My current daily bread

I’ve been making oat bread a lot, lately. Basically Alton Brown‘s recipe, though I’ve a couple of things different I’ll get to shortly. But since it’s someone else’s copyright recipe and you can get it easily I’ll not copy it here. (notice that I linked the video but you can click on that to get to the recipe itself.)

One of the things I really appreciate about this recipe is that it’s a lot easier – and less expensive – to get oatmeal instead of ground oats, yet the breakdown for cooking isn’t too dissimilar.

The big reason for the sift to oat bread is that it’s better for me and my diabetes. The complex carbohydrates of oatmeal, plus the fiber, release blood sugar into my system slower than just straight flour – white or whole wheat. I can tell the days I’ve used white bread instead when I do my blood sugar check.

Anyway, the differences.
1. I don’t use agave syrup. Instead I use molasses. Same reasoning as the oats, really. Molasses is slightly slower in releasing the sugar, and it’s carrying other nutrients.
2. I use steel cut oats instead of rolled for the additional oats, and they’re not toasted. Yes, I am losing that toasted taste – but I found it almost too subtle. Besides, I’ve got something else.
3. I add 1/3 to 1/2 cup dried fruit. Usually dried cranberries, though I’ve chopped dried apricots as well. On the one hand this boosts the sugar making mockery of the rest of the efforts. On the other hand it adds a bit of the fruit requirements of my diet.
4. I have never managed an overnight raise with this. Even when I use oatmeal I’ve set in the refrigerator overnight so it’s cold and do the second rise in the pan in the refrigerator as well, I’ve got a good rise in an hour or two. If I let it overproof, the subsequent rise is both lower and more fragile. I’ve had it collapse on the way to the oven.
5. I don’t bother with the egg wash and oat topping. Yes, it’s pretty. Yes, it tells everyone that this is oat bread. But as it’s pretty much my daily bread the pretty is unnecessary – especially as even with the wash about half the oats come off before eating

Processing. I make the oatmeal, stir in the oil, molasses, and water, and put it into a container for leftovers and put that in the refrigerator. Actually I make two or three such containers. Then when it’s time for bread the messy part of the measure is already done and cool enough it won’t kill the yeast.

Day of making I dump a container in, mix up the dry (to include the fruit), and add it all to the stand mixer with a bread hook. I let this go on low for 7 to 10 minutes – that seems to develop the gluten to turn it into a soft ball. Yes, it’s sticky. I lightly grease my hands to handle it.

1 to 2 hours for the first rise, into the pan, and let it rise in the refrigerator for 2-3 hours. Or if I’m in a hurry, about an hour on the counter. Once the dough’s above the pan it’s into the oven and baked.

My current favorite thing with this? Toasted cheese sandwich (open face). Just a slice of bread, a slice of cheese, and under the broiler till the cheese is toasted to taste.

General status

I’ve been taking some time before this post because it’s a lot of little (and personal) pieces.

The simple is I’m officially diabetic. The fun thing is that it’s actually on the line between ‘pre’ and full type 2. I take a glucophage and watch my diet a bit and exercise a bit, but no insulin. Further what the doctor told me (and what the literature appears to say) is that it’s possible I’ll drop back out of it. It’s possible I’ll even no longer need the glucophage.

Now the reason I’ve delayed is that I wanted to see if I could actually sustain the lifestyle changes I made in reaction. So far, yes, and it’s been three whole weeks. (Don’t laugh.) I started getting at least one 1.5 to 2 mile walk every day, and some days I do more. I quit eating that last half-serving or extra spoonful. On the bad I still eat a couple of servings most meals, but that’s down from 2.5 to three. It was surprisingly easy to reduce desserts – mostly none, and when I do it’s just a bit.

And while doing this my blood sugar numbers have stayed low (except for the two times I ate like I used to). More significantly I’ve lost about 10 pounds. Yes, the scales go up and down, but the trend’s pretty clear. I was about 255, now my numbers are around 245. The goal? Reduce at about 5 pounds a month with an eventual goal of under 210.

Why so slow? So I don’t feel starved and yoyo by rewarding myself when I get to my goal. If I go faster while aiming slow, great.

oh, yeah, why 210, when the BMI charts say 185 or lower? Personal stubbornness.

I’m not convinced the BMI charts are ‘legit’ for weight, not when longevity numbers and life satisfaction numbers peak in the ‘overweight’ zone (25-30 kg/m^2, aka bmi). At my present height 210 pounds is a BMI of 30. Add to this the fact I know I’m big boned; used to be about 15, these days it’s 5 or 10 pounds of excess weight that isn’t fat or muscle. That’ll bring that number a little lower.

Anyway, the point of this is that this is going to be driving some of my posts. And if I brag every so often, well, context matters.

Have fun.

A little musing, computers

Some bits, pieces, and suspicions all pulled into one little package. Well, little for me. Maybe I can stay under a few thousand words.

Let’s start with the most jaw-dropping, and at the same time least able to defend. I think Apple will quit doing computers within the next handful of years.

That is, computers as computers. I think they’ll keep running various successors to the iPad, both stronger and weaker, for some time. But laptops and desktops are, well, I would not be surprised to see the big fruit absent from that area.

Assuming I’m right I think they’re smart in the short run and I think they’ll regret it in the long run.

Here’s the smart: at this time desktop purchases are declining. And it appears laptops may be following them. So why stay in a dying market? No, stay with tablets and phones and such, that’s where everyone is headed. Or so it seems.

Here’s the long-term regret: it leaves Microsoft dominant in a field that’s got some potential resurgence. Now let’s face it, Windows already dominates. It is, whether people like it or not, The Standard for desktop and laptop computers. Absolutely so for enterprise (businesses) and primarily so for PC type games.

So where’s the potential resurgence? Call it AR – Augmented Reality. Google Glasses are a start, but I think there’s another thing coming. And for this I have to come from the other side.

I’ve written on here before of Dragon Naturally Speaking, and don’t have much else to say. It’s extremely good right out of the box, and with continued use it’s beginning to have fewer typos and mis-cues than my fingers at the keyboard and mouse. But it’s still a pain for some of the things for which I use keyboard and mouse. Enter something else I’ve mentioned a time or two.

Leap Motion, and to a lesser extent Kinect. Leap Motion is the one that impresses me more, but Kinect may turn out to be VHS to its Betamax. Both are good at detecting motion, and Kinect is already better than it was a year ago. Leap can detect fingers moving independently – say, ‘touch typing’ a virtual board, and Kinect is probably not more than a year or two from doing it as well.

Muse with me for a moment as I go sideways. Graphic tablets become magnificent with pressure-sensitive pens. They’re good anyway, but that’s when they become great. But the main thing about the tablet is detecting exactly where the pointer is located. So, what if your motion detector can do that? What if Leap Motion (which claims a resolution of 0.01 millimeter) or Kinect (claiming a fraction of an inch) can gain a boost in accuracy using a specially designed stylus? Suddenly any tabletop or wall is sufficient for this graphic manipulation. Add, if you wish, the bonus of pressure sensitive pens and suddenly you can write on paper so it feels like you’re writing on paper – and it’s drawing on your screen.

Now what if that’s the pointer for your screen?

fwiw you could probably use any pen or pencil for just pointing. Or even the tip of your finger (though as always the point just isn’t fine enough for small detail. maybe. Assuming you don’t zoom in.)

Thus far, of course, I’ve meandered before. But there’s always been one small problem: the display. The screen. And the google glass just doesn’t make it – not quite.

Allow me to point to a VR game device: Oculus Rift. It’s good. It solves a lot of the problems of VR. But it’s not the first to look good, so why am I dragging it in? First, and less significant, it’s naturally stereoscopic. It gives you ‘3d’ vision naturally, by presenting separate screens to each eye. Second, there are companies already working on binary cameras for it. Dual small cameras, each feeding to an independent screen, giving the wearer the ability to look past the box without taking it off. Finally, and most significant, is that unlike almost all its predecessors it’s suddenly got a major backer. It was purchased by Facebook.

I don’t like facebook for a number of reasons. But nobody can doubt its deep pockets nor its breadth of distribution. OR will be pretty much worthless to the company for social networking. As an AR (Augmented Reality) device that allows constant social networking, however, it’s very large. And that’s really just one use of it.

Let me give some scenarios.

Joe is a computer professional, someone who these days is chained to a desk with large powerful screen plus keyboard plus input devices (mouse and graphic). Shift slightly: give him LM and OR plus perhaps a stylus. Now he can work anywhere, so long as the OR can connect (wired right now, wireless in progress) to a desktop. Touching the screen (if that’s what he wants or needs to do) does not require reaching out. Just reaching to the virtual – or telling his system that the table at which he’s sitting is now the screen.

Mary is a mechanic. She can use her OR as a reading screen for the maintenance manual while looking at the machine to be repaired. And point to something with the line diagram activated and tell her system to order ‘this’.

The engineer looking at something with the CAD diagram of his intended enhancement as overlay – which he can tweak on the spot.

That’s augmented reality, and it’s coming in hundreds of different ways.

Yes, you can lift your tablet or smart phone or glance at the postage stamp on your google glass. Or you can ‘just look’ and ‘just point’.

Now, maybe, you can see why I think Microsoft was very smart in creating Windows 8. And if Apple is, indeed, exiting the computer field why I think they’re making a mistake.

An indirect brag

My daughter is an engineering student at Georgia Tech. So I get these things that don’t pop up on most folk’s views.

Recently, Tech Crunch went to Georgia Tech to look at its makers lab – I mean, Invention Studio. The whole makers’ lab concept is bright on its own, and putting it in an engineering college just plain makes sense too. I don’t know about most, but I do know that GT’s lab is very well-stocked with equipment. Not just 3d printers but lathes and waterjet cutters and a wide range of tools designed to make things.

So anyway, here is Tech Crunch’s video of that lab tour.

But wait, there’s more.

If you’re watching you’re going to see there are two or three women shown making things in the studio. One of those women is my daughter. She’s the one working on gears for the clock she’s making for the studio.

I said I’d brag a bit, but indirectly: her, not me. She’s done the work to instruct and supervise people using every machine in the lab. She’s not The Expert for any of them, but she’s safe and competent with all of them. And she makes these neat things; hopefully someday she’ll have time to put more of them up on her blog.

I’m a bit proud of her, and suspect that as time goes on I’ll be even prouder.

I want an app

I think the first grocery chain that does this is going to come out a winner. I also think it’s going to happen.

I want an app that lets me find things in the grocery store. That I input my shopping list and it gives me a map or location.

Bonus points for letting me scan the item for a price check (with price per ounce/piece ability) that lets me track what I put in the basket and how much I’m spending. Toss in an ingredients label that lets me check what the crap carrageenan (as an example) is while I’m in the store and I may make you the only store I use.

But given how many stores right now have POS systems that track inventory and that make their cap-and-shelf guides for stocking electronically I’d think this could be just a matter of doing it.

On worldbuilding, first steps

(crossposted to my gaming blog)

One of the peeves I keep as a pet is the frustration of world building. Over and over I see capitals and cities and such placed in locations that make no sense beyond “Isn’t this a neat spot.” Or worse, because it’s in the center. So I’m going to scratch the surface of world-building. Today: population centers.

Population centers developed because there was a reason to be there. The most common reason for this is trade. This is why just about every major city in the world in the 19th century or earlier was a port – either river or ocean.

I cannot tell you how often I see, and get annoyed by, rivers without cities and cities in the middle of nowhere with a river a couple days travel away.

Now there’s an interesting case on rivers that’s worth also noting, and that’s the ‘portage’ cities. Rivers have hazard zones – rapids and falls. If the water both above and below that hazard is navigable for any length by what’s considered ‘typical’ river transport then a village or perhaps a city will develop there. Provided, that is, the break is only a mile or two in length. Because distance matters.

We’re back to trade. Let’s go back to our ports. Now you’re going to draw a path from one to another that are not on the same coast or river. There are two rules.

1) The course is the easiest path.
2) Each segment should be one day’s travel. At that segment end make an evaluation as to what’s there.

One of the really annoying traits I see in fantasy maps (and to be honest think it’s a flaw in science fiction as well) is that roads are straight. They shouldn’t be, not between villages and towns and cities. They follow the easiest path – the one with the fewest and gentlest climbs, the one that has the best landmarks to avoid getting lost.

Will other, faster paths develop? Yes, but later. They’ll be put in for both trade and war, often because getting from point A to point E can be done in 3 days instead of 5 if a straight line is followed (and yes it means some of the older points whither). But as a rule they’re not going to get used by traders. Because traders don’t want to be caught outside.

So unless we’re on flat plains the road wiggles and curves such that the distance traveled is anywhere from half to 3/4 the straight-line crow’s-flight distance. And distance…

Distance is how far the traders can get in one day. Somewhere near that point an enterprising person will put a station – an inn, a feed store, a place for last minute “crap I forgot” items. Food suppliers will gradually gather round because there’s a market. Likewise suppliers of goods for those food suppliers.

Usually.

Sometimes the land just won’t support all those people. Or they can’t be protected from the dangers – both natural and man-made. Sometimes it’s just too far from the major city.

But we’ve got enough now to start drawing our maps. So let’s play a little.

Draw a wobbly line down one side of a sheet of paper. I’m going to recommend using hex or graph paper unless you just like calipers or a ruler but for our first run any paper will do. This wobbly line is the coast.

Pick eight spots on the wobbly line and mark them. These are harbors – natural places for boats to come to shore and be a bit protected from the full force of the ocean.

Draw two ‘rivers’ from somewhere on the non-coast side of the paper to a harbor – each to a different non-adjacent. On one river put a mark about 1/3 of the way up. On another make one about 2/3 of the way up. These are riverports, and we’re going to give each a reason to exist.

At the city closest to the coast we’re going to give one river a second tributary. Run it to just short of the non-coast side, and for this exercise make sure it’s toward one of the other rivers but doesn’t close more than 2/3 the distance.

A second river is going to be a ‘portage’ port. To reflect this, make a mark about an inch long that is roughly perpendicular to the river and which runs through the city mark. This is an escarpment mark so make it plainly different (shading, color, pattern, whatever works for you.

If you later do other cities on rivers there are other reasons to exist did other cities give them a reason as well. In addition to escarpment and crossroad there’s crossing point. If you do this make a mark upriver (and down if you want) that’s at least an inch long that reminds you it is /hard/ to cross the river there. Why is it hard? You can play with it later, but it might be speed or width or rough terrain or a bit of a canyon or, well, that’s for you and your story later. But we’re not doing that for now.

Now we can build several roads here. There’s the coastal road, the one that’s a bit inland of the coast but roughly parallels it. There is a road that parallels each river from seaport to riverport. This exists because while barging downriver is easy, sailing upriver is difficult and often either skipped or uses a tow. And there’s a road that will connect riverports.

Let’s make that last. We’re going to assume for giggles that it takes a day for a trade train to move an inch overland – in a perfect world. We’re going to make that world imperfect.

Let’s start with the port that’s at a river junction. Estimate the point upstream that is closest to the other riverport and make a mark. This is the ideal stopping point, whether wide spot or village to be determined later. There might be terrain reasons not to use it, however.

Now here’s where we enter a little randomness. Take two dice, each different colors. One is ‘distance’ and the other is ‘accuracy’. You’re going to build your road alternating from each end.

For distance it’s high-low. One inch or 3/4 inch. This applies whether following the tributory or cutting across the land.

For accuracy it depends on whether we’re following the tributory or not. If following the river, you will stop once your segment crosses the ‘closest approach’ point (don’t turn there, go through it) OR if you roll doubles with the distance/accuracy dice. For cross country you go straight unless you roll a 1 or a 6. If you do that move your end-point for that segment 1/4 inch toward the coast or inland respectively.

If you’re using graph or hex paper add one more wiggle – your line must go from center to center. 45 degree diagonals are acceptable, ‘jumping’ from center here to center that’s one over and two up is not. Of course if you’re doing this you can ‘explain’ the short by wiggling the line a bit more so it’s always a full inch.

Now as I said you’re going to alternate from each side of this route. And as a result unless you’re terribly lucky you’re going to find the ends don’t meet. No problem, keep going. You’re going to end up with a ‘split’ route as the two routes join twice.

The merge points WILL develop small communities. There will be a reason for two routes – lake, dense forest, rougher hills, etc. And since they grew organically they’ll make sense.

Congratulations, you have a road. You have places for inns and communities. And most important it is NOT a straight line.

Now, there are a lot more roads and reasons and I’ll be covering those in a bit. I’m also going to help ‘organically’ grow nations – though they’re going to tend to be more fantasy than sf. But we’ve got a first road technique for world building and the primary reason cities and villages exist, and I’m getting tired of hearing the sound of my own typing.

So for now, have fun.

Why I still buy tahini

I like hummus. And halva, and a host of other things that tend to rely on tahini. And I like to cook. Capping this, tahini is EASY to make.

So why the heck do I still buy tahini?

Because I haven’t mastered getting it smooth.

OK, here’s the simple deal of tahini. It’s sesame seed butter, made the same way you make any nut butter. You grind the nuts/seeds, you add some oil till it’s the right consistency, then you put it on the shelf till you need/want it. Roasting the seeds/nuts a bit before grinding will bring out more flavor.

My problems is that regardless of whether it’s food processor or mortar and pestle, my tahini tastes a bit gritty. In some things, say a tahini and lemon juice based salad dressing, that’s fine. But in halva and hummus it’s, well, it’s not fine. The texture is irksome.

So if you’ve got a recommendation feel free to toss it in here. Because the flavor of homemade is miles above that of store-bought, and as a bonus it only costs about half as much.

For those who’ve not made it themselves, it’s the standard nut-butter method. Lightly roast some sesame seeds till they start smelling good (because they’re releasing some of the oil), and pull them out to cool. Add them to the grinder or food processor or whatever, and add 1/4 the nuts or seeds’ weight in oil – in the case of tahini, olive oil. Add it as you would to mayonnaise, just a drizzle at a time, and stop when it’s the consistency you want. If using a food processor or blender you’ll want to pause frequently to scrape the sides down.