Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for June 25th, 2011

Pen fun

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I’ve been going through the fountain pens, getting reacquainted and occasionally surprised by a pen I’d forgotten about (like the enormous Stipula retractable). I now recall this order: it was a lot of pens that I had finally decided to go for it—to get every one of them italic tipped, with inkflow adjusted as needed. It was a major project, and I don’t recall what took me away from pens just as the order came in—perhaps it was retirement.

At any rate, I’m just over the moon with them tonight—they write like magic, so smooth and even and … it’s hard to describe: tactile feedback and also the sensation that the line is growing out of the tip of the nib, and you’re just watching the letters form—kind of watching what you write as though it were a show.

And many old favorites were there: a couple Viscontis, including the big green one (the David? the Michelangelo?) ; the Montblanc Agatha Christie (silver and black with a snake clip and a snake’s head on nib); the big classic Montblanc—the 47?—writing italic with unbelievable smoothness. I can’t wait to use them all.

And The Eldest commented on how much smoother my writing is. When I first resumed letter writing, my hand was shaky indeed, but it was, as I suspected and in fact wrote, just a matter of being out of practice. It’s smooth now because, just as my piano teacher told me, spending an hour a day practicing dramatically improves one’s skill. I, unfortunately, never believed her, and—even more unfortunately—never tried to prove her wrong.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 June 2011 at 9:29 pm

Getting things done, slowly

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I have now uploaded the ¡Adelante! Dos Anki deck so anyone can use it, and I updated the ¡Adelante! Uno deck. Updates include corrections of typos and also usually a few additional cards (e.g., preterite forms). I’m hoping that the Monterey Peninsula College students who will take second-semester Spanish this fall (i.e., who will be using ¡Adelante! Dos as their text/workbook) will download the file this summer to get a leg up on the course. At least some might check since some seem to have used the Uno deck.

Boxes are stacked for the trip to the Logos secondhand-book store on July 5. (It’s the end of the school year rush still, so that’s the earliest appointment I could get.) Also, two boxes ready for library that I will take in on Monday. Lots of empty bookshelf space in the bedroom, so the stacked books from the living room are going in there, little by little.

I also finally found a big stash of fountain pens that I got back from Mottishaw at around the time I took a fountain-pen recess. Now that I’m back in the game, I can’t wait to get at them.

I got some coconut milk (i.e., substitute for cow milk, using coconut as the base—see also rice milk, almond milk, soy milk) and some coconut-based cream substitute. I’m going to try making yogurt with those sometime next week.

Things proceed apace.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 June 2011 at 7:17 pm

Posted in Daily life

An immigrant’s story

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Written by LeisureGuy

25 June 2011 at 3:38 pm

Posted in Daily life, Government

Gorgeous photos of Mother Russia, ca. 1910

with 2 comments

Take a look. Astonishingly beautiful.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 June 2011 at 3:19 pm

Posted in Daily life

Good comment on New York’s passing gay marriage law

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From Glenn Greenwald’s column today. (Greenwald is himself gay, and lives now in Argentina.)

My reaction to last night’s enactment of same-sex marriage by the New York State legislature is more personal than political, so I’ll defer to Andrew Sullivan — one of the nation’s earliest advocates of gay marriage — to explain its significance.  But I can’t let this rare genuine political progress go unmentioned, so I will share one reaction:  in 1991, when I was a first-year law student at NYU, I regularly attended, for about a year, meetings and demonstrations of ACT-UP.  I was a passive observer, but very impressed and inspired by the unyielding refusal of gay men with AIDS in that era (in indispensable conjunction with lesbian activists) to passively accept their consigned fate and their status as marginalized, condemned outcasts: the expertise in politics and medicine they developed, the creative and brave civil disobedience they pioneered, and the force of collective will they mustered under the most trying of circumstances was nothing short of extraordinary.

The first meeting I ever went to was attended by Tom Duane, who spoke to the group.  At the time, Duane was seeking to become not only the first openly gay man elected to the New York City Council, but one of the first openly HIV-positive candidates to be elected to any political office.  Remarkably, Duane won, went on to be elected to the State Senate in 1998, and last night — 20 years older and now a veteran establishment Democratic lawmaker in Albany — he was at the emotional center of that vote.  It’s hard to describe how inconceivable such an event was back in 1991 — it was barely the end of the Reagan era, when “gay” and “AIDS” were still unmentionable in much decent company and much of gay activism was more about finding a way to survive (literally) than anything else — but the fact that this amazingly improbable event just happened should (like the events in the Middle East) serve as a potent antidote against defeatism.  Significant and seemingly impossible social and political change happens more often than we think, and it happens more rapidly than we realize.  Even the most momentous change is always possible if one finds the right way to make it happen.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 June 2011 at 12:37 pm

Posted in Daily life, Government, Law

Saturday-night movie suggestion: the Carole Lombard/Jack Benny To Be or Not To Be

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A wonderful comedy, released in 1942 and very much a wartime movie. Some things I noticed as I rewatched it last night: very broad range of scene types and textures; the studio system allowed large numbers of extras: the crowd scenes really do have crowds; the intricacy of the comedy is wonderful. Great movie all round. The Anne Bancroft/Mel Brooks remake is not bad, but the original has steel.

This one is currently available on Netflix Watch Instantly.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 June 2011 at 11:27 am

Posted in Daily life, Movies

From the mail folder

with 3 comments

I’ve already posted the very nice photo I got from a new wetshaver in the UK. Click it and click the result once more to scroll over it in all its full-size glory.

A separate email asked about a previous post on how to handle complaints within a relationship. I couldn’t recall the specific post, but I was able to offer a couple of thoughts prompted by the email:

One is the advice on mirroring from a very good book by Harville Hendrix. (Secondhand copies here.) The idea is to couch the complaint in the form of this template:

“When you do x, it makes me feel y, because as a child …”

Example: “When you leave your dirty dishes in the living room, it makes me feel taken for granted, because as a child my mother ignored my work and chores.”

That sort of thing. The connection is: what the partner does —> how that makes you feel —> tied to a childhood situation you experienced.

The idea is to select the childhood experience that produced the same emotion—it may not be about dishes and chores, but focus on the feeling: that’s the true guide.

The partner then demonstrates understanding by repeating the thing (not necessarily word or word, of course): “Okay. I understand—when I just leave the dirty dishes for you to take care of and say nothing about it, that makes you feel taken for granted, because when you were little your mother would ignore what you did.”

What this formulation does is drain away accusations and bad feeling: the partner is simply describing how they feel as a result of your behavior, and relating it to their early experience. Generally the response, once the message has been understood and repeated back, is quite positive: we want to understand our partner’s reactions, and in most occasions we have no problem dropping a behavior that produces a bad feeling because of its echo of some childhood difficulty.

Moreover, the template opens the door to a true discussion, helping one partner learn more about the other and the other’s background and feelings and thus provide a better understanding that will help future interactions. It seems likely that the person hearing what might otherwise be formulated as a complaint will, this formulation, be interested in hearing more and finding out more about those childhood years and experiences. That kind of stuff is almost always interesting when it’s about someone to whom we’re close.

And, of course, it helps the person initiating the discussion understand that the feelings they’re having might not be from their current situation, but the residual feelings from the earlier experience or situation that have been awakened by what happened now. In this context, I highly recommend Joanna Field’s fascinating memoir A Life of One’s Own, in which she provides quite a few insights from her investigations of her own feelings.

The Hendrix book is quite good and has many techniques to improve communication and understanding. He also has a very interesting idea of why we find certain potential partners attractive.

Another possibility is in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, when he writes about habit 5: “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” (Habits 1-3 are designed to enable one to be independent and, once that is accomplished, habits 4-6 help him/her ascend to interdependence—the ability to interact productively with others. Habit 7 is the on-going habit of renewal and growth.)

In that section of the book, he talks about how to listen to someone’s account of a difficulty or problem they face and how NOT to respond out of one’s own autobiography (in which one ends up talking about oneself and trying the get the other to join in once the other understands how fascinating one is, etc.  :)  ). Covey’s writing style I found to be labored and obscure, but a rough outline of some of the ideas in the book helps one understand the tougher passages. However, that outline is quite incomplete, so also read the book to get the full story.

A query from Eddie of Oz for a good shave stick with a fresh-lemon fragrance. The best I know—and the only one I know, but it really is quite good—is the one from Honeybee Soaps.net: this one.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 June 2011 at 11:08 am

Posted in Books, Daily life

Great shave once more

with 5 comments

At a certain point—one that I’m reaching in the food line—you look at previous behavior and say to yourself, “What was I thinking?!” I smoked cigarettes throughout my four years of college, quit as I moved into the world of work, and at a certain point cigarettes started to seem quite odd: dried leaves, rolled up in paper cylinders, which you light, suck the smoke into your lungs, and wait for cancer, emphysema, heart disease, and the like.

Just recently as I left the meat counter with my purchase (1 lamb chop), it occurred to me how I used to leave with 4 or 5 packages, some rather heavy (such as a 15-oz steak—which I now would cut into at least 3 pieces, more likely 4).

This morning I was thinking of how much I used to hate shaving—how I would shave only on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and not even want to do that. What a difference it makes to convert shaving into something you enjoy. Right now, in pursuit of Creamy Lather™ perfection, I can’t wait for the morning shave and wish I could shave twice a day.

That’s an important rule: If you must do something, find a way to make it enjoyable. We’re told that with respect to exercise quite frequently, but not so often about shaving. I’m making up for that.

On Pogonotomy recently a guy posted how he had enjoyed great success using QED’s Special 218 in a hard-water area in England. That made me curious also as to whether I could get a Creamy Lather here. (Our water is soft, thank goodness.)

With my other horse+badger chimera brush, I easily worked up a creamy lather. It’s mostly, it seems, a matter of building the lather directly on the soap and brushing rapidly and long enough that the initial lather becomes creamy. It works quite well with boar, and I’m finding now that I have practiced that I can do it with other brushes as well.

Three smooth passes with the Gillette black adjustable holding a Swedish Gillette blade. Intesa is a pleasant balm in a very nice little applicator—I’m gadget-oriented, in case you hadn’t noticed—and a small squirt of that was a fine finish.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 June 2011 at 10:47 am

Posted in Shaving

This is, in effect, me, though I am not so furry

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Thanks to TYD for this hidden-camera catch:

Written by LeisureGuy

25 June 2011 at 9:44 am

Posted in Cats, Daily life, Video

The business mindset: Treat the symptom, not the problem

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I’ve seen it so many times: the safety gauge’s needle has moved through the green, past the amber, and is now in the red! What to do? Business mindset gives the same answer all the time: “Carefully bend the needle so that it points again into the green. Be careful not to break the needle.”

So, for example, in the fight against mad-cow disease in the US: the beef industry adamantly opposes large-scale testing: as long as we don’t test, the number of reported cases stays low, so everything is fine.

That response is almost universal, regardless of industry and issue: if taking any step to reduce a danger is more expensive than hiding the danger, for a business the choice is obvious: hide the danger. Dump toxins where they won’t be found—or, if found, can’t be traced back to the business.

Business operates for one thing only: Grow profits. Whatever it takes. So the search for cheaper approaches is constant. The only serious question about doing something cheaper: “Will we get caught?”

Japan is learning that now, but it’s a lesson that doesn’t stick because the pressure to grow profits is unceasing, and if the current management team is not willing to “make the hard decisions” (i.e., lie, cheat, endanger public health, ruin lives, whatever), then they will be replaced by a team who will.

As a footnote, the US nuclear-power industry is currently funneling large sums of money to Representatives and Senators to forestall as much as possible reforms in the US, which currently keeps even more spent fuel rods in even less water than in Japan, and which still uses designs that proved ineffective in Japan. And they do NOT want to spend the money to improve those things. It would cut into profits. It’s much cheaper to buy off legislators.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 June 2011 at 9:16 am

In the US we squander billions on drug-law enforcement, starve education

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I suppose that our legislators think spending billions upon billions fighting a harmless plant and locking up a higher proportion of our citizens than any other country in the world is worth depriving our next generation—our nation’s future—of good educations. Check this out. It seems easy to say, “We can’t afford good schools and teachers,” but impossible to say, “We can’t afford all the money we’re spending to enforce futile drug laws and imprison millions of people.”

Written by LeisureGuy

25 June 2011 at 9:03 am

Posted in Drug laws, Education

American spirit, American attitudes

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This post by Ed Brayton is worth reading, I think. Looking on the bright side, it shows how much progress it’s possible to make from where we are now.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 June 2011 at 8:39 am

Food as grub

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I got to thinking about my food post from last night, and in particular the recipe I improvised. That recipe will continue to transform, BTW. Today with the leftover rice/kale stuff, I’ll add a chopped yellow bell pepper, about 3 oz chicken breast cut into chunks, and a splash of red wine, and cover and simmer that, stirring occasionally, for 10-12 minutes, then let it sit a bit with lid on.

That will get another meal, but there will be some left. Probably I’ll add a little more liquid (stock, for example), cauliflower and carrots from the CSA share, and curry powder and end with a curry with chutney topping. If the curry is too thin (I like thicker mixes), I’ll just add 1-2 Tbsp chia seed and simmer a bit: that will firm it right up plus add some fiber, protein, and omega-3.

I got to thinking about this, and how I now view food as “grub,” in which preparation is less important than content. (Let me say at the outset, though, that the results of this approach are judged just as with any recipe: if I like the aromas, tastes, and flavors, the result is good; if I don’t, it’s bad. The issue is not the pleasure the food provides: I get plenty of that from what I cook, as The Wife will testify.)

The usual approach is to look for recipes that represent a particular style or cuisine: to make a meal that can be placed in a specific place on a culinary map, whether it’s American Southern or Mexican or Italian or French or Chinese or Greek or whatever. One typically uses combinations that have been worked out in a traditional context, such as the “holy trinity” of Cajun cooking (bell pepper, onion, and celery) and the mirepoix of the French (minced onion, carrot, and celery) and the various salsas of Mexico.

When you approach food as grub, those traditional combinations and ingredients are still available, of course: no reason why you can’t exploit them in your own cooking. But in the meal-skeleton approach I described, I focus mainly on the primary content (protein, starch, veg, and fat), looking at what I have on hand, and then once I find the components I will use, start to think about how to combine and cook them—will it be a stir-fry? a casserole? a stew? a soup? roasted separately and then combined? as a salad—and if so, tossed? or composed? And how can I increase its appeal with the various condiments I keep on hand?

As I work out in my head what the meal will be, I may well indeed use some traditional combinations from this particular cuisine or that, but the point is that I also consider cuisine-independent choices such as adding chia seed to curry. I feel free to improvise the content and format of the meal, so long as I meet the distribution requirements I mentioned above.

This is sort of a low form of cookery, unschooled in the principles of a particular cuisine, and it will never reach heights of refinement. But for day to day eating—and eating a soundly balanced diet in the right amounts—it works quite well. And it tastes good, too. But I do recognize that this is grub, not cuisine, haute or basse.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 June 2011 at 8:15 am

Posted in Daily life, Fitness, Food, Grub

Making yogurt at home in my time

with 2 comments

I don’t write “in my spare time” because … :)

Steve of Kafeneio got me thinking about making my own yogurt once I resume having yogurt. (It’s out of the house until I reach goal, and even then I’ll have to be careful.) I used to make my own yogurt and know the process. I add extra dried milk powder to make a thicker yogurt, and I avoid pectin like the plague. Unfortunately, the very best 1-quart yogurt maker (I like the big containers, because I strain the yogurt for yogurt cheese—this strainer has a 1-quart capacity, about the smallest you’d want (less, and the amount of cheese is not worth the effort)), the Salton YM9, has been discontinued and is no longer available, and most of what I’ve found uses plastic (BPA-infested) containers. So I may just go with the well-known wide-mouth jar, warm oven, and big towel to wrap around the jar. I have a large Pyrex flour canister that would work, except that it’s rather large: I have a picture in my mind of the yogurt filled thin-walled glass container, awkward size, covered with condensate and slippery, … no, I don’t want to go on. This one, just 2 oz more than a quart, ideal: buy a quart of milk, heat, add powdered milk and the yogurt culture, and you are pretty much set.

In looking over the reviews for the various yogurt makers on offer, I came across this excellent advice from msyoga:

. . . A few tips:

1. Soy-based yogurt is very difficult to get right. If you’re like me and you don’t mind eating dairy, but you want to eat more soy and prefer to avoid saturated fat, try using a quart of creamy soy milk (not light!) and adding 1/2 cup dry dairy milk powder to it, plus sugar and any flavor extracts. It makes an absolutely thick and creamy, delicious yogurt that sets up properly and has no weird flavor. I have experimented with pectin and do not like it — adding additional milk powder thickens the yogurt nicely.

2. Honey is naturally antibacterial, and therefore will impede your culture. Don’t sweeten with honey before culturing — use it afterward if you like it.

3. Do not use a starter yogurt that contains a lot of gelatin. It’s very difficult to get it to mix evenly with your warm milk, even if you pour the warm milk into the starter a little at a time. [You can readily buy dry yogurt culture in packets, as well. - LG]

4. Unfortunately, almond milk and hazelnut milk do not work, even if mixed with some cow’s milk. However, coconut milk (full fat) or coconut cream make an incredible, rich silky yogurt when mixed with dairy milk.

UPDATE: Just talked with The Eldest, who told me that she bought yogurt culture on-line from a place that offered an amazing variety: sweet, sour, thick, thin, whatever. I just Googled and found these:

Cultures for Health – 9 varieties (comparison of varieties)

Custom Probiotics – just two varieties, but also will do custom mix

She uses a large Pyrex bowl that comes with a glass lid.

UPDATE: I hadn’t realized that some yogurts—some tasty-sounding yogurts—are cultured at room temperature: no need for yogurt make, just pour the prepared milk (and they recommend goat milk) into a jar and put it on the counter.

UPDATE 2: Note this NY Times story (from the comment below—and see also the comment for a clever yogurt-warming idea: a heating pad).

Written by LeisureGuy

25 June 2011 at 7:18 am

Posted in Daily life, Food, Recipes

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