Later On

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

Archive for December 10th, 2006

Habanero oil redux

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I just made another batch of habanero oil. I use it regularly. Easy to make: cut stems off a bunch of habaneros, coarsely chop, and put into a pan of olive oil. I brought the oil to 215º and let the habaneros cool in it. Then I mashed them with a potato masher, tasted to see if I should bring them back to 215º a second time, decided against it, and strained it into the bottle I had used to measure the oil. I keep the mashed habaneros to use in cooking. Very quick, very easy. I do use disposable gloves while handling and chopping the habaneros.

Written by Leisureguy

10 December 2006 at 4:18 pm

Best standing-rib roast recipe method

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From Nov-Dec 2002 issue of Cook’s Illustrated, stripped to its essentials:

1. Take the roast out 2 hours before starting the process.

2. Pre-heat oven to 250º.

3. Using kosher salt, salt and pepper the roast all over. Kosher salt makes a difference, so seek it out. Best: Diamond Kosher Salt. Look for it. (Your supermarket undoubtedly has it in the salt section.)

4. Take a heavy 10-12” skillet (cast iron is ideal) and heat it on medium for 5 minutes. Put the rib roast in, fat side down, and brown it for 12 minutes. Then turn the roast onto one side for 4 minutes, then the other side for 4 minutes. This is all the browning the roast gets, so do a good job.

5. Put the roast in roasting pan (or simply use the skillet), ribs down, and roast at 250 degrees until temperature inside is 135-140º (that’s my preference, anyway).

6. Remove from the oven and tent with foil to rest 10 minutes before carving.

Serve with this horseradish sauce.

UPDATE: Nowadays, I find the horseradish sauce at the link goes better with, e.g., smoked fish. It seems too rich for the standing-rib roast, which I now will have with grated fresh horseradish—or very thin julienne strips from the tender layer of fresh horseradish.

UPDATE 2: I just spotted this in the LA Times:

1/2 cup crème fraîche
1 tablespoon freshly grated horseradish

Combine the crème fraîche and horseradish in a small bowl and mix well. Cover and refrigerate at least one hour or as long as overnight.

Sounds tasty, doesn’t it? — later: I tried it. It’s great.

UPDATE 3: This year (Xmas 2007) I decided to try dry-aging the roast. From the November-December 2002 issue of Cook’s Illustrated (page 14):

To dry-age a prime rib, buy your roast up to one week early. Pat it dry and place it on a wire rack set over a paper-towel-lined cake pan or plate. Set the racked roast in the refrigerator and let it age until you are ready to roast it, three to seven days. (I left one in the refrigerator for nine days; the cooked roast was meltingly tender with big flavor.) Before roasting, shave off any exterior meat that has completely dehydrated. Between the trimming and dehydration, count on a seven-pound roast losing a pound or so during a week’s aging.

I’m not sure that this was worth the trouble. The problem is that the roast got cooked to a higher temperature (150º) than usual (145º), so it’s unclear whether the results were due to temperature or dry-aging or a combination. The roast was less juicy, which one might expect with the aging. The flavor didn’t seem to be that much more intense. So the jury’s out.

Written by Leisureguy

10 December 2006 at 3:11 pm

Multivitamins evaluated

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I take a daily multivitamin. The Center for Science in the Public interest did a good survey of multivitamins (PDF file) in January 2003, and on checking their Web site, I don’t see anything more recent. I do follow their advice, though. Take a look…

UPDATE: Note that you should also avoid supplements contaminated with lead.

Written by Leisureguy

10 December 2006 at 3:10 pm

Posted in Daily life, Health

Recent example of human evolution

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Recent independent mutation to digest lactose has been selected for. Not quite so dramatic as the X-Men mutations, but still useful:

A surprisingly recent instance of human evolution has been detected among the peoples of East Africa. It is the ability to digest milk in adulthood, conferred by genetic changes that occurred as recently as 3,000 years ago, a team of geneticists has found.

The finding is a striking example of a cultural practice — the raising of dairy cattle — feeding back into the human genome. It also seems to be one of the first instances of convergent human evolution to be documented at the genetic level. Convergent evolution refers to two or more populations acquiring the same trait independently.

Throughout most of human history, the ability to digest lactose, the principal sugar of milk, has been switched off after weaning because there is no further need for the lactase enzyme that breaks the sugar apart. But when cattle were first domesticated 9,000 years ago and people later started to consume their milk as well as their meat, natural selection would have favored anyone with a mutation that kept the lactase gene switched on.

Such a mutation is known to have arisen among an early cattle-raising people, the Funnel Beaker culture, which flourished some 5,000 to 6,000 years ago in north-central Europe. People with a persistently active lactase gene have no problem digesting milk and are said to be lactose tolerant.

Almost all Dutch people and 99 percent of Swedes are lactose-tolerant, but the mutation becomes progressively less common in Europeans who live at increasing distance from the ancient Funnel Beaker region.

Geneticists wondered if the lactose tolerance mutation in Europeans, first identified in 2002, had arisen among pastoral peoples elsewhere. But it seemed to be largely absent from Africa, even though pastoral peoples there generally have some degree of tolerance.

A research team led by Sarah Tishkoff of the University of Maryland has now resolved much of the puzzle. After testing for lactose tolerance and genetic makeup among 43 ethnic groups of East Africa, she and her colleagues have found three new mutations, all independent of each other and of the European mutation, which keep the lactase gene permanently switched on.

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Written by Leisureguy

10 December 2006 at 3:10 pm

Posted in Daily life, Science

Where to write to get your records

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Via Lifehacker, a very useful site tells you where to get various vital records.

Written by Leisureguy

10 December 2006 at 3:09 pm

Posted in Daily life, Government

Comment on obscenity

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I notice that the quote from the News Blog includes some obscenity. You may have noticed that I don’t use much obscenity in my blog. I have several reasons. First, casually using obscenity robs the words of their power. Second, constant casual use is tiring to read, much like WRITING IN ALL CAPS. It’s as if the writer is talking at the top of his/her voice. And, finally, constant casual use amounts to relying on clichés. So I abstain except for the occasional rare use. YMMV.

Written by Leisureguy

10 December 2006 at 3:09 pm

Posted in Daily life, Writing

Hillary the Mute

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From The News Blog:

Now, if you’ve been reading the New York papers, you’ll notice that we’ve been discussing other things, like the death of Sean Bell and the wounding of two others, you will notice that most of our elected officials have been mute. While Sen. Clinton had expressed her condolences to the family, but has made no public statement, appeared at no press conference or even discussed this in an interview.

But we have to tolerate her lectures on fucking video games.

Understand this, the police gunned down three men with 50 rounds in a crowded Queens neighborhood and her office is more concerned about Rockstar Games than the NYPD. Her office is a wee bit defensive about this, but my God. One of your constituents is shot, there is no evidence of a crime, and you don’t make a public statement? You can go up to the House of Justice and pander for votes, but you can’t make a statement when an unarmed young man is killed?

Which is why any run by Hillary Clinton being discussed is about as meaningful as who Jen Anniston’s next rich boyfriend will be.

Here’s a question: when has Hillary Clinton, confronted with a tough question, not shown signs of cowardice first. She refused to oppose the doomed Iraq War, even with a safe Senate seat. At every turn she hedges and hems and haws instead of standing her ground and taking a stand.

And when she does, it’s on the pointless, like video games. As if the first amendment doesn’t apply to them, when every single video game case has been bounced like a drum from federal court.

Hillary thinks she can bullshit and bluff her way through, but that isn’t going to happen. People will be held to account, on Iraq, on the NYPD.

Written by Leisureguy

10 December 2006 at 11:53 am

Some Mencken for you

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From Minority Report:

We must respect the other fellow’s religion, but only in the sense and to the extent that we respect his theory that his wife is beautiful and his children smart.

Written by Leisureguy

10 December 2006 at 11:50 am

Posted in Books, Daily life, Religion

Very interesting and useful Wishlist

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Check out WishRadar . Once you create your free account, you can import your Amazon wishlist. The great thing about WishRadar is that you set the price you want to pay for the item (defaults seem to be: $5 for CDs and books, $10 for DVDs and other), and it keeps an eye on Amazon.com, Amazon Marketplace (used books, private sellers), and half.com. When the item appears at or below your target price, you get an email. I’ve gotten a couple of emails—and in one case got a $65 book for $1.50 (used copy of Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry). You can also share your wishlist. Pretty nifty. Wish it scoured the Web more thoroughly, though—why not ABEbooks.com, for example?

Written by Leisureguy

10 December 2006 at 11:22 am

Posted in Daily life

One last shot – J. Biden

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Atrios has an excellent post this morning on Joe Biden, who thinks we have “one last shot” at getting it right in Iraq. But the problem is, as Atrios’s collection of Biden quotes has shown, Joe thinks we have an indefinite number of “last shots”. Pretty bad. Hope this guy doesn’t try to run for president.

Written by Leisureguy

10 December 2006 at 11:02 am

Causing worker burnout

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I once had a terrific case of worker burnout. The cause, I eventually (with some help) realized, was that I had started “owning” thing over which I had no control—for example, decisions made by the Board of Directors, about 5-6 levels above me. Thus I gave myself the feeling that I had no control, which definitely leads to burnout (cf. Martin Seligman’s excellent Learned Optimism for more on this).

Once I started focusing on the area in which I did have some control (thanks in part to Stephen Covey’s The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People), things got better. The book is based on talks he gave about 7 habits that seemed common to a variety of highly effective people. The ideas in the book are indeed valuable, but transcribing a talk given with charts and slides can make for occasional difficult reading. Download this brief outline (PDF) and read it before or as you read the book. The outline is incomplete, but it can help. This free on-line weekly planner is based on the method described in the book and is, I think, worth a try. Give it a few months. For those who like to handwrite their plans (and I am one) this page has a downloadable PDF template for a week plan is useful

Let me also recommend Anne Wilson Schaef’s The Addictive Organization, which does a good job of dissecting dysfunctional organizations and how they work on you.

This was stimulated by this good post via Lifehacker.

Written by Leisureguy

10 December 2006 at 10:50 am

Wize: product rankings

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Via Dumb Little Man again (it’s a valuable site), here’s Wize, a site devoted to product reviews. They review a wide range of products and provide a “rank”, based on user feedback, expert evaluation, and “buzz”:

Wize Rank™ aggregates collective wisdom from across the internet in order to make it easy to find the best products available. Wize Rank takes the collective wisdom of more than 850,000 consumer product reviews of nearly 20,000 products and distills them into a single, simple number that’s easy to understand.

The Wize Rank calculation is proprietary, but the math and principles it’s based on are not complicated. The beauty of Wize Rank is that it works, consistently: Wize Rank is the best, easiest way we know to find great products.

Wize Rank is powerful — it’s a single number that helps you find the best products fast.

Wize Rank is comprehensive — it rates thousands of products encompassing hundreds of thousands of user and expert consumer product reviews from independent sources across the web.

Wize Rank is objective — its proprietary algorithm distills so many ratings and reviews that it’s virtually impossible to manipulate.

Wize Rank does not play favorites: Manufacturers and advertisers can’t buy a higher rating. The only thing that can improve a Wize Rank is more positive data collected from independent sources.

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Written by Leisureguy

10 December 2006 at 10:32 am

Posted in Business, Daily life

50 writing tips

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Via Dumb Little Man, here are 50 superb tips on writing, developed through experience by professional writers:

At times, it helps to think of writing as carpentry. That way, writers and editors can work from a plan and use tools stored on their workbench. You can borrow a writing tool at any time. And here’s a secret: Unlike hammers, chisels, and rakes, writing tools never have to be returned. They can be cleaned, sharpened, and passed on.

Each week, for the next 50, I will describe a writing tool that has been useful to me. I have borrowed these tools from writers and editors, from authors of books on writing, and from teachers and writing coaches. Many come from the X-ray reading of texts I admire.

I have described most of these tools in earlier lists, first of 20 and then 30. In those renditions, I defined each tool in shorthand, 50 words or less, without elaboration or exemplification. In spite of — perhaps because of — their brevity, many aspiring writers found them useful, and the tools popped up all over the Internet, translated into several languages. This warm acceptance has given me the courage to do more with these tools, to hone them, to discard some rusty ones, and to add to my collection.

As you study and discuss these, please remember:

  • These are tools and not rules. They work outside the realm of right and wrong, and inside the world of cause and effect. You will find many examples of good writing that seem to “violate” the general advice described here.
  • It will not help to apply these tools at once, just as aspiring golfers swing and miss if they try to remember the 30 or so different elements of an effective golf swing.
  • You will become handy with these tools over time. You will begin to recognize their use in the stories you read. You will see chances to apply them when you revise your own work. Eventually, they will become part of your flow, natural and automatic.
  • You are already using many of these tools without knowing it. It is impossible to speak, write, or read without them. But now these tools have names, so you can begin to talk about them in different ways. As your critical vocabulary grows, your writing will improve.

My friend Tom French, who won a Pulitzer Prize for feature writing, told me he liked my tool list because it covered writing from the “sub-atomic to the metaphysical level.” By sub-atomic, he meant the ways words, phrases, and sentences work. By metaphysical, he meant the ways writers live, dream, and work.

With that as both introduction and promise, let us begin.

Writer’s Toolbox
Tool #1: Begin sentences with subjects and verbs, letting subordinate elements branch off to the right. Even a very long sentence can be clear and powerful when the subject and verb make meaning early. >>Read more

Written by Leisureguy

10 December 2006 at 10:23 am

Posted in Daily life, Writing

Taking Bush to court

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Elizabeth de la Vega explores the idea and possible reality of United States v. George W. Bush et al in an intriguing essay.

Written by Leisureguy

10 December 2006 at 9:35 am

Managing money

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Implicit Spending

Years ago I was mystified at how I consistently failed to have spare money. Then I discovered what I’ll call “implicit spending”: if you rely on some possession that eventually must be replaced (for example, smartphone, computer, car, tires, etc.), your daily use of the possession means that you are implicitly spending money. Say you have a smartphone that you will use for 4 years before you replace it, and it will cost (say) $480 to replace. Then as you use it, you’re implicitly spending $120/year, or $10/month, just by having the phone, above and beyond what you pay for the phone service. That is, when the time comes to replace it, you’re going to have to pony up $480. The actual price at replacement time might differ from $480, but that would be roughly the amount you should have available in four years, when replacement time rolls around.

An apartment dweller might count as sources of implicit spending things like a car, tires, car battery, vacuum cleaner, mattress, TV, computer, and the like. A homeowner must also account (and accumulate) for a roof, water heater, furnace, dishwasher, refrigerator, washer, dryer, exterior paint, carpets, and so on.

In our possession-laden lives, the burden of implicit spending can be significant—and it’s in addition to explicit spending — spending that easily comes to mind, the spending on groceries being a prime example, but also things like utility bills, subscription fees like Netflix, and so on. These are the expenses that come immediately to mind because you pay them frequently.

“Within Your Means”

I created an Excel workbook (download at link — the workbook in Numbers format is also available for Mac users) to facilitate planning a budget, starting with your take-home pay. The workbook also works fine in Google Docs, so upload it there if you don’t want to include among your periodic expenses the $80 per year Microsoft now charges for Microsoft Office. (That fee prompted me to switch totally to Google Docs. I do use two-step authentication, which I strongly recommend to protect your data.)

Each sheet of the workbook collects information on one category of saving/spending (mostly spending, I must admit) and allows you to enter the amounts appropriate for you. Each page is protected so that you don’t accidentally overwrite formulas, but if you want to tinker with it, the password is “123” (without the quotation marks).

Here’s the TOC that lists each sheet in the workbook:

Screen Shot 2020-02-26 at 9.58.47 AM

The WYM License is because at one time the workbook was available for purchase, but now it’s free.

I think if you work through this you’ll be surprised at the amount of money you’ve obligated yourself to pay — on average — each month. And if you don’t have that money, bad things will happen to you, sure as my name is Leisureguy. Take a look, and see how it works for you.

No need to use cash

WYM suggests using cash, but now that online banking is ubiquitous, I use a no-fee credit card (VISA, for me) and charge to the card the purchases I make. Then, when I get home, I go online and pay for the credit card purchases I just made by using money from my checking account.

In this way, I keep my credit card balance due always at zero (or even with a slight surplus, since I like to pay round amounts: $20 instead of $19.63, for example). So long as the balance is in my favor, all is well.

By doing this I avoid interest fees and also the illusion that I still have on hand money that in fact is needed to pay the credit card. In days of yore, when credit card bills arrived on paper each month through the mail, I would sometimes look at the bill and realize I had charged more to the card than I could afford to pay, which led to a balance due that was carried forward, along with (very high) interest charges.

Paying off each credit-card charge as soon it appears on-line me grounded: I know how much money I actually have available to spend.

To help remind me, I set notifications on my credit card account to email me of any charge above $1. That reminder helps because I don’t have to remember the purchase: when I see the email, I pay the charge online.

Not owning things saves money

The fewer material items you accumulate, the less money you must set aside to replace them. A lifestyle that’s light on material goods frees more of your income for saving and spending on experiences and consumables. That’s part of the message of the interesting and useful book Your Money or Your Life, by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin. I highly recommend reading the book and trying its ideas. And The Simple Dollar has a brief and useful guide to personal finance.

Sometimes a material object is acquired and valued not for what it is, but to satisfy some psychological need. It’s worthwhile to identify these needs and address them directly than rather than trying to satisfy them by accumulating stuff (and increasing your implicit spending). Watch this brief video to gain a new appreciation of the burden that accompanies the ownership of stuff.

Dominguez, Robin, and others founded the New Roadmap Foundation to provide further support for their ideas. Their website is  FinancialIntegrity.org.

Deacquisition: Efforts and costs

When you do acquire a nonconsumable item, it must ultimately be disposed of (assuming you are not immortal). Eventually, you might give it away, sell it (consignment stores, yard sales, Craigslist, eBay, and so on), throw it away, or whatever. For example, a washing machine has a finite life, and when the time comes, you must not only get a new washing machine, you must get rid of the old one. If you’re buying from a store, the store may take care of disposing of the old machine, but if you buy a replacement machine from an individual, disposal will be your solution opportunity.

You might want to record (in a spreadsheet, say) each possession when you acquire it: date of acquisition, name of possession, source, price, and how you will dispose of it. This prevents postponing deciding how you remove it from your possession. Thus when you are considering a purchase—a book, a vase, a chair, a set of dishes, whatever—take a moment to decide how you will dispose of it. You can’t assume that giving it away will always be easy: when the time comes, you might not know anyone who wants it. One way to give things away is through the Freecycle program.

It may then occur to you that you can finesse the problem altogether by not getting the thing in the first place. If it’s a tool, you might find renting it cost-effective. If it’s a book, there’s always the library. And so on: things you don’t own don’t have to be disposed of.

The deacquisition problem is particularly acute with collections. Owners are often quite attached to their collections but when it comes time to dispose of them, they turn out to be white elephants. Collect cautiously. I suggest you collect only those things which you frequently use.

Retirement planning

A comment on 401(k) and other tax-deferred plans: the account balance is misleading. You don’t really have that much money available to spend in retirement because you must pay taxes on the money that you draw out—and it’s taxed as ordinary income. So the total available for you to spend is (depending on your tax bracket) 25%-30% less than the total shown. That’s one reason after-tax savings are so important: the total amount in your after-tax savings is actually available to you.

BUT: Be sure to max all all your tax-deferred options (401(k), IRA, and the like) BEFORE you start your after-tax savings. Also: check out the ROTH IRA: that money sometimes can be withdrawn tax-free.

Finally, read this review of the book Early Retirement Extreme.

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Written by Leisureguy

10 December 2006 at 9:31 am

Posted in Books, Daily life

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