Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Continuing on a theme

I've now got my new machine configured to the point where I might not have to open my other machine again.  If I can go without opening it for a week, I can then wipe the drive (after backing it up, of course) and upgrade the OS: I've been running a 30 month old version of Fedora for the past while, and it really needs to be updated.

Yours, in full-on techie mode,

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

After a few days absence, and on a new machine

I've not felt that I had much to say for a few days: today, I do: I'm typing this on my new computer (it actually arrived in the department two months ago, but the larger hard-drive I wanted for it didn't get her until last week, and today I have it close to set up the way I want it.
And this is my first post from the new box:-)

Yours, getting used to gnome3 with a little difficulty,

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Bring your kids to work day

I took the kids with me to work this morning --- it was easier to do, since my colleague was teaching the class today, and I was kibbitzing, rather than the other way round --- but even if I'd been lecturing it would have been okay.  The kids sat there and read (and in Skibo's case, played on the wii) and were respectful and quiet.  At one point, Boo leaned over to me and said "Why aren't you teaching?"  I explained that the two of us were teaching the course together, and she nodded as if she understood.

During the long break for lunch, we went swimming, visiting the grocery store first, to get sunscreen, and then again after, to get sandwiches.  Then back to work, where the kids got to see my students grilled on their homework, presenting solutions to questions at the board.

I'm not sure how much they got out of the experience, but it's good to know that they can survive it and not resent it too badly:-)

Yours, wondering if they have any idea what a normal one hour class looks like,

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Skibo has reached the "why" phase

Especially at bedtime.  Oodles of questions, what ifs, and whys come out of his mouth.  Could a wormhole form in the ocean?  What is a black hole?  Why does this?  What does that do?

I'm thrilled he's asking questions, just a little frustrated that I was attempting to get him to read at the time.

Yours, thinking that he's attempting to change the subject,

Monday, July 22, 2013

Let it drop

I'm letting the baggage drop.  The bag finally arrived yesterday, less than 24 hours after I would have had it at home had the flight been on time, and the bag on the flight.
Banking issues, I need to stay on top of, but I'm hoping they will be worked out in the next few days.

Now, I am just waiting for a new annoyance.  And seeing none, being happier.

Yours, with a gentle smile,

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Carrying baggage

I'm obviously going to have to carry the baggage a little longer yet.  My lost luggage is still not here.  It's now less than an hour from yesterday's arrival time.  When it gets here, safe and sound and complete, then I can drop the case.  Until then, I continue to feel aggrieved.

Yours, wanting my stuff, damnit!

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Too big to fail?

Can corporations get too big to fail?   Of course, the question is usually meant as "can corporations become so big that it is dangerous to the economy to let them go under".  But I don't mean it that way.  I mean it in the sense of can corporations get so big that they fail to provide good service.
And in that sense, the answer is clear.  PNC and BB&T between them have still failed to resolve my ATM problem for Thursday.  And flying this afternoon from Detroit, Delta managed to lose my luggage.  Just like last time I flew with them from Detroit.  The lost luggage person at the airport said that it was unlikely to make it tonight.
Yours, modifying the old acronym for Delta to fit my luggage:  Didn't Even Leave The Airport.

Friday, July 19, 2013


I'm still fuming, not just at PNC, but at BB&T too.  Surely it shouldn't be this hard to report that an ATM failed to give me my money?

Yours, still grumbly,

Thursday, July 18, 2013


I attempted to withdraw some money this afternoon from my bank account.  From a PNC machine (got that PNC? Yes, I'm talking to PNC Bank here).  And the bank ate my money.  Along with a $3 fee for the privilege.  So I call PNC.  Multiple button presses later I finally reach a person.  And am told I have to do it through *my* bank, not the thieving ba**ards at PNC.
I get through to my bank, and talk to a very helpful woman, who tells me that I can't stop it yet, it hasn't gone through.  I'm going to have to call back any time after 6am tomorrow morning. Ridiculous.  And makes me fume.

Yours, afume,

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Day three done too

Another lecture that went, I think, quite well.  It's a bit strange to give talks to undergraduates as part of a lecture series, and to get applauded at the end (and I gather that they are not applauding all the other lectures, so I'm definitely taking it as a compliment).
Walked to the hotel from the department this afternoon: it was hot --- still almost 90 Fahrenheit --- and humid, but the walk wasn't too bad: under 30 minutes.   I think that I can walk to and from for the next two days, perhaps with the exception of Friday afternoon, when we are supposed to be strong thunderstorms.
One disappointment is that some of the faculty members I had hoped to interact with here are away -- and several others leave tomorrow morning, so I am pretty much on my own with the students from now on.  But that's okay --- I can spend more time with them!

Yours, in full on teaching mode,

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Day two done

I've given my second of five lectures: a fun group of students --- I'd been warned to expect them not to interact much, but whether it is because they've been here a little longer and are warming up, or whether it's my sunny personality that's doing it, they seem to be enjoying the lectures, and are answering questions pretty enthusiastically.
Of course, the fact that I am throwing in some lovely magic tricks (developed by other people) helps a bit too. And all of the magic tricks have some real mathematical content: Mulcahy's Low Down Triple Dealing, for example, or Gilbreath shuffles, or Diaconis' fabulous riff on a de Bruijn cycle.
This sort of task, lecturing without grading, speaking on whatever I wish to speak about, covering material at a pace that suits me, with no requirement that I make it through this topic or that, is really fun:-)

Yours, running along nicely,

Monday, July 15, 2013

Little things

It is funny how little things can affect your behaviour. At my home institution, parking is something of an issue.  Enough of an issue that it probably beats out salaries as being the biggest concern of the average faculty member.  If I don't arrive at work before about 7:45, the nearest parking spot will be five to ten minutes from my office.  And that is during the summer, the off-season for academics!
But here, visiting colleagues in Michigan, parking is, if not ample, there, and so, my colleague informs me, he rarely gets to the office before 10am.  I've often taught two classes by that time of day!
Still, it gave me time to get up, eat a leisurely breakfast, and put in a good half hour on a treadmill and exercise bike this morning.  And shower.  And sit here twiddling my thumbs for another half an hour or so.
Yours, up, and ready to go,

Sunday, July 14, 2013


A lovely drive to the airport.  The traffic was light, and the rain held off
mostly the whole way.

Checked in at the airport, ran into a friend returning from the North East,
and chatted with him for a while before clearing security and going to board
the plane.

The flight was wonderful, if a little cramped: read for a while, and
snoozed.  We arrived half an hour early, so I was sure I'd make my shuttle

My bag was waiting for me as soon as I reached baggage claim, too --- so I
arrived at the sign saying "Passengers with ground transportation reservations".
And waited.  And waited.  I wondered how early they would be --- half an hour
was an uncomfortably long time to wait.  After a few minutes I thought to
look around for an information desk --- or anyone to ask whether I was at
the right place.  I followed signs to "Ground Transportation", only to find
nothing of use --- and nothing resembling ground transportation.  And still no
information desks.  And no free wifi either.  Finally I discovered where I
was supposed to be: too late by five minutes.  I tracked down a phone number
for the shuttle company and confirmed that I had, indeed, missed the bus.
And only have to wait 2+ hours for the next one.

There are no restaurants or bars at Detroit airport, unless you are through
security.  There is a stand selling candy and snacks, and a coffee shop.  That
appears to be it, unless after half an hour you realise that there are signs
pointing to a hotel.  So, courtesy of the Westin, I'm sitting with a beer,
typing this into a file (the Westin's internet and my computer appear at the
moment to be incompatible).  And I'm feeling much better than I was before
I had the inspiration to find the hotel and buy some (probably ridiculously
expensive) local beer.

Two hours later, I'm sitting on the bus, waiting for it to depart; it claims
to have free wifi, but at present I am not detecting it: and it's already five
minutes late --- if it had waited this long last time, I'd have caught it!
Patience is a virtue.  I'm trying to be virtuous.

The promised wireless appears to be just that --- a promise, and a broken one
at that.  There is no information on the bus about what the network would be
called, and of the thirty networks showing as live, almost all show up as
protected, and none resemble the names of the bus company.

Two hours later, we're pulling into my final destination, and my host, who I am
expecting to meet me at bus stop, texts to say he has a migraine --- I'm to get a cab
instead.  No problem.  There's one opposite the bus, I hail him, and he takes me to
the hotel.  (He gets a call just as we're pulling up to the hotel --- he thought I was the
passenger who had reserved him, I hadn't realised that another passenger on the bus
had reserved him, or indeed that he was reserved at all.  I feel bad for the other passenger!)

The sidewalk in front of the hotel is all torn up --- horrendous: as a pedestrian, I'm not
really supposed to leave the hotel --- I do so anyway, and make it back to my room with
an appropriate beverage (after the day I've had, it seemed necessary).  Only to find that
the wireless, working on my ipad, won't work on my laptop.  Grrrrrr.... Twenty minutes later,and finally, I can settle in.

Yours, suffering from six hours of frustration,

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Emergency state

After yesterday's rains --- several inches in the afternoon, then a very violent, powerful storm early this morning, which, according to the local TV station "decided to just sit over the town", our mayor has declared a state of emergency for the town.  Various isolated disasters --- one couple have lost their house: there are railroad tracks with six feet of empty space floating beneath them: cars with trees on them: all isolated, but putting them all together, things are in a bad way for an awful lot of people.  
We're currently very lucky: the floods have happened to people nearer creeks, and our trees haven't been hit --- but they are promising worse storms tonight, and tomorrow, and we are certainly not sure of being out of the danger zone.

Yours, feeling terrible about what has happened to some good people,

Friday, July 12, 2013


And so, as every year, it comes time to say goodbyes to the REU students.  The group of three who worked with me this year were wonderful: smart, hard working, and capable: I'm hoping we get to write several small, or perhaps a couple of bigger papers --- this will depend on how things go in the next few weeks as they work on their own (in collaboration on the net via email, skype, writelatex, etc).

But all in all, one of my favourite groups of students ever!

Yours, sad to say goodbyes, happy to know them,

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Orange and Ginger Tofu

I had tofu cooked in orange and ginger a few months ago, and have been trying to recreate the recipe.  Finally, over the past couple of days, I have created something different, but good.

Orange and Ginger Tofu
1 block tofu
1 inch or so of ginger, grated on a microplane
1/2 cup or so of orange juice
Peanut oil

Slice the tofu horizontally into three slabs, each about 1/2 an inch thick.  Place on paper towels on a plate, with paper towels separating each slab. Place another plate on top, and weight it down with a large can of tomatoes or similar weight.  After a few minutes, replace the paper towels with fresh ones, and repeat.  Leave for several more minutes.

Cut each slab into appropriate sized pieces (I cut cross-wise into three slices, then lengthwise into two, so each slab becomes six squares, then I cut each square diagonally, so I end up with 12 triangles per slab, for 36 triangles in total).

Heat a couple of tablespoons of peanut oil in a large skillet: in two batches, shallow fry the triangles for a few minutes on each side, until they are light golden brown, and have a slightly crispy texture.   Drain the tofu on paper towels, and clean the oil from the skillet.
Add 1/2 cup orange juice to the skillet, and the grated ginger, bring to a boil, and add the tofu.  Simmer until the juice is reduced to almost nothing, about 10 minutes or so.

The tofu should have a delightfully meaty texture, and a delicious orange/ginger flavour to it!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Prepenultimate day of the REU

I took my REU group downtown this afternoon --- to visit my favourite bookstore,  and then, many books in hand, next door, to the lovely independent coffee shop next door.
It was a lovely lunchtime visit: lots of great conversation, good coffee, and general good humour.

I'll miss these folks when they leave on Saturday!

Yours, enjoying this group's company,

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Very proud

I'm very proud of the job my REU students did this morning: they presented their research results in a talk, and did a fantastic job!  I'm looking forward to working with them over the next few days to get their REU paper into great shape, and then over the coming months, deciding how many papers to prepare for publication in what my institution lovingly refers to as the "archival literature".
I'm always optimistic at this stage --- often somewhat overly so --- but this year I feel confident that we can get a couple of papers out: perhaps even three --- so provided I can persuade the students to keep working, I'm hoping that this will be a great year!

Yours, proud, in loco parentally,

Monday, July 8, 2013

Cheese and onion pie --- and pastry notes

I made cheese and onion pie last night, as I mentioned yesterday: it was really really good, and definitely a keeper recipe!

The recipe is ridiculously easy, once you have pastry dough; dice a couple of large onions, saute them in a little butter or olive oil over medium low heat until softened --- about 10 minutes or so.  Allow the onions to cool, stir through with 8 ounces of very sharp cheddar (I used Cabot Farm's Seriously Sharp white cheddar), season with salt and pepper, then beat an egg and stir it in.  Roll out two rounds of pie dough: place one in the bottom of a pie plate: pour the cheese and onion mixture in, top with the second round of dough, crimp, cut a slit or three in the top of the crust so steam can escape, and bake at 350 or 375 until the crust is golden brown.

A note to myself on the pastry: the Vodka Pastry recipe I posted yesterday wasn't perfect (hubris on my part made that a likely outcome, I am sure!)  The dough didn't have enough liquid to bind together: I patted the base down enough that it worked, but with the topping, I decided I needed to reprocess the dough with more liquid, and did so, using vodka rather than water: I added perhaps another ounce or so of liquid: the dough was now easy to roll out, and despite the extra working, didn't toughen.  Pastry has become a forgiving recipe at last:-)

And the dish was a hit, except with the children.   Boo liked it okay (but didn't want any tonight when we had leftovers).  Skibo ate some, and pronounced it "two thumbs up" on one mouthful, but didn't want any more (and didn't want any tonight).

Oh well, they will develop real palates soon enough!

Yours, feeling cheesy,

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Comfort food

I was reminded this morning (somehow -- I'm not sure what brought it to mind) of cheese and onion pie: a speciality from the North of England: my mother used to make it on a fairly regular basis, and so I'm thinking of trying it tonight.  I'm hoping that it will hit all the high comfort notes that it triggers in my memory.

I was tempted to purchase pre-bought pastry to make it easier --- tempted briefly, but I was put off by the pictures on the boxes of pie dough: their images were of dough that looked more solid than flaky, and I am sure I can do better than that.  I'm tempted perhaps to buy a box at some point just to try it out, but not on a night when I'm planning to try to cook something I care about.

I've pretty much switched to vodka pastry now when I make it from scratch: the vodka retards the formation of gluten in the dough, and bakes off at a lower temperature than water does, making for a crisper, flakier result that is more workable prior to cooking.   I got the recipe from America's Test Kitchen: it calls for vegetable shortening, but when I don't have that around, I use all butter instead: and when I'm making it for a savory dish, I leave out the sugar.

Here's the recipe for vodka pastry: I'm going to hash out the recipe for the cheese and onion pie in my head for a little more --- that recipe will be added at a later date.

2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (12 1/2 ounces)
1 teaspoon table salt
2 tablespoons sugar
12 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch slices (1 1/2 sticks)
1/2 cup chilled vegetable shortening, cut into 4 pieces
1/4 cup vodka , cold
1/4 cup cold water

Process 1 1/2 cups flour, salt, and sugar in food processor until combined,
about 2 one-second pulses. Add butter and shortening and process until
homogenous dough just starts to collect in uneven clumps, about 15 seconds
(dough will resemble cottage cheese curds and there should be no uncoated flour).
Scrape bowl with rubber spatula and redistribute dough evenly around processor
blade. Add remaining cup flour and pulse until mixture is evenly distributed
around bowl and mass of dough has been broken up, 4 to 6 quick pulses.
Empty mixture into medium bowl.

Sprinkle vodka and water over mixture. With rubber spatula, use folding
motion to mix, pressing down on dough until dough is slightly tacky and
sticks together. Divide dough into two even balls and flatten each into
4-inch disk. Wrap each in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 45 minutes
or up to 2 days.

Yours, in search of comfort,

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Summer delights

We spent two hours in the pool this morning --- a delightful time in spite of the clouds (to be truthful, I actually like it when it's not so sunny --- being fair skinned).  Skibo even managed to play with some other children (it seems like a rare event when either of Boo or Skibo play with children that they don't know well, so it was nice to see him do so).  Boo explained to me that she wasn't comfortable playing with complete strangers, and even after I explained to her that the children were not complete strangers, she still demurred. Oh well.

Yours, enjoying a rare moment of summer quiet,

Friday, July 5, 2013

Writing, and regularity

I have been trying to write blog posts on a daily basis for years now --- and have succeeded, with massive failures along the way.  Over the past few months, I've gone for long periods without posting.

This month, I'm going to try to sit down with Boo and have her write --- her writing is wonderful, and I want to encourage her to stick with it! --- and while she's writing stories, I'm going to blog.

This will be made more complicated by the fact that I'll be away for eight days --- but perhaps we can skype while writing.

Yours, looking forward to a magical interaction with my daughter,

Thursday, July 4, 2013


Happy Independence Day!
Having grown up in Britain, my understanding of today is necessarily different, but I can celebrate the day nonetheless.

We had a lovely gathering this afternoon/evening: our twelfth annual party for this day: a combination of mathematics undergraduates about a week away from finishing their summer research program, a few fellow faculty members, and some friends from around town.

Yours, full of food and friendship,

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Menu thoughts

I'm contemplating what to cook for tomorrow: this will be our 12th annual July 4th party.
I definitely want to do beef rendang again: probably a chicken tagine, and perhaps carnitas.
Now I just need to decide what vegetables to go with this.
Oh, and perhaps a dessert or two too:-)

After more thought: it looks like the menu is converging to the following:

Beef Rendang
Chicken Tagine
Pork Carnitas
Mushroom Pate
Smoked Trout Pate
Squash Casserole
3 Bean Salsa
Carrot Cake

Yours, mouth watering already,

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Rendang redux

Beef Rendang

This first recipe is my modification of the recipe in
Cradle of Flavor by James Oseland

Flavoring Paste

1 nutmeg, cracked open with a meat pounder
5 whole cloves
3 big shallots, coarsely chopped
6 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
6-8 red chillis, seeded  and coarsely chopped
2 inches fresh ginger, grated on a microplane
2 inches fresh galangal, grated on a microplane
5-10 macadamia nuts

2-3 pounds beef chuck roast, cut into 1 inch pieces
1 tablespoon turmeric
2 13 oz cans coconut milk
3 stalks fresh lemongrass, gently pounded with the back of kitchen knife blade
1 piece cinnamon stick
7 lime leaves
1 teaspoon salt

Grind the nutmeg and cloves in a spice grinder (or a mortar and pestle: I use
a dedicated coffee grinder).  Add to a small food processor: add the rest
of the ingredients for the flavoring paste, and pulse until a coarse paste is left.
Stir the beef and the paste together in a large skillet. Add the remaining
ingredients, and heat over medium-high heat: bring to a low boil, and simmer,
stirring every ten or twenty minutes until the liquid has almost all evaporated.
Let the meat fry in the remaining oil , stirring to prevent scorching.  Cook
until the meat is the color of roasted coffee beans.

Remove the lemongrass, lime leaves and cinnamon.  Serve, for example with lemongrass
and coconut flavoured jasmine rice.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Happy Canada Day!

To all my Canadian friends, happy Canada Day!

Yours, in celebration!