Representative Democracy

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With all of the political chaos going on in the US, there’s been quite a lot of political engagement, particularly with people going to “town hall” meetings between the representatives and their constituencies. Well, I went to one the other day, here in Vallejo, for Congressman Mike Thompson.

I should have brought knitting.

It was like going to the most horrible, boring, irrelevant church service ever, except they didn’t even have singing.

Dear Politicians: do not tell us the same old schtick. We have this thing called “the internet?” It tells us all of these things. It’s how we knew where to track you down. We do not need for you to tell us these things. We know them. We want to ask you questions. We want to know what you are going to do. We want to know that you hear us, which means you need to actually listen to us.

Of course, at least the congressman had the guts to meet with us (in the Vallejo Senior Center, which is why there’s a permanent Bingo board behind him). This is unlike Senator Dianne Feinstein, who apparently doesn’t meet with you unless you cough up a bunch of cash. And I guess he was interesting enough, if you’re used to listening to the radio or watching TV – you know, low-bandwidth information consumption.

To put this into context: I either read my news or I listen to podcasts … and the podcast app I use lets me turn up the playback speed, so I can adjust it so the information comes at me way faster than having to listen to someone’s natural speaking voice. This is me: I consume information rapidly. Listening to a speaker drives me crazy unless I have something to do, and playing games on the phone isn’t quite enough to make me OK with the hard chairs and the repetitive information.

Representative democracy. Bleh. It’s either doomed or it’s entirely irrational. (Go read those articles, please – yes, the author is probably a liberal, but these are about political science rather than policy.)

Lesson learned: politicians are a low-bandwidth form of information delivery, and deliver information which can be easily consumed elsewhere, and they choose places with hard chairs. Oh, and they don’t want you to bring signs.

On a totally different note, we’ll be off to the Tri-Cities area of Washington State next week for interviews. We’ll be off sometime the following week to Seattle for interviews. And my current client has apparently realized that I’m seriously going to be going somewhere, so they want me to come and and do some work and, oh, would I be available to support them remotely through to the end of the year at least.


Posted in California | 1 Comment

Fermented Salsa

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Fermented Salsa 2.6

So, some of you may have subscribed to our photography and have seen the pictures of hot peppers going by. We’ve basically been able to make our own Sriracha-like pepper sauce, along with a coarser pepper paste for cooking. There’s not a recipe for this, more like a series of steps:

  1. coarsely chop a whole bunch of peppers (and some garlic, and lime juice)
  2. ferment them in a 5% saline solution for a couple of weeks
  3. puree them
  4. run them through a sieve
  5. boil the liquid portion until it’s as thick as you’d like
  6. refrigerate both portions

This gives you two portions of hot peppery goodness: one to use in stir-fry and the like (the coarse one) and the other to use as a condiment.

We, of course, had to include quite a few habañeros in addition to serranos, jalapeños, manzanillos, and pasillas. The manzanillos / manzanos were a new one to us – we saw them at the Mexican market and thought we’d give them a try. They’re surprisingly fruity, almost like a very mild habañero. I looked for them a few weeks later and couldn’t find them again, so they may be very seasonal – there were certainly only about 50 there when we saw them, so perhaps they just ran out. We’ll look for them again, though, because they’re yummy!

The fermentation gives the sauce a tiny bit of sourness (on top of the lime juice) and helps to soften the peppers so they’ll blend. Sourness really helps the flavor, and probably makes this more digestible as well. We just like the heat, and go through so much of this that making our own is a necessity as well as just plain fun.

Two critical cautions:

  1. Wear gloves any time you’re handling any of this stuff.
  2. Ventilate the kitchen when cooking down the sauce, or cook it outside (which is what we’ll be doing next time). Honestly, cooking this sauce down means you’re evaporating quite a few volatiles and your house will make your eyes water for the next several hours even running the whole house fan, so … definitely, cook it outside, and don’t breathe near the vapors.

Honestly, you do not want this stuff – raw or fermented – to get under your fingernails and visit your eyeball some time hours later. You also don’t want your house to make you cough and your eyes to water. Or maybe you do – up to you.


Posted in Kitchen Favorites, Recipe | 1 Comment

Santa Barbara … Nope.

Well, that was one of the stranger interview experiences I’ve ever had! Long story short: I’ll not be taking that job in Santa Barbara!

So, I went down to Santa Barbara to interview with this company after having had a few phone interviews, including a technical interview. Before going down it had seemed like things were really going well, like we were a great fit (albeit with a few things I’d have to get used to). I get to the interview at 11:00, we chit chat, go out to lunch, and then settle in for interviews. At this point, I’m expecting to meet people, talk with people – basically, to see what things are like and have them sell me on what a great company they are and how much of a nice place it is. Hahahaha, Nope!

Instead of selling me on them, they proceed to ask me tricky programming questions. Which, OK, fine, yes, people do this. They usually do it earlier in the process, but whatever, I can roll with it. The questions are usually idiotic, so that’s not unusual, even though I thought we were past this point, but hey, not getting hung up on that. Did I expect each of the three different interviewers to demonstrate odd personality traits that I would find distasteful to work with? No, certainly not. Did I expect to be pushed to answer when I had stated that I did not know the answer? Nope. Did I expect someone to mimic my body language? Like, I was fiddling with an earring while thinking about a coding question and the guy goes and tugs on his earlobe? Oh, no, I did not expect this. Nor did I expect them to be rude to other employees (a lady asked to change the thermostat in the conference room, since it was freezing in their space outside the conference room, to which the interviewer responded that he didn’t care).

After this strange day, wherein I sell myself to them and straight up do not respond to complete rudeness, I go back to the hotel basically exhausted and play some mindless games on the phone (frozen bubble is fabulous for not having to think, by the way). As I’m playing, I’m thinking over all the little things, and I’m adding them all up, and I’m reaching the conclusion that these are not nice people, and this is not going to be a nice place to work.

So, we drive home, and I talk it all out with T, and I write the recruiter a politely worded response to say that I don’t think it’s going to be a good fit.

And then I get a call from the hiring manager, wanting to talk it over.

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The hiring manager tells me that these behaviors were intentional. They had intentionally done these things to see how I would react.

Let that sink in for a minute.

A potential employer essentially conducted psychological experimentation with a candidate. Over the course of 6 hours, and by 3 different people, they attempted to see whether I would react negatively to their behavior.

Here’s a little secret, people trying to hire: if you act like someone with whom the candidate would not want to work, that candidate is going to decide that they do not want to work with you. If you later try to tell them it was all a test? Well, that says that you felt entitled to know how the candidate would respond to stressful situations … which says that you intend to subject them to those types of situations, else why subject them to the test? If you do not intend to treat them poorly, why would you need to know how they will react to being treated poorly?

I don’t think there can be any ethical justification of such a test.

In talking with the hiring manager I told him that maybe, if he’d told me what they’d been doing before I left the interview, I might have reached a different decision. Thinking it through, though, I do not think so; I think that even knowing it was a test I would be offended because, again, If you do not intend to treat me that way, Why do you need to know how I will react?

I think I find this especially frustrating because I feel like it was a lie: that I wasted my time going down there because they were not being honest about the purpose of the meeting. Whatever they learned, I hope that they learned that some people react to macho BS by being polite and then removing themselves from the situation as quickly as possible.

I have a few more interviews lined up for the coming weeks, one of which I think looks like it could be quite interesting, the other of which is more “let’s talk more and see what kind of a company you really are.” We’ll see.


Posted in California, Rant, Upheaval | 3 Comments

Santa Barbara

Well, folks, we’re heading down to Santa Barbara this afternoon, as D has an interview there on Monday. We’ll also hopefully take more pictures of the actual city of Santa Barbara, as, looking back, we only really have good pictures of the Mission, but not of Santa Barbara itself. So.

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-D & T

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And if sun comes

How shall we greet him?

Shall we not dread him,

Shall we not fear him

After so lengthy a

Session with shade?

Though we have wept for him,

Though we have prayed

All through the night-years—

What if we wake one shimmering morning to

Hear the fierce hammering

Of his firm knuckles

Hard on the door?

Shall we not shudder?—

Shall we not flee

Into the shelter, the dear thick shelter

Of the familiar

Propitious haze?

Sweet is it, sweet is it

To sleep in the coolness

Of snug unawareness.

The dark hangs heavily

Over the eyes.

      – gwendolyn brooks

Posted in Life, Upheaval | 2 Comments

Thanks, TSA!

Thanks, TSA

Every time we fly we get one of these notices, but only in the bag with the laptop. The other bag never gets one. They leave this in disappointment, apparently, because the laptop is a piece of junk we take with us when we travel. Maybe they open the bag because of the novelty of seeing a laptop so old? Maybe it’s just that people have learned not to trust them with their electronics? We don’t know the real reason. But, if you want someone from TSA to go through your things, it seems an old laptop is something they find irresistible.

Helpful tech hint: when next you find yourself with an aging laptop on your hands, think about where it could still be useful. You could load Ubuntu Linux (or some other flavor, if you prefer – Ubuntu is easy to use for Windows or Mac people) and a few necessary programs and have something that’s quite useful for travel. Or you could strip everything off of the laptop that you don’t need and sanitize the disk (have a look at using sdelete, from Microsoft to do this). Either way, having something to take along that you wouldn’t mind losing means that you can pack the thing in hold luggage rather than schlepping it in carryon, and you can worry less about it in the hotel as well.

An added bonus is getting little love notes from TSA, expressing their disappointment that they didn’t find anything worth stealing in your luggage.


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Sweet Potato Snaps

You know what’s problematic? Vegan cookie dough.

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In the fourth grade, T went to play at a friend’s house, and while the mother was diligently ironing, she was watching Days of our Lives, and eating, with a small spoon, from a bowl. Curious (nosy) T was offered some. And she was horrified. It was chocolate chip cookie dough – with raw eggs in it.

Being that awful know-it-all child, T gasped that raw eggs were BAD for you, and didn’t indulge. But, vegan cookie dough on a rainy afternoon… is another problem altogether. What’s worse? Is sweet potato cookie dough. If you already like sweet potatoes, baker, you may be doomed…


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We have used surplus root veg to make cookies and muffins before, and it can be a great idea. Lots of vitamins and high fiber, and with minimal sweetener – honey or molasses – it’s a good way to use farm box veggies. This recipe uses sweet potato puree, so if you have a couple of baked yams sitting around, it’s a great way to use leftovers.

We revised a traditional Southern cooking show recipe and doubled everything but the sugar, and we still think it could maybe be cut a little, but your mileage may vary. Your baking time may also vary; we had to shorter ours quite a bit, or have black-bottomed cookies, which aren’t that tasty.

Sweet Potato Snaps

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 stick (1/2 cup) salted butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup light brown sugar 2 Tbsp. molasses
  • 1 egg, room temperature 1 Tbsp ground flax seed
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup sweet potato puree
  1. Preheat the oven to 375°F 350°F.
  2. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, allspice, nutmeg, and salt.
  3. Cream butter and sugar.
  4. Add sweet potato and mix until incorporated.
  5. Mix in dry ingredients and vanilla.
  6. Drop by heaping tablespoons onto the prepared cookie sheets, leaving about 2 inches of space between each cookie.
  7. Bake 18 minutes.Bake 10-12 minutes unless you’d like to eat cinders.

These actually taste – in dough form – like a cross between pumpkin pie and gingerbread – but once baked up, the spices create a subtler seasoning, and the sweet potato flavor really shines out. Be sure to let the cookies sit a bit after baking – not only are these little nuclear furnaces to bite into, the starches need to settle in order to give them that chewy gingersnap texture. Five-to-seven minutes should do the trick, and yes, you can wait that long.

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As you can see, we used a scoop to make these cookies the same uniform size (until some of us got bored with that *ahem*) but if you have a cookie press, the cookie dough is a great consistency for that.

Originally, the cookies were meant to be finished with an orange glaze, but we really feel like a.) there’s already quite enough sugar going on there, and b.) the orange might be better added as extract, just before baking. If you were making these for a party, and not just for at-home snacking, by all means, use a powdered sugar and orange juice glaze and a zest an orange to give it a bit of color, but the sweet potato flavor really doesn’t need the extra help, and if you use too much sugar, you really run the risk of losing the subtle play of flavor. Definitely use more orange than sugar here!

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Enjoy – and enjoy these rainy, hazy, crazy days of winter.

Posted in Baking | 1 Comment

Tower Blocks We Have Known

It never ceases to amaze, how apparently the same five architects have been all over the world, building the same kind of tower block apartment buildings.

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From Mexico City, to Tallinn, Estonia, to Reykjavik, Iceland, to Glasgow, Scotland.

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Around Glasgow 571
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These, to the right, are a few of the tower blocks in Glasgow. Somewhere in amidst the rest of our photos are better pictures of these, or ones like them, we’re sure – and in there somewhere is a bunch of them which closely resemble those we found in Mexico City. It’s a wee bit hard to find them at the moment, though, and there are better things to do on New Year’s Day (i.e., read books) than to hunt for pictures of tower block apartments. Glasgow was quite full of tower block apartments, although they’re mostly coming down now, as the days of trying to move the poor out of the city and into isolated and isolating towers is apparently at an end. We wonder about Mexico: are these the beginnings of a similar kind of thing there, or are these going to be more like those in Tallinn and Reykjavik, where they’re more of a long-lasting feature than a short-lived effort to shift the poor elsewhere? They unfortunately look more like Glaswegian tower blocks than they ought, if they’re going to last awhile. I guess we’ll have to ask about and see what role these are expected to play.

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The smaller tower block, here, with the elevator scaffolding in place was home for a very short 6 months, with us leaving because of the elevator scaffolding (which ran up and down outside our windows, with an awful buzzing noise, multiple times per day) and also because of the fact that the entire building pretty much fell into shadow after about 1:00 in the afternoon, all Winter long. This was our first flat in Glasgow – the elevator scaffolding is stopped right in front of our living room windows.

Now we’re back from Mexico City, we’re spending quite a lot of time sleeping, trying to recover from being tourists and from a nasty bug we picked up somewhere before we’d even left and which plagued us during the entire trip. Sometime tomorrow we’ll settle back into the idea that we have work to do, and lives to live here. Until tomorrow, though, we’re going to take it easy and ignore the world for a bit more.

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Grasshopper Castle

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One of the more amusing-yet-annoying aspects of travel is the difference between what Google Maps tells you and what the locals tell you about how to get somewhere, and how long of a walk it is. We had a pre-open hours tour of Chapultepec Castle and needed to get there quickly. (In the panorama below, to the left you can see the first gates to the park; to the far right, somewhere behind the trees, is our hotel.)

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“It’s a little walk, five minutes,” the front desk concierge told us. “20 Minutes,” Google maps sternly advised (and Google also had us going through all sorts of back roads, which … nope.). Well, they were both wrong; we ended up walking for ten minutes to the gates – not five – and a half hour’s walk took us across the park, through the maze of food sellers and people hawking popcorn and cotton candy, agua fresca, emoji pillows and lucha libre masks, to finally – finally – the next set of gates at the bottom of the hill to the castle… which took another ten minutes to climb, to the next set of gates. Moral of the story: give yourself an hour more than you think you’ll need, if you’re trying to meet a guide. Unfortunately, not everyone got that memo, so we ended up waiting for an additional half hour, and our tour, which was meant to be no more than eight people, before the castle opened… swelled to forty-some people, as a retiree group from Florida showed up.

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Obviously, by the time we got situated and counted and recounted and organized by our guide, we were past the “pre-opening hours” time by a great deal.

We do NOT like to travel in large groups with a guide; especially when led by a guide who is more like the more annoying Kindergarten teachers you had than not. Because the castle museum guides are written in Spanish, one can purchase a listening guide in English, but the guide decided to translate… everything. And she was offended if this vast group moved ahead of her. The little “Yoo hoooo!” which echoed through the vast hallways probably had Maximilian and Carlota (and whichever other second wives and mistresses the man had) spinning in their graves…

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Fortunately in the castle park there weren’t as aggressive salespersons as they were in smaller villages we’ve visited, but with 30+ people strolling about, we definitely attracted more notice than we wanted…

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Additionally, it’s problematic to travel as a group of Americans all together, as lately the discourse deteriorates inevitably toward a political discussion. Somewhere we need to resurrect that rule about not talking politics or religion with strangers. The Floridians were curious about us, the biracial couple, and tentative “where did you meet? where are you from?” questions gave way to broad assumptions about… many things. T. gave a lot of vague smiles and eventually ghosted poor D, who ended up with Mr. Manhattan Playwright, who had to give his increasingly offensive opinions of a.) Mexican Nationals, b.) work ethic, c.) Mexican food, d.) things Ms. Rodham did wrong in her campaign, e.) the idiocy of certain classes of voters, f.) etc. etc. etc. f.) ad nauseum g.) ad infinitum. Fortunately, not all of our fellow travelers were like Mr. Manhattan; we met a couple who had lived in San Francisco in the seventies, and now that they’ve retired to Florida are always pleased to see folks from “home;” a solo engineer from Tucson, originally from Wisconsin, asked us for places to see in NorCal, and made a pleasantly amusing companion over lunch. It was a mixed bag, as people always are, and eventually we drifted off on our own, as one can only take the Kindergarten leadership so long…

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You might have gotten the idea that there was a lot of walking going on during this tour, and you’d be right. We walked for six hours – first from the hotel to the park, then through the park to the hill, then up the hill and through the castle, then through the National History Museum, then we stopped for lunch, and then went through the Museo de Antropologia – and then back through the park, and through the city to the hotel. After walking so much the night before, we were completely gutted, and gratefully found lunch at the tapas restaurant at the hotel, where the staff fell over themselves to find something for the lone vegetarianos to eat. After a lovely leek soup and some toast, we retired to our room for the evening… and then T helpfully spiked a fever and went to bed with chills and stomach upset. It was a rather inglorious ending to the day, but fortunately, we’d planned a whole lot of “in bed with books” for Christmas Eve and Christmas. Hotel room service, here we come.

-D & T

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De Colores

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We people watch a great deal, on the way to and from wherever we’re going in this city. It amazes us that there are almost 9 million people in this city alone – and it’s so densely populated that people are living cheerfully cheek-by-jowl. It’s … a lot sometimes, so we’re grateful for the little pauses where we can look around.

One of the things which intrigues are the barrio murals. There’s graffiti all over the city, but quite a lot of it isn’t mere tagging, but actual muralist artwork. There’s a strong muralist tradition here, of course, dating back to Diego Rivera, and the city seems to be pretty ambivalent about artists taking to the streets, as long as the work is good and it’s not invasive or on statuary or whatnot. Those rules are clearly adhered to – there’s ONLY tagging on walls along freeways – so, so dangerous, with the way people drive here! – along sidewalks and streets and on the side of buildings. Even temporary walls put up along construction corridors don’t escape the paint.

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A lot of the art is religious iconography – the Virgin de Guadalupe is everywhere – but there’s also Banksy style stuff, stuff with a more political bent, protest artwork, and more. If you can handle the dust in the air from all the sweepers (there are leagues of twig-broom wielding sweepers all over the city) there are a lot of interesting places to walk and see the public art.

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-D & T

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