Archive for March, 2013

Functional Freedom

Posted: March 31, 2013 in Uncategorized

As I write this, my cat is sitting on top of my wireless router.

This is, in general, not something that I would think to do. As far as I’m concerned, a wireless router is a thing made to provide access to cute pictures of cats, not to warm the butt of an actual cat. However, it is nonetheless almost perfect for the task — I’ve got it on top of a shelf, so it has the height that cats generally prefer, and of course it puts off a noticeable but not excessive amount of heat. So the cat is not bothered with niceties of labels and such. The cat sits.

In fact, overall it has been quite educational to watch the cat observing my apartment and classifying every item in it as “Cat Food” (kitty kibble, human’s dinner, beer, unidentifiable residue in sink, shreds from paper shredder, etc.), “Cat Toy” (furry stuffed skunk, human, power cord for laptop, pocket knife, costume fox tail, shoes (whilst being worn), dust motes in skylight, power strip for TV, etc.), “Cat Bed” (human’s feet, human’s back, human’s face, human’s seat on couch, router of previous mention, etc.) and “Cat Litter Box” (litter box in bathroom, litter box in living room, fortunately aside from one incident no etc.) according to their various properties. Often previously unnoticed properties.

If he had thumbs, I fear that he might figure out how to point a gun at his own balls, blow up the apartment, and fly away on a hang glider made from bedsheets.

Roundup?

Posted: March 30, 2013 in Uncategorized

It was fun last week, so maybe it’ll be fun this week.

Work was weird. Most everyone was off for Spring Break, and we were also kind of between major test efforts, so I spent most of the week investigating defects and staring at the wall. Meanwhile, I was stacking up more activities to do outside work, between the whole blogging thing, my new fitness goals, my not-so-new career goals, the online courses I’m taking, and the fact that I’m finding two books interesting for every one book I read.

My third-grade teacher would be torn between awe and horror if she contemplated me living in a world where I could impulse buy and start to read a book in under 30 seconds from most places I typically spend time on a device I can, er, shove into a kiddy desk much more easily than one can do with a paperback.

Figured out this week that the ultra-hippie Captain Planet approved uber concentrated laundry detergent I bought a couple months ago has masking fragrance in its unscented version. Found this out the hard way. Displeased. May yet end up doing that iconic activity of possibly-foolish frugality, making my own laundry soap — though mostly out of curiosity.

Finally got my new Crossbreed holster. It does not make my butt look big.

Probably going to spend most of the weekend eating horrifying things and doing various forms of homework.

In the River Again

Posted: March 29, 2013 in Uncategorized

You can’t step in the same river twice, but that doesn’t necessarily stop me from trying.

Like a lot of people in the software industry, I’ve been tentatively dipping my toe in taking courses on Coursera. I’m a bit dubious about some of the claims that are flying about that massively whatever online courses are going to change the world — they remind me of the Segway, for one, and also seem to completely ignore the use of education as a gatekeeper — but I do think the courses have some merit. Particularly for people like me who have credentials which are slightly, but not entirely, askew from the standard background in their current field. So I’ve signed up for a few, and mostly dropped a few. It’s a work in progress.

Up until today, my current set of courses was a non-technical course and a fairly elementary-level programming course. The thing about that latter course is that it seems to be roughly equivalent to some of the early coursework I had in my undergraduate degree, plus some elaboration that one picks up from reading certain classic software books — I know this, because I read the books. One might ask, “why are you taking that course, then, if you’ve already been solidly exposed to all the material in it?”

One might ask — I didn’t. At least not until the course actually started, and I actually looked down the barrel of spending some weeks watching lectures and doing homework for something I learned ten years ago. Then I finally figured out that I was looking at the problem all wrong — looking for proof (that I actually already had) that I had achieved a a lower level of knowledge, so that I could then later do things that would challenge my ability. Thing about this is, obviously taking a course the first time didn’t solve the fundamental issue of self-confidence involved, so why waste my time doing it again? Why not just skip ahead to the challenging bit?

So, thinking that, I went and dropped the basic programming course and substituted one that I’d been looking at longingly for a bit that has likewise just recently started. These courses may not save the world, but at least they’ve got an easy add/drop process.

Lentil Update

Posted: March 29, 2013 in Uncategorized

Haven’t been able to return to the lentil experiment as quickly as I thought because I’ve been spending my calorie budget fairly rampantly on things not lentil. Mostly of the chocolate variety. Finally managed to work it in tonight, though.

As I suspected, it seems to be adding the seasoning mix to the cooking lentils and rice that causes the problem — I tried the same amounts of lentil, rice, and water with egg but without any additional ingredients. Result: perfect or near-perfect cooking. There were some crispy bits around the bottom, but that’s typical with this rice cooker.

Ate the resulting mixture with some ketchup-with-balsalmic-vinegar that I’ve had sitting around in the refrigerator for a while. Not bad, but I think the teriyaki sauce works better.

Things to Put in Holes

Posted: March 26, 2013 in Uncategorized

I’ve been in kind of a shooty shooty bang bang sort of mood lately, so I thought I might mention how I figure firearms fit into the whole zombie apocalypse (and other things) preparedness idea.

It’s mostly entertainment. Which on the surface seems like an odd perspective to take, and certainly puts me at odds with the party line of survivalists and gun people both. The thing is, though, the first thing I’m preparing for is for a disaster not to happen — whatever I do has to work even if the zombies don’t come. In the absence of zombies, the function of my firearms is to entertain me and contribute to my personal development, and they need to be able to perform this function well.

I think a good zombie story needs to have at least some zombie shooting in it. And possibly also some zombie stabbing, which is why I’m thinking that my M1 Garand is my designated zombie weapon.

Then there’s the not-zombie bit. Outside of zombies, I’m mostly interested in preparing for everyday life and relatively minor but more probable disruptions where the priority is to avoid upsetting people and drawing negative attention more so than expecting to engage in outright combat. This implies an emphasis on concealed carry handguns over openly carried longarms, and that’s what I view as my focus for emergency preparedness firearms use.

Even there, I think this is more a matter of having an idea of how one of my hobbies can potentially be put to use — I generally see the pointy end of self defense as something that has more of an effect on the population level (that bad things sometimes happen to people who attempt to commit crimes) than for any given individual (who will likely be involved in such an event perhaps once, or more likely never).

So it’s not the most exciting story in the world there, but it does well enough for me.

Coke Fiend

Posted: March 25, 2013 in Uncategorized

I have a lot of experience at quitting caffeine. Back in undergrad I had a habit of steadily ramping up my caffeine consumption until the point where I was constantly either having a headache from too little caffeine or feeling twitchy and nasty… at which point I’d quit cold turkey, only to repeat the cycle again. Continued on this path until an unfortunate metabolic incident a few years ago.

The story behind that incident is interesting in itself, but the pertinent part of it is this: Caffeine has a function that is in some senses similar to thyroid hormone. I have a thyroid condition; it got out of control. Before I figured out what was going on, I unconsciously attempted to substitute caffeine. Needless to say, this did not work. I still got ragingly addicted though, and because a rather hard time in my life followed from that experience I also became distinctly intolerant to the sorts of sensations that came from caffeine withdrawal. So I ended up with a pretty much permanent caffeine addiction that was something of a joke among my friends and family and a minor financial burden.

I finally decided to quit (again) around Thanksgiving weekend. I’d traveled to visit my family in Houston, and was dependent on my parents and their rental car to get around. What I found was that when uprooted from my daily habits and reliable access to the company snack bar / the 7-11 around the corner / the grocery store, I was constantly having to go off to random gas stations to get my fix. Some of these gas stations didn’t take especially good care of their stock, and in addition the disruption to my schedule was causing me to be sick and cranky anyway.

Obviously, this would interfere greatly with my enjoyment of the zombie apocalypse.

What I ended up doing was something of a hybrid between the “cold turkey” and “imperceptible taper” solutions — the former is distinctly unpleasant, while I find the latter gives me the opportunity to imperceptibly taper right back up to where I was before. Instead, I cut down to drinking one cup of coffee from the company snack bar each morning. Since I’d cut out the class of caffeinated soft drinks entirely, this being my primary problem, and the thing that I was allowed was relatively contained, this solved the problem of letting myself slide back. The fact that I was consuming some coffee in the morning also helped deal with some of the… gastric… consequences of caffeine withdrawal.

The most important aspect of my success here was the mental game — not so much in resisting the simple temptation to drink this or that, but in telling myself that I could deal with the depressed and low-energy feeling while it lasted and still get things done while I felt that way. Had I not maintained that attitude, I probably would have quit the project entirely after a couple days.

I hadn’t intended to quit caffeine near-completely in the beginning; I was planning to keep up the morning cup of coffee more or less indefinitely. What I found, though, was that I was reliably crashing and having minor caffeine withdrawal symptoms (tiredness and headaches) in the late afternoon or early evening. Hence, after a brief period of toying with half-decaf coffee, I went entirely to decaf.

Not sure where exactly I am going to go from here. I’m not deeply committed to never drinking caffeine again; I simply choose not to do it regularly at the moment because it’s not convenient. And in any case I’m permitting myself to occasionally have caffeinated soft drinks or coffee beverages if I care to — although I’m finding that I have to be careful about this, as a tall Starbucks coffee beverage seems to be enough to virtually induce altered states of consciousness at the level of tolerance I’m at now.

I’ve made abortive attempts to also quit non-caffeinated soft drinks and miscellaneous beverages, but that nut is a bit tougher to crack as I often find myself needing the sensory stimulation. However, I don’t see that as a terribly high priority given that it doesn’t affect my energy levels and (given that I exclusively drink diet drinks) doesn’t have the health impact of non-diet drinks (I’m aware of the yipping about artificial sweeteners and think it largely bullshit, in any case marginal, and certainly nothing compared to the likely consequences of my drinking a lot of corn syrup on a daily basis given my family history). So that may be next… or it may come after I’ve dealt with more pressing dietary issues.

Lentil Experiment

Posted: March 25, 2013 in Uncategorized

Yes, an actual test in the kitchen. Who’d have thought!

Being as I’m a quasi-single sort of person, food preparation is kind of a problem — it’s hard to plan sufficiently well to use up perishable items before they go bad and plus, well, I’m kind of lazy. I end up eating out much more often than I should, and it doesn’t do great things for my budget. So I’ve been working on getting together some options to have on hand that aren’t dependent on perishable items, are fairly simple to prepare, ideally fit well with my nutrition goals (which are fairly loose at the moment, but still) and, of course, are zombie approved.

Hence the experimentation with lentils. Thing about lentils is that they have much the same nutrition profile as beans, but require far less cooking. They don’t have to be soaked, and they cook in about 25 minutes. That’s comparable to cooking rice, and it therefore follows that they can be cooked in a rice cooker — along with rice itself, which means that the recommended combination of beans and rice can be cooked at once in the same implement. This muchly pleases my brain meats.

The first experiment with this — just combining the rice and lentils with the recommended amount of water in the rice cooker and letting it go — worked quite well. The result was fairly tasty on its own, and when combined with a bit of teriyaki sauce was quite good indeed.

So I branched out a bit. This time I tried a couple new concepts: cooking an egg along with the rice and beans, and adding seasoning in the cooking phase rather than after.

The egg bit was inspired by one of my fast food temptations — Tokyo Joe’s Oyako Bowl, which features an egg poached in what I think is chicken broth. Obviously, if water is boiling in the rice cooker for about 25 minutes, that’s enough to cook an egg — and then there’s rice and beans and egg all in the same pot.

As for the seasoning bit, I took a leaf from the 1950s better-living-through-food-science that has something of an influence on the sort of food I was raised with. I refer, of course, to Lipton onion soup mix — in this case onion and mushroom, since I also had some barely-expired mushrooms (leftover from a long-ago crock pot experiment) that I also wanted to dispose of.

Here are the ingredients:

photo-2

Preparation was pretty straightforward — put everything in the pot with proportional amounts of water and turn the thing on. Here’s the result:

photo-1

Truthfully, it looks a little better than it tasted. The rice and lentils were a bit undercooked, possibly because of cooking with the soup mix which itself was a bit underwhelming. The egg, however, was perfectly cooked. With a little bit of the teriyaki sauce previously mentioned, it became a fairly respectable meal.

Overall, I think the egg concept was a success and the seasoning concept didn’t work out. For my next experiment, I’m going to try cooking the egg, lentils, and rice together and then try adding the soup mix after cooking.

Feline Interlude

Posted: March 24, 2013 in Uncategorized

I decided to celebrate the snowstorm this weekend by skipping the Appleseed I signed up for (this probably means that I fail as a Founding Father, but at least I haven’t put one of the vehicles in a ditch) and drowning my sorrows in beer, rooster sauce, saltine crackers, and a Ken Burns documentary.

(The camera pans across a picture of a person being gnawed on by several zombies. Voiceover: “But the impact of the Zombie War on the people of Austin, Texas, Sacramento, California, Pune, India, and McMurdo, Antarctica was not yet fully realized.”)

This is the sort of thing one can do when one is the sort of bipoly quasi-bachelor that I am. It is not, however, the sort of thing that always works well when you have a cat that loves:

  1.  Beer.
  2. Whatever the human is eating.
  3. Oh, and also the human. Possibly to eat.

I promptly found myself with a dilemma between stopping the cat from drinking my beer and stopping the cat from eating my rooster sauce. This called for one of them Executive Decisions; I prioritized the beer, figuring that I’d be most unhappy if it were dumped into my laptop.

The rooster sauce turned out to be, shall we say, a self-solving problem. The cat went after it with great anticipation of the food glory to come, took a lick… and instantly did a kitty version of the Mr. Yuk face and ran off.

Winning?

Roundup!

Posted: March 23, 2013 in Uncategorized

Have not been near as prolific as I was anticipating. Oh well. Here’s a rundown of the things I’ve been up to:

— Continuing to go back and forth about which aspects of the shooting hobby I’m going to pursue, and what I’m going to pursue it with. I’m in a financial situation such that I can pretty much get whatever is for sale, barring ridiculous things — admittedly not much, in this environment — but most things I probably shouldn’t get.

— Waiting for my M1 Garand. And waiting… and waiting. I’ve received my order acknowledgment — known in the biz as the “DBU (Don’t Bother Us) Letter”, and I’m guessing that I’m probably around two months out from getting the actual rifle. In the meantime, I’m watching World War Two movies, reading forums, and pondering whether my Zombie Rifle will be this, the RAR, or a rifle to be named later that is likely to be a Gunsite Scout.

— Not watching the news. No. Seriously. NOT watching the news.

— Petting the kitty cat. I kind of quasi-impulsively acquired a kitten over the Christmas holidays — quasi-impulsively in the sense that I’m experienced with cats and had concluded that I could have a cat but was not really planning on getting one until I kinda did. It’s turned out to be a great decision so far, despite the little cuts up and down my arms and legs.

— Engaging in the preliminary stages of taking a bit more of an active part in my career, which has been going well but has been kind of on cruise since I landed my first job out of grad school. Although I ¬†enjoy where I’m presently working, I feel a bit stalled and also observe that the company seems to be in the less-happy phase of its morale/financial/retention cycle. So although I’m not actively searching at the moment and don’t intend to particularly soon, I’m seeing a career coach to help clarify my options and polish up my resume and interview style.

— Working in somewhat of an unfocused manner on financial preparedness and some really basic food storage (which, in this present snowstorm, I am now eating).

— Shaving my head. It’s fun!

More to come… or so I say, right?

Pistol Fundamentals

Posted: March 13, 2013 in Uncategorized

Took this course at BluCore last night. Overall thought it to be a worthwhile experience with a few minor quibbles.

The structure of the course was basically a relatively short period in the classroom going over basic firearm safety and then how to load, unload, and operate a semi-automatic handgun (I thought I knew these things already, but apparently I was wrong). We then went out to the range to run various drills for the rest of the night — these drills being generally of the form “Take one magazine of ~15 rounds (or, for special people like me, two of my seven-rounders) and expend it in thus and such a manner.”

One odd moment came in the competitive drill near the end — I volunteered for the second wave, and there was a bit of a shuffling around positions before I started. Being as I was in front of a table containing several black semi-automatic handguns that looked about the same, I picked up the wrong one at first, then realized it and picked up my own — I think I was the only one there who had Hogue grips. I also happen to have memorized the serial number for that particular firearm, as I used to use it for a password (for a function that I absolutely did not want to forget, hence wanted to have it written down and in my gun cabinet… and figured “hey, efficiency, why not start with what’s already there?”). So I read off the serial number and felt reasonably reassured, then on the second of three shots in the actual drill thought “wait a minute, are those my sights” — they’re slightly faded tritium sights, and whether because of the light or something else they seemed much more visible than I thought they should be — had a minor moment of consternation, then figured that since I’d put my magazine in it and fired it twice, at the very least it was close enough. Turns out I missed advancing in that round by about half a second, which was unfortunate.

I found myself trying to compare the event with the Appleseed I recently took, which is not a very fair comparison given that one is a two-day event and one is a three-hour course. So I felt a bit rushed, or probably more properly that I clearly need much more instruction and practice that can fit into three hours, and also to a degree that I was kind of thrown on the range and told “have at it!” One thing I think they might have done better at was the use of range commands — they did not seem near as standardized in their usage, and as a result I didn’t feel entirely confident when I was meant to start shooting. Not as a safety issue, since it was clear when the range was cold, but I found myself a number of times holding my firearm and sneaking looks to my left and right to see whether other people had loaded, how many shots they were firing, et cetera. The fact that I was doubling my hearing protection as opposed to using the baffle plugs I was using at the Appleseed (nearly normal hearing, but not suitable for use with centerfire rifles or in an indoor range, as I found through experimentation) didn’t exactly help.

Speaking of hearing protection, I do kind of have to wonder about the common sense that said “Where should we put our classroom… how about right on top of the pistol range?” The result was, er, kind of distracting.

I seemed to be about in the middle of the field relative to the rest of the class as far as accuracy/speed, and I kind of suspect that the instructors didn’t talk to me much because my faults (though legion) were less. Their advice on grip and stance seemed to cure a persistent problem I’d been having with bashing the knuckle of my right thumb into my watch. I also learned that I have a number of “training scars”. At Appleseed, I noticed this more with regard to speed than any particular tics, but I’ve also not been training with rifles very much. With handguns, I have a number of very “rangey” stereotyped behaviors around loading, unloading, and dealing with malfunctions — I bring my feet together when I unload, for instance, and tend to leave the firearm in place (pointing at the end wall) and step around it when doing various manipulations, rather than bringing it up (which is still in a safe direction, i.e. up, although no longer oriented in the Official Direction of All That Is Good And Safe, i.e. at the bullet trap of the one-way range).

I think I may add loading and unloading procedures and presentation from the high ready position to my at-home practice. With this, it becomes rather clear that I need to institute a better policy with regard to home practice given that my only solution at the moment is a) not doing much firearm manipulation at home b) generally not permitting my finger to be on the trigger except for c) when I’m pointing at the Sand Bucket, which for a safe direction is rather small and inconvenient, also I have some doubt about just how much it will stop. So I need to do me some figuring.