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October 30, 2008

Breakfast by the pound

Over the summer, I got myself a copy of my mother’s granola recipe. It’s not original with her, she picked it up at a long-gone natural foods store in our town, and I discovered on leafing through Noah’s More-With-Less Cookbook that it fits right in the mold of a generic home cereal recipe. However, I remember her making it when I was inside four bits old, and I used to eat it dry with as big a shovel as I could fit in my mouth.

After a few seasons of trying to find store-bought granola that matched my own idea of what “granola” should be (I don’t need dried fruit, but I do need some honey or other sweetener), this year the per-pound prices started reaching four and five dollars and I figured I needed to start making my own. It turns out it’s really easy, and so far it’s been a smashing success. There’s a lot of wiggle room in the recipe for improvising with what I have and don’t have, so the four or five batches I’ve made have all been slightly different, but all good.

This is what’s written on the paper:

  • 4 cups rolled oats
  • 1 cup wheat flakes (wheat flakes are the rolled oats of wheat)
  • 1 cup wheat germ
  • 1 cup crushed walnut pieces
  • 1 cup sunflower seeds (raw, hulled)
  • 1/2 to 1 cup sesame seeds
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened coconut

Mix all this together in a big bowl. Then, in a pyrex glass, heat

  • 1/2 cup {vegetable|corn|canola|whatever} oil
  • 1/2 cup {honey|maple syrup|molasses}
  • Vanilla

No, I have no guidance for quantity on the vanilla, and if you know my mother, you know she never measured it anyway.

Mix that liquid in with the bowl. It will be pretty dry in the end but try to get it evenly mixed. Spread it on lightly greased cookie sheets (I use brownie pans) and bake it at 325 F for ten minutes, turn it, then five more. (I go ten, actually; it’s deeper in my brownie pans than it would be on cookie sheets.) Cool before serving or storing.

I’ve added in various quantities to different batches, teff grain (after reading that it can be substituted for sesame seeds, I just added it to the sesame seeds) and pumpkin seeds. I expect you could use oat flakes and germ for people with wheat allergies; if you know a store with good bulk bins there’s all kinds of neat stuff that could go in.

It’s almost secondary at this point, because I know I couldn’t buy granola I like this much, but because the price per pound for every one of the ingredients is lower than that of commercial granola, the cost is pretty good. I’d need to suss out the proportions in the recipe to figure an exact price, but I’m guessing I’m paying under $3/pound for it. I’m kind of tempted to try making my own hot oatmeal when I reach hot-cereal weather. And sometimes, like tonight when I made banana bread, I can double up in the oven, slipping in the cereal while the bread is baking or putting it in after a pizza has come out.

Update, 13 September 2010: Another good substitution is to consider that “wheat flakes” is another way of saying “rolled wheat” (or “rolled oats” is another way of saying “oat flakes”) and treat the four cups of rolled oats and one of wheat flakes as “five cups of rolled grain.” Then you can find a good mix of rolled oats, wheat flakes, barley flakes, and rye flakes that suits your taste. Some stores with extensive bulk bins even have quinoa flakes or rice flakes. I find rye flakes too hard to chew, and the quinoa and rice flakes didn’t really add anything to my recipe, but there they are if you want to experiment.

Posted by pjm at 9:31 PM | Comments (2)

October 26, 2008

Small beginnings

Acting on a hunch, I counted the “found money” tin yesterday and discovered that our total to date (about midway through the fourth year of keeping track) has passed $100.

Accumulated interest on the first three years helped push us past the milestone, but there’s definitely something to be said for just picking up free money when you see it.

Posted by pjm at 2:07 PM | Comments (0)

October 24, 2008

There's nothing like a grammar flame in the mid-afternoon

I got email through a college list today, attempting to recruit undergrads. Forgettable, except for this sentence:

We’re still welcoming more resume’s.

Resume’s what?

Apparently “ability to punctuate correctly” is not a job requirement.

Now Playing: We Are Jonah from A Rock In The Weary Land by The Waterboys

Posted by pjm at 3:36 PM | Comments (0)

October 23, 2008

Scientific equipment

When I’m on my bike, I feel like I frequently bend over while waiting at traffic lights, to pick up dimes.

Perhaps this is the remnants of some hardware testing at the stop line?

Now Playing: Goin’ Out from I’m a Mountain by Sarah Harmer

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October 22, 2008

Knowing your market

I did some internet research on one of the regulars at our lunchtime soccer games when I worked in Pennsylvania. He’s doing decently well these days (evidenced by the fact that he has his own domain, and one of the descriptions under his name was “TV Personality”).

While looking through his publication history, I noticed that one of his cookbooks, which has my favorite cookbook title ever (A Man, A Can, A Plan) has sold over half a million copies.

I’m trying to figure out if this is good (men cooking) or bad (lowest-common-denominator cooking).

Now Playing: Wake Up Call by Peter Case

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October 20, 2008

Leader of the Band

My father brings Jim Footer’s obituary to my attention. Footer’s legacy might be better understood in the light of this New York Times article from the summer.

I played a few summers with the Bath Municipal Band, warming a chair in the trombone section for several summer-evening park concerts and a few other events. It was a different kind of performance than the school bands which were most of my other experience; with the Bath band I knew there was a good chance Jimmy would pull out a piece of music during a show which I’d never played before, so I had to get better at sight reading.

I also learned we were all there to have fun. There was at least one show where the first-chair trombone distributed domino masks, and the whole low brass section stood up, masked, for a particularly bombastic section in the middle of one piece. (I can’t remember the song, unfortunately.) There was the week I came to rehearsal, after missing a joint performance with a visiting Canadian band, to hear one of my neighbors announcing, “We had six tubas and fifteen trombones! You should’ve seen the brass!

I took it for granted then, but I haven’t found many bands like the Bath group anywhere else I’ve lived. It takes someone having the idea and then the energy to put it together, and that was Jimmy. The band plays on, too.

Now Playing: Joe And Odell from (Places) by The Shiftless Rounders

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Posted by pjm at 9:51 AM | Comments (1)

October 19, 2008

What am I being charged for, again?

I just made a flight reservation for next month, and was aghast to spot a “September 11 Security Fee” of $10 in the list of fees and charges over and above the actual fare.

I have to wonder what’s covered by this fee. The cost of reinforcing cockpit doors? I hope it’s not the cost of airport security, considering the damning evidence in the November Atlantic.

Airport security in America is a sham—“security theater” designed to make travelers feel better and catch stupid terrorists.

And we’re paying for it. Whether it’s a September 11 Security Fee or through the ominously-named “Department of Homeland Security”. Especially now, don’t you think we should be getting better value for the money?

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Posted by pjm at 8:21 PM | Comments (0)

Athlete of the Year

There are three weeks left to put in your votes for the IAAF Athlete of the Year.

I sent mine today. The website vote is merged with a poll of “IAAF Athletics Family members”, of which I apparently belong to the subgroup of “Selected International Media.” The split is 30/70 in favor of the Athletics Family; I did some math last year to figure out how many internet votes it took to out-vote me, but I can’t find it. I think it’s more than three.

Regardless, if you follow track and field at all, or even watched some of the Olympics, it’s worth spending a few minutes looking and voting. The current standings on the internet vote place Irving Saladino of Panama ahead of Usain Bolt (!!) which suggests to me that there’s some vote-stacking going on, and explains why the internet vote only represents 30% of the final selection.

You get three votes for men and three for women. If you want some cues, here’s the slate I voted, and why:

  • Usain Bolt. How could you not? He’s probably the best-known name on the list thanks to his heroics this year, with four world records.

The next ones were tougher. Essentially, I had to pick two from these three:

  • Kenenisa Bekele: Won World Cross, plus the Olympic 5,000m/10,000m double which had not been done since Miruts Yifter in 1980.
  • Samuel Wanjiru: Won Olympic Marathon gold in OR time and the most audacious, terrifying and ultimately astounding effort seen in that event in decades.
  • Haile Gebrselassie: Ran two of the three fastest marathons in history in 2008, including the first-ever sub-2:04.

I ended up leaving out Gebrselassie, despite my personal liking for him, because of his (ultimately unfounded) reluctance to run the Olympic marathon, favoring tough or dramatic competition over record times.

For women:

  • Tirunesh Dibaba: Identical wins to Bekele, but with a 5,000m WR early in the European season and the 10,000m Olympic gold coming with the second-fastest time ever for that distance.
  • Pamela Jelimo: “Dominant” is an accurate but inadequate word for Jelimo’s season; she set World Junior Records nearly every time she ran the 800m (including her Olympic victory) but also changed the face of her event in doing it.
  • Valerie Vili: I just have to vote for the shot putter. Vili won World Indoors and then the Olympics in dominant fashion—nobody else was even close—but did so not with arrogance but a sort of disappointed air, as though she wished someone else could raise their level of competition to challenge her.

In other words, I picked Vili over Yelena Isinbayeva purely on attitude, because Isinbayeva won the same titles and also set two World Records in the pole vault.

Arguments and opinions are welcome, but go vote!

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Posted by pjm at 1:01 PM | Comments (0)

October 18, 2008

Showing up is half

Generally you can count on two things at a small, New England road race. One, the order of finish will be pretty much determined by the mile mark; “strategy” and “tactics” are not often part of racing so much as “run as hard as you can from the gun until the end.” Two, “I won” is shorthand for “Of the n people in the area who are much faster than I am, none of them came out to race today.”

One of those was true this morning, and fortunately for me it was the second one. There were two other runners who went out aggressively in the flat first mile of the 5-K in Sunderland, and they were 50m or so in front of me at times. But the second mile included a big hill, and one of the few arrows in my racing quiver right now is that I can climb decently well. I passed them both by the time we reached the top and managed to hang on to that lead to the end.

There were all of thirteen people in the race, so the odds that (m)any of them would be faster than me were starting to tip in my favor before the race even started, but I was pleased to hang on to the win. The payout was a $50 (face value) savings bond; given that it’s not the first time I’ve won such a prize, it looks like my road racing career is going to be paying out little windfalls through my late 50s and early 60s.

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October 16, 2008

It takes a lot of money to run for office

Apparently the reason candidates for political office require so much money is because they waste huge amounts of it.

Consider this county treasurer candidate in Michigan who apparently bought a list of “entrepreneurs” (or small businesses?) and sent campaign mailings without running a simple filter to restrict the mailing to addresses in Michigan.

I’m having a hard time balancing the possible time savings of not doing that filter with the time and energy used to transport this card from there to Massachusetts.

I wonder if it’s possible to run a competitive political campaign that is also efficient?

Now Playing: Above the Map from SXSW 2006 Showcasing Artist by Zykos

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Posted by pjm at 12:23 PM | Comments (0)

October 15, 2008

Two movies

I’ve either not felt like I had anything to say here, or no time to write up what I do have to say, or both, recently.

A few years ago someone’s advice for blog writers (as though that class of person really listens to advice, myself included) was “write reviews.” I have at least two movies to talk about, and haven’t filed anything in that category for a long time.

Flash of GeniusWe saw “Flash of Genius” a few weeks ago. I liked it, but not as much as I had hoped to; I guess I hoped it would be a story about a triumph of engineering, but somewhere along the way it turned in to a courtroom drama.

That was fine, certainly, and certainly the “bad guys” were well set up to be disliked, but I found I wasn’t too enthusiastic about the movie’s hero, either. (Brief plot synopsis: Detroit-area electrical engineer Bob Kearns invents an interval windshield wiper system in his garage while all the big auto makers are trying unsuccessfully to do the same. Kearns hopes to manufacture it himself and supply all the automakers and is in negotiations with Ford when they abruptly pull out. A few months later, Ford rolls out new models with interval wipers, and Kearns launches a multi-year campaign to sue the pants off all the major automakers.)

Certainly Bob Kearns got railroaded somewhere along the line, and I wanted him to win in the end, but I found myself disagreeing with so many of his choices that I didn’t hold very much sympathy for him by the end. Why did he feel like he needed to manufacture the components himself instead of licensing the patent as nearly every inventor in the world does? What did he really gain by losing the best years of his life (and more) to a lawsuit? There’s no clear winner in this movie; I liked it for being challenging, but resented it for reminding me that the world is complicated.

The ExpressSunday night I went to see “The Express”, partly because I was interested, partly because the star is a recent graduate of The College (and a football player there, thanks). It’s a much simpler story, with clear heroes and villains; the hero is Ernie Davis, a Syracuse halfback who won the Orangemen a national title and became the first black athlete to win the Heisman trophy. The villains are, well, anyone who doesn’t recognize the hero as a hero. (It’s not that simple, obviously, but the virtue of this story isn’t in breaking new ground; it’s in reminding us where the old ground once needed breaking, to torture a metaphor.)

I didn’t learn anything tremendous from the movie, but I learned about Ernie Davis, and that was a pretty cool story for a Sunday evening.

Now Playing: Dove and the Waterline from Miles from the Lightning by Jeffrey Foucault

Posted by pjm at 9:44 PM | Comments (0)

USA Championship priorities

Monday, the USATF Women’s 10-K* championships was held as part of the Tufts Health Plan Run for Women in Boston and Cambridge. I got a press release about the winner in my email within a few hours of the end of the race, and she was named Athlete of the Week in another press release on Tuesday.

Last Saturday, the USATF 50 mile road championships was held as part of the Tussey Mountainback 50-miler in State College, PA. A member of our training group also ran that race, his first 50-miler. I knew about his finish by Saturday evening through the group mailing list; it wasn’t until Wednesday morning that I heard (via USATF press release) that it was also the national championships.

The 10-K champion won $10,850 (I think) plus a $2,500 more for taking third in the USARC. The 50-mile champions won $1,000 and $800 (the male winner got a $200 bonus for setting a course record, and both of them won $300 extra for winning the masters division as well as the open—though, Greg Crowther notwithstanding, I can’t understand why there are separate masters divisions in ultras, considering how many “masters” are still at the top of their ultrarunning game).

I’m not going to try to argue that USATF shouldn’t be handling news from the different events with a different sense of urgency. But I think the ultra-runners would have some justification for feeling a bit left out.

*More nit-picky editorial style notes for track writers: If it’s on the road, it’s a 10-K or 10 km, depending on house style. If it’s on the track, it’s a 10,000m. Has to do with imagined levels of precision in measurement, I think, but the fact is that a 10-K and a 10,000m are two very different races.

Now Playing: Chopsticks from Whip-Smart by Liz Phair

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October 8, 2008

On the merits of backing up

I’m sitting at my desk restoring files from a backup.

It’s a nearly-two-month-old backup, made before I went to China, but the fact is that late last week my laptop burped in such a way that I was unable to log on as myself. (I’m not an admin user on my own laptop, for security reasons.) I was able to log in as an admin user and see all my files, but logging in as myself produced an interesting situation: the login application itself crashed and I was returned to the login screen.

So after fighting with that for a while, I gave up and reinstalled the operating system. Doing so preserved all my files, passwords, and software. Well, most of my software; for some reason I lost the entire /usr/local/ branch of the file tree, which meant I lost a lot of unix-y development stuff, like source code management (svn), Ruby, Rails, and MySQL (data and all).

My backups are old, sure. But they’re better than trying to reconstruct all this stuff from scratch. I’m actually sort of pleased, because this is the first time I’ve had to restore files from this backup and it’s nice to know it actually works. The biggest problem is that setting up the restores seems to take forever.

And I need to make a fresh backup one of these days when things are closer to normal.

Now Playing: Parade Of Punk Rock T-Shirts by Maritime

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October 7, 2008

Please stop using this phrase

Ever since I rejoined corporate America (albeit on my own terms) I’ve been hearing advertising and marketing people use the phrase “email blast.” Tonight I saw it in a market survey for customers.

Marketers, please stop using this phrase. I know it sounds cool, and I know it gets you all excited to think about your message exploding all over the internet, but you really, really need to look at this from the point of view of the recipients of your message. We’re people who spend an annoying amount of time removing spam from our inboxes, or filtering out the spam, and the idea of being on the receiving end of your “blast” is really unsettling. It’s a very one-way, very forceful word, and from this side it sounds like something I should be defending myself against.

It’s been nine years since the cluetrain manifesto and hearing this phrase repeated reminds me that a large, large number of companies still haven’t gotten on the train.

Now Playing: Happy from God Fodder by Ned’s Atomic Dustbin

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Posted by pjm at 8:45 PM | Comments (1)

October 5, 2008

Smart-aleck column title

Apparently mlb.com has a naming convention for post-game “notebook” stories: they’re “Short Hops”.

Which meant that after the Milwaukee Brewers lost Game 4 today, I kept seeing the headline “Brewers Short Hops” in the Sox Gameday window. It wasn’t until I also saw “Phillies Short Hops” that I realized the headline wasn’t some editor’s clever comment on the end of Milwaukee’s season.

Now Playing: Weathervane from Songs for a Hurricane by Kris Delmhorst

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Wood-splitting for fun--and an axe?

We went up to the Conway “Festival of the Hills” this afternoon, a cool pocket fair held on recreation-department fields in the center of that pretty little hilltown. There was a lot to like there, including a hilly 10-K (I didn’t race) and a small corral of goats, sheep, ponies and llamas patient enough to be patted by a swarm of fascinated kids. A series of bands played on the tennis courts; on one edge of the field a small group of people gazed thoughtfully as two people and a hydraulic contraption the size of a boat trailer carefully sliced up a good-sized log, a portable sawmill.

Next to the sawmill was the wood-splitting contest. Yes, competitive wood-splitting. It took me a few go-arounds to figure out what was happening here, other than that people were taking turns splitting wood.

In fact, there was a store of wood of firewood length (about 18”, but I may be wrong about this) which needed to be split to stove size (defined, roughly, as one end fitting through a ring set up nearby). People (men and women) signed up for two-minute segments splitting as much wood as they could with an axe. Everything split to acceptable size by a competitor was put on a big scale and weighed; sticks which remained too large or not completely split were tossed on the pile with the previously-weighed firewood of previous competitors.

The biggest total wins, and to be really competitive, you had to split over 150 pounds of wood in two minutes. The winner was over 200 pounds. Judging from the guy I saw wandering around with a shiny-new axe afterward, either the winner gets an axe or this guy brought his own equipment. (The 2007 champion defended his title, for those who are close followers of the competitive wood-splitting circuit.)

We watched two splitters, one pretty good and another not so much, and three weigh-ins, and figured some strategy. You have to hack at each stick long enough to get it down to size; it pays to not lose much work to the “too-large” pile. It also pays to be up early in the order, with a good selection of heavy logs to cut. (If you’re experienced, you know which sections will weigh more.)

Of course, strength pays: if you can quarter a log with just three chops (once through, then splitting the resulting halves) rather than wasting time on an axe stuck three inches into a log, you’re going to get more wood on the scale. The better of the two guys we watched was splitting the log on nearly every swing; the worse had to take two or three swings for every weighable chunk he got, and a lot of his chunks were rejected as too large.

You definitely don’t want to be a rookie in this sport. These guys threw the axe around like a lacrosse stick, but if you can swing an axe that heavy, that quickly, you’re risking toes if you aren’t precise with your placement. (This is why woodsmen wear steel-toed boots.)

Whoever supplied the original timber probably got two or three cords of mostly-split firewood in the end. Not a bad deal.

Posted by pjm at 4:59 PM | Comments (0)

October 3, 2008

I don't think I get to count this

I’ve mentioned my tendency to pick up loose change when I’m running or cycling, and add it up once a year.

This morning, I found two pennies and a nickel in the course of the run, which is almost exactly the average daily gross. I also found someone’s debit card on the sidewalk.

I was across the street from the relevant bank, so I left it by the (still locked) door rather than adding it to my annual tally. But even if I could count it, how would I determine the found-money value of a debit card?

Now Playing: Add It Up from Violent Femmes by Violent Femmes

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Posted by pjm at 10:41 AM | Comments (0)