Wednesday, March 31, 2010

A Tale of Two CompUSAs

With apologies to Tolstoy, this is something a bit more mundane.

In my job as IT Manager, I have to do a lot of technical purchases. 

I'm that guy that Recommends, Acquires, Specifies, and Deploys computer hardware and software. I spend a lot of time sitting in front of a computer monitor looking at web pages looking at detailed descriptions, and telling others that "Hey, we need this"!

Once in a while I even get out of the office and visit the real world and see what the shops have to offer.

For computer hardware in South Florida there seems to be one main place to pick up that sort of item, CompUSA.   I find that unfortunate.  As my Economics teacher said in University, when a market is dominated by one seller and holds a Monopoly that market suffers from inefficiencies and higher prices. 

I find my Economics teacher to have been almost completely correct here in Ft Lauderdale in the case of Computer parts.  After all, if you can read this, you can also get to some of the competition and wait for it to show up at your front door.  Sometimes you can even save some money.

The thing is that in my position, if you need it now, you don't want to wait for a week for it to get in from California or beyond.  So I would climb into my Jeep and drive to the nearest CompUSA.   If I were closer to it, I'd go to the Hialeah Tiger Direct/CompUSA outlet and despite the fact that the neighborhood is kind of scary, I'd geek out over the variety they have there. 

My choices here in Broward are the stores in Deerfield Beach and on Federal Highway in Ft Lauderdale.  Two stores with identical product lines, identical market (same county), and identical mother company in Tiger Direct.

The differences are pretty frightening.   My boss has flatly forbid me to go to the store in Deerfield Beach.  That particular CompUSA I would not send someone to on a bet.  Clean building that is under lit and dark and has a truly annoying guitar riff tape playing louder that I would prefer on a loop.  

How do I know that that tape is a loop?  Because one day I had to go into that store to price some items and needed help and ended up standing there for more than an hour.   Yes, I made the mistake to see just how long it was before someone would help me.   I had to almost tackle some guy to get him to promise me to bring back Someone Else to talk to me about the particular product in question.   Another half hour later, someone arrived.   That second person was quite helpful, and quite out of character for that store.  

If someone wants to study how to run a large store badly, I suggest you go to CompUSA and look around.  I can say that there was exactly one person there that had a clue about customer service that worked during the work day and the rest were trying to look busy and avoid any contact with people.

On the other hand, I have always been pleasantly surprised with the CompUSA Store on Federal Highway in Ft Lauderdale.  North of Sunrise Blvd, Near the Whole Foods... Yeah, That One.   They reopened that store and I have been in it a number of times since then.   It is very close to my house and when ever I go in there I am greeted, asked if I need help, and actually assisted by people who had some knowledge of their product.  More importantly, if I tell them "thanks, I'm OK" they back off. 

I had gone into the store most recently and had to pick up some converters for the new machines that I have to set up on 9 desks in my office, and was asked if there was anything else.   I had mentioned that I was looking for some memory to upgrade a laptop.   I told him the type and not thinking I forgot what the speed was.  The salesman caught that right off and told me I needed the speed of the memory. 

Basic Mistake, but the point is that after being in the CompUSA on Hillsborough in Deerfield and being ignored and treated like part of the furniture, and the CompUSA on Federal Highway in Ft Lauderdale where I was treated well even when not shopping for work, I have one suggestion...

Avoid the store in Hillsborough in Deerfield Beach, FL - My Boss Was Right.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Commission Chambers at Old City Hall Picture

When I got to visit the Old City Hall, the place was just stuffed with Chairs.

The Historical Society will be selling them off next month.  These were the office chairs that were declared surplus and will help fund the Society for their work. 

Usually when you would go into the Chambers for a Commission Meeting, the place would be lined up with rows of Black Plastic Chairs for everyone to sit down and see the meeting.  They weren't very comfortable, and it might have been better to use some of the old office chairs.   On the other hand, instead of having these things being set out in a landfill they're going to be sold and do some good work.

On the other hand, the table in the foreground is the conference table around which the City workers would sit in order to be available for any questions in a Commission Meeting.  These blue chairs were lined up around it and occupied by the various department heads.

It will be sold if it hasn't been already. 

If you need a chair, a lot of them have already been sold off, as well as some of the equipment that was left in the building. 

I should know, I've got one of the chairs from the Dais that I used to use when I was on there for my board.  Comfortable chair too, I started to drift off when I was sitting in it working on my netowrk here at home at my desk. 

You missed that one, but the sale is coming up!

Monday, March 29, 2010

A Tale of Two Coffees - Home Roasted is Best

After being away from Home Roasted coffee for a month I had run out of green beans.  Funny how returning somewhere will make you take a whole new look at something, even if it is something as minor as your choice of morning beverage.

Yesterday I got up, and after the dog walk and breakfast, I set about to roast the last of my green coffee beans.  They went about as well as planned, the taste was excellent and complex and rich.  I had a problem though, there were only enough for that morning's pot so if I wanted more I'd have to get another pound. 

Remembering that I had some rather excellent Kenya AA that had been ground a month back and that I had ordered 3 pounds of green coffee from a house in Wisconsin last week, I thought I could make due with what I have. 

I was planning on going to Wellington Florida to visit my Godmother and her Husband and have lunch next door to a Whole Foods so I could get more if I really wanted.  Once Lunch got into me, I passed on going to Whole Foods and getting the beans and live with what I had. 

Today, Sunday (Yes, the postings are still ahead of schedule) I got up and skated 2 miles with my dog, made breakfast and then the coffee. That month old Kenya AA was made per my normal recipe, the only difference was that it was a different bean.  It was a coffee that I considered excellent, sweet, complex and flavourful.

After roasting for a month and having people question my sanity, and whether the extra effort (ten minutes from green to ground is all it takes) and being told in various ways to "get a life" I was confronted with the results.

Repeat after me: I Was Right.  Home Roast Is Best.

The complexity that I grew used to was not in the Kenya AA.  The flavor was flat and unimpressive.  The coffee although brewed per the normal "recipe" was bitter.   I was back from listening to my symphony orchestra to the string quartet. 

I will admit it, I've spoiled myself.  If you roast your own coffee you may save a couple of dollars a pound, but that isn't the real reason to do it, the real reason is that the flavor is SO much better than what you will be normally able to find that you won't want to go back. 

This week I'll be getting three varieties, Hawaiian, Guatemalan, and Tanzanian peaberry coffees and will roast them per the seller's suggestions.  I am hooked.

Sunday, March 28, 2010


Velma sent me another one that had me laughing... It is a bit long, but here goes...



Snakes also known as Garter Snakes (Thamnophissirtalis) can be dangerous. Yes, grass snakes, not rattlesnakes. Here's why.

A couple in Sweetwater, Texas, had a lot of potted plants. During a recent cold spell, the wife was bringing a lot of them indoors to protect them from a possible freeze.

It turned out that a little green garden grass snake was hidden in one of the plants..When it had warmed up, it slithered out and the wife saw it go under the sofa.

She let out a very loud scream.

The husband (who was taking a shower) ran out into the living room naked to see what the problem was. She told him there was a snake under the sofa.

He got down on the floor on his hands and knees to look for it. About that time the family dog came and cold-nosed him on the behind. He thought the snake had bitten him, so he screamed and fell over on the floor.

His wife thought he had had a heart attack, so she covered him up, told him to lie still and called an ambulance.

The attendants rushed in, would not listen to his protests, loaded him on the stretcher, and started carrying him out.

About that time, the snake came out from under the sofa and the Emergency Medical Technician saw it and dropped his end of the stretcher. That's when the man broke his leg and why he is still in the hospital.

The wife still had the problem of the snake in the house, so she called on a neighbor who volunteered to capture the snake. He armed himself with a rolled-up newspaper and began poking under the couch.. Soon he decided it was gone and told the woman, who sat down on the sofa in relief.

But while relaxing, her hand dangled in between the cushions, where she felt the snake wriggling around. She screamed and fainted, the snake rushed back under the sofa.

The man, seeing her lying there passed out, tried to use CPR to revive her.

The neighbor's wife, who had just returned from shopping at the grocery store, saw her husband's mouth on the woman's mouth and slammed her husband in the back of the head with a bag of canned goods, knocking him out and cutting his scalp to a point where it needed stitches.

The noise woke the woman from her dead faint and she saw her neighbor lying on the floor with his wife bending over him, so she assumed that the snake had bitten him. She went to the kitchen and got a small bottle of whiskey, and began pouring it down the man's throat.

By now, the police had arrived.
Breathe here...

They saw the unconscious man, smelled the whiskey, and assumed that a drunken fight had occurred. They were about to arrest them all, when the women tried to explain how it all happened over a little garden snake!

The police called an ambulance, which took away the neighbor and his sobbing wife.

Now, the little snake again crawled out from under the sofa and one of the policemen drew his gun and fired at it. He missed the snake and hit the leg of the end table. The table fell over, the lamp on it shattered and, as the bulb broke, it started a fire in the drapes.

The other policeman tried to beat out the flames, and fell through the window into the yard on top of the family dog who, startled, jumped out and raced into the street, where an oncoming car swerved to avoid it and smashed into the parked police car.

Meanwhile, neighbors saw the burning drapes and called in the fire department.

The firemen had started raising the fire ladder when they were halfway down the street. The rising ladder tore out the overhead wires, put out the power, and disconnected the telephones in a ten-square city block area (but they did get the house fire out).

Time passed! Both men were discharged from the hospital, the house was repaired, the dog came home, the police acquired a new car and all was right with their world.

A while later they were watching TV and the weatherman announced a cold snap for that night. The wife asked her husband if he thought they should bring in their plants for the night.

And that's when he shot her.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Thoughts on Wilton Manors Up Coming Parking Meters and Ordinance

In the interest of full disclosure, I have to say that I am one of those people who will drive miles out of my way to avoid parking at a meter or paying for parking.  It just seems like a money generating boondoggle to me and whether that is the intent or not, it has always struck me that if you want someone to come to your shops, towns, or events, you have to make it easy for them.  I'd sooner drive to a mall than drop a quarter into a meter.

Don't even get me started on Valet Parking!

I wrote the body of this text below while sitting in the Commission Chambers listening to the Commissioners and the Mayor of the City of Wilton Manors do their best to hammer out the fairest regulations to draw people to our city and make it easy on the residents who watch the tide of Humanity flood in to enjoy our bars, parks, public spaces and events on a weekly basis.   They did seem to come quite close but there were some things that I think just may have been missed...

The new parking ordinance as proposed places a limit of 2 hours,
modified to 4 hours.  As it stands, that means that it will be illegal
to park and then pay in the city, then get in your car and move to
another spot that is metered in the A&E district.

The problem with that is that if you go to a bar or restaurant and
truly want to stay, there will be no legal way to remain a patron of
the A&E district.

In short the Ordinance tells the patrons that after 4 hours, you have
had enough and to go home.

I know that I personally have spent more than 4 hours in one specific
bar.  That kind of limitation will make me reconsider coming back,
despite the fact that I find paying for parking to visit a venue

For the parks and city hall the commission thinks that it is
reasonable to expect a resident to pick up a parking pass for every
six to twelve months to have access.  Of course you will have to pay a
'nominal' fee for this pass after you have paid access fees to be able
to drive there in this Not-Very-Pedestrian-Friendly city.

That is needlessly complex.  I have seen other cities put a bag over
the meter in order to designate it as being free and not in service.
If the intent is to 'free up' adequate spaces for the gym, simply bag
the needed meters and now you have free spots!

If you want to set aside parking for the Commission Meetings and the Tennis Courts and the other amenities that Hagen and Richardson Parks have, you can either bag the meter, or since the parking lots adjacent to Richardson Park and City Hall are computerized multimeters, set the thing not to charge until after the park closes or in the case of the Commission Meetings after 1030PM.   Personally I have never seen a Commission Meeting go quite that late and I have missed only three of them since I have moved to this wonderfully quirky City.  The Multimeters in Downtown Fort Lauderdale have given me "free hours" when I went and dropped a quarter in the dreaded meter.  I went downtown for an interview that started at 2pm and put a quarter in the meter.  The time that the meter told me that I had until ended up being 730.   I paid for the half hour between 7PM and 730PM.  I arrived at that particular lot just after 130PM.   If Fort Lauderdale can pull this sort of programming together, I am sure that we can too.   If we can't do it, then we have a Prospective Parking Contractor that certainly can help.

There you go, two tweaks Free Of Charge, unlike parking at a meter.   If you use them, be sure to credit where you got the idea!  ;-)

Friday, March 26, 2010

Why house plants are silly in South Florida

When I was a wee brat in Suburban South Jersey, I had a room that was full of three things:

and Plants.

The radios never really seemed to mind, but there was a constant humidity in that room that wasn't in the rest of the house.   It was warm, green, and there was always something moving in the room.   Unfortunately, there were nowhere near enough shelves and storage so my bedroom as a kid was a rather crowded mess.

Fast forward to today.   I have a house in Sunny Suburban South Florida.   There are exactly one house plant in this house and I find myself wondering why I have that one.  Its a "Lucky Bamboo" and it is the last of about four I had a while back.

The first gift that I had gotten when I got this house was an orchid.  I had made it a point to put that plant outside since the irony of having a house in Florida means that you don't really have direct sunlight.   If you did, your house would be painfully hot and all your furnishings would be bleached and dried out.

The dog would be happy, but the rest would not.

So if you love plants in Florida there are a few suggestions I have. 

One is that if you simply must have plants in the house, get some low light loving plants and see what will grow.   Indirect light is about all I get here.  There is a big drawback with having real plants in the house, even if they are low light plants.  That drawback would be the soil.  Florida has critters that will be inside if they are not there now and the soil gives them a home.   I've had visits from fleas, ants and geckos to name a few.   The geckos are completely harmless and sometimes eat the others, but they can't cope with a plague of insects.  Better to not give them a home!

You could also get some silk plants but really that isn't for me.  I can't recommend them because they just don't look all that realistic.  Plus you just have to clean the blasted things!

Ok so the best suggestion I have is that you do what I did... Strap Orchids to the trees and sheds and irrigate them.  I have a bougainvillea that I have a love-hate relationship just outside the window that I am propagating Spanish Moss on and other "air plants" when I spot one that fall outside of the trees they were anchored to. 

Why care for something indoor when you can create a garden just outside the window that blows away anything you can put into a pot?

Thursday, March 25, 2010

City of Wilton Manors Commission Chambers is Deserted - Picture

When I was at City Hall, this would be the door through which I would walk the most.  The handicapped access ramp is in front of some Ficus in a hedge that was attacked by the white fly that is destroying the plants here, and that is in front of the wall that used to read "Wilton Manors City Council" and under that would be a plaque that had the Council and Mayor's name from when it was built.

Now what you see are the shadows of what once was.  The letters and plaque have been removed for safe keeping by the Wilton Manors Historical Society.  What remains are the outline of what was there, and the rust stains of the water from the irrigation as it collected behind the plaque.

This was the newer wing, dedicated in 1970.  The doors opened to an ante-room that you would go into the Commission Chambers to the right, the restrooms to the left.   Those restrooms were the newest place in the entire building by my unscientific view.

The Vertical colums that are to the right of the doors are there to give the room some semblance of grandeur.  The space was originally not designed for the Commission.  It was originally a long and narrow bay of a place and that served its original purpose - that of a garage for the Fire Trucks of Wilton Manors.   There was a firehall built just down the block and this room was made into the meeting space that I have spent many hours sitting listening to My City Government in action.  Quite an entertaining group of people, I highly recommend it. 

Your City May Vary.

Now the place is empty of workers and full of dust and memories.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Roomba Batteries Suck

... and not in a good way!

I know we have gotten used to a throwaway society, but this is a bit much.

In the past there was a break between goods that were meant to be tossed, and those that weren't.  Those that weren't were considered "real" goods, and would last more than a year.  I had kept my vacuum cleaner from my childhood, purchased by my parents in 1968, well into the late 1990s.  Something bought these days just aren't going to last 30 or so years.

When things cost a third of what they used to, it doesn't cost to replace them.  They're made cheap, thrown away, and forgotten.  Flip them over and you will see one very telling motto: "Made In China".   For the most part, this kind of motto means that it is designed with Planned Obsolescence in mind and don't expect to give it to your children.

If you look around some of the thrift stores and some places that deal in antiques and second hand goods, you will find items from Pre Chinese Invasion that are still reparable and quite useable.  Think Electrolux Vacuums and the like.  Few Plastic Parts, and those parts that are there are designed to be repaired.  Yes, they cost more, and in many case much more than the average of the market, but buying something for the home would be something that would be expected to last much longer than the low end garbage we get these days.

Compare the quality of a Hyundai of the 1980s if you can find one and one of this decade.  They were built better because upper management made a conscious decision to make a better product.  It worked with Ford, they're making a profit while GM is stumbling along.  Simple and sturdy is always better for longevity than is complex and "fiddly".

So what about that Roomba?   After using it for about six months, I noticed that the rubber flippy bits that swept the dirt into the chambers were pulling loose and that it wasn't quite doing the job it should have.  Duct Tape helped a little, but really the parts were not made to be serviced so the machine lost its effectiveness well before that first year was out.  It certainly wasn't that old Hoover that I got from Mom when I moved out!

The other problem with it is the same problem that everyone has with sealed rechargeable batteries.  You can not service the things easily.  In the case of the battery pack with the Roomba, the thing is sealed with screws whose heads are a triangular indentation.  And just where to these people expect you to get a tool to repair that?

They Don't.

You can buy a new pack if you like, they are fairly available and you can snap one in to the machine in a heartbeat.  I'd prefer it if I could open the pack up and remove the bad cells and replace them.   After all, they're just garden variety NiCd cells, but that would be too simple.

At this point, I'm glad I paid next to nothing for the Roomba because I'm disappointed in how long it lasted.  It was nice to not to have to chase that old Hoover around the house, but now I'm back to the vacuum that I keep in the hall closet.

Basically it was nice while it lasted but didn't last nearly long enough.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

City Of Wilton Manors Is Gone - Picture

What you are looking at is the shadow of what once was.

The City Of Wilton Manors is Gone.

Not the people or the businesses, but the City Government.

We have built the new City Hall and moved our Government offices and officials down the block to a new building that is quite sorely needed. 

As a part of my duties as being on multiple Volunteer boards for the City, I was fortunate enough to get into the old City Hall before they flatten it.  The decision for the date will be made shortly, and all that will be left will be dust and memories and pictures.  

This particular entry was where if you had business with the City, you would walk up these stairs past the sign that is now gone, with the exception of that Letter N and enter the door to visit the folks at the front desk.   Some of the nicest people I have ever met work at City Hall, and have worked at this building in the past.

The sign is gone and was donated to the Historical Society of Wilton Manors.   We were able to get everything but that Letter N because the railing was sunk in with Masonary screws.  Larger than the Number Two Philips Screwdriver that everyone has around the house, and BOY do you need some serious Torque to get those out.  We couldn't just pry the bar or cut it off since the City intends to reuse that railing so we're either going to come up with a drill to drill out that screw or find a really big screwdriver.

Diane will have the "N" to complete the set, and the building will be demolished.   I have other pictures and will put some of them up as time allows.  The whole "Deconstructionist" feel of these shots is a bit eery to me, but fascinating.   It won't be like the Motorcycling Girl of Chernobyl, I simply don't have enough pictures and there was just too much wear and tear to document it all, but an occasional shot may interest those in the City and those who are connected to it from afar.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Note Taking in the Office On a Zaurus?

In my job, I take a LOT of notes.

I have the title of IT Manager for a management company.  Fascinating place, the people are fascinating and there's a lot for me to learn and grow into.

But I'm not writing about them... specifically.

You see, with any new job, you have a lot to learn (yes, I said that sort of).  With the learning, you end up taking a lot of notes.

I started there trying to remember things then write them down onto a word document and that rapidly fell away.   If you have a good memory, then you're fine, but most folks have found themselves using that great external memory bank.

That would be what you're doing now, surfing and searching the internet for information.   In this specific case, my own blather, but in general I say "The Internet Knows All So Go Search For It".  I have spent full days of more than 8 hours at work plus hours at home doing nothing but research for products to make our job easier at work.  We all have our own personal favorite search engine, and I've gotten quite good at finding products and making comparisons.  Just ask me about Security DVR's, I dare you!

The problem is that when you start a job, any job, there is always a back log of tasks that got missed or simply ignored.  That's just part of work, it's normal, and should be expected.  When you're a new and shiny employee you just don't have all the information and don't quite know what to ask, but you do know that when you're there "on the ground" you will have a lot of questions to ask.

If I can give a new hire any suggestion, it is this:  Never leave your office without an adequate way to take down notes!

I did that for a bit and found myself floored trying to remember which of the present five things that my co-workers said that I missed and realized that if I leave my desk without my trusty notepad, I am not properly earning my keep.  It has gotten so that if I do leave my note pad on my desk I am asked where it is.

It is hard to miss, it is large, Aluminium, and folds up to cover my notes.  In a pinch I am sure it could be used as a security device.  I do not mean a security blanket although I find myself fidgeting with it in meetings while I'm thinking about some of the other tasks I have to do.

Bottom line is that I have gotten very good at taking lots of notes, then transposing them into that word document.   The document is well over 20,000 words at this point so it may be considered more of a blog.

And there's the problem.  How do you search something like that?

I used to do the note taking on an old Palm Pilot.  Palm 3C (Color) or a Sony Clie.   Nice machines for their time but they do present limitations.

Courtesy of a very good friend who was my programmer up in Philadelphia, I now have a Sharp Zaurus SL-6000.  I have just spent a weekend going through web pages trying to find just the right environment to install onto the thing because I can use it as a full computer.   Once I get the environment "stable" I will be bringing it to work to try it out, but for now I am back to Pad and Paper and hoping for the best.

Thank you, Joe B.  You've done me a lot of good... the check will be in the mail tomorrow morning!

Really it will be...The Mail box is right in front of the desk at work if I can get away from the office without the note pad!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

A View From A Living Room - Picture

One of the things that is so different here is that the foliage is just so insistent about growing literally everywhere.

Not a complaint at all, more of an observation.  

What you see here is the view out of one of the windows onto my carport.  It actually is from the Lazy Boy chair that is in my living room and it faces roughly westerly.  The neighbor's house is fairly close to the property line, and that itself is a bit of an adjustment.  I'm used to a little more elbow room and I'm on one of the larger lots in Wilton Manors. 

Right against the property line is a line of plants.   Here it is a Bird of Paradise that had been cut back shortly before I took this shot.   That is in itself a statement of what it is like here, since plants grow everywhere.   California may be able to grow most of what will grow here, but it just isn't wet enough to support the amazing amount of lushness that you will see in an average Florida yard.  

When I lived in Philadelphia there just wasn't a chance I would have a hedge grow that fast that lush so that I could walk around my own private yard.  With Seasons you would have leaves drop and plants die back.  Here it is a constant growing cycle.   As long as you water your plants, you won't have them die back.  50 inches of rain in the wet season, next to nothing in the dry.

I need to fill in the hedge in the back yard since most of the little plants that had grown back there have died back.   That hedge functions as a privacy hedge with the property behind me, and when I moved in you simply could not see through it to my pool.   I got very used to having that sort of privacy in the back yard.  With the lushness you see here, I am sure it will grow back quickly.   For now, if I could just transplant some of it where I need it, my yard would be better for it.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

The Roof is Evil, and Must Die!

Strictly speaking, its already dead.

The roof in this case is a sheet of vinyl that is flapping around in the breeze normally.   It is attached to my Jeep that I trundle to work in every day.  Not the quietest of rides but there are benefits to having this particular car.

It is now more than 8 years old, and has just under 40,000 miles on it.  I've had Jeep Wranglers since the mid 90s, and one before that in the 80s when they were the old CJ7.   CJs were a very different vehicle, but that is a different story.

When the weather is just so, and pretty much what everyone would tend to call perfect, I look up at the sky and gauge the conditions.   Hands outstretched, eyes skyward, sensing the breezes on my hands and face, I step out from the building that I work in and lower my gaze to the dusty old Jeep sitting there waiting for it's turn to shine.

And that is when I usually utter my line:  "The Roof Is Evil, and Must Die"!

I then take care in removing the vinyl top off of the car, stowing it as Chrysler intended, and then get in the car.  You see, this particular day I'm writing about, Monday was as close to perfect for me as it gets.   At 5pm, the birds were singing, the sun was shining, the breezes were light, and the temperature was a beautiful 75 Fahrenheit, or approximately 24 Celsius.  I got in the car for a 10 mile drive home.  Technically speaking my drive is just under that - 9.9 miles and is almost due North-South. 

Never mind that, its beautiful out, I have a convertible car, and I know how to use it!

I turned on a trance set from Armin van Buuren, put on the mirrored sunglasses, and a giant smile on my face.  All that expense of driving a vehicle that I get 18 miles to the gallon (I won't convert that to metric, I won't even try!) is worth it on a day like that.  They're a blast to drive and when you're in Florida with the right music (pick your own if you don't like mine) even being stuck in traffic can be fun.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Meyer Lemon Thrives in Prison - Picture

A plant prison that is. 

This little Lemon tree came from a place down in Kendall.  It was in a pot there, and now it is in a pot here.  After seeing what they did in Capri and the Mediterranean with these trees and how they thrive in pots, we decided to try that here.

Oddly enough it worked.   The plant is on a drip feed irrigation and gets watered daily, and legally since it is a drip feed.  It seems to be very happy there.  I've only had it a month and there are just clusters of fragrant Citrus blossoms all over the place.   I really didn't expect that little tree to grow so happily that it would put out dozens of blossoms, and there are actually some teeny lemons trying to take hold.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Vinca Blossom Picture

At least I think it is a Vinca.  That is what I was told.  I don't think it agrees with Wikipedia though since it looks nothing like their picture.

At any rate, when you live in a place that is named after Flowers, you get used to seeing a lot of them.  These particular plants are somewhat invasive but since they're easy to grow and pretty when they are in bloom I decided that I wanted to put a few in a pot.

A weed that looks nice.  Well, this is Florida, right?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Lime Tree is blooming

There's this grizzled old Lime tree around the block.   It is sitting under the Mango tree that I showed you a picture of the other day.

The weather that we've been having this winter here has been wet and wild.  Not too surprising since we're near the beach and in the middle of a La Nina which is waning.  Seems like everything is blooming as a result.  This old tree has put out a lot of flowers and should have a lot of fruit on it once the bees get after it.

Everything around here is blooming and there are just shocks of color everywhere.  The air is scented with the fragrance of millions of blossoms and its rather nice to be able to be able to experience it.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Ciabatta in a Minute - Picture and Review

I like to read about all sorts of technical things.  In fact I have to as part of my career as an IT Manager.  When you read some sites, the nature of the web tends to get you onto other sites that will interest you. 

I read a lot of technical things and I also bake a lot of bread.  I was pleasantly surprised when I found a recipe for some Sixty Second Ciabatta Bread on Lifehacker.  I like my title better. :)

I'm always up for a cooking challenge so I looked at the recipe and said OK Lets Try This!

If you follow their instructions, you will end up with a loaf of bread that is simply amazing and amazingly simple.  Ciabatta Bread is what you get when you have a Panini and it is full of big holes and "nooks and crannies" that toast up well with melted butter, whether mine or someone else's.

Here was what I got when I followed the recipe.  It turned out perfectly.  Next time I'll bake it another minute or two, but I have an oven that has only a passing acquaintance to the correct temperature so I'll blame it on my equipment!  LOL!

The recipe is simple.   Grab a large bowl, mine was a foot across.  Add to the bowl
2 cups of warm water,
1/4 teaspoon of yeast,
1 teaspoon of salt,
and 1 teaspoon of sugar.  Slosh all that around for a little bit.

Now go add to this the rest of the ingredients:  4 cups of bread or all purpose flour.  Oh you're done.

Mix this stuff until its a batter.   Their directions said that it would be like a thick pancake batter.   I found that it was a bit like a biscuit dough that was dry.  Looser than usual for bread dough.  It also reminded me of play-doh.   I suspect that the weather will have an effect on this one.

Now you need to put this in a warm place for 8 to 12 hours until it doubles in size.  I warmed my oven to 100 or 105, slipped the bowl in there, and walked away until the next morning.

The next morning, I dusted the cookie sheet with Corn Meal, you could use butter or flour... your choice.  I then poured this sticky batter out onto the sheet, dusted it with flour, and popped it into a 400F oven for 25 minutes.

That's It!

Next time I do this, I'll leave the dusting of the flour off the top of the loaf as it was unnecessary and I will bake it a little longer since the oven is so inaccurate. 

The recipe is SO simple you will end up scratching your head "Am I really DONE?"!  I'm going to send this to my Godmother who insists she can't bake (I am corrupting her and now she makes my 3 ingredient fudge recipe) and see what she thinks.  

Even you can bake bread!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Mango Trees are Blooming in Florida

This is my favorite tree on the block.   It is a Hagen Mango Tree.   The tree is sitting in front of a yellow duplex that is about 10 feet at the peak of the roof.  I'd say from that picture that the peak of the tree is 40 feet tall.  

Forty Feet is a long way for a fruit that is the size of a man's fist that weighs sometimes over a pound, so you do want to be wary.  Had Newton parked himself under a Mango Tree instead of an Apple Tree, we may not have had a Theory of Gravity quite at that time.

If you look closely at that tree you will see that there are literally hundreds or maybe thousands of red flower spikes all over the tree.   It has been a very good blooming season so I am expecting a lot of Mangoes this  year.  I may actually get some from this tree which is a good thing since I truly enjoy Manoges.  In fact if you know someone with a tree who wants to get rid of some fruit, send them on to me!

At any rate, this is one of the largest trees in the neighborhood.  It has been through quite a few tropical storms and hurricanes and while grizzled, it is still producing fruit.   I think it has gotten a reprieve due to the housing market tanking here, that Duplex is in prime location for something tall and vulgar to go up like a town home.   Personally I wouldn't mind if nothing ever happens to the property as long as my tree stays put.

A week after I took that picture, I am posting it.   The windows are open and I can smell the almost chemical scent of Mango Inflorescence on the air.  The smell isn't completely pleasant but if I can put up with that, and it is almost ending, the promise of some good eating is on the horizon.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Coffee Roasting - the Reveal!

If you have any interest in trying this yourself, there are a couple other articles I wrote that will tell you the mechanics of it all.  Check out the following posts:

How I found my beans, with difficulty.
The actual "procurement" story of the bean.

What you need to roast coffee at home
Oh and don't forget a good kitchen timer!

How to roast coffee at home
The Mechanics of it all.

Now the results.  

I wanted to get some batches of coffee roasted and under my belt so to speak.   The executive summary is that if you really want some good coffee, either do it this way and learn it or find yourself a roaster in your city and drink it there, on the spot.  

You can not find a better way to drink coffee.  Coffee if it is to be enjoyed at the peak of freshness should be drank as soon as humanly possible after you roast and grind your beans.  If you are buying coffee in the stores or online from a specialty shop and don't want to go through this experiment, and it is an experiment, buy a good whole bean coffee and a cheap grinder and grind just enough coffee beans for today's use.  

Coffee ground will degrade almost immediately, no matter what the big corporations say.  I've seen that when I had a wild need to have a second pot one day.  I used up the second batch of beans I made (ever) last week, then roasted another and brewed it and that fresh roast had much more body and flavor than the week old home roast from the week before.  The reason is that humans taste essential oils that evaporate fairly quickly in an exposed to the air ground coffee and those oils give the brew a much more complex flavour. 

If you do home roast, keep in mind that your beans will roast differently from one day to the next.   Just this morning I roasted the coffee as in the article I wrote.  The 6:30 this time was enough to turn my wonderful complex dark roast into something drinkable but a bit burned and smoky.   Think of the reputation of Starbucks and how they're called "Burnt Beans".  There's a taste that Starbucks has that millions love, but I'm not really one of them.  Their beans are over roasted IN MY OPINION.   Starbucks does have some other more mellow roasts and they are learning, but they aren't learning fast enough for me to go in regularly.

At exactly six minutes and thirty seconds in my roaster/popcorn popper, the fire alarm went off.  I immediately poured my tortured beans into the bowl and allowed them to cool while I could see they were smoking. 

This is a Non Smoking House!

Next time I'll have to listen closer.   I went past First Crack Stage which started a minute early at 3:30 and was determined to do it by the time and not by the eye and nose at 6:30.  That was a mistake.  It turned an amazingly excellent "OMG" experience into a merely Better Than Good to Excellent mug of coffee.

So if you and I get anything from this it has to be that good food and good coffee take finesse in preparation.  It isn't hard to do the mechanics, but if you are not careful, you'll end up with something merely Good.To Excellent.

I'm enjoying that cup now, but thinking about Last Week's brew.

One final thought.  This coffee has so much more flavor that brewing the pot takes less beans.  I have an Ikea French Press I use that is a beautiful in its simplicity Stainless Steel double lined pot.  I usually put in 8 scoops of grounds and fill it to the rim.   It results in 32 ounces approximately of coffee.   I was getting wired on that last week, truly slammed.   Today with the Slightly Over Roasted Coffee, I cut it back to 7 scoops as a result.  I got a more mellow mug.  Your home roasted coffee will need to be less roasted for the same amount of flavor so err on the side of lightness instead of darkness even if you're like me and trained yourself to drink espresso. 

Next time I'll go with 5:30 and maybe I'll let you know about it :)

Good luck folks and if you try it, let me know what you found.  I'd like to know!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

I'll clean up the Flour Explosion later, OK?

Beware baking when you feel like you're in a rush.

Baking is one of those things that should be done with care.  You can cook and if you add an extra 1/2 cup of beef broth to something you usually won't notice.   If it is in the oven long enough, the water will boil off, or it will go from Medium to Medium Well.

Baking is a different tradition.   The recipes will say 2 cups plus 2 tablespoons for a reason.  Usually things are measured out precisely because it will be too dry or too flat or some such.   Many recipes are amazingly complex for most people and a walk down the aisles of a good supermarket will show you mixes to cut that sort of effort back.   Many are good, but most are merely mediocre.

The other side of that coin is that many recipes are complex because it is a macho thing.  Take Biscuits.  I've written about how I make my biscuits from home churned butter and buttermilk, sugar and self rising flour.  Biscuits are one of those recipes that will make a good baker at least give a pause.  You're supposed to make it with ice cold butter, ice cold buttermilk, and God Forbid If You Over Mix Your Batter!

This time I made them in a way that Lucille Ball would be proud and Paula Deen would drive down from Savannah GA to either learn my secret or slap sense into me.

I had warmed up the electric oven to something roughly like 450F and tossed in a sheet of fish and chips and then set about to make butter and then biscuits.  The Butter churned in about 5 minutes and while churning, I poured in the flour and sugar and then set the Kitchen Aid Mixer in place.   I then squeezed out most of the buttermilk, measured out a half cup of almost room temp butter then dumped that into the mixer along with a cup of buttermilk.

Here's where the fun happened...

The dog made a noise, turned around to see what was up and while turning I reached over to the switch and powered up the Kitchen Aid.

To Full Speed.

The Mixer immediately threw up a cloud of Flour, Butter, Buttermilk, and Sugar and I immediately threw up a massive curse.

Being stubborn, I eyeballed the liquid and turned the mixer back on low.  I ramped up the speed to full, Yes, Full, and let it mix.  The batter got nice and shiny, pumped full of air, and looked like thick pancake batter.

The thing was that what ever the proportions were, I decided to roll with it.   Not the biscuits, but the batter.   A quarter cup of batter per biscuit made a biscuit after twelve and a half minutes in that inaccurate oven that rose to more than double the volume or approximately the size of a small kaiser roll.

Yes, the mistake biscuits made by this New Jersey Yankee, turned out amazingly well.  I had warm butter and buttermilk at over 60F, batter pushing 70F in my warm Florida Kitchen, and ended up with eight fist sized creamy and fluffy biscuits.

So the next time someone tells you that the batter has to be ice cold and you have to watch over your batter like a hawk, tell them they're fools and point them here.   We can tell them together how to make a biscuit light and fluffy and creamy like they used to be made!

Icy Butter?  No Way!  Too much Effort!  Biscuits are EASY!!!!!

Friday, March 12, 2010


Sure, it is one of those spam messages that you get from friends, but I chuckled at this one... maybe you will too.  Thanks, Kevin, here goes:

1.  Blaming your gas on me.....
not funny.... not funny at  all!!!

2.  Yelling at me for barking.


3.  'Taking me for a walk, then
not letting me check stuff  out.
Exactly whose walk is this anyway?

4.  Any trick that  involves balancing
food on my nose. Stop it!

5.  Any haircut that  involves bows or ribbons.
Now you know why we chew your stuff
up when  you're not home.

6. The sleight of hand, fake fetch  throw.
You fooled a dog! Whoooo Hoooooooo! What
a proud moment for the top of  the food chain!

7. Taking me to the vet for 'the big snip', then  acting
surprised when I freak out every time we go back!

8. Getting  upset when I sniff the crotches of your guests.
Sorry, but I haven't  quite mastered that handshake thing yet

9.  Dog sweaters.
Hello  ??? Haven't you noticed the fur?

10.  How you act disgusted  when I lick myself.
Look, we both know the truth. You're just  jealous.

Now lay off me on some of these things.
We both know who's  boss here!
You don't see me picking up your poop, do you?

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Honeybells make for strange lunch buddies

I was sitting in a very crowded mall at lunch a few days back and a pair of little old ladies invited themselves to my table.  It happens frequently as I guess I just happen to look safe. 

I went on with my mouth full of Ham and Cheese and let them have as much privacy as you can in a large mall food court while they went on with their lunches that they bought there.  I tend to carry a lunch and happened to have one in that mall at that day. 

There we sat, me acting like I was starved, two strangers at the table, and not much conversation going on.  It was a very loud place so I wasn't trying to pay attention.   As I remember I was quite rushed until the attack of the Honeybells.

I had gotten about midway through a large container of Honeybell Orange slices that I had packed when I felt eyes on me.  You see, I'm not the only person who likes Oranges, and since I live in the Sunshine State, I can get varieties that you just can't in the North unless you have someone who can hook you up.   I looked up and heard "those look so good, you don't know how close you came to losing them" with a twinkle in her eye and a southern drawl on her voice.  I smiled and said they're Honeybells, so you probably never had one before unless you know of them.

See Honeybells are an odd cross of Tangelo and some other fruits grown on a Grapefruit root cutting from time to time.  They are very sweet, orange with a hint of honey to them.   They also get quite big, and have a distinctive handle on the top that comes from the Tangelo Side Of The Family.  They're a softer fruit than what you're probably used to and normally darker than your average Navel.

My sister in New Jersey knows of them because one of my last purchases when I was a snowbird every year was to buy her 1/4 bushel of "B" fruit from a stand on the road and head on my way.   Well worth the effort.

I still have about 1/4 bushel of Honeybells in my refrigerator from Season, and it was a late one too.  The B fruit are "Not Quite Perfect, but eat real well" so when I see them I get them in large quantities for the price.  I got these at Spykes Groves in Davie which is always a treat to go to.  Spykes sells some really beautiful trees and the "A" or "Gift Quality" Fruit as well.   If they're carrying the Gift Boxes of Honeybells, treat yourself if you can and have a box shipped to you, you'll be hooked like I am.

But don't get me started on Mangos!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Buddy can you spare a CD Writing Program? Free Nero Lite

I have used Nero products before.   I usually got them by buying a PC or a CD Burner and the disc would be there to help me get things going.   The products are almost always of the highest quality and flexibility.  Even though you may or may not need all the options that the program offer, they were there and I never personally came across any bugs that would stop me from using them.

Over the weekend I had a situation that forced me to reload a laptop from scratch.  It's my multimedia authoring laptop and as such, I need it to have a CD writer.   While XP has some basic DVD and CD writing capacities, they're just not easy to use and I end up wasting a lot of time trying to figure it all out.  That says a lot since my title at work is "IT Manager".  I can't just lean across to my Network Admin and say "Hey do you remember how to ..."!

I had downloaded this program, legally, from the web site a while back and was using on the laptop before I had to reload it.   I also had kept the installer, so I copied it over to a 16GB stick to reinstall it but the installer got corrupted on the hard drive.

No Problem, I searched for the name of the program and the first link I found was this one where I could do the download again.   Just surf the page, enter an email address, and they will enable the link.  It is a 32MB download so if you're on a dial up just hang your head in shame and do the download and hope that "Mom" doesn't pick up the extension phone.

Since Nero is a company in Europe, your email won't be spammed with all sorts of garbage.  They have laws against that sort of nonsense there, something that the US could learn to do. 

For now, I have a free product that works well enough for me, and I won't have to go through the effort of finding a free or open source program to do the job.   Thanks!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

A short two mile wake up call

Sometimes you just wake up and say why not?

As anyone who knows me can say, I'm a skater.   Rollerblades, Inlines, that sort of thing.  There's some other slang names for it, but I'll leave that to others to come up with.   I skated competitively through the peak of the sport and well after when I felt like I was the last one out there doing it.   I've done a total of 20,800 miles on inline skates, and while that sounds like an exact number, it probably is fairly close.   I describe myself as an Elite Fitness Class Skater. 

All that bragging aside, I had stopped skating completely about a year ago.   There are really no excellent trails here in South Florida to skate without being up at 4AM or having to fight traffic like there are in Philadelphia.  I grew used to and spoiled by the challenge of the Schuylkill River Trail, and rose to that challenge by skating 100 miles a week over three workouts in Peak Season, April through October.

One of the things I was looking forward to was finding a long trail and just getting out and getting lost in it.  But I never found anything better than the Pompano Airpark trail.   At Five Miles Long, its a short trail for me.  That is about 30 minutes on a bad day, and while an hour three times a week is what the doctors recommend, its not enough and got boring.

After hanging up my skates and debating about what I'd do, time passed.   I think I skated under 10 miles in 2009, I gave up counting.   Dust grew around the wheels but I refused to toss them out.   I even tried the old school quads in a skating rink in Hollywood just North of the Airport, but I'm way too strong a skater for the whole indoor scene.

Over the last week my knee acted up, and got to the point where I was in severe pain just sitting down.   I had gone through therapy before so I know what to do and recognized the signs.  What it means is that ironically I hadn't been getting enough exercise.  While bragging about skating, I had started to hear from friends saying that I should get back on them, and when I turned my back I'd hear it phrased perhaps a bit less kindly.

Today, Sunday (Yes I write these postings ahead of time) I woke up at 530am angry with the throbbing in my knee and decided I needed to do something different than hobble around a mile walk with Mrs Dog.   She was all bouncy as usual so I just threw on jeans, turtleneck and leather jacket and grabbed old faithful, My Skates.

The result was a very happy dog and a very surprised me.  I thought I wouldn't be able to do it since just getting out of a chair hurt the knee above the knee cap, but everything just worked.   I guess 20,800 miles are tough to forget.  It wasn't a very vigorous workout, I stayed at the speed of my Border Collie's Trot.  The town is not built for skating, sidewalks are uneven, there are bumpy bits at the intersections for wheelchairs to get a grip while climbing, and there was the ever present possibility of small gravel getting caught behind the wheels and sending me into a "Face Plant", but none of that mattered.   Mrs Dog was smiling, I was smiling, and it just felt right.

I am now just finishing the first mug of coffee, and there's no ill results.  I guess things are getting back to normal again.  I'm ready for the trails.

Monday, March 8, 2010

A Dog Sleeps Tonight - Picture

Sleeps Tonight, Tomorrow, During the Day, During the Afternoon... Just not while I am sleeping.

I've had Mrs Dog, Lettie, for about 8 years now.  I got her from Angel Pets Rescue in Harrisburg area, and am very happy I have.   She's an amazing dog.   A very strong personality, when I met her I realized that she had to come home with me and be a part of my life. 

I wasn't quite ready for what that meant.   She's a fearful dog.  Many things make her jump out of her skin.  Other dogs and she are not friends but she does like people.  I've learned how to deal with that and not push her into situations with a dog that is larger than she is.   I suspect she's a natural Beta Dog which is fine because I have my moments where I'm an Alpha Male and she's happiest when I'm giving instructions. 

She speaks English well enough that I can tell her what to do and she'll do it. "Lets go to Publix" means we're going for a walk down a specific route, a half mile away from home, sit in front of the supermarket and wait for a bit, then walk down a specific route back to the house.  If I say "Short Walk" we'll go a different route past Old City Hall and home through the parking lot of the Shoppes.   I can cook, as all my friends and readers know, and if I say "Not for dogs" she will curl up into a DogBall (TM) like you see above and ignore what I'm up to.   If I drop food for her, I've gotten her so well trained that she will watch that food until I say OK for up to and over thirty minutes.

I've certainly had my life enriched by having Lettie and saving her from the shelter.  I'm thankful that Paulette the Animal Control Officer in PA decided that this particular dog needed to be saved from the regular kill shelters and that Megs at Angel Pets hung onto my fearful little girl for that year or so before I found her online. 

And now she's going to get a cookie.  COOKIE!!!!!!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

How I roasted my Coffee Beans

If you're all that interested, there are some other articles to read on this.  

I had had some trouble finding green coffee beans, and while I've found some other resources, here's the first time experience .

Once I got my beans, I had to get the gear to do the roasting and here was what I did.  Your mileage may vary.

This on the other hand, is the Bits and Bytes of the process.   I actually got my second roast done.   There is a surprising amount of flex in what you can do to get the roasting done.  In other words, what I did may not be quite to your standards.   I just finished the first mug out of this and it was truly a wonderful mug of coffee.  More on that in a later posting, there will be a summary or an epilogue.

What I did was to get out my Poppery II popper, my green beans and I attempted to make this as scientific a process as I could.  I used by weight 2.80 ounces or 80 grams of green coffee beans.  That worked out to be about 1/3 of a cup of beans plus or minus a wee bit more by volume.  I was shooting for the amount to make one pot of coffee.  Since I use a French Press to make the coffee, I needed more than 8 scoops of espresso grind in order to do it quite right.  The French Press I have is a large one, made of Stainless Steel, and while it looks impressive, it allows me to brew the coffee the same way every time.

However I am getting ahead of my self.   This is the story of the process.

After I measured out the beans, I poured them into the popper and plugged it in.  There is no switch on this machine, and I'll have to get a switch to control the heating elements so that I can cool the beans afterwords.  The machine immediately came on and growled to life.  

After heating and spinning my beans for about four and a half minutes, my beans reached the First Crack Stage.   The chaff has been blown off and they make a soft crackling sound like Rice Crispies, although not so loud and not so many crackles at once.   That stage lasts about a minute from the first bean cracking to the last one cracking.   That was from four to about 5 minutes into the process.  

Once the beans stopped cracking, it was a judgement call.   I did not feel that the beans got quite dark enough until I reached six and a half minutes when I turned off the roaster.   At 6:30, I poured the beans into a large stainless steel bowl and allowed them to cool while I took the dog for her walk around town.  

And here are the results.   The beans did turn out perfectly.  Or at least they turned out perfectly for me.  The timing is really up to you.  I would say that if you are going to try this, keep in mind that you will be your best judge.   We all know what "Coffee Colored" is but we all perceive a Great Cup Of Coffee differently.  

The first time I did this, I let the roast go until about 8 minutes.  I hit the Second Crack stage as the smoke alarm fired off, I ran to reset that, came back and my beans were smoking.   I was too stubborn to not try them, so I immediately poured the hot beans into the grinder and melted the grinder enough that it is now in the bin waiting for a final trip to Mount Trashmore.  That batch of coffee ended up tasting like Starbucks.  Drinkable but definitely could be better since Starbucks' nickname is "Burnt Beans". 

This time, no smoke, no alarms, just the results you see here.

More on the preparation later.  I don't want to go on TOO long in one article.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

More Bougainvillea Pictures

Last Sunday, there was a bit of rain overnight.  The weather this winter has been cooler than usual, more rainy than usual.  As a result the ground water has been replenished somewhat, or as much as you can when the soil is beach sand. 

The weather being so cool has resulted in plants slowing their growth.  However every time the weather gets just a little bit warmer and the plants notice, they have sent out blossoms.   Lately there's been a riot of flowers.  While walking to and from each end of town with Mrs Dog, there's been more and more flowers out. 

Just before the last cold front hit and we got that "bow shock" of a quick "schvitz" of a rain, the sun then came out.  No Rainbow just a sprinkling of water that rested on the early morning plants.  These flowers caught my eyes while waiting to get into a shop, and I am able to share them with you.  The Bougainvilleas are coming back since the Iguanas are almost gone.  I haven't seen one in months, and I'm glad of it.   I have however seen plenty of Iguana Food which is this particular Bougainvillea.   It is in my back yard against the fence.  The fence was a raceway for the Iguanas and this particular plant was stripped bare.   It has recovered somewhat and the result is this display of flowers.  

I had said that I think the winter is ending.  The air has a different taste to it even though it is still cooler than most of us Floridians would like.  The result is a lot more flowers than we had had for a while. 

And I am happy to share.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Star Flowers in a parking lot - picture

I guess its one of those things.  You move from a different area and things change.  The world down here looks very different.  Even the flowers look different.

In the middle of this rather busy parking lot there are a couple of islands where the owners have planted tropical flowers.  Plants in a setting like that are sturdy and low maintenance.   Up North you'll get some rather boring plants, hedges normally, around an oak or maple tree, and a few flowers strewn around them.   There's a look to a parking lot.

Down here the flowers are vastly different.  Those Tulips you would see in April in Philadelphia simply would die down here from the heat.  So they put different plants in the parking lots and the flowers are still shockingly beautiful to me.  I have no idea what this plant is, but I saw it across the parking lot while waiting for the store to open one Sunday morning and thought that I needed a picture of it. 

House plants that I used to keep in window boxes wondering if they'd survive another winter are weeds here.   There are hundreds of mother in law tongue plants on my property here that I go under the hedges and rip out from time to time for example.  

I have no idea what this flower is but I'm glad its here.  I'll learn the names later but for now, I'm enjoying it all

Thursday, March 4, 2010

What do you need to roast coffee at home?

Or really why?  

I can give you a couple of good reasons.   First off, if you're interested, read this post.  Basically it wasn't easy for me to find green coffee beans at a good price in South Florida.   Part of the reason I'm writing this is that someone may say, Hey you dumb Moose, just down the road a piece you can find all the beans you want!

I ended up going all the way up to Boca, had a great Indian meal in the Whole Foods, and got a pound of green beans.  Or rather Green Unroasted Coffee Beans.

Now that you have the things, how do you roast them?  Our forefathers roasted their coffee beans on a cast iron skillet that was warmed over a fire.   I'm nowhere near that creative or that brave.   Being a computer guy, and the one you usually call when your machine crashes, I like things much more controlled than combustion warming a slab of iron.

What you need to do is get into your car and go to a thrift shop.  Why a thrift shop?  Because the hot air popcorn popper is the ticket.  They just aren't all that common these days.   I got mine at a thrift shop here and it worked just perfect.   The Holy Grail of Coffee Roaster Hot Air Popcorn Poppers is the "Poppery II".  I got mine for six dollars. 

Why is a poppery II so great for the task?  The poppers are made with a small basket into which you pour your kernels, or coffee beans.  The best ones have a solid bottom to the basket, and vents into which hot air is blown.  The vents should allow the beans to spin around like something in a toilet that has just been flushed.  You want a circular whirlpool motion.  The Poppery II has the vents all facing the same direction and you get a nice agitation out of that.

Second you're going to want a coffee grinder.   I have good luck with the cheap ones that you plug in the wall, fill with roasted beans, and press the lid down on a contact.  They make a horrible racket, scare the dog, and will turn beans to espresso grind in about fifteen seconds.

You will want a large bowl to pour the hot coffee beans once roasted into a bowl as well, but I'm sure you have that.

Basically it cost me $11 for the beans, $6 for the popper, and $15 for the grinder.

How does it all work?  Keep checking back.   I'll post that later!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Pink Hibiscus Blossoms Picture

If you are going to post pictures of a land named after Flowers, this sort of flower would be the one to post.

Or would it?

When I was a Snowbird, I saw the Hibiscus hedges all over the place here and thought it was wonderful.  I didn't realize that they were considered an exotic species.  On the other hand since they don't tend to seed and propagate easily, they aren't a very threatening one.  

I had one all through the 80s and 90s in my homes in Philadelphia, and it only died just before I moved down to South Florida.   White Fly took it out.   Or rather my trying to clean out the infestation did because I didn't like having clouds of insects in my house. 

I went through a lot of trials to keep that thing alive in Philadelphia.  Every winter, I'd move it into the warmest window of the house and hope that it was enough light for it.   There was, but it was heroic efforts that kept it alive. 

Here I have a yellow Hibiscus that is coming back from the iguanas, and these particular pink ones are at a shopping center very close to my home.   Walking around the neighborhood, I get to see a lot of this sort of thing.  Rather nice to have the privilege to be around this sort of beauty.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Green Coffee Beans are tough to find

Yesterday I had decided that I needed to experiment and try to roast my own coffee.   I had read about the process before and it just did not sound all that difficult to do.  You can find many primers and write ups on the process and my suggestion is that you should try it if you truly like coffee.

But I am getting a bit ahead of myself.   If you want to try to roast coffee, you will have to find some equipment.  The first thing you will need are a supply of some good coffee beans.  Green unroasted beans are not all that available. I spent the entire afternoon searching for a ready supply of beans in Broward county and came up without.  I had heard a rumour that Whole Foods would sell beans but my local store in Fort Lauderdale on Federal Highway was a smaller one and did not have some of the amenities that the larger ones did so I assumed that the rumour was unfounded.

Finally after speaking to about five roasters one said try the larger Whole Foods stores.  After a phone call, I hit pay dirt at the Boca Raton store.  That meant that I had to act fast.   There was a severe weather front coming through the area, and if I was to go up there, I was going to go for dinner.  I had to get Mrs Dog walked, and then get in the car and drive the fifteen miles to Glades Road for the beans. 

I did all of that and managed to find a parking space in the lot away from the valet, a trend that has to stop, and managed to walk through the ending rain to the store.  I had been told that Whole Foods had some rather excellent fresh cooked food there that you could eat there or take away so I wanted to experience that as well.   The day was starting to get expensive!   I had found the hot bar and selected some Indian food with three separate dishes including some excellent Chicken Vindaloo and a Bass Ale to wash it all down, had my dinner and went to eat.

I hadn't seen the green beans but it was worth the second pass of the place since I didn't know this particular store.   Once I finished the meal, and blew my nose from the spices making it water, I got up to walk around the place.   They actually have a coffee roaster in house, and there were about 9 green bean varieties there so I was successful. 

This was to be my very first attempt at roasting coffee so I only got a pound of beans.  The beans cost 11.50 and were very dense.   This was a bit of a shock when I got the bag as it was only about 1/2 full.  Very very dense beans since they were full of water that would be cooked out in the roasting process. 

Another notable thing is that to call them beans is quite correct.  The industry sometimes refers to the actual bit on the tree as a "Cherry" since there is red flesh around it, but the inside of the bean is what we're used to seeing roasted.  While driving home I popped one into my mouth.  I would do that while walking around stores that had roasted coffee by the bean in a bin, and that was how I got an appreciation for the varieties of coffee.  In this case, a bean has little taste until you chew it and then it tastes like a raw pea or a raw soybean.  A very green flavor, almost nutty, and tough.   With all the moisture still in the bean, it doesn't have that crunchy texture you'd get when you go to grind it.

So now there is a bag of beans on the counter, and I shall roast these.   When I am through, I'll find that I have some experience and may try another variety since I am quite partial to Kona, and Kona requires finesse in the roasting.   I did find a couple web sites for places that supplied green beans in bulk and will try those next time as I get low.   After all, Whole Foods is nearby and has an excellent Hot Bar and has the Costa Rican coffee that I tried, but I will want to try another variety later on.

As for the process and the results... stay tuned!

Monday, March 1, 2010

After I Retired - Humor from my sister Pat

Or maybe my sister Pat coming from my cousin.... but that's an entirely different story.

I read this and just laughed because I could see doing some of this in my local Target.   Maybe that is why they have security!

Here you go!

Subject:  After I retired

After I retired, my wife insisted that I accompany her on her trips to Target.  Unfortunately, like most men, I found shopping boring and preferred to get in and get out.  Equally unfortunate, my wife is like most women - she loves to browse. Yesterday my dear wife received the following letter from the local Target.

Dear Mrs. Samuel,

Over the past six months, your husband has caused quite a commotion in our store.  We cannot tolerate this behavior and have been forced to ban both of you from the store.  Our complaints against your husband, Mr. Samuel, are listed below and are documented by our video surveillance cameras.

1. June 15: Took 24 boxes of condoms and randomly put them in other people's carts when they weren't looking.

2. July 2:  Set all the alarm clocks in Housewares to go off at 5-minute intervals.

3. July 7:  He made a trail of tomato juice on the floor leading to the women's restroom.

4. July 19: Walked up to an employee and told her in an official voice, 'Code 3 in Housewares.  Get on it right away'.  This caused the employee to leave her assigned station and receive a reprimand from her Supervisor that in turn resulted with a union grievance, causing management to lose time and costing the company money.

5. August 4: Went to the Service Desk and tried to put a bag of M&Ms on layaway.

6. August 14: Moved a 'CAUTION - WET FLOOR' sign to a carpeted area.

7. August 15: Set up a tent in the camping department and told the children shoppers he'd invite them in if they would bring pillows and blankets from the bedding department to which twenty children obliged.

8. August 23: When a clerk asked if they could help him he began crying and screamed, 'Why can't you people just leave me alone?' EMTs were called.

9. September 4: Looked right into the security camera and used it as a mirror while he picked his nose.

10. September 10: While handling guns in the hunting department, he asked the clerk where the antidepressants were.

11. October 3: Darted around the store suspiciously while loudly humming the 'Mission Impossible' theme.

12. October 6: In the auto department, he practiced his 'Madonna look' by using different sizes of funnels.

13. October 18: Hid in a clothing rack and when people browsed through, yelled 'PICK ME! PICK ME!'

14. October 21: When an announcement came over the loud speaker, he assumed a fetal position and screamed 'OH NO! IT'S THOSE VOICES AGAIN!'

And last, but not least.

15. October 23: Went into a fitting room, shut the door, waited awhile, then yelled very loudly, 'Hey! There's no toilet paper in here.' One of the clerks passed out.