A Third Blog Reboot

So it’s been a bit of a hiatus here at This is Not a Dinner Party Marching Under Banners. I would like to say that I put the blog on hold because I was completely occupied by having started graduate school, but as I really stopped blogging in July of 2010 (with a few quick outliers in September and November), the explanation lies elsewhere. I suspect the real reason that I stopped was because twitter and FaceBook were fitting the personal expression bill. But I never really made an explicit decision and am not actually sure what the reason was.

Whatever the case, 140 characters sufficed for a while, but I am increasingly finding that the character counter block has turned a verbose-threat-level HIGH color long before I have completed my thought and even the usual cleaver pairing down doesn’t suffice to squeeze the idea into the allotted space. So maybe it’s time to resume the blog.

This will be the third iteration of my blog. The original blog, smarties, I developed myself in PHP in 2004 and it was pretty basic. In its second incarnation, it was an attempt at a group blog using an installation of b2evolution (also PHP) hosted by a friend. This time around, I’m giving up on the DIY thing and just going with a WordPress blog. An explanation for the new title and banner can be found on the About page.

I have ported over the July 2007-November 2010 This is Not a Dinner Party archives. The June 2004-July 2007 smarties archives are stuck on a currently deactivated RAID array or a tape backup somewhere. I hope to have them recovered soon enough because there are a number of currently dead links throughout this blog to those old posts and there’s a lot of important thinking and personal history there.

Oddly enough, in my first year as a graduate student, I didn’t write a single piece for any of my seminars with which I was adequately satisfied to make a post out of it. I hope that will change over the next few months and I this blog will serve as a place to do some thinking towards academic work — some background thinking, some preliminary studies, some finished work and so on.

Anyway, enough with the preliminaries: I’ve got a few things queued up already so back to the blog trenches.

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How to Make a Mean Martini

Enough of all this who makes a mean martini and who doesn’t shit. It’s three (maybe four) ingredients. If you can’t make a good one it’s because you’re an unschooled lout.

Don’t get me wrong: I exceeded myself just last week hitting color, aroma and blend, but per my last post, it’s not about making a perfect one — in a pluralistic world no such thing exists — it’s only about the minimal qualification of avoiding bad ones — and not to get me wrong again, I hold this level of ineptitude against a bar, keeping in my head a running list of places who fail even this minimal standard.

Besides, most of the important decisions about good cocktails are made at the liquor store, not while attending to the bottles, shakers and glassware. What’s the right ratio of gin / vodka to vermouth? Anything from the apocryphal “glance across the room” up to four- or five-to-one. How much olive juice is tolerable in a dirty martini? Judging from the shit-talk any ol’ amount you prefer. Choose high quality ingredients, meet the minimum standard, and the rest is a matter of taste — for which it is appropriately widely known there is no accounting.

So let’s all stop posing as if mixing cocktails is like laying microchip circuitry or calculating digits of pi. It’s an improvisational art.

“Working Around the Problem”

The IT Mentality:

User: “Help there’s an alligator in my cubical!”
IT: “Do you have to place your bum directly in the alligator’s mouth when you work, or can you work around the alligator?”
User: [reluctantly admits] “Well, the alligator isn’t taking up the entire cubical.”
IT: “Okay, well, I’m going to close this help ticket for now. If the alligator takes a limb, you can always reopen it.”

Tyler Durden’s House (cont.)

the hole | the offending pipe | the dirt | the tool

At some point or other in my life my living circumstances are going to reverse course and begin to tack back towards normal, but for now I’m only headed further into Tyler Durden territory (“Tyler Durden’s House,” 15 April 2007). In addition to the failings of most of the other accoutrements of modern living in this domicile, for some time now we have been noticing that the water bill has been climbing. After taking some reasonable steps to reduce water consumption, our water bill spiked to such a level where I’m surprised that DEA agents haven’t kicked in the front door, thinking they were onto our secret hydroponics lab. Last month eight people niagarously tore through 81,532 gallons of water. Next month’s bill will top $1,000. You’d think we were smelting aluminum in here or something.

So two weeks ago we had a plumber out to the house, and after a quick tour of all the places in the house where water might leak, he did the obvious thing: he turned the water off at the house main valve and then checked the meter again. Despite not a drop entering the house, the meter continued to spin like wild. “You’ve got a break between the street and the house.” He confidently reported.

Like most Southern houses, ours sits about ten feet above street level: there is a three or four foot high retaining wall at the sidewalk then a sloping garden up to the house. There is a half-flight of stairs up to a landing, then another half-flight up to the top of the garden level, then another half-flight up to the porch and a half-flight down to the basement. The main water line comes up into the basement unit (where S. and I live) behind an unheated front mud-room. And the piping is three feet below the street level. A traditional excavation was going to require moving a lot of dirt and jack-hammering out a lot of concrete. Fortunately there’s what’s called a directional bore, where they dig a pit at both ends of the pipe and bring in a machine that drills a horizontal hole connecting the two pits. The only disturbance to the surfaces is the two pits.

But the pipe comes up into the house in our basement flat, which means that one of the pits was going to be dug in our living space. But the work would only take two days we were told. The first day they would jack-hammer the concrete and dig the pits. The second day they would perform the bore and replace the pipe. The water would only be off for a few hours when they were actually performing the connections to the city meter and the house plumbing. Oh, contractors and what they tell you.

Despite the fact that by the beginning of this week everyone was aware that there was a big snow storm bearing down on D.C., John C. Flood (yep, that’s the name of the plumbing company) decided to dig on Thursday and replace the pipe in Friday, racing against the pending snow. Somehow I didn’t see a problem with a plumber scheduling a two day job the day before a major regional storm was set to hit. Of course, on Thursday two classical change conditions were revealed once excavation started. First, John C. Flood determined that they couldn’t proceed with the directional bore on Friday owing to proximity of gas and electrical lines. But that wouldn’t be a problem since not having disturbed any of the existing facilities, our water service would remain undisturbed. Except that second, upon digging a pit, it turned out that the break was close enough to the meter that water rushed through the porous substrate like a garden hose, filling the pit. So the water would have to be turned off at the meter.

And then two feet of snow fell over Friday night. I presume the equipment for performing a directional bore either is a large truck, or is mounted on some sort of trailer that is towed to the work site by a large truck. The streets throughout the neighborhood are all covered in about a foot of hard-packed snow-ice. I imagine that it will be at least mid-week before the city gets around to plowing this sector (Mt. Pleasant is a rather secluded part of town). A friend had an eight story tall tree in front of his building fall across the street and crush two cars and the city is telling him that it will be five days before they can get there with the equipment to handle it.

I already haven’t had a shower since Thursday. I don’t know what I’m going to do about work on Monday. I imagine the water is just going to be off until at least Wednesday or Thursday. But there’s talk of more snow midweek, so I have no idea when we’re going to have water service restored. Plus there’s a giant stinking wet pit in the entryway to my flat as well as a pile of the brick dust that came out of the pit. Maybe I should fill the bottom of the pit with a bunch of sharpened wooden stakes and cover it over with a mesh of sticks and some leaf litter — play a round of the most dangerous game.

We’ve filled the bathtub with water, so we’re not entirely without, but it’s amazing how being denied an unlimited supply of a resources changes your perceptions. Usually when preparing a meal I would select a number of specialized tools throughout the process. A pairing knife for some fine work, a large knife for gross reduction, a number of bowls for setting aside the prep work and ground spices, a large spoon for stirring, a small one for shoveling spice or tasting. Now that I am looking at the prospect of panning water from the bathroom tub to the kitchen sink, then boiling a portion on the stove to make it warm enough for dish washing, I suddenly find the inadequate rough chopping job of the pairing knife perfectly acceptable and place a premium on what are referred to in the literature as “one pot recipes.” I would usually wash my hands maybe ten times throughout the preparation of a meal. Since hand washing now entails a trip to the bathroom to ladle water, first over one hand, then over the other, I just have to content myself with my hands and utensils being dirty until the end. It’s like living on Arrakis. I’ve become so paranoid about every drop of water wastage that maybe I should don a Fremen stillsuit.

Anyway, it’s all just par for the course around here. The electricity is already a tangle of improvisation and work-around. Why not rip out the linoleum and concrete in favor of hardpan? Suspicious of the antiquated municipal plumbing we’ve already been having the potable water delivered, why not start carrying in the non-potable water too?

Fractals: It’s What’s for Dinner

Romanesco broccoli from the Mt. Pleasant farmers' market, Washington, D.C., 10 October 2009

Ever since I read that romanesco broccoli was a fractal I’ve been on the lookout for it. It finally turned up along with all the varieties of cauliflower at the Mt. Pleasant farmer’s market, so I snatched it up and tonight I broke that fractal down into-a little-a tiny cubes and fried it in olive oil, salt and pepper and white wine.

(My picture is nowhere as cool as this New York Times picture of the day from 7 October 2009)

Super Macro

My present favorite feature on my Canon PowerShot SX200IS is the Super Macro setting available under manual mode. It’s really got me playing National Geographic photographer.

A frog, Richter farm, Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania, 13 September 2009

13 September 2009, Richter farm, Pennsylvania, a frog with whom I crossed paths far from the pond and who was all hopped out by the time he made it back to safety.

Honeybees amidst the goldenrod, Richter farm, Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania, 13 September 2009

13 September 2009, Richter farm, Pennsylvania, honeybees amidst the goldenrod of the fields.

How Hot is it in Washington, D.C. in August?

Even the buildings sweat in August, 17th and L Streets NW, Washington, D.C., 21 August 2009

So hot you have to put your entire building on a coaster. Look at the building pictured above. It’s actually so humid out and they are actually running the air conditioning so aggressively inside, that condensation is forming on the glass curtain wall of this building. It’s the case with some of the newer buses as well, that the exterior surfaces are covered in condensation.

And this has been the most mild August in my six years living in Washington, D.C.