Monday, December 23, 2019

Corn Pie

My tech lead, Jim, is a fervent cook. So when we were out to lunch the other day and I happened to mention, while having a cornmeal muffin, that I like pretty much any recipe that has corn in it, and will happily eat corn on the cob, corn chowder, corn tortillas, corn-and-black-bean salad, and many other corn dishes, he asked me if I'd ever had corn pie.

"Corn Pie?" I said, "I don't think I even knew that existed."

The next day, Jim brought in his dog-eared and well-loved copy of Edna Eby Heller's Dutch Cookbook, and I made a copy of Heller's Corn Pie recipe.

Nowadays, with our proliferation of recipe websites and fancy cooking magazines, recipes are a different thing than they used to be, and it's a real breath of fresh air to see Heller's approach: simple ingredients, straightforward steps, and an emphasis on basically letting the corn be the star of the dish.

Here's the entire recipe, including the butter stains from Jim's original cookbook:

And, for comparison, here's a modern website version. You can see that, really, not an awful lot has changed about this dish in 50 years.

Well, it's winter now in North America, so there isn't a ready source of freshly-picked ripe-from-the-farm corn on the cob, but we got lucky and found some tolerable corn cobs in our local grocer, and I made my first ever dish of Corn Pie the other night.

I didn't bother making the crust from scratch, I just used a Pillsbury refrigerated crust that we happened to have already.

The result was wonderful!

I'm now a definite fan of Corn Pie.

Pennsylvania Dutch, by the way, is an interesting part of Americana. This is "Dutch" as in "Deutsch", meaning that actually the Pennsylvania Dutch were German immigrants. Here, Wikipedia does a much better job of explaining it all.

Enjoy your holidays, and if you happen to see some fresh corn on the cob in your grocery store, make some Corn Pie!

Sunday, December 22, 2019

What's the expected duty cycle of a GFCI receptacle?

Almost 10 years ago, we remodeled our kitchen. In the process, our contractors brought the house up to date with 30 years of code enhancements, which included installing some additional receptacles in the kitchen, and additionally replacing all the kitchen receptacles with GFCI units.

Two weeks ago, one of the GFCI receptacles failed. I didn't notice it at the time; I'm not even sure anything was plugged in. Just, one day, Donna went to plug something in and got no power. And then I noticed that the green LED was off. And then I noticed that the test/reset buttons did not reset that receptacle.

It was a very simple fix:

  1. I bought a new 20A GFCI receptacle from the local hardware store,
  2. shut off the circuit breaker
  3. Unfastened the old receptacle from the wall box, pulled it out partway, and took a careful picture of how it was wired
    1. (Happily, this receptacle was the last in the line, so it only had one set of cables leading to it
  4. Unscrewed the old cable nuts, removed the old receptacle from the wall box, and examined the wall box carefully for any signs of problems (nothing that I could see)
  5. Wired the new receptacle using the same cables (still in perfect condition) in exactly the same configuration
  6. Refastened the new receptacle to the wall box
  7. Turned the circuit breaker back on, reset the receptacle, saw that the green LED was on, quadruple-checked by plugging in my handy-dandy 3-wire receptacle tester, and declared victory

It seems entirely straightforward.

By the way, it seems like the code has changed again, and my new receptacle has both a green LED and a red LED. The red LED blinks once every few minutes. The green LED just stays steady on.

But my question is: what's the expected duty cycle of a GFCI receptacle? Is it odd that one of them failed after 10 years, and I just got unlucky? Or is that about what you usually get, and I should expect all the rest of them to fail in the coming months? Or is there possibly a deeper issue that was only revealed by the failure of the GFCI receptacle?

I haven't seen any evidence of a larger issue, so I'm going to optimistically assume that I just had a GFCI receptacle fail, and that these things happen.

But if you know otherwise, let me know.

Friday, December 20, 2019

The Tale Teller: a very short review

The Tale Teller is Anne Hillerman's fourth novel in the Leaphorn, Chee, and Manuelito series, continuing the stories of the characters from her father's series of Navajo Tribal Police novels.

As she has done in previous books, Hillerman again lets the place, and its history, carry the weight of the story telling. She doesn't favor convoluted plots, psychological dramas, plot twists, or the other various sleights of hand that are often present in mystery novels.

Rather, what we get are the hard-working and dedicated employees of the Navajo Police, just doing their jobs.

But, freed from having our attention distracted by complex details and intricate arrangements, we are able to relax and travel along with the investigators as they drive out to interview witnesses, sit for a cup of coffee in the local diner, meet with the town councilwoman to deliver status reports, answer queries from curious bystanders, and generally just go about keeping the peace and helping sustain and preserve their community.

The Tale Teller draws its narrative tension from an artifact dating back to The Long Walk, an epochal event in Western United States history, and something which is far too little known. Hillerman does a very nice job of quietly making the point that, as William Faulkner so perfectly put it, "The past is not dead. It's not even past."

I very much enjoyed The Tale Teller.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Closer to Fine

I just felt like posting this tonight.

I might have listened to this 200 times, and every time I listen to it, it's fresh, and it's real.


I'm tryin' to tell you somethin' 'bout my life
Maybe give me insight between black and white
And the best thing you've ever done for me
Is to help me take my life less seriously
It's only life after all, yeah

Well darkness has a hunger that's insatiable
And lightness has a call that's hard to hear
I wrap my fear around me like a blanket
I sailed my ship of safety 'til I sank it
I'm crawling on your shores

And I went to the doctor, I went to the mountains
I looked to the children, I drank from the fountains
There's more than one answer to these questions
Pointing me in a crooked line
And the less I seek my source for some definitive
The closer I am to fine, yeah
The closer I am to fine, yeah

And I went to see the doctor of philosophy
With a poster of Rasputin and a beard down to his knee
He never did marry or see a B-Grade movie
He graded my performance, he said he could see through me
I spent four years prostrate to the higher mind
Got my paper and I was free

I went to the doctor, I went to the mountains
I looked to the children, I drank from the fountains
There's more than one answer to these questions
Pointing me in a crooked line
And the less I seek my source for some definitive
The closer I am to fine, yeah
The closer I am to fine, yeah

I stopped by the bar at three A.M.
To seek solace in a bottle, or possibly a friend
And I woke up with a headache like my head against a board
Twice as cloudy as I'd been the night before
And I went in seeking clarity

I went to the doctor, I went to the mountains
I looked to the children, I drank from the fountains
We go to the doctor, we go to the mountains
We look to the children, we drink from the fountain

Yeah, we go to the Bible, we go through the work out
We read up on revival, we stand up for the lookout
There's more than one answer to these questions
Pointing me in a crooked line
And the less I seek my source for some definitive
The closer I am to fine
The closer I am to fine
The closer I am to fine, yeah

My goodness, it's been 30 years!.

How young they were, how young I was.

And still, every time I listen, I learn a little bit more.

Saturday, December 14, 2019

How To: a very short review

Randall Munroe became (somewhat) famous as the author of the wonderful XKCD, but now he is developing an additional audience as an author of traditional good 'ole books. How To is his latest book, following What If and Thing Explainer.

I'd like to say I've read everything that Randall Munroe has written, but he has many more online publications and other writings that I haven't made my way to (yet).

How To bears a certain resemblance to What If, both in its structure (each book is divided into chapters, each chapter answer a "How to XXX", or a "What if YYY" question, respectively), and in its style (light and informal, filled with illustrations in Munroe's unique style, while still being deeply informative).

Also, like What if, How to is a bit hit-or-miss.

I absolutely loved the chapter on How to Make an Emergency Landing, co-authored with astronaut Chris Hadfield. And How to Predict the Weather and How to Take a Selfie were also particular favorites of mine.

Others were, well, you know, they can't all be perfect, I guess?

But all the chapters are distinctively Munroe, with his wonderful humor, his delightful imagination, and his willingness to follow an idea wherever it goes.

If you like Randall Munroe, you'll like How to.

If you have no idea who Munroe is, you might still pick up the book, and leaf through it, and find a chapter you'll enjoy.

And then you can pass it along to the next person.

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Life is Strange 2: a (second) very short review

I know, I know, I was talking about Life is Strange 2 just two months ago. But I hadn't finished it then.

So you get to hear about it again.

Life is Strange 2, from Dontnod Entertainment, is an episodic, story-based game which features a high degree of player choice in determining the outcome of the game. But, as opposed to the simple "choose your own adventure" games that you might be familiar with from previous decades, Life is Strange 2 features player choices that are complex, thought-provoking, and eventful. You'll find yourself thinking about the choices that you made for quite some time afterward.

As an episodic game, Life is Strange 2 is delivered over time, in multiple parts, rather than arriving in your consciousness all at once; this is a deliberate practice by the game designers, to encourage you to take some time in between playing sessions, to reflect on the game as it's occurred so far, and to anticipate what lies ahead.

Which is a very interesting idea!

There are 6 total episodes, because you have to consider The Amazing Adventures of Captain Spirit as part of the overall game, and you're missing out if you only play Episodes 1-5 without also playing Captain Spirit.

Episode 5, with the ending (actually, with all 7 endings, though unless you go through multiple replays you'll only get one ending experience), just arrived last Wednesday.

Rather unlike my typical behavior, I was so eager to have the ending that I immediately downloaded the final episode and played through it over the weekend.

I was so eager, in fact, that I rather rushed through the episode and missed some of the more interesting parts (for example, I only partially explored the drop-out colony of Away and its inhabitants).

These, sadly, are hard and stressful times that we live in.

Perhaps times are always hard and stressful?

But let's stop and think for a bit about the various topics that Life is Strange 2, which is A GAME, AFTER ALL, asks us to consider:

  • Single-parent Households
  • Parental Separation
  • Parental Abandonment
  • Bullying
  • Domestic Violence
  • Gun Violence
  • Police Brutality
  • Homelessness
  • Foster Care
  • Alcohol Abuse
  • Drug Trafficking
  • Runaways
  • Relationships
  • Teen Suicide
  • Religious Cults
  • PTSD
  • Gender Identity
  • Conversion Therapy
  • Body Image
  • Piercing and Tatooing
  • STDs
  • Physical Injuries and Permanent Physical Disability
  • Veterans Affairs
  • Racial Prejudice
  • Disenfranchisement
  • Immigration Policy
  • Vigilante Militias
  • Prison

This is a heavy, heavy list, obviously.

The designers of the game are aware of this. They have a separate section of their website where they offer resources to people who are struggling with problems like these.

And struggling with the topics is a fairly common result, at least judging from the reviews I've read.

I'm not eager to replay Life is Strange 2. I got the ending that (I think) I wanted to get, and I feel like it was very appropriate for me, given the choices I made during the game.

Yet even though I feel like I'm "done with" the game, I'm really, really glad that I took the time to play it.

Nothing like an experience that makes you think.

Saturday, December 7, 2019

They spent a LOT of money on lawyers...

... and I don't think the world was really a better place as a result.

The Trespasser: a very short review

I certainly hope that Tana French writes one hundred more books, for I am certainly going to read them all.

The Trespasser is the sixth of the Dublin Murder Squad books.

Like the others, it features plenty of gritty Dublin city streets, plenty of vivid and fascinating characters, an intricate story which has its roots deep in the past, and a collection of hard-nosed, underpaid, over-worked, diligent Dublin Murder Squad detectives trying to figure the whole thing out.

Many people felt that The Trespasser was French's strongest effort so far.

I can't point to a single flaw; every page is perfect. I read it deeply and thirstily, craving each new page, lingering over each phrase and detail.

And yet, somehow, it was not my personal favorite. It didn't have the lyricism of In the Woods; it didn't have the horror of The Likeness or Faithful Place; it didn't have the mysticism and spirituality of Broken Harbor or The Secret Place.

In place of those elements it brought a raw power driven by the pace and pressure of our modern times, coupled with a deep and affecting portrayal of the reality of gender issues, inequality, and bullying in the workplace.

All of those topics are timely and urgent, and I'm very glad I read The Trespasser.

But whereas with other French novels I sat around for weeks afterwards, allowing them to linger in my mind, feeling unwilling to start the next because I didn't want the previous one to be over, I didn't feel that way this time.

Interestingly, French's latest novel, The Witch Elm, is not a Dublin Murder Squad book.

Maybe she feels the same way I do.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

A Plague Tale: Innocence: a very short review

I finished the final boss battle, and the ending scenes, of A Plague Tale: Innocence on this rainy Sunday afternoon.

The grey, leaden, dull skies outside my window were a perfect accompaniment to the dark story of this vivid, engrossing game.

As A Plague Tale begins, our brother-and-sister protagonists, Amicia and Hugo, have just been tragically and horribly orphaned by the Inquisition.

On the run in the Dark Ages of Medieval France, Amicia and Hugo have one thrilling adventure after another, meeting up with a rag-tag collection of shopkeeper's children, craftsmen's apprentices, and street urchins along the way.

The villains are evil, the challenges are entertaining, and the overall pacing of the game is superbly paced and delivered.

The game has a nice balance of combat, crafting, sneaking, puzzle-solving, and just generally wandering along through the story and enjoying it.

The artwork is magnificent, full of detailed touches that are quite immersive.

And the rats! Oh! The rats!

A Plague Tale: Innocence is definitely not for everyone; there's quite a high "ick" factor that takes a fair amount of willingness to work through. But it was right in my wheelhouse and I thoroughly enjoyed helping Amicia and Hugo through their time of trials.