Categories
Computers Consumer Experiences Drivel Politics

goodbye and good riddance, Facebook, Inc.

It’s done. I just deleted my Facebook and Instagram accounts. It was fun for a few years, but the relationship turned sour after one of us started lying to the other, then pretended to take steps to improve but just kept lying.

Top 18 Bollywood Celebrities to Follow on Snapchat - Brandsynario

Separation took a few months of planning and preparation. Here’s the blog post I wrote about this process several months ago:

And now here is the result:

For those who want to get in touch, here is my contact info:

So what am I doing now for social media? Over the past 9 months or so, I’ve gravitated to a mix of Reddit, Twitter, my blog, and MeWe.

  • Reddit is great for complex discussions – not perfect, but way better than Facebook
  • Twitter is great for sharing quick thoughts that I used to put in Facebook posts
  • My old WordPress blog is great for sharing longer essays, recipes, etc.
  • And MeWe is a good way to meet other people with shared interests
Categories
Consumer Experiences

how to reduce your risk of credit card fraud

I’m gonna explain an easy thing you can do to reduce your risk of being a victim of credit card fraud. I first read about this trick a few years back, and started doing it myself. I can say from first-hand experience that it works.

The Two Card Approach

The basic idea is this: Get two credit cards…

  • Use one of them only for online purchases. Leave that card at home 100% of the time. It will probably never be stolen.
  • Use the other card only for in-person (non-online, aka “brick and mortar”) purchases. If it gets stolen, it’s not as big of a deal.

Here’s how it works. The vast majority of credit card fraud is from people stealing your card details at the point-of-purchase. For example, there are credit card skimmers attached to gas pumps at the service station that record the details of your card as you swipe it to pay for gas. And untrustworthy workers at the supermarket, restaurants, etc.

In fact, I just read an a few days ago about how “merchants who operate gas stations and gas pumps are facing a rash of attacks from cybercrime groups wanting to deploy point-of-sale (POS) malware on their networks.” — https://www.zdnet.com/article/visa-warns-of-pos-malware-incidents-at-gas-pumps-across-north-america/

On the other hand, online purchases are much safer. Despite the news stories you’ve read about criminals stealing data from websites, your credit card information is very safe in your web browser and at any online merchant, and every place in-between. It’s much more safe than when the card is used at an in-person (POS, of “point of sale”) merchant.

But what’s the biggest pain in the ass when you become the victim of credit card fraud? It’s that once your card is canceled by the bank, you have to go to all the vendors you do business with and update your card details with them. In my case, that’s Amazon, Apple, my mail-order pharmacy, the cable company, the power company, the phone company, and many more. So, it makes sense to give all those companies the credit card that is the least likely to be stolen, and use the card that’s most likely to be stolen only at places that don’t automatically charge my card every month, like the supermarket, gas station, etc.

Make sense? To recap:

Online-only CardNon-online Card
Stays in a drawer at homeStays in my wallet
Used for recurring payments and online storesUsed for individual purchases at brick-and-mortar stores

Problems and Risks

The two card approach isn’t perfect. There are some other risks and side-effects. For example:

  • The more cards you have, the worse your credit score will be. But if you keep the total number as small as possible, this shouldn’t be a major issue. So give up a couple department store cards and that second airline card, and instead get a second card for online use only.
  • If your credit is bad, you may not be able to get approved for a second card. Yeah, even with as aggressive as banks are about pushing cards on everyone, some people can’t get a second one, so this approach won’t work for them.
  • This approach reduces risk by reducing the likelihood of fraud and simultaneously reducing the impact of fraud. But it doesn’t reduce it to zero. You should still use all the usual precautions to prevent credit card fraud.
  • If you’re not the kind of person who pays off credit card balance each month, having two cards instead of one can help lead to falling behind on your debt.

Some Other Ideas

Since you read this far, here are a few quick suggestions for reducing your risk of being a victim while doing online purchases:

Categories
Uncategorized

visiting Emeril

I just made dinner reservations at Emeril’s New Orleans, his “flagship” restaurant. My department at work is going to New Orleans next month for a three day planning meeting. So I decided to lead a group outing to get some great food on the first night. I haven’t been to this restaurant before – only read about it. But I have been to one of Emeril’s other restaurants and everything there was outstanding. So I’m excited for some good gumbo and boudin balls.

Emeril’s New Orleans

Categories
Uncategorized

Thanksgiving Dinner 2019

I haven’t roasted a turkey in a few years, so I decided to do so for Thanksgiving this year. The past couple years, I’ve gone out for Thanksgiving dinner or bought smoked turkey breast from a BBQ joint in town. Since a lot of people seem to appreciate my food posts, I’m gonna share my menu with you here. And maybe some photos.

The Plan

Hummingbird cocktail, fancy presentation

Here’s what I’ve got planned for the menu for today. It’s an extremely small gathering, which is good because my dining room table only fits two.

  • hummingbird cocktails – St. Germain, champagne, and club soda
  • Mary’s free-range turkey, roasted the traditional way (though I did imagine sous-viding it at one point)
  • Brussels sprouts with pepitas – I’m planning to do something that blends this recipe with this recipe
  • rosemary turkey gravy – improvisational creation in the Instant Pot with turkey drippings, broth, fresh rosemary, Lebanese garlic paste, and pepper
  • corn bread muffins – this is Brooke’s contribution, a family tradition of hers
  • cranberry sauce – more on that in a second
  • cherry pie from Project Angel Heart’s “Pie in the Sky” project
  • special secret small dessert treat for people who don’t like cherry pie (in other words, Brooke)

About My Cranberry Sauce

OK, so let’s talk about cranberry sauce a bit. I often make a cranberry relish dish from fresh cranberries, ginger, apple, and sugar. It’s served uncooked and cool, and is tart and refreshing. I wrote up the recipe here a few years ago. Last year I made a huge batch of that to take to dinner at my cousin Megan’s house. But I had a lot of fresh cranberries left over that I didn’t use, so I froze them.

This year, about a week before Thanksgiving, I pulled those frozen cranberries out and thawed them. But I wasn’t convinced that they would make good relish since the freezing process made them a bit soft. So I decided to make cranberry sauce for the first time ever. And since I now have an Instant Pot, I just had to use that.

A couple days ago, I put those thawed cranberries into the Instant Pot, along with a little water, some sliced fresh ginger, an apple cut into segments, some cinnamon powder, a cinnamon stick, and some sugar. I pressure-cooked the whole thing for 3 minutes, and then let it sit for a while after that. Once the pressure was released enough to take off the lid, I fished out the non-cranberry chunks – the ginger, apple, and cinnamon stick. Then I stirred it all together, as it cooled.

The goop in the IP after pressure cooking
My first cranberry sauce, I think

I was surprised at how thick and gelatinous the sauce became once I started stirring. That’s normal, of course, but I’ve never made jam or preserves or anything like that, so it was new to me. Then it went into a container to cool and rest in the fridge until turkey day.

Cooking Photos

That brings us up to Thanksgiving day. I ended up spending several hours in the kitchen, even though the menu was pretty simple.

Here I am with my spoon and apron, invoking the spirit of Hup
Turkey roasting away

Both the turkey and the gravy took longer than I planned. I think I ran into problems with uneven temperature in my oven. And I could not get the flavor of the gravy just right.

Brussels sprouts cooking away in the Instant Pot in slow cooker mode
The finished bird, ready to be carved
Brooke and her plate of food
Here’s how my plate came out

I think my favorite parts of the whole meal were the cranberry sauce and the turkey. Now, lots of leftovers! I hope you had a nice Thanksgiving.

Categories
Food

my first bun bo hue

Today in Denver it snowed a few inches and the high temperature was 28. So it’s perfect weather for some hot beef stew. For the first time in my life, I made Bun Bo Hue (or at least my imitation). If you don’t know, it’s a Vietnamese dish from Hue, the former capital of Vietnam. (Note: I’m spelling this the Anglicized way, because for some reason my blog site converts some Vietnamese characters to question marks. Here’s how it’s really spelled, in Vietnamese.)

I don’t have much experience making Vietnamese food, and I couldn’t get many of the ingredients in time to make a more authentic version, but I had a secret weapon that made all the difference.

Here is the secret ingredient. At this summer’s Dragon Boat Festival there was a little stand selling Vietnamese spice pastes, and so I bought this one. Combining that with a beef roast, bone broth, beef bouillon, and sliced white onion in the Instant Pot under pressure for a couple hours did the trick.

For garnishes, I had lime slices, cilantro, sliced red bell pepper, sambal oelek, green onions, and snow peas. I couldn’t find any bean sprouts since most supermarkets do not carry them any more due to contamination problems (E. coli, I think), and I didn’t have time to go to the Asian supermarket. So I thought snow peas would be close enough – crunchy and green. It worked.

It tasted even better than it looked.

I would definitely buy the spice paste again, if I ever see it. They were test marketing it in the US to see if enough people would buy it to make it worthwhile to put into supermarkets. And I have no idea how that went. But I sure enjoyed it, and have a bunch of delicious leftovers.

The end.

Categories
Consumer Experiences Drivel Food Politics Uncategorized

mile high composting and voting

Since this past spring, I’ve been working to arrange composting at my condominium complex. And this week it starts to pay off.

Denver Compost Collective is an organization that collects food waste from apartment dwellers and takes it to their large scale composting facility. Then they give the resulting “black gold” to a local urban farm/food charity. The city has been encouraging composting the past few years, but if you don’t have a big garden, it’s tough to do. So this group fills that gap.

Here is me with my new bucket. I’ll fill it up throughout the week with food scraps (no meat or dairy) and then put it in my building’s parking garage for DCC to pick up Monday morning. They weigh each bucket, dump it into a bigger container on their truck, rinse the bucket out, and put it back in the garage.

In other news, I voted today. The ballot and issues were so easy this time I decided to do it while enjoying some quasi-legal recreational drugs. It’s great to live in Denver.

Saturday, maybe Casa Bonita. Seriously.

Categories
Film

oh how they danced

At the neighborhood coffee shop, there is a Stonehenge monument in danger of being crushed by a dwarf.

Categories
Drivel

electric scooters are the Segways of 2019

A friend and former employee of mine bought one of the early Segway Personal Transporters back in 2002. Remember those? I got to ride it one time and thought it was fun. He used it to commute several miles daily, at least in the summer. The inventor, Dean Kamen, said they were going to change the world, and he started to do some urban design prototyping of the wider sidewalks that he thought all major cities would need to support the massive amount of Segway traffic, once they replace cars.

But they didn’t. The product was expensive. People laughed at the idea of riding around in the city standing upright on an electric wheeled contraption. Sales were nowhere near what Segway hoped, and they eventually sold the company to the Chinese. People kept driving.

Fast forward almost 20 years. Now, there’s someone on an electric scooter on every block in Denver, usually several of them. What one generation thought was stupid the next generation thinks is a great way to get around. Of course, the price has come down by a factor of 20, and you can now rent one with your smartphone for a dollar rather than plunking down several grand to buy your own. Maybe that’s the differentiator.

Categories
Food Recipe

muffin tin omelets

When I have time, some weekends I make muffin tin omelets, also sometimes called no-crust quiche. It makes it easy for me to have a high protein, low carb breakfast throughout the week. In the past, I’ve used a fairly shallow muffin tin. But that makes muffin tin omelets that aren’t quite enough to satisfy me, while eating two of them is too much food for breakfast. So I decided I needed a larger size muffin tin. Last time I visited my parents, I learned Mom had a spare! So I took it home with me.

Like my old one, the new tin holds 6 muffins, but each one is much deeper. Today, I finally had time to make some muffin tin omelets again. If you’ve never made these, you should try it sometime. You can find a ton of recipes online, so I’m not going to give you all the details, but here is the general idea.

I usually grease the muffin tin with coconut oil, since I don’t ever have shortening (or lard). Supposedly it’s better for you than vegetable oil or butter.

Today, the things I put in were:

  • some leftover BBQ brisket, chopped
  • one red bell pepper, chopped and sauteed in the fat from the brisket
  • one roma tomato I got from the farmer’s market two weeks ago and realized I better use before it’s too late
  • cheddar/jack cheese blend
  • 9 eggs – so each omelet is 1.5 eggs
  • some milk – don’t ask me how much, I don’t measure stuff, that’s not how I cook
  • salt, black pepper, umami pepper

What, you don’t know about umami pepper? I found this thing on a “if we can’t sell it, we’re just going to throw it out” rack at Safeway a couple years ago and it was the most wonderful discovery.

Then I baked it until it looked good to me. That turned out to be 30 minutes at 350 degrees. And here is the result:

muffin tin omelets

They sure look good, but I already ate lunch, so I’ll save these for later.

I had a bit of trouble getting them out of the muffin tin, maybe I need to coat the pan with something greasier next time. Or cook them inside of muffin cups.

Categories
Music

Big Swifty, fusion, and the full circle

From 1988 to 1992, nearing the end of his life, Frank Zappa released a series of CDs made from live recordings of his bands from the 70s and 80s. He had compiled a huge library of recordings, and scoured them for the best, most significant performances of much of his catalog of rock and jazz music.

One of these recordings was an instrumental track called “Big Swifty”. The studio version of this took up the entire front side of the “Waka/Jawaka” album from 1972, and featured Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member Aynsley Dunbar on drums and Soul Music Hall of Fame member George Duke on keyboards. But I was drawn to the live recording of the piece that was released on “You Can’t Do That On Stage Anymore, Volume 1“.

Sometime in the late 1990s, I was obsessed with that recording of that piece of music, in particular the middle improv section. You see, every time they played this track, the band improvised for several minutes in the middle. So no two recordings of it sound the same. The music in that section sounded unlike anything I was familiar with at the time, so I took the CD to work and played that track for a coworker of mine who was a bass guitarist and teacher with a serious background in jazz. “Where can I find other music that sounds like this?” I asked him. He listened to the recording once, maybe twice, and gave his answer, which was something like this:

“Yeah, that’s early- to mid-1970s fusion. Go listen to Weather Report and Herbie Hancock from that period.” So I did. At the time, I had never heard either except for Hancock’s weird track from the 80s called “Rockit” that they played on MTV. I started buying up Weather Report and Herbie Hancock albums, and grew a library of and appreciation for a whole new genre of music I’d never heard.

A few years later, I sold my turntable and gave away all my records, as part of what I call “the great downsizing of 2011”. But then I bought another better turntable (American made) in 2016, and rebuilt a small record collection. One of the first vinyl albums I bought? Herbie Hancock!

You still with me? Here’s where the story gets even better.

Now it turns out that in addition to making audio recordings of a ton of his live shows throughout the 70s and 80s, Zappa also filmed some of them. One film project was a set of shows his band did at the Roxy Theatre in 1973. The Roxy had just opened in the fall of 1973 and was the hot thing in West Hollywood. Tons of cool bands were playing there, and Zappa was booked to play on December 8, 9, and 10. The film crew filmed all of them on 16mm color film and made audio recordings (of course).

Unfortunately, there were some technical problems with the film reels they shot, preventing them from being synchronized to the audio correctly. And so the video was written off as a loss.

The audio recordings slowly made their way public over the course of the next 41 years. In 1974, Zappa released some of the recordings from the Roxy shows on the album “Roxy & Elsewhere“. But these recordings had overdubs of some parts. In 1988, some more recordings of those shows were released on “You Can’t Do That On Stage Anymore, Volume 1” as I mentioned before. Those probably also had some edits and overdubs. In 2014, the album “Roxy by Proxy” was released that had original recordings of some of the other tracks from those performances, without any overdubs.

And then, in 2015, something wonderful happened. The technology of audio and video editing had advanced enough that they were able to go back to those 1973 film reels and repair them so they could be synchronized correctly with the audio recordings, which led to “Roxy – The Movie” being released. It’s a Blu-ray video from those shows, accompanied by a CD of the audio of those same recordings (without overdubs).

As of yesterday, I knew almost none of this. But then I found the video on Amazon Prime Video. So I decided to spend my Saturday night watching this 46 year old live performance, which I was pleased to discover included “Big Swifty”.

Can you guess what else I learned? The performance that’s in “Roxy – The Movie” is the exact same one that I heard 20 years ago on the live compilation CD from 1988. Now I can see all these amazing things I’ve only been able to hear for the past 20 years…

  • Ruth Underwood’s mind-blowing mallet work
  • the incredibly tightness of one of Zappa’s greatest bands at the height of their abilities
  • George Duke and the rest of the band finding the groove instantly and staying in it for the duration
  • Frank’s wildly unpredictable guitar solo that somehow just works

Thanks for bearing with my long gushing blog article.

If you want to hear the recording of this specific performance I’ve been talking about, it’s here on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rAe3_O3vZzQ

And if you have Amazon Prime, you can watch the movie right here: https://www.amazon.com/Frank-Zappa-Live-at-Roxy/dp/B07JMX2Q7Q