Friday, December 31, 2010

Fore! (Look out!)

I’m sorry I can’t give you an exact reference, but a judge recently ruled in a case where a golfer made a wildly errant shot that seriously injured another golfer. The victim wanted damages because the golfer failed to yell “Fore” before hitting his ball. The judge ruled that the ancient “Fore” rule of golf is reasonable: that you yell “Fore” only if there are people ahead of you, where you intend to hit the ball. There’s no need to yell “Fore” if someone, far to the side, might be hit befause your shot goes completely awry.

Now you may feel that the judge was wrong. But please, imagine what it would mean if the judge had ruled otherwise. Suppose you are on a golf course, near the green at, say, the tenth hole. According to the judge, if you hear “Fore,” then you should look back at the tee of the tenth hole, to see if a ball will be struck toward you. But if the judge had ruled otherwise, where would you look? That “Fore” could mean the ball will fly at you from anywhere. You could be eating a ball before you had begun to gaze at all the directions the ball might originate from. The judge was right.

Disclosure: this writer once took a mighty swing at a golf ball – without saying “Fore” – and somehow made the ball fly directly backward, 180 degrees from its intended direction. No one was injured, thank goodness.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

About my Toe:

This blog entry might be NSFS (Not Safe for Stomachs), but a question is bothering me, and I want to get it off my (figuratively speaking) chest: it’s about my left big toe.

This appendage seems to have a permanently ingrowing toenail. Every few months it begins to hurt, and then I take it to my favorite podiatrist. He digs out the offending bit of nail, and I feel a lot better.

Podiatrists are in great demand in my part of the USA, so I have to plan ahead. After I see him, I make my best guess when my toe will hurt again, and I make an appointment.

Thus it was that, four weeks ago when my toe began to hurt, especially when I STUBBED it, that I congratulated myself for making a December 28 appointment. I would just “tough it out” for four weeks.

Or should I?

I began to wonder whether it would be better to see my podiatrist ASAP. After all, what was that toenail going to do for four weeks: grow in there, worse and worse, right?

I toughed it out.

Did you notice the date? That’s right, post-blizzard. My podiatrist’s office canceled all appointments, because they could not get their parking lot plowed. I was pitifully appreciative when the office called to give me an appointment today. And when I saw my podiatrist, I discussed my question with him. (I really like my podiatrist. He seems competent, and he’s also clever, with a good sense of humor.)

After considering the matter carefully, he decided that I had done right. Better to wait for the scheduled appointment than try to come in sooner. (If you’re curious, I can’t really get an ‘emergency’ appointment for an ingrown toenail. What I have to do is beg them to call me when they get a cancellation, since I live nearby and can show up quickly; and that does work.)

Anyway, after he yanked the offending bit of toenail out, held it up in his cutting shears, said “Got it,” and waited for me to stop howling, I made up my mind: next time, I’m going to see him ASAP.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Playlist for Dec. 28, 2010 at 6 a.m., Music on WPRB princeton, 103.3 fm (streaming around the world):

Playlist for Dec. 28, 2010 at 6 a.m., Music on WPRB princeton, 103.3 fm (streaming around the world):
This is the third Classical playlist I'm posting in my blog. The first one (with an explanation) is here. The others are:

December 21, 2010.

The actual list will get filled in as I broadcast, Tuesday morning at 6 a.m. to 8:30.
Playlist for Tobias on WPRB, 103.3 FM and WPRB.COM, for Dec 28, 2010
Composer TitleOrchestraConductorSoloistsAlbum IDStarting time
Mahler, GustavSymphony #3Vienna Philharmonic; Vienna boyschoir; Concert Chorus of the Vienna State OperaAbbado, ClaudioJessye Norman (sopr), Gerhart Hetzel (vln), Adolf Holler (Posthorn)DG 410 715Started about 6:03 a.m. EST
Ligeti, GyörgySix Bagatelles for Wind QuintetThe Prairie WindsN/an/aTROY11937:46
Schumann, RobertCarnaval, op. 9n/an/aPierre-Laurent Aimard (pno)Warner 634268:00

Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Relative Value of Pie:

On my business trips to Virginia, I have seen evidence that, as one goes south, one finds more interest in pies. Convenience stores stock more cream pies, moon pies, and gobblers (which seem to be very simple, very high calorie pie-cookies). On my most recent trip, I found new evidence in Virginia: Cream Pies that reference treats well known to us Northerners: the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup Pie, and similarly packaged pies named for Oreos and Snickers. The Reese’s pie has a cream pie texture and a Reese’s taste. It is made by a company called Schwan that licenses the name (and, I guess, the taste) of Reese. These are packaged slices, about 1/8 of a small round pie, 2.5 oz, and they are a refrigerated product. Has anyone seen them in the Northern states?

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Playlist for Dec. 21, 2010 at 6 a.m., Music on WPRB princeton, 103.3 fm (streaming around the world):

This is the second Classical playlist I'm posting in my blog. The first one (with an explanation) is here.

The actual list will get filled in as I broadcast, Tuesday morning at 6 a.m. to 8:30.

Playlist for Tobias on WPRB, 103.3 FM and WPRB.COM, for Dec 21, 2010
Composer TitleOrchestraConductorSoloistsAlbum IDStarting time
Lutoslawski, WitoldPiano ConcertoSymphonieorchester des Bayerischen RundfunksFranz Welser-MostLeif Ove Andsnes (pno)EMI 641826:02 a.m.
Brahms, JohannesPrelude and fugue in a; in gn/an/aHaig Mardirosian (org)Centaur CRC 29966:28
Carter, ElliotSonata for Cello and Piano (1948)n/an/aRobert Burkhart (vc), Blair McMillen (pno)Centaur CRC 30046:43
Bob & RayVolume 3, cd #1, track 18n/an/aBob Elliot and Ray Goulding (spoken)RACD 5013 7:08
Respighi, OttorinoPini Di RomaSan Francisco Symphony OrchestraEdi De Waartn/aPhilips 411 4197:13
Bob & RayVolume 3, cd #1, track 20n/an/aBob Elliot and Ray Goulding (spoken)RACD 5013 7:35
Bach, Wilhelm FriedemannFantasia in cn/an/aPedja Muzijevic (pno)TROY10397:40
Cage, JohnSonatas XIV and XV 'Gemini'n/an/aPedja Muzijevic (pno)TROY10397:55
Webern, AntonFive Movements for String QuartetQuatuor Parisiin/atbdAccord [201642]8:03
Chopin, FrédéricPerludes, Op. 28 ##16-24n/an/aLincoln Mayorga (pno)Sheffield SLS-5058:15
Milhaud, DariusCello Concerto #1, Op. 136Philharmonia OrchestraWalter SusskindJanos Starker (vc)EMI 687458:30

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Playlist for Dec. 14, 2010 at 6 a.m., Music on WPRB princeton, 103.3 fm (streaming around the world):

As some of you know, I host a radio program of (mostly) classical music on WPRB, most Tuesday mornings, at the ungodly hour of 6:00 a.m. (to 8:30). We DJs post playlists of the music we play at WPRB's website. Currently, we are having a minor problem that prevents us from posting our playlists in the usual place. I'm going to post them here instead, for a while. Please note that you can hear WPRB broadcasting live on your computer. Go to WPRB.COM and click on 'Listen Now' (in red, on the column at the left. WPRB broadcasts different kinds of music throughout the day; consult the online schedule for details.

Playlist for Tobias on WPRB, 103.3 FM and WPRB.COM, for Dec 14, 2010
Composer TitleOrchestraConductorSoloistsAlbum IDStarting time
Harbison, John Montale Sketches n/an/aJudith Gordon (pno)TROY 9976:03 a.m. EST
Beethoven, Ludwig / LisztNinth Symphony, 2nd mvtn/an/aThe brothers KimCentaur 29586:15
Bob & RayVolume 3, cd #1, track 12n/an/aBob Elliot and Ray Goulding (spoken)RACD 5013 6:25
Berlioz, Hector / Liszt Symphonie Fantastique, 4th mvt n/an/aTodd Crow (pno)Musicians Showcase MS 1058 6:31
Bob & RayVolume 3, cd #1, track 14n/an/aBob Elliot and Ray Goulding (spoken)RACD 5013 6:40
Liszt, Franz L'Idee Fixen/an/aTodd Crow (pno)Musicians Showcase MS 1058 6:44
Gershwin, GeorgeCuban OvertureRoyal Philharmonic OrchestraSimon Leen/aRPOSP0126:51
Bob & RayVolume 3, cd #4, track 6 Wally Ballou: bird factoryn/an/aBob Elliot and Ray Goulding (spoken)RACD 5013 7:03
Mahler, Gustav TotenfeierFrankfurt radio symphony orchestraPaavo Järvin/aVirgin 2165762 7:06
Cage, John Sonata I n/an/aPedja Muzijevic (pno)TROY10397:37
Scarlatti, DomenicoSonata K.17 n/an/aPedja Muzijevic (pno)TROY10397:39
Cage, JohnSonata IV n/an/aPedja Muzijevic (pno)TROY10397:44
Liszt, FranzSchlaflos! Frage und Antwortn/an/aPedja Muzijevic (pno)TROY10397:46
Cage, JohnSonata II (two)n/an/aPedja Muzijevic (pno)TROY10397:48
Bob & RayVolume 3, cd #1, track 16n/an/aBob Elliot and Ray Goulding (spoken)RACD 5013 7:54
Strauss, Johann Jr.Tritsch-Tratsch Polka NBC Symphony Orchestra Arturo Toscaninin/aRCA 603087:57
Brahms, JohannesClarinet sonata #1 in fPierce-Aomori Duo n/aHideaki aomori (cl), Joshua Pierce (pno)MSR MS 13228:03
Schubert, Franz Lied: Auf der Bruck, D. 853n/an/aPeter Schreier (ten), Graham Hohnson (pno) hyp cdj330188:25

Buy the Aeropress and save hundreds (thousands?) of dollars:

The Aerobie Aeropress makes an excellent cup of coffee. It has been compared favorably to an espresso-maker that costs $8,000. I appreciate good coffee. I had an espresso-maker that cost nearly $300 (possibly the best espresso-maker that, at under ten pounds, I can easily carry), and I was thinking, wistfully, about buying a more expensive one. But I will be happy with my $30 Aeropress. What a money-saver!

If you search for this product on the web, you will see people lauding it to the skies. But take a caveat: people who say it makes great espresso ought to warn you that the Aeropress makes no “crema,” the special light brown froth that fine espresso-makers generate on top of the coffee. (Espresso “fans” who fail to mention the crema issue sound like amateurs to me.) A taste of Aeropress espresso may convince you that you can live without crema. Frankly, I’m going to miss it, but the taste of the coffee is still what counts.

Before lauding this product to the skies, I’ll mention two other issues: It’s a challenge to make a single-shot espresso with the Aeropress. A fancy espresso machine might do that better. Also, the Aeropress seems to be an espresso-maker, not a coffee-maker. The instructions tell you to add hot water if you want a full cup, the so-called “American cup”of coffee. I’m making excellent espresso, but I haven’t learned how to make really good “American” yet. (Much of the problem is that I rarely try; I just drink another espresso!)

When you try to make a single shot of espresso in the Aeropress, you will face a funny problem. Just follow the instructions, and you will wind up with a mug containing an ounce or so of coffee. Are you going to drink a shot of espresso out of a mug? No. Are you going to pour it into an espresso cup, leaving a few precious coffee drops behind, and greatly lowering the drinking temperature? No. Well, you can follow the instructions I gave (just below) in this blog, for preparing your Aeropress espresso directly in an espresso cup, by using the Aeropress funnel. No, that’s too dangerous. Take your choice.

Obviously, the single-shot issue does not apply if you’re making multiple shots, a latte, a capuchino, etc., etc. (Note that you can make a quadruple-shot and add water, to have the equivalent of four traditional cups of coffee, prepared in no time.) Fancy espresso-makers can froth milk for you, but there’s a $15 thingy that can do the same trick, once you heat the milk. Now let’s mention a few more wonderful things about the Aeropress:

It’s easy to clean. No other coffee-maker is easy to clean! With all the others, from time to time you have to do serious scrubbing, or even replace parts, to get your maker clean again. With the Aeropress, you briefly rinse one part, and you’re done. (Optionally, you can rinse the inexpensive filter to re-use it.) The easy cleaning ought to sway millions of coffee drinkers, even if the Aeropress was a weak sister coffee-maker, but it’s not.

I’m comparing the Aeropress to both my French Press (Aeropress is much tastier) and my espresso-maker (Aeropress is better, except for the lack of crema). So far, I have tested with really excellent coffee beans from Terroir. In a few months, I’ll be experimenting with cheap coffee, to see how that goes.

The Aeropress makes coffee very quickly. Most coffee-makers enforce a “reflection/expectation” phase, when you can smell the coffee and you’re waiting to be able to drink it. With the Aeropress, once your water is at the right temperature, you work quickly and in thirty seconds, you can start to drink.

The Aeropress makes fine-tasting coffee. The quick brewing time means less acid, and a smoother taste.

A note about water temperature: you’re probably going to want a thermometer so that you can experiment, and consistently get the temperature you want. If you decide you want higher temperatures (around 195F), then a cheap candy thermometer will be fine. To get the lower temperatures (down to 165F), you may prefer an “instant” thermometer that gives you a readout in a second. You can alternatively buy a $50 water pot (intended primarily for tea) that will heat water to any selected temperature. Hey, you can afford it, since you didn’t buy that $500 espresso-maker!

Using the Aeropress is very easy, but if you’re like me, be prepared to screw up before it all becomes a smooth habit. Here’s my most embarrassing brew: I got the water to about 185 degrees; I poured it into the Aeropress and stirred for ten seconds; I pressed down and gently pushed the water through the filter into my cup. That’s when I realized I had put no coffee grounds in the Aeropress. (I felt really stupid about the ten seconds of stirring)

There’s one more important thing to say about the Aeropress. Depending upon your own natural mind-set this is either a blessing or a curse: you have many degrees of freedom to control, to produce the cup of coffee you like best. Many expensive coffeemakers will not give you this much control. Here are your degrees of freedom:
  1. Decide how much to grind the beans. (You can grind store-bought grounds as well, to make them finer.)
  2. Choose your water Temperature. People recommend anywhere from 165 to 195 F. What’s right for you?
  3. Control the filter. It can be new, carefully cleaned, or lightly cleaned. (Most coffee-makers retain coffee stains from previous uses. You can try to mimic this “carry-over” by reusing a dirty filter.)
  4. Decide how fast to push the water through the grounds.
  5. Decide how much water to push through the grounds. E.g., to make a single-shot, you might fill to just below the “1” or just above it.
  6. Choose your type of coffee.
  7. Decide how long to stir: the instructions suggest ten seconds, but you can do more or less, stirring vigorously or gently. Stirring has an affect on the water temperature.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Re: The ‘Funnel’ that comes with the Aeropress Coffeemaker

I intend to give my own (highly positive) review of the Aeropress Coffeemaker, but today I wish to talk about the ‘funnel’ that comes with it. Before buying the Aeropress, I studied the Web to learn all about it, and I noticed that hardly anyone seemed to know what the funnel is for.

I’m going to tell you.

It’s noteworthy that the instructions that come with the Aeropress do not mention the funnel. The instructions, and the accompanying pictures, tell you to place the Aeropress over a sturdy mug. (You will press down pretty hard on that mug when you brew the coffee.)

When I explain what the funnel is for, do not try to use it! (The comedian, Rita Rudner, has it exactly right when she says: Men will cook, if there’s danger involved.)

Well, there IS danger involved, so please regard my insight as an entirely theoretical matter.

The funnel is exactly the right size to fit into an Espresso cup. If you want to make a single shot of Espresso with your Aeropress, use a li’l cup instead of a mug. Place the funnel in the cup, and place the Aeropress on top of the funnel. It all fits perfectly for this purpose. Then, be very, very, very careful when you press down on your assembly of non-interlocking parts to brew the coffee.

I calculate that – using the funnel – your chance of spilling hot water all over yourself increases by at least 100%. That’s why the Aeropress instructions do not mention the funnel. We’re on our own, and that’s the way I like it.

Near Misses:

People often find the phrase ‘near miss’ confusing, because it seems to describe a situation that was a hit – nearly a miss. In fact, the phrase refers to misses that are almost hits. I was reminded of a few of these this morning.

Years ago, I wanted to enter an intersection with a right turn. A car was inching across the intersection on my left. When the guy waved vigorously at me to proceed, I drove in at the same time that that car surged forward. We slammed on our brakes for a near miss. At once, I made a resolution: only the driver of a car can wave me to go ahead; not, as in this case, the damn passenger.

A few years later I came to a stop at the intersection nearest our home. It was 2:50 pm, a time when little kiddies flood the streets. A policeman guarded this intersection, and he waved me across. I refused to move, and he screwed his face up in anger, waving me to go ahead, or else! I shook my head ‘no’ and pointed. After he looked back and saw the ambulance crossing behind him with its lights flashing, he gave me a sheepish “all right.”

Which brings us to this morning.

The garbage truck was on our block in the middle of the road. One guy was at the verge on my left, next to the truck, looking at a big garbage can. The other guy stood behind the truck and waved me ahead. There was room to pass the truck on its left if I drove carefully, so I did, smashing down on the brakes when the first guy grabbed the can and stepped in front of me. You could tell by the look he gave me that he had no idea his “pal” had waved me on.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

What's the essence of the Twenty-First Century?

Imagine being alive in 1910 and trying to predict the essence of the 20th century. Airplanes are a joke. The car has hardly come into its own. Nuclear Fission is unknown, and so is Albert Einstein. There is no such thing as a computer or an information network. Trying to nail the essence of the 20th century in 1910 would be chutzpah.

But ... ... I'm going to take my shot at the 21st century. I favor two possibilities:

The Thirst Century: This is the century in which large segments of civilization will run out of usable water. Concern over water will override everything else, causing wars, mass deaths, and driving whatever politics survives. I'm talking both drinking water and water for agriculture. If by any chance I'm wrong about water, then we will have:

The Information Century: This is the century in which we will drown in information. There will be too much to evaluate, but long before that, there will be:
  • Far too much false information clogging up the information pathways, and:
  • Far too much that we can learn about individuals, and:
  • Far too much that groups can learn about themselves.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Do it yourself?

We have a very nice lamp that illuminates a 50/100/150 Watt bulb. (We use the eco-friendly equivalent.) Recently the bulb blew, so I put another bulb in, and it immediately blew out, with a buzzing sound. “That’s funny,” I said, and I put another bulb in. It blew the same way.
“The wiring must be messed up,” I thought. Before taking the lamp to a professional for rewiring, I thought I would take a look myself. I’ve rewired lamps before. But I was unable to unscrew the bolt at the lamp’s bottom, that holds the innards together. I figured that rather than use a lot of force and maybe break the lamp, I would let my professional take care of it.

When I handed the lamp over, I explained how the bulbs had blown.

The guy nodded sagely. “It’s usually the lamp socket,” he said.

Gee. I wouldn’t have thought of looking to see if the socket was okay. Better leave it to the pro.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

I know it's difficult to catch a football in the rain, but still ...

This Monday morning, the Jets coach is going to dig a hole and ... bury his receivers in it.

Laryngitis at a Wedding:

I'm planning to attend a wonderful wedding today, even though I have laryngitis. I will have to resist the desire to talk and wreck my throat. I've blogged before about how I handle laryngitis. I carry a few index cards that have everything I might need to say written on them. It's amazing how few cards will get you through hours of social interaction. Since this is the first wedding I've attended with laryngitis, I will need one new card:

What a wonderful wedding!

That card will replace one of my standard cards, which would not be appropriate today:

This too shall pass.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Sinus Infection, and Relief!

I am recovering from an awful sinus infection. Also, I am one of the unlucky people who have narrow nasal passages. My infected sinuses press against my brain, and somehow, any task I wish to do becomes much more difficult. It’s a lot like trying to perform physical tasks while carrying an extra eighty pound weight.

My nostrils clog up, of course, and on the worst night, I lay in bed unable to sleep, listening to myself trying to breathe. In desperation I thought of a remedy: BreathRight (see the picture). Years ago I used these strips regularly. They paste onto your nose, and built-in plastic springs lift part of your nose, wonderfully improving your ability to breathe. I was pretty sure they were in a travel-bag in the attic, but my sinus-laden brain was not up to finding them. I remembered a nearby drawer that might just have a few. I dragged my sick body out of bed, took a look, and yes, there they were. What a difference the BreathRight made. Blessed relief.

I definitely recommend them.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

HTML has failed me now:

Have you noticed how food products are decorated - in English - with diacritical marks to make them sell better? Häagen Dazs, Freshëns, you know what I mean. I got to thinking that it was time for the food industry to move to the next level: umlauts, accents, and cedlla marks on consonants. Now as a practiced creator of whimsy, I understood that writing up my idea was a two-step process, as follows:
  • Figure out how to put diacritical marks on consonants in web-page HTML
  • Think up some doozies.

    What stopped me was step one, and the reason is that character sets have evolved out of an ancient muck. HTML supports thousands of real, true letters, punctuation and numeric characters. In the old days, to make a diacritical mark, we had to tell a computer to display one symbol, to backspace, and to overlay another symbol. I could use that old system to put, say, an umlaut on an 'm', which I think would really sell. The current HTML character sets don't deal kindly with made-up characters.

    Well, there's still a way, but I really don't care to spend my time on it. I could design my own font, in which, say, 'm' looked like m-plus-umlaut (etc.), and then display text for my blog item in my own designed font. But this is whimsy we're talking about! It's not worth the effort.

    Suggestions, anyone?
  • Friday, December 03, 2010

    A Programmer’s View of the Limping Euro:

    When people argue against Daylight Savings Time, they rarely consider the incredible number of computer programs, operating systems and intelligent products that will be wrong if any time change is instituted. Revising the calendar (as many have proposed), so that every year would use exactly the same universal calendar, would require revisions to a ton of date-savvy computer programs, to make them calculate dates correctly. Now what will happen in the banking industry if some European countries, that are desperately hurting, go off the Euro?

    In 1998 I studied the software systems that banks and financial institutions used for their rich customers. At that time, the Euro was coming in like an express train, and most of these companies were preparing to support it. The transition to the Euro posed special problems, such as the need to state customer wealth in multiple currency bases, and the simple fact that the Euro was not linked to a single country.

    I talked to one owner of a Swiss Bank who told me frankly that the Euro was years away. He saw no point in preparing his bank, or his software, to support it. I suspect his bank suffered greatly when the Euro arrived on schedule. The point is, banking software has to be prepared in advance to avoid hiccups if one or more countries go off the Euro. And unlike the process of shifting to the Euro, which was documented and specified years in advance, there’s no official planning going on. Many programmers may be facing a lot of 24-hour shifts in the near future!

    Here’s a trivial example of what I’m talking about. In 1986, Israel brought out the New Shekel, worth 1,000 of the old Shekel. Everyone knew that Israel was going to replace the old Shekel with a more useful unit of money, but it was a closely guarded secret whether the exchange would be 100 to 1 or 1,000 to 1. After the new coin was announced, I talked to an Israeli Cobol programmer who had been revising his banking software to work with the New Shekel. In Cobol, you lay out the way a report will look by providing coded “pictures” of the dollar-and-cents fields. The appropriate numbers of decimal places that these fields needed would differ, depending on the New Shekel’s value. This programmer was gleeful, because he had laid out all his money “pictures” assuming the 1,000 to 1 conversion. If he had guessed wrong, he would have had to comb through his code to make many manual changes. And that’s a very small concern compared to an actual currency change.