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List of Things I Refuse to Start
I, having been myself for more than 3 and a half decades, have learned a few things about myself. One thing being, I am very good at abstention but very bad at moderation. For this reason there are many things I refuse to do even once, for fear that I might become hooked and have to face the looming burden of abstaining since I don't trust myself to moderate.
Here's a short list of those things.
Things Americans really are bad at
A lot of times, people on the Internet (and sometimes even in real life), when lamenting some defect in humanity will begin their sentence with the word "Americans", as if Americans are the only people in the world who have questionable societal weaknesses.
Normally I roll my eyes at this. People are people everywhere, and a lot of "America's weaknesses" are really humanity's.
However, culture is also culture, and different cultures are different, so there are bound to be some things America really is bad at. Here are a couple examples I could think of.
This post will be missed
File this one under the "Is this the kind of thing you spend your time thinking about?" files. I don't care. It bothers me.
If someone close to you dies, do you miss them? If someone you like can't make it to an event you're attending, do you miss them? Of course you do.
So why, if you miss them, do you say, "You will be missed", instead of "I will miss you"? What, are you afraid to commit to it or something? You miss this person, wish they were here, but you can't even muster the never to say it in the active voice.
And don't give be any bull like, "Well, I was just saying it's generally true and is not specific to me." Pshaw. You can say, "We'll all miss you", or, "Everyone will miss you", and not have to be a generalizing non-commital pussy.
So the next time you miss someone, say it, and own it, and don't just generalize.
Books I'm Embarrassed not to Have Read Yet
The other day I was looking for a B read (I was in the middle of my A read) and pondering what I should start on next, began to think about what books I'd be embarrassed if it were revealed that I'd never read it.
Of course, the obvious thing to do in that situation is to make a list and post it publicly on the Internet, so everyone can see what I have never read.
It was almost painful to think about the situation of admitting I'd never read Dune. That one I'm taking care of right it now.
The Mark Twain was is pretty painful as well. I have to give America its props. America, you may have noticed, doesn't have too many classic writers compared to England. (I believe this is because America was nation-building for its first hundred or so years and had not a many resources to devote to more artistic endeavors. By the time America came into its own as a civilized country, the art form that was drawing all the talent was cinema.) So I really have to read one of the few American authors who can hold his own with the greats.
Ayn Rand and Nietzsche are authors I don't expect to agree with much (except for that irritating little "grain of truth" you know you can't argue with), but part of being well-rounded is exposure to ideas you might not agree with.
Reconstruction of Prehistory in the Kingkiller Chronicle
With all the talk about Game of Thrones lately, which is a series I haven't read and/or seen, I thought it wouldn't be too weird if I wrote a post about another fantasy series I got sucked into, namely the Kingkiller Chronicle, by Patrick Rothfuss.
However, the post is extraordinarily long so I've tagged it as not appearing in the main blog.
Here is the tl;dr version:
Jane Austen's Greatness
I recently think I put my finger on what makes Jane Austen so great, and I did it by comparing her to John Steinbeck, in particular, his novel East of Eden.
East of Eden follows the lives two families in living in the Salinas Valley: the Hamiltons and the Trasks. The Hamiltons are based on Steinbeck's own family on his mother's side (in fact, Steinbeck himself appears in a few scenes as a child). The Trasks, however, are purely fictional.
Steinbeck is not quite at the level of the great classic writers, and East of Eden belies this fact, in my opinion, but in a fascinating way. Comparing the scenes that focus on the Trasks to those that focus on the Hamiltons, it's hard to imagine that they take place in the same universe. The events in the Hamiltons' lives, based on the lives of real people, seem highly familiar and realistic. A few scenes really hit home compared to my own life, such as the scene after Sam Hamilton fainted and his family realized he was getting too old for farm life, and they were all passing a bottle of liquor around deciding what to do.
The Trasks, however, live in a world of subtle fantasy. It's not that the events in their lives weren't real things that happen to people (although there were several events more sensational than most families ever have to deal with). No, the subtle fantasy comes from how the events were arranged to provide a cosmic meaning to the whole thing. Real lives have no comic meaning (that we can discern, anyway), they just happen. Real lives don't have foreshadowing, don't follow a three-act structure, and don't use arc words. The Trasks lives had all these things, and so they seemed fictional compared to the Hamiltons.
I want to point out that this something I felt first, then analysed later. It's the sort of thing that seems bit odd and uncanny while reading, but one doesn't identify the discrepancy until reflecting on the story afterward. I'm fairly certain Steinbeck wasn't doing this on purpose (if he had been I suspect he would have done things to make the contrast more apparent, but who knows?), and that's where he belies his not-quite-among-the-greatest writing ability.
Jane Austen, however, achieves this level of complete realism, but with characters that are completely fictional. I realized that I'd had the same reactions to scenes in Emma and Pride and Prejudice as I'd had to scenes of the Hamiltons in East of Eden, and that's when I realized just how life-like Austen's characters and situations are. For instance, I was awed by the familiarity of the scene when Lizzy and Jane had to correct their mother on aspects of English law. Scenes like this show Austen almost casually finding that familiarity of daily life in her fictional characters that Steinbeck could only find the ones he based on real life.
Oftentimes it's hard to see what makes a particular creator great. But then you reflect on the their works a bit, analyse them a bit, compare and constrast them to other works, and suddenly they rise up to reveal their greatness. It always amazes when that happens.
Alien Spaceship, Eh
I found proof of aliens visiting Earth! Here is a photograph capturing an Alien Spaceship on Google Steet View as it flies over the Mackenzie River in northern Canada.
Seriously, it was kind of exciting. I sometimes see cool images on Google street view and wonder how people found them. Now I've found one.
Firefox Pinned Tabs Annoyance
I wanted to write a note about one thing that annoys me in Firefox. I've found out that I like this feature called "Application Tabs" or "Pinned Tabs", where you choose a tab and to be permanently displayed, but with only an icon and no close button.
The tabs have a few deal-breaker problems, though.
This might be the thing that could push me over to Chrome, if if turns out its application tabs behave better than Firefox's.
My Coca-Cola Cookie recipe
Here is my recipe for Coca-Cola Cookies. They are kind of like molasses cookies, but without the spices and replacing the molasses with syrupized Coca-Cola. It might be interesting to try this reciple with root beer, ginger ale, or even Pepsi, but I tried it with Coke because A. Coke is a classic American beverage, and B. Coke has an herbal pungency that other drinks don't have.
If you're kinky (and alcoholic) you might even try this with a malty beer and more sugar.
This will make about 30 2-inch cookies.
Making the Coca-Cola Syrup
This it the trickiest part. If you are experienced at making candy you should have no problem, but those who've never made it are going to find this to be a trial-and-error experience.
Boil the cola until it reaches just below soft ball stage, a temperature of 232°F. The ¾ liters should by then be reduced to about ¼ cup.
Boil the ¾ liters of Coke in a saucepan, preferrably a non-stick one. You will need to reduce it to about ½ cup before it needs your attention again; this will take awhile. (This might be a good time to cream the sugar and butter together.)
You should have a temperature measuring device handy: a candy thermometer, or one of those infrared temperature scanners. If you have a candy thermometer, attach it to the saucepan and leave it there, making sure the ball isn't touching the bottom or sides. The nice thing about boiling water is that it holds a constant temperature of 212°F. Therefore, while the Coke is boiling off you can make some last-minute calibrations to your measuring device. For example, if your device reads 208°F while the Coke is boiling, it's probably reading about 4 degrees too low, so be sure to add 4 degrees to the reading to get the actual temperature . The nature of the syrup can change dramatically even if you're a few degrees off, so it's important to be as close as possible.
Anyway, after 20 or so minutes of boiling, much of the water will have evaporated, leaving a high-enough concentration of sugar to affect the boiling point. At this stage the temperature of the liquid will start to rise again, rather quickly, so it needs your full attention. Turn down the heat a bit to give yourself more time to react.
You need to wait until the temperature reaches 232°F, then immediately remove it from the heat. (If you have an infrared scanner the reading is going to jump around a bit. Don't just remove it from the heat the first time the number 232 appears on the display: wait until it's jumping around in the vicinity of 232, say between 231 and 233.)
Keep in mind that the liquid will not be syrupy when it's hot; you need to let it cool down before you can test its consistency. To expedite the cooling you can place the saucepan into a larger pan with a shallow layer of cool water. Once the liquid cools to below 110°F, try stirring it gently with a spoon. It should be a bit thicker than maple syrup but thinner than molasses. If it's too thin, boil it again until it reaches 232°F. If the liquid is too thick, or if it has a crusty surface, or especially if it forms into solid thin strings when you pull the spoon away, you need to add some water or some more Coke, stir it up until it's dissolved, and boil it again, stopping at a slightly lower temperature.
If everything has gone well, you will end up with about ¼ cup of Coca-Cola syrup.
Warning: Never stir the Coke while it's boiling, and never, ever, ever scrape down the insides of the pan. Avoid jossling the pan too much when you remove it from the heat.
Note: If you use Coke sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) instead of sugar, these instructions will not work exactly. HFCS reaches its candy stages at higher temperatures than sucrose. When I made this recipe with HFCS Coke I found that waiting till the bubbles just begin to pile up is the time to remove it from the heat, but your mileage may vary.
Mixing the ingredients
These cookies use standard mixing, so if you are familiar with baking cookies you can skip this section. My instructions here are for hand mixing.
Advice: Beat the egg before adding; this will help to break up the egg whites. The egg is for texture, not structure.
Advice: Don't overmix the dough after adding the flour. We're not making pancakes here, so it's not the end of the world if you overwork the flour a bit, but it's still a good idea to keep it to a minimum.
Advice: Don't substitute brown sugar. Don't use whole wheat flour. Don't add vanilla or any other spices. Any of these can overwhelm the Coke flavor, and make all the work you did reducing it into a syrup useless. I'd even suggest using a baking power without aluminum.
2012 California Propositions
I wrote last post that this year's batch of ballot propositions in California was a lot stupider than the last batch, which I actually voted 50% Yes.
This year, I voted Yes on 4/12. Even then, one of the Yes votes was a veto. (Usually, a Yes vote changes the law, whereas a No vote keeps the law the same, which is why in general a smart batch of propositions gets a lot of Yeses. However, one of the Propositions this year was a veto, so Yes kept the law as-is. Which means this year I voted to change the law 3/12 times.)
Because a Yes vote usually changes the law, and because it can't be undone by legislative action, I have quite high criteria for a Yes. If I feel ambivalent about it I vote No, and there were a couple propositions this year where I was.
Here's how I voted and why.
I'll also mention one of the city initiatives. The Santa Monica and Malibu Unified School District wants to raise $320 million by selling bonds. That a third of a billion dollars, one school district. I voted no.
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