Monday, December 26, 2005

The Post That Saved Christmas Eve

drummer By Ben ShahnDrummer by Ben Shahn for "A Partridge in a Pear Tree"
Museum of Modern Art

Among my more gans organizert insistences are my observances of Christmas Eve. This day forms the barrier 'twixst Advent and Christmas. Advent is all anticipation. That is why it is the natural preserve of marketers. By the 23rd of December they have already turned their attention to Valentine's Day. Those unfortunates who let the retailers and the djs direct their attention burn out on Christmas almost before it begins. But Christmas is good for 12 days, minimum. You can get another week or so if you include the Ukrainian Christmas date.
Christmas Eve is about getting and decorating the tree, placing the gifts and reading treasured poems. A great family expotition sets off to a remote part of the island to a tree farm where after much, more or less, acrimonious high level discussions (as is said in diplomatic circles) a tree is hewn and tied to the roof for the return trip across the bridge to the mainland. The proprietors of the tree farm always have a plate of cookies in their shed and lovely sharp bow saws. As I am close to their last customer I make it a point to bring them a plate of our goodies in thanks for their cheer -- that always being hard work. Usually I never see them and just tuck the money under the plate. Maimonides tells us never to let the left hand know when the right hand is giving. I fell from that virture this year when one owner emerged just as we finished tying down the tree. My daughter sang out about the cookies and I was outed. In punishment the owner accused me of being "her Santa" and hugged me. I blush.
After dinner the tree is brought in and decorated. The ornaments are a melange of many years collecting. Some are hand made, and date back to our first tree over thirhy years ago. Others arrived this year. Then the youngest starts the present parade and the wraps and bows appear to complete the tree. Settled in with very few lights other than the leds on the tree, with our favorite beverage to hand, we begin to read aloud. Diana always reads "Disobedience" by A. A. Milne. (It might be more recognizable by it's chorus: 'James, James, Morrison, Morrison.') Then the daughter of the house reads "Winkin' Blinkin' and Nod." Then I read "King John's Christmas"
I first heard of King John's desire for "a big, red, india, rubber, BALL" a decade or more ago when Bob Oxley hosted the morning show on CBC fm. He read this poem every year. When he retired I took over the chore at least in our house.
But this year disaster threatened. When the quarter ended my daughter, in an excess of zeal, cleaned her room. The augean stables weren't in it. Many items thought to be lost forever, such as a copy of Beloved, a text for last fall, appeared from the unlikely spots where they lurked. Other items disappeared. This was the tragedy. One of the disappeared was her copy of Now We Are Six which contains 'King John'
Oh well. Sic transit gloria mundi and all that.
But No! Google to the rescue: Ta Daaaa! A search on 'AA Milne + King John' led me to the Hugo Schwyzer site which was new to me. There was the poem. A quick print and Christmas Eve was saved.
This is by way of a large thank you to Hugo and his Chinchillas.
We hope all and sundry enjoy the holidays at hand. Remember: a Christmas tree is not a mark of the end of Fall. Rather it is a sign of hope to bring us through the bleak midwinter.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

On the Prevalence of Mammoths

It is oh so easy to follow a vein
That leads from the cosmic to the mundane.
It is easier still to grow vain,
Although that yields only pain.
Easiest of all is to be wrong.
Is that not quite plain?

-- ml

Monday, December 12, 2005

Mentor's Moment

Roy's more than superb meditation on the Nobel Laureate acknowledgement of Pinter reminds me of the card in Dr Shaffer's garage. It was a quote from one of his books, don't know which.

"A fact marks the place where inquiry was stopped."

At the risk of lesse praeceptor I amend the thought for clarity:

A fact marks the spot where inquiry was interrupted.

Go mull.
-- ml

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Turkey Timing Redux

Is a puzzlement:
Fannie Farmer offers a handy table for roasting a turkey that shows an 18 pound bird taking about 7 hours at 3250 or around 23.34 minutes to the pound more or less depending.
Joy of Cooking says at 3250 a room temperature bird will take about 15 minutes per pound depending on how old, how big, how cold and how fat it is. Bigger takes longer per bird but shorter per pound.
Got that?
So, at 2500 a room temperature, youngish, biggish, unsvelte birdie might take less than an hour a pound. Else it might take more.
If you have a thermometer tuck it between the thigh and the body. Don't hit a bone! and wait until it reads 1900 . If yours is a high tech bird with one of those flap doodle gizmos, just watch it.
If none of the above you need to depend on your nose, primarily. When it starts smelling really good, take a look. Does the leg wiggle freely in its joint? its done.
Roasting breast downs increases moistness of the meat. But you have to turn the bird over before the end of cooking to brown the top.
Assurance is a mugs game. Pay attention and enjoy the day.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Seattle Brown Out Turkey

A week from tonight here's what you do for a pretty good turkey.

Once upon a forty or so years ago there was less power grid here in the Great Northwest than there were various and sundry folk wanting to plug in. Picture the poor sap running the grid on Thanksgiving: 7:00 am all those hard working Moms and other chefs-with-the-duty jump out of bed and rush into the kitchen in their flimsies to shove a humongous turkey into the oven at 3500 The grid feels like Cassius Clay KOed it instead of rhyming it to death.

The lights of the city grow dim. phut. They go out. The turkey is maybe 820 and goin' nowhere. Dinner is about 11:30. Almost Friday.

Del's solution, which I urge you to adopt in these precarious times was more or less what I do now.
Preheat the oven to about 3500

Wrasstle that bird out of its bionic packaging and sluice its frame in water. Reach your hand inside and yard out the sweetmeats packed by the abbattoir. Set them aside. (Where ever you like)((Where ever the cats like))

Do not pack this cavity with anything you intend to eat or allow your family to eat.
Shove sone herbs in it. Some onion or scallions. Some fresh sage and rosemary and thyme. Hell throw some gnger root and lemon in there if you think you like it that way. Any aromatic is jes' fine. Rub the skin with butter and salt and pepper or as you like it.

Put it in the life boat and cover it in aluminum foil. Place it reverently in the oven about bedtime the night before you eat it. Immediatey reduce the temp to 2500. Give it about an hour a pound. Check on it when you wake. That will be early because the aroma of roasting bird will have you pacing the floor by about 6:00 am. With luck you won't have to worry about carving the bird -- it will fall apart at a sharp look.

Now you have the rest of the morning to make the rest of the foo-fer-rar, and to prorperly baste the cook in a good Bordeau, and to simmer the juices into gravy.
The stuffing, made next morning, will be jes' fine with some of the pan juice or a can of chicken stock. Hell a cup or two of tawny port is even better.

Stretching out the process de-frazzles the cook.That allows time for the burgundy to turn the cook into a human.

Just be nice enough to set the table if asked.

Happy Turkey Day!


Sunday, November 13, 2005

Del Bao

Del discovered Hom Bao in Seattle's International District when he attended U. W. in the late forties. He found them no harder to eat than a bear finds honey difficult to swallow. He was almost as avid.

Once he visited San Francisco's China town. In a side street he discovered a shop of modest size. It was fitted out like a bakery with glass fronted display cases down the middle of the long room. Each case had many shelves. On each shelf were several full sheet trays. Each tray was covered in what Del saw as "Hom Bao!" When the proprietress emerged from the work room behind, Del said: "I want some Hom Bao."

"No Hom Bao." She replied.

Del looked at her. Then he looked at the serried ranks of trays filled with beautiful white pillows of steamed or baked bread. Then he looked back at her as if she had three heads and commanded: "Give me Hom Bao!"

"No Hom Bao." She insisted.

Fortunately for San Francisco's finest, a fracas was prevented by the arrival of a well dressed Chinese woman.

Del turned to her to ask: "Do you speak English?"

"Yes," she replied.

"Do you speak Chinese?" He querried.

This gave the woman pause. "Yes," she said.

"Then would you please explain to her that I want to buy some of her Hom Bao?"

The woman made a brief querry in Chinese.

The proprietoress made a voluable reply in a full panoply of gestures.

The woman made many vocables that appeared to indicate comprehension. Then she turned to Del and explained: "She asks me to tell you that she has many kinds of buns. There are beef buns, barbequed pork buns, vegetarian buns, chicken buns, sweet bean paste buns, curry buns and many others. But at the moment she is out of plain pork, or Hom, buns. So there are many kinds of Bao before you, but no Hom Bao."

Del thanked the woman for her translation, and apologized to the proprieteress for his gruffness and ordered a half dozen of each of her Bao.

His culinary world, already vast, became yet larger, while his Chinese vocabulary shrank, but only slightly.


Saturday, November 12, 2005

Shinjuku '67

Near midnight in the city. The last train 'home' is near. Wisps of mist waft along the dark and almost silent streets, the daytime shoppers long gone. Think of the vibrance of Greenwich Village in the fifties mixed with the devastating silence of Broadway and 57th at 3 am. From the side streets where the coffee houses lull their clientele with kohi (real coffee, not caffine and water) and alcohol and music, three figures emerge onto the sidewalk of the otherwise pedestrianless arterial just a few blocks from Shinjuku station. Ahead tall buildings soar with one surmounted by a neon sign some 12 stories in the sky: Odakyu, the departo store. Two of the figures are Japanese. One of average Japanese height, one tall in the astonishing post war way. The third figure is an enormous gaijin. Or Baka Beikoku-jin (foolish land of rice person) as I prefer to liken myself. Shin and Kenji need to return home while I must return to base before the trains stop.

We have spent the day exploring the city -- part of the city. They are not exactly teaching me Japanese. I am not exactly teaching them conversational English. Mostly they are better at learning English from me than I am at learning Japanese from them, or anyone else. Under my arm is an artist's sketch book -- the department stores offer wonderful bargains in art supplies. The sketch book is so many things: a handy assist to show spelling either of English or Kanji, or Kana, or Romanji; the essential note of directions (maps) to our next meeting; or a way to elaborate an idea beyond our linguistics; a place to doodle and joke; a prop to maintain my artistic pretentions. We have shopped or been to a zoo or a park or a movie. (Funny. The comedy put me to sleep since I couldn't follow it, while I can recite the plot of the Samauri flick -- Jo-i-uchi -- to this day. Apparantly that was a dud as there is no DVD) We ate dinner, quite likely at the Kirin beer hall, and we passed the evening in various of the coffee houses of Shinjuku. Some played classical. Some played jazz, hot or cold. Some folk -- did I say this was the late Sixties? And some played nothing at all to encourage talk which occurred no matter what.

Certainly we talked. We talked as young people must talk if they are not stiffled. From the heights of despair to the depths of romance. With philosophy, religion and politics to the fore, and bitter reality ever present. Remember, there was a war on as a distant backdrop coloring me and my friends. All of us were born during a war between our countries. Heady stuff. Mostly it was silliness. Mostly we learned how to laugh with each other in our different cultures. A most valuable gift.

Earlier we had passed a greengrocers where in spring strawberries were elegantly arrayed in, more than Prussian -- Japanese! -- precission. Now in Fall they scented the crisp air with mikans from Satsuma. Oh, exquisite citrus! Sharp. Sweet. Exactly as citrus always are in the Jade Emperor's Palace.

Now we approached a street vendor whose cart was plumed in welcoming steam. He offered us steamed buns -- bao, in Chinese. Delicious meat filled pillows of bread: steamy perfection against the Siberian winds that whispered, insinuatingly, around us.

Now: (Oh exuberance of excellances!!) combine them! Crisp autumnal air! Sweet! Sharp! Citrus! Steamed bread enfolding barbecued pork filling!

This, to me, is autumn.

For the thirty-sixth time.


Thursday, November 03, 2005

Samhain Ends

No sun--no moon!
No morn--no noon!
No dawn--no dusk--no proper time of day--
No sky--no earthly view--
No distance looking blue--
No road--no street--no "t'other side this way"--
No end to any Row--
No indications where the Crescents go--
No top to any steeple--
No recognitions of familiar people--
No courtesies for showing 'em--
No knowing 'em!
No traveling at all--no locomotion--
No inkling of the way--no notion--
"No go" by land or ocean--
No mail--no post--
No news from any foreign coast--
No Park, no Ring, no afternoon gentility--
No company--no nobility--
No warmth, no cheerfulness, no healthful ease,
No comfortable feel in any member--
No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees,
No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds--
-- Thomas Hood

Thanks, Roy.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

A Seasoned Seasonal Tale

In my stage struck youth I once appeared as -- literally -- a spear carrier in a semi professional summer repertory company. Amid much hard work there were occasional parties. Usually they followed the strike of one set and preceded the assembly of the next. At times this was from 2 am Sunday morning until the realization that the work call was for ten on Sunday morning drove us to our weary beds.
One of the directors was David Hooks. He told the seasoned seasonable tale more or less as follows:

When I was just starting as an actor I was engaged to play the Doctor in Dracula for a touring company. Dracula was, of course, Bela Lugosi.
In his native Hungary Lugosi had been the leading theatrical light of his generation. A fabulous actor capable of a much broader range than the Count. But he came to Hollywood to do Dracula and never had another role. He ended his career in his eighties taking a vaudeville send up of Dracula to London.
In the tour Lugossi, who had perhaps six sides (pages) of dialog, was the star. And was paid as such.
As the Doctor, I was on stage for all but about three short scenes. I was the 'also appearing'. And I was paid commensurately.
Now Lugosi appeared early in the first act and promptly slurped some young lovely's blood. Then he exited. He was dressed in full evening attire, of course.
He did not enter again until the middle of the second act, some forty minutes later.
Every night he moved from the stage to the stage door at a steady -- even a stately -- pace looking neither right nor left but only straight ahead. Meanwhile his wife danced about him like a butterfly. She removed his opera hat. She received his gloves. She untied his cloak and folded it over her arm. She pulled the end of his tie and undid his collar stud. All the time Lugosi ignored the entire process -- eyes straight ahead. By now he was just about to collide with the door. But just in time the wife placed a cigar in his mouth. opened the door, and brought a lighted match to the cigar. A generous draw and Lugosi took a turn in the alley under a blue gray cloud.
When it was near time for his entrance the wife would beckon him back. As he approached the door she removed the butt and discarded it. She did up the stud and tied his tie. All the while he was oblivious, strolling with intent toward the stage. She settled his cloak about his shoulders and tied it. She handed him his gloves and settled his top hat on his steely locks. He passed from her fluffing just as his cue was uttered and stept on stage to speak his line.
But a page or two later he exited again. This time the interval between appearances was too short for the full treatment. Instead his ministering angel loosed his tie and stud while he removed himself to a comfortable roll of old curtains behind the cyclorama approximately center stage.
On stage during this lull the sweet young thing and the Doctor discover Dracula's coffin. The sweet young thing pipes: "But Doctor, What is in that coffin?"
Every night -- in a beautiful basso profundo loud enough for the actors to hear, but not the audience, Lugosi would deliver on a descending scale: "Bu-u-u-ul-l-l-lshit."

Happy Beltane, all.

UPDATE Woops! That's a treat-a-licious Samhain, all, of course. So much for my Druid status.
-- ml
tags: , ,

Friday, October 21, 2005

The Aesthetics Question

Scene: The foyer of a small community theatre less than a light-year distant. (In all cases the guilty are protected -- not the innocent.)
It is Magic Time -- not that described by Moss Hart in Light Up the Sky-- but the brief inter-regnum between the end of one production and the start of rehearsals for the next, that all too brief period when the theatre belongs solely to the techies.
As the curtain rises the foyer is empty. Double doors right lead to the auditorium. A single door center leads to the dressing rooms and back stage areas. At the left a staircase -- grand only in a kind of Baptist/Woolworth's Five and Dime way -- leads down to the street entrance. The hall began life as a church and slid lower in the heavenly pecking order after the founders so succeeded that they could build a large suburban edifice more suited to comfort their afflicted parrisioners.
But enough cheap sarcasm.
A noise of raucous theatre types issues up the stairs just as ML, a burly, bearded techie type emerges from the auditorium. He is the current techie gofer for a modest community of artistes who are -- as usual -- reluctant to sully their hands.
BW arises from below not unlike a blowsy Irish Venus -- though fully clad. She is the former techie gofer who has been absent for some time findng the working conditions less wearing at other local theatres. Temporarily. Now she returns to direct the next production.
This Community Theatre is little different from any other theatre. They adore drama. Off-stage drama is always preferable. They are not above planting their thumbs on the butcher's scale to heighten the muuuhd, either. These on-lookers have been preparing their fighters for some time. Little hints about how unreasonble the other is and so on. Good clean fun.
Now, at last, the meeting occurs.

ML (who was expecting her and has a hopeful twinkle in one eye): The odious Ms BW, I presume?

BW (who was expecting him and has a vagrant dimple flitting on and off her cheek): Then, sure, you will be the dictatorial Mr ML. (Says she in a terrible broad stage brogue.)

ML: I am reliably informed (Several onlookers titter) that you have very decided ideas about the job of a lighting designer?

BW: 'Deed I do.

ML: Enlighten me, pray.

BW (absent the brogue in a clarion -- even stentorian-- voice): The first function of a lighting designer is to make it possible for the audience to see all of the set and players.

ML: Too true.

BW: The second function is to provide any special effects required, viz.: moonlight through a window, a lightning flash, a welcoming fire in the grate.

ML: quite.

BW (Riding over the interuption): The third function of the lighting designer is to suggest mood, or time of day, season and so forth.

ML: Uhm-hmm

BW: Finally, if the designer has any instruments left and any time available, she is at liberty to be artistic.

ML: Happens maybe once a decade.

BW: Optimist.

ML: Well, that covers it. Right on all counts. (He opens his arms)

They embrace. The onlookers turn ashen.
Tableaux and curtain.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

A Virtual Age Passes

Though named for a poetic rhythm, my Dactyl is usually a prosaic beast who, like the Phoenix, reincarnates once an age. Once a virtual age that is. Her last incarnation as a 32 bit linux box with a K6II processor began in 1998. She was a svelte revelation compared to her former i386 16 bit age. Of late her decline has become more and more apparent. So I hoarded the quarters from not mowing the neighbor's lawn (he is of the opinion I do a lousy job -- he is correct, but I am also an inveterate do-gooder -- and so he pays me to stay away) until, bit by precious bit I won the new Dactyl's myencephalic parts by canny trades at eBay in which I invariably played the dupe. That is a part I have studied for many a year and grown into, even old in.
Then came the excitement of assembly. TA Ra-a-a Ta RA! Thanks to the wisdom of kind strangers at Linux Questions my ignorance at length was vanquished and I limped from the field bloody and bowed.
As you live in your virtual world, not mine, this has no effect on you. Still I take great pride in presenting the newest, Sempron 64 bit 2800 CPU incarnation of my faithful amanuensis: Dactyl.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Prime Sources 3

Sam Clark designs efficient, ergonomic and ecological kitchens that happen to be a joy to cook in and are beautiful.
Back in 1985, he wrote a book called the Motion Minded Kitchen (Alas no longer in print) as a result of the time he spent researching the history of kitchen design and in particular the work of the Gilbreaths. Frank explored ways to make men's work better -- e.g. his bricklayer's scaffold which kept the supply of bricks, mortar and tools all on the same level as the current work, thus eliminating bending and stooping. Together they studied many industrial situations to improve the work by reducing the worker's effort and strain. After Frank's death, Lilian turned to the home and 'women's work'. She induced GE to put shelves in refrigerator doors. Her time and motion studies of various projects led to the discovery of the kitchen triangle, or the best layout of refrigerator to stove to sink, which is now a cliche. She developed ideas about storage at point of first use which make mixing and chopping so much easier. She defined the essential work centers for an efficient kitchen as:
  1. Cleanup or sink center
  2. Cooking or stove center
  3. Mix center
And she pointed out the obvious that, people coming in all sizes and different chores demanding different efforts, therefore counters should be at differing heights to suit the cook who uses them and the task performed. To get a quick idea of what this means stand up straight and crook your elbow. Have somebody measure the distance from your elbow to the floor. Compare that height to your counters: how much lower are they?
A counter where you serve food, stack dishes or make sandwiches, is best if it is 3" less than that measurement. But the surface where you mix batter, knead bread, or chop nuts, needs to be 6 to 7 inches lower to allow the proper use of force required and room for the long handles of the tools. A sink rim where dishes are done or fresh vegetables are prepared is only 2 to 3 inches lower because the actual working level is inside the sink, nearer the bottom of the sink than the rim. The cooking surface of a range for most activities is fine at 3" less. But if you use big stock pots, or stir fry, using long handled tools, the height is better between 6" and 7" below your elbow. The oven's fully opened door is best between 1" and 7" sub elbow. Think of moving a twenty pound turkey from oven to counter: how nice not to bend!
"Work surface TOO HIGH ... causes arm and shoulder ache"
"Work surface TOO LOW ... causes back and neck ache"
(Motion Minded Kitchen, Clark, pg 42)
Just this short recital of the cook's requirements shows how distant most kitchen's are from good design. Even the ones that win design awards.
Besides the information about the Gilbreaths, Mr. Clark also provides a very clear and concise account of the design process. Given some facility with tools -- or a willingness to learn i.e.: make mistakes and try again -- most people are able to use his methods to achieve a better kitchen than the builders provided. I have done so and I miss it in evey kitchen since.
Courtesy of Library Thing:
The Motion-Minded Kitchen: Step-By-Step Procedures for Designing and Building the Kitchen You Want With the Space and Money You Have by Sam Clark (Houghton Mifflin (T), 1983), paperback

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

There Now

That's a bit better.
New logo at the top.
A bit of smoothing to the header and footer. A slightly wider column.
That'll do 'til I learn CSS, or next time, which ever comes first.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Fate's Fingers of Fickleness

I have spent the last week attempting a little hands on learning of cascading style sheets and other arcana of the Finally today the template was parsed and proofed and published and dam it looked good in Firefox.
It looked like a cow flop in Mozilla. Needless to say it looked even worse in Internet Borer.
So we are back to pure Douglas Bowman's Minima.
Hopefully it's readable. At least in form, content is aesthetics -- thus debatable.
Standards -- some folks have them, some folks acquire them, some have them thrust upon them. So why did I hurl them back?

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Lazy is a Relative ...

"Never stand when you can sit. Never sit when you can lie down." So my father often told me, his eyes atwinkle.
I think he may have thought of Frank Gilbreth. As a chemical enginer and plant manager he had a consuming interest in doing the work better. He enjoyed the tale Gilbreth used to describe his approach to the time and motion studies he performed in the teens and twenties of the last century.
"Take me to your laziest worker," he would tell the foreman as he arlrived to begin a new study.
That sounds a bit nuts at first. But you might consider this: In the harsh free booting capitalism of the teens and twenties any factory hand who was lazy in the sense of not doing the job would not last the day. So any worker still employed who was considered by his fellows to be lazy was the faster worker with the least surplus, or inefficient, motion.
Lazy is a relative term.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Analects of Management

Verso cxviii:
Only 4 out of 10 business startups remain in business after four years.
Surely this fact is of comfort only to the survivors?

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Do You Therblig?

Or, perhaps: I love red, ripe, juicy, therbligs!
Or, more to the point: take the ergh! out of ergonomics.
The fundamental motions of the hands of a worker. These operations are made up of 17 types of motion: search, select, grasp, reach, move, hold, release, position, pre-position, inspect, assemble, disassemble, use, unavoidable delay, avoidable delay, plan, and test to overcome fatigue. Frank Bunker Gilbreth defined these motions in his system of motion study. (Therblig is Gilbreth spelled backwards).
Time and motion study was a big deal a hundred years ago, or so. Seems there were two approaches. The Taylorites led by Frederick Taylor sought to make work more efficient, and thus increase productivity. Taylor was followed in the field by Frank and Lilian Gilbreth, whose methods were aimed at making work better, and thus faster. Both methods sought to reduce unit production costs. Taylor assumed the worker was working slowly for his own reasons. The Gilbreths examined the work to see if it could be arranged in a more efficient manner and assumed that the workers would be willing.
Both approaches worked. I find the Gilbreths, particularly Lillian's discoveries, more useful in my kitchen.
-- ml

Monday, August 01, 2005

the mighty acorn

Elaine is a botanist as well as a friend. Once she added this item to my meagre store of knowledge: "There are few plants that will actually kill you. But there are a great many that, if you eat them, will make you wish you were dead."

Think then of the great desperation that led the Amerinds to make a flour out of acorns. Yes, those insouciant brown nuts with their burr caps that heave up mighty oak trees. Ever taste one? Straight from the tree, au naturel, I cannot reccomend more than the slightest taste with something handy to thoroughly rinse your mouth out, after you expectorate the nutmeat. The bitter flavor is tannic acid -- the same that tans leather. Over-strong tea will give you something similar -- though at the pastel end of the spectrum. The tannins in acorns are more like primary colors. Yet, properly processed, acorn flour makes an okay bread, or so I was told long ago when I worked at a school camp in California.

The Amerinds gathered the nuts carefully in the fall, picking them over for worms and molds, as they shelled the critters. The crushed nutmeats were hung in bags in fast running streams for days, and possibly weeks. At first the water turned a dark brown from the tannic acid. When the water ran clear, the nuts were ready to dry, grind, mix and bake. As dry stores, the acorns helped them through the winter. I doubt the acorns contain any gluten to hold the gas created in raising. So I expect the acorns would have made more of a cracker then a bread. No doubt it was eaten with relish -- as being better than nothing at all.

That first comer, though! The one who was so tired of starving that the bitterness of the raw acorn was preferable if not tolerable. Was it an accident? A bag of acorns found in a stream that gave the hint about leaching? But why gather acorns into a bag if you don't know how to use them? Squirrels hoard the acorn harvest for winter use. Maybe a ground squirrel's nest was flooded? But the squirrel stores the nuts in the shell -- they weren't cracked. Did someone attempt to make a soup? Steeping or boiling the nuts would release the tannin? Perhaps an interruption. A cup with water and shelled acorns left to soak. Though the stock was too bitter to drink, the nut was sweeter.

I ponder these things awestruck that not only did the discovery occur, but that the discoverer had the moxie to grab his companions by their scruffs and make them understand that something had changed. That it could be made to change. And for the better.


Friday, June 17, 2005

Fiddley Stuff

Registration is no longer required to comment on this site. The daughter of the house complained about the form.

The Mother-in-Law complained about the tiny type size, complementing the Good Friend who asked if the gigantic type was a bug or a feature. This neatly illustrates the core design problem: you can't please everybody. Particularly you can't please everybody when every browser treats the html slightly differently. At +2 my type is equivalent to standard newspaper format. Theoretically. Those who find it the wrong size on their browser may adjust it with the text sizing option in the view menu. In Firefox [control]+ or [control]- will do the job. Repeat if necessary.
If you find yourself doing this for every thing you look at on the web, try adjusting the text size in your preferences section. In Firefox the fonts section of the general preferences menu lets you set a minimum font size. Hope this helps.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Serendip Beckons

Let's say that a man wants to build a good house for his wife. The most important step toward success will have been to select the right wife.

Let's say that a man wants to write a book about how to build good houses. He has to know what to say. He finds out by making mistakes, recognizing them, living with them, and going on from there. This process is impossible unless his wife will go along too.

Thanks largely to Gordon, but also to Rudy, Mel, Joe, Peter, and Dick, this book got written. I'm afraid there would have been nothing much to say if the inevitable mistakes had caused trouble at home.

Therefore this book will have to be dedicated solely to Caroline.

Last week I meant to continue my post Prime Sources. I pulled my dog-eared copy from the shelf and opened it at an early page to grab a quick quote. I found:

With thought, you can have a house that is distinctively yours. It will be a good house, a fun house, a year-round house, a life-time house. It will be your shelter, your tool for living, and your statement of belief.


Although I will explain to you what you do not need to buy, it is not the purpose of this book to persuade you to spend less money. That would be economic heresy. The purpose of this book is to explain to you how, through thoughtful choice of plan and materials, to get more house for the same money.

This one caught my eye:

If each house consumer can get a better bargain for his money, more houses will be consumed, that is, more people will have houses to live in, more money will have been spent, in total, and the houses themselves will be fit to live in.

Then there was:

... chickens can be persuaded to lay eggs in chicken houses, and cows to give milk in cow houses, but the functions required of houses for humans are more complex.

Or I might use:

The first modern architect was a man who looked at his family, his needs, his location, his available materials, his tools, his strength, his resources, then built accordingly. He lived a long while ago.

All of these were on the second page of the first chapter. By then I was reading the book. Again. Anew I delight in his clarity, thoughtfulness, thoroughness, and common sense. The author makes the modest claim of assisting his reader to build a home that is "warm, dry, light, quiet, clean, useful, spacious, pleasant, and paid for." One of the side effects of seriously reading his text is some good practice in the increasingly rare art of thinking for oneself.

I have yet to build a complete house -- by his methods, or my own -- but I have used several of his ideas in various remodeling projects with excellent results. I heartily recommend Rex Roberts' Your Engineered House for any student of design and anyone who wants to build a home. For that matter, it is a charming diversion to read; a means of moving your mood into a more creative channel. I double dog dare you to not put pencil to paper before too many chapters have been savored. The link above will take you to an online copy, or you can find it through the usual suspects.

-- ml

Friday, May 27, 2005

Analects of Management

Verso cmxlviii:
We have objective standards which cannot be expressed in words.

Monday, May 23, 2005

It's a Point of View

Musing on weekend activity in the neighborhood it struck me that, to a realtor, a tree is never a view. Or perhaps it might be a "territorial view", which suggests a need for very tall sight excluding fences to screen your barbe from the gas works next door. To realtors "views" are free value added enhancements to the usual jerry built cottage. Put it next to a mountain and add half again to the price. Since, as a culture, we Americans all take our opinions from experts, this indicates that what you can see beyond your yard is more important than what you can see in your yard.
Contrast this with the Japanese who, when they can afford such luxuries -- space being at a distinct premium -- carefully construct their yard as a garden with near, middle and distant views that do not include the neighbors. If the site lacks a suitable distant view, then a large tree at the fence is used. When needful a completely different view is suggested inside the garden then is available outside the garden. For the Japanese what is in their yard is of concern, while what is beyond is less so. Involvement with the neighbors is nothing but trouble.
Goemon is an incredibly fine restaurant in the Bunkyo-ku section of Tokyo. It is located between the multi-story buildings that line a major downtown arterial and a rock out-cropping as tall as the buildings. On the street all is noise and light and hustle with traffic, pachinko parlors and shoppers. Turn in to the narrow alley that leads to Goemon's and all that diminishes. At the entrance is a large iron ufuro, or bath tub. This is significant of the historical Goemon, a heart of gold bandit who ended his career being boiled to death in one. The tub took its name from the outlaw. The restaurant took its name from the tub. Think of it as "Robin's 'Hood" for a more occidental turn. Past this the brick gives way to the traditional wood materials of a traditional Japanese Inn. This envelops a garden -- complete with carp pond -- on three sides. Diners sit in small rooms, one per party, looking at the garden during the inclement bits of the year. In the al fresco season, they move into the garden. Seated, one may look toward and up the rock out-cropping. The eyes come to rest on a very -- very tall evergreen jutting from the summit which points alertly into the night sky as though guarding a mountain pass. All the noise of the city is absent from this courtyard. The diners have no sight in any direction of city buildings. The night sky reveals stars -- not the city glow that obliterates them elsewhere in the Kanto. It is a superb design which achieves its goals with a minium of apparent effort. The food exceeds the setting. What is it? Your choice of seasonal compilations of tofu or of the same with the addition of thinly sliced raw chicken breast. Superb is too drab a word.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Some Where Not Too Distant

According to my memory of a tidbit handed out by Tom Allen the affable host of CBC Radio Two's morning show: Music and Company this AM: about this week in 1891 one George Hormel opened a butcher shop in the wilds of Minnesota. In 1926, joined by his son Jay Hormel, They unveiled that bane of the cafeteria counter: Spam. This is now marketed the world over dispite its offence to good taste everywhere. Its obloquy led to unwanted e-mail being described in it's honor. Denizens of the internets have dispensation to drown their muttering sorrows in their libation of choice.
-- ml

Tom Unswift and the OS Dragon: Cutting Edge

It only took a week this time. It should be apparent that in most respects I do not reside very near the cutting edge. As a progarammer once remarked: "that's where the bleeding occurs." But once a year or so I get a misbegotten notion to upgrade to the current newest and bestest SuSE. I have done this since SuSE 5.0 and have learned a thing almost or not quite. B-A-C-K-U-P! And then BACKUP SOME MORE. Still I never quite manage to upgrade cleanly. (This is not a criticism of SuSE. The problems invariably turn out to be my inability to accept that my computer is not a mind reader.) This time I choked on passwords. Being an unconnected single user at home I abominate the things as needless keystrokes between me and what I want to do. When you use an OS meant for a business environment they, quite understandably, have a different view. They are right and I am wrong. Wanna make somethin' of it?

Any way, This blog is already in danger of shifting its focus to plain and simple luddism with a large admixture of meshuganah klutz, so suffice it to say that tehnical difficulties have been resolved and the human is mending while the machine sits there emiting a soulful bleep at odd intervals. Not, so to speak, in triumph. Not exactly.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Bread and Butter Notes

Back on Wednesday, my old friend Roy over at Alicublog gave me a blush inducing puff. Many thanks to him. Please note that I am assuming that the bulge in his cheek is bubblegum and not some adjacent adornment of his mandible.
John over at archy tipped his titfer to me on Friday. John and I share a love of Don Marquis' archy & mehitabel. And George Herriman's drawing.
Mention of this brings to mind one of my favorite Herriman illustrations from "archy does his part" By Don Marquis (Doubleday 1935)
By George Herriman
Thanks, again, guys.
-- ml

Saturday, May 07, 2005

McJayCee Architecture

A treatise on:
The Convergence of Religious and Mercantile Architecture in the Early 21th Century.

So every new retail space has a gable over the door or a pyramid in the roof line.
New built churches frequently show the like instead of a steeple.
Does this suggest that modern building practices have eliminated any chance of creativity or even differentiation? Or is it just the symbol of Mammon as a square bell tower is the symbol of Presbyterians?

Friday, May 06, 2005

As Promised

Yes, I can be misunderstood in HTML and particularly the Microsoft dialect. Kind Roy inquires if the previous post is super sized as a bug or a feature. My immediate flip reply is that it is another M$ failure to cooperate. But then I borrow my daughter's machine to look at IE. YYec-h-h-h-h! That is nothing like the smooth view offered by my Firefox. That is a hint folks, click the button and download a real browser. [snort]
Off to cram some more HTML. I shamelessly peer behind the veil at archy, Brad DeLong and The Peking Duck. What's this? "size="2" rather than size:""=small;" Could it be? Could it really be? Yes. Well, not quite. But its better! Back to a life of crime. Try "1".
Quod Erat Demonstrandum.
So all of you who suffer IE can now put up your gargantuan scroll wheel mouse. How is it with Safari? Please.


Wednesday, May 04, 2005

On Elbow Working

Operating with one's elbows is a frustrating game.

It only took about 9 tries to get the preceeding post up in some vaguely readable shape. I wrote it originally in Open Office. When I copied the first quote into the file. It came, apparently, with its own link and managed to turn the file from text to HTML. Then my elbows flew and among other unintended consequences the link cloned itself on a scale worthy of Star Wars and attached itself to just about every other key stroke. This is in a text file, right? So why would anyone look at the code? Not me. Cut and paste into Blogger's post editor (does it have to be so small you don't need any imagination to think you are posting from your cell phone?) and parts turn bold. This is in addition to all the underlining I didn't put there (did I?) That takes a while to penetrate. Mother always said: "No sense, no feeling." Well, hell, this is supposed to be intuitive, right? So, just in the course of things, I selected the text and made it all bold. Then I unbolded it by hitting the bold key again. That's how word processor's do it. Am I right? Well, not Blogger's posting editor. Nothing much had changed -- that is it still wasn't the way I wanted it to look. Finally I eyed the HTML. What is it with all these 'a href' tags? Where did all these 'strong' tags come from? Do I have to stutter 'span' ten times before each paragraph?

Don't know about the rest of the world but the denizens of Dum Luk's experienced the passage of a severe frustration front, yesterday, with all members reporting major annoyance at the intractability of things.

Well, at last it is up. It is denoted part 1 because my intent was to speak of two other books. But one word led to another, as they are wont to do, resulting in upper word limit infractions as stipulated in the Blogger's Unanimous (ha!) Posting Konstraints (BUPKis).

Now for part 2. *Sigh*

-- ml

Prime Sources 1

One of the books which could claim a lot of responsibility for my auto-didacticness is Guide for the Perplexed by E. F. Schumacher. Fortunately for Mr. Schumacher, who is a reasonable man, I do not hold others accountable for my opinions -- hair-brained or otherwise. I haven't read it in more than a decade. It is however a book like oatmeal: it sticks with you. I particularly recall experiencing an aha moment(tm) when he described the distinction between convergent and divergent problems.

If you are hunting for a light weight, human powered, low cost, transportation system that requires minimal infrastructure, and can carry more than one human plus freight at need, then you will probably come up with a bicycle. It may look as strange as weird can be, still on sight all of us call it a bike. That's a problem with a convergent solution. There is no fun in re-inventing it because it will still be a bike.

Now consider that dinner time approaches and your family is known to be ravenous. There is some ground meat, a variety of forms of starchy carbohydrates, a plentiful bunch of vegetables, a variety of cheeses and an ample collection of herbs and spices. No two of us are going to come up with the same thing even if we both call it spaghetti. Yet all our families will be fed. That's a problem with a divergent solution. Solving it unleashes creativity.

When I researched the book at Barnes & Noble I found that the publisher had another take. Selling books is also a divergent problem.

The author of the world wide best-seller, Small Is Beautiful, now tackles the subject of Man, the World, and the Meaning of Living. Schumacher writes about man's relation to the world. Man has obligations -- to other men, to the earth, to progress and technology, but most importantly himself. If man can fulfill these obligations, then and only then can he enjoy a real relationship with the world, then and only then can he know the meaning of living.

Schumacher says we need maps: a "map of knowledge" and a "map of living." The concern of the mapmaker--in this instance, Schumacher--is to find for everything it's proper place. Things out of place tend to get lost; they become invisible and there proper places end to be filled by other things that ought not be there at all and therefore serve to mislead.

A Guide for the Perplexed teaches us to be our own map makers. This constantly surprising, always stimulating book will be welcomed by a large audience, including the many new fans who believe strongly in what Schumacher has to say.

And then they provided an excerpt which I have excerpted

Chapter One
"On a visit to Leningrad some years ago. I consulted a map to find out where I was, but I could not make it out. From where I stood, I could see several enormous churches, yet there was no trace of them on my map. When finally an interpreter came to help me, he said: "We don't show churches on our maps." Contradicting him, I pointed to one that was very clearly marked. "That is a museum," he said, "not what we call a 'living church.' It is only the 'living churches' we don't show.
It then occurred to me that this was not the first time I had been given a map which failed to show many things I could see right in front of my eyes. All through school and university I had been given maps of life and knowledge on which there was hardly a trace of many of the things that I most cared about and that seemed to me to be of the greatest possible importance to the conduct of my life. I remembered that for many years my perplexity had been complete; and no interpreter had come along to help me. It remained complete until I ceased to suspect the sanity of my perceptions and began, instead, to suspect the, soundness of the maps"

Highly recommend.
-- ml

Saturday, April 30, 2005

First Principles

If one is so presumptuous as to start a blog about 'design' one might consider a remark or two describing what is meant by the term 'design.'

Quickly then, before donning my flame proof union suit, let me claim that design is ubiquitous. The problem is not whether such and so is designed, or not. Everything which requires an actor to shape it: some thing, some event, some place, or some thought, is designed because the actor had to make a decision, or series of decisions, about the action. Still with me? If everything, and any thing, is designed, the obvious next query is: "Well or ill?" To explore one of the many possible means of answering that question is to consider: Designed for whom? Designed for what?

Example: an engineer early in the 19th century had to address a pretty problem. How do you make a device to convey a series of heavily laden carts, repeatedly? His answer, for reasons of durability and ease of construction (relatively), was a pair of iron rails. Since all parts of his problem were still in the conceptual stage, his next choice was the gauge of the rails -- how far apart would they be? He chose something just over 4' because he happened to know that that was the width between the ruts in old Roman chariot roads. That is, he made a choice based on precedent -- 'how did Habarabazab do it?' rather then try to imagine where his new railway might lead and select a dimension based on that future need. Hardly a hanging offense. His selection made both his self and his backers wealthy and pushed the world into the modern age. If that isn't a recommendation ... I ask you!

In a Panglossian universe where everything is quite hunky dory all the time, this seems to be a reasonable choice -- at all times. Alas, in our considerably less amenable world, this gauge, while adequate at first, soon became a drag on development. Since railway cars must be of a certain height to accommodate either freight or passengers, they must be tall, tippy rectangles due to the space between the rails. If that gauge were 8' the wider rectangle would be much more stable. That cross section makes a considerable improvement in safety at all speeds. The appeal of this, of course, is that greater stability lends itself more efficiently to much higher speeds. These options are denied to us because an adequate design decision set the standard which is now too entrenched to easily change.

Who designs, and what they design for, may be the only fair way to judge the quality of the design. Being that we are human (that is, not always fair) the more usual standard is: how useful is this design to my purposes? Here we must wish that the original choice had been different more often then not.

Chew on that a time whilst I go reinvent the wheel. Again.
-- ml

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Clat-a-tink hsss-i-phys clunk

Tinkering with the site.
Confronting ignorance.
Willful frustrate.

I expand the number of languages I can make myself misunderstood in, sa-a-a-a-a... There's English first and foremost -- that's American for purist's -- Then French, Russian, Japanese and Latin. Now I add technobables: Linux and HTML. Time for a drink.
-- ml

Friday, April 22, 2005

First Post

Welcome to an ecclectic blog concerned primarily with design; design in food preparation, in building, in slinging words together, and -- not to swing too blunt a cudgel -- design in living well by my lights. If that all sounds pretentious, it quite possibly is. As Mark Twain said, "My habits protect my life. They'd probably assasinate you." Expect no apologies. This is me: Dum Luk's.