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Year: 2007 (Page 1 of 7)

Velcro Nightmares

Velcro hook and loop is one of the coolest inventions of the 20th century. Back when it was new it was expensive it was not very common but over time it became less expensive and found its way into more products. I assume that the patents have run out and it is now made in vast quantities so it has found its way into just about every product that needs a fastener.

But there is an unpleasant consequence to this proliferation. Have you opened a suitcase, pulled out a pair of sneakers and ended up with a four foot long daisy chain of unrelated items dangling from the shoes? I have. To make things worse, the “hook” part of Velcro sticks to many other things besides “loop” Velcro. It seems particularly fond of microfiber cloth (artificial chamois / lens cleaning cloth), to which it sticks very well, certain types of clothing, as well as fabrics used to make wrist straps on flashlights, personal electronics, and camera straps. The latter is a big problem in my camera bag.

I use a backpack to carry my camera equipment, lenses, etc. and many of these items are equipped with Velcro which combined with Velcro’s aforementioned affinity for camera straps is a nightmare. It’s not unusual for me to open my camera backpack and find camera, watch, flashlight, calculator, lens cleaning cloth, and other items, all wadded into a tight ball lovefest of Velcro togetherness. It takes a couple of minutes to carefully peel all the delicate items out of this mess and set them down so they don’t touch each other and pull themselves back together again like the Liquid Metal Man in Terminator. It’s also important to keep a tight grip at all times on things like the camera because I never know when the strap is going to stick to something and yank the camera out of my hand.

Can we please go back to using snaps?

Have any of you noticed this problem or is it just me?


Your TV Will Stop Working on Feb 17, 2009

On February 17, 2009, just sixteen months from now, all television transmitters in the United States will forever cease transmission of analog signals (NTSC). From then on, only televisions with modern digital tuners will function.

I’ve known about this for years but I just read about a study showing that only 4 percent of Americans even know the year of the changeover and 60 percent of Americans know nothing at all about it. What’s more, you can still purchase a shiny brand new TV that will be obsolete in 16 months and simply stop working unless you get a converter box for it. So I thought I’d do my little part to get the word out.

Here is the Federal Communications Commission web site about coming the changeover:



Virginia Tech Memorials and Terrorism

Some thoughts on a difficult problem…

I have been reading about the various ideas for converting Norris Hall into a memorial, or razing the building, and various other ideas. I feel similar sentiments and feel that the victims and the heroes deserve some sort of memorial.

BUT… What concerns me is that the more we make of this, the more attractive it becomes for a mentally disturbed individual like Cho to execute a horrible act like this, knowing that he will make a permanent mark on thousands of people’s lives, memorials will be built, and so forth. In memorializing the victims we are also memorializing the perpetrator(s). This is unavoidable.

In a free society under rule of law and with a free press that makes money from sensational stories, it seems nearly impossible to minimize the notoriety that a person like Cho feels they will achieve. A similar situation is found when it comes to terrorists. Combating terrorism directly is nearly impossible, but there is a way to stop terrorism: By definition, a terrorist seeks to terrorize and cause fear in the population. He achieves this through the notoriety of his acts. If terrorist acts were kept as quiet as possible, and terrorists themselves were apprehended and “disappeared”, Latin-American style, without the slightest news or the tiniest footnote in the newspaper, terrorism would cease. If you take away the one purpose that a terrorist hopes to achieve, he will stop. If nobody knows of his actions there’s no point to terrorism.

To support my point, I’ll cite a striking example of one arena where this “silence tactic” was applied, and that is by the Israelis with respect to airline hijacking. Those of you who are old enough will remember that during the late 60’s and early 70’s, hijacking of Israeli airliners by Arab terrorists was very common. It seemed like there was one every week. These hijackings would involve extensive negotiations, lots of news coverage, hostage exchanges, timed exchanges, exchanges for money, fuel, and safe passage, etc., etc., and they would go on for days, with food being brought to the plane as it sat on the tarmac for several days with 100 hostages onboard. These weekly hijackings came to an abrupt halt in the late 70’s when Israel introduced and implemented a new plan. When an Israeli plane is hijacked, there is no news coverage until it’s over, and it is over very quickly. Wherever the plane lands, it is immediately stormed by ruthless, heavily armed and armored troops who enter the plane and simply shoot anything that moves. They try not to hit innocents but sometimes they do. They simply move quickly and wordlessly through the plane, Uzis blazing, until every terrorist is triple-dead. The only thing that is reported in the newspaper is that a hijacking occurred and 8 nameless terrorists are dead. That’s it. Those hijackings stopped cold because the Israelis removed the purpose, which is notoriety and news coverage, airing of demands, etc. A hijacker now gets none of that. Hijacking an Israeli plane means an anonymous suicide and nothing more so there’s no point in it for the would be hijacker. The Germans also had problems with hijackings, although less severe than Israel. The Germans also adopted the Israeli tactic and bingo, no more hijackings.

I brought up the hijacking example to illustrate what happens when you remove the one thing a terrorist wants to achieve. A terrorist-act-minded individual, like Cho, is aware of the “impact” he will make and the lasting memorials that will remain. He knows that he will become instantly famous, and his thoughts and writings will be read by millions, and that’s what happened. In a year or so there might be some new laws passed that will be named “Cho laws”. In ten years they’ll probably make a movie. The name “Cho” will be famous for decades. Unfortunately, and he will be far more famous than any of his victims.

How to change this situation is not clear. It might be impossible in a free society. But it would be good to bear in mind when we make much of events like what happened at Virginia Tech. In a country of 300 million people, there are surely more sick individuals in the population right now that envy Cho and wish they could achieve something similar. The more we make of it, the more attractive it becomes to those who would imitate. A hundred years ago such things happened far less often because news coverage was poor and slow. Notoriety was not guaranteed like it is today.

I wonder how many people consider this aspect that I have just brought up, of events like the Virginia Tech massacre. I wonder if it is even brought up in discussions about what to do with Norris Hall. Norris Hall is just a building, an inanimate object. I think it should be restored to it’s previous condition as quickly as possible and put back into service as before. It should not be turned into an icon because in the end, it memorializes the perpetrator more than any of the victims.


Making Candied Orange Peel

Making candied orange peel is easy once you learn what to watch for. Expect a couple of spoiled batches where you undercook or burn the product, but after that it’s straightforward.

Candied Orange Peel

The number of oranges to use is hard to specify. I eat two oranges a day and save the peel. Since I want as many long 1/4 to 3/8 inch wide strips that are 2 inches long, I cut the oranges in half and juice them or quarter them and carve out the inside (and eat it). Then I wash the peels under running water, and scrape as much of the meat off as I can and then toss the peels into a sealed plastic bin I have in the refrigerator. The sealed bin has a small amount of water on the bottom to keep them hydrated, otherwise the refrigerator will dry them out and they’ll shrivel.

When I have “enough”, I get the cutting board and start slicing as many long pieces as I can and I dice up the odd pieces, and continue until I have enough to fill a small 16 cm stainless saucepan about 3/4 full (but not more).

Next the peels optionally get boiled in the saucepan. Boiling them like I describe here will reduce the flavor and remove bitterness. It will also help to hydrate any peels that have dried and thinned. You can skip the boiling steps here for a stronger orange flavor. If I’m going to use the peels for baking I skip the boiling to get a stronger flavor. To boil the peels, fill the saucepan with water, and boil for 10 minutes or more, dump them into a strainer and hit them with cold water. Then back in the pot to boil again for 10 minutes or so, dump and rinse with cold water.

Next comes the candying step. Put 2 to 2-1/2 cups of sugar in the saucepan and 1 cup of water, bring it to a boil and dissolve all the sugar. Be careful from here on because the sugar syrup will be at 240 degrees F. Treat it with respect because it WILL hurt you–think napalm. Gently add the peels to the boiling syrup, bring back to a boil, then reduce to medium heat and cook them in the syrup (uncovered). I’ve seen recipes that say to cook for 20 minutes. Forget that. It takes 40 to 45 minutes of cooking. The whole time it will be merrily bubbling and foaming. Stir occasionally to make sure nothing is sticking or burning. When you get to around 40 minutes, you’ll notice the amount of liquid is getting less and less and now is where you really have to pay attention. You want the peels to get that “glassy” candied look–not all the way through, but you want to see the flesh start to get glassy. Some people say to boil until all the syrup is gone. If you do that, you’ll burn the peels. There’s a fine line where they are “just right” and it always seems to come at around 45 minutes.

While it’s cooking, I’ve put out sheets of waxed or parchment paper. When the decision point comes, dump the contents of the pot into a metal screen strainer (remember it’s at 240F which will melt some plastics) and let it drain for a minute. Then spoon them out onto the waxed paper and as quickly as you can spread them out so they are touching each other as little as possible. When they cool they will stick together and it’s pretty easy to unstick them from the paper but not from each other. Then let them cool off and dry for a while, an hour or two, and then you can use them or cover with another sheet of waxed paper. You can stack several batches on top of each other, put a dinner plate on top, and store them like this for several days.

Finally, you can sprinkle them with flour and mix them into a cake. You can dip the long ones in melted chocolate (just like strawberries). You can coat them with powdered sugar, use then to garnish ice cream, whatever.

To try this out I’d recommend starting with four oranges worth of peel. The thickness of orange peels varies a lot so it’s hard to say how many oranges you need. Thick skinned oranges are great for this application. Oranges with very thin skins are not good choices for candying. You can also do this with grapefruit skins for a very different flavor.

For me, candied orange peel is one of the greatest flavors on earth, and it’s extra fun to make because you are using what would otherwise be garbage plus about 20 cents worth of sugar. However, it is labor and time intensive.

Candied Orange Peel

Closeup of finished candied orange peels.

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