Thursday, October 29, 2009

Green, red, orange, yellow, white, and blue

Would be nice colours for a flag, wouldn't they? But they're the recommended colours of the vegetables and fruits we should be eating more of to get all the phytonutrients and antioxidants every day.
  • Green leafy vegetables, like spinach, kale, and other greens like Brussels sprouts and broccoli
  • Red like sweet red peppers and tomatoes, and apples, raspberries, and strawberries
  • Orange like carrots. And orange peppers, and oranges, and many kinds of winter squash
  • Yellow like, um, yellow peppers? Pears?
  • White like mushrooms and onions; maybe garlic...
  • Blue like, well, blueberries. And blue, red, or black grapes, I guess. I'm not sure where eggplant fits in there, since most are only purple on the outside.
You can look all these up yourself, of course.

Food guides suggest five to 10 servings of fruit and vegetables a day. But put the veggies first---while fruits have fiber and good nutrients, most are higher in sugar. In fact, children should be the ones getting as few as five servings a day---adults should get up to twelve. Most vegetables have fewer carbohydrates and more fiber. Adding just a serving or two a day (one small apple, one orange, one cup of broccoli, half a cup of carrots, etc.) can benefit your belly.

Some folks say you should eat not one but three apples a day---there's even a diet for it. Apples have lots of soluble (pectin) and insoluble fiber (skin). I halve an apple, trim out the stem and blossom ends, and remove the core with a melon baller. In fact, I've never used a melon baller to make melon balls. Less waste and you can eat cored pears and apples at your desk with little mess and no sticky fingers. The Red Delicious variety is supposed to be the best.

I like kohlrabi. It's a good substitute for potatoes or turnip in beef stew. I think you can steam or boil the greens (but slugs have been at the leaves in this image!!), but I usually just throw them out. Handsome Stranger likes to play with the peels.

I just came back from the store where I picked up six packages of frozen veggies on sale (Green Giant Essentials). Harvest season is getting ready to end, and southern Ontario has terrific farmers. But I might as well just dump the fresh produce I buy right into the composter from the reusable shopping bags. I'll eat peanut butter and banana sandwiches for three nights in a row instead of washing, slicing, and steaming or roasting the food I buy. My freezer drawers are packed full of frozen veggie and fruit bargains, as well as stuff I've frozen myself. But the fresh produce on the fridge shelves is getting all wrinkled and less appetizing. Maybe if I washed a few pots, and cleaned off the table, stove, and counters...

But I'm trying to do better. Tonight I went to the kitchen to make myself a PB sandwich, and instead I microwaved a Green Giant package and put it in a bowl of reheated beef and vegetable soup. Now I feel all virtuous again.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Fatal Light migrating bird casualty

I don't usually walk around with a dead bird in my pocket. If it had been a House Sparrow (pest!), starling (pest! pest!), or other common bird I could identify, I would have kicked it to the curb.

My former co-worker LH notified me one evening of the location of two "sparrows" that had hit the office building. I picked them up after work and identified them as a pair of Brown Creepers that had hit the tower on their way somewhere. I did a little research and phoned a couple of people, and a few days later LH and I were on our way at lunch time to the Biodiversity Centre at the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM). A very nice bird man confirmed my ID and took the bodies away. Then LH and I rode up the elevator and had a luscious lunch at the then-existing JK at the ROM (JK = Jamie Kennedy, renowned Toronto chef and former restaurateur). (Ten percent discount for members! Real cloth napkins! Fine dining! We felt both pampered and virtuous.)

Brown Creeper Photo © Michael J.Hopiak / CLO

A good bird site, especially if you think you might know the species, is the Cornell Lab of Ornithology All About Birds website. They even provide links to bird songs.

But this one's unknown to me. The closest I got was a Henslow's Sparrow, but the males, females, and even juveniles have obvious stripes on the head and this one has a dark grey cap with no stripes at all. The colours are very close too---olive green around the neck, bright rufous speckles on creamy breast, bright rufous feathers on back, wings, and tail, pinkish underside to beak, buff eye-ring. But it's got that grey headcap. I'll have to get my Sibley and Petersen and National Geographic guides out and see if there are variations. It could also be a Fox Sparrow, Song Sparrow, or a Lincoln's Sparrow. And it could be a juvenile Dark-Eyed Junco, but it should have its adult markings by now (late October).

Anyways, I picked it up just outside my office building on Friday. 
It hadn't been dead for long; rigour had set in, but its black eyes were still clear. I put it in my coat pocket, then transferred it to a small paper bag (I have many---I eat too many muffins on the way to and at work), and to a freezer bag and into the freezer when I got home. The Fatal Light Awareness Program (FLAP) is staffed by volunteers (I think) and works with office managers to turn out lights at night to keep migrating birds from crashing into high-rise windows. People trek to high-rise buildings before dawn and pick up and record fatalities and injured birds, and work to get the live ones rehabbed and back to their routes. And there's a collision reporting page in case you do find a dead or injured bird:

UPDATE: It's a Fox Sparrow. I got a clue from my Petersen's guide and googled for a live image.

UPDATE October 29: I'm being a good honest blogger and removing the photo of the Fox Sparrow. The photographer has copyrighted all his images and I didn't ask permission to use that one.

You can see Doug Backlund's beautiful photos here:

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The first cut is the deepest

I got another nice stack of mail today, including a notice to pick up a parcel at the post office, which closed at 3 pm today (an eBay purchase; more on that later); my November transit pass; and a PandG Brand Sampler. Like the first one I got in May, the ends of the tough paperboard box were firmly glued, defying any attempt to open it by hand. So I grabbed my handy utility knife, and thought to myself, just as I started to cut towards my thigh, "Don't do it that way, you f*cking idiot!" as the blade sliced about 3 cm through my good Kenneth Cole slacks and into my leg. (Really, it's not much more than a good cat scratch, which usually come in threes, and a regular bandage on a diagonal covers it nicely. My skin, I mean---and I think I can patch the slacks adequately with some light-weight iron-on interfacing on the inside.)

In the dangerous box was a real grab bag of goodies: a full-sized Mr. Clean Magic Eraser (which is good, because I can't find my two-pack anywhere); a 60-ml sample (good-sized) of Olay Total Effects body wash; a Tide Stain-Release in-wash booster packet; two one-load samples of fabric softener (Ultra Gain and Ultra Downy), which I don't usually use, but I've heard they help in getting animal fur off clothes and linens; and a Gain laundry detergent sample.

My eBay purchase, which I'll pick up tomorrow, was a hand-turned French rolling pin made of black walnut. The wood came from a 150-year-old farm house in Kentucky, and the seller's husband has time on his hands, so he's making a bunch of these from antique wood.

It's 20" x 2.5" and has a nice weight. Black walnut is worth its weight in gold in some parts. Here it is next to my maple pastry rolling pin. I've since rubbed some food-safe tung oil on it to keep it moist.

Now I just have to clean off the kitchen table, get some pastry flour and lard, and try my hand again at making a pie.

UPDATE: I picked up my new rolling pin at the post office Thursday night. It's beautiful, and somehow a bit bigger than I expected. Instead of pie pastry, I think I'll make pasta dough. I've had much better luck with it. And it's fun squashing it in the pasta maker that I got at a discount at Value Village (someone had stolen the table clamp and crank, but I had spares here at home).

Office Space

While speaking to my manager yesterday about working conditions (she's very solicitous), I was reminded of starting my first full-time job as a tech writer in Toronto. The building was due for renovation and there was limited office space. For the first three months I carried my working papers, desk supplies, and reference books in boxes (cheekily labelled "Karen's Desk" and "Karen's Office"). When I came in in the morning I'd ask my boss where I'd be working that day. I counted---23 different work spaces between July and October. Finally I was assigned an actual office with a door that closed. I shared it with another technical writer and we got along famously.

But sometimes I'd come in and sit down and find that my PC was missing. A manager would "borrow" it for presentations because it had the right pin count in a PS2 slot or something.

Eventually the building renovations started and my team and a couple of others moved to temporary office space. I had an office. With a push-button phone. And a door that closed. But my insensitive boss (when she got pregnant, and declared that every woman should have at least one baby, and I said I didn't want to ever, she said I should anyways and give the baby up for adoption) would open my door, speak to me, and leave without closing the door again. This happened a few times one afternoon, and I got up and closed the door after her each time. The last time I guess I sort of closed it a bit more firmly (I mean, the glass didn't rattle or anything, but it was close to a slam), she opened the door again, looked at me oddly, and closed it again.

Other than that it was a fine place to work.

At this new place, I'm getting eye strain due to the overhead fluorescents, and I can't figure out how to adjust my chair, and after three weeks I still don't have access to the network folders. But at least they're not paying me...

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Hiding the cats from the dog catcher

I got a nice big stack of mail the other day---my eBay purchase, a detergent sample and coupons, and not one, not two, but four notices that I need to renew my pet licences.

In summer 2008 there was a cash grab revenue-generating and youth employment initiative by the City of Toronto: young persons were hired as enforcement agents for Toronto Animal Services (which I've visited when in the area; a nice place to shop) to snoop around people's homes looking for evidence of domestic animals (cats and dogs). Then they'd knock on the door and make people buy licences ("Annual licensing [sic; US spelling] of dogs and cats is the law in Toronto..."). There are lots of outdoor cats (and indoor ones, if I count those that like to sit and look out their front windows) and a few dogs on the street. Well, I didn't wait for some pimply-faced clipboard-carrying municipal-ID-wearing punk to knock on my door and intimidate me by looking over my shoulder at the dust bunnies made of cat fur lining the stairs. I went online and bought a licence for each indoor cat ($15 per cat if it's sterilized, which mine are). And you're supposed to attach the licence tag to the cat (mine don't wear collars, and I don't believe in superfluous piercings). Licencing cats and dogs has been the (by)law since I've lived here, but I probably could have gotten away with not doing it. And I don't think they even did our street in the end.

I got renewal notices in July and ignored them. After all, I wasn't working and didn't want to spend the money. Now I get them again. I have only a few days to renew in order to obey Municipal code chapter 349, or a Municipal Enforcement Officer will come to my house, count the cats, and fine me $240 per miscreant. I tried to figure out a way to let them know I no longer have four cats staying with me (betrayal, I know; can I build a secret room to hide them when the Guardians of the Peace burst through my door? Can I declare that they are Domesticated Ungulates of the families Artiodactylus and Perissodactylus, Anseriformes, Galliformes and Struthioniformes and are thus exempt from the licencing rules?). But the layers of fur on every surface, scratching posts, shredded furniture, and all-pervading litter box smell will betray me. I'm a good corporate citizen, generally, but this gets my goat, so to speak. (By the way, did anyone get that? Goat sort of = Artiodactylus?)

Now that I'm working the money should not be such a problem. But it is---I found out on payday that my employer pays in arrears, just like EI (after the two week waiting period to receive benefits or pay, there's another two weeks to wait). So I don't get paid until the end of the month.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Bid early, bid often!

This is a public plea for people to look at my eBay sales. I had time on my hands yesterday, and these things were already boxed up, so I listed them:
  • An aluminum tortilla press that I never got the hang of using (a looker asked me why it was so "inexpensive." I replied that it IS an auction, typically starting low to attract bidders...)
  • A vintage Pyrex covered casserole from the 1930s, made for the Russakov Club by Corning Glass Works
  • A vintage 1950s set of 3 Pyrex clear glass nested mixing bowls in lovely condition
  • A shabby woolen runner in reds and blues that may or may not be a vintage Navajo rug (eBay doesn't let you say what you think it is if you don't have provenance on it).
It's mainly because, even with the contract pay, it will take me ages to pay down the debts I incurred while I was out of work. I don't know how people do it. I don't usually live with debt for very long (I don't count the mortgage). When I had cable I'd watch TV programs on dealing with singles' or couples' debt. I could easily sympathize with the subjects, but couldn't relate---until now. I'm not in dangerous debt, but I'm unhappy about it, since I'm not making enough money to pay it off quickly.

And my lovely tax refund, which I usually get in mid-March, will go right to what's left of the debts!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

A fine kettle of phish, and Protestant "guilt" ethic

My third day at work, and I call in sick. I started feeling not so great yesterday afternoon, after a poor night's sleep on Monday night. Woke up in the middle of the night coughing. Buckleys Mixture does work, for a while. Woke up again with the cat alarm ("We're alarmed! Wake up! Feed us! Let us help you wake up by knocking everything off your nightstand!"), just before the radio went on. Sneezing. Headache. Chills. Put on a fleece jacket under my thick cotton jacket since the indoor temp is over 20C. Good thing too, because Handsome Stranger was busy keeping my neck and shoulders warm, and I haven't clipped his claws lately.

I e-mailed and left voice messages with HR and my co-worker, asking for something to do. It's not strictly the Protestant Work Ethic---more like the Protestant Guilt Ethic. I can't take any cold/flu products that are available over the counter to alleviate symptoms, since almost all (including Alka-Seltzer) are contraindicated for diabetics. Otherwise I'd suck it up (unlike me, since I'm so self-indulgent when it comes to my health, sort of). So I asked for a document to work on.

And I got a very realistic PayPal message the other day. But I knew I hadn't sent a payment to anyone for anything. PayPal agreed that it was a spoof/phishing e-mail. I think these "phishers of men" take advantage of those of us who, while in our cups or three sheets to the wind or looking upon the wine while it is red, bid on auctions or buy products late at night. I try to avoid that these days, after the DazzleWhite fiasco. Though I was stone-cold sober when I fell for that one.

Monday, October 5, 2009

New Job, and New Scanner

First day at the new contract job. Apparently it takes over a week to requisition a work station, so I didn't have a computer to work on (this isn't the first time it's happened at a new job; at one place they forgot I was coming at all, and then my new boss couldn't remember my name). But my new co-worker and I toured the building and she introduced me to the Admin team members, and we reviewed the list of documents we will be working on. They are posted on the corporate intranet. And I figured out how to record a personal greeting on the phone. There's a Tim Hortons downstairs, and an underground walkway to the subway station. I can imagine that, with winter coming, the uphill walk to work and the downhill back will be (voice of Cloris Leachman as Frau Blücher in Young Frankenstein)...treacherous. (Remind me to write a note to myself to get a copy of that movie; it's one of my favourites.)

I just wrote about my old computer equipment but didn't mention my refurbished scanner (bought in 2000) was an Epson Perfection 636. Perfectly serviceable still, but when I upgraded the operating system from Win98 to WinXP the software drivers for it couldn't be updated. It took ages to find and download new software, but the $50US or so was worth it. It takes an 8.5 x 11" page. But the software only implies that it can scan negatives to positives. Either it's lying to me or I can't figure out how to work it.

I want to make family calendars as Christmas gifts this year, and I want to use old family pictures. A few months ago I bought a negative/slide scanner on eBay (FS-C1-VP-BX2 Film & Slide Digital Converter). But no how, no way could I install it on my Toshiba laptop. I gave the whole mess to my brother who was able to get it working on his laptop, but he's not very fond of it. And he's a lazy sod: he scanned exactly one image---from his and Mom's trip last year to Australia. I'll take it back and re-sell it on eBay.

So instead of trying to get him to scan old negatives, I'll get Mom to send me her selections of actual photos from multiple albums and I'll scan them and upload them to one of the custom calendar sites.

In the meantime, spending money I don't have again, I fell for a new HP Scanjet G3110 flatbed from Staples that also does slides and negatives (and bulky items: useful for online auctioneers). And it actually works! The bonus is that it plugs into a USB port so I can use it on the laptop. I can also scan to PDF and e-mail. So I'm happy now. Tra la!

Here's a scan of my girl Bwai from a negative strip using the Scanjet. If she looks blue, she is---she just had a shave. Note how her fat belly hangs over her back feet.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Old computer and software still useful

I started working in Information Technology in the summer of 1989. My first work PC was an XT, similar to this one, sound effects and all. I used Word Perfect on DOS to write and update financial systems manuals. I think we had network folders, and a primitive e-mail system. A few higher-tech people had Windows PCs, but I didn't get one for a year or so.

In 2001 I was fired from a job after five months (gawd, what a relief! I hated that job!). I got a decent severance package, and went out and bought my first (refurbished) home computer---a Compaq tower with a staggering 9G processor, Windows 98, CRT monitor, roller-ball mouse, and PS2 keyboard. People had been making fun of me for a few years because I didn't have e-mail. But I got hooked up with an ISP a day or so later. I called Bell Canada, but they would only send me their Internet start-up package by snail-mail, and I wanted to be online pretty soon. I got on the phone with a tech from another service provider, and he walked me through the steps. I put my résumé online (I think it was Workopolis) in the morning and by mid-afternoon I was getting calls from head-hunters. Those were the days, eh?

Over the next couple of weeks I met about eight recruiters and hiring managers, and had several interviews. I turned down one job because it was too far to commute, and another because there were too many people on the writing team. I interviewed for a lone tech writer position in the morning, and when I arrived home shortly after I found a voice message from my head-hunter that I'd been offered the job.

Anyways, to make a long story even longer, I was allowed home-use installs for Microsoft Office, Adobe FrameMaker, and Acrobat. I've since upgraded from Win98 to WinXP and MS Office 2003, and I have a pirated version of PhotoShop. I had bought a refurbished flatbed scanner, which came in very handy when I was selling a lot on eBay. (My primitive method was to take film photos of my items and scan them and upload them.) And all that software still works! I scanned my autograph yesterday and created a digital signature using Acrobat, so I could e-mail my prize declaration form and not have to spend a dollar plus tax on faxing it.

I don't have Internet access on it anymore, though, and I need to take the tower apart so I can fix the CD drawer. I guess I used it as a cup holder for too long...

Friday, October 2, 2009

The money is just pouring in!

Along with the $100 CA or so that I will get for the shoes I sold on eBay, the $10 CA I earned filling out web surveys, and the one-cent piece I found on the floor of the pharmacy the other day, I have been notified that I won $50 in an online draw.

Once I fill out the Declaration and Release Form and fax it in, and send an e-mail with my answer to the skill-testing mathematical question ("without mechanical or other assistance in the amount of time permitted") within seven days, I will get my prize e-mailed to me in four to six weeks.

The last time I won anything of value was at a company Christmas party in about 1992. The prize was a Hitachi boom box (CD, AM/FM, dual tape deck). The CD player no longer works, but I still use the radio part as a morning alarm. I have tonnes (well, quite a few) pre-recorded cassette tapes from my favourite artists in the 1980s and 1990s. So I hang onto the thing even though it takes up a lot of room. My car has only a tape player, and my road trip music tends to be stuff I can sing along to, like Prince (really!), and The Mamas and Papas' and Eagles' greatest hits, so I hang onto all the cassettes too.

I haven't bought a lottery ticket in quite a while because I spend my imaginary disposable income on smokes and cat supplies. But with all the luck I'm having lately I'm going to keep my eyes open, and if I find a two-dollar coin in the gutter I might just indulge. Not buying a lottery ticket has been about as successful for me as buying one (punchline to old joke).

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Time to turn on the furnace, dammit!

I hate this time of year. Well, not hate, exactly: I don't like having to turn the gravity furnace on, and not just because it's not a simple matter of flipping a switch and turning up the thermostat. Last year I didn't turn it on until October 3, so I haven't held out quite as long. But it just hasn't been that cold here until today.

It's freakin' cold in the house, though (probably because I still have quite a few windows open). While it's sunny the outside temp is about 8C (48F). And in here it's about 14C according to my ancient thermostat.

A gravity furnace, while it may be inefficient in fuel use, has some advantages. There are no air filters to change. It has no moving parts such as a fan. The only electricity it uses is to turn the gas valve on and off. There are no electric blowers, so you don't feel air flow when the furnace is on, and there's less dust in the air. Because it's made of cast iron, the whole thing retains heat, so even while it's off it's heating the basement (and the dining room floor). I have double-glazed windows, and I have sealed up any drafts I can find using caulking, expanding foam insulation, and backer rod, especially around the south side of the house. When I had the house inspected in November 1998, the carbon monoxide reading was extremely low, like 9 parts per billion or something (the inspector told me and my real estate agent that the cigarettes we just smoked put out way more CO than the furnace). I of course have a carbon monoxide detector. The only time it sounded was when I wiped it with a furniture polishing cloth that had some volatile compounds impregnated in it. I stopped using those!

The only cold air leaking in comes from the ancient back door frame. I remedy this by stuffing an old blanket in a plastic bag between the doors, since the weather stripping doesn't quite do the job.

On the other hand, the gigantic ducts take up a lot of head room in the basement. I'm 170cm (5'7") and I have to duck in a few places. The furnace itself takes up a lot of room, sitting as it does in about the centre of the space, and having a circumference of about three meters/10 feet. Getting it out will require some specialists in asbestos removal, since there are sheets of AB protecting the floor joists from the hot water duct to the chimney. It's probably less than 50 percent efficient (though the higher gas bill is offset by the lower electricity use). And getting a mid- or high-efficiency furnace will cost, well, a lot more than I have in the bank.

And I was lucky I bought the house when I did---new insurance rules in 1999 required a furnace to be less than 25 years old. Mine is almost 90. If I wanted to change my insurer I'd have to replace the furnace first. These rules also require replacement of knob-and-tube wiring and galvanized plumbing pipes, and an upgrade to 100-amp input service. This has been done already, but there's more to go.

So the furnace is on, I'm covered in dust and cobwebs, the windows are closed, the temp is already up to 17C, and my ankles are feeling warmer. Maybe I'll put on some socks, though.