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Tuesday, September 30, 2008

"Crows are bored."

"Crows are bored. They suffer from being too intelligent for their station in life.

"Respectable evolutionary success is simply not, for these brainy and complex birds, enough. They are dissatisfied with the narrow goals and horizons of that tired old Darwinian struggle. On the lookout for a new challenge. Keep that in mind next time you run into a crow. Look the bird in the eye. Consider its frustrations. Try to say something stimulating."

From Natural Acts: a Sidelong View of Science and Nature, by David Quammen.

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Monday, September 29, 2008

New cd arrives - get it for $10 through October! And a CD release party...

So finally, finally, the new Pratie Head cd is here. It's called "We Did It! Songs of People Behaving Badly" and it's a collection of murder ballads, with a few other deadly sins thrown in for variety, and some tune medleys, of course.

We're having a cd release party Saturday, November 1 - the night after Hallowe'en - at the BROAD STREET CAFE in Durham, 1116 Broad Street, 919-416-9707. Show starts at 7 pm. We'll be selling cds for $10 that night!

If you are reading this before the end of October, I consider you a "friend" and you, too, can get the cd for $10, NO SHIPPING/HANDLING CHARGE!

See this special page to order at the sale price!

This weekend, we'll also be playing for free:
Sunday, October 5, 11-1 am: Weaver Street Market in Hillsborough, Sunday Brunch

Visit Skylark Productions to hear sound samples.

  • What a Shocking World This Is for Scandal (Thomas Hudson, 1802)
  • Lucy Wan
  • Punch and Judy (by John Pole)
  • Marrowbones
  • The Downfall of Piracy (by Benjamin Franklin and Jane Peppler)
  • Cat in the Cradle medley (includes Carthy's March #2 by Bob Vasile)
  • Bowie Bowerie (aka The Two Sisters)
  • Martin Hayes' and the Rubberman
  • Gypsen Davy
  • Jesuitmont (Justamont), music composed by Bob Vasile
  • Lamkin
  • Slip Jigs and Reels (by Steve Tilson)
  • David's tunes (Flying Home to Shelley, Paddy on the Landfill, Music for a Found Harmonium)
  • The Creel
  • The Laily Worm
  • The Wizard's medley (Tamlin, Napoleon's, Wizard's Walk)
  • Fear No More the Heat of the Sun, words by Shakespeare, music composed by Penka Kouneva (of which this is the first performance recording ever)!


Mark does Illustration Friday: "Packed."


(Graphite on Bristol Board 11" x 14")


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Sunday, September 28, 2008

What did I buy this week? #7.

I spent all week in Bob's basement using the paints I bought last week to paint Uncle Shlomo's pushcart. This arrived in the mail on Wednesday but I actually bought it a week or two ago: it's a thermal binder, for making paperback books. The instructions inform me I must use their special covers (very expensive) with special (expensive) glue strips, but I saw a video on YouTube and a guy was using regular cardstock and a gluegun. I tried one this way, so far no good. I wonder what's the right glue stick to buy?

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Saturday, September 27, 2008

My fabulous recipe for piroshki; it helps Ezra get a job...

I've been making this recipe for years. The dough is Russian and makes the best pie crust I've ever had, especially for small pies. It's easy to roll out and leftover dough can be rolled flat, cut into strips, and baked as an appetizer.

Mom's Excellent Piroshki
makes 24-30 depending on the size of coffee cup you use to cut the dough

1/2 cup butter (1 stick)
2+ cups flour
1 egg yolk (save the white for the glaze)
1/4 ts salt (1/2 ts if you use unsalted butter)
2/3 cup sour cream

I toss this all in the food processor and whip it till it hangs together. You could also grate the butter through a vegetable grater into the flour, add the other wet ingredients, and stir into a ball. It will be just a bit softer than ordinary pie crust. I press it about 3/4" thick and put it in a ziplock bag in the fridge to chill for a short while, but you don't have to. I have a canvas cloth which I flour, and I use a noodle pin but any rolling pin will do: roll it out thin and cut it into circles with a biscuit cutter or a coffee cup. You can stack the circles if they are dusted with flour. Meanwhile you, or a cooking partner, make the filling:

Fry and drain 3/4 pound - 1 pound hamburger. Set aside.

Next, chop (or pulverize in food processor) and saute in butter till soft and moisture is mostly evaporated:
2-3 onions
4-5 cloves garlic
handful parsley
parmesan cheese to taste
Mix with the hamburger. Put a modest amount of filling in each circle, fold it over, and moisten the edge with water and/or egg white to seal. Glaze the half-moons with the reserved egg white. Cook at 350 degrees 20-35 minutes.

Ezra applied for a job at Whole Foods, to be the guy standing behind a little table offering samples of foods he's cooked to the passers-by. He made this recipe, substituting "Smart Ground" texturized vegetable protein for the hamburger; he used cumin and coriander instead of dill. He took the lovely piroshki to his interview and got the job.

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Friday, September 26, 2008

In which Uncle Shlomo's pushcart almost gets launched.

Uncle Shlomo's nephew Paul thought he'd take the pushcart out for a maiden voyage this weekend at the Carrboro Music Festival, so Bob and I spent hours getting it ready. I spent most of four days painting this pushcart, it shouldn't have taken so long but I never did one before.

We've had a good laugh trying to compute how many hours we have in this project (i.e. how much we'd have to charge somebody for a pushcart). It was loads of fun. (As always, click on the picture for a larger view.)

But in the end, Paul couldn't secure the permits in time. I was completely crushed. Oh, well! This will give him more time to figure out what he wants to sell from it.

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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

[Hannah]: And It Came To Pass....

Predicted by Stephen Colbert in fall 2005....


Truthiness - it's now the real truth.

[Hannah]: Accordeons! Accordeons!

An advertisment found while researching (National Police Gazette, February 7, 1846):


The subscriber offers for sale at 76 Chatham street, a large and splendid assortment of the best finished and fine-toned French Accordeons, at wholesale and retail, for cash, at reduced prices. The Accordeon is an instrument of uncommon sweetness of tone, and bids fair to become one of the most fashionable and permanent. The following observations by some English writer are so happily and truly expressed, and so conformable with our ideas, that we take the liberty of transcribing them:

"This instrument of music is in every way entitled to the notice and patronage of the musical world. it produces the most melodious sounds, and is remarkable for its peculiar sweetness and power of tone: The most difficult passages can be performed on it with taste and delicacy, while the bold swell of the organ, the enchanting tones of the aeolian harp, and the dulcet strains of the hautboy are happily united. In the performance of quadrilles, waltzes, and other melodies, it is capable of giving to the different compositions grace and expression, while as an accompaniment to the voice, it is allowed for its size and portability to be unrivaled. With qualities so desirable, it might be imagined that some difficulty would attend its performance; on the contrary, although the accordian is calculated to exhibit the superiority of a finished performer, it may be played upon by the most inexperienced learner, who will insensibly, as it were, be taught without any knowledge of the science of music to distinguish the various expressions and passions which music is intended to convey."

GEORGE W. PRATT, 76 Chatham street;
Accordeons accurately tuned and repaired at short notice, and warranted correct.

Owed two uh spelling chequer

Found on my Yale class listserv...

Owed two uh spelling chequer

Eye halve a spelling chequer.
It came with my pee see.
It plane lee marks four my revue
Miss steaks aye ken knot sea.

Eye ran this poem threw it,
Your sure reel glad two no.
Its vary polished in it's weigh.
My checker tolled me sew.

A checker is a bless sing,
It freeze yew lodes of thyme.
It helps me right awl stiles two reed,
And aides me win I rime.

Each frays come posed up on my screen
eye trussed too bee a joule.
The checker pours o'er every word
To cheque sum spelling rule.

Bee fore a veiling checker's Hour
spelling mite decline,
And if we're lacks oar have a laps,
We wood bee maid too wine.

Butt now bee cause my spelling
Is checked with such grate flair,
Their are no fault's with in my cite,
Of nun eye am a ware.

Now spelling does knot phase me,
It does knot bring a tier.
My pay purrs awl due glad den
With wrapped word's fare as hear.

To rite with care is quite a feet
Of witch won should be proud,
And wee mussed dew the best wee can,
Sew flaw's are knot aloud.

Sow ewe can sea why aye dew prays,
Such soft wear four pea seas,
And why eye brake in two averse
Buy righting fore too pleas.

-- Sauce Unknown

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Monday, September 22, 2008

The chicken coop gets expanded and fortified

While I was at Yiddish Week, all my chickens were killed. I figured it was raccoons, but it wasn't until today, when I was cleaning the feathers and post-carnage flotsam out of the coop, that I saw conclusive proof.

As soon as I got home I ordered a dozen mail-order chickens, assorted females. They were tiny when they arrived, but now, 2.5 weeks later, they are boiling up out of their containment area. They walk up and down this knife-thin edge of masonite, flapping their wings continually to keep their balance, and sometimes they fall out, and sometimes they fly to us as we sit at the kitchen table and land on our shoulders. This is not sanitary.

They have a lot of feathers now, except on their heads, which gives them a buzzard-like quality.

The brown ones are the prettiest, but also the lightest - they haven't bulked up like the others.

Since I was going to have to beef up security, I figured I'd improve the coop annex while I was at it. The dear departed ones never liked the second coop, which I had bought on Craig's List and got Jethro to tow on site. It was too low and too narrow and had no place to roost.

So one day recently Menticia and I took the jigsaw and cut most of the old roof off it. I cantilevered an addition onto the base (the dark red is the old part of the coop). I made two windowed upper panels and two hinged lower panels that pull in under the top and fasten with hanger bolts and wing nuts.

I added a hasp and a LOCK to the front and rear doors. If raccoons don't have skeleton keys they will hopefully be frustrated. (I didn't get combination locks because Bob told me he used to have a pet raccoon and it reached through the bars and twirled the combination lock endlessly for entertainment. Like monkeys typing Shakespeare, perhaps it would eventually succeed.)

I think it looks kind of like a bathysphere but Ezra doesn't agree.

Here's a rear view. I added the nesting boxes (the farthest back part); the part with the tin roof is the only part of the coop annex I didn't expand.

This is my favorite part of the coop - the connecting passageway with a real glass window.

Here's the interior of the new henhouse annex. I wired it for light from the light in the old part of the coop, and added a big long roost. I think it will be a hit. This was a great project for Menticia and me to do together.

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What did I buy this week? #6.

Metal hardware has gotten very expensive. The wood for the expansion and fortification of the chicken annex was free (well, not really, but it's been under my porch so long it seems free) but these little hinges and hanger bolts cost a lot!

These supplies for painting the pushcart were also very expensive. "One-spot" enamel is particularly pricey. I went to a sign shop to get it, and I found a bunch of colored aluminum "blanks" to make additional signs on for only a dollar each so I got those.

I also got a new glue gun, because I gave my old one to Menticia last year, and some glue sticks. This is for a different project.

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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Bookmobile on hooves: the bibliomulas

From KK Street Use:
We covered camelbookmobiles. Here is one using mules in Venezuela as reported on the BBC.

The Mule Mobiles ... are known as bibliomulas (book mules) and they are helping to spread the benefits of reading to people who are isolated from much of the world around them.

The idea of loading mules with books and taking them into the mountain villages was started by the University of Momboy, a small institution that prides itself on its community-based initiatives and on doing far more than universities in Venezuela are required to do by law.

Anyone who was not out working the fields - tending the celery that is the main crop here - was waiting for our arrival. The 23 children at the little school were very excited. "Bibilomu-u-u-u-las," they shouted as the bags of books were unstrapped.

As the project grows, it is using the latest technology. Somehow there is already a limited mobile phone signal here, so the organisers are taking advantage of that and equipping the mules with laptops and projectors.



Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Solar System Quilt

From National Museum of American History via BoingBoing:

This Solar System quilt was made by Ellen Harding Baker of Cedar County, Iowa, in 1876. It is 89" long and 106" wide. The wool top of this applique quilt is embellished with wool-fabric applique, wool braid, and wool and silk embroidery. Included in the design is the appliqued inscription, "Solar System," and the embroidered inscriptions, "E. H. Baker" and "A. D. 1876." The lining is a red cotton-and-wool fabric and the filling is of cotton fiber.

The maker, Sarah Ellen Harding, was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1847, and married Marion Baker of Cedar County, Iowa, on October 10, 1867. They lived in Cedar County until 1878, then moved to Johnson County where Marion had a general merchandise business in Lone Tree. Ellen had seven children before she died of tuberculosis in the spring of 1886. The design of Ellen's striking and unusual quilt resembles illustrations in astronomy books of the period. Ellen used the quilt as a visual aid for lectures she gave on astronomy in the towns of West Branch, Moscow, and Lone Tree, Iowa. Astronomy was an acceptable interest for women in the 19th century, and was sometimes even fostered in their education.

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Monday, September 15, 2008

The wonders of deregulation, profiting customers as always: AT&T shows its contempt for consumers.

Extracts from
AT & T buries customer rights in 2,500-page 'guidebook'
Judging from the phone company's voluminous new online customer manual, if you have a problem with your bill, too bad.

David Lazarus for the Los Angeles Times, September 14, 2008

AT&T has sent customers an 8,000-word service agreement that, among other things, says people will be given 30-day notice of price increases only when "commercially reasonable" and that you can't sue the company.

Oh, and if you don't like AT&T's terms -- providing you can make your way through the company's 2,500-page "guidebook" -- your only recourse is to cancel service.

Two years ago, regulators voted to give phone companies more freedom in pricing and marketing decisions -- thus opening the door to AT&T's new agreement. The rationale was that this would create a more competitive marketplace, which would benefit consumers.

However, the Division of Ratepayer Advocates concluded in a recent report that "significant rate increases" have occurred since the market was deregulated.

Witteman said a key problem with AT&T's service agreement is that the company doesn't list all the terms and conditions that apply to customers. Rather, AT&T says customers must review a separate "guidebook." That guidebook is available only online ... and runs about 2,500 pages.

"You also agree to pay for all charges for services provided under this agreement even if such calls were not authorized by you." The analysis said this "is in direct violation to cramming laws," which protect consumers from having unauthorized charges placed on their bills.

Under the provision, the analysis concluded, "AT&T, or any other billing agents, could impose unauthorized phone calls on a consumer's bill." It said consumers would have "little chance in both avoiding and fighting against this type of fraud."

Verizon Communications Inc. is also preparing to inform regulators of services it wants to remove from regulatory oversight before offering them to customers.

AT&T includes a provision that says customers are "waiving the right to a trial by jury and to participate in a class action" and may resolve grievances only by arbitration.

Consumers who want to comment on the AT&T or Verizon service agreements can e-mail the PUC at or call (866) 849-8390.

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Hello, this is, or was, Zed

Due to apparent confusion over my name, I will henceforth refer to myself (and I hope Melinama will do likewise) by my real name, Ezra. Thanks for your understanding.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

In which, after escaping from the "Natural Horsemanship" demo, I get a frosty email.

Zed is right, I am not very good at concealing my annoyance when people flail me with sales pitches. This one was an in-the-flesh infomercial!

I knew my question ("Well, what would the FIRST STEP be if a person wanted to try this technique?") was brash. So I wasn't surprised to receive this email from Jennye last night:

I am sorry that I wasn't able, in that setting, to stop my demo in order to share with you the instruction that would have been necessary to answer the question you posed. I had to stay on task...

The event was not a clinic but rather a demo. But I hope you could see from today's experience that one can have a member of the equine family (horse/donkey/mule) obedient and acting like a real partner when we, the human, follows the principles of Natural Horsemanship.

Through this language we are able to enroll the animal in becoming our partner. We establish ourselves as the 'boss mare' and life begins to change drastically in the relationship. This is quite a specific process. Progress can be seen in literally minutes.

Today Zed and I set out on an evening walk with Jethro, explaining to him about Man's unique relationship with the Equine and how we needed to be At One and that he, Jethro, should be alert to our every unspoken command. And how this other lady's horses were so obedient, and how if she did not "excuse" her horse he would await further instruction, and that she could leave him there and go in the house and play a game of bridge and when she came back to the paddock the horse would still be standing immobile, awaiting further instruction.

Jethro was horribly bad on his walk. I don't think he likes this sort of talk.

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[Zed] Natural Horsemanship part 2: In which we meet the recreational horse-riding community and discover that we most definitely do not fit in. . .

See Part one ...

So we drive out to Jennye's estate, which boasts an impressive array of stables, barns, and, yes, there's a house in there too. After a bit of searching, we find her behind the barn in the nearby "showing area" with a small clump of admirers.

With a few exceptions, these are exactly the sort of ladies one might expect to spend a great deal of time fretting over their relationships with their horses – perfect candidates for Natural Horsemanship. Averaging about 48 years old, I'd say, they chat anxiously with Jennye about their horses and their various neuroses.

She begins the affair by going into the barn and turning on some music. I myself have been subjected to some pretty bad synthetic music (including a horrible plinky electric version of Pachelbel's Canon set on repeat, for an hour, as I lay immobilized and full of needles on an acupuncturist's bench), but this is something else.

As we struggle to pay attention to her lecture (which begins with a 20 minute history of her riding career and the sheer wonder of an amazing technique called Natural Horsemanship which has changed her life) I can't help but marvel at the aural atrocity playing in the background. It opens with a recording of thunder and some hoof-beats . . . and then gets worse. It sounds like the dramatic and suspenseful music that would accompany the marching of an evil horde in a trailer for a fantasy movie, except it lacks percussion and the ghostly choir has been replaced with that tinny sound you get when you set your Casio electric keyboard to the "choir" setting.

Throughout Jennye's introduction, horse-ladies arrive in small clumps, some of them with husbands in tow. The husbands don't look particularly uncomfortable or even bored, but I hardly hear a word out of any of them. Perhaps, I muse, they have been dragged to more than a few of this sort of event, and are resigned to accepting all the eccentric extremes of their wives' hobby.

One of the wives, I notice with amusement, gets a bit of mud on her leather boot and spends a minute hopping on one foot, trying to wipe the mud off on the grass. Who comes to a horse-riding event wearing boots that she can't stand to see dirty?

Anyway, the talk continues for another 20 minutes. We are made aware of Jennye's 25 years in Dressage and her revolutionary discovery of Natural Horsemanship. A Natural Horseman must understand her equine's motives and fears. She must trust the horse and be trusted by the horse. While describing the wonderful nobility of the species she mentions the fact that the "herd mare" remains in charge for years and years, but stallions come and go. Speaking out for the first time, her husband shouts (from inside the shed, where he's busy finding something for his wife) that he's been around for 25 years, but no one really pays him any attention.

Unfazed, Jennye continues to tell us that horses have been companions and assistants to the human race since time immemorial, asking nothing in exchange but our love and respect. In fact, she boasts, without these majestic animals, humanity might not have survived. The crowd nods earnestly, and we realize that we have come to the type of event where Cynics like ourselves feel utterly unwelcome. Feeling very out of place among a group that could take this talk seriously, we sit well away from the sycophantic crowd and exchange knowing glances and the occasional snicker.

If she understands and loves and respects her horses as she says she does, then why did she buy 640 bales of hay for them without finding out if they would even eat it?

Eventually, we see what Jennye is doing here. The gathering isn't a friendly demonstration – it's a sales pitch. She continuously mentions the kind of Natural Horsemanship wizardry we'll be able to pull off with our horses (if only we'd enroll in her course of personal lessons), but will not explain a single detail of how to begin with Natural Horsemanship.

Melinama, meanwhile, is fuming. Her distaste for sales-pitches, advertising and all forms of solicitation is legendary, but she's been trying to hold off an outburst: irritating as it may be, Jennye is our supplier for Jethro's favorite hay, and we con't afford to burn bridges. Melinama's ire has been held in check thus far, but when Jennye's talk moves from Natural Horsemanship (our real reason for showing up) to her loving relationship with the horses in her barn, Melinama loses control.

Braving the disapproving stares of the horse-devotees, she raises her hand and says that she had thought we were going to learn how to do some of this Natural Horsemanship training, and if one was to begin with an equine, what would be the first step in a Natural training routine? Jennye is taken aback, and replies after a moment in that reproachful-yet-grudgingly-patient tone that would be familiar to anyone who's seen a bad teacher trying to show a child how to write a word: "Your first step would be to take one of my lessons."

Melinama quietly groans and asks me "how are we going to get out of this place?"

Jennye then prepares to bring out her horses for an exhibition of their marvelous talents: "Honey, bring me my orange whip!" Her husband complies, and she brings out the first horse. After explaining the life story of her darling Buttercake, a brown Hanoverian something-or-other, she stands beside him and shouts, "Honey, turn on the song. . . . No, you're doing it wrong, track 8!"

Track 8 is an appalling rendition of "I can't live without you," and to her credit Jennye mentions that she loves Buttercake very very much but she could probably live without him. The manic gleam in her heavily-made-up eye gives me cause to doubt her disclaimer.

We are then treated to a display of something that, in the world of the horse-cognoscenti would be called a display of virtuoso horsemanship. To me it is the sight of a lady and a horse erratically prancing around a pen in funny patterns. I admit a certain lack of class or consideration when it comes to this sport, but I must admit I was impressed when she got Buttercake to walk sideways. Our equine would never do that.

Jennye repeats this routine with another horse, this time a black, failed thoroughbred rescued from a German glue factory by a timely intervention on her part. Once she's done, she announces that we will all move to the "arena" to watch her do Dressage, which as far as I can tell is the same prancing routine, but with the human on the horse, rather than next to it. I see an opportunity. Hoping to beat the crowd (and avoid the angry glares of the horse-ladies) we hurry back to the car as the others slowly stand up and tell each other how marvelous the showing has been thus far.

We finally reach the car, but WE'VE BEEN PARKED IN! And worse, we're directly in the path of the ladies walking from the barn to the arena! We only have a few feet to work with in front of and behind the van. Melinama, at the wheel, tries to work her way out from between the cars, bit by bit. We're trapped, and the crowd gets closer and closer! Now they can see the whites of our eyes! Will we make it? Just as the van is almost free, the front-runner taps on our window like the serial killer in Scream. Horrified, Melinama opens the window. Instantly, we can tell that this lady isn't here to help us pull out.

She wants us to give Jennye another chance. She tells us proudly that she has eight horses, and her work with Natural Horsemanship has greatly improved her relationship with them. She continues to speak, but we're too caught up in the terror and embarrassment of getting caught while sneaking out to pay her much attention. Melinama does a very bad job of hiding her irritation behind some short, angry nods, and the lady gets the hint. She gives one last plaintive try at winning us over—"just so you know, Jennye didn't send me"—and walks off, disgusted.

Finally, she's done, but before we can get out of the Labyrinth of Jennye, another lady shows up. She doesn't even try to convert us or even speak to us, and moves one of the cars that blocked our exit. We're free, but now we have to turn around. And do it without hitting anybody. Melinama makes several attempts at this feat, but by now the main mass of horse-ladies is upon us. In desperation, she gives up and backs down the long, winding driveway. We are free.

We go home and give our equine a banana peel.

Note: While looking up some facts on Natural Horsemanship, I discovered that Natural Horsemen have a bit of a reputation in the horse-riding community for their aggressive salesmanship. I found the following on a website of horse-related jokes:

Question: How many Natural Horsemen does it take to screw in a lightbulb?

Answer: You must instill respect in the light bulb, so that it sees you as the Alpha light bulb, using "light bulb dynamics" (video available at $99.00 on my Website).

Once you have done this, you will find that there is really no need to change the light bulb at all, but that the light bulb will, with very little coaxing from you (using patented "light bulb coaxer" designed by me - $99.00 each, for extra $49.99 you get video thrown in) will behave as all good light bulbs should."

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What did I buy? 5b.

Zed found these two posters at the Goodwill. I had a xerox of one of them in my kitchen already, so, score! (Disclaimer: this one was traced.)

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About the current Wall Street crisis...

From the New York Times:

"Investors are like hyperactive first graders playing musical chairs."
Sam Stovall, chief investment strategist at Standard & Poor’s Equity Research.

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Saturday, September 13, 2008

Here's an explanatory video for those who don't know what Dressage is

[Zed] We Try Some New Hay - Naturally

Hi. I’m Zed. You may have heard a bit about me. You also have doubtless read of the exploits of our somewhat troublesome donkey, Jethro. In many ways, he is like a child – he is pushy, insubordinate, capricious, unreliable, and we can’t help but love him.

One characteristic he shares with difficult 3-year-olds around the world is his pickiness. One might think that donkeys, originating as they do in the scrubby, brushy desert fringes of Africa, might be adapted to eating whatever became available, but our donkey is a picky eater, as Melinama found out recently (to her great dismay). Only after she bought 60 bales of hay (this is a lot of hay – 60 bales is about 5 times the size of Jethro) did she discover that he turned up his giant nose at the stuff, picking at it like a despondent toddler with a plate of lima beans. We certainly didn’t want to see him "suffer" like this, but what could we do? We had a shed full of the bad hay.

You'll understand, then, the excitement felt in the household when Jethro finally ate the last of the lima bean hay. Melinama, ever eager to put modern methods to work on old problems, looked to the internet for some more hay. On Craig's List she found a couple who had made an even bigger mistake than ours – while stocking up they had accidentally bought 640 bales that their horses WOULDN’T EVEN EAT!

Anyway, we tried Jethro out on a bale of their stuff, which even I (hardly an expert on livestock foodstuffs) could tell was radically different from the old lima bean stuff. It seemed fresher, pungent with a hint of spice. No, you won’t find it on a dish at the Four Seasons, you silly gourmands, but it was pretty classy stuff – especially compared to the bland yellowy stuff. And, agreeing with me for maybe the first time in his life, Jethro loved it too!

Wasting no time, we asked them to bring us a full shed-load of the premium blend, what I’d come to think of as the Starbucks shade-grown to the previous hay’s Folgers. Anyway, they pulled up the drive with a flatbed trailer of hay). Immediately, Jennye hopped out of the pickup truck and began barking shrill orders to her husband, who was trying to back the trailer up to the shed: "Turn, turn, now TURN STEEPER, slow, SLOW, you’re okay, you’re okay, CAN YOU EVEN HEAR ME?"

Fortunately this jarring display didn’t give us pause. We managed to get the hay unloaded into the shed without much difficulty, despite the darkness and the fact that our shed was barely large enough for 60 bales (this feat required arrangement for maximum efficiency, much like a game of Tetris). No one was hurt, and the only casualty was a broom I left in the back of the shed, now trapped behind 5-6 months' worth of hay.

After we finished, we got to talking. Jennye, naturally the controlling type, took charge of the conversation, mentioning her 25 years of Dressage (in case you’re not horse people, this is a riding event where you sit on a horse and have it mince around in a predetermined pattern – I know about this because of an ex-classmate who boasted incessantly about it, so don’t call me a horse person) and her new fascination for a "new way of interacting with a horse" that "changed her life" called "Natural Horsemanship." I was curious, and against my better judgment I pressed for details.

Knowing that we had a donkey, and not a particularly well-behaved one, she told us that by getting into the mindset of the creature (which Natural Horsemanship would help us do – naturally) we could get him to want to do whatever it is that we ask him to do. She mentioned, with the tone of a talented salesman, that she was giving an exhibition and an introduction to Natural Horsemanship at her place on Saturday and why wouldn’t we come on down and see what it was all about.

Over the next two days Melinama and I amused ourselves with the absurd (to us) image of Jethro actually behaving well, building more and more ridiculous images of donkey saintliness. . . . . .

TO BE CONTINUED: Find out – what is Natural Horsemanship all about? Will Jethro be transformed into the very image of good behavior? Just how crazy is Jennye? What kind of people show up for an event at her place? Stay tuned, fellas.

On to Part Two ...

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What did I buy this week? #5a.

My son Zed is going to tell you shortly about our trip to Hillsborough in search of enlightenment on the subject of "Natural Horsemanship." But on the way back I had to buy a broom, because the broom I had is now behind 58 bales of hay in the shed. It will not be seen until April. You can ask him how that happened.

So we dropped by Walmart and the Goodwill is right next door...

These are perfect shirts for sweaty summer days and they were on sale for $2 each at Walmart, that's cheaper than you could get a shirt at the Goodwill, so I bought five (different colors).

Here's the broom. Also a canvas bag from Goodwill, Zed says this is a drug company handout. Also four books: a thesaurus for Menticia, two Carl Hiaassen books, and a Robert Ludlum book. Give me a break, they were 50 cents each.

I was pretty tired of sketching by the time I got to here. I have to stop buying things for a while. Anyway, a new bag of mechanical pencils which I opened so I'd have a pencil to draw these pictures with, and two dvds for $5 each: "Rain Man" for me (it's a five-star movie in my opinion) and "The Jackal" for Zed.

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Seen on the way back from Hillsborough

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What did I buy this week? #5.

I went to Goodwill and bought a "new" copy of the Joy of Cooking; mine belonged to my mother and is falling apart, although it has one of my favorite recipes in it which was expunged from later editions. I also got a brilliantly colored cloth bag big enough to get some hay into; Zed lost the big vinyl bag (also bought at Goodwill) for a while and it caused an uproar. Systems must be maintained.

On the same visit I also bought this skirt, actually I bought two but they looked pretty much the same. I have a lot of print shirts so I keep looking for solid colored skirts. I would wear print on print but it would embarrass my friends. Standards must be maintained, at least in public.

The week's big purchase was Jethro's supply of hay for the winter. It should last until early spring. This past spring I made the mistake of buying some local hay sight unseen and Jethro hated every bite of it. This time I went and bought one bale from the people selling it and tried it out on him. If you were going to eat only one thing from now till April, I bet you'd want some say in what it was going to be! He woofled it down very happily. So I bought 58 bales and the folks came with their trailer and we loaded it into the shed in the dark.

But first, we had to get out the "bad" hay, there were a few more bales. I had Zed put them under the carriage-port. Now I can't get the carriage out. Poor planning.

While they were here, the hay folks told us they'd bought this batch of hay from somewhere up north, also sight unseen, 640 bales of it! And disaster - their horses don't like it! So they are getting different hay for their own horses and trying to unload the first batch around town.

They also invited us to a dressage natural horsemanship clinic today - Jennye said that after we learn her method, Jethro will be instantly obedient. I'll get back to you on that.

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Thursday, September 11, 2008

[Hannah]: "Confidence Men"

"The term 'confidence man' was probably first coined by the New York press in 1849 during coverage of the arrest of a swindler named William Thompson. Thompson was a man of genteel appearance whose trick was to approach a gentleman on the street, chat with him briefly, and then ask whether he had the confidence to lend his watch to a stranger. Upon being handed the watch, Thompson walked off laughing. In this fashion, he succeeded in tricking several New Yorkers out of expensive gold watches..."
--Karen Halttunen, Confidence Men and Painted Women, p. 6

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Oil from turkey guts.

I've been telling people about this ever since I read about it in Discover magazine a few years ago. Nobody believed me! Here's a follow-up.

Extracts from
Anything Into Oil
Turkey guts, junked car parts, and even raw sewage go in one end of this plant, and black gold comes out the other end.
by Brad Lemley for Discover Magazine, April 2, 2006

Rotting heads, gnarled feet, slimy intestines, and lungs swollen with putrid gases have been trucked here from a local Butterball packager and dumped into an 80-foot-long hopper with a sickening glorp. In about 20 minutes, the awful mess disappears into the workings of the thermal conversion process plant in Carthage, Missouri.

Two hours later a much cleaner truck—an oil carrier—pulls up to the other end of the plant, and the driver attaches a hose to the truck's intake valve. One hundred fifty barrels of fuel oil, worth $12,600 wholesale, gush into the truck, headed for an oil company that will blend it with heavier fossil-fuel oils to upgrade the stock.

Three tanker trucks arrive here on peak production days, loading up with 500 barrels of oil made from 270 tons of turkey guts and 20 tons of pig fat. Most of what cannot be converted into fuel oil becomes high-grade fertilizer; the rest is water clean enough to discharge into a municipal wastewater system.

For Brian Appel—and, maybe, for an energy-hungry world—it's a dream come true, better than turning straw into gold. The thermal conversion process can take material more plentiful and troublesome than straw—slaughterhouse waste, municipal sewage, old tires, mixed plastics, virtually all the wretched detritus of modern life—and make it something the world needs much more than gold: high-quality oil.

Appel looks wearier than he did when Discover broke the news about his company's technology (see "Anything Into Oil," May 2003). Back then, when the process was still experimental, Appel predicted that the Carthage plant would crank out oil for about $15 a barrel and rack up profits from day one. [Difficulties...] "There have definitely been growing pains," he says. "We have made mistakes. We were too aggressive in our earlier projections."

Appel ... is confident that the process can indeed solve thorny waste problems, supplement oil supplies, become an odor-free "good neighbor," and at last, become immensely lucrative.

The catch? It may not happen in the United States.

At first blush, the thermal conversion process seems straightforward. The first thing a visitor sees when he steps into the loading bay is a fat pressurized pipe, which pushes the guts from the receiving hopper into a brawny grinder that chews them into pea-size bits. Dry feedstocks like tires and plastics need additional water at this stage, but offal is wet enough. A first-stage reactor breaks down the stuff with heat and pressure, after which the pressure rapidly drops, flashing off excess water and minerals. In turkeys, the minerals come mostly from bones, and these are shunted to a storage bin to be sold later as a high-calcium powdered fertilizer.

The remaining concentrated organic soup then pours into a second reaction tank ... where it is heated to 500 degrees Fahrenheit and pressurized to 600 pounds per square inch. In 20 minutes, the process replicates what the deep earth does to dead plants and animals over centuries, chopping long, complex molecular chains of hydrogen and carbon into short-chain molecules.

Next, the pressure and temperature drop, and the soup swirls through a centrifuge that separates any remaining water from the oil. The water, which in the case of slaughterhouse waste is laden with nitrogen and amino acids, is stored to be sold as a potent liquid fertilizer ... the oil goes to the storage tank to await the next truck.

Only 15 percent of the potential energy in the feedstock is used to power the operation; 85 percent is embodied in the output of oil and other products.

The oil itself meets specification D396, a type widely used to power electrical utility generators. The oil can be sold to utilities as is, further distilled into vehicle-grade diesel and gasoline, or, via a steam process, made into hydrogen.

So why has success been so long coming? Basically, Appel says, everything has been more complex and expensive than anyone guessed.

"Fat, fiber, protein, moisture, ash—getting those right, that's our mantra," says Jim Freiss, vice president of engineering. "Now we are able to nail the same quality every day."

Chemistry was not the only challenge. Since 2004, the federal government has subsidized biodiesel, usually made from soybeans, at $1 a gallon. It gave Appel zero for the fuel he produced from turkey guts. ... In August that hole was plugged: The fuel Appel makes, known officially as renewable diesel, received a subsidy of $1 per gallon from the Energy Policy Act of 2005, which took effect in January. That boosted the company's income by $42 a barrel, allowing a slim profit of $4 a barrel.

Another hurdle: Within months after opening in February 2005, the plant smelled, and by August it had been hit by six notices of emissions violations by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources. ... prompting Appel and his colleagues to install more ozone scrubbers. But even critics say the persistence of a smell does not invalidate the technology.

The thermal conversion process is probably the only practical large-scale method of dismantling prions, the proteins that cause mad cow disease.

Mad cow disease is thought to spread via the common American practice of feeding rendered animal parts back to animals. Appel assumed that the United States, like most modern nations, would ban the practice, creating more demand for his machinery to process leftover animal parts. In 1997 the government did ban feeding beef parts to beef cattle, but turkey and chicken cannibalism are still legal.

"We thought we would get $24 a ton for taking the waste," says Appel. "Instead, we are paying $30 a ton." That alone raises his production costs about $22 a barrel.

Which brings us to why Appel and his technology are likely to move to Europe. As the United States has crawled toward making its food supply safer, Europe has sprinted, eager to squelch mad cow disease as well as to stanch global warming and promote renewable energy. The result is a cornucopia of incentives for thermal conversion.

Last summer Appel gave presentations to government officials and private investors throughout Europe, and the company is planning projects in Wales, Ireland, England, and Germany. ... In Ireland, plant operators would get an astronomical $50 per ton to haul slaughterhouse waste away, another $30 per ton in carbon dioxide emissions-reduction credits, a guaranteed price of up to $92 per barrel, and a 20-year price guarantee. "In a 500-ton-per-day plant, our production costs would be under $30 a barrel, and we could sell for about $100 a barrel," Appel says. "It's just amazing."

Only three states—California, Pennsylvania, and Virginia—have incentives that could make the process financially worthwhile for Appel. But he is encouraged by a study commissioned by an automakers' consortium showing that the thermal conversion process could be a solution to one of America's most vexing solid waste problems: the unholy mix of plastics and other leftovers from automobile metals recycling.

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Can I build one of these?

One more reason to love chickens. They turn bugs into eggs, and their poop can power your popcorn popper.

Extracts from
Chicken Manure to power 90,000 Homes in the Netherlands
by Mike Chino for inHabitat

Last week Dutch agriculture minister Gerda Verburg unveiled the world's largest biomass power plant to run exclusively on poultry manure.

The plant will convert a third of the nation's chicken waste into energy while running at a capacity of 36.5 megawatts - enough to power 90,000 homes!

The 150 million euro plant was constructed by the Dutch multi-utility company Delta. It will convert roughly 440,000 tons of chicken manure into energy annually, generating more than 270 million kilowatt hours of electricity per year. The plant also addresses a key environmental problem in the Netherlands: "managing the vast excess stream of chicken manure, which, until today, had to be processed at a high cost."

Delta’s biomass plant has even been described as being carbon neutral, since it will prevent the manure from sitting in fields and seething greenhouse gases into the air. Once methane from the poultry waste has been extracted and ignited, the left over ash will be used to make fertilizers and other agricultural products.

The chicks get a bigger home.

There are certain advantages to not having a spouse. I am the baleboosteh. If I decide the chicken box is too small and I want to build a really big one out of masonite and attach it to the kitchen island with screws and angle irons, I can. Nobody will complain.


Monday, September 08, 2008

[Hannah]: The Meaning of Language

When faced with decrees from their bosses in Spain that they did not plan to follow, Spanish administrators in the New World would respond:
"I obey, but I do not execute."
-Bernard Bailyn, Atlantic History, 2005.

What did I buy this week? #4.

So I ordered a dozen chicks from Meyer Hatchery and they arrived on Wednesday. Like last time, I picked them up at the post office.

This batch (just random chicks available at the end of the season) seemed mellower and less traumatized than the batch I ordered last March. They seem willing to sleep in our hands and even upside down.

Here you see two protecting the food supply by sleeping in the food bowl.

I cut the bottom out of a wading pool I got at freecycle and they had their first experience outside yesterday. We can't leave them for a moment or hawks will carry them off.

It's going to be a long time until they're big enough to dig through donkey poop. I hope we can keep them from becoming raccoon chow like all the earlier ones, which I really miss.

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Raccoons: 8; Chickens: 0

On four separate occasions, three of which took place while I was at Yiddish Week, raccoons (I am supposing) came and killed chickens. On the fourth visit, they untoggled the front wall, removed it entirely, and killed the last two chickens.

What a horror story: you, one of those last two chickens, having survived the killing fields three times, are perched at night, listening to the scratching sounds outside the house with increasing unease. You watch helplessly as the raccoons figure out how to take it off. And then they come in and you get eaten.

It appears that on previous occasions the raccoons had figured out how to lift the metal door by its string.

I came home to a horrible silence. No cheerful chickens chasing Japanese beetles or rooting through Jethro's dung. An empty chicken house. It turned out, I couldn't stand the silence.

So I ordered new chickens, and Menticia and I set about improving the chicken house. The hurricane got in the way this week, but we plan to build the back house up and out, and then put hinges and a hasp on the front wall. Bob says he had a raccoon that was trying to figure out the combination for the combination lock on its cage, but I'll save that paranoia for later.



Mark does Illustration Friday: "Clutter."


(India ink, graphite and colored pencil on bristol board)

I tried to give the roach a nice cheesy politician's grin in this season of spin.

Mark Christopher Chandler, 9-7-2008

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Sunday, September 07, 2008

Melinama does Illustration Friday: "Clutter."

I love these cluttered old cartouches. I never tried drawing one before. What a lot of fruit.

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Friday, September 05, 2008

[Hannah]: What has this poor woman done to her face?

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Chocolate Buttermilk Brownies

These have replaced my previous favorites; this is now officially my favorite brownie recipe.

Buttermilk Chocolate Brownies

3/4 cup butter
4 squares (4 ounces) unsweetened chocolate
2 cups granulated sugar
3 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 cup buttermilk
healthy pinch of salt
1-1/2 cups flour
1-1/2 cups chopped walnuts
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Microwave butter and chocolate in bursts, stirring between bursts, don't let it burn. When mixture is melted and smooth, add sugar, stir, then add eggs, one at a time, stirring in between. Stir in salt, vanilla, and buttermilk. Add flour and walnuts. Stir.

Smooth into a greased 9x13 baking dish. I put a cup of chocolate chips on top but thought it was overkill. Other eaters did not agree. Bake for about half an hour.

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Monday, September 01, 2008

[Hannah]: Wisdom of our Forefathers

This made me laugh out loud. Written, when he was still a student at Harvard, by Dr. Nathaniel Ames the younger, and quoted by George Kittredge in the preface to his The Old Farmer and His Almanack:

"They who see this in future times may know that it is the covering of an old Almanack 1758. And do not despise old times too much for remember that 2 or 3 centurys from the time of seeing this you will be counted old times folks as much as you count us to be so now, many People in these times think the Consumation very nigh much more may you think so, and do not think yourselves so much wiser than we are as to make yourselves proud for the last day is at hand in which you must give an account of what you have been about in this state of Probation & very likely you are more given to Vice than we are, and we than the last Century folks; if you have more arts than we have that you yourselves have found out impute it not to our inability that we could not find them out for if we had had only those very arts that we have now when we first came to settle in N. America very like we should have found out those very things which you have the honour to be the Inventors of. - Dinner is ready I must leave off."

[Hannah]: More research tidbits

From Marion Barber Stowell's Early American Almanacs: The Colonial Weekday Bible:
"A unique place in the history of almanacs is held by Benjamin Banneker, America's only Negro almanac-maker. His ancestry can be traced to Molly Welsh, an Englishwoman who chose to be transported to Maryland rather than imprisoned in England for the alleged theft of a pail of milk. After completing seven years of indentured service, she bought a small farm and acquired two Negro slaves. Molly eventually set the two men free and married one of them, Banaky, who claimed a chieftain's parentage in Africa. Mary, one of their four children, married Robert, a free African, who chose to be called by his wife's surname.

Benjamin, born in 1731, was the eldest child of Robert and Mary... Even before he became known for his almanacs, Banneker had already gained fame in the community through the construction of a clock that struck the hours...

George Ellicott, a Quaker and one of the proprietors of the four mills of Ellicott City ... recognized the farmer's uusual computational ability and let him borrow Ferguson's Astronomy, Mayer's Tables, and Leadbetter's Lunar Tables. Through the study of these texts, Banneker was soon able to make hius own astronomical calculations. ... Inspired and fascinated by astronomy, Banneker began to spend most of his time studying celestial mechanics...."

Banneker went on to create astronomical tables for a very popular Philadelphia almanac, which took his name (and occasionally put his picture on the cover). He sent a copy of his almanac to David Rittenhouse, America's foremost astronomer, and ... president of the American Philosophical society, who promptly replied:
"I think the papers I herewith return to you a very extraordinary performance, considering the Colour of the Author... Though I have had leisure to make but few comparisons I have no doubt that the Calculations are sufficiently accurate for the purposes of a cmmon Almanac. Every Instance of Genius amongst the Negroes is worthy of attention, because their oppressors seem to lay great stress on their supposed inferior mental abilities."

And then....
"Banneker sent a copy of his manuscript to Thomas Jefferson, then Secretary of State. The manuscript was accompanied by a letter soliciting Jefferson's support, which was published in the 1793 almanac with JEfferson's appreciative reply."

And finally:
"Banneker... sold his land to the Ellicotts for an annuity to last the rest of his life, remained a bachelor, and devoted himself to the study of astronomy. When the annuity expired eight years before he did, someone remarked that this error in calculating was the only one that Benjamin Banneker ever made."

Mark does Illustration Friday: "Memories."


(acrylic and graphite on canvas)

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Melinama does Illustration Friday: "Memories"

I'm thinking about doing a series of postcards with old themes.

This is a proverb I read in I. B. Singer's Gimpel the Fool, which I'm currently translating for myself. The Yiddish is hard to translate succinctly, it really says something more like: If/since/because God gives shoulders, one must "shlep" (drag, carry) the pack.

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What did I buy this week? #3.

Not a big week for purchases. I did make an online purchase, but I'll draw it when it comes in a few days...

Now that Zed is living at home for a while, we're looking for ways to keep him from spacing out at the computer for hours at a time. This timer: $2.79. Will it work?

UPDATE: No, it did not work. Not even once. Wow, if you can sell 13 cents worth of plastic as a timer even if it doesn't work, you've found yourself some excellent suckers. Thanks, Walmart!

While I was at the housewares aisle getting the timer, I decided to get a replacement for my smashed candy thermometer (crucial to peanut brittle sessions): also $2.79.

Sunflower seeds for the birds.

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