28 May 2009

Like Cool, Man

Well, it's taken two return trips by the techs and 20 ft of PVC pipe, but the ductless a/c seems to be working. The system startled us by suddenly dripping a lot of water on the floor. The water spread out to be quite a large puddle, although not very deep. Just proves they did a good job when they laid the slab.

It turned out that the way our ceiling is built, they couldn't get a good downhill slope the way they originally tried. So now the drain tube goes the other way, out over the double doors from the patio. It drains into an elbow on a run of PVC that goes across above the window over the sink, around the corner, over the other window, and then drops down to nearly ground level. I'd take a photo but my kitchen counters, which you can see through the windows, are an absolute mess and I'm not going to display that to the whole world. More spring cleaning to do, of course.

As for the other problems, the technician suggested checking the second remote (my policy is to buy a second remote at the time, not wait years until the replacement is no longer available) and all the other problems went away. We're not sure if the first remote was bad or if it was the wrong remote. The remote that came with our system had been robbed out of the box and they'd brought us a substitute. The second remote was dropped off the next day and we didn't even put the batteries in it, just put it into a drawer with the paperwork.

So now the system is working perfectly. We close the doors to the family room and use it during the day and it's cool and comfortable. Meanwhile, the rest of the house stays fairly cool because we've had the windows open all night. Here in the desert, the nights get very cool; a temperature drop of 40°F is common. We use that natural cooling to get the house cool enough so that we can ride it out until it starts cooling off the next evening. With the help of a few fans, that works pretty well.

I had a panic with my Kindle the day before yesterday. It wouldn't wake up, although I did manage to turn it off completely, not just sleep it. I went to the Kindle help site and immediately found the answer. It booted up, very obligingly, and has been working just fine since. I was pretty upset, since I was in the middle of a great book. However, I have a number of regular books that I need to read, so it wouldn't have been a catastrophe if I'd had to send the Kindle for repairs. It would have been inconvenient, because my husband is a light sleeper and clicking the Kindle is much quieter than turning the page of a book. How quickly we adapt!

So all's well here, electronically and mechanically. At least for now.

My husband's little laptop is starting to act a little oddly, so I just bought him a replacement from eBay. These laptops were last manufactured about four years ago and he's not ready to change over to a newer model (he runs a dual boot, Linux and XP). I'm using an even older laptop and am on my third replacement. I'm still running W2K. I have a 1600x1200-pixel 16.1" display and I'm not ready to switch over to the letterbox-shaped displays that the newer laptops have. Fortunately, we still have a couple of replacements in reserve. We'll both have to give up eventually, I'm sure, but we'll probably manage to skip another generation before we do.

Gordo the Wonder Collie is doing well on his new medication schedule. We've reduced the doses and he's a great deal more lively. He got a floppy rhinoceros from Orvis for his birthday. He's very fond of it and takes it to bed with him at night, using it for a pillow. He also got a dog nest and an outdoor dog bed and he's using them both.

I've taken most of the photos I promised in the last posting and will be putting them up soon. I think I've found the right lace pattern for the beautiful silk and I'll be getting back to knitting. Now that it's so cool in the family room, I'm ready to knit again.

16 May 2009

Mac the Knife

We're having some unseasonably hot weather right now. Although it's really not that unseasonable because we haven't hit the local record high temperature yet. It's probably going to be 100°F at the peak, although there's a slight breeze picking up, meaning that we may get the marine layer here early.

Updated to add that we did indeed set a new record for the local high for the day, by 4°, at 99°, so far. It may get another degree or two hotter.

Anyway, we put the ductless a/c unit in on Thursday, but it's not working. There's a problem with getting the remote to work and, of course, it only works with the remote. They're coming over on Monday with a new remote and an electrician to sort everything out.

Meanwhile I'm struggling with a constant problem that has kind of gotten out of hand. I do a lot of shopping on the Internet. It's mostly because of the dog; between his epilepsy and the weather, I don't like to go off and leave him for very long at all. Shopping is no fun if you're in a panic to get back home. So UPS and FedEx and USPS keep delivering cartons of shopping to my house. I've been buying a fair amount of clothing because nothing I had would fit and that really added the boxes. The two most recent deliveries were a new HP all-in-one from Amazon and a pair of utility knives from Overstock.

I needed the utility knives because I've used up all the snap-off blades on my U-Haul box cutters. Cutting up cardboard with a dull knife is dangerous and frustrating. All these cartons that keep showing up have to be cut up and put, along with most of the packing material, into the recycle bin. I'd gotten really behind and I had cardboard boxes everywhere. My housekeeper and I made a good start two weeks ago, clearing out the stuff in the guest room. We only stopped because we ran out of space in the recycle bin. So last week I borrowed my neighbor's recycle bin and filled up both bins, but that still didn't take care of all the boxes.

Yesterday afternoon I cut up another half a bin's worth. And the new utility knives really work well. The grip is very comfortable and it's easy to change blades. Plus they each came with fifty spare blades, which should last close to a lifetime. You should have seen me slashing through the carton they came in, with the razor-sharp blade making it effortless. Just call me Mac the Knife.

As soon as it cools off I'm going to go cut up enough to fill the recycle bin so it will go away on Tuesday. Then I'm going to polish off the rest, get it all out of my entry hall and living room, and never let myself get so far behind again. I don't have any real problem keeping up with the household recycling, mostly from the kitchen, just with the inundation of cartons.

Updated to add that I did get all the big cartons and the packing material into the recycle bin, with a little room left over for the kitchen stuff. The worst part was going out into the heat to transfer it from the large carton I'd put it into as I cut it up to the bin. It's not just hot, but more humid than normal. I just couldn't bear to wait until it got cooler. I've gotten a little compulsive about all this cardboard.

UPS bringeth,
USPS bringeth, and
FedEx bringeth,
But none of them taketh away.

It's Spring and my house needs attention and I'm restless. I've got another two 33-gallon bags to donate to the thrift store and I'm starting to be able to hang clothes in my closet without prying apart what already in there. I'm saving the guest room closet for when my cousin comes, in July. She'll help me be ruthless with the dressier work clothes that went in there when I outgrew them. I of course had hopes of losing weight and wearing them again, but I didn't know it wouldn't be until I'd been retired for six years and no longer had anywhere to wear them.

I will get back to knitting, I promise. I'll take photos of all the new yarn I've gotten (I have to put it away, now that it's out of its cartons) in the next couple of days and put some photos up here (and add all of them in Ravelry). I've even got two FOs to photograph and post. Plus two triangular shawls that just need blocking to be finished and a circular shawl ditto. I'm saving the circular shawl for when my cousin is here, since it's for her. After we get it blocked, we may have to shorten it. She's my height and this is supposed to be a circular shawl to keep her shoulders warm in over-cooled restaurants, not a mid-thigh-length cape. It's knit top-down in a modified fan and feather, so shortening it won't be difficult.

14 May 2009

Long Day

We had a long day today. Poor Gordo was so worn out he skipped dinner entirely. We had a ductless air conditioner and heater installed in the family room and kitchen. The installation crews got here at 0900 and left at 1950, although they did go for a quick lunch.

Our house is H-shaped, with the family room and kitchen (really all one room) on the south leg of the H, the four bedrooms and two bathrooms on the north leg, and the living and dining rooms on the crossbar. There's a covered entry on the east side and a covered patio on the west side. The way our HVAC system works, combined with the orientation of the house, the trees in the back yard, the position of the sun, the three pilot lights in the built-in double oven, and the 22-cubic foot side-by-side refrigerator, leaves the family room and kitchen warm in the summer and cool in the winter.

The ductless unit is pretty much the same as the units you see in motel rooms, except that there's a separate compressor and the unit hangs from the wall, up by the ceiling, and is operated by a remote control. Its purpose is to augment the whole-house system and, coupled with the back-up electrical generator we installed eight years ago, keep this room cool in a power outage, even in the summer. We should have put it in long ago, if you ask me. What really tipped us over the edge was the way the summer monsoons have been sneaking into the Antelope Valley. We used to have them for maybe a week or two, if we had them at all, but recently we've had them for a month or more. That humidity just kills me.

The unit also has a heat pump, just in case we lose power in the winter. Our whole-house unit runs on 230 but the ductless unit runs on 110, which is what we set the back-up generator up to provide. We could have added 230, but to do it now would require a new cross-over switch and inspections by the city and Edison, which were big hassles when we installed it originally. So we decided to leave it alone.

Gordo had to watch everything, which is why he's so tired. He spent most of the day in a crate, either in the family room or back in our bedroom, and got no naps at all. Normally, he sleeps in until about noon, frolics around the back yard for a while and then sleeps all afternoon. Not today, through. I'm pretty tired, myself, but not nearly as tired as he is.

I got some beautiful silk lace yarn in gorgeous colors. I'll take a photo and get it posted here as soon as I get organized. I think I've fallen in love with it and will never be able to give it away.

10 May 2009

Gordo's Mother's Day Gift to Me

Gordo is saving his allowance to give me the Amazon Kindle DX for Mother's Day, or so we joke. It's a good joke if you ignore that a) Gordo doesn't get an allowance, b) he has no idea what a Kindle is, c) I'm not his mother, and d) dogs really aren't that good at saving.

Wendy Johnson mentioned that Amazon was rumored to be coming out with a new Kindle this summer but that she wasn't going to wait and had bought a Kindle 2. She really likes it and says many of the same things that I did after I got mine.

The idea of an advanced model interested me greatly, so last night I surfed on over to Amazon on my Kindle 2 and discovered that they'd just made the formal announcement. I read the page, decided I really needed the larger screen, and put in a pre-order for the Kindle DX and the leather cover. It will be coming out in the summer, they say, and promise a definite delivery day as soon as they know it. Bigger screen, choice of portrait or landscape mode, more storage (3500 vs 1500 books), better graphics, native PDF display. The screen is 9.4" diagonally, compared to the Kindle 2's 6".

It looks to me as if it has one flaw, though. It doesn't have the page controls on the left side, just on the right side. I like to hold my book in my left hand and, on the Kindle, use my left thumb to change pages. This isn't a huge deal and I'll learn to live with it, but I'm sure I'll miss it sorely at first.

It's kind of funny. A few months ago, I might have looked at the Kindle DX page and thought something vague like "That's nice, I suppose" and now I'm criticizing the control layout based on the images. How I've changed since the end of February.

Update on the pressure cooker. I tried cooking potatoes for five minutes and one potato was just fine but the other one was overdone, although not as badly as the seven-minute batch had been. I had noticed a difference in the texture of the potatoes as I peeled them, so I wasn't totally surprised when they cooked up so differently. I ran over to the store about an hour ago and picked up more potatoes. These look very similar, at least on the outside, so they may cook more uniformly.

The navy bean soup turned out very well. I think it was better after sitting overnight and being reheated. I'm more than halfway through it and really enjoying it. When I bought the beans, the store had them on sale, three one-pound bags for five dollars, so I have more beans to practice with. In addition, it seems to be pretty much impossible to buy a single ham hock. I've got a recipe that uses bacon instead of ham and I picked up some thick-sliced applewood smoked bacon at the service butcher, so I may try that one next. The extra ham hocks will freeze nicely.

I really do like the pressure cooker, although I haven't cooked anything too challenging, just potatoes, beans, and rice. I've cooked a couple of boxed risottos. They're not really cooked like risottos, which requires adding the liquid gradually and stirring constantly for twenty minutes, but they're pretty tasty. They're really quick in the pressure cooker, pretty much requiring just that I react when it chirps.

02 May 2009

Trying Again

I dashed out today and got dog food (we were down to the last dishful and Gordo was looking worried), the mail, and more russet potatoes. I'm bound and determined to get this potato cooking thing to work. I mean, really, how hard can it be to cook a potato correctly? I guess I'm going to find out, aren't I?

I also picked up a pair of ham hocks and a pound of navy beans. Years and years ago, back in the early days of the HL-20, when the engineers at Langley were putting it together with little bits of time here and there, I went back there with two test pilots to fly the Differential Motion Simulator with a high-alpha cockpit display.

The reason I know it was in the early days of the HL-20 was that one of my test pilots was Bill Dana, at that time the last lifting-body (and X-15) pilot still flying research aircraft. Well, we ran into one of my friends at LaRC, one of the guys working on the HL-20 simulation, and I, of course, introduced him to Bill and Ed. His eyes got kind of wide, meeting the legendary Bill Dana. We went back to the DMS and I got a call from my friend about twenty minutes later, asking me if there was any chance that Bill might possibly be interested in flying the HL-20 sim, if only for a few minutes and entirely at his convenience, to give them suggestions. Fortunately for the HL-20, the DMS had just developed a small mechanical problem (a small hydraulic leak, I think) and we were just sitting around wondering what to do until the system came back up. So we all joined my friend and his test pilot at the HL-20 simulation and flew it for hours and a good time was had by all. To this day, my friend still thinks I'm a miracle worker, offhandedly producing a renowned lifting body pilot to fly his simulation.

So what does this have to do with ham hocks and navy beans, you ask? They're inextricably linked in my mind. Every Thursday the Langley cafeteria served navy bean soup and we were there on a Thursday and I had the soup and it was wonderful. It was a cool, damp day and the warm, succulent soup, with the grace note of smoky ham, was absolutely perfect. Warm, tasty, comfort food. So I've been making and eating navy bean soup since then. The canned stuff isn't really good enough, if you ask me, but it's quite easy to make. Pressure cookers are supposed to be wonderful for cooking beans, so I'm going to give it a try, right after I take on the potatoes again.

Then there's a Swedish yellow split pea soup, flavored with marjoram, that I made back when I was in college that I want to try again. I'd subscribed to the Time-Life Foods of the World series when I still lived in the dorm (I like to read about cooking almost as much as I like to cook) and this was one of the recipes that caught my eye. When I moved to an apartment for my senior year, this was one of the first things I cooked. It was better than I thought it would be, too. Obviously this was a while ago, in the late '60s. It was so long ago that cookbooks noted that corn tortillas could be purchased in cans at gourmet stores. This was mind-boggling to me, as I'd lived in the CA Central Valley and in SoCal since 1953 and I thought every store in town sold fresh tortillas, both corn and flour, even the 7-11 stores.

It's late afternoon here, about time for me to go start dinner. I guess I'm hungrier that I thought I was. I only meant to mention that I was ready to try again on the potatoes, but I've digressed to lifting bodies, test pilots, and a lot more about food. Hmmm....

01 May 2009

It's Gordo's Birthday

Today Gordo the Wonder Puppy is one year old. He has really grown and grown up in this year. There have been days when I thought we should have named him "May Day" but we seem to be past a lot of that.

About a month ago I ran into Gordon Fullerton and we chatted briefly. I told him I'd gotten a new smooth-coated collie puppy and named it after him. I think it kind of took him aback at first but he warmed to the idea.

Speaking of Gordo (the dog), I hadn't realized that a smooth-coated collie would shed as much, or as often, as a rough-coated collie. Nor did I realize that the shorter hair would cling so tenaciously to everything, particularly fabrics. My vacuum just wasn't picking it all up, even though it had worked perfectly for the longer hair from Gordo's rough-coated predecessors. After a lot of shopping around on the internet, I bought a Eureka model designed to pick up animal hair. It looks, and works, a lot like a Dyson, but cost less than half as much (at least, it did on Overstock.com).

I'm still doing a lot of reading on my Kindle (Charles Stross's The Atrocity Archives, right now) and haven't been doing much more. I've done a little internet shopping in the last month, mostly very ordinary stuff. The one exception is the two skeins of beautiful cream silk yarn with aurora borealis sequins (Tilly Thomas Disco Lights Natural) that I picked up on eBay for an excellent price. This is an insanely luxurious yarn and I have no idea what I'm going to knit it into. Yarn like this really needs exactly the right pattern and recipient.

I bought a pressure cooker from Overstock.com and have been doing a little fiddling around with that. I'm trying to get back to more cooking "from scratch" instead of nuking something from Stouffer's. The first thing I cooked was potatoes, to slice and fry. I made a tiny mistake and cooked them for about twice as long as I should have. Fortunately I managed to pick out enough big chunks that I could actually slice and fry them, but most of them had disintegrated completely. I had entertained some thoughts of making mashed potatoes, but have decided to just toss them and buy more spuds. You can be sure that I'll cut the cooking time radically this time. I'm a quick learner.

It's finally shorts and tees time here again. I discovered that all of my shorts were at least one size too large. I have bagged them up to go to New to You, the hospital volunteers' thrift store. A lot of my tees were also too big and starting to get a little limp from being washed so many times, so I'm going through those, too. I've gotten new shorts and tees from Land's End, Dillard's, Overstock.com, and Smartbargains.com. It's actually fairly inexpensive to wear shorts and tees. Not that I wear business clothes, but I do notice the prices.

I'm actually back to the size that some of the dressier clothes, currently hanging in the guest room closet, are, but I don't think I'll get much wear out of them. They're too old to be in style but not old enough to be back in style, if you know what I mean. I still have some '70s and '80s clothes in cartons. I can't fit into them yet, but maybe by next year.... I just hope retro stays in style. If I'd had any sense I'd have gotten rid of these long ago. I guess I packed them away at the end of a season and just never went back through the boxes.

Now that I've written this down, I see that I'm actually doing some Spring cleaning. Sorting through clothes, getting on top of the dog hair problem, and so on. I love Spring, even though the season can be very windy here. It's so nice to have open windows and fresh air after having the house closed up all winter. It seems to me that Spring, more than New Year's, is the time to make resolutions and changes. Too hard to be hopeful in the dead of winter, maybe.