Beginning to Understand

I think I may be beginning to understand the Japanese writing system. This worries me, because it's not the sort of thing you really expect to understand. Ever.

There's a bit of necessary background information: I have a Spaced Repetition System, that I use for memorizing vocabulary and stuff. I've had it for, oh, about a year now I guess.

The SRS is cool because it makes review automatic. How it works is, for every active card it tracks two things: when is it due to be looked at next (due date/time), and how long is that since the previous time (repetition interval). When you get a card right without any trouble and click the "Correct" button (after showing the answer to check yourself), it increases the interval geometrically and requeues the card based on the new interval. If you have trouble remembering but do get it, you can click "Difficult", and the interval stays about the same. If you don't quite get it, but almost, "Close" will shorten the interval a bit, and if you just plum forgot or missed outright, there's a button that will cut the interval down to a fraction of its former value. There's also an "Easy" button that increases the interval by a couple orders of magnitude. Anyway, the normal state of affairs, once you get your multipliers tweaked to match your personal learning rate, is that *most* of the time you remember the card and click the "Correct" button, with the result that the interval climbs from minutes to hours within the first couple of days, then from days to weeks, and it just keeps climbing from there. The better you know a card, the longer you can go and still know it.

New cards are introduced as necessary based on how far apart your active cards are spaced. You can also dequeue a new active card any time you want, if you just feel you're ready for a new one, and there's a review-only mode that never gives you any new ones. But usually I just let it give me new ones when it thinks I'm ready. Cards that aren't active yet have a "cue number" that controls the order in which they are introduced.

I've got a number of different kinds of things in the SRS: English words, Hebrew words, Japanese characters and words, Bible verses, geography, US Constitutional amendments, whatever I want to memorize that breaks up into bite-sized pieces. I spend roughly half an hour a day using it, broken up into 5-10 minute segments here and there.

So here's the story: months and months ago, I put the word 七曜表 into my SRS. Since I didn't yet know two of the three characters used to write it, I gave it a cue number higher than either of them. At the time I was putting in a bunch of words just so there'd be something there to dequeue whenever I needed it. I then promptly forgot about the word until it came up.

You also need to know that in the Japanese writing system, each character has multiple possible "readings" (pronunciations). There are also a couple of different major *kinds* of readings, "on" readings and "kun" readings being the important ones for most purposes. In my SRS, I always list on readings before kun readings, and they show up in a different color, so *hopefully* I'm getting at least a general sense of which is which. In my SRS I list the readings in kana (the portion of the Japanese writing system that's strictly phonetic in nature, which makes it perfect for pronunciation guides). Here, however, I shall attempt to render these pronunciations in a manner that will make sense for English speakers, on the theory that some of the people reading this might not know kana.

So anyway, as of a couple of days ago I've now reached the point where I've studied all three of the characters used to write this word. 七 can be pronounced either "she-chee" or "na-na" and means seven. 曜 is "yo" (with the o held for two beats; a rare character with only one major reading) and its basic meaning is day, as in day of the week. The third character, 表, is one that I only started studying a couple of days ago and am still reviewing multiple times per day. It has three major readings. The first one is unspellable in English; the traditional transliteration would be "hyo", but you're going to want to make that two syllables, and it's only one: the "hy" is a blend. (The y sound is pretty much the *only* blend-forming phoneme in the Japanese language. They don't really have l or r, and they don't form blends with s or z or w.) Oh, and the "o" is held for two beats. The character can also be read "oh-moe-tay" or "ah-dah-wah-sue". (That "d" is not exactly a normal d. It's a lateral alveolar flap consonant, often transliterated as "r". It sounds sort of like "l", only different. It's closer to d than r. If you know Spanish, it's said to be more like a Spanish r than it is like an English r.) This character carries the idea of displaying or showing or expressing something or making an annotation the concept of a surface or table. (Oops, got it mixed up with another character I'm still learning.)

So the card comes up, and I look at it, and I guess based on its structure that I should be using the on readings, so I come up with "she-chee-yo-hyo" (with each o held for two beats) as my best-guess pronunciation. Then I think about the meaning. Seven-day display? Showing seven days? What, a calendar or something?

And then I clicked the "show answer" button, and... wow. Both my pronunciation guess and my meaning guess were dead-on. That's... weird. Normally when a new card is first dequeued, I expect to get it at least partly wrong the first three or four times I see it, until I finally start getting it pounded into my thick skull. But this one... well, it just sort of made sense.

And that's a major milestone. Because when I first started studying the Japanese writing system, I did not think any part of it (well, other than the kana) would ever make any sense.


Someone asked to see a photo of Zeke (my mom's dog), so I'm posting up this one, which was taken a couple of months ago, when he was about a year old. The photo was taken by my sister.

A Screenshot for the UI Hall of Shame

Okay, I'm a reasonably intelligent guy, so I was able to figure out what I need to do, but one could be excused, upon a straightforward reading of these messages, from concluding that the goal is impossible to reach due to conflicting requirements. I can't install AD until after I run adprep, but I can't run adprep until after AD is installed (which is what will make this computer a domain controller). What? Gah.


Okay, I'm just going to post this screenshot here to demonstrate something.

Fall is here.

Fall has arrived, and you know what that means...

Winter is coming!

Now working on a serif font design.

Actually, perhaps serif is an inadequate term for this level of decoration.

Anyway, I was playing with design ideas for a serif typeface, and after a few rounds of messing around, this is where I landed for the first glyph, a lowercase a.

Update: After doing the next couple of characters, I realized that the a is too tall: I inadvertently designed it to the cap height. That probably means that the character would need to be redesigned if I decide to go ahead and finish the font.

Thoughts? Is this worth turning into an entire typeface?

Blooming Grove font picked up by

A while ago I submitted a font I've been working on to dafont, a site that makes fonts freely available for download. They screen submissions before placing them on the site, so today I checked back to see if they'd accepted it. They have, and you can see it here.

The fonts on the site use a wide range of licenses, depending on the author, representing pretty much the full gamut of licenses that don't require payment up front. If you want to see ones you have to pay for, there are other sites, but dafont has the distinction of being the first result when you search for the word "font" on Google, so I thought that would make a good starting point for distribution.

In the case of Blooming Grove, I have released the font into the public domain. Personally I feel that this makes the font more useful, since it removes restrictions that might otherwise prevent it from being used in unanticipated ways. A lot of custom font licenses, for instance, are not compatible with @font-face embedding. In some cases (e.g., Larabie) that's a deliberate choice, which is the author's prerogative, but in other cases it's probably inadvertent. Jos Buivenga (of exljbris) has included special provisions in his license to allow @font-face embedding, which is very nice, but ultimately there's no telling what future use will come along...

Not wanting to face this issue with Blooming Grove, and particularly not wanting to potentially have to rewrite license terms as future needs arise, I have chosen to release it into the public domain, which should cover all the bases in one fell swoop. Need to add a cedilla so you can use the word "facade" in full-bore pretentious mode on your website and display it in a @font-face embedded slightly-modified version of the font with the little mark under the c? No problem. Need to bundle it with your application that uses the GPL version 4 with the anti-bundling clause? No problem. Currently, there's no GPL version 4, and even when there is, it very probably won't prohibit bundling with differently-licensed fonts. But you never know what the future holds. With public-domain material, it doesn't matter. You can use the font for whatever you need to use it for, no restrictions.

Oh, and I'm working on a bold variant, for which all of the main letters (both lower and upper case) are now complete. Once I get the numbers and the major symbols and punctuation done, I'll be putting it up alongside the regular weight.

And if the Open Font Library ever gets their upload facility working again, I'm going to put them there too.

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Canning Season

It's that time of year again.

First, you get a few bushels of these things. We used, when we lived in Canal Fulton and had a large back yard, to grow them ourselves (mainly the roma variety, which give a higher yield of thicker sauce per bushel). These days we buy them, usually from the Amish. Roma tomatoes are preferred, but romas cost 70% more per bushel this year, so we went with the regular kind. Romas are worth more, but not 70% more.

Oh, you'll also want some of these and some of these.
You wash the tomatoes, cut them up, put them in the hopper, turn the handle, and run them through. I put up a short video of this on YouTube.

Out comes the juice, which you boil down for a while.

At some point you cut up the onions and peppers, then put them through the blender, with a bit of the tomato juice just to make them blend easier. They then get added to the rest of the tomato juice (no photo of this step yet), along with possibly some tomato paste for added thickness. (The tomato paste isn't necessary if your tomatoes make a good thick juice in the first place, another reason the roma variety are preferred.)

There are a couple of other ingredients as well. Maybe I'll post up our recipe at some point.

You put the sauce in jars (no photo of this step yet), then load them (again, no photo yet) into the waterbath canner.

Outcome: beautiful, glorious canned spaghetti sauce. Server over vermicelli, with grated parmesan on the side. It's also good for rigatoni, lasagna, practically any pasta, really. We were almost out when the tomatoes came into season this year, so we hope to do seventy quarts or so. You can't buy this stuff at the store. I mean, you can buy stuff that says spaghetti sauce on the label, but you don't want it.

Oh, here's a photo of my mom's new wooden stirring spoon. The old one broke, so we got this one from that place in Winona Lake that sells wooden kitchen implements.

How to drive a dog right out of his mind

In the photo, you can only see one. We don't know exactly how many were living under there, but we do know that at least three of the little ones where white, and at least two of the little ones were black.

Zeke (the dog) couldn't reach them, but that didn't stop him from agonizing. They were able to get clear back up against the edge of the house behind there, and also there was a space directly under the steps (to the left in the photo). So every time we let him out, he went crazy sniffing and sniffing all around the porch and refused to have any part of doing anything else (such as, for instance, the business a dog normally takes care of when you put him out, if you know what I mean). Sarah ended up taking him elsewhere, on the leash, a couple of times a day, for fear he'd destroy his kidneys holding it.

He didn't want to leave the bunnies and come indoors, either. We pretty much had to drag him in, and thirty seconds later he'd be whining at the door. We'd tell him no, and thirty seconds later he'd be whining at the door, every thirty seconds, all day, every day, for weeks.

They've moved on, now, thank goodness. (The photo was taken a couple of weeks ago.) I guess the youngins got old enough to move from the nest. We're very glad.

Dark Alley

We have, in Galion, an extensive system of alleys. Basically, these are poorly-maintained streets that run parallel to the regular ones, but in the middle of the block, between the back yards, rather than between the front yards and sidewalks. This one is always a bit dark, due to various shade-casting objects on both sides of it.

So yeah, this is what passes for a dark alley around here. Batman, eat your heart out.

This is another shot I took while experimenting with aperture settings, but this time, there's a wider range of distances between the camera and the elements in the photo, so theres' a much
more noticeable difference between F 2.5 versus F 6.4. This, if I haven't got the order I took them in mixed up, is the shot taken with the former setting. The other one is significantly less clear when you zoom in and look at the finer details.

Toothbrush Holder

This is a photo that I took while experimenting with aperture settings -- four otherwise identical photos (using a tripod) with four different settings. The shot turned out not to show off the effect very well, probably because a lot of the stuff in the shot is about the same distance from the camera as the main subject. I'll select a scene where that's not the case next time. So I cropped away the rest of the shot, and here's the toothbrush holder.

I suppose my sense of humor is a bit odd, but this toothbrush holder (which belongs to my sister, who got it because she likes turtles) has always tickled me. Clearly the design of this holder was based on the kind of toothbrushes that used to exist when I was a kid, the kind with the thin straight flat handles. But by the time this particular toothbrush holder was actually made and sold, those were a thing of the past; all the toothbrushes I've seen in the last fifteen years have contour-molded handles like the ones shown, so they don't fit. To me, this is a perfect example of product design not being revisited as it should be when the passage of time changes the circumstances in which it is to be used.

No matter; Sarah uses the toothbrush holder anyway, because she likes turtles. (And no, I didn't pose the one that's leaning against the wall. It's always like that.)

Esoteric Knowledge Quiz #4

Do your friends, family, and coworkers accuse you of being a repository of useless information? (Mine do.) Here's your chance to test your knowledge of obscure but interesting tidbits...

  1. Mt. St. Helens, the Alaskan stratovolcano that famously erupted in 1980,
    was named for which person?

    1. Helena of Constantinople

    2. Helena of Skövde

    3. Alleyne FitzHerbert

    4. Helen of Troy

  2. Which of the following is not the title of a book by Lillian Jackson Braun?

    1. The Cat Who Wasn't There

    2. The Cat Who Ran Amuck

    3. The Cat Who Sniffed Glue

    4. The Cat Who Turned On and Off

  3. It seems all the cool kids these days are using SATA hard drives instead of the old IDE kind.
    SATA stands for Serial ATA, and the old kind are sometimes now called PATA for Parallel ATA,
    but what does the ATA part stand for?

    1. Asyncronous Tandem Attachment

    2. Asynchronous Throughput Attachment

    3. Advanced Technology Attachment

    4. Adaptive Terminal Attachment

  4. In the standard model of sub-atomic physics, which of the following is not considered to be a lepton?

    1. photon

    2. electron

    3. muon

    4. tau neutrino

  5. 2nd Timothy chapter 3 gives a list of character traits people will have in the last days. Which of the following is not on the list?

    1. disobedient to their parents

    2. stingy

    3. ungrateful

    4. lovers of pleasure

    (Wording taken from the NIV translation.)

I'll post the answers in the comments at some point.

If you have questions to contribute to future quizzes, send them in to jonadab@NO SPAM THANKS with the phrase Esoteric Knowledge Quiz in the subject line (or. if you are on the Wheeitology list, you can just post them there). Thanks!

Past quizzes: 1, 2, 3

Succulent Cabbage Rolls

cabbage leaves, as large as possible
1 cup onions & peppers (chopped)
2 medium carrots, diced
1 stalk celery or more (with extra leaves if available)
garlic powder to taste
½ lb ground beef
¼ tsp basil, divided
1 cup tomato sauce, or more
1 cup beef broth, or more
½ cup of the water left from boiling the cabbage, possibly more
½ cup brown sugar
1 cup diced tomatoes (not drained)
1 cup pre-cooked rice
½ TBSP corn starch
½ TBSP worchestershire sauce

Boil the cabbage leaves enough to soften them, so that they can be rolled. Save enough of the water for the sauce.

Saute the onions, carrots, and peppers in olive oil or vegetable oil until the carrots begin to soften. Add the celery (chopped) and the beef. Sprinkle with garlic powder and half the basil. Cook, stirring occasionally. When the beef is done, add the diced tomatoes (with their juice), half the basil, and the rice. Simmer and mix.

Combine broth and tomato sauce in saucepan on medium heat. Add the water, brown sugar, worchester, the other half of the basil, and the corn starch. Whisk thoroughly and heat, stirring enough that it does not stick, until it bubbles significantly. Remove from heat.

Preheat oven to 350F. Add some of the filling to each leaf and wrap as you would a burrito, but with both ends closed. Place in glass or ceramic baking pan with the loose edge down. When all the rolls are in the pan, pour the sauce over the top, covering the rolls as well as possible. Bake and serve hot.

A QEMU screenshot for your edification

Heh, heh, heh.

Easier to use, more reliable, faster, and more entertaining. That was some good marketing copy, there.

There were some improvements in Windows 98 (versus Windows 95 OSR2, I mean; comparing it to later systems would be unfair), but these weren't them.

Reliability was basically the same; Windows 98 crashed just as often as Windows 95 and was at least as likely to corrupt the filesystem when it did.

Faster is a joke; Windows 95 performs better every time on the same hardware. (This is normal; newer systems are made for more recent hardware, and they do more, so older systems are always faster. That's true in the open-source world as well, with a few rare exceptions.)

Easier to use and more entertaining? I guess they must be referring to the fact that Windows 98 introduced Windows Media Player, the most impossibly unusable media player EVER (except, possibly, for Apple QuickTime). The only way that's entertaining is if you're watching other people try to figure out how to make it do what they want and laughing at them.

A Very Strange Check

Today I got a very strange check in the mail. It's clearly designed to make me think it's my state tax refund, but I am skeptical about its authenticity, for a number of reasons, which I shall outline below.

The very first strange thing is the timeframe. This check arrived before my federal tax refund. The federal refund has always arrived first, before the state one, in the past. I just mailed off my IT-1040 a couple of weeks ago, so I wasn't expecting a refund check for another month at least. If that were the only oddity, of course, I'd just figure the state got their act together better this year, maybe some new electronic processing or something, and the checks are coming out sooner. But...

The address in the upper-left corner of the check, which showed through the envelope in the return-address position (the envelope itself has no information on it at all), is a P.O. Box address for something called "Taxation-Refund/Research", which sounds very much like it was carefully constructed to let extremely gullible recipients think that it might come from the Department of Taxation, without actually saying so.

The check is signed by someone named "J. Pari Saberty", whom I've never heard of, and whose title is given as "Director", and the subtext reads "Office of Budget Management". Real state tax refund checks, at least in Ohio, are signed by someone with a significantly more familiar title, such as State Treasurer, or at least they always have been in the past. I've never heard of the "Office of Budget Management" before, and I find it interesting that it isn't the "Ohio Office of Budget Management", as one would expect if it were a legitimate branch of the state government. Perhaps it is the Office of Budget Management of the Taxation-Refund/Research Corporation?

There are some other oddities. The check has a warrant number; maybe I'm just forgetting, but I don't recall seeing one of those on a check before. In the upper-right corner there are also three different unlabeled numbers; there's no way to know what they are supposed to represent.

The tear-off sheet on top, which came folded behind the check, also includes a warrant date and, I am not making this up, a vendor number, as well as a voucher ID number. That word voucher is a bit scary. Maybe I'm just being paranoid, but in the back of my mind, there is a notion rolling around that a voucher can come with strings attached.

Then there's this wording:
This payment represents your Personal Income tax refund.
For payment information contact 800-282-1780.

That word "represents" is outright terrifying in its clearly deliberate vagueness. They went out of their way to avoid saying that this is in fact my refund. It only represents my refund. One supposes my actual refund will be coming along later, from the state, and if I've cashed this check meanwhile, then I'll probably owe the refund itself to "Taxation-Refund/Research", perhaps with interest and other attached strings.

I could look up that 800 number and see who it belongs to, but realistically there's no point, because even if the phone number belongs to the Ohio Department of Taxation, it only means that this outfit printed that phone number on the document they sent me. The wording surrounding it is sufficiently vague ("For payment information") that you couldn't even really argue that the outfit issuing the check is claiming the number belongs to them. There's clearly no such claim. They're just advising you to call the number if you need information.

So I did a web search for "Taxation-Refund/Research", and I found... an article on a blog, headlined "Refund checks aren't a scam; they're the work of state government". On a blog. Yeah.

I'll say that again, because it bears repeating: my web search for the name of the organization that issued this check turns up an article on a blog. There are no other significant results. Notably, a web search for this outfit does not turn up any Ohio state government websites.

The blog article is designed to look like it's a column in the Cleveland Plain Dealer, but the domain name of the blog, while it is a name that would be very plausible for the Plain Dealer, does not match the actual domain name of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, (which I looked up in a search engine).

At this point, loud alarm bells are going off in my brain.

When I trim the blog article's URL back to just the domain name, it's... a blog-hosting site. There's a "sign up for a blog" link right there in the sidebar, which is presumably what "Taxation-Refund/Research" did, I guess.

The blog article claims that the Ohio Department of Taxation got enough calls about the redesigned checks that they posted a sample of what the new checks look like on their website. This claim should be verifiable... but I have looked on said Dept of Taxation website and have not been able to locate any such thing. It's possible that I'm just missing it, I suppose... government websites are notoriously badly organized and difficult to navigate. But it's also at least vaguely conceivable to me that the blog article, reputable though it may seem on account of the fact that somebody posted it up on the internet, is less than 100% accurate, as unlikely as that may seem. This is one detail of the article that I should be able to verify, if it were true, and I cannot.

On the other hand, there's a light "Great Seal of the State of Ohio" graphic built into the background of the check, which probably should ought to be illegal for a private company to use in this manner without proper authorization, though I'm not a lawyer and can't really say this for certain. And yes, I know what said seal is supposed to look like, and this looks like it. So there's that.

Also, the amount of the check happens to exactly match the amount of the refund I was expecting, which would be a pretty odd coincidence if they didn't get the number from the Ohio Dept of Taxation. Then again, the name of the outfit issuing the check includes the word "Research", so maybe they know something I don't about the legal nuances of tax and public records laws. I thought the amount of your tax refund was considered confidential and not disclosed to third parties, but I am not a lawyer and could be mistaken about this. I'd have to research it to be sure, but this also points toward the check perhaps being legitimate, unless there's something I don't know. So there's that too.

Additionally, the check says "VOID AFTER 2 YEARS", which is a normal duration for a tax refund check. You'd normally expect a scam to say something more like "VOID AFTER THIRTY DAYS", to encourage people to stop thinking and just go cash the thing already. This, to my way of thinking, is the strongest piece of evidence I could find that the check might in fact be legitimate.

The two-year duration allows me to just hang onto the thing for a couple of months, if I am so inclined, to see if perhaps my real tax refund check will arrive in the mail from the Ohio Department of the Treasury. Since the check is for a small amount, I might just do that, rather than bother doing any further research.

But it seems very likely to me that this is some kind of scam. The supposed Plain Dealer article on a blog, rather than on the Plain Dealer website, and the lack of any evidence on the web that there's any "Taxation-Refund/Research" associated with any branch of the Ohio state government, are both difficult to explain away. And if it is a scam, it's one of the most underhandedly ingenious ones I've ever seen, and likely to catch a lot of unsuspecting people.

Housing Credit Crisis

I ran across this video (via Gerv Markham's blog) that tries to explain in layman's terms why the banks have run into trouble. On the whole, I think it does a pretty fair job of breaking down some of the basic points and making them understandable.

It basically comes down to this: sub-prime mortgages are a somewhat riskier investment, and the risk was underplayed, and some funds were invested in sub-prime mortgages that really could not tolerate that level of risk.

How to upgrade Debian from Etch to Lenny

Okay, if you've tried upgrading from etch to lenny, you've probably seen an error message, to the following effect:
1. You can't upgrade libc6 until you first install a 2.6 kernel.
2. You can't install the lenny 2.6 kernel until you upgrade libc6.
3. This is NOT (in big tall capital letters) a bug.
4. You should add the etch sources and install an etch 2.6 kernel before trying to upgrade to lenny.

I suppose if you do step 4 first, before attempting to upgrade to lenny, that may be all you need to do. However, once you see the error message, you will discover that you are stuck in an in-between state that can be difficult to resolve.

1. If you follow the instructions and ADD the etch sources, then apt-get update will whine that it can't do that because it runs out of memory. The solution is to REMOVE the lenny or stable sources from sources.list, listing ONLY the etch ones (for now).

2. apt-get update should work now, but apt-get still won't do squat else, and the error message it gives you is vague. Upon closer examination, this is caused by the fact that you have a broken package, which was caused by trying to upgrade to Lenny without installing a 2.6 kernel first. You can fix this by using the fix broken packages option. (This option is in the menus in both synaptic and aptitude, though you still have to apply to make it actually happen.)

3. If you're a forgetful sort of person, chances are by the time you get your broken packages fixed, you've forgotten the exact incantation that the first error message gave you for installing the 2.6 kernel. Here it is:
apt-get install -t etch linux-image-2.6

4. Of course, linux-image-2.6 is a virtual package, so you have a choice of which kernel you actually want to install. I picked the 2.6.18 686 kernel, and that worked for me, YMMV. Don't forget to make sure /boot is remounted rw, if you normally mount it ro. (If you don't know how /boot is mounted, it's probably rw already, and may even be part of the / filesystem.)

5. Since you've just upgraded the kernel, you probably want to reboot. Yes, that means you have to close Firefox (or Iceweasel, or whatever they're calling it these days).

6. While you're still on the etch sources, go ahead and do apt-get dist-upgrade, to make sure you're at least fully up to the latest and greatest etch.

7. NOW it should be safe to change sources.list to refer to stable (or lenny) instead of etch, do your apt-get update, and proceed as usual from there.

Orange Marmalade & Clove Merengue Pie

This is based on my grapefruit merengue pie recipe, which I posted here a while ago, although there are more differences in the filling than just the fruit. The crust, however, is identical to that recipe, q.v. (Actually, you could use any pie crust that you like with this filling, and, come to think of it, a graham cracker crust might be interesting. But I used the shortbread, and it worked out pretty well.)

Filling Ingredients:

  • 3 oranges, or 2 if large
  • boiling water, divided
  • 5/2 cups granulated sugar (That's 2.5 cups, if I still remember how to convert rationals to decimal notation.)
  • 3/4 cups cornstarch
  • 1/2 tsp ground cloves (See notes below.)
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 1 TBSP shortening (optional)
  • orange food coloring (optional)

Prepare the dough for the crust, and place it in the refrigerator to chill.

Stir the cornstarch into the sugar in a medium-large saucepan. Bring the water to a rolling boil.

Grate rind (amount to taste; I took most of the outer, dark-orange layer of rind from two oranges) into a large measuring cup and add the juice and pulp, discarding any seeds, the remaining peel, and as many of the section dividers as you can easily separate from the pulp. Add enough boiling water to bring the total volume, including the fruit pulp, to four and a half cups.

Add the water and fruit mixture to the sugar and cornstarch in the saucepan, stirring. Place over low-to-medium heat and stir as necessary until it boils gently. Add another half a cup of boiling water, the egg yolks, and the cloves. Continue stirring until it reaches a good boil. Remove from heat and stir in the food coloring and/or butter if desired.

Let it cool. Preheat the oven to 350 Fahrenheit. Roll the crusts, invert onto pie pans, and prebake them. Add the filling, top with merengue right to the edges, and bake just until the merengue is lightly browned. Cool. Serve chilled.

I am of two minds about the amount of cloves in this recipe. On the one hand, the presence of the cloves is readily apparent, and a smaller quantity might create a more subtle effect, which might be better, especially if the effect you're going for is "orange pie". On the other hand, the flavor of the cloves is not as strong as the orange flavor, particularly if you use as much rind as I did, so more cloves might create more of a balance. If the effect you're going for is an even balance of clove and orange, more clove is probably wanted. I can't decide which way I'd go next time.

It may also be worth considering a bit of vanilla extract, or a bit of lemon juice in the water.

I believe I got the sugar about right, at least for the oranges I used (seedless "naval" oranges; it's what we had in the fridge, and they weren't the freshest ever either; better oranges would presumably yield better results). I wasn't sure I'd nail the sugar the first time, since I was reducing it from the amount in the grapefruit version, but I think I got it about right.

A Treatise on the Length of Handles

I am not a particularly tall man, as men go.

According to Uncle John's Monumental Bathroom Reader (a book that my sister purchased for us to keep in the bathroom because, you know, you've got to have reading material in there, and Reader's Digest these days most emphatically ain't what it used to be), 25% of American men are over six feet tall. Even if the precision of this statistic is in doubt, the general principle is undeniable: there are a lot of men out there who are taller than, you know, the short people.

Well, 25% of American men may be over six feet tall, but I'm not. I don't know my exact height, but my father, who is significantly taller than I am, is still a couple of inches shy of six feet. So presumably more than 25% of American men are taller than my father, and I can tell you for certain that a good deal more than 25% (perhaps as many as 50%) of American men are taller than I am. I'm not shrimpy short, but I'm not especially tall either.

Which brings me around to my main topic of snow shovels, and specifically, the length of snow shovel handles. Apparently the entire snow shovel industry is run by eight-year-old children and/or four-foot-tall women, because it is difficult to buy a snow shovel with a handle that comes anywhere near shoulder height on me (let alone on a tall man). Waist height is more typical. (Okay, so my waist is a little higher than average for a man my height. Still.) By the time you angle the shovel at the thirty-five degrees (from horizontal) or so that you need in order to get next to the sidewalk and separate the snow from it, this means the handle is at, approximately, knee height. (Okay, so my knees are a little higher than average for a man my height, and maybe you could make a shovel work at forty degrees, forty-five if it's got a well-angled edge in good condition. Still.) Even if we assume that twice as many women shovel snow as men (which seems unlikely to me), and that 100% of women are shorter than I am (which is definitely not true), that still means a double-digit percentage of the snow-shoveling population is WAY too tall to use the shovels that are commonly available.

WHY should I have to bend over (or, worse, kneel) until my head is barely above the level of my waist? Is there a good reason for this? (Hint: No, there is not.) I'm not yet forty years old, so I can do that for a couple of minutes, but if I have to shovel any _significant_ amount of area, the bending over gets old. Fast. My back and waist and knees get tired *way* before my arms do, even if it's heavy snow. And my arms are not exactly what you'd call the athletic sort, as anyone who knows me can attest.

And heaven forfend I should want to shovel my way *down* the stairs, starting from the top, from inside the house. (Apparently, it doesn't ever snow at night in Snow Shovel Design Land, or something.) In that case I would have to be enough of a gymnast to bend over until my elbows are level with my ankles. Haha. While that would admittedly make an amusing cartoon short, I am in practice not nearly that flexible, so I generally have to step on the snow I'm about to shovel (which, if it's the kind of warm wet snow we tend to get most of the time around here (albeit, not today), makes it rather harder to shovel afterward) to get to the bottom and work my way back up.

I can sort of understand why shovel handles, when measured from the tip of the blade, might only come to three and a half or four feet, if you were only concerned about selling the blessed things in Japan, where the idea that a man might be six feet tall is simultaneously silly and yet also somewhat terrifying. But in the Western world, where it's *common* for a man to be six feet tall or more, and we have entire chains of clothing stores that cater exclusively to men who are over six and a half feet all, why does nobody sell a snow shovel with a longer handle? I'd buy one. I bet a lot of other guys would too.

Incidentally, there are other things I'd like to have with a longer handle as well. Garden implements, leaf rakes, brooms, mops... one could imagine an entire product line based around this simple concept. But the top of the list, as far as I'm concerned, is the snow shovel.

Arbitrary Screenshot

I've been tapped. The instructions don't specify an order, so I used directory order (ls -U), which is, generally speaking, the order in which things were created. Based on that, the fourth subfolder in /b4/img (where I keep most of my images) is sshots, which as you might guess is where I generally put screenshots.

The fourth file (using directory order again) therein is this little gem.

Wow, that's old. I believe this is from the era when I was using a Windows Me system as a temporary stand-in (which ended up lasting for several months) because my Linux system had developed hardware problems. I had forgotten that Inkscape had been around that long. That was way back before I built the FreeBSD system, which I used for a couple of years, and then I upgraded/migrated it to Debian stable a good while ago, back when sarge was current IIRC, and now etch is living on borrowed time.

Anyway, I took this screenshot to show how practically all software honors the system colors (in the shot you can see, Gimp, and the web browser from the Mozilla application suite). But then you also see how Inkscape looked at the time, and how it absolutely didn't make any effort to match at all. It has since somewhat improved, incidentally. It still doesn't use automatic on-screen document colors from the system colors, like OpenOffice does (as you can see), but recent versions of Inkscape do at least paint the UI in the system colors, as you can see from this much more current screenshot:

Inkscape is still a pain to use for me, compared to other applications, because of the fact that it doesn't automatically use system colors for the document while editing. I generally end up changing the actual document background color for editing comfort (I can't work with blinding white backgrounds; it hurts my eyes and gives me a headache), and then I have to remember to change it back any time I want to print, or export a raster image, or anything along those lines. Annoying.

But at least the chrome is painted in system colors now.

Recipe for Pain

  1. Contract a minor cold, of the kind that you barely notice, except that it makes you cough at the least provocation, e.g., whenever you laugh it starts a coughing fit that takes a minute or so to stop.

  2. Take the puppy out for a romp in the snow, slip, fall, and catch yourself in a way that strains some of your rib muscles, so that they're sore and sensitive to sudden movement, such as coughing.

  3. Decide to enter the Lyttle Lytton Contest again this year.

  4. While working on your entry, be sure to do your research by reading through all the past winners, in order to compile a nice little ranked list of features that the winning entries tend to have.