March 2012

The Hebbie-Jeebies

Matte’s been in one of his frenzies since yesterday noon when he discovered that he was mistaken when he ran around telling everybody that Segway of Oakland had shipped the core of his Segway back to New Hampshire for repairs on 12 March.

What actually happened, i learned from the shop owner when he called me yesterday after repeated calls to the shop foreman had gone unanswered, was that the foreman had run off on an extended vacation leaving my Segway sitting there enjoying free storage.

And then when the owner and i discussed the issue of what was wrong with the vehicle and what might be done to repair it, alarms began warbling in the background as versions of the possibilities i got from the owner bore little congruence with those delivered by the foreman. So i called back later and made it clear that i wanted an estimate before any work was done.

Then later that afternoon i drove down to Electric Bicycle Outlet at 660 Bryant and talked with Len. He first enticed me to try this twitchy thing called a Lyric, which i loved the idea of since with two back wheels it would be a lot more stable than a bicycle. Ummm, no it wasn’t. Not real sure what was going on, but my first flight was rocky. Had trouble keeping it on the sidewalk, so we moved it out into an unused patch of the street and i got to the point that i figured i could master it with enough practice. Besides, it weighed only 70 pounds and would thus be much easier than the Segway to fling into the back of my Prius. Better yet, the cost brand new was about what i’d reconciled myself to have to pay to get the Segway fixed.

I almost didn’t try an electric bike since bikes had made me so nervous in Amsterdam, but i knew i had to try one, however briefly. To the astonishment of both Len and myself, i barely even wobbled on it and found it vastly easier to control than the Lyric. Furthermore, it weighs only 56 pounds and is $300 cheaper, so i walked out thinking that if i decided to let go of the Segway today, the Hebb bike would be what i’d get.

That is, until i looked it up on the Internet and discovered where it’s from. No, not China. Worse. Texas. Worse yet, it’s not even from the civilized part of Texas, Austin, but rather the rednecky red hills of east Texas about 35 miles from where i was born.

Now why? i ask, would Bubba and his buddies be building an electric bicycle, the very essence of the atheistic, socialistic, ecologistic, global warmer, peak oiler, spotted owl hugger, red legged frog fucker, California vegetarian fag culture they abhor? Why indeed, when they know full well that what Jesus drives is a full size SUV with knobby tires and loud mufflers.

And then it hit me. The central frame of each vehicle is probably packed with C-4 and fitted with a remotely actuated detonator. That’s why each one of ’em is shipped with a free set of hooks that they advertise can be screwed into your bedroom ceiling to safely store the bike “out of the way”. And then, when they’ve sold enough of ’em, in the middle of the night, California time, a thumb black with bike grime will come down hard on a red button in Tyler, Texas.

May keep mine out in the shed.

After i have it x-rayed.

Well, if i get one.

And so as to end on a less horrific note, here’s a shot of Ansela Adams at the beginning of her career in a coastside cafe in Pacifica.

Ansela Adams

 

 

A. attenuata

Finally, here’s an update on my favorite A. attenuata, taken on or about the 31st of March, when i also got to talk with the proud owner:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Pink Slime

Consumers have been recoiling in shock and horror at reports revealing that the ground beef they’ve been buying contains up to 25% of a substance described by its producers as either BLBT (boneless lean beef trimmings) or LFTB (lean finely textured beef) but more colorfully called pink slime by a USDA microbiologist named Gerald Zirnstein back in 2002.

The issue is not that the stuff, whatever it’s called, is any more unsafe than steak, and it probably isn’t, as the LA Times points out.  Rather, the problem is the mendacity, that the industry has been sneaking the stuff into our hamburger for ten years by describing it in deliberately misleading ways and, usually, without telling us that it’s even there.

The bottom line, though, is that it’s a marketing issue, so i predict that very soon we’ll start seeing advertising for “Biff – Another Pink Meat™”.

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All Our Base Are Belong to Them

Breaking news reveals a shocking new development that places new difficulties in the path of our nation’s righteous struggle against international terror and the forces of evil who hate us for our EZ Boy recliners with power assist for when you’ve too obese to get up by yourself. But horror of horrors, it’s not just our enemies turning on us. Now it’s our supposed friends.

This website had suggested as early as two years ago that the defense of liberty might require that we invade and occupy our Icelandic neighbors, little realizing at the time how prescient the suggestion was. Shoulda done it while we could.

Because early this morning, while godfearing Americans slept peacefully, the Prime Minister of Iceland, Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir, held a press conference and revealed the culmination of a hideous conspiracy with their neighbors, the bloodthirsty Faeroese, that resulted in the formation of a unified New Northern Republic, which they demand that we call Nýtt Norður Lýðveldi, as if we could speak that stuff. She’s going easy on us and and not asking, for now, that we do the declinations. [I keep hoping someone who’s literate in Icelandic will read this and and add the declensional endings that i feel sure i’ve missed. mattegray.sf@gmail.com]

Demand? you sneer, Iceland and the Faeroes are making demands on us?

Well, actually, yes.

It seems that while our backs were turned and we were busy bringing democracy and consumer culture to our Iraqi and Afghan allies, the diabolical Icelanders were using their virtually unlimited geothermal power to excavate vast caverns far underground and install there an ultrasophisticated uranium enrichment system, which fed their development of a large number of nuclear weapons. Meanwhile, their evil Faroese allies, while pretending to be a peaceful nation of sheepherders and fishermen, had dug similar caves and built ICBMs. So now their joint Republic has hardened launch silos full of nuclear tipped missiles.

And this morning, Ms Sigurðardóttir announced that they are now extending their benevolent leadership to their neighbors, starting with those who they feel need it most, the United States. She suggests that the transition will be easier for us if we go into this with open minds and a good attitude, recognizing that they are doing this for our own good and that we are fortunate that besides our Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines we already have an ample supply of prisons and a more than adequate multi-level secret police force to keep our citizens in line, what with our CIA, FBI, Homeland Security, Coast Guard, Treasury Department, IRS, Immigration Service, Transportation Security Administration, Federal Bureau of Prisons, state departments of corrections, county jails, city jails, state police, county police, city police, sheriff’s departments, game wardens, and meter maids. Not to mention all the private security, police, and prisons. Oh, and Guantánamo and all our secret detention facilities.

Matte is recommending that as a first step you go ahead and preemptively practice pronouncing the phrase, “Frú Forsætisráðherra Sigurðardóttir” (Madame Prime Minister Sigurðardóttir). It sounds just like it looks except ð is like th in ‘the’, g is more like a glottal stop, the r’s are trilled, and tt comes out like German cht as in Achtung! The vowels are more difficult and can best be learned from a native speaker during your interrogations.

Meanwhile, here’s an update on that A. arboreum atropurpureum on Liberty Street:

A. arboreum atropurpureum

 

atropurpureum

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Amsterdam by Boat, Revisited

I was shocked at the superficiality of my description of the splendid tour of Amsterdam that Edward gave me in his little boat last August, and now that i have access to dozens more photos, i’ll add some details.

I spent all afternoon laboriously tracing the route Edward took, going back and forth between detail maps and getting the names of all the canals right, throwing in links to information on the Internet and adding new photos. Fortunately, i made a mistake before i had saved my work, and it all vanished. As i hacked around trying to get it back i realized that there was probably not a single other person on the planet who would have been in the least interested in my detailed reconstruction of the route, so luckily you are spared that.

Instead, i’ll give you a mercifully brief summary and a couple of the pics. Edward took us in a great loop to the east to the mouth of the Rijnkanal and around the end of Borneo Eiland, a new housing development with which i’d been fascinated since he’d showed it to me several years ago. The front doors open onto Scheepstimmermanstraat for pedestrian access, but here’s a shot of the back sides:

 

behind Scheepstimmermanstraat

 

From there we went back west past Java Eiland and then south past Nemo, Renzo Piano’s spectacular interactive science museum

Nemo

 

and then on through the Entrepôtdok under the Nijlpaardenbrug, one of my favorite bridges in Amsterdam although i somehow doubt that there were ever very many Nile horses in the city. (Hint: the ancient Greeks called them ‘river horses’.)

Nijlpaardenbrug

From there, through the Prinsengracht and out by the Westerdok across the IJ to a little cafe, where Bobo de Tweede, Edward’s little dog, even more lovable than his predecessor, frolicked from table to table, graciously receiving the adulation of his subjects while Edward and i sipped a couple of biertjes and nibbled at a plate of bitterballen.

And then back across the IJ and through the Herengracht around to the secret little southern entrance to the Oudezijds gracht and thence to Edward’s doorstep.

And here’s the totally relaxed captain, pilot, and navigator. One tough sailor. What we don’t see in this pic is the cowering photographer – dressed in heavy long pants, two shirts, and a jacket – whimpering when a few drops of cold spray off the IJ gets on him and nervously calculating the distance to the closest land.

The Captain

Well, see, it wasn’t just us tiny little city craft out there:

The Black Freighter

And i could just tell from their body language that once they’d swamped us, they’d have some sport chunking things at our bobbing heads.

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RTFM

I was well and truly backed into a corner.

Some folks may recall my having complained last August about having had my camera slightly mis-set so that the first half of the pics that i took during Edward’s wonderful Amsterdam by Boat tour were sent to internal memory in the camera and thus could not be accessed while i was in Amsterdam because i didn’t have the cable with me. Ummm, yes, and then returning to the States and discovering that even with the cable i couldn’t get to those pics.

But i got distracted and didn’t pursue this issue. And then yesterday i accidentally got the camera slightly mis-set in the same way as last August and discovered 94 pics hidden in the camera that i could see. So seething with curiosity i managed with a great deal of thrashing around and gnashing of teeth to get them copied onto the hard disk of my computer.

But then i was unable to delete them from my camera, and the camera’s internal memory was full. Oh, and i examined every menu on the camera and looked at every button and switch. What if i suddenly need that internal memory?

And then i sat here weeping bitter tears because i knew i was beaten, crushed, utterly defeated. And even though it is common knowledge among the documentation community that all technical writers, working or retired, enjoy a lifetime exemption from the RTFM rule, the little Lumix had me by whatever it took until the end of our lives, whichever came first, and that i was going to have to RTFM.

To quote Ivan Ilyich’s widow, “You cannot imagine how i suffered.”

Actually, the suffering started when i began hunting for the manual. I mean i knew it was in a safe place. And sure enough, one of my file drawers had a folder labled “Lumix”, where i found manuals for my big DMC FZ50 and the little DMC-ZS1 that i’d fumbled, dropped onto the concrete in front of me, and run over with the Segway, from which i’d been able to salvage only the memory card, the battery, and the carrying strap. But no manual for its replacement, the DMC-ZS6.

After a frantic search i discovered that someone had copied onto the Desktop of my PC, an online user manual for the ZS6. Wonder when that happened.

So then all i had to do was penetrate the brambled thicket of exposition defending the secrets of the camera’s internal memory operation from outsiders, and i finally did. And while i was in there i also read a bit about taking closeups. Like this Euphorbia buplurifolia blossom. And this is just my first attempt, but to give you an idea, the wingspan of the outer green bracts there is about a centimeter.

Euphorbia buplurifolia

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Asparagus is Here

I bought that bunch of asparagus yesterday because i’d been thinking about it since writing about finding a patch growing in my yard in Midland, and it’s now in the markets. And what should i do with it other than my favorite dish that i mentioned, the “Creamed Eggs and Asparagus Cockaigne”? Thinking that i might find an online version of this recipe, i googled the title and got page after page of hits on it. Then i looked a little more closely at a few of these hits and realized that they were all the demon spawn of some thieves who have a business model in which they build websites for American grocery stores and then put stolen recipes in them.

The asparagus recipe is copied word for word from Joy of Cooking in all of the websites and so crudely done that it contains ingredients like “au gratin I” that in the original cookbook has a page number leading you to the first version of an au gratin topping. The recipe also includes ludicrous typos like “Serve with French” because when they blocked and copied the text to plagiarize it, they missed the last word, “bread”.

So no, lest i sink to the level of those website thieves, i will not be giving you Joy‘s recipe here, but i can talk about what i do now based on their original recipe, which is on page 224 of the 1963 edition and 202 of the 1975 edition (which was reprinted up through 1996). Yes, i owned both editions, and then in June bought the 75th Anniversary edition of 2006 to show solidarity but discovered when i got home that the creamed egg and asparagus recipe is not in this edition.

For those who don’t own an older edition of Joy of Cooking, i’ve put into my recipe section my own version of the old Joy recipe, see Asparagus with Creamed Eggs.

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Marketing by Foot

Today i continued learning how to get around the city without my Segway, and i hit two farmers’ markets using Muni.

So how’d i plot out the route? Well, first i walked down Liberty Street to Castro and then down to 20th Street, where i stopped and waited for a 24 Divisadero bus to catch up with me. When i got on and deftly swiped my divinely inspired Clipper transit card, the driver asked me to do it again. And then when i did so and the reader emitted the same little warble, she announced that that warble meant the card was underfunded. I had somehow been assuming that the card was so smart that it would notify the system to send a uniformed agent to my door to warn me when the balance on my card was getting low, and that didn’t happen. So i fed a dollar into the farebox since i didn’t have three quarters.

Told the driver i’d just started using the card a lot and had lost track of the balance. She then suggested that if i was using Muni a lot, it would be cheaper to buy a senior fast pass for the month. There are some cranky ones who get all the publicity, but there sure are lots of really nice Muni drivers.

I got out at 17th Street just as an F-Market streetcar was pulling up to the platform and rode it down to the front of the Ferry Building, walked through to the Hamada’s booth in back for eight Marsh grapefruit and passed out little sample bottles of a new product: my chocolate sauce augmented with one of Dandelion’s Columbian chocolate bars. Much saluting ensued.

Popped back out of the building just as an outbound F-Market arrived and took that back to 17th Steet, where i had to wait only about ten minutes for an outbound 24 Divisadero over the hill to 24th Street and walked downhill to the Noe Valley Farmers’ Market just beyond Sanchez. Bought some more Dandelion chocolate, three bunches of fresh green garlic, a bunch of pea sprouts, a pound of gorgeous sugar snaps, and a bunch of asparagus.

Ambled along slowly back up 24th Street, expecting the 48 bus to come along, but i got to Castro on foot just in time to catch an inbound 24 Divisadero to 22nd Street for the two block walk back home, all flat except the last half block.

So i did an entire shopping round, two farmers’ markets using three bus rides interleaved with two Muni rides all for the dollar i had to pay to get onto the first bus since the whole excursion took place within the time limit for the transfer. ta da.

So there’s a ray of sunshine in my life.

ray of sunshine

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My Life As a Vegetable Gardener

My entire history of vegetable gardening took place during the spring and summer of 1971 in Midland, Texas, the only summer i stayed in Midland during the years i taught at Midland College.

In the early spring i was out in the back yard of the little house i was renting and noticed this fern-like weed growing vigorously over by the east fence, encouraged by unseasonably early rain that year. Since i’d already decided that i was going to take care of the yard, i went over to pull this weed up. However, as i bent to grab one of the stalks by the base i noticed something quite strange right beside it. Good grief, i wondered, that looks like an asparagus spear!

And it was. And since i liked asparagus and was so stone broke that buying a luxury as expensive as asparagus was out of the question, i ran for the hose.

A bit of background here for the readers fortunate enough to know nothing of west Texas. It’s a semi-desert. The annual rainfall for Midland is 14.5 inches (37 cm.) and the great majority of this rain comes in the summertime. In fact, the average rainfall in Midland in each of the months from November through April is less than two cm., so if you want anything other than a handful of hardy native plants to survive, you have to run water on it with a garden hose.

So i did. And i even coughed up a few dollars for some fertilizer to scatter around the patch. And as the stalks got large enough, i cut and refrigerated them until i had enough to make that excellent Joy of Cooking recipe “Creamed Eggs and Asparagus Cockaigne”, a rich dish i made for Dutch friends on one of my visits just to show them that green asparagus could be edible.

Harvesting my own asparagus in the spring made me realize that i could plant something myself, and i decided on tomatoes and okra. I spaded up a section of the sunniest part of the yard and put in four “Beefsteak” variety tomato sets. The okra i decided to grow from seed, so i planted a bag of seeds in a straight line at the end of the tomatoes. The tomato sets grew vigorously from the day of planting, and then, in a few days i saw a row of tiny okra seedlings break through the soil. After a week or so, the okra seedlings were several inches tall and so i went down the row pulling almost of them up so that the remaining four would have plenty of room to make vigorous, heavily laden plants.

The next morning i went out and discovered that during the night mystery varmints had come out of nowhere and gobbled down to ground level all four of the okra seedling i’d left. My first garden tragedy.

But the tomatoes grew like mad, and since i’d never peered over the fence of the codger who lived behind me, i didn’t know that his life revolved around growing tomatoes using astonishingly elaborate cultivation methods. As it turned out, he was also covertly monitoring the progress of my crop since i was clearly a competitor.

So we both watched as my plants grew and grew and then blossomed and were covered with little green tomatoes that got larger and larger and larger, and then redder and redder and redder until finally he could bear it no longer and lay in wait behind his fence until i came outside. He then opened his gate and came into my yard beside me and my tomatoes and plaintively inquired, “Are you gonna just let ’em rot on the vine?”

And then i knew it was harvest time, so i picked two, and we ate them standing there. I didn’t remember ever eating a better tomato, feasted on them all summer, and gave many to friends. And apparently i was not the only person who’d never tasted a better tomato because he for sure never gave me none of his to compare.

Since i don’t have a garden now, i confine myself to house plants. Here’s my Aloe aristata, on regal display for passers by in my southeast office window.

 

Aloe aristata

I’d been thinking as the winter progresses and spring nears that it ought to be showing its appreciation of my granting it the best spot in the house, and my heart kept sinking as i peered nearsightedly into the center, hoping hoping to see the tip of an inflorescence.  Nothing.  “Day after day, day after day, we stuck, nor breath nor motion.”  And then i happened to glance down to the side a bit and saw this tiny bud:

tiny bud

Surely you didn’t expect it to be dramatic yet.

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Cornbread Breakthrough

Well, see, that blue corn muffin at Chile Pie i wrote about back on 22 February kept resurfacing in my memory, and then when i was on the way home from shipping the Segway off to Siberia for re-education i stopped at The Dancing Pig on Castro to try their barbecue.

The cole slaw was excellent, the more vinegary kind rather than the mayonnaisy type; but don’t waste your time on their dried out spare ribs, and if you have to, at least tell ’em to keep that cloying, sugar-syrup sauce on the side…like on their side of the counter.  That said, i ate all the ribs but it was pure hunger driving me rather than any sort of gourmandism.  I’ll go back to give the pulled pork a try, and maybe that stuffed poblano, but the only reason i mention the restaurant now is the cornbread.  It was good.

So good that i got to thinking more about my grandmother’s cornbread recipe that i’ve been using for decades and decided that well, since everybody in that generation and the one that followed it is dead now, i guess it might be alright to mess around with the recipe a little bit.

Well, actually, i’ve already tampered with it.  The first heresy i’d already confessed to, my conversion from the traditional iron skillet to Pyrex glass pans for the cooking, as described in the recipe above.  And i’ll add a fresh, new confession that several years ago i had cut the amount of baking powder in half without telling anybody.

So now, starting with a clean breast, i’ll tell you about experimenting on my friend Jeff last night with a couple of tweaks.  First i put back half the baking powder that i’d removed from the recipe, and i just now went into my recipe file and changed the baking powder quantity to 3/4 t. (3,75 ml.), leaving no fingerprints so nobody’ll ever know i was messing around with it in the first place.

No biggie, really, just helps it rise a little better.  The real change is that i adjusted the ratio of wheat flour to cornmeal from 1/4 c. flour and 3/4 c. meal to 1/3 c. flour and 2/3 c. meal to make the cornbread a bit lighter without turning it to cake.  Oh, and while i was in there i rounded off the tablespoon of sugar to brighten it up a bit without actually making it sweet.

And here’s a brightened up sight on a late winter morning.

Noe at 19th

 

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Segwayless Mode

Today marked a full week since i’d taken the dead Segway over to Oakland to get it fixed, so i finally broke down this noon and called ’em to inquire about progress since i’d called on the previous Wednesday. Turns out they couldn’t extract a confession even with those electric probes, and they’d given up. They first thought the problem was in my batteries, so they tried to rejuvenate them. When that proved unsuccessful, they threw a couple of good batteries on it, and it still “threw a wrench”.

It had been throwing wrenches for me since noon on the 2nd of March, but i didn’t know the idiom to describe it flashing a little wrench logo on the display and refusing to start. We all know how much i adore idioms, but that’s one i’d just as soon never have learned since it means that the Segway isn’t reparable locally and must be sent back to the factory in New Hampshire for re-education.

At this point, they can’t even tell me for sure what the diagnosis will be when the factory opens it up, and all we know for certain is that it’ll be expensive. And since the damn thing has to go back and forth across the continent, who the hell knows when i’ll get it back. Sigh.

I was already feeling sorry for myself for having been without it for over a week. Damn damn damn, now it’s gonna be three or four, and life is so much harder without the Segway. Like for example it being impossible to go to the Noe Valley Farmers’ Market without doing an elaborate two bus adventure, using the 24 to get me up and down the hill and the 48 to run up and down thru Noe Valley, plus of course who knows how long waiting to transfer between them, not to mention the two block walk each way between here and the 24. But there’s no parking for blocks in any direction on the morning of the market. And after all that has been whined, i am acutely aware that life would be vastly more difficult if i were in a wheelchair, so suck it up, Matte.

On the other hand, the blooms are spreading nicely up the inflorescence of that A. attenuata on 21st Street, and in the daytime there’s parking right across the street for the photographers:

Agave attenuata

 

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