Thursday, November 30, 2006

shrimp and bean curd sheet thing

When you order a grilled meat dish in a Vietnamese restaurant, often you'll get a slice of this shrimp pie thing on the side. It's ground and chopped shrimp, has some bits of something white (water chestnuts, maybe?), in between layers of bean curd sheet. The whole thing is fried and I am having a major hankering for some.

Anyone got a recipe for that?

Edit: I caved and bought some... but I still want to learn how to make it

Friday, November 24, 2006

toshiba tech support - thumbs up

I've said bad things about foreign tech support in the past, but I have just had a very good experience from Toshiba. I had two issues and at least one of them has been resolved (the other needs some testing, being one of those "sometimes" problems, but it hasn't shown itself in the last 4 hours of computing).

The lady at the other end was odd to listen to in the way that indicated she was reading the database for answers. And she had only a little ability to adjust to the fact that I know what a tab is, and that as soon as she mentions something, I'm there. But those were very minor. The call was answered in less than five minutes, which is always sunshine. She had this studied, extreme politeness of speech: "Will you please be so kind as to..." and apologizing when asking me to do things. It was a little aggravating to listen to, and would have been more so had I been in a hurry, but politeness is always a pleasant surprise, and today was a holiday.

My first issue was that single-clicking (or tapping) on a button/scrollbar/anywhere but the title bar would cause the window to maximize or restore, as if I'd double-clicked the title bar. This would happen several times in an hour, sometimes getting "stuck" in this mode so that if I didn't actually move the pointer elsewhere, it would toggle all day between maximized and restored size. Apparently there's a new device setting called tap zones. You can assign corners of the touchpad to specific actions. The default has it on, and has actions assigned to every corner. We turned all those off, and we'll see if that fixes it.

Half an issue is that my mouse button, which was ultra-stiff when I bought the thing, is now mushy and doesn't give a tactile click anymore. It still functions though, and Toshiba doesn't consider this a problem.

Second issue has to do with Media Center Edition (MCE). When I stick a new CDRW in the drive it would want to format it. This formatting would take 20-25 minutes. I'm used to the old style where you drop files into the window and then tell it to write the lot. The new style allows you to read and write directly like a floppy disk -- but you need to format it first. We went into the CD drive Properties:Recording and changed it to a CD drive, and that fixed it. The annoying part of this is that once you switch over, MCE will keep hassling you about the fact you can't write a DVD. Are you sure? Are you sure? Are you sure? YES I am fucking sure! Shut up already!

I'd been thinking of bringing the laptop back to Best Buy, but was dreading it because the shopping season has just started, and BB wants a $200 deposit even though it's warranty work. So I'm feeling pretty good right now with all my problems solved in a quick and non-aggravating phone call.

I just had a new error while backing up and later restoring some of my files. One of the CDRWs had a bad spot or something that caused a CRC error. This caused Explorer to start crawling and not respond. If this happens, do not try to close Explorer or eject the disc. Windows will hang so badly that the taskbar disappears and you have to reboot by yanking both power and the battery. If you wait long enough (about 5 minutes) control will eventually be restored to Explorer.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

the hawk god watches

Interesting thing on Sunday. We're out hawking (the mate came along too yes!!) and had a couple good chases, but no catches yet. Out of the blue comes a young woman who told us she'd seen an injured hawk flopping around on the edge of I-5. She'd been heading toward the City but saw this bird, and simply had to turn around for it.

We're talking about 5 miles to the next place to turn south, 5 miles back, and another 4 miles to the next place to turn north again, so we're talking some dedication here.

And as she's taking her northward turn, she just so happens to spot a person walking around a field with a hawk on the glove. Yrs truly. So she trots out into the field and asks us what she should do.

We hashed around a bit. Honestly I wanted to catch something first and consider the hawking finished, but my better sense, a.k.a. better half, took over. The girl had a special thing for hawks, the mate said, so I should respect that. I packed up the hawk with a couple quail legs as compensation, and we followed the girl's car.

We pulled off just past the bird. I knew it was dead, but we all came over and had a look. A clean-looking tiercel redtail, and still even a tiny bit warm. A real shame to be cut down like that. I babbled some nonsense about him having had a good life. He did have good-looking feet, reminded me a lot of my first tiercel RT. I picked him up and gave him to the girl, who took him off the road and laid him in some brush. We had a few moments of silence.

The mate gave her one of P's feathers, which luckily happened to be tucked into my car visor. It seemed to give her a little sunshine in this sad moment. Then we all smiled at each other and she drove onward into the dark.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

giving again

It's the charitable time of year again. For us webhounds, donation is so much easier when charities have a site and a method of online payment. It took less than 10 minutes to take care of my two favorite agencies, Grameen Foundation and Samaritan House.

Grameen specializes in micro-loans to individuals in third world countries. Samaritan House is a local that provides various types of assistance and medical care to people in San Mateo county.

I like charities that don't waste a lot of money telling me what a great job they do while simultaneously asking for more. Grameen sends stuff maybe four times a year; Samaritan House twice. Years ago when I had less money to spare for charity I gave a small amount to Doctors Without Borders, Sierra Club, and CARE. In response they deluged my mailbox with beg-letters twice a month, and sold my name to other charities.

Before a year was out CARE's mailed brochures had pretty much used up what I had given, and over the next 3 years I got stuff from about 25 charities I'd never heard of. I wrote to CARE asking them for an envelope once a year because that's how often I was going to give. They ignored this and began phoning in addition to mailing. I asked them to take me off their phone list and mailing list. It took almost a year before the phone calls stopped. They use every trick in the book, from post-it notes that appear handwritten but aren't, to "personal" notes from the president of CARE. It's all bullshit, and I don't tolerate bullshit.

The only thing that really gets you removed from their list is not donating. I still get the occasional thing from CARE but I am not about get myself subjected to the deluge again.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

window switch nixed

Back on the carhawking cause. I bought a window control for the CRV, hoping I could hardwire it in. Unfortunately, the electrical connectors hang off the switch to the right in the same plane, rather than off the back, so even though the switch set itself is only 2.5" wide, the connectors add another 1.5". Way too big to hold in the hand comfortably and still have fingers left over to grip the steering wheel. Thirty bucks, and it's off to the trash. Heck, maybe I should just resell it on Ebay.

Next option: remote control. There are alarm systems that will roll your windows up and down in addition to arming your car. My mechanic brought me to a stereo installer, who researched a bit and called me back with a system and a price.

Seven hundred fifty bucks! Ouch!

I was expecting a couple hundred, maybe $400 tops. Alarm systems are not expensive, and I've seen a remote window module for $35 that hooks into an alarm system. I realize there may be a little tweaking involved because I don't want it to work in the normal way of rolling up your windows and alarming the car. I want to roll the windows up and down and have it unrelated to the alarm. That shouldn't be that difficult, though. But it certainly shouldn't cost that much.

Back to shopping...

Sunday, November 12, 2006


Went up to the City to buy hawk food yesterday and came home with something I haven't had in a coon's age. Americans call it a Chinese tamale, and it's called a ‘joong' (with a short double o like book), probably 'jung' or something like that in Pinyin.

It's a lump of sticky rice containing a layer of mung beans, some pieces of Chinese sweet sausage, a little roasted pork (sometimes more fat than pork depending on who you get it from) and a preserved egg yolk (which I usually flick out). All is wrapped in a layer of ti leaves, tied with string and boiled to death. We got them from Eastern Bakery on Grant St, which makes the best joong, with non-fatty pork and sausage that's juicy and not too sweet. They're big, bland, starchy and will stick to your ribs all day.

When I was a kid my parents would occasionally take a day trip up to the City and visit Eastern Bakery, Li John the butcher's, and a fresh noodle factory that was in one of those ubiquitous alleys. It was a long drive for a kid. As we passed the lake at the Monterey/Seaside border mom would unfailingly whip out her rosary and start praying. I grew up wondering if there was something specially holy about that lake, that she'd always do it there. Gilroy was a long straight stretch, except for the bit through Coyote: a left then right up what was called Blood Alley. One time we passed a semi-truck toppled from taking the turn too quickly, and a passenger car under it -- my kid's eyes naturally zoomed in on the blood inside the driver's window.

Miles on -- San Jose apparently never registered -- we'd be on a bouncy road, bouncy enough to make the riding fun. This was San Mateo, I would learn as an adult. The mental mark of "are we there yet" is passing the overflow inlet in Brisbane; in my imagination the road skims inches over a shining flat sea, like a path to an ancient castle. Finally, we would take the "Last SF Exit" and crawl onto Jackson Street.

Dad would park in the Portsmouth Square Garage, we'd cut through a gift store and into a sudden jam of jabbering shoppers, many of them wafting the menthol of Salonpas arthritis patches. I'd squeeze between throngs and past stinky Chinese herb stores to check out the boxes of toys and trinkets in front of the gift stores. I usually got one or two little things, as well as a guaranteed box of Botan rice candy (toy inside!) We'd come home loaded with pastries, joong, sausages, char-siu, Virginia ham, noodles, all kinds of Chinese veggies, and dim sum -- things that simply didn't exist where we lived. Many of them still don't.

We went places other than Chinatown, too. Where was not always clear, but they impressed themselves on my memory, waiting to be rediscovered. Some 30 years later I wandered into Justin Herman Plaza in pursuit of fledging peregrines, and was flabbergasted to find the strange blocky fountain I'd played on, where I'd almost fallen in. My dad said it was called "The Dog's Square Intestine," and I believed him. Where that name came from I have not the faintest, but he must have had a sense of humor back then.

Things change. Chinatown expanded another street up, the stringy old men spit a little more discreetly, and the pedestrians actually obey walk signals. Li John's is gone, Blood Alley is bypassed, Salonpas has gone unscented. But the stinky herb stores are still there (in fact, I think they've mated and multiplied), and fortunately, Eastern Bakery.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Layman's genius

I've said it before, I'll say it again: jump-ups really do work. Since my actual hunting has slowed down, I've been giving P 100-150 jumps every other day. The exercise translates into a beautiful crisp snap to the wings, and lengthier and more interesting chases. Catching game is a breeze and his attitude is so much better -- less sulking accipiter, more "let's go" Harris. Hawking like this is nothing but fun.

The exercise I believe really does have an effect on the psychology, not just the muscles. Even though it's just up to the glove, the repeated effort which may not (or may) result in a food reward seems to tell the hawk to keep trying. Ending the session with a larger chunk of meat tells the hawk this is the result. And I don't know how, but it translates into the field seamlessly.

folks as foolish as Bush

exist, however. This arrived today, a Nigerian 419 from England on actual paper. Some idiot paid 50P to mail this beauty. No letterhead, clearly mail-merged (my name and address in 18-point bold, jpegged signature that doesn't remotely resemble the name). It reads exactly like every other 419 (i.e. barely literate). "A dead foreigner Late Mr. P A Whatever who died in 1999" has me rolling on the floor for the poor guy who's died three times in a single breath. Anyone who goes for this deserves a Darwin award.

That phone number is +44 785 828 0496 and the fax is +44 871 264 8062.

Being a good citizen, I tried to give a heads-up to Woodland Financial Planning in Ireland to let them know their company name was being taken advantage of, and now I'm wondering why I bothered. The email address on the site bounces, and their Enquiries page lacks a Submit button. That's right, you can fill in your information but you cannot send it anywhere. ARG or just laughably bad programming? My bets are on the latter.

BTW, I did not make up the post time below. :)

no winners

Yesterday the Reverend Byron Williams wrote a column titled "How would war in Iraq look if it was going well?" While I often enjoy his columns, this one left me a bit befuddled. He delves into the details of the number of troop casualties, waterboarding torture, and lengthy prisoner detention, and translates that into its effect on American disapproval of the war. Had it gone well, he fears we could have become ideologically and politically complacent, that we would accept these things as normal and even good. Williams has a point, but this skates dangerously close to saying that the war's failure is a good thing.

Certainly those are the current realities, but Williams needs to take into account the years we spent treading water. We set up a Kafka-esque bureaucracy that made actual rebuilding impossible. We put a bunch of uncut children in charge of handing out grants and, apparently drawing from their own scant experience, they made the money impossible to get. However, the politics of the kids was properly right-wing; all were hired because they'd applied for jobs at the Hoover Institution. Choosing not to buy concrete from the former regime's factory because it was government-owned and thus ideologically incorrect was disastrous: there were no privately-owned concrete factories, so no concrete. We didn't give our troops enough of {name your military resource}. Because we didn't have enough troop to begin with, we shifted them out of places just when progress was starting to be made. After all this time Baghdad still doesn't have electricity 24 hours a day.

In short, if the war in Iraq was going well, we would either be long gone already, or withdrawing now. The casualty count, the torture, and possibly the detention would have been reduced. The insurgency certainly would have kept their heads down if we'd restored order sooner. We came in, broke their cities, and didn't fix them; we have not given them any practical improvements over the regime. In theory, they are free, as Bush likes to tout. In practice, they hide behind a cracked wall worrying about the next bullet.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

ED [election day ;) ] results

"Chaos, panic and disorder: my work here is done."

Those could have been Rumsfeld's parting words. Should have. The departure's far later than it should have been, but at least the guy's gone.

As if to maintain the nation's balance of stupidity, California has approved all of Propositions 1A through 1E, a broad swatch of bond measures totaling 37.2 billion dollars. This is just what we need in a state already debt-ridden from the government level to the personal level. I guess people just willfully blind themselves to all those zeroes when they take out loans based on equity they barely have, or hand over the credit card for a marvelous piece of technology they don't need. A million, a billion, what's the difference? In fact, I suspect Californians are proud of their debt. We get more money to spend than anyone else, and leave it to some future generation to pay it off.

The other approved measures paint a picture of a fearful people: 83 (GPS monitoring of sex offenders and prohibition of residency near schools/parks, maybe half a billion) and 84 (water quality and safety, another 10.5 billion). What surprised me was the cigarette tax and alternative energy research measures both went down. The energy measure was not as well written as it should have been, but research needs funding nonetheless, and research by definition may not have results.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

ehh shunny

Over dinner we were talking about the eye doctors I'd consulted in the past couple weeks, and I started reading a flyer the retinal specialist had given me. It was all about which foods contain nutrients helpful to eyes: eggs in particular, and any brightly colored or dark green veggie. Most all of which I like already, so very good.

Then it struck me: I'm reading a health newsletter. Reading the stuff and nodding sagely. God Christ riding a rocket, my mother does this, and when she reads me the most irrelevant nonsense from it, I have a propensity to drop the phone, usually into the wastebasket. Goddamn, every single one of those 41 birthdays flashed before my eyes, I felt my sagely beard crawling over my knobby knees, and I started to morph into one of the 3 wise guys, in particular the hydrocephalic head who holds a peach in one hand and a staff in the other. I think that one's supposed to be longevity.

Very rarely do I feel my age, but I notice a reluctance to search for things under the couch or lift furniture. These things have simply gone off the radar. Lose a screw under the couch? Well, there's still three, so it'll be all right.

Yes, we do turn into our parents. At the very least we get as old as they once were. Hopefully we discard all the annoying bits and keep all the good ones, and try not to forget what being a kid is like.

Friday, November 03, 2006

fastrak doesn't cause speeding, sheesh

This article showed up in our paper the other day.

Fastrak's primary function is automated toll-taking across any of our seven or so bridges. You set up an account, load it with your credit card, and they send you a nifty box, a transponder, which you stick to your dash or front glass. When you go through a toll gate, something in the gate says hello to your transponder and deducts your account. If your account falls below $20 it will automatically charge your card an amount based on your average use for the month. In exchange you never have to hunt the floor for $3 to pony up, and you go through gates specially devoted to Fastrak users, which even in rush hour rarely have more than 2 cars backed up. You still slow down to about 10-15mph, but at least you're not coming to a dead stop.

As it turns out, the transponders are being read for the light boards that display travel times to various destinations. You can see the readers as you drive along the freeway. Presumably if you pass two readers, they pick up your transponder's ID, calculate the time between them, and add yours to the average. It's designed specifically to not actually identify you as a driver, so if you get caught speeding it's because you didn't see the black-and-white, not because Fastrak fingered you.

I think it's a great system. The first time I saw something like this was in 1998 in Paris, and I wondered why the hell Silicon Valley, technology center of the universe, hadn't done it. You can look at the board and see how late or how early you're going to be, so you can make appropriate phone calls (using your hands-free phone, mind you.) This is also tied into 511, the number you dial to get road conditions. That one's also voice activated, so you just tell it what freeway you want to know about, and it'll play information relating to that: accidents and min/max speed. Like I said, a great system.

But the article poses the question, Do the light boards make people speed? I really don't think so. I don't think people look at that time and say to themselves, I wanna beat the machine. This is an average time, for heaven's sake, and if traffic is bogged, you're not going to be speeding that good anyway. And how much satisfaction can a person derive from getting to Palo Alto one minute sooner than the board said? If people are that dumb, then by the time they get to Palo Alto they've probably forgotten what the board said anyway.

What I think is more dangerous are those pads on surface streets that control the stop lights. They change the light from green to red if nothing hits it for a certain amount of time. Some of these pads have very short switch times, so people trying to get through a light will be right on the tail of the car in front. This is IMHO much more likely to cause an accident than someone speeding, because there is a clear and immediate benefit to getting through that light. Admittedly, a high-speed accident is more dangerous, but a fender bender isn't much fun either.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

house on hold

An update to the house: my neighbor has come through and has generously offered to provide water to my property. I'm incredibly grateful, I have no idea how to pay the guy back. We have to get a pipe up there and install a reservoir tank, and a fire sprinkler pressure system. Since the pipe is going across the street, the street needs to be dug up to lay it, and permits are needed to dig up the street. It seems like things are going incredibly slowly. One firm gave a verbal estimate, but has not yet provided a written one as requested. Have to call them yet again. I'm working on getting an estimate from another firm, too, and that means another drive down south. It should cost somewhere between $13 and $15K, which is still far cheaper than digging our own well ($25-45K, no certainty that clear water will be found, way more maintenance.)

This, of course, benefits my neighbor as much as me. Achieving full independence from one neighbor means full dependence on another. We'll be laying at least a 4" pipe, which will be sufficient for ag use as well as domestic, though we're working on serving only domestic for now with only 1 tank. To do ag we'd need maybe 2 or 3, but I'll leave that cost up to the tenant farmer.

Once we have the water, then we can get started installing the house. Getting a house estimate done first was putting the cart before the horse, but then again, I wasn't expecting to run into water supply problems. The house estimate was funny in that sickening kind of way. We went through all the details of dressing the house (cabinet faces, floor coverings, countertops, door styles, roof years, joists), all of which have specified costs. When the estimate arrived I cross-checked every item, and found over $4000 unaccounted for. The modular home industry is well known for overflowing with thieves. So was it the manufacturer (Fuqua Homes) or the reseller?

Turned out to be the reseller. They "accidentally" added a page with the $4K which mysteriously never got attached to the estimate they sent me. Unfortunately, they have the area sewn down. There's another reseller 30 miles up the road, but their contract with the manufacturer restricts them to building in mobile home parks. But I let them know that I wasn't afraid to walk away from the deal. Never mess with a Chinese Jewish computer guy with a calculator. :)