's on Market Street and then walked down to the Tractor, about 4 blocks. We got there about 8:30 and snagged one of the few tables there, so we had a place to sit when we wanted to.

This is the second time that Rebirth has been at the Tractor. The last time they came, Claire (my Tulane-educated, New Orleans-loving daughter) and I decided to go on the day they were playing. We were sorely disappointed when we were not able to get in as tickets had all been sold out. Totally bummed, we knew we would not make that mistake if they ever came back. This time we bought our tickets a month in advance. A good thing we did, as they sold out again last night.

Rebirth showed up right around 9 o'clock and by 9:20 they were playing.Very surprising that they were so close to on-time. They are the ultimate New Orleans street band. The music is new funk backed by a strong second line rhythm section (bass drum, snare drums, and tuba). The rest of the band was two trombones, a saxaphone and two trumpets. Rebirth was formed in 1983 and has been going strong for 25 years now. They played some of their old favorites (Do What Ya Wanna, The Roof Is On Fire, It's All Over Now, Feel Like Funkin' It Up), but they also played some new stuff. They did a version of Duke Ellington's Caravan that was totally awesome, as well as a tune that teased me because I couldn't identify it, though I knew that I knew it. At any rate, they played for 2 and a half hours, ending right around midnight, which is ok by me as I had to get up for work the next day.

If you get the chance to see them, do so. They are truly superb and are not to be missed. You can get their music at lots of online stores, but the one I prefer to shop at for my N'awlins fix is The Louisiana Music Factory. That way, I know that at least some greater portion of the money will be staying in the NOLA area instead of lining the coffers of Amazon or whomever. This is also the only online place where you an get Ballzack's music.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Raisin' Fish: Not so cold anymore

I haven't posted in a couple of weeks for a number of reasons. The primary one is that my trusty home computer started acting very flakey. It has two internal hard drives and the secondary one died on me. That caused the entire system to slow down to a painful crawl. I didn't get around to fixing that until this afternoon. All is well now and all the pictures taken over the past few weeks have been transferred and the system is working much better. Now I can post easily again.

Well, we sure went through a cold spell in the Puget Sound region between Christmas and New Years in 2008. We had snow on the ground and on the streets for most of that time. I was pretty worried about the incubator for a while there. After the first day or so of snow the scene down by the creek looked like this:

salmon incubator

We ended up with quite a bit more snow than that, but that's one of the only pictures I took of the incubator in the snow this year.

Once the temp started to come up during this past week, all of the snow started to melt and the creek level rose quite a bit. It got high enough to cover the outlet tube of the incubator, which always worries me. Several years ago, we had some flooding in the creek and the water level was above the outlet tube. Unfortunately, at about the same time a good-sized tree branch floating down creek got wedged under the inlet pipe and lifted it up out of the water. By the time the creek level went down enough for me to notice the lack of outflow, all of the salmon in the incubator had died. I felt sick about that for about a week. That's why I get nervous whenever the outlet tube gets covered.

One difference now, though is we are using a much bigger inlet pipe. It is larger (6" vs 3", before), quite a bit heavier (and so more resistant to getting jacked up by a passing tree branch), and we have hammered a couple pieces of rebar into the creek bed and wired the end of the outlet tube down so it won't come up easily.

As I think I mentioned before, the flow rate in the incubator system should ideally be at least 10 gallons/minute. The flow has been considerable less than that lately, but with all of the stuff going on around here (we had 4 fairly large trees come down on the property due to snow. Luckily, none of them did any major property damage, though Francis & Abby's Odyssey minivan does have a dent in the hood that it didn't have before Christmas and the cap on Francis' pickup truck was destroyed when a large branch broke off a second-growth Douglas fir in the upper lot.) I had not had time to check the water line.

The day before yesterday, I spent the afternoon in the creek, starting at the upper end and working my way down to the incubator. First I made sure that there was plenty of water flowing into the inlet pipe (there was). Once that was assured, I started moving down creek and stopping at ever pipe junction. The pipe is 3" ABS plastic pipe, just like the stuff you'd use for a plumbing project in your house. It's mostly 10' lengths that are held together by collars. Those collars have two stainless steel screws on the upward facing side that hold everything together. The pipe is not completely air or water tight, so occasionally there are pockets of air trapped in the system. These pockets have to be bled out so that the pipe can carry as much water as possible. To bleed the system, all I have to do is go to each pipe junction and back one of the screws all the way out. If there is air trapped in that section, the pressure of the water forces it out. It's kinda cool to pull out one of the screws and hear it hissing away. It means things will be getting better in the system. Once all the air bleeds out, water will start to spurt out the hole. At that point you put the screw back in and move downstream to the next junction.

By the time I bled the whole system, a couple of hours had passed and I had improved the water flow significantly. Just from looking at it, I figured it was much more than the needed 10 gpm. To test it, I emptied all of the water from the clarifier and timed how long it took to refill. It's got about 55 gallons capacity and refilled in 3 minutes 20 seconds. That works out to just over 16 gallons per minute! (Imagine the voice of Marv Alpert, veteran broadcaster for the New Your Knicks) Yessss!

That was Tuesday. Since then the waterflow has continued to be strong.

While I was fooling around with the clarifier and incubator, I dropped the water level in the incubator to look at the first tray of eggs. I was very surprised to see that most of the eggs have not yet hatched. I expect that a few have, but the majority have not. Usually by the time they have spent 20 days in the incubator, most of them are hatched. Guess the cold water and air temps are retarding their growth. Nothing I can do about that, really. Just watch and see what happens.

As long as I keep water flowing, they will be fine.

I've done a bunch of reading and will chronicle some of that in the next post or two. I don't feel like writing any more this evening.

These are the things that interest me. If any of them are of interest to you, great. Read along


About Me

My photo
I'm currently 60 years old. I currently work as the learning management system specialist for American University of Madaba in Madaba, Jordan. I was originally certified as a high-school English teacher and taught school for 13 years (1 year of substituting, 1 year of 7th grade, 2 years of a combined 5th, 6th, 7th grade, 9 years of 8th grade). I've worked for hardware and software companies for the past 23 years doing training, training materials development, certification test development and other education related stuff. My wife and I have raised four children to adulthood; some of them live at home at the moment, but that won't last (they're too independent for that). We live at home with 2 Golden Retrievers, 2 black cats, a crazy cat, and, during the winter, 70,000 coho salmon.