Friday, November 27, 2009

Home Cooked Meal

My four-year-old grandson is going through his “picky eater” stage; he doesn’t like anything, except sweets, of course. And he won’t try anything new. Poor little guy – I can relate, I was a picky eater when I was a kid also.

Science has now discovered that, due to genetic differences within our DNA, things do indeed taste differently to different people. I think it is interesting that my oldest daughter and I share some of the same distasteful foods; cocoanut for example.

Still I can’t help but lay some of the blame for my picky eating habits on my mother’s horrible cooking skills. Mom hated to cook so my father did most of the cooking; that is, unless the Jim Beam got to him first. In that case, the meal preparation defaulted back to mom.

Mom liked to use the pressure cooker. She would cook down spuds into mashed potatoes; she would render these spuds down to their basic molecular structure. We ate mashed potatoes in a bowl like oatmeal. Chicken was another favorite for the pressure cooker. When she was done you could bend a thigh bone into a horseshoe shape. I had dinner over at a friend’s house and they had “crispy” chicken. I loved it. Mom thought I was joking when I told her. How could chicken possibly be made crispy, she wondered?

Spaghetti was another dinner staple. The lid came off the pressure cooker and bundles of dry spaghetti noodles were dropped in the boiling water. She never stirred them so the strands fused into “spaghetti cables” about the diameter of a hot dog. Nor drained, the wet spaghetti would slide on the plate; you could tell if the table was level by which side of the plate the spaghetti cables gravitated toward. And this delicious pasta was topped with her own special spaghetti sauce: ketchup.

I once came home from college and was in the kitchen about to cook a small steak. I put some butter in the pan then some Worcestershire sauce. Mom observing this asked me in a haughty voice, “What are you, some kind of gourmet?”

Eventually the things that I had learned to distain started to look tasty when someone else was preparing them. My sphere of foods, including vegetables (100% of which came out of a can in Mom’s kitchen) and fruits, began to broaden. I love now to BBQ during the warm months and confess I like my own cooking.

But my wife is tops at this. I look in the refrigerator and see nothing but condiments. But my wife can pull things out and make a fantastic meal from almost “nothing”. I am a lucky guy.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Yo Ho Ho and a bottle of Rum

We have a wonderful Asian pear tree in our back yard; it produces big round green snappy fruit. In the late summer, when the fruit starts falling on the ground, they are so firm that they split open. My wife gets out there with a ladder and begins harvesting. It’s fun to watch her – so she doesn’t get bonked on the head with a ripe pear, she wears her bicycle helmet and harvests the pears with my long handled fish net… quite the picture.

We don’t spray the pears so most of them have worms in the core. No matter, she just cuts them out when she slices the pears. But the fruit that hits the ground starts to ferment and draws fruit flies… lots of them.

As she brings the pears inside, so in come the fruit flies. They are really difficult to get rid of. After the pears are gone, the flies land on the bananas or the banana bread after my wife salvages the blackening bananas. It is now into November and we still had fruit flies hovering around us when we eat dinner or work on the computer. They are almost too small to swat. With our declining depth perception, we clap our hands in the air but they survive our futile attempts to kill them.

The other night I was making Rum and Ginger Ale cocktails. Damn, there was a fruit fly in one of the drinks. Before I made the next round, I noticed one dead fly in the shot glass. I washed out the shot glass and measured another shot… there was yet another dead fruit fly in the shot glass. It must have come from the open bottle of rum.

There was about a half inch of rum at the bottom of the bottle; holding the bottle up to the light there I saw two dead (or drunk) fruit flies in the dregs at the bottom. My wife wanted to know if I was going to use that rum. “Sure,” I said, “I can just filter it with a coffee filter”. I left the open bottle of rum on the counter.

After cocktails I was about to put the lid on the rum when I inspected the bottom of the bottle once again. By now I counted ten fruit flies in the dregs of rum. The rum was clearly attracting the fruit flies. This, I thought, might be an excellent way to rid the house of these tiny pests.

I have had the open bottle of rum out for two days nowl; there must be at least 50 or 60 dead flies in the little rum remaining. While cleaning the dishes after dinner, I noticed three flies hovering over the open neck of the bottle. Soon they landed on the rim and walked down inside. Fascinating to watch.

The house is now free of fruit flies. In case you were wondering; No, I don’t plan on filtering and drinking the remaining rum. It would likely taste too “fruity” anyway.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Back to the Future

I recently came across some old Popular Science and similar magazines from the 1950’s. Thumbing thorough these magazines provided a delightful trip back into my youthful days as an impressionable kid growing up during the Cold War, Space Race and Transistors. The covers of these mags usually sported a picture of the Personal Hover Craft we would all use to get to work or the car vacation we would all take to Hawaii via the Under-ocean Highway.

Most of these things never came to pass. And the more mundane technological advances, like VHS tape recorders, CDs and DVD’s, land phone lines and the like, are quickly disappearing from use with barely a notice. But what interests me more are the things that I believe will never become obsolete regardless of technological advancement. Things like:

Books – The new Kindle device notwithstanding, paper books I believe will remain with us. Books can take a lot of abuse, are easily shared and can be used anywhere without the need for batteries or electricity. Professional archivists agree that paper lasts much longer than most modern media, including CDs which have a shelf life of only a few decades. Plus, a quick glance at your bookmark and you can easily tell how far you have read. Books will be around for a while.

Bicycles – If anything, bicycles are becoming more popular. Though China is moving from a bicycle nation to an automobile nation (790,000 sold in 2008), outstripping sales of cars in the USA, they haven’t increased their highway capacity to the same extent. More cars means more pollution and more energy consumption. Every time I see a bicycle pass me in bumper-to-bumper traffic I know I am losing ground.

Paper – A few years back the computer revolution promised to bring us to a “paperless society” where everything will be done electronically. In fact, cheap printers and the plethora of Information has driven the use of paper significantly upward. Paper production has increased over the years, not lessened. In fact, paper is one of the world’s most renewable resources. We read things on our computers, but we often print out something we want to keep or take with us. Paper is here to stay. Besides, who REALLY appreciates receiving an “e-birthday card”?

Commercial aviation – We are a LONG way from developing a Star-Trek style teleportation device. It this is something you long for; however do take a couple of hours to re-watch “The Fly” if you remain unconvinced.

Radio – Back in the early days of Television, the demise of radio was believed to be surely at hand. But radio continues to be a portable source of information and entertainment and a key component of motor vehicle equipment. Though radio is routinely broadcast over the internet, the technology to be able to receive radio has been cheap and simple for decades. This will not change.

Toilet Tissue – There are societies living on this planet that have YET to be introduced to this staple of human existence.

It is often said that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Now if you will excuse me, my flying car needs tuning. I just need my latest issue of Mechanic’s Illustrated in one hand and a screwdriver in the other.

Friday, November 13, 2009

I Am Not A Number

It could be argued that 1960s were generally not a time of quality and informative programming in television history; the possible exception being the 1967 television series “The Prisoner”. My mother first became a fan of this series and soon I was also hooked. “The Prisoner” was one of the most intriguing and intelligent programs I believe ever to grace the airwaves. Almost nothing in television offering has ever come close to this level of thought-provoking intrigue… that is, until now. AMC (American Movie Classics) has announced the release of three two-our episodes of a modern “reinterpretation” of this classic series. From the trailers I have viewed, it promises to be as riveting and thoughtful as the original.

The premise of the original series is that a man (implied secret agent, become disillusioned with his work) is spirited away to an unknown location known only as “The Village”. It is a charming resort-like small town with friendly inhabitants, all known by numbers, not names. The protagonist played by actor Patrick McGoohan (formerly Secret Agent Man) wakes up in the congenial village as citizen No. 6. He spends the intervening episodes attempting to find out who runs the village and attempting to escape.

There is continual intellectual sparring between No. 6 and No. 2, each trying to break the will of the other – No. 2 to determine why No. 6 resigned, and No. 6 who refuses to yield his personal freedom and relentlessly attempts to escape.

I have purchased the old episodes and have continued to enjoy watching them again over the years. Though produced in a time of the Cold War, surveillance is prevalent in The Village. The underlying themes regarding the balance between public security and privacy remain timely to this day. And it is on these foundations that the new Prisoner series relies. Where do loyalties truly lie? Who can you really trust? Even your own mind and perceptions could be suspect… can self doubt be used as a weapon? Are we really “free” or is freedom an illusion?

So captivated by the theme of being held against ones will though plied with comfort and security, my wife and I extended the metaphor to our respective employment. To celebrate our “escape” we had a Prisoner Party as the theme to our retirement.

The director promises that this show will be anything but predictable; you will need to keep your wits about you as No. 6 and you attempt to escape The Village and determine are we truly free men… or are we merely numbers.

Be seeing you.

AMC Trailer:

Original Series Trailer:

Monday, November 9, 2009

One in a Billion Billion

Had not cancer taken him, Carl Sagan would have been 75 years old today. There are thousands of people more qualified to speak to this man’s life than I. I didn’t know him personally but only through his numerous public appearances and media.

But to my mind nobody spoke more eloquently about science nor as passionately about life than Sagan. He wanted people to be awestruck by the realities of our natural universe instead of mesmerized by fiction, superstition and the paranormal. To this end he dedicated his life and there is now a gaping black hole where once this man stood. Some have speculated that possibly Michael Shermer (Skeptic Magazine) or Neal DeGrass-Tyson (Hayden Planetarium, NOVA Science Now) have stepped into the void left by Sagan. The former comes across a bit too academic and the latter a bit too cutesy, in my opinion. Sagan possessed class and dignity but with the down-home familiarity that made him genuine and personable. The truth is there will never be another Carl Sagan, there cannot be.

In the last year several friends of mine have died, both too young and too unexpectedly. Many find comfort in believing myths we tell ourselves about living on forever; but for me, there exists a greater relevance for appreciating the wonder life through recognizing that it is indeed finite. The following comments were written by Anne Druyan following Sagan’s death.
When my husband died, because he was so famous and known for not being a believer, many people would come up to me-it still sometimes happens-and ask me if Carl changed at the end and converted to a belief in an afterlife. They also frequently ask me if I think I will see him again. Carl faced his death with unflagging courage and never sought refuge in illusions. The tragedy was that we knew we would never see each other again. I don't ever expect to be reunited with Carl. But, the great thing is that when we were together, for nearly twenty years, we lived with a vivid appreciation of how brief and precious life is. We never trivialized the meaning of death by pretending it was anything other than a final parting. Every single moment that we were alive and we were together was miraculous-not miraculous in the sense of inexplicable or supernatural. We knew we were beneficiaries of chance. . . . That pure chance could be so generous and so kind. . . . That we could find each other, as Carl wrote so beautifully in Cosmos, you know, in the vastness of space and the immensity of time. . . . That we could be together for twenty years. That is something which sustains me and it’s much more meaningful. . . . The way he treated me and the way I treated him, the way we took care of each other and our family, while he lived. That is so much more important than the idea I will see him someday. I don't think I'll ever see Carl again. But I saw him. We saw each other. We found each other in the cosmos, and that was wonderful.

Copyright ©2003 Ann Druyan
This blog essay is dedicated to:
John Lahr
Bob Skinner
Lil Brown

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Over their heads

Aviation themes have flown over my head recently; we watched movies “The Aviator” and “Pushing Tin” recently and there is of course in the news, the story of Northwest Flight 188 which overshot Minneapolis earlier this month.

The Aviator – Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, this film Martin Scorsese should be ashamed to place on his film resume’. Yes, it’s THAT BAD. The film is the autobiographical dramatization of the life of Howard Hughes. It was almost as corny as “The Right Stuff”. We are treated to a largely fictionalized dramatization of the eccentric Hughes as a tortured genius and philandering playboy; neither of which came across in DiCaprio’s portrayal. I gave the film two stars primarily for the acting of Cate Blanchette as Katharine Hepburn; Blanchette had me believing she was the cocky Hepburn by the end of the film. The end of which came all too long later.

The aviation sequences in this dog were schmaltz at best. Anyone who has the remotest knowledge of flying knows that pulling back on the stick makes a plane slow down, NOT go up. Power/thrust makes a plane gain altitude. The final climatic scene was Hughes’ dramatic flying of the Spruce Goose in the harbor off Los Angeles. As they tried to make take off dramatic, they shouted out the airspeed to Hughes in the cockpit: “Twenty-five miles per hour… “. Airspeed is measured in knots, not MPH. Basic, Scorsee… did you have anyone with any flying experience on the set?

After the film I showed my wife the actual flight of the Goose posted on a YouTube video. Why The Aviator had this plane flying high over the landscape is beyond me. This film was disappointing, at best.

Pushing Tin – starring John Cusack and Billy-Bob Thornton (is he really called that) with cameo from luscious lips, Angelina Jolie, is about hot-dog air traffic controller. Again, a loosely tethered plot to create friction between to male egos in order to end up with a buddy-buddy film came across as quite contrived.

My wife was quite lost in the technical jargon of Air Traffic Controllers, but I understood the lingo. They were quite accurate in their chatter, that is. The notable exception being that commercial aircraft don’t really begin to spiral out of control if the controllers stop talking to them while they punch each other out in the TRACON (Terminal Radar Approach Control)center. Pilots still maintain level flight and control. (With notable exception, see below).

Poignant for me were the external shots of the airspace outside of Kennedy an LaGuardia airports with the twin World Trade Center towers in the background. You can be sure that a remake of Pushing Tin (not likely) would have a sufficient amount of input from Homeland Security as to make the film even more of a damper than this 1999 version is. Unless you are into ATC and aviation big time, don’t bother to NetFlix this one.

Northwest Flight 188 – Earlier this month, the Minneapolis bound flight overshot their airport by an hour. (Tracking of the flight can be see here). What these guys were doing in the cockpit is what a vast majority of airline pilots do; surf the internet on their laptops because the autopilot is really flying the plane and they are bored silly.

I have spent countless hours on Microsoft Flight Simulator flying online with simulated ATC control to attest that, other than take-off and landings, flying a commercial airliner is boring. Mind-numbingly boring. Once you lift off the runway, confirm positive rate of climb, you bring up the wheels and engage the autopilot and auto throttle. Your course is programmed into the FMC (Flight Management Computer) and you don’t need to manually handle the aircraft until you are about to touch the wheels on the landing.

Having said that, this is NO EXCUSE. The pilot and co-pilot are required to be in constant contact with controllers in case any unforeseen aircraft, terrain, weather or anything else comes dangerously close to their aircraft. That neither of them was monitoring their traffic was inexcusable and their asses should be fired. Well, they will have plenty of time to surf the web on their laptops now. Yes, it can be a boring f*#king job but you still have to do it. Otherwise go work for 7-11.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Einstein Smart - Disney Dumb

I was always a bit suspicious about the Disney’s “Baby Einstein” product pitch -- that you could jump start your precious little drooler’s IQ by planting he/she in front of the TV running these supposed “child development” DVDs. Now the jury (figuratively) has come in on this issue: Baby Einstein flunks miserably.

The “Einstein” part of this equation really goes to the marketing gurus at Disney who knew that parents could easily be parted from their money by simply appealing to their egos that THEIR kid is surely the stuff of which genius is made.

Unfortunately you baby likely fits within snugly the bell curve of statistical probability that they are, like most, average; no DVD marketed under the name of “Einstein” or “Mozart” or anything else is going to change that. Despite Disney’s claim, research actually revealed that preschoolers plopped in front of the TV actually showed a measurable LOSS in cognitive ability. The TV is a one-eyed baby sitter, and not much good at that, even.

Disney isn’t feeling so smart now; they are offering refunds for people who purchased Baby Einstein DVD thinking they would somehow boost their kid’s intelligence while they took a shower.

You can read the full article here in the NY Times.