Thursday, August 30, 2007

"California grower recalls salmonella- tainted spinach"

California grower recalls salmonella- tainted spinach - LOS ANGELES (Reuters) "It was a long, crinkly-leafed, robust and verdant varietal that grew heartily in the moist, loose loams of the western vale -- but it's gone now; harvested, you know; every bit of it just harvested and put on the truck," sighed the grower, reminiscently.

(Okay, everything after "(Reuters)" I made up.)

Tuesday, August 28, 2007


The light was out, the light was on; the light was out, the light was on. It was annoying. You've only read the cycle twice and I bet it's wearing on your nerves already. But finally, after almost three years of unpredicatability the light was out -- and wouldn't come back on. The light is in an exhaust fan in the ceiling in my master bathroom in my house in suburbia.

The fixture rattled intermittently; even after I had my builder come back and check it -- he just pushed it up a little so that the wedges on the edges gained some friction on the ceiling sheetrock. That lasted a few weeks. So we didn't use the fan much, but the light we used.

When it went out with no sign of coming back on I figured the bulb; a regular incandescent 60 watt light bulb, had blown. Testing it in my bedside lamp this proved to be the case. Replacing the bulb with a new one didn't help, though. The fan worked, the light didn't. (The fan and the light are separately switched.) Maybe the new bulb was bad, too? Okay, the exhaust fan is above the toilet -- a good place for it, except that you have to stand on the commode to reach the ceiling. It's a little short for comfort, but not bad the first time. But now it's the third time... (once to take the old bulb out, once to put the new bulb in and now a third time to take the new bulb out to test it someplace else, and of course that means a fourth time up in order to put the new bulb back in, assuming it works). Yes, it works; of course it works, it's a brand-spanking-new bulb fresh from GE. I put it back in the fan fixture: no dice.

Now what? Well, maybe the vibration of the fan loosened the wiring, or caused a short or something. So I broke out the step ladder, but it won't quite fit in the space where the toilet is, so it has to sit in front of the porcelain. A little better than standing on the toilet seat, but still an awkward reach. I removed the whole fixture, uncoupling the wire nuts and all -- but first I shut the circuit off at the fuse panel. Removing the fixture is a multi-step process: remove the plastic light cover, remove the light bulb, unscrew the cap nut from a bolt sticking down in the middle of the fixture (hey, the cap nut doesn't make the fixture fit snug against anything -- more on that later), then remove the fan grill and finally unwire the whole thing from the house. Oh, I had to go up into the attic to unwire the fan, couldn't reach it from the bathroom. So I had to crawl to the corner of the attic, careful not to hit my head on the nail points sticking down from through the roof, and reach across the open insulation and unscrew the fan wiring from its ground and wire nuts. Whew. (And just by the way, the "dryer duct" tubing on the back of the fan housing doesn't, as it should, vent over to the soffit under the eaves, it just exhausts the bathroom air up into the attic.... Oh, well.)

Conveniently, the light portion of the fixture actually plugs into the fan portion with a crude but standard sized plug. I put the bulb back in, plugged the light portion of the fixture into an extension cord and, voila, the light works fine. So it's something to do with the fan portion of the fixture -- or the wiring from the switches to the fixture, or....

So I break out my multi-tester and a spool of wire and start checking circuits. I open up the switch box and uncouple and recouple the switches, checking circuits as I go. I'm no electrician so I'm pretty grateful when I find that Lowe's has some nice online help for just my situation. I've got the "three wire with ground" case. But everything checks out. No electrical shorts, the switches close and open the circuits just like the diagrams say.

So maybe something was just loose. I guess I'll put it all back together and see what happens. Nada, that's what happens. Aaaargh. But I noticed, as I was screwing the fan fixture back into place that the bolt that the light portion screws onto, the one with the not snug cap nut, is just the shaft of a bolt, no head. This shaft is itself screwed into a piece of the fan housing. It's a set screw. Well, it may not have anything to do with my light problem (and it didn't, really), but at least the damn fan isn't going to rattle anymore. So I unscrewed the bulb, removed the cap nut, took down the light fixture (okay, I think I let it dangle by the cord plugged into the fan, so sue me) and adjusted the set screw so that the fixture was now snug against the ceiling and the cap nut was snug against the fixture.

This time as I screwed the bulb back in I paid more attention to the fact that the bulb was hitting the cap nut when it got nearly screwed in. I'd noticed this before but since the nut is metal there was no fire danger, but it was putting pressure on the bulb as I tightened it down. No different from before, but with my new knowledge of fans, wiring and set screws I think I had learned to learn about electrical fixtures. Anyway, even though a light bulb still didn't go on over my head, I had an idea: could the bulb just not be getting properly seated in the socket? Let's try a smaller bulb, shall we? I happened to have a couple dozen appliance size light bulbs (A15 size, I think they are) that I had ordered off the Internet. I stuck one of these puppies in the fan/light fixture in the ceiling in my bathroom in my house in suburbia and, ta-da, there was light. Yeah!

Now I'm wondering if the previous bulb had been an A19 and the new one I tried was an A21 or whether someone had just jammed the old one in enough to make good contact or what. I don't care enough to open the fixture back up and figure it out. I've got plenty of smaller bulbs, and I plan to use them.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

TDISMDFTG Reviewed, And it's not even Friday

I finally figured out why I'd had trouble finding The Day I Swapped my Dad for Two Goldfish at our local library and it wasn't because the children's picture book section tends to be a mess, even though it does. It was because "TDISMDFTG" was shelved, or rather hanged (too much gallows imagery, make that:), or rather hung, in a bag with the audio CD of the writer, Neil Gaimain, reading the book. I just now listened and read along. It's a good, new children's book (2003), with enough repetition and things happening that you don't quite know about at first (like Nathan's little sister saying "Mumf" a few times before we know that she has been tied and gagged (by Nathan)). And engaging pictures drawn by Dave McKean. Be sure to read the "Afterword" if you're at all curious about how authorship happens (maybe you're an aspiring writer yourself), or if you've ever been to Galveston, Texas (I have). I think you'll find it interesting.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Stardust Memories

I'd like to say it was a real cross-over, mainstream kind of crowd that sat with us at the early-evening, opening night showing of Stardust on Friday, but even in this geek-tilted town where rocket scientists and their sons and daughters abound, I'm afraid there was a disproportionate lot of cerebral and slightly socially fringed attendees. And more daughters than sons. Not that I really think Stardust is a chick-flick, I just think that Neil Gaiman's fan base turned out in strength here. Groups of girls from their teens to their thirties dominated the theater, some with a couple of male companions, the kind of young men that are especially glad to be hanging out with women, any women (not that these were unattractive girls, just ones with a separate sense of fashion).

At any rate, either Neil's fan base is bigger than thought or more than his fans turned out across the country since Reuters pegged a 4th place box office pull for Stardust, not bad at all.

Early in the film I had misgivings, thinking the treatment seemed very matter-of-fact, if well staged; but by the second half of the film, as the threads began to pull together and seeds planted in the early dialogue blossomed into cause and effect, I started to identify with the characters. It was my mistake to listen to the comparisons with The Princess Bride, that caused expectations for farcical wit. While a suitably broad genre may encompass both TPB and Stardust, Stardust takes itself a bit more seriously, even if its world is a bit more fantastical. There are unicorns here but no badly animated Rodents of Unusual Size, and not many one-liners. Only Claire Danes deadpan heroine performance matches Robin Wright's Princess Buttercup, other parallels don't exist. For example, Robert De Niro's Captain Shakespeare is no Dread Pirate Roberts. De Niro does nearly steal the show, but the strength of the rest of the ensemble cast holds together and Tristran's transformation (largely at the hand's of Shakespeare's shears) is both quaint and powerful. Michelle Pfeiffer well plays scary and evil; I wish the dead princes would have been used more as a greek chorus -- my guess you can find a fair amount of that on the cutting room floor. Imperfections aside (and there aren't any more here than in any movie where you've already read the book), it's a beautifully-shot feel- good film.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Kid Prep

This one is for the teachers I know on this TGIF (and the parents, and the business leaders, and...):

Check out Dan Pink’s Quote of the Week.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

All I ever wanted...

You don't make a left turn in North Jersey when you want to turn left, not off a main thoroughfare at any rate. Instead you bear right onto a little one way piece of road and that makes a little "U" turn or "T's" into a side street that you can turn left on and then you go straight across the thoroughfare that you were on thus completing a left turn, capiche? This is a bit confusing when you haven't done it lately, and I hadn't (done it lately, that is) a couple weeks ago when we were spending a Friday night in northern New Jersey prior to hitting New York City on the weekend. How-some-ever, it turned out to be a fortunate happenstance when I semi-panicked and made my right-to-turn-left one ramp too soon...

We'd driven down from upstate New York and arrived at our hotel-with-heated-pool in the late afternoon. The pool was a hit and we swam until past dinnertime and then had to scramble for someplace open past 9:00 PM, we were hoping for local Italian fare but were hungry enough not to be picky when I made my too-early right-left; we looped across an overpass and came face-to-face with a little Italian establishment -- with the lights still on.

The door said 10:00 PM was closing time and as it was coming up on 9:40 we entered a bit haltingly in case the kitchen was already cleaning up, but they welcomed us enthusiastically and ushered us into the small dining room. We were the only diners at first but as we ate a large table in the corner slowly filled up with staff and family of the restaurant. A large man conversed loudly with everyone in an authoritative voice. He didn't look like Tony Soprano, but he called people "paisan" and had a roll of greenbacks as big as my fist. He peeled off a couple and handed them out as staff left for the evening. The service was excellent, my manicotti was very nice and we all ate plenty.

Brisk and early Saturday morning found us down-slope from the Staten Island Zoo, visiting the final resting place of my in-laws. The sun shined, the breeze blew and the peacocks hollered on a gorgeous 70 degree morning. Our rented Dodge Magnum would certainly have been mistaken for a hearse had it been black instead of white. It was serene and somber; maybe a bit surreal. We reflected and then fled for breakfast (bagels and strawberries) at Island Girl's pad: very hip, very Web 2.0. The beaded doorways, the narrow kitchen with scavenged school desk, all accommodated us because we were family and the place was filled with grace and spunk.

Off again, we parked next on a residential block of Windsor Terrace, Brooklyn where my college friend, his wife and young son are doing their part to gentrify the neighborhood. They've bought a row house there. Walking toward their place my 10 year old suburbanite daughter intoned: "This is insane!". She was incredulous that anyone lived like that, where were the yards, the mailboxes, the driveways, the garages? The houses were close enough on Staten Island to touch your neighbors house with a broom stick held out a side window, but here the houses actually touch each other? Pretty cool, huh, my girl? She didn't think so -- but she warmed up when on the inside it was a real house, even if an old and rather ornate one.

We walked through Prospect Park, another amazing sight for the unitiated: real streets but no cars, only walkers, joggers, bicycles and the occasional rollerblader, and plenty of trees and softball fields, right there in the middle of so much city. We walked through to Park Slope for brunch where we had to wait outside for a table at Dizzy's Coffee Shop but the host offered us gratis iced coffees and the extra time offered us a look down below the streets at the F-train stop. The walk back was just as pleasant and the talk back at the house was too short. It felt comfortably intellectual to sit in Brooklyn with shelves full of literature and modern music and my friends, and to meet their son after too long; but they were off to Long Island for the evening and we were headed up to Croton-on-Hudson for a cookout.

Our drive through Queens and the Bronx, mostly on the BQE (a misnomer where the "E" stands for "expressway") was not as bad as such drives can be. We were only nearly squashed a couple times and came to a parking lot stop on elevated highway only a few more times than that. Besides, we got a nice view of Manhattan and of Yankee Stadium. Mark's house up-the-Hudson is a great old Tudor with a slate roof, but at the moment about half the slate is missing -- seems they got hit by a microburst during a thunderstorm and 5 or 6 of his grand old trees lost their tops right onto his house and patio furniture. The cookout was cool though, they concocted some kind of grilled chicken/shrimp/vegetable and feta cheese on grilled pizza crust stuff that was delicious.

Another high school friend and family dropped by to share and so did Mark's doctoral-student-tenant, Julie. Mark and Tina have 3 kids of their own and on this Saturday night a handful of Tina's nephews were staying, too. The house is a rambler and well lived in (not only by the family, but by 1 dog, 2 cats, 3 rats, a hamster and 2 aquariums full of aquatic life forms). There are innumerable remodeling projects in process; one that has been successfully completed is the insertion of a spiral staircase at the end of the hall which now grants a second access to the upstairs, and to the loft that has a shuttered window down to the family room. Again I felt very comfortable hanging out with the nooks and crannies and our hosts' lack of formality. In the morning Mark, Julie, my wife and I ran across the nearby aqueduct and rounded back to the neighborhood through a long stretch of woods, about a 4 mile loop.

Tina shares my love of fine dark chocolate and gifted me with a box of Gustaux French Chocolate Truffles, which were delectable -- coated with baking cocoa powder they are smooth and strong. (I think that is the right brand -- I had to ditch the box when I packed for the airplane, not realizing that the inner foil had no brand information!) After breakfasting on the rest of Island Girl's bagels, plenty of OJ, some Trix and a truffle, I piled the family and a couple of the old slate shingles into the Magnum and headed west under the late morning sun.