Friday, February 28, 2014

If Facebook is a Bad Way To Rate People, What Do You Do About It?

Standing out at 6AM walking the dog, some days you just end up having a conversation that stops you and makes you think.  I was talking with one of my Dog Friends about various issues and he asked me how do I handle Facebook.  He knows that I do social media for a number of small organizations and what did he think about it for hiring.   I told him that it's not the best thing to rely on, but it can be one tool, even if it is imperfect.

If you are looking through job boards, you see some pretty strange requests.

Applicant must friend (specific name of C Suite Employee).
or worse
Applicant must present Facebook sign-on credentials upon interview.

First thing first... skip that ad.  It's a sign that that particular organization may not be too aware of the current trends.

Second, if a company demands that you give them your sign on information, it's a sure sign that they don't realize the importance of computer security. 

Since most people have layers of sign-ons where they repeat passwords, or worse, use the same place everywhere, that's a bad idea.   If person goes in, gives HR their sign-on for Facebook, then their Amazon account gets hacked and they end up paying for all sorts of identity theft and fraudulent purchases, the company is liable for all expenses - especially if the thief is connected to the company no matter how tenuous that connection is.

But since "we all" have a Facebook account, is it a valid indicator of how well someone would work out in a company?  Studies say that it is a "weak indicator". 

Most people will blindly click "like" on a picture that flies by if they are amused by it or it touches them in some way.  The assumption is that you have a preference toward the product when you're really just being supportive of the poster.

It will be an accurate indicator if someone is somewhat out of control.  Posting lewd pictures, violent videos, or drug use most likely will show that someone might need some counseling.   Get back to me after you work out your issues with those things and we'll talk.   You will be skipped over, I know I'd do that myself.

For someone in a technical field, poor writing skills are a definite problem.  I've been given what was intended to be programming specifications for a major upgrade to a program that I have had to throw away because the systems analyst was using circular references, sentence fragments, and missing bullet points. 

Much easier to go directly to the internal client and ask what they really want.  Besides, it got me away from the desk and a really cool person to work with...

But the mastery of technical writing is beyond some people and that shows up quickly in a text medium like Facebook.  It may not be germane to the position, but it will easily show if someone is writing long missives that get lost somewhere in the wilderness. 

Ok, I'll admit that I tend to write prose and Hemingway is not my own writing style.  I'm Not Terse.

The bottom line is that these same HR people are being asked about their hires after they get in.  Six months after you start a job, you're on your way.  That is if you make it past that sixth month review.  HR is being asked how did your opinions fit with their performance.  What they're finding is that "Facebook Profiles were no better at prognostication than more traditional predictors".

No better or worse than the old school "Lets Talk".

So what do you take away from this if you're out there looking for work and busting your hump?

If you have questionable material, look in the mirror.  Why is it really there?  Do you really need a picture of yourself standing in front of a Confederate Battle Flag with a rifle?  What does that say about your future anyway, you're planning on running a plantation in South Carolina?  Not very likely.

Got a love for the herb?  Pot leaves everywhere?  You're not a good candidate for the C Suite either.  You probably should move to Colorado and set up that legal dispensary if you can stay sober long enough.

Most people simply aren't that "out there".  They don't proclaim their love of the edge so much simply because it's way too much effort.  Society prefers the middle of the road and those people from the edge get nudged back into being more "normal" anyway, in many ways. 

I'd personally wager it simply doesn't belong let alone having that sort of thing on Facebook.

But if it is you, remember you're being watched.   Whether you can do the job or not won't matter if you get a skittish HR person minding the gate.  Whether or not it really is a good predictor it won't matter because you won't get in the door.

Why it is a problem is that wonderful thing we call a "Herd Mentality".  You've excluded what you consider the "nuts" but you end up looking at people who are just like you.  Since people who write more put themselves out more, those people who tend to will be more likely to be excluded.  In the US, the study found, those people tend to be Women, Black, and Hispanic.  So therefore the assumption is that diversity will be lowered and you'll end up with a white male in the position.

Great if you're a white male, but not so great if you are a latina or black woman who happens to be better at whatever the position is for.

So the solution is to self-audit what you post, and periodically go into your Facebook preferences and delete old posting's audiences.  You can limit the posting's visibility by going into the Facebook Settings, Privacy tab, and under "Who can see my stuff?" select "Limit Old Postings".

What that does is to go through all your "old stuff" and limit the view to only your friends.   It doesn't delete the material, it simply makes it so their friends can't see them.

Or simply delete your Facebook profile.  If you don't do social media professionally like I do, it may be your best bet.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

A Field of Yellow Flowers

I have a secret.  Some days, I just walk out the door with the camera in hand thinking I may need this to jar my memory to write.

One of those mornings where I wake up way too early or way to late, and the mind just is clear.  Too clear.  A morning where clarity of thought is so strong that you can hear the winds whistle through the ears.

A mental dial tone of a day.

Stand up to make coffee and breakfast's first course, and realize that the sun is just now coming up.  Looking out at the pool it's beginning to rain for the first time in a week.

The dog wants a fish oil tablet as a treat, then the yogurt and cranberry that hasn't yet been pulled from the refrigerator.  Tea Kettle is whistling to make iced tea for later and coffee for now.

One ounce of grounds weighed, 18 ounces of water, two packets of sweetener, two level teaspoons of creamer yields one perfect mug of coffee.   Remember that kiddies!

By now, anyone who takes pictures regularly has a large library of memories.  A catalog of photography that serves to jar your memory of things that sometimes should be shared, and others that should not.  The trip to the beach where you climbed into the giant conch shell and couldn't get out easily but got a picture of it as you bent over to retrieve your right shoe comes to mind...

But there's this picture of little yellow flowers.  What to do with them?  They're really quite nice, but look like the white ones in the yard that you're always trying to pull since the seeds get caught in the dog's fur.  A nice innocuous native species that should be propagated because they do so well with so little care.

Still getting settled into the New-To-Me computer it's time to fire up Photoshop.  Oh great, the fonts got confused again.  No, using the official font for the road signs in Poland would not quite work with a "softer" picture like this one.  Instead of Drogowskaz, try MV Boli again, it is scripty but not Comic Sans.

Comic Sans.  Shudder.  Let's make the world look like 1996 again!

Ok, find my color for the stroke, and add the titling.   Hide the URL inside the photo just in case someone got slick and tried to borrow the thing commercially...

There we go, all nice and pretty.   Nice new shiny object for the blog.

They will never suspect that each of those beautiful yellow flowers are smaller than the size of their little pinky and that you managed to feed some more mosquitoes when you went out to take the photo.

Wet nose on the right arm and a wiggle says Pay Attention to Me!  After all, it is all about the dogs, right?

As Rack jolts my head out of the stream of consciousness, my mind jerks back to the present.  That, and the UPS guy just drove past.

Waiting on him... he's got the fan for my backup computer.  I'll have to take apart the laptop and do a photo shoot of that.   Most people never even considered that they can do repairs to a desktop, let alone a laptop computer.  That will have to wait for next week when the little box gets here with the smile on the side.  For now, I've got bigger fish to fry.  After all, that iced tea is calling and the dial tone just turned into a growler. 

The mind has been off the hook long enough, the stream of consciousness has broken.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Making 4AM Work

4:14 glowers at me from across the room.

Grumble.  Darkness.


This isn't working.


Not going to fall back to sleep am I?


Feet hit the floor, grab the socks.

Even Rack doesn't believe I'm up at Insane O'Clock.  He barely looks up at me through the predawn glow. 

I pad to the bathroom with my way lit by dozens of little Power On LEDs on various clocks and power conditioners.

Take care of business.  It's now 4:45.  May as well get started. 

I walk out of the bedroom and say "Hello Oscar".  Rack is still laying in his dog bed.  Oscar thinks I'm insane and tells me so.

Just what I need, social commentary from a bird.  "Ok, Oscar, Good morning."
"Hello!  Plbtbtbtbtbtbt".

I think Raspberries, I haven't had them in ages...

I get Rack's food and water set up for him and try to get him to eat.  He finally sticks a black nose around the corner.  Slowly moves over to the bowl, gives it a single sniff and walks to the front door.

"Hey, I'm over here."

I get Rack dressed and we walk outside.  Chilly morning.  Should be, I'm up and walking the dog a solid hour earlier than normal.  It isn't yet 5AM.  I bet the people I see won't be all that ... normal.   Even the gym is closed.

We stop and sniff.  And Sniff.  And Sniff.   Every.  Single. Step.  It seems we're in a sniffy mood but nothing really happens.  

The nice thing is that it's quiet.  I mean quiet in a way that it rarely is in South Florida.   I'm just about in the middle of the sprawl of the city and there's nothing going on.   I hear a van approaching.   It is approaching for so long that I realize I was hearing it before it was even in town. 

The van passes, we get out to The Drive.   The parking lot was unproductive.

The pavement is wet from misdirected irrigation systems.   The sprinkler heads are pointed in strange angles.  I'm That Guy who walks past a sprinkler that is pointing strangely and re-aims it to do some good.  Besides, watering concrete won't help anyone.

We make it to the middle of the walk before Rack finally wakes up enough to do what he needs to. 

Still silent, the closing of the trash can actually echos off the big apartment building towards our rear.

It is our city.  Mine and the dog's.   Walking down the middle of the street with nothing to worry us.  Even that strange barky rottweiler in the house on the corner is sleeping when we walk past.

Really, hair trigger dogs need training.  Shaddap dog!

I spot an approaching car far enough off that we manage to get to the side of the street well before we need to and wave.   It's an unknown officer from our PD - you can't see who it is in this darkness and I suspect that is how they like it.  It wouldn't be the first day I see a cop at well before 6 AM in town, I expect them.

The one thing I realize is that all this is going much faster than usual.  The next walk in a bit more than 12 hours will be the 5PM walk.  Same distance could take as long as an hour.  Every dog in the neighborhood is out watering the park at 5:25 PM.  At 5:25AM you have the city to yourself.

I'm so early that I realize I am back home sitting in my chair having had breakfast, sitting coffee, chair dancing to a Brit-pop RnB song played on BFBS that fades into their presenter giving weather forecasts for the British Forces around the world.

18C in Kandahar, 5C in Kabul, and 18C and sunny in Gib.

That's Gibraltar to us outsiders.  Gib's chilly tonight, going down to 9C.

Dance Contest in Germany and a pick-up aerobics get together workout in the Falklands.

By the time the sun is up, I'm already getting restless.  The dog has decided that he'll just finish his sleep.  I'm deciding on a second cup of coffee.

Checking on email, my part for the computer is on its way, two different websites need attention, the newsletter for the month gets started, and I get a part for a project that will let me sell a computer in a couple weeks.

May as well just be productive if you're up at 4, you never know who you won't stumble into.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Installing a Backer Rod

Every Home Has Problems.

If you are shopping for a new house, or a new-to-you house, there will be something not quite right.  New homes settle, have nails that will pop out, and doors that could have been sanded a bit better before painting.  

Old homes have problems like mine.

My home's Achilles heel is the bathtub.   It settled wrong.  Toward the room side of the tub it is flush against the tiles.  Toward the back side of the tub there is a gap of as much as a half of an inch.  More than a Centimeter for the Imperial Measurement Impaired.

I did this exact repair a little more than a year ago.  I was improvising and had a case of Right Church, Wrong Pew.  When I did that, I believe that I used the wrong materiel.  In other words, the vinyl tubing that I used as a Backer Rod did not stick well to the silicon tub caulk.  Over the year it pulled away, water got in, and it "popped" loose.

My own job worked well but not knowing that someone else thought it through before me created this little time bomb.

The Backer Rod is a long cylinder of foam rubber or plastic material.  It is designed to compress and regain its original shape.  It gets packed into a crack or crevasse in the wall and is intended to be caulked over to help create a watertight seal.  Tub Caulk will bond with it because the surface is not smooth.

The way you install it is fairly simple. 

Clean the crevasse of dirt, grime, mold, old caulk, and whatever water may have gotten in there.  It must be absolutely dry.  Caulk will not stick (well) to old caulk.

Begin by pinching the Backer Rod down between your fingers and slide it into the crack that you need to fill.  Push the Backer Rod in the crack using a tool.  While they do have special tools for this, I found myself using my fingers to do most of the work, then a screwdriver to make sure the rod was firmly in place.  The Backer Rod must be snug against the wall and the tub so you will need to select a Backer Rod that is thicker than the largest gap in your repair job.

The surface of the Backer Rod must be behind the surface of the wall facing you.   You do not want the Backer Rod to protrude past the surface of the tiles that are being worked with.

Continue packing the Backer Rod into the crevasse until you have filled the crack down to what you consider a normal gap for caulking.  I used two different thicknesses of Backer Rod to make sure that I filled the entire gap, firmly.  I didn't want to repeat this in Spring of 2015.

Consider that your caulking job will be "neater" if you use masking tape to cover the area of the tiles that are near where you caulk.  This way you won't have to use a utility blade or knife to score your "overcaulked" area so that you may have a "nice sharp line" of caulk on the tub.

Once you have installed the Backer Rod, then caulk the area as usual.  Make sure that there are no gaps left after the caulking has completed.  The Backer Rod should grip the wet caulk but it does have a different surface and therefore will hold the caulk differently.

Of course with any home improvement task, your mileage may vary.  Just take your time.  Measure twice and cut once. 

...and most importantly:

You can do it yourself.  If I could do this you certainly could!

Monday, February 24, 2014

The Dog, The Hedge, and My Shoulder

I spend most of my time out following Rack around town.  When someone sees me outside of the house, it's one of three mile-plus walks.

When you walk around in circles three times a day, you end up seeing things.  Neighbors at the same time and place.  Other dogs.  Stranded snowbirds.  Leftover partiers from last night the bars. 

It's all a part of living in a resort town within a resort town.  While Fort Lauderdale's Spring Break heydays are long gone, there's a definite chilled out atmosphere here. 

We do have a number of routes.  People, and their dogs, are creatures of habit.   Same time tomorrow is a good rule of thumb.  I expect to see the same people.  There's one person who has a habit or walking past my house with a chihuahua.   He's notable because his bald head has caught the rising sun of the morning more than once.  Instead of walking his dog, he's carrying the dog in his left arm.   It is always his left arm, the dog is always upside down, and the dog's head is usually draped over the crook of that arm lolling around.

Needless to say it's "That bald guy with the dead dog again!" comes to mind when I see the top of his head bouncing over the top of the laptop screen.

The first walk of the morning starts in the same way most days.

Check the weather conditions to know how to dress.  69F in mid February with not a cloud in the skies, light breezes off the ocean?  T-Shirt and Jeans.  At a quarter to six in the morning, I expect a quiet walk.

Try to coax Rack to eat.  He's more interested in getting outside.  Parked at the door after he sniffed the bowl, I know it's going to be a bit of a rush.  I'll have to call him over about three times before he calms down enough to lasso him with collar and harness.  Silly puppy!

We walk out the door, down the couple of streets and end up in the parking lot.   I wander through the place randomly from tree to tree, in a rough approximation of Brownian Motion.  My being a very large molecule bounced around by a smaller more reactive one in my dog.

Silly mutt, Go Poop.  Go poop... NOW!

Well, that didn't work!

We make it through the large parking lot disinterested in the open spaces.   Of course.  It's not private enough.

I'm getting accelerated as he pulls me along.  Luckily I wake up fairly quickly in the predawn hours.   Looking to the skies, Venus is bright and the moon glow casts it's light on me making shadows on the ground. 

But Rack just still hasn't found The Place.

I'm getting concerned.  Will he do "it" again?


He's out on The Drive, snuffling around the bases of the hedges.  Doing The Dance, he begins to spiral inward as he spins seeking The Spot.  Pirouetting on a point he drifts behind the shrubs.

Crap!  Literally and figuratively, I think, how on Earth did he do that AGAIN?  Fair enough, I never did like those public restrooms either, but a bashful dog?

Rack has a habit.  Find the smallest spot you can, then go in there.  If you need to do anything do it.

Dog Logic.

The problem is that I don't fit.  I am an athletic 6'4" who drives a now "classic" Jeep Wrangler because I don't fit in a Honda Civic.  Too small a space and I'll get stuck.

I bend down.  Noticing how perfectly shaped the little hedge is I'm getting pulled out from the hedge by the other arm.  Rack!  SIT!  Dog, you're insane, we just won't do it this way again.  Nope!

I wedge myself between the cement of the light pole and the hedge hearing crackling of the limbs and leaves as my arm reaches to clean up after the dog.  Some small bits of plant snapped, I'm now wearing those same leaves and who knows what else on my formerly clean T-Shirt.  There's a dent in the hedge that is a passable impression of my right shoulder that I hope will "buff out".

Pulling free, I vow to not allow him to put me in the spot like that again.  On the other hand, he did the dance and found Magnetic North which was entertaining and a bit of a surprise.  Spinning around before moving their bowels, a dog will generally try to align themselves North and South.  How he managed to find himself enough room to spin around in that confined space I have no idea.  McNab Dogs are a talented lot, I just didn't think orienteering in enclosed areas would be one of those oddball traits.

Now we have a new habit.  Walk on the far side of the sidewalk away from the buildings.  That avoids all the hedges.  My arm is stretched taught toward the building with the dog who really REALLY wants to go, there.

However, that open lot with the tall grass?   Yeah, get back here... awww not again!

Let me get the bag and flashlight out you silly mutt...

Sunday, February 23, 2014

So A Blind Man Walks Into A Bar

Talk about a bad joke for bad joke Sunday.  A Short Groaner.

So A Blind Man Walks Into a Bar

The blind man sits down, thinking he'd break the ice with the bartender by asking "Wanna hear a blond joke?"

In a hushed voice, a man beside him says "Before you tell that joke, you should know our bartender IS blonde, or bouncer is blond, I'm a 6'4" black belt, the man sitting on the other side of me is 6'2, 250lbs, and a rugby player. The guy sitting next to you is pushing 300, 6'6, and he's a wrestler. We're ALL blond. So you think about it mister, do you really wanna tell that joke?"

The blind man sat for a second, thinking over the odds and then replied "No, not if I have to explain it five times."

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Terror Alerts - By John Cleese

Talk about a "Guest Post"!  I have been watching the series Fawlty Towers and coincidentally found this bit from John Cleese.  If it's not for you, I guess you have to like British Humour.

Terror Alerts - By John Cleese

The English are feeling the pinch in relation to recent terrorist threats and have therefore raised their security level from "Miffed" to "Peeved." Soon, though, security levels may be raised yet again to "Irritated" or even "A Bit Cross." The English have not been "A Bit Cross" since the blitz in 1940 when tea supplies nearly ran out. Terrorists have been re-categorized from "Tiresome" to "A Bloody Nuisance."

The last time the British issued a "Bloody Nuisance" warning level was in 1588, when threatened by the Spanish Armada.

The Scots have raised their threat level from "Pissed Off" to "Let's get the Bastards." They don't have any other levels. This is the reason they have been used on the front line of the British army for the last 300 years.

The French government announced yesterday that it has raised its terror alert level from "Run" to "Hide." They only two higher levels in France are "Collaborate" and "Surrender." The rise was precipitated by a recent fire that destroyed France's white flag factory, effectively paralyzing the country's military capability.

Italy has increased the alert level from "Shout Loudly and Excitedly" to "Elaborate Military Posturing." Two more levels remain: "Ineffective Combat Operations" and "Change Sides."

The Germans have increased their alert state from "Disdainful Arrogance" to "Dress in Uniform and Sing Marching Songs." They also have two higher levels: "Invade a Neighbor" and "Lose."

Belgians, on the other hand, are all on holiday as usual and the only threat they are worried about is NATO pulling out of Brussels.

The Spanish are all excited to see their new submarines ready to deploy. These beautifully designed subs have glass bottoms so the new Spanish navy can get a really good look at the old Spanish navy.

Australia, meanwhile, has raised its security level from "No worries" to "She'll be alright, Mate." Three more escalation levels remain: "Crikey!", "I think we'll need to cancel the barbie this weekend", and "The barbie is cancelled."

Friday, February 21, 2014

Cropping Pictures To Fit

I had someone ask me how I go about putting pictures together for the blog.  I explained that since my camera is basically a digital "Point And Shoot" camera, I had to do the zooming in what can be called "Post-Production".

I take a picture, zoomed in as well as I can.  Then I bring the thing into a viewer and crop out the unneeded stuff.

First, download and install Irfan View.   It's a Swiss Army Knife of a graphics program.  It will let you do most of what you want to do with a picture.  It won't edit pictures, but it will let you copy sections out of them and paste them into another place for use.

Open the picture in Irfan View.  In the case of this particular picture, I wanted the flowers in the picture that I had up the other day, Sassafras and Bee.  But just the flowers and bee.  It's much more than I need, but I thought that showing you that all you really need to do to capture what is on your screen is to hit Shift plus PrtSc - Shift and Print Screen.  On my particular keyboard, that is actually Function (or Fn) plus F11.  PrtSc isn't exactly used a lot, so when Dell put this laptop together, they de-emphasized it so you're not always hitting weird key combos and wondering why you aren't getting your intended results.

In short - Your Mileage May Vary, check your keyboard for the exact keystroke.

Now that view of your desktop is inside your clipboard.  Open a new copy of Irfan View.   Paste the clipboard into the program by either selecting Edit and Paste or just do Ctrl and V at the same time.  You could just have opened the file directly, but that would have been easier.  It also would not have answered the question someone else had asked - how do you copy your screen into a picture.

There, two questions answered with one stone.

At this point, Irfan View has your picture so simply Anchor your cursor on the beginning of the spot you want.  I clicked on that spot and held the mouse button down and dragged the mouse cursor until I had roughly the area I wanted.   I was looking for a view to fit on my tablet, which is 1024 by 600.  Since that can be difficult enough to be impossible, I simply got roughly in the area of the size I wanted.   If you look at that picture, you can see a faint rectangle around the flowers.   That rectangle can be dragged with the mouse.  Hover over the line and the cursor will change to a double headed arrow.  Click and Hold the mouse at that point and then move the mouse slowly to expand or shrink your rectangle.

It really is that easy.

Then repeat for the other sides until you get exactly what you want.

Copy that view into the clipboard by hitting the keys Ctrl and C to copy or cut it out of the original by hitting the keys Ctrl and X. 

Now open another copy of Irfan View.   Paste the clipboard into the new copy by hitting Ctrl and V.  Yes, it is that easy, you will have just the flowers and bee now.  Keyboard shortcuts are called shortcuts because they save the effort of using the mouse to get up to the commands in the top of the window.   Quicker for me at any rate, you may not agree.

The end result can now go on my tablet, although to see it right I would have to tilt my head to the right.  The picture works for that, since it is "just me" and I'm not going to be too fussy on there.  The problem is that the camera gets fuzzy and blocky when you zoom in.  That's a common problem with photography, but it is what you end up having to do when you don't have a proper Macro Zoom lens for your little point and shoot camera.

After all of that you can bring it into Photoshop, GIMP, or Inkscape and add a little text or adjust some of the colors.  All a part of that Post Production thing I was talking about.  

That is exactly how I go about putting a picture together for the blog when I post one.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Xmas in February

This year, so far, we are THAT house.

You know, the knuckleheads down the way?

Those yahoos who didn't take down their holiday decorations "in time"?

It started about week before Xmas.   We got the wreath late.  It's nice, the old one dried out in the hot attic space, and the other one didn't survive being in the shed.

Yes, the Other One.

It became a nest for geckos and there were a bazillion little white gecko egg shells in it.

Bazillion.  Even more than a kajillion.

Then we grew used to it being there.  Went away, came back, forgot the wreath was on the door.

The next time either of us noticed was last week, thanks to Lisa.

Lisa had asked Bill whether he knew if I was going to take it down.  I deferred to Kevin, after all he put the thing there.

"Oh, it's a Kevin Thing! (TM)"   That explains it!

Besides there's a house a block away and around the corner that keeps their holiday lights up all year around.  I really enjoy that house.  In fact I need to go there, camera and tripod at the ready, and take some Night Shots.  The owner will switch out some of the candy canes for other holiday "holiday appropriate" items through the year, and try to keep it somewhat current.

There's a tree up in the Tower down the way.  It's encrusted with white lights and strings of lights in a grid inside their balcony area. 

There are a few houses and apartments with little bits here and there.

So there.   My wreath.  I'm enjoying it and that's that, right?

For now, at any rate.

While going through the shed the other day, I did find the xmas candle lights that hadn't gotten used in a couple of years.  I could pull THOSE out too!

But the wreath?  It will come down when we get bored with it.  I'm just enjoying living up to the reputation of the Quirky Little Island and the Quirky Little Islander.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Like Water Off A Duck's Back

I'm used to seeing oddball things early in the morning.

It didn't surprise me when I got the evil eye from a Muscovy Duck.

I wasn't concerned when I got the hiss and waddle from same.

I was a bit surprised when I practically stepped on the creature when I stepped out onto my front porch.

We share the land with a lot of wildlife.  A Lot More than I had Up North.  There, I'd get an occasional moth or those blasted annoying mosquitoes that would follow me everywhere.  Lettie would eat any house fly that got near her.

But that was about it.

Since I've moved here, I've had guests.

Clouds of Mosquitoes would bang their senseless heads senselessly against the kitchen window when I went to roast coffee.

Moths would flutter across the TV Screen.  That was special when I was watching Avatar on 3D Bluray the other time.  I didn't know if I was swatting at something on the TV or something in the room.

We've had a black racer snake try to colonize my Florida Room.  I guess it enjoyed shelter and warm spaces as much as I did.   Towel and open door showed it the way to go.  A different one was out in the garden sunning itself after feeding on a tasty mouse.

At least I assume it was tasty.  I'm not in the habit of eating rodents, raw or otherwise.

We get large flocks of noisy parrots that screech by at The Time To Flock, twice a day.  They also have come to visit my Oscar from time to time.  They squawk at him, he yells hello back through the windows. 

It's a parrot thing...

Opossums and Raccoons have both used my pool equipment area as a highway to whatever business they need to conduct on the other side.  

These ducks are all over the place.  They're a bit goofy, waddling along and hissing if they think you are too close.   They're mostly tame, you really can get close enough to touch if you are patient. 

Don't do that, they are better left alone.

I just did not expect it literally on my front step when I stepped out.  Rack didn't care.  They don't really register as something to herd with him, just a lean in and sniff.   I did use him to herd the ducks out of the street one day when a car was stuck in traffic as momma duck and her little ducklings were in a line.

Skitter, Skitter, Skitter, be on your way little creatures.

Handy to have a herding dog around when you need one.

So if you come by, check the window on the top of the door.  You may just have to move the wildlife along so you can get outside.  

Or just borrow the dog.  He could use the mental stimulation.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Sassafras and Bee

Despite sounding like a rural pub somewhere in Kent, England, this is more descriptive than that.

I had to get out of the house.  I simply needed to be "elsewhere".   We all get that way from time to time, but when I do, I tend to take my camera.  You just never know what you will see when you're out.

Luckily this particular day there were a lot of flowers on a bright sunny day.  I think that the Northeast was also getting another foot of snow on that day, but there has been a lot of that going on this year.

Seeing the tree with these little flowers, I thought that I'd take a picture.   I'm also quite afraid of bees, no matter what the context.  That morning must have been a good day for them since the tree was drawing them near to it in an orbit.

As I stood next to the side of the road, dodging bees and traffic with camera in hand, I realized that this was a Sassafras.  These grow anywhere in the Eastern US, from Florida to Maine and west to the Mississippi, and up into Ontario, Canada. 

Eastern US and "Beyond" would have been more concise, according to the map.

They aren't all that showy.  Leaves that look like a mitten to me, usually having a thumb on one side of the main body of the leaf, or a thumb and a pinky finger spread out.  The flowers are quite small and there can be berries.   Sassafras trees tend to fade into the background clutter of a broadleaf forest, but they do make an interesting choice of a tree to drop into a yard.

To me, this tree reminds me of the one in my yard in the house I grew up in Cherry Hill, NJ.  They tend to be what I call "Kathie's Trees".  Kathie is my godmother, and she moved down to Florida when I was a pre-teen.  Just before she left, we wandered through my yard as she pointed out the various things in the clutter of the area near the little creek that ran through our neighborhood.   Up on the bank was a smallish tree that she pointed out to me saying "This is a Sassafras tree!".  She told me that it was a fairly important tree, and that you could make medicines and root beer out of the tree.  Gathering up a few of the mittens, we moved on to some of the other wildlife habitats in my neighborhood.  There were quite a few of those around, I was lucky to live where I did.

Apparently there are some uses for the oils in the bark and roots that predated modern medicine, and if you don't need to self medicate, Root Beer is always a welcome drink whether it is in your refrigerator or a Kentish Pub.

I've never made sodas and root beer at home, but it is an intriguing challenge.  I promise not to disturb the neighbor's tree as it looks rather nice where it is without being molested for its bark.  I may just leave that challenge alone, I'm the kind of person who would try to make the stuff as locally sourced as possible.  Knocking on the door of a neighbor and asking if I could borrow a bit of tree bark sounds weird even to me.

There are recipes for that sort of thing, and they have a lot of herbs and spices in it.  Root Beer was made as a way to make a health tonic or to get medicines into the body in a low dose as a preventative in a tasty way as possible. Since it is difficult or impossible to locally source some of these medicinals, your best bet is to live a healthy life and drink commercially prepared root beer for its taste, Diet or Regular.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Rack Vs The Stair Tower

It was time to Go!  For a Ride!  In the CAR!

Actually it was time to go to a friend's office to reboot a server.  Something got confused.  It's Microsoft Windows Server and I suspect it just had a headache.   That and he needed to see if a key arrived in the mail.

Yeah, really.  Complex, Huh?

I was bored, sitting around will do that.  So when he asked me if I wanted to go there, I suggested to take Rack with us.

When we got there, I was told that the elevator was shot so we'd be taking the stairs.

Stairs?  With a fearful dog who may have never seen stairs before in his life?  Other than the one step we have to get to the slab the house is built on, there are two steps in this house.  One in the front, one in the back.

If you have a house in Florida, and you have steps, it's not "down" it's "up".  Down means flooded basement or some goofball from Up North wanted something familiar.  You want a split level?  Let me suggest Cherry Hill, NJ.  Beautiful suburban city, I'd love to move back if I had to go up North, but no way.  Chock full of Split Levels and Basements and steps to tire your dog out.

I used to send my dog upstairs looking for the ball just to tire her out when we lived in Philly.  If you have a herding dog and she's acting bored, I suggest the stairs trick.

The entire trip there, Rack was transfixed.  We drove past the bars and restaurants on A1A on The Strip in Fort Lauderdale.  Blinky lights, booming music, and a party atmosphere will get a dog going too.  My little guy was panting in excitement making wet spots on the window with his nose.  I guess it's been too long since he's had a Ride! In! The! Car!

We pulled into the garage and parked near the door.  Parking lot was empty and it was quiet as a tomb.

Getting Rack out of the car, never really a problem.

Walking to the door, Rack understood to wait.  He's getting good at that.  He knows if he doesn't understand, sit. 

We opened the door and stepped inside.  Rack followed. 

This was when he went into "Woahdude" Mode.   Rack gets overwhelmed and puts on his "stoner" look of wide eyed excitement.  Then we started walking up the stairs.  Rack didn't understand he was going to follow until I got to the end of the leash.

He put a paw, tentatively, on the first step.

OK, Boy!  Come on!

I don't think I ever saw a dog move so fast.

Skittering up the steps, he got to where I was in about a half of a second and sat down.

My brain reacted and I finished the flight up to the landing.

Skitter, Skitter, Skitter.  Sit.  Woahdude!

Really, I didn't think I was going to be walking up a fire tower with Jeff Spicoli from Fast Times at Ridgemont High, but ... coooool!

Second flight.  A lot less tentative.  This boy picks things up FAST.  Then again, he's a McNab.  If you can't train a McNab, you don't need a dog. 

We walked up the stairs, him still looking around unfamiliar surroundings of grey unpainted concrete and climbing in fits and starts.

Made it to the landing at the third floor.  One more floor, two landings.

By the time we made it to the fourth floor, Rack was where he belonged, right at my left calf matching my speed. 

We three made it to the door and ... sit.

Getting the door opened to the office suite, Mr Dog was wandering through the hallways looking completely confused but dealing with it. 

We got into the Executive suite and I parked on the aeron chair.  We'll wait here, go reboot the server.

No keys unfortunately, but we were good.   It was time to leave.

Instead of going back down to the second floor level of the garage with Mr Dog, we'd take the elevator.  Walking down the stairs was one thing we'll save for another day.

Getting to the lobby was not a problem, Rack's excellent when he knows where we were going.  He seemed to figure it out, although I'm sure I was telegraphing our moves.

We pressed the button for the lift and had another Woahdude Moment.  The relays and hydraulics clicked and whooshed and confused the little guy.  He plastered himself to the floor, sitting up by the time the closet sized room arrived.

He was the last one in.  Yes, come on boy the doors are *thump* closing.   Well, that moved him along!

The doors closed on us and we surged toward the ground.


We were magically transported to another realm.  The realm of the First Floor! 

In the mind of a small fearful dog, this was complete magic.  Walk into a room, doors magically close, noises and vibration happen, then the door opened and we weren't where we were!   Woahdude!

Stepping into the night air we were a floor below the car.   We'd have to climb the stair tower to the second floor, but at this point, Rack had no problem.   He was climbing that noisy tower like a champ.

A lot of mental stimulation for a dog.  That is how you keep an active breed content, keep them mentally challenged with lots of complex tasks.  If you don't have a herd of sheep or cows handy, borrow a stair tower.  You both could use the exercise.

When we got back to the car, I can't say I ever saw a dog fly into a car faster than he did when the back door opened to the big SUV. 

The rest of the ride home, past the bars, past the restaurants, past the tourists?  Nothing.  He lay on the back seat plastered to it processing all that "new".   He was challenged and succeeded.   Rack has learned a new skill and got past some more of that fear that he's had since he came into our life 10 months ago.

One paw in front of another, boy, you're doing fine, you're going to make it.   If you could just be a little less intense when I have my yogurt, though, I'd appreciate that.

Here, have a cookie!

Sunday, February 16, 2014



Arcelor-Mittal Steel, feeling it was time for a shakeup, hired a new CEO. The new boss was determined to rid the company of all slackers.

On a tour of the facilities, the CEO noticed a guy leaning against a wall. The room was full of workers and he wanted to let them know that he meant business. He asked the guy, "How much money do you make a week?"

A little surprised, the young man looked at him and said, "I make $400 a week. Why?" The CEO said, "Wait right here." He walked back to his office, came back in two minutes, and handed the guy $1,600 in cash and said, "Here's four weeks' pay. Now GET OUT and don't come back."

Feeling pretty good about himself the CEO looked around the room and asked, "Does anyone want to tell me what that goof-ball did here?"

From across the room a voice said, "Pizza delivery guy from Domino's."

Saturday, February 15, 2014

A Cold Winter

A Cold Winter

Late fall and the Indians on a remote reservation in North Dakota asked their new chief if the coming winter was going to be cold or mild. Since he was a chief in a modern society, he had never been taught the old secrets. When he looked at the sky, he couldn't tell what the winter was going to be like.

Nevertheless, to be on the safe side, he told his tribe that the winter was indeed going to be cold and that the members of the village should collect firewood to be prepared.

But, being a practical leader, after several days, he got an idea. He went to the phone booth, called the National Weather Service and asked, 'Is the coming winter going to be cold?'

‘It looks like this winter is going to be quite cold,' the meteorologist at the weather service responded.

So the chief went back to his people and told them to collect even more firewood in order to be prepared. A week later, he called the National Weather Service again. 'Does it still look like it is going to be a very cold winter?'

'Yes,' the man at National Weather Service again replied, 'it's going to be a very cold winter.'

The chief again went back to his people and ordered them to collect every scrap of firewood they could find. Two weeks later, the chief called the National Weather Service again. 'Are you absolutely sure that the winter is going to be very cold?'

'Absolutely,' the man replied. 'It's looking more and more like it is going to be one of the coldest winters we've ever seen.'

'How can you be so sure?' the chief asked.

The weatherman replied, 'The Indians are collecting a shedload of firewood'.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Valentines Day Card Anyone?

Valentines day falls on the same day as trash day on my quirky little neighborhood on my quirky little island.  Coincidence?  Perhaps.

It also means that I woke up to a giant red heart of chocolate goodness in the refrigerator.

Awww... who doesn't love chocolate surprises at 5:30 in the morning?  If you don't you're bad and you should feel bad.

It was a wonderful surprise.

All of that was what I was thinking when I was doing my normal trash day activity.  Pulling weeds.  I'll admit that I'm crap at gardening.  A few big plants and the rest needs to survive a quick "weedeatering" of the yard.  Edge and done.  It's not always that brief, but you can hope.

Outside wondering why I was doing it, feeling every hit my knees ever took in Football, Inline Skating, a Car Accident or two, and falling off my bike at age 12 or so all ran through the empty walls of my mind.

But I do have plans for the day.  It involves heat, chocolate, a little alcohol, and a bit of TLC in the kitchen.  After all, it is impossible to surprise someone with a home made surprise at the right time if you make it the day before. 

Much better than the silhouette that I was making, bent at the waist, looking like those yard signs of "mom's butt" you would see in Pennsylvania because someone with a woodshop, router, and blue and white paint thought it was cute.

On the other hand, it did look amusing when I saw it on Ramblingmoose TV.  That's our security camera set up.  Walking back and forth, pulling handfuls of weeds, a little coleus, and looking foolish on video at 16x normal speed is my goal.

Happy Valentines Day.  If you're not a gourmet cook, you're a bit late and I won't help until I make the stuff.  Recipes come later.


Thursday, February 13, 2014

Wrapping Time In Plastic

I'll admit it.  This Helpful Hint is so simple that I am asking myself if it really is "Blogworthy".

But!  If I save one innocent piece of electronics from the terror of drowning, it shall be worth it!

It comes from a bit of Kitchen OCD really.  If you cook at all, you're bound to have a timer in the house.  If you clean at all, it may get wet.

If you are sloppy like me, you'll drown your timer in water.  I've done it to the black timer a number of times.  It has forgiven me and comes back.  After all the thing was made in the early 1980s or before.

But it got to be a joke in the house for a while.   The timer was in a puddle of water next to the coffee maker in the kitchen, yet again.

Empty the batteries out, shake the water out as best you can, air dry it.  It may come back.  It may not come back.  My bad.

So I got very tired of drowning timers and having to say "Hey, we need a new timer" at the kitchen gadget store because it would start A Discussion. 

Another one?  Why do you keep killing them...

Blah blah blah, SIT! blah blah blah.

So I put them in a sandwich bag with a helpful zipper.   Didn't work.  They're too big and would strangely inflate over time.

If anyone could tell me, please, why a low voltage "appliance" was inflating a plastic bag, I'd love to hear a plausible explanation.


Anyone?  Beuhler?

Save Ferris.

This morning I was roasting coffee beans.  Guatemalan Swiss Water Process Decaf to be specific.  Makes a nice Espresso when you don't want a jolt.  When I reached for the timer to press the start button I complained that I couldn't feel anything through the plastic bag.

Yeah, it's a guy thing.  Deal.

Got the timer going and found the cling film.  Plastic wrap.  No name stuff I bought in 1999 in a chef's warehouse kind of place.  I still have about a year left of the wrap.  One giant roll for 15 plus years of use in many sandwiches, soup bowls, yogurt pot lids, and of course now, kitchen timers.

Pull out "enough" cling film to wrap the item securely.  Wrap it like a present.  Trim the excess plastic.  Hold it all in place with a bit of clear tape just like I did on the back.

"Viola" that will play beautiful music on your counter.   Or at least count beautifully for you.

The coffee roasted perfectly, the timer works fine, and it's dry too.

Added benefit, there's more "feeling" of the buttons.  These are ultra thin in comparison to the plastic bags.

Yes, she'll love it.  Much more sensitivity.

Somehow I seem to have drifted off.   Just remember "Wrap your timer!" or "No Glove, No Lovely Cookies!".

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Air Plant That Saved The Tree - Picture

I guess you could call me an indifferent gardener.  I get involved in other projects and gardening tends to be on the tail end of the list. 

Things get stuck in the ground and tended to when time allows, and most of the plantings in the yard that I have done got there because I know they're easy to grow rather than their being a showcase plant.  I have my orchids on the irrigation system for that.

I do enjoy these plants, I just don't like bending over and "putting my back out" in order to have a yard that looks like something off of a magazine cover.

On the other hand, I do know enough that when a special plant colonizes a spot, leave well enough alone.

Down here we've got these air plants.  At least that's what you call them when you stumble across one glued to a seashell with the word "FLORIDA" engraved on it.   They get back home, wherever that is, and eventually die.

See the word Tourist Trap for more info...

Why?  Air Plants, or Tillandsia, are fairly finicky on what they need to survive in comparison to your garden variety marigold or other generic plant.  The best luck I ever had was to keep one in my bathroom shower in Philadelphia and squirt a little liquid fertilizer on it from time to time.   That little thing lasted a year.

In the case of this particular plant, it's been out on my tree for more than four years now.  I've picked it up off the ground and stuck it in a different spot a number of times because the tree is sick.   It's being eaten by termites and is slowly dying.  On the other hand, it still soldiers on with a few flowers here and there.  I guess that a Bottle Brush Tree is a hardy beast, even if it is an exotic Australian visitor.

That dying tree is what the Tillandsias want.  The nutrients that leak off of the bark when it decays get into the plant's leaves and feed them.  It works with Spanish Moss as well and that tree has great beards of the stuff growing on it.

When this Tillandsia flowers it will die.   After that, the gloves are off.   I will chop the dead off the tree and probably remove the entire thing at some point.  Its replacement was an involuntary palm tree that insisted in growing in a pot in my back yard near the pool.  That tree is now over 4 feet tall and grew 2 feet since I dropped it there.

But that blasted Bottle Brush tree just refuses to give up the ghost.

You're safe for now Mr Bottle Brush Tree, but when your Tillandsia goes I'm out there with a saw!

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

A Tale of Two Dog Beds

It is a ritual that is done world over.  Sometimes at a river.  Sometimes at a room for it's express purpose.  Sometimes you leave for a business that you can do it communally.

Yes, Laundry.

Once a week for me.  Typically three loads.  Two hot, one cold.  It soaks up most of an afternoon.  Just muscle your way through it and hope that the machine doesn't toss the crap that is stored on top onto the floor. 

As it is, it's hard enough to get in there.  I'm a tall guy and it is so cramped that my shoulders will brush the wall and the dryer at the same time.

I can set the wash up the night before so that it will be done when I wake up in the morning and enjoy that perk of modern life. 

But for the main part, it's a banal occupation that you try to just get through until the next task.   Mopping the floors anyone?

When I do those washes, it upsets the groove of the house.  Oscar the parrot will growl at me when I walk through with a large towel to fold.   He thinks I'm about to cover his cage and he really dislikes that.

Rack just tries to hide.  He has a few hiding places, and for the most part sits so he can watch me.  I'm not that exciting on laundry day, so he falls asleep.

This particular laundry day, I had been busy and distracted.   Not a good combination.  I had someone to help out, rescue more like it, and once that was done, I could hear the washer beeping from the driveway.

Shrill "beep-beep-beep" that you can hear outside of the house through the leaky windows that tells you you've got more to deal with.

*sigh* at least I'm not at the river with a rock.

I dealt with that load and tossed it into the dryer.  This was the second load of the day, my Dog Beds and Towels.   Everything is washable.  If it isn't it doesn't last around here.  I have a blue blanket that is beige because all the blue washed out of it years ago when I got it for Lettie back in 2001.

Since Rack may want to wander off to the bedroom, I put a fresh tan throw on the floor.  I thought nothing of it later when I went into the bedroom at the end of the wash to reassemble the bed when...

The phone rang and another emergency to deal with.   I wandered out absentmindedly tossing the bed on the floor next to the mat.

Now, Rack, he is an intelligent dog.  Amazingly smart.  With intelligence comes preferences in keeping life Just So.  He knew that I meant that the blue dog bed should be on top of the tan mat.   Since he doesn't have opposable thumbs, he just didn't know how to make that happen.

So... Plop.

I couldn't get him to get up out of His Bed, and since I won't let him on my own, I simply let him be until he heard a motorcycle come down the block.

He likes Motorcycles.  I lie to him and tell him that one of his favorite people is riding each and every one and that got him past his fear.  "Hey, Rack, That's Kirby!" and he's happy.

Trotting out of the room to see if he could see his buddy, his bed finally made it back on top of the mat for extra padding and all is right in the dog world.

Sometimes you just have to lie to a dog to get your laundry done.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Mmm The House Smells Like A Salad! - Humor

Door opens:

The house smells like a Salad! Were you busy in the kitchen yet again?

Yes I was.

So where is it?

Where is What?

The salad, and what kind is it?

There isn't.

What happened?  I know well enough not to ask "what isn't"!

Come on into the kitchen, said the spider to the fly...

Oh gees, he's quoting parables.  What have you been reading?

Nothing out of the ordinary, just tech manuals.  Would you like to hear about Agile Project Management?

Not particularly, that's your strength.  It does smell like a salad in here.

We need Balsamic Vinegar, lets go to the shops tonight!

What happened to the Balsamic?

You could say I used it to clean the floor.  Did you know that brown fluids that are acidic and look like a generic cola beverage don't clean the floor well?

Yes, I did, especially with tan tile and brown grout.   I take it that it flew well and landed poorly.

Yes, so we need a new bottle with pour spout too.

Ok so now that you drew it out to miminise the impact, how did you break the bottle?

I didn't, the sudden stop at the end usually would ...

Ahh, you accelerated it.

You could say that.  I had just finished mopping the floor too.  Damnit I hate cleaning this floor!

You're evading it but I'm enjoying the story.

I had just put the last of the Holiday Turkey into the oven for lunch.  Turkey Breast with Sylvia's Queen of Soulfood Poultry Rub. You should try it sometime!


When I slammed the door to the oven, the door over the top of the oven opened slightly.  I spun around and grabbed the aluminum foil from the top shelf.  You know how tight things are in there right?

Balsamicus Interruptus?



When I started to pull the big box of aluminum foil out, oh and we need more foil since the box is almost empty...

I guess we're going to head out after dinner?

Yep!  The bottom of the box hit the top of the bottle.  My little "dribble" top that is on there to dribble the stuff out on my hoagies...

Caught it with the box did you?

Well, I did manage to stop the fall!

But not completely, right?

Exactly.  My palm caught the dribble spout and held it in place just short of the time I needed to drop the box of aluminum foil on the floor and re-grab the bottle with the other hand.

Moose in a china shop strikes again!

You could say that.  Be careful in the kitchen, that floor eats glass but your feet don't.  I vacuumed up as much as I could but it still crunches.

I'll keep Rack out of there.

Don't worry about him, he's been hiding since lunch yesterday and hates the kitchen anyway!   Oh and the rest of the bricks got here.  It is entertaining to watch a Fed (arrow) Ex Truck make a three-point turn on the little street without knocking over the mailbox!

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Man walks into a bar with a small wooden box and a genie lamp

Man walks into a bar with a small wooden box and a genie lamp

He sits down and orders a drink.
The bartender asks "what's in the box?"
The man asks if there is a piano in the bar.
The bartender says yes, so the man opened the box. A small man, about 12" in height, leaps from the box and goes straight to the piano and starts playing some beautiful classics.

The bartender is amazed and asks the man where he got the little man.
The man replies "I rubbed this damn genie lamp and the genie gave him to me."
The bartender asks if he can give the lamp a rub.
The man complies and hands him the lamp.

The bartender rubs it and out comes this genie.
The genie says "I'll grant you one wish and one wish only" so the bartender thinks for a moment then says "I wish for a million bucks!"

The genie says "it is done" and pops back into the lamp.
Within a few seconds, a million ducks start flying throughout the entire bar.

The bartender says to the man with the lamp "hey! I said a million bucks, not ducks!"
The man turns to him and says "what? Do you think I asked for a 12" pianist?"

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Slackers - Humor


Arcelor-Mittal Steel, feeling it was time for a shakeup, hired a new CEO. The new boss was determined to rid the company of all slackers.

On a tour of the facilities, the CEO noticed a guy leaning against a wall. The room was full of workers and he wanted to let them know that he meant business. He asked the guy, "How much money do you make a week?"

A little surprised, the young man looked at him and said, "I make $400 a week. Why?" The CEO said, "Wait right here." He walked back to his office, came back in two minutes, and handed the guy $1,600 in cash and said, "Here's four weeks' pay. Now GET OUT and don't come back."

Feeling pretty good about himself the CEO looked around the room and asked, "Does anyone want to tell me what that goof-ball did here?"

From across the room a voice said, "Pizza delivery guy from Domino's."

Friday, February 7, 2014

You Have A This Problem

What is this anyway?

I knew this discussion would be annoying when it starts out with that statment. 

What are you talking about?




Ok, there are a lot of THIS around here.  Be more specific.


It's late, tell me what you want or I'll pick something.


Well... the puppy chased its tail for a while.   Finally it was narrowed down to a specific object on the couch.

"THIS" is a cover for the dog bed.

OK, it was on MY chair and I didn't know what it was!

Thinking that it's probably best not to say what I was thinking - you picked it up so you should have figured it out when you moved it those six feet, those two meters across the room.  It's blue and white and fuzzy and has the name of a pet store on the side...

Very good... ok... so -

No, really, I didn't know what this was!

You really should not use that word.  Make an effort to excise this from your vocabulary.

Do what?

Don't use the word.

Which word?


Yes, which word.

Ok, it is really too late for this.  You have a this problem.

See now you're doing it and you're speaking Italian now.

No I am not speaking Italian and if I were, it's ok, they're my people.  That is because we are using the word as a definite pronoun, not an indistinct member of an indistinct set of items.

What is wrong with this?

No, what is wrong with that?, and I'm not going to be a grammar nazi after 9pm.  It's not my jurisdiction.

Oh sure, you can but I'm not allowed to use This.

No, you're not allowed.  Consider it my word.  Some day I may loan it to you but I will always have ownership over it.

No, this is my word too.

It went on like that for a while.

I'm sure we all have friends like that.  Imprecision is comedy, not language.  Save a mind today, use this sparingly.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Challah Bagels and Memories of Mom - Recipe and Picture

When I was a wee brat, I was introduced to Challah.

Mom brought in a loaf of some shiny, brown, braided baked good and I asked "What is that?"

Mom said, in her own way "It's 'Jeeew-eesh Aig Bread'!  Challah!  You'll love it".

Ok, mom was right.  Even if her pronunciation of the words with stresses on the wrong vowels was a bit wonky.

If you grew up in Cherry Hill, NJ, you could expect to be exposed to a little Jewish Culture, and a lot of Jewish food.  It was always good and filling, and some of it was excellent.

To this day, I have to keep bagels in the freezer and a Sesame Bagel, toasted, with Lettuce, Tomato, Onion, Cream Cheese, and of course a generous portion of fresh Nova Lox is a special treat.

The other day I noticed that I was low on bread and low on bagels.  I flashed back to mom and her conversations about this special bread and went looking.  I have a habit of saving off recipes that "you folks" are passing by me either on Facebook or even on physical paper. 

Physically print out a recipe?  Go fig!

I was looking at the pictures of bagels and breads and baked goods the other day and kept coming back to the beautiful shiny braids and knew it was in my future, I'd finally try to make the stuff.

Since I really needed rolls and bagels, making a giant family sized braid that would get a bit stale toward the end.

Now here's a hint - the difference between rolls, bagels, and pretzels is in the preparation.

  • Rolls are left to rise naturally.
  • Pretzels are partially risen yeast dough that is then rolled and boiled in either a lye or baking soda mix.
  • Bagels are partially risen yeast dough that is rolled, re-risen partially, and boiled in water sweetened with honey, sugar, molasses or Barley Malt Syrup.

So that's what I did.  I made Challah Dough, rolled out balls of dough, punched holes in half of them and stretched them to make the bagel shape.   Once I allowed it to rise partially, over an hour, I boiled the bagels in 3 cups of water plus 3 tablespoons of Barley Malt Syrup.

Why Barley Malt Syrup, especially when it is so bloody tough to find?  It was because everywhere I looked suggested that it was the best.  Frankly it tasted like the same molasses I used to make the Gingerbread Cookies that I make from time to time.

So here we go, yet another recipe!

I used the Stand Mixer and a dough hook to make this dough.  I suggest that you do the same, but cut the recipe down to 1/2 since it makes 2 loaves.  My mixer was overtaxed by the long mixing that I had done, and got to smelling quite hot toward the end.


  • 1 1/2 packages active dry yeast (1 1/2 tablespoons)
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup olive or vegetable oil, plus more for greasing the bowl
  • 5 large eggs - 4 for dough, 1 for egg wash
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 8 to 8 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup raisins per challah, if using, plumped in hot water and drained
  • Poppy or sesame seeds for sprinkling.


Proof your Yeast:
  • In a large bowl, dissolve yeast and 1 tablespoon sugar in 1 3/4 cups lukewarm water.
  • Allow the Yeast to begin to bubble and froth.  This should take about 10 to 15 minutes.

Begin to make your Dough:
  • Whisk oil into yeast, then beat in 4 eggs, one at a time, with remaining sugar and salt. 
  • You can take a shortcut and add these ingredients to the mixer as above and let the mixer do the work.
  • Gradually add flour.
  • When dough holds together, it is ready for kneading.

 Kneading and Rising:
  • Turn dough onto a floured surface and knead until smooth.  This step can also be done in a stand mixer to save your hands, which is how I did it.
  • Clean out bowl and grease it, then return dough to bowl. 
  • Cover with plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm place for 1 hour, until almost doubled in size. 
  • Dough may also rise in an oven that has been warmed to 150 degrees then turned off. 
  • Punch down dough, cover and let rise again in a warm place for another half-hour.


If you are going to use the raisins, now is the time to knead them in.

To make the dough into bagels,
  • Roll the dough into balls and punch your thumb through the center.  
  • Then begin to stretch out the dough until you get the desired shape.  
  • I was able to fit 8 fingers inside the hole in the middle to get these bagels.
  • For "Normal" Sized Bagels I used 80 grams of dough for each, or about 3 ounces.
  • For "Bagel Shop" sized bagels, use up to 5 ounces of dough - it really is up to you!

To make the dough into the traditional braided shapes:
  • Divide the dough into six equal sized pieces.
  • Roll each piece into a "snake" of around 1 foot long.
  • Braid three snakes together and make two loaves.
  • If you don't know how to braid, ask your kid sister.

Rise Time:
  • When I made these into bagels, I allowed 1 hour of rise and got some very fluffy bagels.  You may go with less time for a more chewy bagel.
  • For Challah or any other loaf of bread, you should allow 2 hours of rise to allow the flavor to develop.

Preparation for the oven:
  • Bagels will be boiled in water that has either Barley Malt Syrup, Molasses, Honey, or Sugar in the water.  
  • I used a 2 quart sauce pan with 3 cups water and 3 tablespoons of Barley Malt Syrup. 
  • Boil each bagel for 30 seconds per side.
  • For Challah, you will want to prepare an egg wash with the last egg and brush it all over the top evenly. 

  • Preheat oven to 375.
  • Bake bagels and rolls for at least 13 minutes or until golden brown.
  • Bake full sized Challah loaf up to 30 to 40 minutes.
  • These are done when interior temperature reaches 190F with an instant read thermometer.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Oscar and Rack Have Some Supervised Playtime

When I started talking about getting a dog, my departed Lettie, I got lectures from everyone. 

"You have Birds, they will never mix."
"If you don't watch over them every moment, it will go badly."
"That dog will eat your bird."


Lettie lived with us for 10 plus years.  Oscar has been with me since 1986, and is still here.

It can be done, but it means you have to watch over them and introduce the dog to the bird and vice versa.  You also have to do it carefully.

Lettie was more... assertive.  She was an alpha dog through and through.  She didn't care for the birds, and I did have a flock for a while, so I had to be especially careful.   For the most part she was more protective over us than anything else.  She didn't understand the birds or why they were there.  They were more of a curiosity than anything else.

Being Prey Animals, my parrot Oscar and my cockatoo Bert did not appreciate the attention.  Lettie would get too close and there'd be a squawk and flapping of wings.  The end result was a startled dog and a bird flying to the top of the cage.

After a while they decided that distance was their friend.   Lettie would park as close to me as she could but she kept a healthy distance from the cages.

When Lettie left, she left a hole in my heart that you could drive a herding dog through.  We got Rack two weeks later.

Now, both dogs have something in common.  They're both fearful dogs.  Lettie was a fearful alpha who did not like other dogs.  Rack is afraid of people and noises.

I understand fearful dogs and that it will take time to get them to calm down and reclaim their sense of confidence.  Everything that is a fear trigger can be conquered or at least minimized.   It took about a year with Lettie, it is taking about a year with Rack.

Someone once said that if you can't train a McNab Dog, you can't train a dog.  Very true, but a fearful dog takes an extremely patient approach and a very gentle hand.  I am absolutely convinced that a dog can have PTSD, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  We most likely caused it, we must help to fix it.

When I brought Rack into the house the first time, he looked around, sniffed the air and dove into his crate.  He still hides but that is more from shutting off the world to get a rest from all those triggers around him.

Being an incredibly intelligent breed, he's also incredibly curious.   Dogs will use their noses as much if not more than their eyes in some cases, and he knows when something has been changed.  He also knows when the parrot is on the cage instead of being in the cage and tends to give the cage a little extra distance.

But there's a problem with all that.  If you don't make the fearful dog take the step to conquer their fears, no matter how minor the fear or gently it is done, that step most likely will not be taken by the dog.  It's up to you as the pack leader in your house to confront those fears.  Some external "force" has to nudge them off the plateau, and it is up to you to do so.

When I take Oscar out of his cage, there's usually some noises and flapping about that happens.  Part of having a parrot, you never have a silent house.

This drew attention from my Rack.

My own lightbulb lit.  Why not try a little bit of training with the animals.  Supervised playtime.

If I let Oscar on the floor, he will wander around putting things in his beak and basically being curious - and annoying.   I'll let that go until he decides to try to turn the furniture into toothpicks, then gather him up for the short hop home. 

This time, I did it with Rack alert and in the room.   I held Oscar down at snout level and he got sniffed by the dog.  Then I set Oscar on the floor.

Rack initially wandered "over there" away from Oscar but his curiosity got the better of him.   Here was The Other in the house.  Since Rack has a very gentle soul and a very submissive attitude, my showing him Oscar meant to him that he didn't have to run away from this "thing" in green feathers.

Oscar didn't care, he walked over to the crate and enjoyed his Out Time.

Rack did keep a respectful distance.  He'd get closer then look back at me for approval.

"Ok, Rack!" as he took a paw step closer.

That really was about it.  Rack eventually got close enough to Oscar and sniffed near him, then backed off.  He tried it a second time and Oscar had enough. 

One Green Bird in Flight 101 to the Top of The Cage Airport, Tower on Runway 9...

Rack looked at the bird, then me.  It was as if to say "Did I do THAT?".

Yep, you sure did.  No big deal, we'll do it again.  The whole episode took less than five minutes.  We will repeat the behavior.  I've seen pictures of little birds and huge dogs and I want that for my house. 

I'm stubborn but not stupid, if it ever gets safe for unsupervised play, it certainly isn't yet.  But it may become so.

It's all about patience and small steps.  But I think that Oscar will have more freedom as long as he keeps away from the Sea-grass basket in my end table.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

New Roof Anyone?

It's all over but the clean-up... and the second payment.

My roof was finished last week and I had to climb up to get some pictures.

Then, I rethought the whole climb up thing.  After all, I'm a big guy and these tiles will crack.  I've been up there before and there really wasn't a reason for a second go.  No frisbees, no water rockets, no toys were up there.

This is a solid expanse of terracotta.  You can see the variegation in the tiles, there are splatters of black and tan throughout and it's baked in.  That means that it may get dirty but it won't wash off.

We've already gotten complements on how it looks, and it really is striking.  When I saw these tiles in the showroom I was drawn to this one and a much lighter peach.  The peach lost because it is too close to the Broward County color that is on the house already.  Apparently you can get free paint from the county which is a nice benefit if you like their colors.  

We do, and it is overdue for painting, although we've got to wait since there's some more work that needs to get done on this box of rocks.

The "before" roof was a solid terracotta color, although you'd be hard pressed to know it.  They got mildewed over the years, but since it was a uniform dinge, it wasn't obvious to us.  When this gets mildewed we'll know it.

I've got a couple other pictures.  There's a view of just the tiles in a closeup that is in rotation in my desktop background pictures on the laptop.  Rather nice picture if I do say so myself.

I'm glad we're enjoying the thing because it cost as much as a "good used car" to replace the old one.

Like I said, all over but the second payment. Rack, my dog, is thankful for that.   He's taken to hiding behind the furniture because of all of the disruption around the house lately.  He's going to find his hiding places filled with random small boxes to make it more difficult for him to hide. 

Can't have a dog that acts like a cat!

Monday, February 3, 2014

I Hear You're Having Another Snowstorm

My cousin posting a picture of bougainvilleas on Facebook got me thinking. 

No, it's not another rant about how bad the weather is up North.  This would be the week I traditionally would take vacation.   I would haul my bulk into the Jeep, get out of Philly for a week to 10 days, and thaw out.

Literally.  By this time of year, I'd have a nagging "winter cold" that was my body telling me with a stopped up nose, that I was not designed for standing on an elevated train platform in 15F temperatures day after day waiting for the R7 to roll.

The second week of February is the coldest one of the year in the Northern Hemisphere.

Ok, so it's plus or minus seven days either way of February 7th. 

It's been warm this winter though.  We got our two weeks of "cold" already, and I am hoping it happens again.  It helps reset the environment here and gets rid of those ex-pets that snowbirds abandoned thinking they'll do alright outside.

Lets just call them "Invasive Species".

My weather applet says it will be 83 today, my pool water is at 70 and holding.

My concern is that the pool should be down into the high 50s by now.  It's not heated and the deep end is still way too cold for my tastes.

Since we're also three months from the great stock up month of May, and four months from Hurricane season, I'm thinking that it's a bit warm for this time of year.

I'll take a cool February.  It usually means that hurricane season will be weak.

We are overdue for another near miss.

I'm still getting rid of the last of the bottled water and Mac and Cheese from last year.  There's still canned ravioli on the Kitchen table that got co-opted as a pantry.

So believe it or not, while I despise cold weather, I'd welcome some of it now.

In the meantime, go have a swim.  The water's a little cool for us down here but you'll think it's fine!

Sunday, February 2, 2014

A Group of Friars - Humor

A Group of Friars

A Group of Friars opened a florist shop to help with their belfry payments. Everyone liked to buy flowers from the Men of God, so their business flourished.

A rival florist became upset that his business was suffering because people felt compelled to buy from the Friars, so he asked the Friars to cut back hours or close down.

The Friars refused.

The florist went to them and begged that they shut down. Again, they refused.

Therefore, the florist hired Hugh McTaggert, the biggest meanest thug in town. He went to the Friars' shop, beat them up, destroyed their flowers, trashed their shop, and said that if they did not close, he would be back.

Well, very terrified, the Friars closed up shop and hid in their rooms.

This proved that Hugh, and only Hugh, can prevent florist friars.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Three Men Shipwreck on an Island Known for Cannibals - Humor

Three men shipwreck on an island known for cannibals.

As they wander the jungle they are captured by these cannibals and put in a cage.

The biggest and ugliest cannibal approaches the cage and says "Now we're fun loving cannibals and we like to play games. We'll give you a chance to escape for our amusement, with one item of your choice.

If you get to the beach, then you'll be taken back to society. If you fail we shall kill you, skin you, eat you, and turn you into a canoe. Good luck."

The first man wants to go the traditional route and chooses a gun. As he runs to the beach, he runs out of ammo and the cannibals catch him, skin him, eat him, and turn him into a canoe.

The second man asks for a horse. They begrudgingly give him their only horse, and he rides towards the beach, but the cannibals spear him off the horse and skin him, eat him, and turn him into a canoe.

The third man asks for a fork. The cannibals give him a funny look and fetch him a fork. The man begins to stab himself all over.

The cannibals ask him why he's making their job easier and he yells "Try and make a canoe out of me now!"