I’m trying to figure out if this has something to do with too many lawyers with too little to do, or just stupidity in general.

I’m baking a frozen pizza right now. It came inside a cardboard box. Once I took it out of the box, it was sealed inside a heavy plastic wrapper. So far, so good. The cooking instructions were easy to find, and very easy to understand.

But here’s the part I referred to at the beginning: is it truly necessary to put a WARNING LABEL, in big, red letters, telling you to take the plastic wrapper off and throw it away before you bake the pizza?

Are people truly that stupid?

I also bought a pecan roll at the store this weekend. It had a Food Allergy Warning printed on it: This Product May Contain Nuts.

Well, I hope to shout! It’s a pecan roll! It’s supposed to have nuts! Isn’t that why people buy them in the first place? Because they have nuts? If I bought a pecan roll that didn’t have nuts, I think I’d have a the makings of a pretty good truth-in-labeling lawsuit, no?

Please don’t misunderstand me: I realize that a lot of people have food allergies, and I sympathize with them. I have a friend who is allergic to corn. Do you know how hard it is to find a food product today that doesn’t contain corn? Usually in the form of High Fructose Corn Syrup? So I understand food allergies.

And I can even understand a warning label—which I’ve seen before—saying "FOOD ALLERGY WARNING: This food is processed on equipment that is also used to process peanuts." Hey, that’s a good warning! There are lots of people who have no problem at all with pecans, walnuts, or any other tree nut, but give them a peanut and they’ll be dead in 5 minutes. So as I said, good warning!

And I’m even willing to stretch a point and admit that, hey, maybe there are people who are allergic to tree nuts but don’t know that a pecan is a tree nut. Now maybe I’m just strange, but if were allergic to nuts, I think I would go out of my way to learn how many nuts there were, just so I could avoid them. I would become a veritable encyclopedia of nuts.

But let’s assume, just for the sake of argument, that there are one or two people who (1) are allergic to nuts, and (2) don’t know that a pecan is a nut. It’s possible, I imagine. So let’s say that those people justify a food allergy warning. Then why make the warning say, "This Product May Contain Nuts"? Why not come right out and say, "If you’re allergic to nuts, don’t eat this product. In fact, don’t even buy it in the first place, because—in case you hadn’t noticed—THE WHOLE DAMN THING IS COVERED WITH NUTS!"

Now that’s a warning label that means something, and is pretty easy to understand.

Or am I way off base, and missing something terribly obvious?

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Blogs vs. Web Pages

February 10, 2007

One of the advantages to a blog over a "regular" web page is the lack of format. Most web sites have a theme that holds them together; while a lot of blogs also tend to follow a central theme, there’s nothing that says they have to. Besides, blogs are so much easier to create and maintain.

Take, for example, this post. I’m using it to complain about the completely fruitless time I spent yesterday afternoon, last evening, and this morning trying to watch a movie on DVD. Were I to chronicle my adventures (or rather, misadventures) on a web page, I’d have to fire up my HTML editor, writer the article ad then add the HTML. But with my blog entry, I just launch Qumana, write what I want, and then post it. Simple. Done.

Would that watching a movie were so simple! I have a small television and combination DVD/VHS player in my bedroom, neither of which I’ve used in about 3 years. In the first place, I don’t have cable or satellite. In the second place, I don’t watch that many movies. And in the third place, on those rare occasions that I do watch a movie, I usually watch it on one of my laptops. And therein lies the problem.

One of my laptops runs Linux, and one runs Windows XP. At one time, the Linux distribution was Ubuntu. But I replaced it a couple of months ago with PCLinuxOS (PCLOS). I haven’t had occasion since then to watch a movie on that system. With Ubuntu, everything worked fine. But I bought a new DVD the other day, and decided to watch it this weekend. When I fired up my Linux system and loaded the DVD, it played the FBI warning screen, the Interpol warning screen, and then the MPAA rating screen. That’s as far as it got.

Okay, I had recently upgraded PCLOS to a beta version, so maybe that was the problem. So I reformatted my hard drive and reinstalled the previous version. No go. Same problem. Well, I knew that Ubuntu worked, so I reinstalled it and started to watch the movie. No problem!

Until it got past the intro and into the movie itself, at which point the bottom 1/8th of the screen was jumpy. So I gave up on watching the movie under Linux and switched to my Windows box.

Nero Showtime works well on my system, except that for some reason, whenever the movie gets to a point where the sound track is really loud, the sound skips and drops out momentarily. Thinking it was a Nero issue, I downloaded and reinstalled the original DVD movie player that came with the computer. When I loaded the movie, the player told me I needed to change my screen resolution, something I had never had to do before. At that point, I called it a day and went to bed.

This morning, I’ve been working since 9:30 reloading PCLOS in an unsuccessful attempt to watch my movie. I also re-downloaded and reinstalled the Intervideo DVD player software, again without success. It is now 1:30 in the afternoon. I have a batch of orange-cranberry muffins in the toaster oven. They have another 5 minutes or so to bake, at which point I will take them out of the oven and let them cool.

While they are cooling, I shall brew a fresh pot of tea and then, having drowned my sorrows in tea and a muffin, I shall retire to my boudoir to watch my movie on the television with my DVD player.

Assuming, of course, I can find the remote, which I haven’t seen for several months.

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Back To Work!

February 8, 2007

Wednesday Morning:

Well, it’s been a fun three weeks, but my vacation is at an end. I found a new job!

I was supposed to start this morning, but yesterday I came down with a horrid cold—cough, sneezing, sore throat, the whole nine yards—so I went in early this morning to let them know what’s happening and give them the option of having me start today and possibly pass my cold on to everybody else, or wait until I’m better. The result of which is I start Monday.

And just in time for the rain to arrive. It’s been an exceptionally dry winter here in Sacramento, but it was raining when I woke up this morning, and the extended forecast is calling for more rain from today until next Wednesday. So it’s just as well I’ve got the extra time to heal.

But it also mean less time for blogging and web pages, and I’ve got a few sites I need to get caught up on. So that’s pretty much all I’ll be doing for the whole weekend.

Thursday Morning:

This is turning out to be a bit more than a “horrid cold.” I don’t think colds normally come with dizzy spells and weakness, do they? I went to the store this morning and when I got home I had to lie down before I was able to bring the groceries in from the car. It’s a great time to be without health insurance!

I guess I’ll go take a nap and see if that helps any. I really need to recover my energy. At least enough to bake the cranberry-orange muffins I’d planned for munching later today!

A bunch of us from the Sacramento Hiking Meetup Group hiked the American Canyon Trail yesterday morning, from the trail-head down to the Middle Fork American River at Poverty Bar. No, not that kind of bar! But we would have been happy for bar stools to sit on, if nothing else.

Here’s how the trail is described:

This steep trail has everything needed for a  great day of exploration: rugged mountain canyons, a beautiful stream with waterfalls, a wide variety of plant and animal life, gold rush era history, and panoramic views of the Middle  American River. This is an excellent hike for bird lovers and picture takers – even artists  with drawing pads and paint boxes. Remember  binoculars, camera, sunscreen, water and a lunch to enjoy while you savor the scenery.

Sounds inviting, doesn’t it? But wait! There’s more!

Illustration of change in elevation

There’s a 1200-foot change in elevation, which isn’t too bad for a 2-1/2 mile hike. But 600 of those feet happen in a 3/4-mile stretch, so it does get steep in a few places.

The obligatory shot of the sign at the trail-head. We decided that the mileage signs leave something to be desired, since on the way back, almost every sign we saw said "Third Gate: 0.9 miles." Finally, the last one said "Third Gate: 0.8 miles." Very discouraging.

But eventually we all made it back safely, even if I was the last one!

And boy, am I ever paying for it this morning! Sore legs like you wouldn’t believe. So it looks like I’ll be heading out later this morning for a walk to loosen up my leg muscles.

But it was worth it, if for no other reason than it let some of us know just how out-of-shape we’ve become since the summer. I was in much better shape when I hiked up to Mirror Lake in Yosemite, and that was only 7 months ago….

 American River at Poverty Bar

A very nice place to eat.
We stopped here at Poverty Bar
for lunch, and then headed back afterwards

My PocketRocket

January 30, 2007

No, it’s not what you think. My PocketRocket is a stove. A lightweight, powerful, handy backpacking stove. I bought it last fall and have been playing with it ever since. I got it primarily for camping trips, but I also toss it in my day pack when I’m just hiking. It’s handy to have with me for a pot of tea.

Picture of Pocket Rocket stoveIt also has its own cooking pot; in this case, a lightweight titanium kettle. In fact, I bought the two of them together as a package: it’s the PocketRocket/Titan Kettle Kit, from MSR. The whole package weighs less than 8-1/2 ounces, and a fuel canister only adds another 4 to 8 oz., depending on its size. It will boil a liter (4.2 cups) of water in under 4 minutes. That’s faster than the propane range in my travel trailer.

That’s why I’m writing about it, by the way. I live in my travel trailer (that’s a caravan, for you folks from the other side of the pond), and I use propane for cooking and heating. Last night I realized that I’m almost out of propane, and it was too late to go get more. Fortunately, the temperature is only dropping into the upper 30’s at night, and the trailer’s fairly well insulated, so I didn’t need to run the furnace last night. I did turn it on this morning to warm things up a bit–I’m not that partial to seeing my breath when I’m sitting at my computer–and I’ll be going after propane later this morning, But I also wanted my tea this morning, and decided I’d use my camping gear to make it–again, trying to save propane.

Once the tea was ready, I thought "Why not mention the stove on your blog this morning?" Come to think of it, why not talk about tea at the same time. (This blog is nothing if not eclectic.)

Tea is my beverage of choice. Oh, I drink the occasional cup of coffee, but I’m not the typical American Starbuck’s junkie. For one thing, I’m not about to spend on a single coffee drink the kind of money that can buy me enough high-quality tea leaves for a week’s worth of tea. Besides, I just like the taste of tea more than I like that of coffee.

Then there’s the ritual of tea. Too often our lives toPicture of small teapotday move too quickly. A tea break is a pleasant way to slow down. The brewing ritual helps. Filling the kettle and putting it on to boil. Heating the teapot. Measuring the tea. Pouring the boiling water into the pot. Waiting the proper length of time for the tea to brew. It’s far more enjoyable than driving to the drive-through window at some coffee joint and asking for a tall decaf latté with non-fat milk to go (or, as my friend Pam used to call it, "A skinny transvestite on a leash"), and then driving off. Where’s the enjoyment in that?

I buy most of my tea from Peet’s Coffee & Tea. They have an excellent selection of high-quality teas, including my favorite blend, Irish Breakfast tea. But last week when I went to my local Peet’s store when my supply was getting low, I decided that I drink enough tea that it would be worth my while to buy it in 1-pound packages, rather than the 4-oz. tins I usually get. But when I got there I discovered that you can only get the 1-pound packages by ordering on their web site.

When I got home, I decided that since I was going to have to wait for my order to be delivered, and since I would also have to pay postage, I night as well see what other sources might be available. Now bear in mind that I am very fussy when it comes to my tea. It has to be of a high quality. In fact, I don’t even order tea in restaurants, since they don’t know how to make it properly. Well, I found a web site (teadog.com) that had what I was looking for: Irish Breakfast tea, loose leaves, in 8-ounce packages.

I wouldn’t normally buy tea without first tasting it, but in this case I made an exception for the simple reason that the brand of one of the teas that I found was Bewley’s. Bewley’s are located in Dublin—Dublin, Ireland, not Dublin, California—and have been importing tea into Ireland since 1835. Given those facts, and also the fact that the Irish drink more tea per capita than anyone else in the world, I decided to take a chance and order not 1 but 2 boxes of their tea. And I’ll also admit that my Irish ancestry might have predisposed me somewhat towards an Irish company.

My tea arrived from Dallas (where Teadog is located) less than a week later. It is a nice robust tea, with hints of citrus and malt. Irish Breakfast is blended with India teas, and is fuller and more pungent than ar English blends. I generally drink 4 to 6 cups of it a day.

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A New Blogging Tool

January 28, 2007

I’m writing his entry with a new tool: Qumana Blog Editor. I downloaded it last night and installed it this afternoon. When I configured it for this blog, it immediately went out and grabbed all of my recent posts & downloaded them to my machine. Nice.

Adding an image is as easy as it is in Windows Live Writer: just click on the Insert Image button, browse to your image file, and select it. You then choose to either insert it in your current post and upload the image file immediately, or just insert it in your current post–in which case it’ll tell you you haven’t uploaded it, and will offer to do it for you. Very handy.

The editor isn’t quite so WYSIWYG as Live Writer, in that there is no web preview function. But it still displays images, fonts, colors, etc., as they will appear in the published version. You just can’t view any style you may have associated with your blog.

I can live with that. The Insert Image function alone makes this an editor worth investigating, as does the price: Zip. Nada. Nuttin’.

Another nifty function in Qumana is the Drop Pad. This is a nifty little feature that can stay on top of your screen while Qumana is running. Find a picture or an article on the Internet that you’d like to include in a post on your blog? Just highlight it, then drag and drop it onto the Drop Pad. It’s that simple. You’ve just copied it!

Need to edit your post’s HTML directly? Just click on the Source View tab and you’re there.

Spell checking is also built-in. So is Live Writer’s. But with Live Writer you have to click on a button to run the spell checker. Qumana can be configured to check your spelling as you type, highlighting your errors immediately. For someone like me whose laptop has stiff keys, that’s a big help.


Okay, so nothing’s perfect. There’s no choice for me to use my favorite font, Comic Sans. But I can work around that by simply editing the HTML by hand.

Qumana runs under Windows and Mac OS only. There’s no Linux version. I’d love a Linux version. That’s my only complaint.

I’m going to continue using Qumana for this blog, and Live Writer for all my others. We’ll see which one I end up staying with.

I like this program.

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Sometimes it’s bread. Banana bread. Date-nut-banana bread, to be exact. It’s 12:30 on Sunday afternoon and the bread has to bake for an hour and a quarter, so that gives me plenty of time to Do What Needs To Be Done.

Such as updating my blogs. Mailing my insurance premium payment. Paying the rent. Reregistering my trailer at DMV.

Or not.  Just sitting outside with a good book. Well, not really a book. You see, one of the big drawbacks to living in a 28-foot travel trailer (or caravan, for you folks on the other side of the pond), is that I have very little room for storing books. And since I am an strong—nay, voracious—appetite for books, it’s a particularly bad problem.

Enter Project Gutenberg, the the first (and largest) producer of free electronic books or ebooks. Project Gutenberg has a library of over 2 million books available for download in plain text format. I combine texts from Gutenberg with a couple of nifty programs, iSiloX and iSilo, and convert the files to .PDB format. I then transfer the files to my PalmPilot and I have a handy portable library that travels with me wherever I go. And with a 512-Mb memory card in my Palm, I can carry a lot of books!

And if I can’t find what I want at Project Gutenberg, there’s always Ria Press Classic Books. Or Planet PDF

In the mood for something scary? Go get the Collected Stories of H.P. Lovecraft from Project Gutenberg of Australia.

I believe that Project Gutenberg and sites like it represent the highest and best use of the Internet.

But back to the banana-date-nut bread:

Favorite Banana Nut Bread

This is a moist, buttery banana bread loaded with banana flavor.

1 cup butter or margarine
2 cups sugar
4 eggs
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons soda
4 cups flour
6 large bananas, very ripe, mashed
1 cup finely chopped pecans
1 cup chopped dates

Cream together butter and sugar. Add eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition. Sift dry ingredients together; add to creamed mixture. Stir in bananas and chopped pecans.

Pour banana nut bread batter into 2 well-greased loaf pans; bake at 325° for about 1 hour and 15 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

This banana nut bread recipe makes 2 loaves.