Adam Rice

My life and the world around me

Category: tidbit (page 1 of 17)

Good reads, 2013

The following are some of the best stories, articles, essays, blog posts, etc, that I read during 2013. They weren’t necessarily written in 2013. I’m including them in roughly the order I encountered them.

Circle of Useful Knowledge

Gwen’s parents brought her a book from a library sale in their small town, The Circle of Useful Knowledge, published in 1888. It’s filled with bizarre recipes for cocktails mixed in 10-gallon quantities, tips on animal husbandry, etc.

I’m posting extracts from it in a separate blog, titled Circle of Useful Knowledge. I’m going to try to post a couple of entries a day. Enjoy.

Bird down

This morning while Gwen was puttering in the back yard, a juvenile bluejay landed on the ground, near our back door. He looked like he had his flight feathers, but the feathers on his head were still downy. He wouldn’t or more likely couldn’t fly away; he could hop, but mostly stayed put.

Not knowing what else to do, we set out a shallow pan of water for him. He made no effort to get away from us, but did hop into the pan of water.

About an hour later, I looked in on him. He was still in roughly the same spot. I refilled the pan of water and set it next to him. He looked at me and opened and closed his beak a few times as if silently chirping or begging for food. He flapped his wings for a moment and flipped over on his back. The nictitating membranes blinked across his eyes and he died.

When we looked at his corpse, we saw a spot on his back where he had been attacked.

Getting the message

New technology creates new social phenomena, etiquette problems being one of them. Caller ID is not a new technology, but at some point in the past few years, its ubiquity—especially with cellphones, which have better text displays than landline phones—has created one of these etiquette problems.

Traditionally (where by “traditionally,” I mean “ten years ago”), when Alice calls Bob and gets Bob’s voicemail, Alice leaves a message at least saying “it’s Alice, call me back.” But over the last few years, we’ve seen a different approach. Charlie calls Bob, gets Bob’s voicemail, and just hangs up. Charlie knows that Bob has caller ID and will be able to see that Charlie called—Charlie figures that’s all the information Bob needs to return the call.

Bob may have the same approach as Charlie, in which case this is fine. But Bob may figure that if Charlie had anything that needed a response, then Charlie would have left a message. Bob doesn’t return the call and eventually hears again from Charlie, who indignantly asks “why didn’t you call me back?” There’s a mismatch in expectations. Neither one is right or wrong, necessarily, but the mismatch can create friction.

I’m reminded of the distinction between ask culture and guess culture, although in this context, it might be more accurate to say it’s a difference between tell culture and guess culture.

Or perhaps it’s just a matter of etiquette that we as a society haven’t quite sorted out yet. I was talking about this at dinner with some friends who are all around my age—we all agreed that people should leave messages. There might be an age component to this.

This modern world

I had a strange experience when I went out and about visiting studios on the East Austin Studio Tour. When I looked at the map, I was gratified to see quite a few artists in my immediate neighborhood, and one studio only a block away, so I decided to make that my first stop.

As I’m slowly riding my bike down the driveway to the garage studio in back, one of the two residents says “Are you Adam Rice?”. Taken aback, I confirm that I am, and ask “…How do you know?” Despite their proximity, I’m sure I’ve never seen either of these people before, and it’s not like I’m famous.

She explains that she has seen me pop up as a “recommended friend” on Facebook because we apparently have a lot of friends in common.

Still, that doesn’t explain how she knows that Gwen has a letterpress, or that it came with our house.

A new life awaits you in the off-world colonies

When Gwen and I got our iPhones, I commented that I suddenly felt like I was living in the future.

When I saw this copy of New You magazine on a newsstand, I suddenly felt like I had entered a science-fiction movie.

Do not patronize World Secure Channel

Today, this site (and some others that I manage on the same server) was hacked by world-secure-channel.com, or more likely a piece-of-shit script-kiddie they contracted with, making me an unwilling part of a link-farm. World Secure Channel supposedly offers VPN services for anonymous browsing, but considering the respect they show for the integrity of my website, I can only wonder what they do with the data you would route through their servers.

The Porch Swing

Gwen has invented a new adult beverage. We call it the Porch Swing. It’s very tasty. Here’s how to make it.

First, infuse some vodka with tea. Get some vodka and put in in a mason jar with a couple bags of earl grey tea (Gwen found some earl grey with lavender, which was actually very good). Let it go overnight. Remove tea bags and chill afterwards.

Second, make up a strong batch of lemonade. The lemon-to-sugar ratio should be normal (whatever “normal” means to you), but use just barely enough water to dissolve the sugar—heat it up to help it dissolve. You don’t want to water down the drink unnecessarily.

Third, mix 3 parts vodka with 2 parts lemonade. Shake with ice. Pour through a strainer into a martini glass and garnish with a lemon slice. Make plenty, because you’ll be drinking a lot. Experiment a little with the ratios, as there’s a fine line between just right and a little not-right.

A message from my bank

Citi is committed to climate change

I don’t think that came out the way you meant it, Citibank.

Stand mixer showdown

Bosch Concept 7 & Kitchen Aid elevator bowl mixers

Gwen has wanted a stand mixer for a long time. She’s worked in commercial kitchens before, and harbors the frank desire for a gigantic Hobart.

That’s not in the cards. We’ve both been researching stand mixers for a while. Barring a Hobart, Gwen was interested in a traditional Kitchen Aid with an elevator bowl, which basically looks and runs like a tiny Hobart. I had come across the Bosch Concept 7, which is about as unlike a Kitchen Aid as a stand mixer can be. Costco had a special on some 475-watt Kitchen Aids, so we got one of those. We also got a Bosch mail-order. Today, Gwen made a couple of recipes on each, so we could decide which one to keep.

Design

The Kitchen Aid has the traditional design, somewhat like a crane, with the drive on top and a bowl-lifter on the vertical column. It has an old-fashioned Machine Age look to it, and the exterior made entirely of metal, except for a couple of knobs.

The Bosch is a smooth, low-profile wedge with a vaguely iPod aesthetic (or perhaps the iPod has a Bosch aesthetic). It’s entirely plastic except the drive gears. Power is transmitted through a central shaft that runs up through the middle of the mixing bowl.

Part of the appeal of the Bosch is that it is compact enough that it can be stowed pretty easily—and it weighs less than half as much as the Kitchen Aid, so it’s easier to move around, although it feels solidly built, it has suction-cup feet, and of course, all the weight is at the bottom. Another big part of the Bosch’s appeal is that food-processor and blender attachments are available for it. Our kitchen is short on space, so being able to get rid of a blender base and a food processor (which is disproportionately bulky) is an important consideration. The flipside to this is the all-eggs-in-one-basket problem: if that base ever fails, we’re out three appliances.

Operation

The Kitchen Aid comes with three mixing attachments—a dough hook, a whisk, and a cookie-dough paddle; The Bosch comes with a hook and whisks, and we bought paddles separately. The Kitchen Aid drives all three through an epicyclic motion; on the Bosch, the whisk and paddles have two axes of rotation, but the dough hook has only one—it just goes in circles. It turns out that having two degrees of rotation makes the mixing process much more efficient: using the dough hook on the Bosch does work, but to some extent it relies on friction between the dough and the bowl. Although the Kitchen Aid has a lower-power motor, it was more efficient mixing bread dough. Also, given Gwen’s commercial-kitchen background, operating the Kitchen Aid was basically the same as operating a Hobart—as she says “when the dough starts climbing the hook, I know it’s done.” The layout on the Bosch is so different that it just doesn’t work the same way, and she would need to learn new cues.

For different reasons, we observed that the Bosch was also less efficient making cookie dough. In this case, it came up a little short because the paddles don’t graze the bowl’s surface as closely as the paddle on the Kitchen Aid does, so ingredients that are trapped in that dead zone take longer to mix in. Also, because the Bosch’s bowl is half a torus, scraping down the sides with a spatula takes more work, and leaves a blind spot behind the drive column.

We made about six pounds of bread dough in each of the mixers, and in the end, both did a fine job kneading, and making cookie dough. We suspect that the Bosch would really shine on bigger batches.

The Bosch comes with a lid, which has a chute for adding ingredients. Getting ingredients down that chute was awkward—the opening is just too small to tip in a cup of flour (for example), and removing the lid definitely slows things down a bit. It’s possible to operate it without the cover in place, although a bit messier. Even without it, it’s less messy than the Kitchen Aid.

Cleanup

Cleaning the Bosch’s bowl after kneading dough was far and away easier than the Kitchen Aid’s. The Bosch’s bowl is some kind of slick plastic, and the all dough just pulled away from it in one piece. Cleanup after the cookie dough was harder on the Bosch, because that stuff was more liquid and gluey, and tended to get caught in the gear that is built into the top of the bowl. As to the mixers themselves, the Bosch’s lack of surface features makes it much easier to clean.

Verdict

So which one are we going to keep? We haven’t decided yet. The Kitchen Aid is a known quantity for Gwen (who will do the vast majority of cooking with whatever we keep). The Bosch isn’t, and she wants to make another recipe before we decide.

Update

To reach a decision on which mixer to keep, Gwen made two cakes. Using the whisks on both mixers, the Bosch actually did a better job mixing—its batter was visibly smoother than the Kitchen Aid’s, and it got mixed with less spatula intervention. But the bowl is the Bosch’s Achilles’ heel: it is very large (to accommodate the driveshaft running through the middle), and it has no handle or spout—in fact, the lip of the bowl is distinctly ill-designed for pouring, with a notch for the lid to fit into, and a wide edge above that folding back into a sort of “cuff.” This made getting the batter out of the bowl such a mess that Gwen decided it wasn’t worth it. If she’s going to be discouraged from using it, it’s not worth it.

Victory goes to the Kitchen Aid.

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