Cinci Trip

My sister and I both had a couple of days free right before Christmas this year (and we've both been in Galion for entirely too many years straight now, several times as long as we've ever previously been in one place), so we decided to take a short trip and get away for a couple of days. We picked the hotel based on price and general location, and then we got there and found this view out the window. Nice.

We went to the zoo in the evening and saw their fancy light display, then we visited a museum on the twenty-fourth. I may put up some photos from some of that later.

Luxury Spending Up

According to an article in USA Today, spending on luxury goods and services (wine, pet care, televisions, jewelry, etc.) is up, while spending on essentials (bread, milk, eggs, etc.) is still lagging. Now, the conclusion the article draws is that this represents an increase in the divide between those who have (money) and those who do not. That's valid (although it should be noted that this observation reflects a short-term trend).

However, there's another, perhaps more practical conclusion that can be drawn from the same data: if you're looking for work, the local five and dime, or similar places where people tend to apply when they're desperate, isn't necessarily your best bet. Look for industries and businesses that primarily sell luxuries or cater to people with a little more money. They're more likely to be hiring at the moment.

Targetted Web Searching on the Client Side: A Little Programming Knowledge Can Save a Lot of Time

Okay, here's the background: there's a website that I use, which in general is quite good and very useful. It's called Lang-8. The basic idea is, you write journal entries in the language you're studying, and native speakers post comments and corrections. In turn, you post comments and corrections to entries they've written in your native language. The idea is good, and the site has a lot of really useful features.

One feature it doesn't have, unfortunately, is a really good search capability...

In particular, I wanted to be able to search through the comments and corrections I've made in the past. When you're working with people coming to English from the same liguistic background, they tend to make some of the same mistakes (e.g., Japanese people seem to have trouble learning the correct use of the English phrase "after all", which, admittedly, is somewhat idiomatic), so several times I've run into situations where I remembered having explained a particular thing in some detail before, with examples. Being the lazy person that I am, I wanted to have a look at that previous explanation and possibly copy and paste some or all of it in response to someone else who was asking about the same thing, or who made the same mistake.

So I wanted to search my past corrections and comments, but the site doesn't seem to have a way to do that. I can search my own journal entries, but that doesn't solve my problem. I thought about Google's site-specific search, but privacy features prevent most of the journal entries, and the comments on them, from being visible to the world; Google, from the site's perspective, is the world.

So I used my virtue of laziness to create a way to quickly search through my past comments and corrections. You can see the actual code on Perlmonks. (It's easier to post it there, because of the automatic handling it has for source code.) One screenfull of easy code, and my computer is pointing me right to my previous explanation. The first time I used it, it saved me more time than it took to write it, and I know I'll be using this one again and again and again.

Ugly Words for Beautiful

Have you ever noticed that a lot of languages have some fairly nasty-sounding words for the concept of beauty? The Hebrew word, יָפֶה (ya-FEH), for instance, sounds kind of like you're coughing up a hairball. The Japanese word, 美しい (oots-koo-SHE-ee) is a little better, but it doesn't exactly roll melodiously off the tongue. In Greek, καλός (cah-LOSS, good or beautiful) is only one letter different from κακός (cah-KOSS, evil, bad, ugly).

I think the worst of all may be the Latin word pulcher, source of the English spelling-bee word "pulchritude", which ostensibly means "beauty", although I cannot possibly imagine ever using such a hideous-sounding word non-sarcastically to refer to genuine beauty. Perhaps we could coin the word "malpulchrated" to refer to unnecessary or gaudy decoration (making something "beautiful" in a bad way, like stringing excessive amounts of five clashing colors of tinsel all over an otherwise attractive building, or make-up a la Tammy Faye Bakker).

Summer Drawing

I've been working a bit this summer on trying to boost my limited drawing skills, and I've taken to photographing the things that I draw, so that I can go back and compare.

I was using the flip-flop for an exercise wherein I drew the same object from various angles. This was the first angle I drew it from, and then I rotated the stool and did another angle...

I trust everyone is familiar with the whole still life concept.

The exercise here was to focus on a rectangular object. I managed to find two that overlapped.

Here I was drawing from a photograph (that someone else took; I never saw the scene in person).

The Unemployed... and Unemployable

Normally, the term "unemployed" means that you are between jobs, that (by choice or by circumstance or occasionally by fiat) you have completed your work at one employer and are ready to move on to another employer. I've been unemployed. Most of us have, at one point or another. No big deal.

Increasingly, however, I am running into people who are a different sort of unemployed: people who are NOT ready to move on to another employer, because they have been unwilling, for at least two decades, to ever learn a new job skill. No wonder they are unemployed!

Let me be a little more specific. I'm not talking about people who for some reason have missed some particular new technology and are otherwise generally able to function in society. "Oh, man, I haven't learned ZYML yet, and I'd kind of like to apply for this job, but it requires ZYML. What can I do?"

No, those people can either find another job, or pick up the new skill, or both. They're not the ones I'm talking about.

I'm talking about people who are unwilling to function in the twenty-first century at all.

They want to apply for white-collar jobs, but they don't have, and don't want, an email address. The job application requires an email address, of course (duh), so they ask, "Can I use yours?" Umm, no. *I* already have a job. The prospective employer wants to contact the prospective employee, which would be you. Are you going to give them my name and phone number as well? What do you use your head for, just holding down your shoulders? You're going to need an email account. There are a number of websites that offer them for free. I'd be happy to recommend one. But you're going to have to actually start checking your mail, if you want to, you know, hear from anyone who might be trying to contact you, such as a prospective employer.

It's not just about email. It's much more general than that. They want me to "help them" fill out online job applications (where "help" is often vanishingly close to "please just do it for me"), because they've never used a computer before, and now their job has evaporated. Of course it has evaporated. Any white-collar job that does not require using a computer was destined to evaporate sooner or later. Frankly most blue-collar jobs that don't require using a computer have evaporated at this point. Is this a surprise to anyone? Anyone? Anyone with a brain, I mean? Come on.

But they don't want to see it that way. They want me to basically fill out the online job applications for them, so they can avoid ever using a computer. Learn? What does that mean? You don't think your new employer will notice that you can't or won't learn to do anything you've not done before? I picked up on it in thirty seconds flat, so I'm guessing the employer will probably notice sooner or later.

Has it occurred to these people that if the job application is online, the job itself probably requires using a computer? If the employer assumes that prospective employees will be able to fill out an online application, it probably means their employees use computers as a matter of course. (After all, who doesn't? Neanderthals?) Similarly, if they insist on an email address from all applicants so they can contact prospective employees by email, it's probably a sign they use email within the organization. Duh. Not only does your prospective employer use email within the organization, they probably takes it for granted. You might have some difficulty functioning on the job if you don't know how to do these things. You'll probably have to (shock, horror) learn.

Can you even think of a job, in the developed world, that doesn't require using computers or electronics in some way or at some point? What kind of employment do these people think they want, migrant berry picking? Even the old saw "would you like fries with that" may be out at this point, since most cash registers are computerized these days.

I wouldn't be surprised if even janitors use computers for something or another. Why not? It's the easiest way to do some kinds of things. I mean, you probably don't need a computer to sweep the floor, but I bet it might be the easiest way to order replacement light bulbs, and it might be pretty handy for tracking how many of them you use, too...

The thing is, this is not some new sudden revelation. We've known since the eighties, maybe even since the seventies, that more and more of society was running on computers and that learning to operate them was going to become an increasingly necessary life skill. That was *decades* ago, PLENTY of time for even the slowest learners to pick up at least the basics. I can see putting it off until the nineties (because, until then, even used computers could be fairly expensive to obtain), but now?

Now, granted, the Amish (well, the conservative ones) don't use computers. But the Amish nonetheless manage to maintain useful skills and contribute things that have value to society. Granted, their job options are limited, but how many of them are unemployed? No, the Amish are industrious. They find *useful* things to do with their time, things for which people are willing to pay money.

That brings up an important point: there ARE non-computer jobs out there. But they're hard work. You want to do a job that doesn't involve computers these days, you're going to break a sweat. There's no magical fairy-tale job where you can sit at a desk in the air conditioning all day and talk on the phone and NOT use computers and somehow get paid for it. No, if you want a job where you don't have to use computers, you're going to have to bail hay or pour concrete or something. Are you willing to do that? Would you rather work that hard than ever learn anything new? Because that's what it's gonna take.

Society does not owe you a job unless you are willing to cough up something society can use. That's what a job is, when it comes down to brass tacks: something you do that seems useful to the rest of society and provides enough value to motivate others to do stuff for you in return. In a modern economy, that means something people are willing to pay money for.

But the people I'm talking about are chronically unemployed because they apparently either don't know how to do or aren't willing to do anything that society as a whole values enough to add up to a steady paycheck.

So they are unemployable. I don't mean just "unemployable by a few bleeding-edge employers who insist on embracing all the new technology as soon as it's available". We're at least a quarter of a century past that point. A quarter of a century, by the way, is generally at least half of one person's career, often more. What kind of worker spends half his career not learning any new job skills? A worker no competent boss wants working under him.

Employers willing to even look at applications from these people are dropping like flies, and for good reasons. Quite aside from the fact that a computer-free work environment is a good deal less efficient and means paying for significantly more labor per unit of work accomplished, there's also this other small matter: how on earth can a business compete against its competitors if its employees are unwilling to ever learn anything? How could you hope to deal with *any* change in circumstance, if that's the mindset of your workforce?

Today it's the internet. In another decade or two it'll be something else. The point is, you have to be willing to learn new job skills if you want to stay employable. Any employer who claims to offer you job security without requiring you to learn new skills is either lying through their teeth or doomed eventually to go out of business and take your supposedly secure job along with them.

A Reflection on Weather

At this time, let us take a moment to reflect on these photographs that I took last February.

Aren't they lovely? I think they look very cool.


If this happened occasionally, it would be thoroughly annoying. (It takes a bit more than an hour to get a user profile into a ready-to-use state starting from the defaults.) When it starts happening every time a user logs in or out, however, it makes the computer totally unusable. Okay, so it says check the event log... let's see if that sheds any light on the matter...

Haha. I think I'll try reinstalling Windows. That shouldn't take more than a couple of days, right?

Reading kanji more important than writing them by hand with a brush? No kidding?

It looks like the Japanese government has decided (see also: Slashdot discussion) that it's more important to be able to read the Chinese characters that appear in Japanese writing than to be able to reproduce them by hand. Yeah, I could have told them that.

As a consequence, they are updating their list (of characters you really ought to know if you want to read Japanese), adding almost 200 characters that weren't on the list before. As someone who is trying to learn their language, I have mixed feelings about that. On the one hand, 200 *more* characters, yikes. It's not like there weren't too many (many *times* too many) already. On the other hand, they presumably wouldn't have added them to the list if they didn't think they were already being used quite a bit, so I probably would have needed to learn them anyway sooner or later, whether they're on the list or not.

Remind me why I picked this language to study? I must be some kind of idiot, or a masochist.

One of the things about a halfway decent camera...

12x optical zoom means you can actually get shots like this one, without being an animal trainer.

Google Font Directory

Remember Microsoft's Core Fonts for the Web initiative? This is better.

Monster Cookies

We (the Galion GBC) are hosting a Music Festival (for several churches) on Sunday night, and we (my family) are signed up to bring AT LEAST a gross of cookies, and preferably more.

It's at times like this that you bust out your bigger recipes.

This is one we picked up from Norma Engelberth, when we were at Sidney. (Actually, this is only half of her recipe, believe it or not. We've been known to cut this in half again when not making for a big crowd, but today I'll be doing this whole amount at least, and then probably making a big batch of some other kind of cookies to boot.)

6 eggs
2 1/2 cups brown sugar
2 cups white sugar (mom's note says 1 1/2 cups is enough)
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract (or 1 TBSP imitation)
1 TBSP light corn syrup (Karo)
4 tsp soda
1 cup margerine, softened
2 1/2 cups crunchy peanut butter
9 cups oatmeal
1 bag (14 oz.) chocolate chips (or more)
1 lg. bag (14 oz.) color-coated chocolate candies (e.g., M&M)

If you like you can also throw in some raisins, or small bits of other dried fruits, or whatever kind of nuts you like (broken up), or additional small bits of candy (e.g., cinnamon candies).

(You may note with dismay that I have neglected to list the flour, but that's not an oversight. This recipe is all about the oatmeal. And the peanut butter.)

Mix in the above order. Drop 2 TBSP scoops on teflon cookie sheets, about 4 inches apart. (Where possible, try to avoid having the M&Ms on the bottom of the cookies, since they burn pretty easily against the hot cookie sheet. They do much better on the top of the cookie.)

Bake at 350F for about 8-10 minutes. Do not overbake.

When the cookies are hot out of the oven, they bend and break very easily due to all the peanut butter. So, let them sit a couple of minutes on the sheets, then remove them carefully with a large spatula, trying to get the whole cookie on the spatula. Don't box them up until they've cooled.

The recipe given here is rumored to make up to eight dozen. (Update: yep, just about eight dozen.)

Chicken Veggie Salad

This is based loosely on Rosolli, but we adapted it somewhat for Midwestern-US tastes, and changed it from a side dish into a main dish. Notice that everything except the apples can be prepared ahead of time, and then you can throw it together quickly when it's time to eat.

5 medium-sized potatoes
7 fresh carrots
3-4 apples
2 medium onions (optional, or substitute a few pearl onions)
3 sprigs of fresh dill (optional, or use dried dill if that's what you can get)
1 lb. chicken breast
1 can (20 floz) chunk pineapple
oil for browning the chicken (I use olive oil)
salt to taste

Wash, cut, and boil the potatoes until done but not soft, and the carrots (separately from the potatoes) until firm. (Do not overcook. Everything in this recipe that is cut up should be cut into bite-sized pieces.) Save some of the water from the carrots.

Cut up the chicken and brown it in a skillet.

Drain everything and let it all cool while making the sauce...

Dipping Sauce / Dressing:
½ cup of the carrot water
1 cup pineapple juice (if there's not enough, top it off with more of the water from the carrots)
¼ cup brown sugar
1½ TBSP cornstarch
1/8 tsp ginger
food coloring (optional; a slight peach/orange tinge looks good; don't overdo it)

Mix the sugar, ginger, and cornstarch together, then stir into the liquids over medium heat, stirring until it bubbles and becomes translucent. Cool.

After making the sauce, slice up the onions, chop the dill, core and cut up the apples, and stir it all together, salting if desired. Serve cold, either drizzling the dressing over the salad or leaving it on the side for dipping.

Variation: Scandinavian Style:
Add 7 fresh beets, boiling them with the carrots. Omit the pineapple and the chicken, and replace the above sauce with a mayo-based dressing. This still won't be authentic rosolli, but closer.

Yahoo: Content? What's that?

I'd like to put forward Yahoo! as my nomination for the Content? What's that? awards.

(Click the screenshot to view a higher-resolution version.)

With my OS and browser chrome all clipped out of the screenshot, the page area comes to 1542x805, a total of some 1241310 pixels. Trying to be as generous as is anything like reasonable, I estimate the content area as roughly 678x39 = 26442 pixels for the search box area (Yahoo _is_ a major web search engine, so IMO this counts), something like 401x213+286x40+131x26 = about 100259 pixels for the TODAY article, plus a somewhat more arguable 500x170 = 85000 pixels for the news headlines (which could easily be considered intrasite links, but I'm trying to be magnanimous), a total of about 211701 pixels of content, roughly 17% of the total page area. For such a major site (Alexa rank: 4), this is an embarrassingly low number, IMO.

Cherry Cake

This is a variant I developed. There's a plum cake recipe that's been a favorite in my family for decades, and I've always wondered about using other fruits. I've been experimenting with peaches, but they're juicier and not as strong a flavor, so that recipe needs more adjustments before it's ready for general consumption. Update: I've since made progress on that.

But the cherry variant turned out great on the first try. In fact, I think I might like it better than the plum. Here's the recipe.

1 quart home-canned pitted pie cherries
1.5 cups sugar
3 eggs
1/4 cup oil
1/2 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp almond extract
2.5 cups flour
1 tsp soda
1 tsp cinnamon

For the glaze:
juice from the cherries
1/2 cup sugar
2 TBSP cornstarch

Drain the cherries, reserving the juice for the glaze. Run the cherries through the blender long enough that you can't tell where one cherry leaves off and the next starts.

In a mixing bowl, combine cherries, sugar, and eggs. Beat until foamy, then mix in the oil, milk, vanilla, and extract.

Stir the dry ingredients together then mix them into the wet mixture. Pour into a (greased and floured) Bundt or angelfood cake pan. Bake at 350F for 50-60 minutes. Cool for about ten minutes, then invert onto a plate. Spoon the glaze over the top while both are still hot.

To make the glaze, combine the juice, sugar, and cornstarch in a saucepan. Boil gently, stirring, until translucent.