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Co-operative Effort in Tech Support

... or how I came to accept emoticons and emojis second handedly because good graphic design is essential.

Despite being tech inclined, I've never had the experience of helping an elderly relative (parent/grandparent) with their home computer long distance. All my experience is up-close and personal, and mostly paid for, in the form of teaching Continuing Ed classes. Most of my students were 60-somethings getting a computer for the first time, or office workers learning the newest iteration of a Microsoft product. The two were easy to tell apart. New-to-computer students had all sorts of tells. My favorite one went as follows:

Me: Now save your document by clicking on the save icon. It looks like a floppy disk.
Student: Which one is that?
Me: Second row down, third from the left.
Student: Do you mean the big screen TV?
Me: *squints* Yes. *nods head, then shakes it* You save by clicking on the big screen TV.

Every semester after that, whenever I'd get to the how to save bit of the course. I'd say "now click on the save icon. It looks like a floppy disk" then I'd scan the room for the deer in the headlight looks. I'd add, "It also looks like a big screen TV" and see their faces light up as they clicked and saved.

As much as I roll my eyes at iconography, I have to say it comes in useful. Tonight I was tech support for an octogenerian. Mrs. O's kids, none of whom are local, make sure she has the latest in software operating systems. I'm not really an Outlook fan because I found a good multi-computer/multi-platform web-based e-mail system that I like. I can't say I'm a huge Microsoft in general fan because I don't need my software to think for me either. But my day job is all Microsoft all the time, so that's what I use. The Day Job also runs one iteration behind the latest greatest on the market. The IT gurus figure "let others find the bugs" with good reason.

In addition to putting the most recent OS on her computer, they also have it set to do everything in kanji and hiragana. (Japanese syllabaries) I don't read Japanese. Mrs. O doesn't read tech iconography and the last e-helper who got on her computer didn't open a new tab when helping her with an on-line sign-up thingy. They used the open window/tab combo and changed the URL. She was three days without e-mail access and getting politely desperate.

Design Persistence to the Rescue. Sure the home page for Windows looks waaaaaay different than previous iteratons. However, once you open the programs/folders, the rest of the architecture is the same. After some poking and clicking and asking "what does this say", I found the Gear Icon. (also known as Settings and Preferences) That led me to Cortana. Cortana doesn't do written Japanese. Which is lucky for me since I used her as a search function in place of F1. After finding the Outlook site, it was easy to point to a button I was sure I needed to click and confirm with a "what does this say?"before I actually clicked. I got her logged back in quickly.

Mrs. O politely patted me out of the way so she could get caught up with her in box. (In someone else, this would have been a hip check strong enough to send me flying--and I out mass her by a facor of two.) Afterwards she wanted me to "make it so it stays there."

So I bookmarked it for her. Then showed her how to use the star to find her e-mail should another helper not know about tabs and close her out. I just hope Microsoft keeps the star for that function. I remember when the bookmarking icon was a row of dots in a rectangle. Although part of me would be amused as heck to say "Okay, click on the box of mochi to find your e-mail."
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Happy New Year!

Most of the people who read this blog will think "You're a couple of months early." There are at least two who will think "You're a couple of days late." Either way, it's a new month and a new beginning whether you're some flavor of Christian or some flavor of Pagan.

Right now, the Aztec influenced versions of Christianity seem appropriate. I recently (as in the last two weeks) lost one of my sisters and an aunt on sequential days. The funerals were sequential, too, with a bit of an overlap*.

Whether we're celebrating a Pagan New Year or partying with our dearly departed or spending the time in solemn contemplation of the death of our loved ones, it all comes down to transitions. Beginnings butting up against endings.

As a result, I made the unconscious decision to make a New Year's Resolution somewhere around the 31st. (If one of my cousins can channel our paternal ancestors while drunk, I should be able to do it too. Only mine were maternal, and I wasn't drunk -- just sleep deprived.**) My resolution involves nothing new and everything old. 1) work out six days a week. 2) go back to my 1 page or 1 hour a day writing rule -- with Sundays off. 3) visit my mother on a monthly basis.

With my sister's death (and her husband's the year before***) my normal life got blown out of the water. I spent a lot of time and energy focused on them (they had no kids) and their game of "hopscotching each other on the Cancer Trail". (not my term, but accurate. The last five years they took turns going to oncologists for diagnosis and/or treatments.) It will be nice to get back to normal. Or at least, my version of normal.

So Happy New Year, Festive Day of the Dead, Solemn All Souls and All Saints Days. I hope your Dearly Departed are comforted by you and comfort you in return. May all your transitions go smoothly and end well.^

* Day 1 PM: visitation, vigil, rosary, Day 2 AM: funeral. Day 2 PM: vigil, rosary. Day 3 AM: funeral

** [insert irony marker here] Altered states are soooo much fun. [/insert irony marker here]

*** ...plus some other things before that...

^ I'm being neither flippant nor irreverent. Just realistic. I've posted stuff like this before. I'll have to unlock the second post. (tomorrow -- it's after midnight now which means I've met my "1 hour or 1 page" goal today.) That emotional wound has healed over, but the sentiments still apply.

edited: the friends-only link has been made public. Also fixed typos. I am not a natural night owl.
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Lost in Kansas City

I've done that a few times --got lost in this easy to navigate town. Pre-smart phone, it was because I was using written directions as my navigation tool, watching traffic, trying to read road signs and keeping track of miles traveled on any given step of the directions I was following. Distracted driving at its best.

Having missed a few turns here and there isn't such a big deal when you know the street numbers ascend as you travel south and that in certain parts of the city you have terraces and streets alternating, so it's 71st Terrace, then 71st Street followed by 72nd Terrace, and so on. If you're the kind of person who plans ahead, you will have a map of the city and using the verbal directions of friends trace the turns. Post internet, pre-smart phone I used mapping/direction sites, printed directions, and drove off into the great unknown. This was pre-easy-internet-access so I had a map that lived in my car, just in case I got lost.

Missed exits happen. So do missed entrances. I used that very large, never to get folded right again piece of paper a few times before GIS and turn by turn naviagion. Before today, when I used my navigation app to get to my unknown destinations in a quasi-familiar metropolis, getting lost in Kansas City was an adventure. As a method of discovery it's great for finding random gems that want to stay hidden. It's a thing of joy even in times of stress -- mostly because knowing you're lost and knowing how to get yourself un-lost is very empowering. It's especially empowering when it's dark, pouring down rain and way too late at night.

It also helped me to realize when navigation apps and electronic direction givers go wrong while in the middle of a trip. Having learned the lay of Kansas City's land, and how the laying of those landmarks happen, I can go "off map" and let my app recalculate to it's circuit algorythms' content. There's something to be said for "taking the scenic route" even if it's nothing more than "I've gotten lost here!" while you bask in remembered victories over poorly lit intersections and sign-obscuring trees.

That's why after a day of driving and following my navigation app's instructions about turns, I had a slight "Oh, crap!" moment when I realized I hadn't been paying attention to the landmarks -- AKA: road signs. I had been too busy playing tourist and chatting with my passenger. I immediately returned to my old habits, reading each street sign and checking on miles elapsed.

I wondered briefly how people who have only known navigation apps, manage if the wayfinding fails. Then I immedately went back to reading signs.
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Red Hot flavored Apple Sauce Muffins (take one)

Last night's experiment was sweet. Literally. Almost too sweet for me to eat. Don't get me wrong, it's good, but it's more like dessert than breakfast food. It's also kinda-sorta healthy, too, due to the fact that I added fiber in the form of shredded carrots. The extra sweetness came from the apple sauce. It, too, is homemade. Only it's the kind made with Red Hots (AKA: cinnamon imperials, AKA: cinnamon candy). How do I know? It has a vague cinnamon flavor and a distinct deep reddish-brown color. Non-red hot apple sauce is the beigy-tan color of cooked apples. Just like the commercial kind.

Anyway, here's the muffin recipe I made.

----Red Hot Apple Sauce Muffins----
1/2 cup brown sugar
8 tablespoons butter
2 eggs
1 cup home made apple sauce with red hots
1/4 tsp fresh ginger
1/4 cup finely shredded carrot
1 cup flour
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
2 tsp baking powder

Preheat the oven to 350 F. line cooking vessels with parchment cups. Cream butter and sugar together. Mix in eggs. Add applesauce, ginger, and carrots, stir well. Combine the remaining (dry) ingredients and mix with wet ingredients until combined. Bake 20 minutes for cupcake pan, 28-30 minutes for jumbo muffins or ramekins.

The next batch I make with this apple sauce will have no brown sugar, or any other sugar that's not part of the apple sauce. Sweetening is sweetening. Sucrose (AKA: sugars), fructose (AKA: fruit juices/fruit sugars/corn syrup), honey, and anything ending in "-ose" all impact the body the same because the body metabolizes them the same way. Red Hots/Cinnamon Imperials are candy. As in I used a candied apple sauce. It's good apple sauce. However, it's a sugar bomb that doesn't need any more help being sweet.

I'll also double the amount of ginger and up the carrots to 1/3 or 1/2 cup. I wanted a mildly spicy muffin. I also have some ginger root I need to use up. Increasing the amount of carrots is because I like how using a micro plane grater reduces the carrots to invisibility texture wise and adds moisture and fiber to the muffin. Because I'm removing the need to cream butter and sugar together, I'll replace the butter with the same amount of oil. (Fat is for browning, sugars are for caramelizing.) While not all fats are created equal nutritionally, a lot of muffin recipes do use oil instead of butter. So it's an ingredient with a known performance style.

Just for giggles and grins -- and because I don't have a jumbo muffin tin -- I pulled out a creme brulee ramekin and two 1-cup Pyrex lunch containers to make three jumbo muffins to go along with my six cupcake regular ones. I have the jumbo liners, just not the baking tin.

Other than the whole square peg, round hole (or rather round peg, square hole) thing, it really works. For the record, regular muffins take 1/4 cup of batter. Large one take 1/2 cup of batter. Dimensions also matter. Muffins baked in a regular ramekin look like muffins (only with truly vertical sides). The one baked in the ramekin spread out rather than up and look like English muffins or crumpets (only without the holes and well, everything else that makes them what they are).

Before I forget...adding carrots is good for the flavor and for the body.

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Pear Muffins Redux

Because diabetes is an ever present concern for me, I pay attention to things like serving size, calorie counts, fiber content and so on in what I eat. One day, several years ago when googling nutrition information for fresh fruits and vegetables (things that I regularly consume that have no handy USDA nutrition facts label) I came across the Calorie Count website. This handy-dandy web site also has a recipe app that converts the ingredient list into a Nutrition Facts label for the thing you just baked/cooked/made from assorted ingredients -- just like the kind you find on commercially prepared foods. I plugged in the one-egg version of the recipe and selected for three servings (because one cupcake sized muffin isn't enough, two is my norm.) I got this.

Because Pear Sauce and Pear Butter is not to be found in grocery stores -- or in on-line databases -- I used an equivalent amount of applesauce. (That was actually the first nutrition label I generated. I decided to use "1/2 cup pear"* in place of apple sauce or pear sauce/pear butter.) The "apple sauce for pear sauce" substitution was handily provided by the Calorie Counter web site. It's amazing what happens when you switch out the fruit component. It also illustrated for me, why pears have such a grainy texture. That's fiber. So my original let's use up this applesauce recipe went from a "you can do better" nutritional grade (something that the USDA label doesn't do) into a "not bad, mostly guilt free" food.

* This is in not-so-fond memory of my Mother's tendency to do strange and unnatural things to fruit. Specifically, she stewed it. Fruit simmered in a little water until it's mushy is just nasty. It was her favorite dessert to make while I was growing up. Out-of-season fruit she froze during the summer and cooked during the winter, I could see. The fresh-in-season stuff? *shudder* That's why I bake with apple sauce/pear sauce rather than eat it straight.
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Pear Muffins

... or rather Pear Butter Muffins. I'm going through some home canned food while cooking ahead. Half to three quarters of the muffins will be frozen so I can make apple sauce muffins, pear honey muffins, sausage-n-cornbred muffins and other random muffins to freeze. A person can only eat so many muffins before they get sick of them. Cooking and freezing, however, makes work day breakfast very easy.

This recipe is an off-the-cuff one. It was January, the Texas Cousins were up and I was hunting through the cabinets out at the farm looking for canned stuff that needed to get used up -- or tossed. I ran across a stash of single serving cups of apple sauce. The one's that are designed to go into lunch bags. I defaulted to my favorite banana bread recipe and tweaked it. This is the result.

I have to say, single serving fruit sauce cups are excellent when baking for one or a limited number of people. I'm not using one of those. I've got a pint jar of pear butter/sauce to use up. (The jar says "pear butter". My mouth thinks it's "pear sauce"

For the unitiated, pear butter and/or pear sauce is like apple butter and/or apple sauce. The fruit was cored, possibly peeled (not a necessity) and cooked for 6-12 hours over low heat with some sort of spice like cinnamon or nutmeg. The longer you cook it, the smoother it is. 6 hours gets you pear butter. 12 hours gets you pear sauce. I've made both the apple and the pear kind of both types from scratch. All hail the crock pot! The only time I actually use the stove top is when I'm canning the stuff.

---Pear Muffins (1 egg batch)---

1/2 stick of salted butter
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1/2 cup pear butter
1/2 cup flour
1/4 cup rolled/quick oats
1/4 cup whole wheat flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder

Preheat the oven to 350 F. line a 6 cup muffin tin with paper liners.
Cream the butter and sugar together. Add the egg and mix. Beat in the pear butter.
Combine the dry ingredients then stir them into the wet ingredients until just combined.
Divide the batter evenly between liners, bake 20 minutes (give or take. I start checking them at 15 minutes) until the center springs back when lightly touched. Do Not Overbake. The whole grain nature of this muffin means it will get very dry when baked for too long.
Serves 3.


Normally when making muffins, I just do the white flour and oatmeal for my starch. (The oatmeal is to make it healthy-er) Tonight, I was poking through my pantry and came across a small batch of whole wheat flour that also needed to be used up. The key to making whole-grain products that don't have the texture of sawdust or sand paper is to 1) make a wet batter and 2) don't over bake or 3) pre-cook the high-fiber ingredients before adding them to the mix.

Rolled/Quick oats are steamed/parcooked, sent through a mill and then dried. They have less fiber than steel cut oats -- which is basically the whole oat that's been cracked to bits for quicker cooking. I have an oatmeal bread I make using steel cut oats that's as soft as regular white bread. The key is to pre-cook the oatmeal. Doing that breaks down the sawdust-like fiber and disperses it evenly.
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Dedicated Practice Time

Back in junior high school, when we were learning to play the recorder in Music, Mrs. Kolarz insisted that we practice 30 minutes every day to get better. Thirty minutes wasn't that much time, she said. Her tone of voice indicated do it and get it done. Of course, this was the woman who could play a dozen different instruments including the accordion. Thirty minutes was hell for a parent who didn't like a lot of noise around the house. Thirty minutes was an eternity for a kid who was not musically inclined. All of this was in preparation for High School Band.

Between subtle parental pressure to Not Take Band and other interests of my own, I never did get that 30 minutes a day in.

I can't really say that I missed it either. Chorus was enough of organized music education for me*. It doesn't help that I had (and still have) one of those voices where I feel more comfortable singing in the tenor range than the alto I kept getting shoved into. At least, Mr. Galleon never figured out that I was singing with the boys half the time.

Fast forward through the decades... I still did the music thing. This mostly entailed breaking out into song at non-random times. At least, non random to me. Good mood, good friends, good times, good associative cues, and I would (still will, actually) break into song.

However, I did not break into song tonight.

My Thursdays are taken up with a different kind of practice. First it's tea ceremony, then it's water color painting. I'm a student in the former and the instructor in the latter. Practicing tea ceremony, even if it's just a quick run-through in my head, helps when it comes time to actually do it. Or at least, remember the correct phrases to say at the correct times. After tea ceremony, Mrs. O and I paint the same object or photograph. For me, it's practice. For her, it's an actual lesson. Some things it's much easier to show than tell because English is not her first language.

So here it is, 10:52 at night and I'm blogging to unwind. I want to/need to go to bed. However if I want to finish my book, I need to stick with my newly resumed, "Write one hour or one page, whichever comes first." I hope it won't take an hour to write one page. I really need to go to bed.

* I did learn to read music in chorus. I have acquired a small, simple harp that is basically "An Instrument for Musical Dummies," I am teaching myself to play it. I just haven't put in the 30 minutes a day on it.
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Butterscotch Cake: a most wonderful accident.

I've become picky about cake. Part of it comes from attending weddings. Some of it was working on a cake-based fundraiser called "Let Them Eat Cake" where contestants had to submit two identical cakes. One to sample, one to auction off. Between that, various boxed cake mixes, and a burning desire to have small amounts of really good cake whenever I want...I turned to made-from-scratch recipes.[1] While there are some good box mixes -- if you don't follow the directions exactly -- I do not want to bake a 9x13 or double layer cake for just myself. I don't like cake that much. A bonus feature of scratch cakes is the fact that you can make a half (or quarter or third or whatever fraction gets you down to one egg) of a cake. And then bake it in something other than cupcake pans. An 8x8 pan or 9 inch cake pan, or (my recent favorite) ramekins will do.

I finally found a recipe that meets all my criteria: few ingredients, reduces down to a 1/4 batch easily, doesn't get all gross when I want to play with flavors. It's called "Golden Milk Cake".

I'll get around to posting the full, original Golden Milk Cake recipe eventually. Right now, I want to blog about my latest experiment. I wanted to see if I could make a carmel flavored cake, but what I ended up with was more like butterscotch. Warm from the oven it was pure heaven.

So here's the actual (half-batch) recipe.

Butterscotch Cake
1 stick butter, softened
1 cup, packed, brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2 eggs, room temperature
1.5 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup half and half
1 cup sifted flour (don't have a sifter, stir the flour with a whisk before measuring)

Preheat oven to 350F. prepare your baking vessel[2]. Cream together butter and sugar, add vanilla and eggs, beat until smoothh. Dissolve the baking powder in the milk, stir in the sugar mix until smooth, Add flour then mix until just combined. Pour into baking vessel. 1/4 cup for cupcakes, 1/2 cup for ramekins, the whole bowl of batter. Bake until the top is dry but springy or a toothpick comes out clean when stuck in the center. Time wise that's:
cupcakes--15 to 20 minutes
Ramekins--30 to 35 minutes
pans--50 minutes

Makes 12 cupcakes or one 8x8 pan, or one 9inch round cake pan or 4 ramekins

[1] I also believe that good cake doesn't need frosting. Really good cake says "Frost me if you MUST, sugar addict, but you're missing the point."

[2] line the cupake pan with cupcake sleeves. butter and flour the square or round pans. The ramekins will easily take giant muffin liners (you'll just have very frilly sides) or you can butter and flour them.)
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Star Trek Beyond -- The Pithy Review

What I Expected:
A rehashed, re-done reboot of some old episode or movie from Star Trek (The Original Series) full of sexist BS involving James T. Kirk having sex with a striking alien in between things blowing up and people running, screaming and fighting. I figured I'd wait until it was streamable to watch it, but I kept hearing trusted sources say it was unexpectedly good. So I ponied up for a matinee.

What I Got:
A brand new, never before seen plot! No overt sexism! Geeky bonding! Actual displays of real friendship! Some very pretty cinematography! A surprising low level of WTF-ness!

The franchise's triumvirate of Kirk/Spock/McCoy actually came off feeling as though they were real friends in a real-ish world as opposed to actors portraying friends in a movie. In The Reboot Movie, I had a hard time buying that this friendship between three very different people could gel that fast based on the acting that I saw. The second movie, The Wrath of Khan Sans Khan--Nope, Just Kidding--It's really Khan, didn't have time to focus on the friendships outside of the general stereotyping and rampant white washing.

The crew/cast as a whole seem more family-like and comfortable with each other, too. There was less manufacured interpersonal drama so the actors were able to act like people, not set pieces.

While the plot was standard and fairly predictable, I did enjoy the nods and the little twists to my cultural-based expectations. I liked the fact that Uhura did a lot more than "answer the phone" and repeat other people's words in her duty as a linguist/translator. I appreciated that a female engineer out-Scottied Scotty. I could go on about the little touches, but let's just say, "I got the warm fuzzies over the kind and quality of ass kicking" and leave it at that.

The CGI was stunning. And fun. I didn't expect the fun part. I also suspect that this movie wouldn't suck in 3D. (I have very strong feelings about 3D movie cinematography.> It has to do with things like "Depth of Field" and "Dimensionality vs Layering" and "Please don't throw things AT me.")

Most of my WTFness came with the world building and command structures of the Federation. It wasn't central to the plot, although it was held up as an obstacle to happiness. Whose happiness I can't/won't say. However, it felt like a halting call back to the original movie franchise. All I can say is... if the writers/producer/director are/is going to keep referring to HQ and the Higher Command Structure, go watch a bunch of Star Trek the Next Generation episodes involving members of the Federation's high command.

I give it a 3.5 out of 5.
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Japanese Tea Ceremony: In Media Res

For the second week in a row, I’ve had to resort to an alcoholic beverage after my Thursday-night class.

It’s not that I dislike teaching watercolor or my student, who also happens to be my instructor in the Urasenke School of Tea Ceremony, it’s because I’m sensitive to caffeine. I’ve learned the hard way that caffeine affects me for nine hours. Unless I ingest some sort of chemical depressant, I’ll be up until at least 3--probably 4--am. I have to go to work tomorrow and be moderately functional. That’s hard to do on 2 hours (or so) of sleep.

Why am I drinking matcha (very strong green tea made from powdered green tea leaves--strong as in 1 cup of matcha equals 5 normal cups of brewed tea) so long after my self-imposed 3pm caffeine cutoff? Because my teacher/sensei is also sensitive to caffeine and she won’t drink the tea I’ve made. (It’s also a way to teach/walk me through the role of the guest in the ceremony. Two birds, one cup of tea. Well, two cups. We do two practices each class.) Luckily, hopefully, her other students will return from their breaks soon. Being wound up (you have to consume sweets with the tea, so I’m well on my way to being the live-action version of the Tazmanian Devil as seen in the Buggs Bunny cartoons) and soused makes for some weird sleep.

For the next few weeks, I’ll be blogging about how I got to be in this buzz-fest. Hopefully, with the addition of her other student’s I’ll be able to restrict my intake to just one cup -- if that. In the meantime, three cheers for alcohol!