Random Thoughts For The Week

June 30th, 2012 by Potato

Let’s start with the nazis: grammar and food.

For the grammar issue of the week, I bring you singular they: do you think it’s wrong to say something like “A consumer of 2012 expects their laptops to be lighter and more powerful than ever?” Or do you think the “they” referring to a single consumer is the wrong pronoun, and “him/her” should be used instead?

I’ve long been fine with the singular they: tradition was to use “him” in such cases, even where the gender was indeterminate. When that became politically incorrect, “they” seemed to be an appropriate alternative: it has some parallels in the disuse of thee/thou in favour of the singular ye/you (which then just became “you”). Many writers started to use it, and I hear it all the time in casual speech. It’s certainly a damned sight cleaner than putting in the awkward “his/her” or “his or her” compound everywhere.

One alternative I don’t care for is the idea that it’s somehow more correct to use “her” in place of “him” for a gender-uncertain third person pronoun. “A student has many books to buy at university, straining her budget.” The use of “him” in that kind of sentence has been traditional and common for so long that seeing “her” in its place makes me think that the writer must somehow know the gender — it’s not serving as an effective gender-unknown pronoun. I personally find that much more distracting than the singular they.

Like all things in life, there does need to be balance: we can’t have everyone making up their own dialect and rules, but “thou/thee” has long since slipped from common usage to anachronistic, and we’ve had to recognize that evolution. Similarly for now, writing “u” in place of you, or using numerals for homophones “to” and “for” is a disgusting mark of poor upbringing and laziness — a hopefully temporary artifact of T9 phones that will forever be forgotten with the rise of QWERTY smartphones. But I do have to accept that one day in the distant future — long after I’m dead — such usage may be commonplace. (And for all my acceptance of linguistic evolution, I will still spin in my grave if it happens.) The role of the grammar nazi is to try to keep that sort of thing from getting a foothold in the first place, not to deny the common usage long after it’s happened.

On to food/grammar nazi-hybrids: if you make a dish in a non-traditional way, does it cease to be that dish? I don’t think so: language evolves, as do tastes, yet again today I heard the old saying that “chili isn’t chili if it has beans.” Well, traditional Texican chili maybe, but I think it’s more common with than without these days, and it’s not like a totally different food either way. Or like a few years ago, when a friend of Italian descent tried to tell me that there’s no such thing as “vegetarian lasagna”, because lasagna by definition has meat in it. Well, fine, think that all you want, but my vegetarian lasagna (or as I call it, “lasagna”) is pretty damned tasty, and there isn’t any confusion over what it is I’m slopping on my guests’ dinner plates (or they’re able to surmount the seeming oxymoron). [Plus as an aside, my understanding is that the word refers to the noodle, not the dish.]

I made cinnamon rolls today — kick-ass ones, I might add — and someone asked if I put raisins in them. No, as a matter of fact, I did not, nor would I ever. Raisins are gross, and I think putting raisins in your cinnamon rolls represents a serious lapse in judgement… but they do not cease to be cinnamon rolls by the addition of the raisins and their dark influence.

Blueberry has been getting big so quickly. I’m finding that she’s already getting heavy and tough to carry around: though to be fair I had a lot of years of training with an 8-lbs cat, so when she was ~8 lbs I was well inside my comfort zone; now she’s pushing me into the feats of strength zone.

It’s amazing how fickle she is: perfectly content to screaming banshee in a second flat. And just as often, back again. I know that movement helps to settle her, so I hold her and walk, or do a little baby rain dance. I got tired today after just a few minutes of the baby rain dance, and it made me wonder if I had missed striking the right balance in terms of when to have kids: too young, and well, you’re too young: not ready, not able to handle them. Too old, and you can’t keep up.

Then she started crying again, and I lost that train of thought. I plodded on, doing laps of the house.

Singing turned to pleading. Pleading to soft moaning. “Pleeaaasseee. Hushushushushshhhhh.” Then I thought perhaps this is how the zombie apocalypse would feel: zombies shuffling across the face of the earth without end, moaning while being gummed by a smaller, unhappy zombie.

Onion Rings

May 21st, 2011 by Potato

I was just congratulating myself on a decent week for dieting and exercise. I picked up lots of fresh veggies and whole wheat tortillas for wraps, including a bag of vidalia onions, which were on sale.

But then I got to thinking: a whole bag of onions is a lot of onions. What else can I make with onions?

Onion rings
.

I tried looking around online for recipes, and came up with this quasi-compromise. Many recipes call for beer, but I don’t drink beer. Though I do have a few in the fridge, they belong to others, and I don’t really want to open one just to try out an onion ring recipe. Plus, I doubt A&W is using beer for theirs, and that is the pinnacle of onion ring I am aiming for.

Batter:
1 egg
1/4 c milk
1/4 c flour
1/4 c corn flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp black pepper
A pinch of cayenne pepper (about 1/4 tsp — this could really stand to be ~doubled)
1 tsp paprika (this could also stand to be increased)

Mix together. Cut up onions. Dip rings in batter, then coat in coating. Fry, salt to taste, enjoy.

I came up with my own coating using corn meal and ground up breton crackers, but Wayfare suggested I just use shake ‘n bake, which turned out to be far superior.

Now the key to shake ‘n bake is that it can be baked. I fried a batch first, and they were superb (even my home-brew coating was decent). The baking was merely satisfactory: this batch had the quadrupled cayenne pepper (which turned out to be a bit too much), and though the shake and bake came out nice and crispy on the outside, the texture still wasn’t quite as good as the fried batch. Still, tasty enough.

I was going to take a picture for you all, but could not find my camera, and was hungry. Now of course I sit down at the keyboard and there it is, just a little to the left. Oh well, I’ll just have to make them again to get the picture.

Tater’s Takes: Mother’s Day

May 11th, 2011 by Potato

It’s been another rough few weeks over here. I have revisions to make to my now-complete first draft, and though there aren’t that many, they’re taking me forever. I had hoped to be done these almost two weeks ago. I seem to have serious issues concentrating (also why there haven’t been many blog posts here), and my stress levels are once again through the roof. But it’ll be over soon (just months now!) and then I can worry about what to do with the rest of my life. To try to get my science groove on I’m even going out to give some rah-rah science! outreach talks at high schools soon, which I hope goes well.

Mother’s day seemed pretty hectic here, with dinners and brunches and last-minute shopping. I ended up getting a new pizza cutter for myself while I was at Caynes. I’m impressed enough with it that I had to give it a quick mini-review: it cuts through pizzas way better than my old ones. That might be because it’s new and sharp, but even then it seems to do a better job than they ever did: I’ve always had to go back-and-forth to get a clean cut, but this did the job in one swipe. It has a rather heavy handle (vs. the cheap plastic or wood handles of my other two), and the blade disc is held securely with no play: the other two both had fairly significant wobble in the roll of the cutter.

I was recently interviewed by a reporter from the Globe & Mail, and had a brief mention in an article as a result… but although it was my website and Potato identity that brought me to his attention, the article had no mention of either. So at least my quasi-secret identity remains safe, and I don’t have to write a tedious “welcome, G&M readers” post. However, if my understanding of comic-book lore is correct, this reporter is now in grave danger, as those who possess the information of a person’s secret identity — especially reporters with privileged sources — are abducted with uncanny regularity: whether by targeted schemes or pure evil happenstance. Fortunately, I believe the last time I updated my arch-nemesis page I selected “the geese who block the bike path by the river” and they are not the hostage-taking sort of villains.

Rob Carrick agrees with my earlier post that TD’s e-series funds are great, but hard to buy. I think it’s really weird that the fund you have to trade online requires faxing/mailing in an application to open an account, but weirder still that people like me have to write third-party user guides on how to actually manage the things.

CC weighed in before I got around to publishing this post, saying that he didn’t find the e-series that hard to set up. I don’t find it that hard from the instructions either, and have helped people set them up… but Wayfare did run into issues, mostly with the branch staff being clueless and trying to sell her on higher-MER funds, and with that conversion step not going through right away. Plus some of the other steps (like withdrawing under the HBP) are a little less clear, as Krystal found out. As much as I love the e-series funds for average investors, something’s not right when the best instruction sets and knowledgeable people are outside of TD. Anyway, I’ll repeat my best advice: use TD Waterhouse.

Deliquencies are rising in Alberta as the housing market there flattens out. I consider it more evidence that delinquencies are a trailing measure, so not very relevant in a discussion on the health of Canada’s housing market, but take it however you want (i.e.: too small to be meaningful at all is also a good way to take it).

A little article on Home Capital Group also points to some more warning signs: “He said the company is being cautious when considering loans that will go toward properties in Vancouver or downtown Toronto, because the markets are showing signs of overheating.”

Canadian Business revamped their website, breaking the RSS feeds and leading to many 404 errors for old links to their articles. The ability to comment also seems to have disappeared. But, I’ve found Larry MacDonald again, and now he seems to be moving towards believing that Vancouver at least, is in a bubble.

I’m a bit late on this, but Freddie Mac actually reported a profit this quarter. The preferreds I own (a very small speculative bet) are actually in the black now by over 30% (given the timeline though, still no better a performance relative than the index). I still don’t expect a final resolution for years yet, and this only suggests that rank insolvency is perhaps not as much of a risk — but political risk still looms large, as it didn’t look like the conservator allowed them to repay any significant portion of the bailout. Despite the recent run-up, they’re still only trading for 10 cents on the dollar, quite a reasonable discount given the return to profitability. Though I was tempted to buy more on the news, I figure I’d hold pat with my thimble-full of exposure. There’s still lots of risk here, and I don’t need to bet any more than I already have.

A short post by Saj Karsan on learning from your history, but not letting randomness influence that. I can’t dig it up now, but Michael James had a similar idea some time ago: a good decision is not necessarily the one that lead to the correct outcome in the way things played out, but one that made the most sense given the information available at the time.

A cute tongue-in-cheek site about the benefits of coal-fired electricity.

Thesis Snacks

April 15th, 2011 by Potato

I’m a snacker, always have been, but thesis writing has made it just that much more intense. Due to the constant shoveling of food down my throat without any movement at all, let alone vigorous cardiovascular exercise, I’m always on the hunt for “healthier” (less bad) snack options. Here are some of my favourites:

Old Dutch baked potato chips: they’re chips, they’re delicious, and only moderately unhealthy. Unfortunately, despite helping the RCSS clear out their shelves every week for the last few months, they seem to have stopped carrying them, and I have never seen them at Metro or Price Chopper. So I have no idea where to buy these now. I’ve also tried Lays Baked chips, and Old Dutch were far superior in my opinion: more of a solid crunch, as the chip is a bit thicker.

SuperSlim Brown Rice Crisps (several other varieties): these are a rice cracker with a really nice, light, crunchy texture. Not at all like a rice cake. They’re fairly salty, with a really finely ground salt, providing even covering. They stay crunchy for several chews in your mouth, like a nacho would, rather than going chewy like you’d expect a rice cake to. I like them with cheese, but they’re ok on their own. Despite the salty taste, I can apparently eat a whole box and “only” hit 40% of my daily sodium intake. I don’t have the chips to compare to, but I think they’re even healthier (as in, lower in fat) than the baked chips. They do have some kind of starchy coating on them to help them stay crunchy, and after eating a few dozen, I end up with a sticky residue on my fingers, so keep some wipes handy.

No Name Zoo Animals & Castle Adventure snacks have been the other big hit here. They are candy, but packaged into little 100-cal packages for childrens’ lunches… not that that helps me when I eat 5 at a time. They come in whimsical animal or dragon/knight/wizard shapes so that I can let my imagination run wild while fuelling up. They also have vitamin C to prevent thesis scurvy.

The Cookie Showdown, Part 2

January 18th, 2011 by Potato

Nikki made a dangerous gamble, going for a healthy oatmeal pumpkin cookie with raisins (blech) against my tried-and-true brownie cookie with peanut butter chips. Both were soft-textured cookies, so no one could get the upper-hand based purely on texture.

The judges were impressed with both cookies, and smiles were to be found all around. Several people independently reported that Nikki’s cookie was “like a muffin”, and mine had an “incredible brownie quality while still being a cookie.” I have to say, for a healthy cookie with pumpkin no less, Nikki put up a fierce fight. While I picked out the raisins, I was nonetheless pleased with the taste and texture of her cookie. Surprisingly this was her first cookie battle — but no mercy is shown upon the newblars purely for being new. If there was, well… this might have turned out to be a very different match-up.

In the end, experience prevailed and I got to keep my title, with two of three judges picking my cookie. It was by the skin of my teeth though: though the judge that voted for Nikki’s cookie admitted that it was the health benefits that gave her the edge, the other two judges said that on purely taste merits alone it was a tough call to make. I can’t rest on my laurels any more, assuming my best cookie ever title is unassailable.

I think the lesson we learned here today is that in a cookie showdown, everyone is a winner.