Tuesday, July 28, 2009


Fig. 1: Murphy, laying in the yard.

This is Murphy, our Tibetan Terrier. She was such a sweet little pain-in-the-ass. I will miss her kisses with her little soft tongue. She would get scared if someone cooked something that got a little smoky, like burgers or bacon, and she would track me down specifically and hide under my feet ... no one else's. She was stand-offish and would ignore you until she wanted something. When she wanted something she would let you know it. She truly embodied the typification of the breed in that she thought she was a person.

Fig. 2: A close-up of Little Ms. Sweetness and Light

She was born January 1, 1991 in California at one of the very few Tibetan Terrier breeders in the US. She was put to sleep on July 28, 2009, because of a solid mass tumor in her chest. As the tumor grew, it would begin to cut off her airway and we could not in good conscience let her suffer in that manner.

Needless to say, we are all in a rather sad state at the moment. She was a mommy's girl, and mother is quite distraught at this moment. She will be missed very much.

You can read more about Tibetan Terriers in the following Wikipedia article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tibetan_terrier

Friday, May 29, 2009

Faulty Tape Drive

The tape drive on a server at work went belly up yesterday. I hoped that it was something simple that I could fix, but alas, it was not.

The subject tape drive is a Compaq DLT 40/80 drive that uses DLT3 tapes and can hold up to 80Gb compressed. We use this tape drive to back up the data and applications on our old minicomputer, a DEC AlphaServer 2000 which runs HP's OpenVMS. DLT drives are great ... obviously when they work ... and this technology lead to better drives like the Ultrium. DLT stands for "Digital Linear Tape" because the data is written to the tape linearly, in long horizontal stripes like an 8-track tape, rather than in slanted stripes like a VCR tape. This slanted stripe technology is used in DDS and AIT drives and did, indeed, come from the technology used in VCRs, so called "helical scan".

The problem was that this drive got a tape stuck inside for no apparent reason and was making buzzing noises. We had seen this problem before when using tapes that had been used previously with a different style of tape drive. DLT 'VS' drives and DLT drives take the same tapes, but cannot be used interchangeably. Once a DLT tape is written to using a 'VS'-style drive, it is then rendered unreadable by a plain DLT drive. If a DLT 'VS' tape is inserted into a DLT drive, it tries to find the alignment tracks by moving the heads. This is where the buzzing comes from.

The tape that was in the drive had been used previously on this same server, so why it was doing this was a mystery. Powering off the tape drive, resetting it, etc, did not work and the tape would not eject. I removed it from its enclosure to get the tape out manually, hoping that I can reassemble it, runa cleaning tape a few times and all will be well.

There was no such luck.

I cut the tape and got the cartridge out and removed the tape from the internal spool and got the tape drives leader put back on the hook. On this tape drive the "flashing lights" error usually indicates that the leader, a thin piece of plastic attached to the internal spool that hooks onto the tape inside the cartidge and pulls it into the drive, is unhooked from the little plastic hook that holds it in place to be able to catch the tape when the tape is inserted.

I plugged the tape drive back in to its enclosure, powered it up and reset it. I loaded up a cleaning tape to test it out and maybe clean it up so it might work once again.

Again, no such luck.

I kept trying to eject the tape, and the more I pressed eject the more tape would be wound into the drive! Within a few minutes, the drive had taken so much tape into its internal spool that it completely emptied the cleaning tape! For those that might not know, DLT tapes and many of their kin to not have the end of the tape permanently attached to the spool within the tape cartridge. Thus, the tape could come completely out of the cartridge ... and it did.

Fig. 1: 'Manually' unwinding the tape.

So, to clean up my mess, I again removed the drive from its enclosure and connections and got the cartridge out of the drive. I began to pull the tape off the spool when I got the idea of making it easier on myself by letting a power screwdriver unspool the tape for me! I tucked the loose end of the tape into the bit holder and put the screwdriver bit back in to hold it in place then started winding. My workmate CB told me that I should have thought harder about it and use a piece of tape to hold down the button so I wouldn't have to hold it. Great idea!

I got the tape removed and again reattached the leader to the hook and put everything back. It was a lost cause, but pretty amusing to work on. Thankfully our service agency we contract with had all kinds of interesting old equipment, including tape drives like this, so getting a replacement will be quick and painless.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

O, Canada

I went to Canada over the weekend! I went, specifically, to attend Anime North 2009 and to visit with "Piper" and "Psyche".

This was the first time that I had ever been to Canada. Upon arriving at the border for the immigration checkpoint, the agent was surprised ... well, shocked, really ... that me being as old as I am and living in Ohio had never been to Canada.

The trip up and back was rather uneventful, other than the ubiquitous construction. Driving through Michigan was an awful chore, numerous construction zones, potholes on the interstate that could swallow a car. The roads in Canada, however, were nicely maintained.

Driving through Canada was no different than in the US. Highways worked the same, signs were similar enough, drivers were no different than I experience in Ohio.

The weather was great throughout the whole weekend. I drove much of the way with the windows down when the temperature wasn't oppressively hot. Upon entering Michigan, I noticed a peculiar odor of sewage that persisted until the Ambassador Bridge. I don't know what that was all about, but it was nasty.

Before I left, I washed my car. When I got home, it looked as if I had driven through a plague of locusts! The windshield is splotched with the remains of bugs like I've never seen. The front bumper is even worse. I guess I will have to wash it again!

The trip was a little over 912 miles (or, nearly 1 kilomile in metric) there and back. It took about 8 hours one-way straight driving. Surprisingly I averaged 25.4 miles per gallon on the entire trip. That's pretty good for a car with a V8 engine. I usually average 17.1 mpg in daily driving. Of course, daily driving is a stop-and-go affair. It also proves how nicely the 'Active Fuel Management' of my engine works. When cruising at highway speeds, it only uses four of the eight cylinders to save fuel.

Fig. 1: The view from my hotel room.

I stayed at the Toronto Airport Marriott which was a very nice hotel. The bed was probably the most comfortable bed I had ever slept in. The hotel was very clean. I did have trouble with the pay-to-use internet service. I had to jerry-rig the settings on my laptop to get it to work, but it was speedy and served me well. The television service was being worked on while I was there, and some stations were absent or had lots of interference. Other than that, the room was great and I would definitely stay there again.

Something, though, caused me to break out on my hands and face. I speculate that it was some kind of fabric softener on the sheets and pillow cases. However, one of the medications that I am on does have the side-effect of sensitivity to sunlight, so that could be it as well.

Some random observations:
  • Michigan smells bad.
  • Michigan roads suck.
  • Michigan drivers suck.
  • Everything in Canada is metric. Speeds, lengths, people. Everything.
  • Not all Canadians say 'Eh?' or 'Aboot'.
  • Nearly all signs are in English and French.
  • 'Reduced Speed' is translated as 'Reduit Vitesse'. It just sounds cool.
  • Canadians drive on the right side of the road.
  • Milk in Canada comes in bags.
  • Canadians look like regular people.
  • Trips are shorter in Canada because they use kilometers.
  • Canadian money is in colour, and the $5 has an image of people playing hockey on the back!
I will be posting an entry on my blog account on LiveJournal about my experiences at Anime North 09, meeting my terrific Canadian friends and observations of the people at the convention. I'll post a link here to that when I get it written, so stay tuned!

Anyone from the US that may be thinking about going to Canada just to check it out, I highly recommend it. Be sure, though, that you are aware that starting June 1 border crossings by land and sea will require a passport or passport card. Birth Certificates and other proof-of-citizenship documents will no longer be accepted. Travel by air will continue to require a passport book, with no exceptions.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

New Addiction: Kheer

I really do intend on blogging more. Really! I promise! I have a lot more "Nihonjin Nibbles" to do as well as I am slowly working through Orchid's care package...

Within the last year my workmate and best friend CB started eating at a buffet south of town called Amar India. They put out a decent buffet spread for lunch and they are usually quite busy. It is very much enjoyable, but very much filling.

One of the things that I like ... er, love ... is kheer, an Indian rice pudding. The way they serve it at the buffet it is quite a bit thinner in consistency than what us Americans consider pudding. Sometimes it is almost soup-like. It also has a flavor to it that I found to be totally unique. When I first tasted it, I didn't like it. I could not quite place the taste, it has a sort of anise-y quality, like licorice but muted and somewhat different. The more I tasted of it, the more I started to enjoy it. Now when I go it is difficult to resist going up three, sometimes four, times for refills. Thank God they have tiny little bowls for the desserts!

I asked very dear friend from Toronto, whom we call Piper, for a recipe since she and her family are from over Pakistan way. (As soon as I hit send on the email asking for a recipe it struck me that I could have just Googled it ... but whatever. LOLduh!) I figured that the recipe would be complicated and involve many strange and exotic ingredients.

Boy, was I wrong.

Sometimes the simplest things can have quite a profound affect on a person. Like kheer. Rice, milk, sugar, cardamom. That's it. I did some research online to see how others make kheer and I slightly altered Piper's mum's recipe to make a smaller quantity because the original recipe would have made approximately one metric ton of pudding...

Simple Kheer Recipe
4 cups Milk, 2% or greater
1/4 cup Basmati (or other starchy long-grain) Rice
2/3 cup Granulated Sugar
1/2 tsp Cardamom, powdered or ground

Soak rice in water a short time to remove some starch.
Boil milk, stirring constantly to prevent burning. Yes, it WILL burn ... using non-stick cookware or a double-boiler will help.
When milk boils over, clean up the mess, then drain and add the rice.
Reduce heat to medium.
Keep stirring.
Cook until rice is tender and milk has reduced some. Consistency should be like a thin creamy soup but much thicker than the original milk.
Keep stirring.
Add sugar.
Keep stirring.
When rice is tender but not mushy, sprinkle in cardamom.
Keep stirring.
Remove the conglomeration from the heat.
Keep stirring.
Let cool.
Enjoy slightly warm and soupy or chill. Chilling will thicken the consistency.
When in doubt, stir.
Here are some caveats I found while monkeying with the recipe...

  • 1/4 cup of rice makes a LOT of kheer.
  • Milk does burn. If it burns, start over. If you stir it into the kheer it will taste like something evil.
  • Add sugar to taste. I like mine on the sweet side. The sugar also acts with the starch to give the kheer body and thicken the pudding.
  • Cardamom powder can clump. Put the cardamom powder in a small bowl and add a little milk and whisk with a fork to declumpify it before adding to the mixture.
  • It doesn't look like it will be very thick when being cooked. It will thicken, trust me. If it is thick and pudding-like in the pan, it will be like a brick when cool. You can loosen it with water or skim milk.

I didn't realize until I made some that the unusual taste of the kheer comes from the cardamom. I have never cooked with cardamom before, but it has a wonderful smell to it, somewhat grassy with hints of licorice. It is also widely used in apple pies, I have come to find.

The first batch I made was of perfect consistency, but lacked some sweetness and flavor as I had only used 1/4 cup of sugar and 1/4 tsp of cardamom. I adjusted the recipe for the second test batch to use more of both and not cook the milk so much so the extra sugar would not throw off the consistency. The second batch came out too thin indicating I should have let the milk reduce some more. To make up for this, I made another batch like above but used only three cups of milk. Near the end of the cooking process I mixed in the second batch and let it cook for a bit. This mixture of batches 2 and 3 came out great and is nearly perfect!

I don't think mine will ever be as good as what is available at the Indian buffet, but since one batch of kheer costs about $1 to make, I think the savings is worth the effort.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Nihonjin Nibbles: Crunky

According to Wikipedia...
Crunk is a type of music which originated from southern hip hop and EDM in the early 1990's.
The term "crunky" would then be seen as something to do with this type of music, not a Japanese candy bar.

Fig. 1: A Crunky chocolate bar.

The Crunky bar is manufactured by Lotte, a large South Korean company. The bar appears to be the Japanese answer to Nestle's Crunch bar, though the Crunky bar uses fine malt puffs rather than crispy rice. The Crunky bar weighs in at 48 grams and is 261 calories.

Fig. 2: Nutrition Information, in Japanese of course.

The first thing I noticed is that the bar comes in a box rather than a plastic sleeve like our typical American candy bars. Another unusual thing that I noticed with this Crunky bar, as well as the previously reviewed Pocky, is the packaging's instructions on opening. The instructions actually worked. Unlike so many American products, like cake mixes, that say press here and pull back to open (and you wind up denting the side of the box so bad that you say screw it and just tear open the top flaps), when you "tear here" on these products they actually open up properly. Amazing.

Fig. 3: The Crunky foil packet.

Once I got inside the package, I found a foil packet not unlike what a typical American candy bar would have been wrapped in 'back in the day'. (Most candy wrappers are now plastic.) The foil of the packet is quite thin and every easy to open.

Fig. 4: The actual Crunky bar.

Comparing to the Nestle Crunch bar, the Crunky bar is quite a bit larger and thicker. The tiny malt puffs give the bar a similar look to the Crunch bar, just there are more of the little bumps. The taste is, however, not the same. The Crunky bar has a similar texture and crunchiness, but is no where near as sweet as the Crunch. This is probably due to the Japanese palate not liking sweets as much as other flavors. I generally have a tough time with sugary candy as it invariably hurts my throat, and this bar did not noticably affect me. The chocolate seems to have a similar mouth feel as typical milk chocolate as it melts. The malt puffs do not seem to add anything to the flavor of the bar, and they may be there for texture only.

On the whole, this was a pretty good bar. I like Nestle's Crunch bar, and this would seem to be a good substitute for that.

I think this bar deserves a 7/10.

Nihonjin Nibbles: Mikan Pocky

I have been away from blogging for far too long, so this will be the first of two today!

Next in the series of Japanese Junk Food to review, and one that I have been especially excited to review is Mikan Pocky.

Fig. 1: Mikan Pocky

I am familiar with the chocolate variety of Pocky, having had them before on shopping trips to the international market in Cincinnati. Every time I go I make sure to grab some.

Manufactured by Glico (the famous 'running man' of Osaka), Pocky is a thin, sweet breadstick rod with a consistency not unlike a cross between a cookie and a pretzel. The rod is dipped in chocolate of some type, be it white, milk or dark covering about 4/5 of the stick. The chocolate variety is delicious and I have to control myself from eating every one of them on the ride home. This review is, of course, not for the mundane chocolate variety but for the Mikan flavored version.

Mikan is a citrus fruit like a tangerine. Most people in the US are familiar with Clementines, and they are similar, but not the same. I always looked forward to winter just so I could get my hands on some Clementines! Unfortunately, since the radiation treatments, most fruits don't taste at all good to me anymore (notable exceptions: pineapples, bananas & strawberries) so Clementines are out. I still do, however, love the smell of citrus.

Fig. 2: Nutrition information in Japanese.

The package of Pocky is a small box with four packs of five rods. Each little pack (I think it is each little pack, I can't read Japanese ... yet) is 67 calories, which is not bad. The rods are about as long as a standard Sharpie marker and about half the diameter of a typical pencil.

Fig. 3: The open box and packets of Pocky.

As with the previous entry on KitKats, I was shocked when I opened one of the packets. It is like an orange had exploded -- the intense smell of citrus filled the room and it was wonderful! I removed a rod from the package and tasted it. At first I got a creamy texture as the white chocolate melted and it had an almost vanilla flavor to it, but as time went on I began to get a definite orangey flavor, though light and subdued. As I consumed the remainder of the Pocky stick, more of the orange flavor started coming through. At no time was the flavor overwhelming.

Fig. 4: Size comparison for a Pocky rod.

I was apprehensive at first about these because of my problems with citrus. I so much wanted to like them. Thankfully, I was not disappointed!

Hopefully by time I get up the funds and courage to travel to Japan, I will be over my taste problems so I can enjoy the little Mikans for real. Barring that, the Mikan Pocky deserve a 9/10.

Here is a take on the Mikan Pocky from the always lovely Orchid: Mikan Pocky on Japanese Snack Reviews.

Monday, January 5, 2009

The Croaking Dog

Over the holidays, I spent lots of time at home napping. Napping is one of my favorite activities since I lead a relatively sedentary lifestyle, especially in winter. Sleeping is not really a problem for me, it is getting to sleep that can be a nightmare.

In one of the houses behind me is a family that has a dog. That, in and of itself, is not unusual. The problem is that this dog does not bark, it croaks. Loudly. No, it is not a basenji, it is some kind of mutty-poodly mixture of random canine genetics. It is not very old, either, which is why I cannot understand why it croaks. Loudly. I suspect that it may have some sort of disorder or some past injury that causes it to be unable to bark properly. Perhaps it barked so much that it eventually suffered some sort of throat damage that causes the raspy pseudo-bark. Who's to say?

When this dog is outside, it croaks constantly. I'm unsure of whether it wants attention, wants water or is mentally ill, but that is all it seems to do is bark, er...croak.

During the holidays, from Christmas Eve to the following Sunday, the dog croaked ... constantly ... for those nearly five days, twenty-four hours per day. I am not exaggerating on this. The house where the dog lives was dark, so I can only assume the family was away.

From my property, I can see the house pretty well, but I can only see the dog on occasion it gets near the chain-link end of their fence. The compassionate part of me wanted to have gotten closer to see if the poor thing actually had food and water and confirmed that it was ok. The cynical part of me would have stopped the compassionate part of me because it is none of my business and they would have surely called the law on me. The mean, unpleasant part of me just wanted the thing to shut the hell up.