measurement systems evaluation

by dichroic in daily updates

So…. my blood pressure was 177/88 last Friday, 122/80 Monday, 144/82 today. I believe I have identified one component of the variation (other than the obvious one, that work in general seems to raise my BP).

I realized today that since with their system they have to read the numbers off a big round analog dial,
It looks like the humans who take the measurements are biased toward double numbers. With as fast as the needle moves, I doubt there’s much visible difference between, say, 144 or 145.

This is what happens when you send someone whose whole job is based around data and evidence to see the doctor!


by dichroic in daily updates

That blood pressure that was 177/88 Friday …. was 122/80 today. I self-prescribe more time on the water! (Or possibly more Ted time – he was sleeping in the spare room all last week, until the weekend, due to a sinus infection and lots of coughing.)

grumpy Monday

by dichroic in daily updates

Last week at my dermatologist checkup, my blood pressure was higher than I’ve seen it for a while. Also, I had a mild headache or felt on the verge of one all week. So I dropped into the clinic at work (I love having a clinic at work!) and asked them to take my BP …. and it was another 20 points higher, 177/88. That is, apparently, not high enough to cause your brain to spontaneously explode, but it’s still scary high for me. I dithered a bit about whether to go to my primary care doctor (which would have to wait til Monday at least) or see one at the work clinic. I decided on the latter because I could be seen the same day, and also because I’ve only seen my PCP once (the previous one left that practice) and I’ve need the Nurse Practitioner at work once also, and liked her better. So now I will be going back on blood pressure meds, but first I have to go to the lab this morning to get my kidney function and electrolytes checked. This means I can’t eat anything or even have sugar in my tea until 9:15 this morning (my workday starts at 7).

The other bad thing that happened Friday is that I drove my car home with the sunroof open, then when I went to close it, it THUNKED loudly and refused to close all the way. So I also have an appointment with the mechanic this afternoon.

Couple all that with a potential issue at work that will need either lots of escalation or a creative way to avert it, and I’m not sure how I’m supposed to be lowering my BP.

Well, actually, I do know how I need to lower my BP; I suspect a relatively small weight loss, 5-10 pounds, might have a big effect. Apparently, the thyroid meds I take only because the numbers in a blood test were high and not because of any actual symptoms can also raise BP. (There have been a bunch of articles on how thyroid meds are widely overprescribed – here’s a sample.) So I think I’m going to go off the Levothyroxin, and we’re going to try to eat smaller portions at dinner, having realized that we do eat more than we used to (because we cook better!).

Here’s hoping the car issue is easily fixed.

On the plus side, we finally had good weather on a weekend when we were both home and not sick so we finally got on the water! This is the first time in months, whereas usually we row almost all year round. I rowed one lap around the lake Saturday and it was glorious, though did abstain from kayaking Sunday because it was extremely windy. (I think I should have gone – from what we saw on the way home, the water wasn’t too bad. Oh well.

This day is not starting off well, but at least the weather is still beautiful – a good thing, since I can’t close my car’s roof!! Hopefully I can sustain the glow from the weekend a bit longer.

Soft pretzels

by dichroic in cooking

Back history:
My first foray into soft pretzel making was with a Collective Kitchen class, from a baker who learned to make them actually in Bavaria. His recipe was similar to the NYT’s, below, but started with a pate fermentee, a bit of dough made in advance and allowed to sit overnight before being added to the rest of the dough. I learned a lot there, including how to shape Bavarian style pretzels (I learned how to shape Philadelphia-style ones on a Girl Scout trip years ago) and why pretzels need to include malt syrup and be dipped in lye. Thus, when I decided to try soft pretzels on my own, I looked for recipes with both the malt and the lye included. (Amazon sells both malt syrup and food-grade lye.) In the class, we made and shaped out own, but since the dough needs to sit and rise a while, the ones we actually dipped in lye, baked and ate were from a batch he’d previously prepared. Liking pretzels and not wanting to waste the dough, I brought my batch home. I didn’t have lye, so I dipped those in a baking soda solution, verifying that does work. I also learned through experiment that if you freeze pretzels, then wet them, apply salt, microwave 30 seconds then bake 5 minutes at 425, they reheat perfectly and taste fresh.

I’d also gotten to taste real Philadelphia pretzels again recently, thanks to an extremely thoughtful birthday gift from my friend Peg. (This turned out to be lucky, too, because they included enough extra real pretzel salt to use for both batches.

Recipe 1: Reluctant Gourmet “Best Soft Pretzels”
This recipe actually calls for a dip in baking soda, but I used lye since I had it. (1/2 cup to 10 cups of water, as recommended in the NYT recipe). It tells you to put the pretzels in the freezer to firm them up, but I have a side by side fridge that is too narrow for a cooking sheet, so I put them in the fridge for maybe 45 minutes instead. They stayed firm enough to be easy to handle in their lye bath. The recipe calls for an egg wash after the lye bath, but I skipped that; neither the recipe from my class nor the NYT used it, and I don’t think Philly pretzels have it (an egg wash is what produces that very firm glossy crust on Challah).

Recipe 2: New York Times Bavarian-style pretzels
The his made a very stiff dough; the mixer (Kitchen Aid Professional line, but the Costco version) had some trouble handling it and was sending up smoke, so I finished kneading by hand. Then I realized I’d screwed up and forgotten to add the malt syrup. I didn’t want to waste the batch, so I added it in and kneaded some more (it did soften the dough a bit). I was afraid that not feeding the yeast from the beginning wouldn’t let the dough rise enough, but thought it was better to experiment, because I didn’t want to start over. I let this batch sit in the refrigerator overnight; one result of this was that they did most of their rising there, while the other batch rose more in the oven.

Differences between recipes
The Reluctant Gourmet (henceforth, RG) recipe uses all purpose flour and regular yeast, whereas the NYT uses bread flour and instant yeast. This required some shopping because what I normally have on hand for my no-knead bread is all-purpose flour and instant yeast – I think I may try the remaining bread flour in my next batch of bread. Also, the Reluctant Gourmet recipe notes ingredients by weight, whereas the NYT uses volume (cups, tablespoons etc). As an American cook I find the latter easier because it’s what I’m used to, but the latter is supposed to be more precise. It was kind of fun, using the tare function and measuring ingredients on my scale.

Also, the RG recipe lets the dough rise as dough in a bowl, whereas the NYT recipe has the rising after the pretzels are shaped (as does the recipe from the class I took).

So that I’d be able to tell them apart, I shaped the RG recipe Philadelphia-style (long oblongs) and the NYT batch in traditional Bavarian shape.

Reluctant Gourmet

New York Times

NYT all the way. Though I wouldn’t kick the Reluctant Gourmet recipe out of bed for leaving pretzel crumbs! It was pretty good and would not garner complaints on a Philly pretzel cart, but the NYT recipe had just perfect texture and complex taste.

Adding the malt syrup later to the NYT batch doesn’t seem to have caused any issues – they rose just fine.

For some reason, 3 of the RG batch came out pale, as though they hadn’t been dipped in lye solution, even though I’m sure I dipped all of them. It still tasted like a pretzel, though – without the alkalizing bath, what you get is more like regular bread (I experimented on one of the batch from my class).

Conclusion and Lessons Learned:
The overnight rising for the NYT batch may have helped. I will be curious to try the NYT recipe again and see if adding the malt at the proper time makes any difference. (Who knows, maybe I’ve discovered something!)

Malt syrup is difficult to work with. I wish they’d packaged it in a squeeze bottle, like honey often has now, instead of a jar with a lid. It did help the taste and I may experiment with adding some to my bread.

One other important thing I learnersd is, do not make a batch of pretzels on Friday night after work! The problem with this is that lye is not a chemical you want to play around with. Even though it’s probably not a strong enough solution to do real harm, I wore rubber gloves and was careful with the solution. But between the active time and the rising time, it takes quite a while until you get to that part. This results in an unconscionably long delay before you can have a well-deserved glass of wine at the end of a long work week.

plotbunny astray

by dichroic in words

eird thing happened to me in the shower this morning (not for the first time): I got hit by a plotbunny meant for someone else. Even if I were going to write a fiction book, this wouldn’t be a book I’d want to write and it probably wouldn’t be a book I’d read – but I think lots of other people would like it.

It would be called “The Younger Sons”, from the Robert Service poem, and would basically be competence porn about a bunch of childhood friends, English younger sons who didn’t inherit and left to do other things. There would be multiple story lines, each centered on a different person: one not unlike Kipling’s Stalky and Kim, who lives in the shadows of Her Majesty’s rule over India, helping things go well in his small part of it by working together with and respecting the locals. There would be one in the Klondike Gold Rush; I think he’d be a bartender or supplier to the miners rather than a miner himself, because that was the way for sane steady men to get rich, but I think he’d end up involved in a lot of adventures and rescues that didn’t get talked about much. Others might settle in South America or Australia; maybe one would be a diplomat in the mold of Peter Wimsey. They’d all be quiet doers, who would get stuff done without much in the way of resources, and most people wouldn’t notice them because they’d prevent calamities rather than getting there too late and doing more visible metaphorical firefighting. I’m not sure how to link the storylines; maybe it could be epistolary (though you’d need to include letters from others besides the main characters, since they’d tend to minimize their own doings) or maybe the diplomat could travel enough to provide a link.

You can tell I haven’t thought this out thoroughly, but I can already see a number of issues with it. The smaller challenge is making the historical timeline come out correctly: Kim was published in 1901 and Stalky & Co in 1899; presumably their adult adventures at the end of each book were supposed to be more or less contemporary with publication. The Klondike Gold Rush was 1896-99, so that works out, but Peter Wimsey was practicing his diplomacy in the 1930s; you’d need an older generation version of him. The bigger issues, though, is that this could become a very masculine book and the challenge would be to keep it from being a complete sausage fest. Still, there were women who Did Things at the time; I recently came across the photographer Frances Benjamin Johnston, for one; there could be a Younger Daughter modeled on her, or on another photographer she collaborated with (who was born in England, in fact), Zaida Ben Yusuf. Or on Isabella Bird. The other challenge, especially after the writer immersed herself in the amount of history and fiction of that time that she’d need as research, would be to keep it from being yet another encomium of the jolly old British Empire, never mind those poor brown fellahs starving over there, they’re jolly grateful really.

Still, Kim and Stalky managed to avoid thinking that way to a surprising extent, given they were born into it. So it should be possible, right? Anyway, clearly this plotbunny wasn’t meant for me – I can’t imagine wanting to write a book I don’t wish I could read – so I’m writing it down to release it back into the wild, in hopes it finds its person.

a funny thing just happened

by dichroic in daily updates

I’ve just reread A Wrinkle in Time, and it’s actually changed my thinking about the movie (which I have not seen yet). As important and fundamental as that book was to me as a child whose brain was built by books, and as heretical as it sounds, AWiT is about due for an update.

For one thing, the whole beginning of the book, where Meg and Charles meet Calvin, struck me as way too abrupt. This might be partly just because it’s written for who I was at 9 when I first read it rather than who I am at 51, but I think some of it is also because the slang and feel of its time would have made the relationship feel more real to its original readers. These days, “you’ve got dreamboat eyes” isn’t a line that would make a character feel more solid and trustworthy. Maybe I’m just old and cynical, but the whole bit where Calvin says “for the first time in my life I feel like I’m going home” just feels way too rushed – I need more time there for empathy to build. On the other hand, the relationship Charles Wallace has with the Mrs Ws feels more real to me – he’s only supposed to be about 5, after all, and he may not be much like a typical 5yo but he’s not emotionally mature either.

But what feels mosted dated to me is Camazotz as the instantiation of evil. The fight against the Dark is eternal and it’s in all the best children’s books, from Little Women to AWiT to The Dark is Rising to Harry Potter and on up, but the depiction of evil as onventionality feels very mid-century to me. It’s in The Screwtape Letters (published 1942) but I think it shows up most strongly
in the 1950s and early 1960s, when L’Engle was writing AWiT. It’s what Malvina Reylnolds excoriated in “Little Boxes”; it’s what the entire counterculture movement was rebelling against. In that period it shows even in writers as mainstream as Rosamund Du Jardin (I’m thinking of some passages in her Pam and Penny series). And thus we have Camazotz, where everyone is alike because they have surrendered their individuality. Lengle herself said, in her Newberry accenptance speech, “There are forces working in the world as never before in the history of mankind for standardization, for the regimentation of us all, or what I like to call making muffins of us, muffins all like every other mufifn in the muffin tin.”

I don’t believe that is the scariest shape of evil in the world today. Sure, they’d like to establish some kinds of people as the dafault, the main important type the world should revolve around, but they’re not trying to make everyone else fit in that mold; they’re just trying to ignore everyone else. But if you liten to what the spouters of hate are saying today, they aren’t preaching conventionality and the status quo even while claiming to want to MAGA; they’re more likely to proclaim themselves as rebels and brave fighters against the groopthink that keeps insisting with such (they claim) boring conventionality that all people are valuable and that our differences should be not only tolerated but celebrated.

The battle against the Dark is eternal, but its manifestations change over time. The one constant may be its use of Despair as a weapon: the idea that the world is so terrible that resistance is futile, change is impossible, and the battle not worth fighting. But it *is* worth fighting. In every age we can see it as a continuing battle or a new beginning, but we don’t have to win it; as Rabbi Tarfon said, we don’t have to finish the work of perfecting the world. We only have to keep the fight going (I am writing this as hundreds of thousands of American children are walking out of their schools, fighting their own part of the greater battle, and I am cheering them on in spirit.) In the light of a changing battle, an update of AWiT seems most appropriate. I’m sure Camazotz will still be a bastion of convention in keeping with the book, but after rereading the book, I am thinking that maybe a biracial Meg and more diverse Mrs Ws (whose outer forms were only ever a disguise anyway) is exactly what we need.

Yakima winery weekend

by dichroic in daily updates

Ever since the time Ted surprised me with a trip to Venice for my birthday, he’s planned trips as my birthday presents more often than not – this works out well because I emphatically don’t need more stuff! and because organizing is his superpower. In recent years, we’ve been visiting some of the wine regions around here; we’d done Dundee and McMinnville in previous years, so this year we went further afield, to Yakima, WA, where they specialized in big red wines rather than our local Pinot Noirs. We took Friday off and started with a drive along the Columbia River Gorge, with a stop at the Gorge Interpretive Center’s nice little museum.

There’s supposed to be a good art museum along the way, but it doesn’t open for the year until March 15th; likewise the observatory we drove by as we headerd north turned out to be closed. Once we got to Yakima, we tried to stop at Wilridge Winery, just above town, and that was closed as well; I was beginning to wonder if this trip was going to be a total bust (also, we hadn’t eaten much, so I was definitely getting a bit grumpy). We checked into our hotel and, after a quick nap for Ted and some lunch for me, headed out to a couple of the downtown tasting rooms. Once there, things started looking up; we actually hated the wines at the first winery, which were very dry and had some off flavors, but it was a pleasant place to hang out, and the guy serving the tastings was friendly and gave us some good advice about other places to visit. (We didn’t tell him he hated his wines, of course!) The wines at the next place were much better, and we ended up buying two whites and two reds; the ones at the third place were decent, and we finished up with dinner at Cowiche Canyon restaurant, where the food was excellent though the noise level was uncomfortably high. Friday wineries: AntoLin, Gilbert, Kana.

There are actually four winetasting areas in the Yakima Valley, so on Saturday we headed further afield into the Prosser and Rattlesnake areas. It was a gorgeous day, with intense blue skies and temperatures that eventually got up into the sixties. We made a quick stop at the Teapot Dome gas station, then visited five different wineries, finishing up at our favorite of the whole trip, which specializes in sparkling wines. The tasting was free, and when we ordered a Mediterranean platter to go with it (hummus, tapenade, etc) the food proportions were very generous. The wines there are only $15-20, so I have no idea how they make their money unless it’s just volume; the place had lots of tables and was full, whereas at some of the other places it was just us and the person running the tasting room. Saturday wineries: Bonair, Two Mountain Winery, VanArnam Vineyards, Masset Winery and Treveri (the sparkling wine place).

On Sunday, since it was another beautiful warm day, we were able to take the northern route home (when we left Friday, there was snow on the ground at White Pass and traction tires were required, which was why we took the Gorge route that day). It was even more spectacular than the Gorge: towering cliff, clear streams, capped with a spectacular view of Mt Rainier.

After unpacking and a bit of erging at home (rowers don’t get weekends off!) we finished the weekend with a trip to one more winery – because we had to pick up our wine club shipment there! No wonder Ted looks a bit tired.

Black Panther and building empathy

by dichroic in daily updates

This is somewhat related to my last post. I nearly wrote the following as a comment on FaceBook, but came to my senses in time. I have a long-time online friend, a Black woman and an academic who specifically studies minority representation in YA and kidlit, who is excited about the upcoming black Panther movie. I almost wrote a comment that I think this movie is important to white people too, and instantly I could hear her saying, “Oh my God, we finally have this, are you going to make even this all about you?”

So I backed away from the keyboard and out of her space. I think it’s okay to say this here, though, in my own space and where it’s not derailing any other discussions.

I am taking it as axiomatic that we need more diversity in books, movies and TV, and that a primary reason is that kids need to be able to see some heroes who look liek themselves or someone they could become. Not all their heroes, but some – if a girl sees that it’s always a boy in the spotlight, a Black kid sees that it’s always White people who do the important things, a kid with a disability sees only able-bodied main characters, only cisstraight characters, only physically attractive characters, only, that is, people who are Not Like You, how much does it hammer home the message that you are only good enough to be a supporting character (if that) in your own life?

So yeah, that’s important and I get it. I think it’s a two-sided problem, though.

The other side is the kids who are male, white, straight, able-bodied, well-off or whatever. How much do those kids get the message driven home, not only that they can be heroes, but that their story is at the center and everyone else is there to support them? (Judging from our current politicians, quite a bit!) We’re all born solipsists, but we’re supposed to grow out of it as we grow up – at least to the extent of realizing that sometimes we are there as supporting characters in someone else’s story. What’s a better way of learning empathy and the importance of other people than falling in love with a story and identifying with a character who isn’t like you?

I think that is what Heinlein was trying to do by revealing that Johnny Rico is Filipino in the final sentences of Starship Troopers – the book, not the execrable movie. I don’t think he succeeded, though – because inside his head, Johnny is no different than any of Heinlein’s middle-American teenaged heroes. The differences between the US and the Philippines, the residue of having first learned to think in Tagalog rather than English, haven’t affected him visibly at all – and the first is in first person, so those would be visible. The whole point of learning empathy is not learning to be colorblind – not in this real non-Utopian world – but in understanding how other people’s experiences shape them, and how their differences from yourself are as valuable as the ways in which you’re alike. I mentioned The Kane Chronicles in my last post; I don’t know how Rick Riordan’s legacy will last compared to Heinlein’s (maybe it will, but it’s harder when you come into a crowded field rather than one in its first big lowering) but in the Kane trilogy and his following series, Riordan does a better job on this. Carter and Sadie Kane are siblings, but their different skin colors have shaped their lives in different ways. Similarly in his series after that, characters aren’t just painted different colors; they’ve been sculpted by their experiences in multidimensional ways.

but you know I’ll be seeing the movie, anyway

by dichroic in daily updates

I’m still a little ambivalent about a Black Meg Murray in the upcoming Wrinkle in Time movie. My feelings against it are easy to explain: in my totally book-biased opinion, movies made from books, especially beloved ones, need to stick as close to the book as possible. If I am recalling correctly, Meg has mouse brown hair that turns to a rich chestnut as she grows up. I don’t think her skin tone is discussed; her eyes are said to be beautiful but I don’t remember offhand if their color is mentioned. So based on all that, I’d be fine with her being biracial. Further, her mother is likely to be white (or biracial herself) having auburn hair, which oculd actually add a level to the story line. At the beginning of the story, she gets a lot of flack because her husband is missing; it’s easy to imagine the gossip being even meaner if he’s Black.

Also, sorry, Calvin is Irish-American, period. It’s canonical in the third book, A Swiftly Tilting Planet, as well as in the description of his red hair and freckles.

The argument for changing their race is also clear, though: we don’t have enough places for kids of color to see themselves and for white kids to see their real selves in someone who doesn’t look like them – and that goes double in older books. L’Engle had a terrible time getting the book published; maybe it would have been impossible with a Black MC. (Andre Norton managed it at least once – but it wasn’t her first book.)

Of course a Black girl can connect to Meg as written, just as I did – even though I didn’t live in a big house in a small village with Nobel-prize winning parents. And that would be fine, for one book ….. but not for a girl who has to see book after book after book after book about kids who don’t look like her, or see kids who like her only in there when there’s a specific plot reason for it rather than just because they are humans and this is what that particular human happens to look like.

What would be optimal, clearly, is to go back in time and change society so we inherit more diverse books. Since that’s not happening, well. I’ve got my Meg, in the book, the one I first went to Camazotz with. And my prejudice for sticking to the book is pedantry, far less important than a girl who is still building herself and looking for the books (and movies) to do that with.

(I still kind of wish they’d picked a biracial Meg, though, with brown hair – and given Daniel Radcliffe green contacts when he played Harry Potter. But I might be OK with a Harry who had the canonical black hair, green eyes … and Afghani roots.)

For anybody who’s wondering why I haven’t brought up the far-too-many movies who cast black characters with white actors or even make them white characters, yes, I’d hate that too. I’m just very much not a movie person; I’m only noticing these cases because they’re books I already care about. Make a movie of, say, The Kane Chronicles, and you’ll see me royally pissed off if they don’t get *both* Kane siblings’ physical descriptions and skin colors right – especially as their matter to the plot.

Succumbing to the lure of the Kitchenaid

by dichroic in daily updates

This past weekend was completely wasted, with us being ill – not sure if it’s flu or a cold, but Ted was pretty much bedridden Wednesday through Friday. It hasn’t hit me quite as hard (same temperature, it just doesn’t seem to fell me in the same way) but I’m still taking today as a sick day. We wasted much of the previous weekend too, with both of us having headaches that might have been precursors to this. There was one bright spot to that weekend though: I succumbed to the hype and bought the KitchenAid stand mixer I’ve wanted for years. Stupid, really, as I don’t do that much baking and the thing I do most is no-knead bread – it takes under ten minutes to start a batch and I mix it in 60 seconds with my hands. Still, it was a pretty good deal – $249 at Costco for the version with 590 watt motor and lift bowl. (A.k.a. what’s marketed as the Professional line elsewhere but it didn’t actually say that on the box – maybe they make a cheapie model specially for Costco? Oh well, if it doesn’t last as long, it cost a lot less.)

Unexpected uses so far: 1. it shreds chicken beautifully. 2. I found out while washing dishes, you can blow bubbles with the paddle attachment and dish soap 🙂 Also. I’ve just taken a batch of olive oil cookies out of the oven. 10 minutes to make, 15 to bake, 5 minutes to clean up. Not bad. (Though my cookies stayed lumpy, not flattening like the ones in the recipe photo.) ETA: maybe I should have flattened them, to make them come out drier and crisper after baking. As it is, they’re not bad, but definitely oily in texture and the olive flavor is noticeable.