We live not too far from a pond that ducks live in during the summer months. There are usually from 10-60 ducks there at any given time between April and October. In the spring and early summer we love to go down there and see the itty-bitty fuzzy ducklings. They don't usually get to come too close to the walking path because of the protective mothers, but as they get older, they get bolder. When we remember, we bring some bread heels or other grain product so we can feed them.

Not too long ago I burned four loaves of bread. Yes, Captain Bread makes mistakes too. We were upstairs watching a movie and I didn't hear the timer go off. Now when we do that, I set the timer on my phone so I will be sure to hear it. Anyway, they were overcooked by five or ten minutes and were a little bit too dark to be pleasant. The crumb was still soft and didn't taste burnt, so I took to cutting the crusts off each time we ate some. We ended up with about a loaf-sized pile of burnt crusts. I saved them so we could take them to feed the ducks. We went twice with our burnt offerings and the duck ate them up like candy.

How vain are you?

Like I mentioned in my last ham post, I was not entirely happy with my call sign. I applied for a 'vanity' call sign, NV2M, and my request was granted six days ago. I think it is really nice that the FCC allows you to choose your call sign. They did periodically through amateur radio history, but now it is even easier than ever. You log into the FCC website, list your top 25 choices in order of preference, pay them thirteen dollars and wait for 21 days. There are several websites that maintain lists of call signs that are available so you can find one that suits you. Thirteen dollars is not very vain, especially for a ten-year license.

Now take a look at vanity license plates. Fifty-five dollars for a vanity license plate is vain. And you have to pay that each time you renew your registration. But here in Oregon, they have special amateur radio plates you can get for your car that display your call sign. The best part about this is that they are only five dollars. This is the kind of vanity that I can afford.

So it all comes down to the dollar. How vain are you? And Me? About five bucks. I think I am too practical and too much of a tightwad to be really vain.

Analog TV transition

I really think the FCC screwed this one up big time. Not the actual transition, but the switch in transition times. They had done such a good job of publicizing the February 2009 date for the transition that when it moved to June, I completely forgot about it. It wasn't until I saw it in my google news that I realized that it was finally upon us. Oh yeah. Digital TV. Blah.

I am not sure how many of the people who were not ready in February are actually ready now or if it was just a waste of time and money to try to convince the procrastinators that they need to stop procrastinating. Still today, according to Nielson's reports, 2.5 percent of American households are without digital TV capabilities.

Honestly, 2.5 percent of Americans without TV is not such a tragedy. After all, watching TV is not one of America's more healthful pastimes. Maybe a new revolution in more healthful activities will be ignited by the TV procrastinators. Or they might turn to violent video games and unleash the violence on the rest of the world. Watch out!

Ham it up

I have been meaning to get my ham operators license for some time now. I never really knew what was involved in the process so I always let it slip out of my mind after a very short time. I knew that there was a "test" of some sort involved. And that you had to pay to take the test. Not wanting to pay for a test I might fail and not knowing where to turn to pass, I gave up. Until about 3 weeks ago. Then I heard about a ham class that was being offered locally. I actually heard about it through two channels: my church has been pushing to get people to have ham licenses for emergency preparedness, as has Beaverton CERT (Community Emergency Response Team). So when I heard about it this time, I signed up. The flier for the class had a link to Ham Elmer where you could download a PDF that told you the basics about getting a license.

After reading this booklet and absorbing the info like a sponge, I felt pretty confident. I started to read about ham stuff in my spare time. I learned about HF/VHF/UHF propagation and about RF safety. I found some practice tests online and started to take them. I found that I could ace the Technician test nearly every time. So I think to myself, this was pretty easy, maybe I should shoot for General. See, by now, I realized that there are three levels of licenses, each with increased privileges. I already had my sights set on Amateur Extra, but was not sure how long it would take me to get there. A few years, perhaps.

The first time I took the online General level test, I only failed by one question. It was a 35 question test, like the Technician test, only the questions were a little harder. That really got my hopes up. So I studied up some more on the questions I missed so I could understand what they were talking about. At this time, I recognized a lot of the words and phrases, but was still dredging the depths of my brain to pull of any shred of knowledge about radios and electronics I learned in college. As I read about radio wave propagation, FCC part 97, and the ham culture in general, I began to get slightly better scores. I think on the fourth try, I finally started passing the General tests regularly. I still had a week until the ham course. I was notified that they would be testing all levels and that if you pass one level, they automatically offer you the next level. Hmmmm....

A new home for Charlie and friends

10-gallon tank
10-gallon tank
I have been pining after a larger fish tank ever since we got Nicole a fish tank for her birthday. I have enjoyed having the fish in the house more than I would have ever expected. I have never really been a pet person, but I think I have found the kind of pet that I can get along with. They don't take much time, they are fun to watch, and I get a great amount of satisfaction out of making sure I don't kill them. Even though it happens now and then. But I am getting better at this fish thing. I used my birthday as an excuse to buy a bigger tank and a stand.

Mary's Bread

This post is dedicated to my dear sister, Mary. She has five adorable, but picky-eater kids. She buys a bread that her kids would describe as manna. They eat it by the loaf at her house. When our family was at my parents house over Thanksgiving, I learned of this and was enlisted by Mom to help find a recipe that Mary could make on her own rather than buy.

Mary's Bread
Mary's Bread
Being the whole grains nut that I am, I could not condone a pure enriched flour recipe (which is what said manna contains). The ingredient listing was along these lines: enriched wheat flour, water, sugar, salt, yeast, potato flour. We tried to make something like that, but our first take tasted more like cotton than manna. I am pretty sure a bit of salt would have done wonders for it, but I think some whole grains could have added some more flavor too. The next thing we tried was the homemade buttermilk rolls recipe on the back of the Bob's Red Mill Potato Flour. But since that 24 oz. bag cost nearly $6, I thought we should try making it with mashed potatoes rather than potato flour. Sorry Bob. Anyway, the rolls tasted great. Lauren thought they tasted funny, but I thought they were fine. I am going to say any funny flavor was Mom's whole wheat or her powdered buttermilk.

Anyway, I used that recipe as a start for Mary's bread. It was oh so soft and very tasty. I figured this was as close to bread candy as you could get and still have whole grains in it. Anyway, I guess I have managed to sell my own brand well enough that my kids will eat anything that is labeled as "Daddy bread" and tell me it is delicious. This is the first step to making this bread. Talk it up. Let your kids know that Uncle Vernon slaved for days in a hot kitchen trying recipes to get the perfect one. You could even tell them that I baked a loaf to send you, but their cousins snarfed it up so fast that there was nothing left to send. Make them want the "Mommy bread". After you have them craving it, go ahead and bake it. There is no other smell like fresh baked bread. Even bread that tastes bad smells good in the oven. If it is something that your kids enjoy, you could have them help you bake it. This gives them a personal vested interest in the final product and should set a positive prejudice in their minds toward the bread. And if nothing else works, tell them it will make Uncle Vernon cry if they don't try it and like it.

What I need is another project

I feel a lot of pressure from all those Acidfree users who are just dying to have Acidfree-6.x released. But that is not the reason I am working on it. I am working on it because 1) I feel a sense of responsibility to do it, and 2) I like working on Acidfree. So I do have a start on the work. When I say start, I mean pre-alpha; not even finished enough to commit to the Drupal CVS repository. I have made commits that I am willing to share with the not-so-faint of heart.

Flu Season

Flu season is upon us. IBM sponsors a flu-shot drive every year, offering flu shots to all employees for free. They have some company come on site and you flash your badge, sign on the line and they shoot you. I got mine about four hours ago. My arm aches. I have a headache too. They said it was a "weakened virus." Weakened how? Did they take each virus and break both legs? Or soak them in acid like you might weaken an eggshell? Well, I tell you from first hand experience, a weak virus is still mean. Maybe it is like a wounded badger; more vicious than ever.

I finally git it!!

I was so happy to learn that the 2.6.26 kernel had a free as in speech alternative to the madwifi Atheros driver, ath5k. I have not been so happy that it has been crashing my machine periodically. Since diagnosis of a hung machine without a serial console that is running X is nigh on impossible, I had no choice but to fold and go back to madwifi. However, since then, I have moved on to 2.6.27, which has some changes to two wireless APIs, causing the madwifi driver to fail to build. I wanted to leave my desk with its hard-wired connection but didn't want my machine to hang again.

Mmmm. Buh-licious bread!!

Pain a l'Ancienne
Pain a l'Ancienne
Finally a crust and crumb that I can brag about. This is a loaf that I started as part of a Toastmasters speech. The speech was about how to make the best pizza dough ever. Since for demonstration purposes, the pizza dough and the pain a l'ancienne dough are identical to start with, I figured nobody would notice. Really the only difference is that the pizza dough has slightly less water in it, which makes it less sticky to the point that you can handle it.

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