Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Ten Things I Like about Western Nebraska

In no particular order:

1. Chimney Rock (just look at it - it rocks!)
2. Tons of Canadian geese in the Winter and Sandhill Cranes in the spring.
3. Trains
4. Sunsets
5. Small town bakeries with homemade bread.
6. Taco Town in Scottsbluff ("Its the Talk-oh the Town!")
7. 92.9, "The Rock of the Bluffs" classic rock station, especially the DJs.
8. Little houses far from everything that are all fixed up and cozy inside.
9. Josh's family
10. Josh's family's pets

Now that I'm in Eastern Nebraska, will I find ten things to like? Only time will tell...

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

I'm on the Highway to Home

I am taking a packing break to drink the margarita I just made and to tell you, gentle readers, that I am about to embark on a great road trip north for the holidays. We will spend the first week West and the second week East, culminating in a (hopefully) raucous and enjoyable new year's eve celebration somewhere in the capital city.

Will I see you on this great voyage? Quite possibly. Will I continue to post while up north? Who can say, my friends, who can say....

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Light me up

We took a nice long walk last night and hit the awesome holiday lights of 37th street, just east of Guadalupe (turn at the Groovy Lube). We had caught these out of the corner of our eye driving by on Guadalupe about a million times, and every year we would say that we were going to walk down and check them out, but we never actually did. This year our dream came to fruition -- check out the photographic evidence here, and if you live in Austin go see the lights for yourself, as our pictures just don't do them justice.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Pebbernodder. That's right, you heard me.

Yesterday I made my first batch of pebbernodder in six or seven years (the "o" in pebbernodder is supposed to have that diagonal slash through it, but I'm not sure how to make blogger do that...). These little guys have a delicious, subtle, spicy peppery flavor to them, and aren't too sweet. They are transcendent with coffee, but also taste really good with beer (something most sweets can't pull off). And they are pretty fun to make.

My grandmother would make these little Danish cookies for us at Christmastime every year. Most years we would each get our own little tin full of them so we wouldn't have to worry about sharing them. My plan this year is to make a couple of batches and pack them up all nice to share with Josh's family when we head up North and West for the holidays this week. The problem is that I keep eating them, so I'll probably end up having to make three batches in order to have enough. They are that good.

For a step-by-step photo montage of the baking process, click here. The short version is, cream together four eggs and 1 1/4 cups of sugar in a big mixing bowl. In another bowl, wisk together 4 cups of flour, 2 tsp baking powder, 1 tsp ginger, and 1 1/4 tsp cardamom. Mix the flour mixture into the egg/sugar mixture one cup at a time. The dough gets really stiff with all that flour, so you might have to mix by hand at the end. Take a small handfull and knead it together a bit, then roll it out like a playdough snake, about the diameter of your finger. Cut your snake into half inch slices, put them on a lightly greased cookie sheet, and bake them at 375 for 12-15 minutes. So easy, so delicious. And make a batch for me.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

What time is it?

Two days ago, I would have no idea what this beautiful machine was. Well, I could probably guess it was some kind of clock, but I wouldn't know why it was so important -- and important it is, my friends. This is John Harrison's first chronometer -- a clock made especially for keeping true time on a ship at sea, and his first contribution towards solving the longitude problem that plagued sea captains for hundreds of years.

The problem is basically this: It is easy to figure out your Latitude (the horizontal one), because it is all determined by the poles and the equator and you can just look up at the sky and know where you are. Longitude is harder because those lines are arbitrarily set by people -- in fact, until the late 1700s, the prime meridian would change depending on who was measuring and who was in charge, and it wasn't until 1884 that it was officially placed in Greenwich (and even later for the French to give up the Paris meridian). To figure out your longitude, you need to know how far away you are from where you started. A good way to do this would be to know what time it is exactly at your home port, and then compare it to the local time on the ship (which you can easily tell at noon when the sun is directly ahead). Since time and distance are closely related, you've got your location. But, for most of sailing history, people either used sundials, pendulum clocks (waves and pendulums don't mix), or pocket watches that could gain or lose minutes at unpredictable rates depending on the temperature and humidity, and which completely stop when they wind down.

If you don't know your longitude, you have a pretty good chance of completely missing your target, or ramming your ship into some other target and sinking the whole thing. Most people solved this problem by running all their ships on the set shipping routes that everyone else used. The problem with this is that pirates and rival countries know exactly where your riches-filled ships are and they can just take all your stuff. That is no good. So, figuring out the longitude problem was so important to the British government that they made a prize of a kings ransom (which would be like millions of dollars in modern monies) to whoever could solve it. Then they made a panel of judges who would review the proposals.

The problem, for John Harrison, is that most of the panel was made up of astronomers, and astronomers thought that the longitude problem should be solved by astronomical observation, not by some silly mechanical clock. This set up a decades long struggle between the clockmaker and the star-watcher, both struggling to get to the prize money first.

And why I am now an expert in said longitude problem? Why it is because I just blasted through Dana Sobel's very readable book Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time. Earlier this year I read Galileo's Daughter, also by Sobel, and I really enjoyed that one as well. History of science is basically awesome if you can find someone that can flesh out the characters and explain the scientific bits in a way that anyone can understand. Sobel is that kind of author.

Harrison eventually made four other chronometers (there are pictures of them at the "longitude problem" link above, which links to a truly awesome site at the National Maritime Museum). And, after decades of work, the British monopoly on chronometers arguably allowed them to rule the seas and expand into that oh-so-popular British empire one is always hearing about.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Who's an idiot?

The person who scraped all the ice off her car and then made her husband get up and take her to work. Worked for fifteen minutes and then figured out that the University was actually closed all day today and not just until ten like they said yesterday. She then worked another half an hour until said hubby came to get her again even though all he wanted to do was go back to bed.

It was kind of satisfying to scrape my car off, though. I hadn't had to do that for a long time. And it really wasn't icy out, at least on the surface streets. Texans are weenies about cold weather.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Ridiculously Awesome

I still don't completely believe they closed the University, but there is no doubt that I liked coming home early, I'll love sleeping in tomorrow, and this hot chocolate tastes great.


Now, some pointless nostalgia:

Zoobilee Zoo! Indulge yourself in the opening credits! [Found on this site which includes many other nostalgic TV credits.] Send your favorite Zooble an email at the Zoobilee Zoo fan club (apparently sponsored by Hallmark)! See what else those crazy Zoobles have done in their careers!

Indulge in this pointless nostalgia folks, because its Pointless Nostalgia Wednesday!

Monday, December 05, 2005

Mad, I tell you! Mad!

I bought this copy of Ellery Queen's The Madman Theory (1966) at the Campbell-Neumann estate sale a couple of months ago for 10 cents. How could I possibly not buy it? Crazy stretched out 2-D mirror guy with a hole in his head? Yes. That is something I would like to read.

I didn't know much about Ellery Queen, who it turns out is not actually a person but a mystery novel character who writes his own books through the power of his creators, cousins Manfred B. Lee and Frederic Dannay. Except not this one, and not many of Queen's later books, which were ghost-written, in this case by science fiction writer Jack Vance early on in his career.

The premise of this book is a nice one -- a group of men go out backpacking in the mountains. One of them gets his head blown off in front of the other four. Everyone sort of has a motive, but no one really does, and the only available solution is that some crazy guy is running around in the woods shooting at peoples' heads. Or is it?

That's where our detective hero Omar Collins comes in. Through a lot of hard, old-fashioned police work (none of this CSI technology stuff, just lots of phone calls, leg work, and thinking). He, naturally, figures it out. I was pretty sure who it was by the end of the book, but not sure enough to bet any money on it. A very nice little detective story, and completely worth at least ten cents.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

The call of competition

We are having a contest at work to decorate our doors for the winter holidays. I'm not really very crafty, and generally oppose holiday decorations, but I was feeling slightly inspired and, honestly, bored with what I was doing at work, so I decided to make this lovely math-collage tree. You will note that the tree is accented by a moebius strip chain (cuz of the math!) and don't look too closely at the lettering, because its pretty crappy. Its hard to cut puffy letters out of construction paper, ya'll. My student intern made the lovely presents with 3-D bows at the bottom. Altogether a pretty rockin door, no? [see some close ups of it here, plus a bonus picture of me at 6:45 in the morning!]

Then our exhibits intern, who is an art student and really really good at what he does comes up with this Santa's Workshop door. Usually these doors are just white and plain and kind of dinged up, but he wrapped them in butcher paper and drew on the wood grain which is a skill I don't have access too. He also took copies of photos from our collections and put little hats on them. He actually put a bunch of lights up too after I took this picture. I think his door is great, but the sad thing is, now no one else wants to put up a door because they think his is too good. I was the first person with a door up, otherwise I might be overwhelmed too.

Now, every time I try to talk up how great my door is (because I think it is great, and because staff will be voting on the winner), all I hear is how great that other door is. It is pretty darn nice, but I think mine has heart! Plus I didn't even want to do the contest anyway but somehow I did and now that I did it I want to win! So what I'm saying is, please secure jobs at my work and vote for my door later this month. Thank you.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Unauthorized cleaning?

This really raises more questions than it answers...

From Campus Watch:

JESTER CENTER ACADEMIC, 201 East 21st Street

Criminal Mischief:  A UT staff member reported a non-UT subject had been entering a student lounge to clean to the room without university authorization and would frequently slide hand written notes under the door to the lounge when the lounge is closed.  On one occasion, the subject wrote on a poster that was displayed in the lounge.  Repair cost: $25.00.
Reported on 12-1-05 at 7:50 AM.  

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Because Joel asked me to,

and because I can't believe I didn't think of it yesterday, here is the track listing (and title) for my birthday cd of love:

1. Dexys Midnight Runners – I Love You (Listen To This)
2. The Kinks – Apeman
3. Dusty Springfield – The Look Of Love
4. Shelley Duvall – He Needs Me
5. The Jimi Hendrix Experience – May This Be Love
6. Jeff Buckley – Lilac Wine
7. The Magnetic Fields – If There’s Such A Thing As Love
8. The Impressions – Woman’s Got Soul
9. T. Rex – Hot Love
10. Billy Bragg & Wilco – Secret Of The Sea
11. Neil Young – Harvest Moon
12. Marvin Gaye – If I Should Die Tonight
13. They Might Be Giants – S-E-X-X-Y
14. Al Green – Love And Happiness
15. Epic Soundtracks – Emily May (You Make Me Feel So Fine)
16. Cyndi Lauper – Girls Just Want To Have Fun
17. Mark Lanegan – I’ll Take Care Of You
18. Thin Lizzy – Showdown
19. Ween – Hey There Fancypants
20. Aimee Mann – Save Me
21. Harry Nilsson – Turn On Your Radio

Feel free to recreate the CD and pretend you are me. Guess which one is "our song" and win a banana.