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August 30, 2005

One good apple

One good apple
Originally uploaded by Mike A..
We have a big, old apple tree in our backyard. Unfortunately, most of the apples on it are in various states of inedibility. I've found one that looks good, though. It's not enough for an apple pie, but maybe we can get a small tart out of it.

August 29, 2005

New kitchen!

New kitchen, looking west
Originally uploaded by Mike A..
After 15 weeks since demolition day, our kitchen remodel is finally done. To paraphrase our contractors when we signed the initial contract: "Don't worry, this is a small job and we should be done in 6 to 8 weeks, no problem." I guess this sort of thing always takes a bit longer than you expect.

The extended timeframe notwithstanding, we're really happy with how it turned out. I'd say it was worth the months of living out of a mini-fridge and washing the dishes in the bathroom sink. The kitchen itself is much more functional now and is just a more pleasant place to be that it was in its prior incarnation.

If there's something I learned from this whole experience, it's to make sure there's a good plan up front with what's going to happen. Well, that, and to make sure there is clear communication during the entire process. Had I spent a bit more time upfront with the contractors clarifying each step, we probably could have reduced the construction time and the stress levels.

Allez cuisine!

August 26, 2005

Blog Software Upgrade

Powered by Movable Type 3.2

I've upgraded to Movable Type 3.2. I'm not sure off all the new features, but the admin section looks a bit prettier. :) Also, there are a few more plug-ins installed by default to help reduce various forms of blog spam, which is nice. I get more traffic on this site from spammers than from legitimate vistors.

August 25, 2005

Where there's smoke....

Where there's smoke....
Originally uploaded by Mike A..
One evening when we still lived in our apartment in "historic" South Tacoma, I looked out the sliding glass doors to our balcony and saw a great pillar of smoke. Rather than something biblical, it was a boring old warehouse fire ten or so blocks north of our hilltop flat.

August 23, 2005

Amazon Shorts

There was an interesting post on John Scalzi's blog yesterday about Amazon Shorts. Scalzi's an author, so it was interesting seeing the commentary from that point of view, rather than as a developer or consumer:

My feeling about Amazon Shorts is it's best suited for writers who already have a significant and self-sustaining fan base. i.e., writers who are rather popular already. In the SF/F genre, I have no doubt whatsoever in my mind that if Neil Gaiman or Orson Scott Card or Connie Willis dropped something into Amazon Shorts, they would be likely to make a fair chunk of cash in short order. Some other writer whose name recognition is slightly less luminous -- a comfortably mid-list writer, in other words -- might not see a difference one way or another. But strictly in terms of the money, most writers (and I would include myself here) would probably be better off going to the venue where the money is offered up front, unless said author is ready, willing and able to flog the Amazon Short to all and sundry on a regular basis. If you're not an inveterate self-promoter, this probably won't be your bag.

The comments in the blog post lead into a conversation about how the Amazon Shorts program, with some good editors on board to weed out the dreck, could lead into the direction of self-publishing. Maybe I should start working on a short story in case they open the program to any hack with a keyboard. Then I could make my 40% of $0.49 when my mom buys a copy.

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August 16, 2005

Black-eyed Susans

Black-eyed Susans
Originally uploaded by Mike A..
I was browsing through my photo library in iPhoto when this picture stuck out from the rest. It was taken last summer near the Rose Garden at Tacoma's Point Defiance Park. The overwhelming yellowness of the black-eyed susans (Rudbeckia hirta) caused a bit of over-compensating blue by the automatic mode of my camera (Sony DSC-F717). While not an accurate representation of the scene, I think it was a serendipitous misunderstanding of reality that produced a striking shot.

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Update: It turns out that it wasn't taken on my camera. According to the EXIF data, it was taken on my mom's Kodak DX6440. In any case, it's a neat photo.

August 13, 2005

Changed Hosts

I've changed hosts for this blog. Up until yesterday, it was hosted on an old Pentium II machine with a 97% full, non-backed up hard drive and very little RAM. I've signed up with Dreamhost after hearing good things about them. Everything seems to be working fine so far. This will be my first post on the new host and a test to see if I've got everything set up properly.

By the way, Dreamhost is running some great deals right now through the end of August. I got triple the normal bandwith allowance and triple normal disk space, as well as 60% off of monthly fees for as long as I maintain an active account.

August 10, 2005

A Big Stack of Books

I'm a sucker. I signed up for Amazon Prime, the "all you can eat" shipping option offered by Amazon.com. For $80 or so per year, you get free second-day shipping on any item that's normally elligible for Super Saver Shipping (free, but slow, shipping on orders over $25). Amazon Prime has greatly reduced the resistance I've had to ordering something that seems interersting. Previously, I'd never order something if I didn't have enough items to qualify for Super Saver Shipping, so a $5 book would not be an impulse buy. Now, however, is a bit different. I have a lengthy queue of books waiting to be read as a result of my Prime membership. Here is what's in my "To Read" pile:

The Elements of Style
by William Strunk, Jr. & E.B. White
Not wanting to contribute to the ever-declining state of grammar, spelling, and general writing quality on the internet, I thought this book would be a nice addition to my collection.
Principles of Statistics
by M.G. Bulmer
I managed to make it through college without taking a true statistics course and still ended up with a B.S. and M.S. in Computer Science. I ordered this page-turner to fill in a few holes.
Assassination Vacation
by Sarah Vowell
Ms. Vowell provided the voice of Violet in The Incredibles and had a segment on the DVD extras showing off her history-geekiness. Seeing that piqued my interest enough that I bought this when it showed up in my Amazon recommendations.
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
by J.K. Rowling
I've read the rest, so I had to get this one.
Agent to the Stars
by John Scalzi
I've been reading Mr. Scalzi's blog for a while now, so when I saw a recent post about how the print run of this book was limited and that 10% of the cover price goes to the Child's Play charity, I used an Amazon gift certificate I had sitting around to buy this book. My book is #526 of the 1500 numbered copies, all of which have been autographed by the author.
by Charles Stross
In another of John Scalzi's blog posts, The Myth of the Science Fiction Monoculture, he says, "I think [Accelerando] is just a tremendous science fiction novel, full of the things that make you go hmmm, science fictionally speaking. They might as well just announce Charlie's Hugo nomination for it so the rest of us can go about our lives." Since my aforementioned gift certificate had a bit left on it after Agent to the Stars, I added Accelerando to my order.

I may have to go back to riding the train to work to find the time to finish these in a reasonable amount of time.

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August 08, 2005

Herby Flank Steak

Sunday's beautiful weather demanded that I grill dinner out on the deck. So, I bought a flank steak. I used a recipe that I've adapted over the past few years from dishes found in Cook's Illustrated and Fine Cooking.

  • 1 flank steak
  • A good handful of fresh herbs (e.g., sage, rosemary, thyme)
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • 8-10 black peppercorns
  • A large pinch of kosher salt
  • 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil

Trim all of the unappetizing bits off of the flank steak and let it rest on a cutting board while making the herb rub. Strip the herbs' leaves from the stems and place in a mortar and pestle. This can probably be done in a food processor or with a nice, sharp knife, but what's the fun in that? Add the peppercorns, kosher salt, and the peeled garlic clove to the herbs and grind the whole mess into a green paste. It may take a bit of work, but rosemary has an unpleasant habit of sticking between teeth if left whole.

Add enough olive oil to the paste to loosen it up a bit. You don't want it runny, but it should be thin enough to spread easily over the flank steak. Stir it up and smear half of it over each side of the steak with a spatula (or your hands). Leave the meat on the cutting board while you preheat the grill.

Once preheated, turn the grill down to about medium heat and put on the flank steak. Flip the steak every two to three minutes to ensure a nice, evenly cooked-through piece of meat. Once the flank steak feels somewhat firm to the touch (see this interesting guide to steak doneness) or reads whatever temperature you prefer on an instant-read thermometer, remove the steak to a cutting board and cover with aluminum foil for at least five minutes.

After the meat had rested, cut it into thin strips—about half-an-inch—across the grain of the meat. Be prepared a mess with this step, since meat juices tend run when cutting it. Serve and enjoy!

I served this with some grilled zucchini (cut into quarter-inch strips lengthwise, tossed in olive oil, salt, and pepper) and home-fried potatoes (quarter-inch diced Yukon golds, pan-fried in butter and olive oil, with a bit of salt and pepper). It was good.