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March 24th, 2011
02:48 am

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I think I'm keeping my new year's resolution
So around the new year, based on a Making Light thread that I no longer recall, I made a resolution that I think I'm actually going to be able to keep.  This is pretty awesome, given my track record.  My resolution was, "I will no longer respond to people who are excited about things I've already known for a long time by telling them that it's old news, or telling them how long I've known it, or anything of the kind."

So far it's pretty liberating: I am not That Guy.

The last time I managed to do this, my resolution was, "I will no longer be the bouncer at anyone else's club: I will no longer let people know that I think they're doing a bad job at following any set of rules or ideals that I do not myself hold."

Do other people try New Year's Resolutions any more?  How do they go for you?
 
If I can keep this up till June 1, I might add, "I will not be the guy who says untrue things that are trivially revised into true ones and says 'well, you know what I meant'.  And neither will I be the guy who reads untrue things that are trivially revised into true ones and derails the conversation until everybody meets my needs for strictly conformant specification. "

 

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June 1st, 2010
01:56 am

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My favorite anti-counterfeiting device



 Some early American Colonial money attempted to deter counterfeiters by including, on every bill, a description of what they'd do to anybody they caught making copies of it.  I love the image of an 18th century counterfeiter painstakingly engraving " 'Tis Death to counterfeit" on the plates for his fake five-pound notes, and wondering whether he hadn't made a bad choice somewhere in his life.
(Image from an 1863 Harpers Magazine, via Google Books.  I first saw this inscription on some revolutionary-era money in the British Museum.)

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February 26th, 2010
04:58 am

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Two more pasta sauces, not as promised
So I promised more pasta sauces, and that these wouldn't be tomato based.

Sorry, I lied.  I've got a few non-tomato based ones that will need to wait for spring, and another tomato-based one that is good year-round.  So it's two recipes this time: one tomato-based, and one not.

RECIPE 1: Pasta Fazool

Actually, this is "Pasta e Fagioli", or "Pasta and Beans" if you speak a nice respectable dialect.  My family apparently didn't, so we pronounce it as "Fazool".  There's apparently another Italian class issue where if you make your Pasta e Fagioli as a soup, you are the Right Kind Of Person, and if you make it not soupy enough, you are trash.

To hell with that!  Living in Massachusetts, I feel no need to adjudicate disputes between northern and southern Italy.[*] Arguing about which cuisine is better misses the point, like arguing about whether Saint Lucy or Saint Catherine is holier.

Anyway, here's a good Pasta Fazool recipe.  My grandmother explained to me once that this was real poverty food: that whenever times were bad and the great depression came again, if you were smart and you found enough cheap food, you could live on this stuff forever... and that when times weren't bad, you could feed it to your children and grandchildren and teach them what to cook when they were poor. I ate it all the time in college: it keeps fine for a week or two, and it tastes really good.  I still make it now, when I remember. 


INGREDIENTS:  (This recipe halves nicely.)
A recipe worth of tomato sauce from my last post
Two 16-oz cans of beans[***]
A little piece (1-3 oz) of fatback or whatever fatty pork thing you have.
1.5 or so pounds of of small pasta (Ditalini are best)

Cook the sauce as before, adding the fatty pork thing early.  When you're about 20-30 minutes from finished, drain and rinse the beans thoroughly, and add them.  Don't add them early; they'll burn and stick to the bottom of the pot.  Cook the pasta--make sure to use some kind of pasta that isn't bigger than the beans!  When it's done, drain it.  Remove the pork chunk from the sauce and discard it.  Add the sauce to the drained pasta in a big bowl or pot, stirring, until the sauce-and-beans-to-pasta ratio is what you want.[****]  Serve with grated cheese and crushed red pepper, if circumstances permit.

RECIPE 2: Mushroom cream sauce

I don't deserve this sauce.  Nobody does.  Actually, maybe seborn does.  I should figure out the proportions to do this right in a reproducible way.

Ingredients:

A bunch of dried expensive mushrooms
If there aren't enough of those, some high-quality fresh mushrooms, cut thin. 
Some butter
Some cream 
Thyme, salt, pepper, stuff like that.
Optionally: chicken broth, cognac
Some grated parmesan cheese.

The mushrooms are key here.  If your dried mushrooms are basically gravel and your fresh mushrooms are just some button mushrooms that a machine sliced for you over a thousand miles away, then give up now and go cook something else.  The dried mushrooms and fresh mushrooms should be something really flavorful; porcini would be best.  Button mushrooms just don't work here. Oyster and straw mushrooms are okay; shiitakes are weird; you should try them and decide if you like them in this.  Crimini and portobello mushrooms are the same species as regular white button mushrooms, in later stages if their development.  If your mushroom vendor didn't tell you this already, they are practicing mushroom management on you.


1. Take the dried mushrooms, put them in a bowl, and cover them with boiling water.  Leave them for fifteen minutes.
2. Strain the liquid however you think best---I like a coffee filter.  Keep the liquid.  Rinse the mushrooms.
3. Sautee the dried and not-dried mushrooms in the butter until they're cooked down fairly well and they start to stick to the bottom of the pan.
4. Deglaze with chicken stock or a little water.  Reduce heat.
5. Add a little more cream than you think you would want to make the volume of the pasta sauce, and reduce heat.  Cook over low heat, stirring, until it thickens.
6. Some people think you should finish this with a splash of cognac.  I haven't tried that.  Add some thyme and salt near the end, to taste.
7. Toss it with some cooked pasta, and toss with a little cheese.

Once the days get long enough, I'll post my pesto recipe.


[*] If you actually go to Italy and meet Italians there socially, whatever you know about Italian food, you should feign ignorance at all costs. Ideally, you should get the locals arguing about which local specialty is best, to the point where they all agree on a mutually acceptable restaurant where you good-naturedly agree to try everything they recommend  until (in theory) you understand it all.[**]  I speak from experience.
[**] Do not follow this approach with their favorite wines and after-dinner drinks, or they will have to scrape you off the restaurant floor.   I speak from experience there too.
[***] I like the Goya "small red beans".  Small red beans generally rule here.
[****] "If you know what you want then you go and you find it and you get it" -- Sondheim.

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February 21st, 2010
02:28 am

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Three good tomato-based pasta sauces
My maternal grandmother was a large and kindly woman who loved her family, was worried about her weight, loved Jesus and the Catholic Church[-1], was concerned about the very concept of fiction[0], and loved to cook.  When I was fifteen or so, she made me promise that I would never use a store-bought tomato sauce.  Since the day I was born, I haven't bought tomato sauce from a store, and I expect I never will.  Here's what I do instead.

The key to making a tomato-based pasta sauce is time.  If you can't simmer the sauce for two or three hours, you can't make it fresh that day.  But what you can do instead is make a bunch of tomato sauce ahead of time, and freeze what you don't need.

You can freeze tomato sauce nicely in ice-cube trays.  Six to eight cubes or so will dress a pound of pasta nicely.

SAUCE 1: BASIC TOMATO SAUCE

Two 28-ounce cans of crushed, ground, or pureed tomatoes.[1]  {Taking canned whole tomatoes and putting them in a food processor for a while works too.} 
Once six-ounce can of tomato paste[1]
Two to six cloves of garlic
1 tsp[2] oregano
1 tsp[2] dried or fresh basil
2 tbsp olive oil
1 bay leaf
white wine
salt

Mince or crush the garlic.  Fry it over high heat in the oil until it just barely starts to change color from white to tan.

Add the tomatoes and tomato paste immediately.  Pour away from you, and don't wear a white shirt, or else you will spatter and stain.  Add a little water -- maybe half a cup.

Add a splash or two -- maybe half a cup? of white wine, and the herbs.  Stir.

Bring to a simmer, and reduce the heat to very low, so the sauce just bubbles occasionally.  Cover partially [3].  Stir throughly every 20 minutes or so.  Cook for at least two hours.  Add a little water if it gets too thick. 

When you're almost done, add another half-cup of white wine, plus salt to taste.
SAUCE 2: BOLOGNESE SAUCE:

All ingredients from above, plus:
1 pound ground meat.[4]
one half cup or so milk

Brown the garlic.  Then, brown the meat, then drain most of the fat.  Reduce heat, add milk, and stir.  Let the meat soak in the milk[5].  Add the wine, stir, add the tomatoes, and continue as above.

SAUCE 3: TOMATO SAUCE WITH MEATBALLS

All ingredients in #1, plus an extra can of tomatoes, plus:

1 lb ground beef
1 cup breadcrumbs
some milk
2 or 3 more cloves of garlic, minced or pressed.
basil, oregano, and crushed hot pepper to taste
1 egg
olive oil.


Soak the breadcrumbs for 5-10 min in enough milk to wet them thoroughly[5].  Mix with all the other new ingredients, using your hands.  Form tightly into balls about 1.5 inches wide.

Begin the recipe from #1, with an extra can of tomatoes. 

Fry the raw meatballs in olive oil, turning them as each side browns.  When they're brown on all sides, drain them on paper towels, then drop them into the tomato sauce.

Continue as in #1.

APPENDIX: THE PASTA.

Ingredients:
As Much Pasta As You Want[1]
One of those sauces from above.

Boil enough water.  Add enough salt.  When the water is boiling, add the pasta.  Stir, repeatedly.

Once the pasta is in the boiling water, you are not allowed to leave the room until it is done.

You need to test the past every sixty seconds or so.  If you're just starting out, then you need to eat a piece.  You can do this by taking a piece out with a wooden spoon and eating it.  If it's too hot from the boiling water, run it under cold water first.  With practice, you'll be able to tell just by stirring the pasta whether it's underdone or overcooked, and you'll only need to taste inside a pretty narrow interval.

Once the past a is done, drain it immediately.  Then, immediately, toss it with a little of the sauce so it doesn't stick[6].  You can either mix in the final amount of sauce you want and serve. or serve the pasta onto places and ladle more sauce on top of it.





[-1] Thanks to her, I kind of thought that "Martin Luther" was another name for the devil until I was in high school. 
[0] Somehow, she didn't understand why anybody would want to know or learn about things that weren't true.  She did, however, read purportedly-but-not-actually true things, though.  Because she got ahold of Phil Phillips's Turmoil in the Toybox, we weren't allowed to bring any of our real toys over to her house for a few years.

[1] These are simple recipes, so ingredients are key.  I like Tuttoroso, Cento, Pastene, and Rienzi brand tomatoes and tomato paste.  The stuff from Trader Joe's is good too.  Pick your favorite. Tasting them right out of the can will in fact give you an accurate view of their quality and flavor.  Don't skimp on pasta either.  In my neck of the woods, the good brands that you find in actual grocery stores are Ronzoni, Pastene, and kinda Barilla, and most of the others are crap. 
[2] Herb measurements are approximate.  If you like more oregano or basil, add more.
[3] If you don't mostly cover the sauce, you will wind up with little red splashes all over your kitchen.  If you leave it completely covered, it will have no way to cook down.
[4]  Either beef, or 2:1 beef-to-pork[5].  Older recipes call for veal too, but I won't touch the stuff.  If you have a meat grinder, double-grind the meat to get  a finer texture.
[5] Obviously, if you keep kosher, you should skip this step.
[6] Pasta exudes starch.  If you let cooked pasta sit undressed, it will glue itself together.  Don't do that!  Some people will tell you that you can prevent this by stirring the pasta with oil right after it's cooked. Don't do that either!  Unless you're planning to dress with an oil-based sauce, the oil will form a barrier to keep the sauce from adhering.

NEXT, if there's any interest: non-tomato based sauces!

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October 15th, 2009
11:58 am

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Does anybody know how to work and maintain a steam boiler?
Here in our secret lair in Skullcrusher Gardens, we heat by steam.  The steam is apparently heated by a Burnham Independence gas furnace.  Despite googling for a while and trying to read the installation and operations manual, I have no idea how to actually keep the thing.

Our radiators are getting hot and occasionally making radiator noises, so clearly it's doing something right, but I want to understand it, and I'm afraid I don't.

The relevant controls seem to be: a water intake valve.  A glass gauge with a tap on the top and the bottom.  A pressure gauge.  A couple of screws to adjust pressure settings.

There is some cloudy water in the glass gauge.  The tap at the top of the glass gauge is open all the way; the one at the bottom seems closed.  The water intake valve (or is it a return valve?) is tight, and I don't want to mess with it without knowing what I'm doing.  I believe it is currently closed.  The pressure gauge reads at 0.

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August 20th, 2009
10:28 pm

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Lovecraft Omnibus
In honor of his birthday, here are links to my older HP Lovecraft posts:

  A Summoning Tonight
  The Passionate Hastur to his Love
  Extra verses to Demon Sultan Azathoth

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July 18th, 2009
11:35 pm

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Communist imprecations that would make a good name for a moving company
  • Rootless Cosmopolitans
  • Useful Idiots
  • Capitalist Roaders
  • Fellow Travellers
Also, seborn  and I have successfully moved to a new place in Arlington.  This will provide us with enough room to have a small child run about without one of us having to run ahead of him and clear things from his path.

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June 3rd, 2009
12:35 pm

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Dear writers of inept hip-hop.
This is a PSA.  Here are some signs you should not be rapping on youtube:
  • You think that rap is required to be or approximate rhymed couplets of secundus paeon tetrameter("My name is MC Something and I'm here to say".)
  • You haven't noticed that contemporary rhymes sound very little like early Run DMC and Beastie Boys.
  • You haven't noticed that the beat has anything to do with the flow.
  • When you hear a near rhyme (ready/identity) or an assonant rhyme (had it/static), you think that the MC has screwed up.
  • When you hear a near rhyme or an assonant rhyme, you think this means that you can rhyme anything with anything.
  • You try to rhyme things that don't rhyme in your dialect.
  • You use aspects of other people's dialects that you do not understand how to use.
  • You haven't noticed that rap has a lot of similes in it.
  • Your rhymes are just generally wack.
This has been a PSA.

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April 14th, 2009
10:00 pm

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if ((pid = fork()) {
Your attention please.  When one or more beings love each other very much and want to have a baby, there are various things they can do, depending on their natures and proclivities.

Wasps like to paralyze caterpillars and lay their eggs on them, so that their hatching larvae will have something yummy to eat.  This approach is generous and nutritious.

Lovecraftian cultists like to draw mystic sigils on the floor and offer unspeakable sacrifices to beings out of time and space to summon a baby out of the very dimensions of insanity.  This approach blasts your mind, but it ensures that your child will have an extra daddy named Yog Sothoth.

Xenomorph face-huggers like to jump onto the faces of people they don't like, shove their ovipositors down their victims' throats, and wait for their chestbursting young to do what they do best.  This approach is good for single parents with ovipositors and a firm grip.

Mad bioscientists like to steal body parts from the most perfect and accomplished babies of their generation, stitch them together, and bring them to life with a thunderstorm.  This approach generally yields a thing perfect in its proportions but inexpressibly repulsive in its gestalt that most parents will drive forth in a fit of madness to fend for itself.

Faeries like to take other people's babies and leave a faerie baby-mimic behind.  This approach is a good one if you have a changeling ready, but isn't if you don't.

Mad computer scientists write AIs.  This approach is quite time-consuming, and persnickity philosophers will question whether you have even in fact created life, and try to lock your baby in a Chinese Room.

Medieval rabbis occasionally make clay babies and write the word אמת on their forehead.  This is an emergency method only; under normal circumstances, they tend to take a more traditional approach.

Platypuses lay eggs; snails spike each other with sperm darts; the octopodes pass one another sperm packets; pokémon trainers release their young from red-and-white balls; and the less said about sparkle-vampires the better.

And some people, for whatever reason, just combine their gametes inside a womb, and let a fetus gestate there.  This approach works fine if you have all of the right pieces and you can stand to wait nine months plus however long it will take you to get your gametes organized.  Also, it is a bit old hat.

seborn  and I have taken one of these approaches, and it is progressing quite nicely.  The baby (which we have currently nicknamed "The Puggle") will be ready, if our information is to be trusted, some time around September 15-21.

Edited to add: seborn has made her own announcement.  Despite the fact that there are two announcements, they refer to the same anticipated baby.  We apologize for any confusion.

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February 10th, 2009
12:43 am

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My favorite kind of research is "inevitably surprising"
This weekend at Shmoocon, a friend of mine told me an unpublished paper that tries to answer one of my favorite computer security questions.  (I can't say too much about what question until it's publicly available.)  My friend had provided the idea for this paper, suggested in small part by my past obsession with the question.  (It goes, more or less, "Can trivial countermeasure X defeat allegedly powerful technique Y?")  I'm pretty psyched about the results ("Yes, trivially!") which seem ready to kick off an entire subfield that I've wanted somebody to kick off for a while.

For my money, a researcher's best friend is a research problem where any experimental outcome is likely to surprise a lot of people.  When any outcome is bound to be surprising, any result is likely to be publishable.  A good way to find research problems like this is to look for places where people's "future works" sections differ wildly on what results they would expect to find if they tried to do such work.

Man, I can't wait till I can say more about this one.

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