Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Scones on the grill

(Originally published on Buzz Aug 1)

After cooking outside on the Weber for lunch to keep the kitchen cool, I began thinking about gluten free scones and whether they could be done on the grill. Then it became an obsession. If you're looking for a short story, it was a complete success. Here's what I did. 

First, the dough was made from Pamela's Baking and Pancake Mix. This is a must have for a gluten free household. You can find the recipe here, look under Breakfast & Lunch for Scones. We replace the currants with cinnamon chips. Next time we use the grill, I think we'll add dried apples. 

Once the dough is made, and the grill is still hot (I wanted to wait until the fire was burning clean, so as not to get too much smoke), fold pieces of aluminum foil into triangular pans. Mine were about 6 inches on the longest side. I also did one 6 inch square pan that I then cut into two triangles with an additional piece of foil. Both types worked well. They don't need to be able to hold a liquid in, as the dough is pretty thick, but they do need to be able to hold the rising dough in. Don't fill them completely. Mine barely touch the sides when I filled the pans, but completely filled them when the scones were done. 

I put them in the covered grill (a Weber charcoal grill), not directly over the coals and cooked them for about 15 minutes, turning them every five. Once they are done all the way through, I pulled them off the grill and let them sit for about five minutes. The aroma was fantastic, and made it hard to wait. But as Alton Brown would say, "your patience will be rewarded". 

This will become a standard when we use the grill. I always hate to just let the coals die down. And will probably become a staple when we camp (those of you in the SCA near me, come by and ask for one). 

Only one lasted long enough to get it's picture taken.  It didn't last much longer.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Learning to love the plateaus

My Sensei, Vic, has been talking about the way we learn things.   My own understanding of what he is saying (very briefly); as we learn we have long stretches where we just don't feel like things are going well at all (plateaus). Then everything seems to come together and we seem to make sudden and drastic improvements.  Those end all too soon, and we usually feel like we're sliding back a little, into another plateau.  That plateau will always be higher than the previous one. It may not feel like it, because everyone around us has improved as well.

I've been at Aikido for about a year and a half (minus three months for a broken arm).  Already having a black belt in another Martial Art (Shotokan Karate-do), it's hard starting over as a white belt.  I hate putting it like that, because I fear someone will misunderstand and think that the color of the belt is what I'm worried about.  The color of the belt is just someone else's acknowledgment of the wearer's skill.  What's been hard for me is being at that skill level.  I may be woefully out of practice in Shotokan, but I understand the techniques.  Until just recently, I felt like I'm fumbling around in Aikido (like a pregnant yak).  I'm not saying that I've come anywhere near mastering Aikido, but I'm more comfortable with it now than I was even six months ago.

In SCA fighting, I'm what we call in Calontir (a Kingdom in the Midwest) a Fyrdman. If you are more comfortable with Martial Arts terms, I would put it around a purple belt (Huscarl for brown to 2nd or 3rd degree black belt and Knight for above that).  I've felt that I've been in a plateau for a long time, but I think that might be illusionary because of the level of people I've been fighting for the last few years.  If I show any signs of improving, they take it up another level, and most of the people I fight have many levels above that.  It's a Martial Artist's dream.

And it's not just a Martial Art's issue. After 20 years in IT, it's easy to get to a plateau and just coast.  I've never been able to do that.  If I'm not learning, I'm dying.  This past two weeks, I really had to step up and stretch myself.  For all of that 20 years, my work has been on the server side, no matter the language.  Most of my code is not meant to have a visual component to put in front of the user.  It's been mostly for crunching data, or sending it around the network.  But I was asked to take over some Applet code, and had a lot of fun doing it.  Yes, I am strange enough that working an extra 10 hours a week to get it done was fun (I just can't do that too often).  I'm at a point now that I have to start thinking of the next level.

I've always hated the plateaus.  They range from boring to frustrating. Techniques take 2 or 3 (or more) attempts to make work, code doesn't work like I expected, blocks I thought would work, don't.   I come home with the bruises or extra hours of work because I'm attempting to do something that is just out of my reach.  However, they never stay out of my reach (except that flat snap of Martino's that I may never learn to block and Hassan is just too fast to be human).  The plateau is where I'm learning to reach.  The upswings, where everything comes together, are fun, but they don't go on forever.  Sooner or later it's time to level out and learn what's next.  I've just got to learn to love the process.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Ubuntu let me down, but let me recover

Ok, I've been running Ubuntu Linux since November.  The only real complaint I've had about it is the sound system turns itself off occasionally if more than one user is logged on (very irritating).

Today, I tried to update to the latest Release Candidate.  I had the time in the afternoon, even though my evening was going to be full.

After doing the upgrade, my system refused to boot.  This has never happened while using FreeBSD or OpenSolaris.  And since I'm very bad about doing backups, it's beyond a little irritating.

Since a lot of my files are "in the cloud", it's not a fatal problem.  However, I cannot find the original Windows install disk (which I run in Virtual Box).  Since I have some work I am forced to do in Windows from time to time, that is a big problem.  I may be forced to shell out money to get Win7.

I was able to install the old version of Ubuntu along side the new and broken version, which gives me access to the filesystem.  Currently doing the backups I should have been doing, and then I'll wiped the disk, do a fresh install, and restore the data.  Hopefully, before too much longer, I'll be back to normal.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Stargate Universe; I'm done

Ok, I really really wanted to like Stargate Universe.  I like the franchise a great deal.  The idea of being trapped in a distance galaxy trying to find their way home did not deter me from wanting to like it, even if it has been done already in Star Trek.  I was hoping for a SG1 type team to get out there and show what we can do.  Explore a little, fight a little, do some techie things.

Then I found out they were going to borrow heavily from Battlestar. I like my stories to have heroes.  In Battlestar, I felt that the original ('80s) story of tragedy and how humans can rise above it had been changed into one of how low could humans go.  How base could they be. blech.  Oh, I understand that Science Fiction is all about the speculative and should expand our conversations, blah, blah, blah.  And I agree.  Make a movie, write a short story, heck even a novel.  But a series?  Come on, it' gets old after the first couple of episodes. If I cannot connect with a character and see some growth, I might as well be watching CSPAN.

And sure enough, SGU became the same thing.  Instead of a bold leader who keeps his people together, we have a idiot who traps his most experience techie on a planet, then tries to cover it up and in the process kill another crew member.  That same techie killing someone because he thinks it's a good idea. A action hero type who's brain is firmly set between his legs.

Lt James cannot carry this whole show.

In the last episode, we see the communication stones fail, and we never find out why.  No one is even curious.  Are we in the same universe with Dr. McKay?

In the next episode, the civilians lock the military out and take over the ship.  How in the world can this resolved in any way that is remotely believable?  Is the military going to say, "Oh, we didn't know how serious you were, you can run the ship?"  They will have to let them out sometime, and the military is going to want to resume command, and now they cannot trust the civilians at all. The civilians can already not trust the military because the commander is insane. (And the guy on Earth who wants to take over is not any better).

I'll say it again, I like heroes in my stories.  SGU, I'm done.  May be next season.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Encryption should be built in.

Why has encryption not become part of the base operating system for the most used systems out there?  If you are not aware of applications like Pretty Good Privacy or the free alternative GnuPG, Google them. I highly recommend getting and installing one.

Why is encryption needed? Well there are obvious uses (preventing other people of reading your documents or email, unless they are the recipient). Here are two real life examples where having an encryption system would be beneficial. A while back, I had a problem with an insurance policy. I emailed the company and they were very good about getting it straightened out, but in doing that, they emailed another company and cc me. I was horrified by the fact that my Social Security number was in the email. In another case, I did some part time work for a friend. He asked for my ssn to fill out a 1099. We exchanged public keys and I emailed my number to him.   Since only he and I can unlock that document, I worry about it a lot less.

I've worked for companies that deal with personal information. The current work around for this problem that I've seen is to upload the email that contains the information to a website and emailing the recipient a URL and a password to access it. In my opinion, this is a very cumbersome solution.

What I would like to see? Encryption built into the operating system. When you install (or launch for the first time for pre-installed systems), the system could generate a private and public key on the spot. Apple could upload the public key to the users account automatically. Microsoft could build a keyserver overnight (or buy one). Ubuntu can use GnuPG's servers. All the major email applications already have plugins for both PGP and GPG (gets confusing to type, but those are two different products). It would not take much for the vendors to incorporate the ability to lookup someone's public key, encrypt a message, or even just sign a message.

Signing a message brings up an interesting solution. If users begin signing their emails (signing proves that a document comes from the person sending without alteration. It will show the name of the signer and if the document has been changed in transit). If the signer does not match the sender, the email can be flagged. If the signer is in your contacts list, the email can be trusted more than others. It would make it easier to spot spam or phishing emails. We can start doing that now, with the downloads I've already mentioned, but most of your friends, and certainly your mother, are not going to download them, set them up, and start using them. If they are built into the operating system, it much more likely for people to start using it.

One issue to be solved is the online email programs. It would be simple for Google, Yahoo, and others to use the encryption keys on your computer to encrypt and sign email, but you would have to have those keys on every computer you use to send and receive email. That's not feasible. The other solution is to upload your private key to your email provider. That's should make you stop for a second, and probably reject the idea. But think about this; they already have access to all your unencrypted email now. If you had two sets of keys, one on your personal and secure computer, that you had people encrypt stuff you are just rightfully paranoid about and a set that you upload to your provider. You wouldn't be able to read the stuff sent with the extra ultra super secret key on another computer, but that's why it's extra ultra super secret. In most cases, your provider has a lot more on it's mind than snooping through your personal email (and if your trying to hide stuff from the government, give up).  If your key gets compromised, regen a new one and upload it. Heck, I suggest doing that every 3 months anyway.  Set the expiration date for 3 months and generate a new key quarterly.  That way if you lose the private key (hard drive dies, etc), people will stop using the old one after a while.

Google, please be one of the first and build this into Android. Thanks.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Request to Apple; move iTunes to the cloud

To the company known as Apple,

I'm possibly not exactly your target customer, or in the demographic you are going after (those with enough money to buy new electronics every year or so).  But, I have owned 3 Macs (a Ti Powerbook, a iMac, and a Powermac) and 3 iPods.  The Macs have finally died, they are about 8 years old, but the iPods are running just fine.  Well not exactly fine, because I cannot update 2 of them at all, and it's a pain to update the 3rd (have I mentioned my Macs have died).

The computer I use for Java programming is still working, but it's running Ubuntu. I've tried updating the iPods using Windows under VirtualBox. It more or less works for one, mine which is older, but not for either of my kids', which I am more concerned about.  And I would like to buy one for my wife, but not until I can update the other ones.

I think iPods are at this point the best portable mp3/video/podcast players out there.  I'm using my Droid for playing podcasts at work, but it's not as seamless as the iPod is/was.  And I worry about running the battery out on my phone by listening to music.

I have no desire to run Windows next to the metal on any machine I have at home.  I promise you, as soon as I have enough money to purchase a Mac Mini or an iMac, money that is not already demanded by car repairs, house repairs, etc., etc., etc, I will send it your way.  To get by, I'm considering getting a netbook running Win7. I kinda really don't want to (sorry to whine).  I've been Windows free (except for virtual environments) at home for most of my career.  I have to deal with it at work, and I'd like to leave it there.

So, Apple, how can you help me out. Move iTunes to the cloud. Give me a web interface and enough disk space to store my mp3's (seriously, you have it all there anyway, behind the scenes, just give me a link to my purchases in your catalog, along with some extra space for any mp3's I've uploaded or leverage the remote access ability in and let me stream it from a Mac in my house).  It should be possible to access the iPod using Flash, Java, or html5.  And let me stream my collection to my work pc, home pc, Droid, iPod touch, iPhone, etc.  I know that might cut into your electronics sells, but you're going to charge me for the service (free would be great, but I know your here to make money, not provide me with goodies).

So, come on Apple, help me out. I don't want to change my brand of media players, but it may be a while before I can afford another Mac. If instead of moving iTunes to the cloud you want to put out a $250 iMac/iNetBook/iTablet/iWhatever, I can be ok with that.

Thanks for listening.