Pear Cake

Note that, for this to be any good, you must use proper canned pears. Do not go to the grocery store and buy flavorless so-unripe-they-are-crunchy canned pears. Ever. Nothing good can come from that.

Cake Ingredients:
1 quart of home-canned pears (in light syrup, ideally).
1.5 cups of (granulated white) table sugar
3 eggs
1/4 cup oil
1/2 cup milk
2.5 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. soda
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 tsp. allspice
2 tsp. vanilla flavoring or extract
1/2 cup golden raisins (optional)
Glaze Ingredients:
all the juice/syrup from the pears
plus any excess blended pears (see instructions)
1/2 cup sugar
2 TBSP cornstarch
1/4 tsp. pear extract (optional)
2 tsp. vanilla (optional)

Open the pears and pour the juice off into a saucepan, allowing the pears to drain well. (Not only do you want the juice for the glaze, you also don't want too much liquid in the cake.) Place the pears themselves in the blender and puree them, then divide the results: use up to 2 and 7/8 cups of the pear puree for the cake and whatever remains (if any) in the glaze. (If there isn't any pear puree left for the glaze, that's ok. The juice is enough.)

Preheat the oven to 350F.

Combine the larger portion of the pear puree with the sugar and eggs and beat until foamy, then beat in the oil and milk. Stir the dry ingredients together and then add them to the pear mixture. Beat until smooth. Fold in the raisins (if desired). Pour into a bundt pan. Bake at 350F for about 50 minutes (depending on your oven). When it's almost done, start the glaze (below). Let the finished cake cool in its pan for 5-10 minutes, then invert it onto a plate. Spoon glaze over the top while they are both still hot. If you get the top of the cake coated and a decent amount dripping down the sides and there is still glaze left, it can be spooned over individual slices while it lasts.

Glaze Instructions:

To make the glaze, combine the pear juice, the remaining pear puree (if any), the 1/2 cup of sugar, and the cornstarch in the saucepan. Stir and bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring frequently, until it thickens up. When you are just about ready to spoon the glaze over the cake, stir in the extract.

Big Rocks.

This photo was taken on the Cup and Saucer hiking trail east of Kagawong.

Sault Ste Marie

This is a photo of the bridge over the St. Marys river, taken from a lookout point on the campus of Lake Superior State University in the UP.

Crystal Falls, Kinsman Park, north of Sault Ste. Marie

Bridal Veil Falls, Kagawong

Ok, now that my Big Annual Thing is safely underway, I should probably start posting some photos from my vacation in June. Here's one from the falls in Kagawong.

Vacation Observations: on Currency

I just got back last night from a nine-day vacation trip with my sister. Yes, yes, photos will be forthcoming at some point. Meanwhile, a few observations. Tonight I'm going to focus on the currency.

  • There are some things I like about Canadian currency...
    • When you're counting it, you never worry that two bills are stuck together. That's basically impossible, because of how slick they are. I am not using the word slick for its colloquial meaning here: the bills are quite physically slippery. This feels really weird to me: they don't feel like US bills, that's for sure. But it's nice not to have to triple-check that you don't have two bills stuck together.
    • I could get used to the color coding. It looks weird at first, but it's pragmatically reasonable. You don't easily mistake a red fifty for a blue five or vice versa. Most of the colors were a bit stronger than they would really need to be, so yes, it kind of does look like Monopoly money if you're not accustomed to it (more subdued colors would still be easy to tell apart at a glance), but on the whole I think I like the coloring.
    • If you'd told me that I would like not getting pennies back (they round everything to the nearest nickel if you pay in cash), I'd have said you were crazy. But with the large pocketfuls of change that I was accumulating as it was (more on this below), I really really didn't need pennies too.
    • I didn't accumulate that many nickels and dimes either. Prices seemed to often work out to multiples of $.25. Maybe this was my imagination, but I don't think so. I think places of business deliberately set their prices so that with tax, the final price you pay comes out to a decently round number. This is in stark contrast to our American system where practially every single thing is priced to require pennies, nickels, _and_ dimes to each be involved somehow. (Our prices start at figures like $24.99, so you'd think oh, you just get one penny back, no big deal; but with tax, it doesn't work out that way.)
  • There are also a couple of things I dislike about Canadian currency.
    • Canadian currency does not stack nicely. Americans can take a big stack of bills, fold the entire stack in half down the middle, and conveniently store the whole thing in a pocket or wallet. This, as near as I can tell, is fundamentally impossible to do with Canadian bills. The slickness (mentioned above) may be a contributing factor, but I think the big issue is that the bills are so stiff, you can't fold two or more of them together and get them to fold in the same place. They won't both fold down the middle. Maybe one of them will, but then the other will fold in a different place, perhaps a third or a quarter of the bill's length from the end. So even with a small stack, say, six or eight bills, you end up with a pocket full of individual bills that are each folded differently and won't stack together well, so when you pull them out you feel like you're pulling out a fistful of random scraps of differently-shaped colored plastic, each unique. It's a big fat mess.
    • Did I mention that I accumulated huge piles of coins all the time and then proceed to say that I got no pennies and few nickels or dimes? Yes, I believe I did say both of those things, and they are both true. So yeah, I tended to accumulate a lot of quarters, but also, there are all these one- and two-dollar coins. Bazillions of them. When traveling in Canada, you must discipline yourself to spend coins on practically every transaction, out of self defense, or else your pockets will be so full of heavy coins as to pull your pants down. It's crazy. If you buy something that comes to $12.50 with tax and you hand them a twenty, you may get back six coins as your change and no bills whatsoever. They don't even have one-dollar bills, and they don't always use five-dollar bills when they could, probably because their cash drawers are all brimming with huge piles of giant two-dollar coins that they need to give out in order to make space in the drawer. This happens with every transaction, so let's say you start out with a single $50 bill. When you break it, you get back maybe a twenty, a ten, and coins. When you spend the ten, you usually just get back coins. When you break the twenty, maybe you get back a bill (maybe a five, maybe a ten) and coins. And when you spend the last bill, you certainly get back nothing but coins. So from a single $50 bill you can easily end up with more than $20 in coins. About halfway through the trip I finally got myself trained to spend the coins and divested myself, one way or another, of all of my large ones. (Have you ever paid for a more-than-ten-dollar purchase entirely in coins? I have, and the cashier didn't bat an eye. I'm sure people do it all the time up there.) Then I realized I might need a couple of coins for a parking meter at some point, so for one day I stopped spending coins, not realizing how much overkill this was. One day does not sound like that long to go without spending coins, but have a look at the result:
    • Also, you need a lot more of it, because things are very much more expensive in Canada. The exchange rate may be a contributor here (At the time of this writing, one US dollar is worth somewhere between $1.20 and $1.25 Canadian), but that does not fully explain the prices we saw everywhere, at every point along the spectrum from rural (think: population 300 and at least 30 minutes' drive from the nearest gas station) to highly urban (Yonge Street, Toronto). Even taking exchange rates into account, your money does not go as far in Canada. I am not exaggerating when I say that I paid $2.50 (Canadian) for a Sprite refill. (Pop is one of the worst things. Almost nobody in Canada has fountain pop. They use bottles and cans and mark them WAY up. We did stop at a McDonald's that had fountain pop, in Orangeville. This makes McDonald's _by far_ the most affordable place we found to buy cold drinks in Canada, and it was still more than at McDonald's in the US, where they're known for charging too much. The second-cheapest, ounce for ounce, was Freshmart in Manitowaning, where I paid something like $3 for a half gallon of chocolate milk.)
  • Finally, one observation is neither a like nor a dislike, just something I noticed: it pays to shop around a bit on exchange rates. The Duty Free in Sault Ste Marie offered me $1.14 Canadian for every $1 US, and ten minutes later at the Visitor's Center just across the border I got $1.17. Three cents on the dollar may not sound like much, but if you're changing a couple of thousand, it adds up. A few days later, the Scotia Bank in Fort Erie, where I changed my leftover money back, was paying $1.19 Canadian for $1 US. (The theoretically perfect rate at the time would have been something like $1.23, but of course you can't actually get that. Note that these numbers will not be useful for comparison if you take a trip some day in the future, because the exchange rate gradually drifts up and down over time. It pays to look up the going rates when you are preparing to go change your currency.)

So there you go, Canadian currency in a nutshell.

A Little Something I've Been Working On...

I recently made an announcement. Here are some screenshots...

The source repo is on github. You should totally play this game.


When the news media go into absurd conniptions over some completely mundane thing, I generally don't pay much attention. That's what the news media do. There's nothing interesting to see there.

But generally don't expect Randall Munroe to be so easily excited and confused. I am referring, of course, to the placement of MH 370 in the upper-right corner of the graph, marking it as both highly weird and also very difficult to explain. I don't think it's the least bit of either.

I'm not going to spend any further time on the question of its weirdness, because that's so inherently subjective as to not be worth arguing about.

But I have a really hard time understanding why someone as creative and intelligent as the author of xkcd can find this difficult to explain. It's much easier to explain than most of the other stuff on the chart. It's so easy to come up with highly plausible explanations for this, I'm going to offer up three of them:

  1. human malice
  2. physical failure (of the aircraft)
  3. human idiocy

I could go on at length, but I think I should probably just stop here. All three of these explanations are so inherently plausible, it is difficult to even rank them in terms of likelihood. All three of them are so likely, their probability is mainly limited by the fact that they're competing with each other (although, it's easily possible that more than one of them occurred). They're all things that you can easily see happen all the time in everyday life, and they're all things that could very easily lead to the loss of an airplane in the middle of the ocean and are known to have done so on other occasions.

I don't get it. What's hard to explain here?


Ok, so I acquire an older-model computer (Pentium4, 2GB of RAM), and of course it comes with Windows XP installed. What's one of the first things I try to do with it?

What would a normal person try to do with it? Maybe watch some YouTube videos, or check Yahoo Mail, something like that? Facebook?

I tried to do this:

I my defense, I already have a computer, which in the first place is several years newer (multi-core, 8GB of RAM about to be increased to 16 next time I'm willing to reboot it) and, additionally, runs a much better operating system. So if I wanted to do just regular stuff on the computer, I could do it on my main system. I got this other, older system, and my thinking is, while it still has the default Windows install on it, is there anything I want to try doing in Windows? And in that context, this is the answer I came up with: Didn't somebody on IRC say that building NetHack4 on Windows is broken right now? Maybe I should try that.