Saturday, November 24, 2007

Houseguests: Consider Yourself Warned

This is the Rookery's new toilet paper holder (for those keeping track, this is the third one I've had in the upstairs bathroom). We saw it at the comic book convention today and couldn't resist. I challenge anyone to look at a scary-looking toilet paper dispenser and not think, even for just a fleeting moment, "Well, if I'm going to scare the crap out of people, might as well do it while they're on the pot."

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Turkey Time Trouble

Thanksgiving is upon us, and I have once again been bitten in the rump roast by the Law of Inverse Thawing: The more time you give a turkey to thaw, the less time it will take. I got a 15 pound bird--because, as counterintuitive as it may be, a 15-pound turkey was cheaper than the 4-pound boneless turkey roast I've been making for years--and set it in the fridge to thaw. Two days later, it's ready. Of course, had I given it only the recommended one-day-per-four-pounds, on Thursday morning, it would still have been a turkey-shaped block of ice.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Today's Lessons

I spent much of today at a leadership/motivation seminar, where I learned three things:

1. Football apparently is rife with lessons in motivation, thus providing me with yet another reason I won't watch football.

2. I'm back to having respect for Colin Powell. Hearing him was one of the reasons I sat through the blatant pitch for $6,000 stock-timing software that paid for the good parts of the seminar. His talk on what leadership means--complete with what may or may not have been veiled references to a decided lack thereof in his former boss when he was Secretary of State--had an interesting take on the subject.

3. White middle-managers from the upper midwest should not, I repeat should not "put your hands in the air and wave them like you just don't care." That's not being motivated. That's looking like an idiot.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Portal Cake Recipe

Emp. Peng. and I just finished playing Portal (I solve the puzzles, he controls). At a couple of points in the game, the malevolent computer gives a list of ingredients--presumably for cake, since the running gag of the game is there will be cake at the end. I couldn't resist seeing what happened if you actually made a cake using the in-game recipe. Except it's not exactly a recipe. It's just a list of ingredients and quantities, and even that doesn't make a whole lot of sense at first:

1 (18.25 oz) package chocolate cake mix
1 can prepared coconut frosting
3/4 cups vegetable oil
4 large eggs
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
3/4 cup butter or margarine, softened
2/3 cups granulated sugar
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups all purpose flour
2/3 cups cocoa
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/3 cups water
1 to 2 (6 oz each) vanilla frosting

I stared at the list for a while, trying to make heads or tails of it, before I noticed that the first four ingredients on the list are more or less what you need to make a cake from a boxed mix. The remaining are essentially the ingredients for a chocolate cake from scratch, although most cake recipes have more sugar and leavening agent. It's not a cake recipe. It's two cake recipes: the easy way and the hard way. I've made cake from a mix before, so I decided to disregard the first four ingredients and start making my cake with #5, the chocolate chips. Here's all the ingredients, laid out left-to-right in the order listed in the game:

The game doesn't give any indication of how the cake goes together, so I broke out my trusty Betty Crocker Complete Cookbook for some guidance and started winging it.

1. Preheat oven to 350F, and grease and flour a cake pan. (SPOILER ALERT!)The cake seen at the end of the game (garnished in a way inconsistent with the garnish list provided for the recipe, which contains several elements that are not, technically, edible) is a standard round layer cake, which would use two 8-inch round cake pans. (END SPOILER ALERT) I used a bundt cake pan because it is shaped a little like a portal and I don't get a chance to use my bundt cake pan very often.
2. Combine flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
3. Beat the butter with an electric mixer until fluffy.
4. Add the sugar to the butter and beat until it congeals into a single mass.
5. Knock the butter/sugar mass off the beaters and add the eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition.
6. Beat cocoa (unsweetened cocoa powder) and vanilla into egg-sugar-butter mix.
7. Melt the chocolate chips in the microwave and beat the melted chocolate into the batter.
8. Beat in the flour mixture, a little at a time, alternating with a little bit of the water. At this point in the process, it became clear that the recipe as listed does not produce a batter-like consistency. I ended up using about 1 cup water to achieve a consistency that could be poured into a pan. This was the only deviation from the in-game ingredient list.
9. Pour batter into prepared pan(s)
10. Bake at 350F until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. For the Bundt cake pan, this was about 35 minutes.
11. Cool and frost with vanilla frosting

This is what the Portal Cake Recipe yields (that's homemade frosting, which always ends up a tad runny when I make it, but I didn't feel like running to the store for frosting):

The Portal Cake is not particularly sweet, but it is VERY chocolatey and the frosting makes up for the lack of sweetness in the cake. The texture is somewhat dense and chewy, probably because of the small quantity of leavening agents. All in all, though, the recipe (with the additional water) makes quite a delicious cake. The cake is not a lie!

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Bradbury Challenge Update

I mentioned in a comment to another post that I'm not doing National Novel Writing Month this year. Instead, I've decided to give the month of November over to a Bradbury Challenge. Ray Bradbury's semi-famous writing schedule is "a story a week." A Bradbury Challenge is to see if you can pull off the same feat. I'm not giving myself a daily word count (the Grand Master does 1,000-2,000 wpd), but I am aiming for one completed short story submitted to a paying market every week for the month of November. Who knows, maybe even beyond that. But we'll start with November.

I submitted the first story to Fantasy and Science Fiction Magazine on Monday. It came in around 4,100 words, and I'm fairly happy with it. It was not written entirely within the confines of the month of November, but since this is my thing, I get to make up the rules and I say it's OK, since the first week in November had some October in it, anyway.

I've hashed out the idea for story #2 and started putting words to page yesterday. I think I'm developing a workable schedule for this. Saturday starts the "come up with an idea" phase, which seems to take most of the weekend. By Monday, I have a good idea of what the general gist of the story will be, and Monday and Tuesday are spent hammering out details like the plot, which are passed by my First Reader (Emp. Peng.--I keep this in-house) to screen for things like overall stupidity or the fact that I have just independently come up with the plot of Star Trek III. Wednesday-Friday are the heavy writing days, and by Friday evening, I have a finished draft that goes to my First Reader to point out parts that could use tweaking. Saturday and Sunday, while I'm coming up with the next idea, I do the necessary revisions, pick a market, and run the revisions past Emp. Peng. Monday, after a final spell/grammar check, the story gets sent out. Lather, rinse, repeat. Bradbury has done this since The Great Depression, so a month should be nothing.

Bonus Recommended Reading, for anyone who is now, has been, or will be in a middle school English class: Here's Ray Bradbury himself saying that your English teacher is/was/will be wrong; Fahrenheit 451 is not about government censorship. It's about the declining importance of books in the age of television, and you should note that, in the novel, the government didn't start burning books until the people themselves had eviscerated them and stopped reading on their own.

Bad Headline Writing

From the Associated Press: Abstinence Not Curbing Teen Sex

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

If You Need Instructions...

I procured a new 2-quart Crock Pot recently. I love my 4-quart one, probably more than someone who considers Creamette's spaghetti a convenience food should, and wanted something smaller for making cheese dip.

Surprisingly, Rival did not put any excessively stupid warnings in the "Important Safeguards" section (except maybe warning #7--why would you use a Crock Pot outdoors?). However, on page 4 of the manual, Rival has deemed it necessary to provide assembly instructions, which I will now reproduce in their entirety:
1. Place stoneware into the heating base.
2. Lower the lid horizontally down onto the stoneware.

If you are reading this, you have obviously not spent the last 40 years living under a rock, so I probably don't need to tell you that a Crock Pot only has three parts, and there is only one configuration where they all fit together. If someone needs assembly instructions for a Crock Pot, it is possible that they shouldn't be using one.

Monday, November 05, 2007

This Saddens Me

I'm all in favor of writers getting paid for any and all uses of what they write (big surprise there). So, that part of me totally supports the WGA striking to get a decent deal on new media uses of the TV programs and movies they write. The other part of me wonders why this had to happen during the best new TV season in recent memory. For the first time I can remember, there is more than one new TV show I like in the new Fall lineup. I even went so far as to develop a rabid fangirliness for a sitcom, The Big Bang Theory, which was picked up for a full season just before the strike. Now, a day into picketing, my new favorite show has been put on hiatus. So help me, if it doesn't come back off hiatus when the dust settles from this labor dispute, I will weep.