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Sunday 2017.6.25

Gallimaufry - Hodgepodge - Jumble - Whatever

Lots of little unrelated things to cover in this blog today. Now that I am taking some time off from making cooking videos (mostly because of the construction noise outside) I have time for some of the little projects I've been putting off.

Keyboard cover: As I mentioned on Wednesday, I have Yamaha digital piano. It's a good one. And I want to keep it clean. So using remnants of fabrics I had in a box, I made a cover/bag for it. When not in use, I can put the bag over it and lean it against the wall behind my office door. It's the best place for it. The door doesn't hit it when opened. And when set up in front of my computer, which is I where I practice (I have piano-lesson software on that computer and it "reads" my piano with midi something-or-other), I can lay the bag over the keyboard as a flat cover to help keep it clean when I'm not playing.

It's not a custom fit cover — just a bag — but I am not a pianist either. It's actually kind of homely, really, because it is assembled from four different colors of cotton fabric. However, it suits the purpose and that's one project off my To-Do list.

Thermal Laminator: That's another issue. I've had the same laminator for so many years, I can't remember when I bought it — perhaps at least 20 years ago, maybe longer. It's a Royal PL2000 and if you read the reviews on Amazon two thirds (67%) of the reviewers gave the device 1 star (out of 5). Most said it was a piece of junk. It looks like this:

Royal laminator

Maybe I was one of the lucky few. Mine lasted a long time, partly because I rarely used it and partly because I kept taking it apart and fixing it when something went wrong. This week I finally decided I had gotten my money's worth out of. (I think I bought it cheap at Costco.) When I took the cover off on Wednesday, the plastic gears that turned the rollers were cracked. Laminator sheets wouldn't feed through it. So I disassembled it and put all the metal and plastic in recycling.

Meanwhile, I ordered a new one. This time I went kind of expensive (about $90 on Amazon) and bought a "professional" model. It looks like this:

Apache laminator

It might seem a little morbid, but at nearly 66 years of age I consider myself to be in my penultimate stage of life (the final stage might be spent in a wheelchair in a nursing home — hopefully not); so I don't think much about the long-term future. If something like a 65-inch TV, or a Denon receiver, or a laminator is expensive, I figure it will probably last for the reminder of my life. I'm retired. I receive a modest income. I can't afford to buy a real home, but I can buy an occasional item that isn't cheap.

Cycling: Friday was the preview show for this summer's Tour de France cycling race. The race starts on Saturday, July 1 (which also happens to be the 6th anniversary of my retirement). I watch the race every year, and this year I have an advantage — I can record the live stages each day. To watch them live, one must get up early each morning (here in California), like between 3:00 and 5:00 A.M. Not now. I'll record the live broadcast and watch it later. The race, by the way, goes for three weeks.

And speaking of cycling, one of my YouTube fans suggested I do a Kitchen Vlog about cycling. Excellent idea. One of my projects is to come up with a better way to store my Cervélo and also keep my other bike — a Raleigh, currently out in the shed — indoors. The Raleigh is my shopping bike and I'd like to get back into riding it often again. The Cervélo is purely a pleasure/sport bike. I vlogged about it this week. It should be on YouTube on Wednesday.

And, Finally, A Neighbor: I don't accept it well when someone lies to me, especially if they do it to manipulate me. A neighbor knocked on my door and told me, teary eyed, she needed a ride to the emergency room. Her ear was hurting her and she couldn't tolerate it any longer. I should have dialed 9-1-1. I drove her and spent nearly four hours sitting in the waiting room. It had been bothering her for a month (not an emergency), and the tests at the hospital found nothing wrong. When the doctor asked her if she was in pain, she said no. (But she told me she was in terrible pain.) They recommended a specialist.

Meanwhile, I asked her why she didn't call an ambulance if she needed to go to the hospital. She said neither Medicare nor Medicaid will pay for ambulance transportation and it costs her $500 each time. I fact-checked her statement on the Internet. Here in California all ambulance services are required by law to accept Medicare and Medicaid. The medicare.gov web site says ambulance transportation is covered when needed for emergencies. She lied.

Wednesday 2017.6.21 — Happy Summer Solstice

A Bittersweet Time of Year

I grew up in New England, in a small town in Connecticut. I loved summer. School would let out and we could play all summer. The sun set late each evening, giving us plenty of time to play outdoors. And the weather was blissfully warm.

But the first day of summer heralded the long slow march toward winter again. Although the sun set late in the evening, it would set a little bit earlier each day until it was fully dark before dinnertime in winter.

Winter was not my favorite time of year. I didn't like the cold. I didn't like standing in the cold and the snow waiting for the bus each morning. And when I had a car, I didn't like driving in the snow. My first car, by the way, was an Open GT. It looked just like this:

Opel GT 1970

It was a fun little car, but not very practical. One time my mother asked me to drive to the train station to pick up my grandmother, who was coming for a visit. No problem — until the train arrived and Grammy had a friend with her. The car had only two seats. Grammy was a trooper and offered to sit in the luggage compartment behind the seats. Thankfully it was only about a 20-minute drive, and thankfully my grandmother was tiny, only about four-foot-seven.

In 1975 I moved to California to get away from the cold and the snow. I love living in SoCal. I moved here to attend a university and by then I had an AMC Sportabout station wagon. It looked like this:

AMC Sportable Wagon

Not a pretty car, not as much fun, but a lot more practical — and especially useful for hauling all my stuff to California. I even slept in the back in campgrounds as I drove across the country. I had it for many years. It was a good car.

Now I own a Nissan Pathfinder. It looks like this:

Nissan Pathfinder

I really like this SUV. I've owned it longer than any car I previously owned and it still runs great. I've had it since 1993. The gas mileage isn't good, but I don't drive much. I put less than 3,000 miles on it each year. It currently has only 68,000 miles on it.

Which leaves me wondering how I started from a discussion of the first day of summer and ended with a history of my automobiles…

My Kitchen Vlog

I decided to vlog during the height of the construction noise out on the avenue in front of my home. Yesterday was a good day. They started paving. That will complete phase 1. Next they will probably re-route the traffic again, away from the opposite side of the road where they will start work on the bike path. That will probably go quickly. They only need to cut a channel for the new curbing, separating the bike lane from the traffic lanes. After final paving and striping, they can move up to the next section of road to do the same work. That section has no concrete islands to remove; so the work there should go quicker and with less noise.

In my vlog I talked about a couple of stupid things I did lately. All worked out well in the end though. Here is the link:

My Kitchen Vlog

Or CLICK HERE.

Sunday 2017.6.18 — Happy Father's Day

When I was a kid, the two standard gifts for Dad on Father's Day was either of necktie or cuff links, neither of which he ever wore. I can't remember buying him anything else. The only gift I remember giving my mother for Mother's Day was a wicker sewing basket. She used it instead for her favorite photographs.

Phew!

On Thursday afternoon I finished creating and uploading a thumbnail image for every YouTube video on my cooking channel, for a total of 172 new images. It took three days. Now I'll see how much difference, if any, all that hard work might makes.

Meanwhile, as I mentioned in Wednesday's blog, I found some videos that are not on YouTube. There are 16, maybe 17. These videos were created for Curious.com, but I can put them on YouTube as well. And, if I keep to my summer schedule of uploading a new video every other week, these will last me many months. I can take a long vacation.

But I won't be doing nothing — which leads to…

Grrr!

So I'm on YouTube, exploring a video lesson on how to add cards to my videos and when the lesson ends a box with nine thumbnails appears toward the right in the window. Among the images is the thumbnail for my Italian Meatballs video. However, all of the thumbnails, except mine, have big text in them, announcing the content of the video. DOH! Why didn't I think of that?

So guess what I'm doing all over again. It will take longer this time because I currently have about 280 videos on YouTube. I'll try to do 20 to 30 per day until they're all done. Here is what this week's thumbnail looks like with text.

Lamb Chops Salsa Verde

Meanwhile…

Many mobile homes, especially the older ones, have a square hole in the roof where an air conditioner can be mounted. You don't see them often in this part of the country, but in areas where the summers are hot and humid rooftop air conditioners are almost ubiquitous.

Soon after I bought this home I removed the old plastic cover, which was leaking, and fabricated a skylight, which consists of an aluminum frame and a clear plastic pane that is UV safe (it won't deteriorate because of the sun). The frame is attached to a hinge and there is a crank to open and close the cover. I rarely ever use it.

But a thought occurred to me this week. I have window fans that pull cool air in from the outside. Why not open the hatch to push the warm air, which rises, out the top?

I had the skylight covered with a piece of foam core to block out the light. The light interferes with my videos. When I removed the cover, I saw that the plastic screen frame had crumbled and fell. Not a crisis — it was only the bug screen, not the skylight.

Soon after I bought this home I learned how to assemble window screens and I replaced all of them. I still have some aluminum framing, screen fabric, and beading out in the shed. It took the better part of an afternoon, but I assembled a screen and then reinforced a little circular area with epoxy glue. That was so that I could cut a little hole for the crank stem to come through. Then I cut some short pieces of angle aluminum to mount the screen (because it is very different from the old plastic one and won't attach the same way).

The following day, after the epoxy had fully cured (it takes 24 hours) I mounted the screen and opened the skylight hatch again, for the first time in probably seven years.

But not without incident. It was rather high up and a dining room chair was good enough to do most of the work, but I needed to get up higher to mount the screen. I took a risk. I stacked one milk crate on another and carefully stepped onto them. Everything went well, until the last fastener. I fell. Thankfully, nothing worse than a bruise to my left arm resulted. At nearly 66 years old, I need to remind myself that risks are no longer worth taking, especially when there is no one here to dial 9-1-1 for me. If I had any brains, I would have kept my cell phone in my pocket. Just stupid, I guess.

Did it do any good? Yes, a little. I monitored the inside temperature of my home and during the first half hour the temperature came down a few degrees. It doesn't make a big difference, but I feel good about having the skylight usable again. And if I need to use the air conditioners less, that will save some electricity (and money).

Wednesday 2017.6.14

Saying Good-bye … Sort of

On Monday I cleaned up the last of the links to my Vlogging the News channel on YouTube. It took a while because there were links in several places. The ones I didn't delete were those on Facebook because I don't think anyone pays attention there anyway. I have all but abandoned Facebook.

I won't delete the channel because it does serve as a good outlet for me when something spectacular happens in the news. I can still vlog about it, but I won't be chained to the channel like I used to be, constantly searching for and reading news stories that interest me and, hopefully, might interest viewers. It was a lot of work and I probably used an entire ream of paper printing those stories. And I only covered a few in each vlog.

So what's in the future for me? Well, for one, I took out my electronic keyboard again and started playing on it. I am not a pianist. At all! Did you ever take typing courses in high school? I did. Remember the "home row" lessons — words you could type with your fingers on A through F and J through semicolon?

That's where I am on the piano keyboard, mostly — thumbs on middle-C, fingers resting on F through G. And if you're wondering, it's a Yamaha 88-key weighted action digital piano. You might as well learn on a good one. I love it.

And When I'm Not Playing

I heard from Google YouTube again today. They're getting a little annoying. They want to sign me up for a Channel Consultation. I just had one a few weeks ago, and it wasn't very helpful — or, more specifically, the consultant wasn't helpful.

This time, the email message was useful. It listed some stats about my channel. Only about 40% of my videos have custom thumbnail images. It wasn't that I was lazy about it. I've been on YouTube for six years and only recently did they add custom thumbnails as a feature. So guess what I did all yesterday afternoon and evening. Thumbnails.

I did 71 yesterday. If my calculations are correct, I have about 125 more to go. I'll try to do another 60 to 70 today and then finish up tomorrow.

Why thumbnails? There are these algorithm things that YouTube works with, pushing suggested videos to their visitors. Supposedly, if my videos have thumbnails they rank better with the algorithms, getting recommended more often. Thank goodness of statistics. YouTube has some informative analytics reports for creators. I'll watch to see how much improvement, if any, all these additional thumbnails will make. Maybe if someone is looking for Tiramisu my video will rise to near the top because of its thumbnail.

I'm not pessimistic by nature, but after six years I know this isn't the time of year when people are looking for recipes. This is the slowest time. As we approach the fall holidays, the interest will pick up. By December my videos will be getting three to four times more views than during the summer.

The important point behind all this thumbnail stuff is that YouTube contacted me. I didn't ask for advice. If they are reaching out to me, trying to be helpful, they must recognize some potential. And, by the way, in the last consultation I mentioned my Vlogging the News channel. The consultant looked at the channel and didn't want to talk about it, like it was a waste of time, beyond saving.

YouTube Uploads

One advantage that I discovered from creating thumbnail images is that there were at least two videos that were never uploaded to YouTube. I originally created them for Curious.com, but forgot about them. So that gives me two completed projects while I take some time off from making videos, and while there is construction noise on the avenue outside my home.

I already re-edited one of the videos. Boy could I be verbose back then! That was the problem with trying to make a video for a TV show. I needed to fill 28 to 30 minutes; so sometimes I stretched the video with extra talking. The new video is tighter and more concise.

And, Finally, Air Conditioning

Tomorrow might be a good test of my new air conditioner. We're bracing for a heat wave. I live near the ocean; so it won't be as warm here. Inland temperatures could climb into the triple digits by early next week. I'll probably see temperatures in the low to mid 90s here.

And there is always a silver lining, of course — low humidity. Muggy weather is never a problem here in Southern California anyway, but the lower the humidity the sooner my clothes dry when I hand wash them (as I wrote about in Sunday's blog and vlogged about last week).

Sunday 2017.6.11

An Elegant Solution

In this case, I don't mean elegant as in "dripping with bling." I mean a simple and admirable solution to a problem.

First, the problem:

I don't have a washer and dryer, as in laundry appliances. The trailer park has a laundry room, and the machines aren't prohibitively expensive. I think the washers are $2.00 per load and the dryers are 25¢ per 10 minutes. I used to use the machines, until one day my clothes came out dirtier than when they went in. I also semi-ruined some bed sheets I was washing before I used them for the first time. Someone had spilled bleach in the machine and that ruined the color (although the sheets were still usable).

I also mentioned in earlier blogs that I tailor the shirts I use in my videos because finding colors in men's shirts is not easy. Here is a photo of my shirts:

Shirts

I prefer 100% cotton. I don't wash these shirts in the laundry room because it would be a terrible disappointment if they were ruined. It takes a whole day to tailor a shirt. So I hand wash them. It isn't difficult. I soak them, two or three at a time, for several hours in a 5-gallon bucket of water and laundry detergent, which helps dissolve away any skin oil, and then I churn them for a while in the soapy water, concentrating on any soiled areas, if any. Rinse well, wring, then hang over the bathtub to try. I've been doing it for years.

The worst issue is the wrinkles. If you've seen many of my videos, you've seen that I don't iron my shirts.

The solution:

I was in Costco on Wednesday and saw a "Conair Turbo Extreme Steam fabric steamer." Not one to succumb easily to impulse buying, I didn't purchase it. I went home and thought about it for a while. The price was $40, which isn't much to risk (think of all the money I've saved by not using the machines in the laundry room) and with Costco's excellent refund policy, I knew I could bring it back if it didn't do the job. So I went back to the store (it's within walking distance, thankfully) later in the day and bought one.

It looks like this:

Garment Steamer

After a quick trip to the grocery store for distilled water (highly recommended) I gave it a try.

It works. Granted, the shirts don't look as pressed and crisp as they would if properly ironed. They have more of a relaxed look, like you might expect if fluffed in a dryer after laundering. And the best parts is that the steaming takes only minutes. It takes a lot longer to fully iron a shirt. A full tank does two to three shirts, which is about how many I hand wash at a time.

My final analysis is that the product is worth the price (if it doesn't break down soon). It does the job. I'd recommend it.

So look for me in future videos. I won't look crisply pressed, but at least my shirt won't be a sea of wrinkles either.

And Speaking of Future Videos…

I've been thinking of letting go of Vlogging the News. I had high hopes for it. Mostly it was because I really enjoy the news. I like being informed, which came about because of what Bush and Cheney were doing in Iraq. I believed we weren't being told the truth.

I tried to think of ways to improve the vlogs. They are not becoming as popular as I had hoped. Granted, I am not Keith Olbermann. He does a video and within 24 hours he has more than 250,000 views. I do a video and after a week I might have between 50 to 60 views. Olbermann is famous; I am not. During the past 28 days 7 people subscribed to my channel, and 4 unsubscribed.

I think I know the reasons for the lack of interest. For one, I went about it the wrong way. Most of my ideas were the wrong ones. For example: my graphic screen. It doesn't lend itself to little screens like on smart phones. There are too many tiny details. They disappear when the graphic is small. On the other hand, the camper trailer I use in my cooking videos looks fine when it is small. I even use a tiny version of it as a watermark in the lower-right corner of my videos, and an ultra-tiny version is the favicon for this web site.

Another reason is the news itself. Readers of this vlog will remember I was part of a news discussion group (currently on summer hiatus). We tried many times to build the group beyond the five or six of us that regularly attended. A few people joined and then disappeared. Most said they weren't interested in the news; they only attended because they were looking for a social group. I know one woman who attended only one meeting. She looks for hookups. If people are interested in the news, they can look at the sources I look at on line — The New York Times, The Washington Post, Politico, etc.; they don't need me to read the news to them.

Oddly enough, my Kitchen Vlog, which I don't like, is gaining popularity. It isn't growing fast, and it might never become as popular as my cooking channel, but it does better than the news. Partly it's because I do things the right way per YouTube. Each video has a thumbnail and each has a unique and informative — or at least a little intriguing — name. And they're fun for viewers — light-hearted subjects that don't require any thought or cause any anxiety about what Donald Trump might do next.

I'm actually thinking of occasionally using a Kitchen Vlog video to discuss some news story that is more humorous than disturbing, or maybe add one occasionally as a feature. Remember "And now the news" on Laugh-in? I saw a news article this week that said Madrid, Spain passed a law prohibiting man spreading on public transit. What? "Man spreading" is when a man sits down and spreads his legs far apart, taking up too much space on either side of him. I've sat next to guys like that and, yes, it is annoying.

One other point worth mentioning: I've been asking myself lately, "What would you rather do?" I studied enough psychology to pay attention to that. It tells me I'd rather be doing something else rather than the Vlogging the News. So, it might be time to step back and reflect a while. Meanwhile, I've been cleaning up my YouTube channels, removing video links to my news channel. That will take a few days.

Wednesday 2017.6.7

Major Construction

I might have another reason to delay cooking videos for a while. On the main thoroughfare in front of my home there is major construction underway — and the noise is quite loud at the moment. At times, even the home shakes a little.

They are tearing out the concrete islands from the center of the avenue. The loudest noise is when the crane drops the concrete pieces into a waiting truck. Otherwise, the noise is from other equipment such as graders and dozers.

Signs say the area will be under construction from now until winter. Orange plastic "delineator posts" (also called "tubular markers") were cemented to the road a week ago, taking out the left lane in both directions.

I'm not sure what the plans are. There is an old petroleum storage facility about a mile west of here. It has been decommissioned and there were notices last year that said the underground pipes would be removed. This construction might be part of that plan.

Thankfully, they quit around 4:00 in the afternoon; so it won't affect my ability to vlog.

On the plus side, the street has been in need of paving. Maybe when the project is nearing completion a fresh layer of asphalt will finish the job.

Senate Intelligence Committee

As expected, Democrats on the committee used the hearing to grandstand in such a way as to say something negative about the Trump administration. They know when they camera is on them. And some of the senators certainly used the opportunity to harass and harangue the four men who were there to testify. I'll call that "pandering to their base."

Although I have the hearing on my office TV at the moment, I probably won't get much out of it. Someone described it as "a little dry." That, so far, appears to be an understatement.

Although the hearing was specifically supposed to be about "Section 2" of the Foreign Intelligence and Surveillance Act (FISA), the questions instead went focused on Trump. The section gets regular reviews and it was written to enable the intelligence agencies to collect potentially important information without violating the civil rights of Americans.

As I understand it, if information is gathered in which Americans are named, the names are redacted from any reports. To get the names uncovered ("unmasked"), agencies must submit formal requests.

Buddha's Hand

You might be wondering about the progress of my Buddha's hand citrus fruit tree. Here is a photograph I shot this morning.

Buddha's Hand Citrus

I put my own hand in the picture to provide some perspective on the size of the largest fruit. There are others on the tree. Most of them smaller. I do not know now ripe this large fruit might be. I check it periodically. When it falls off in my hand when I lightly pull on it, that would — I assume — indicate it is ripe. I am curious to know how much larger this fruit might get before it is ripe.

I also still don't know whether this is a lemon or a lime. When the tree was given to me, I was told it was a lime. However, when I research it on the Internet, there is no mention of limes, only lemons. If, and when, this fruit turns yellow, that will solve the mystery.

My Kitchen Vlog

This week's Kitchen Vlog shows another way I save money. Here are the links:

My Kitchen Vlog

Or CLICK HERE.

Sunday 2017.6.4

Getting Older

Next month I will turn 66 years old. I definitely feel myself getting older. Fortunately, it has been happening in little ways — liver spots on my hands, odd skin growths on my face and body (which I had checked by a dermatologist to make certain they weren't a dangerous form of skin cancer), little aches and pains. There have been no major changes to my health, for which I'm thankful.

I see it in my memory too. Sometimes I know the word for something, but I can't recall it. For example, I was working on an ebook for myself — All the President's Men by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward — and I repeatedly couldn't recall the name of one of the CSS classes I typically use in the style sheet — caption. After a few failed attempts, I wrote it down on a little editing sheet I kept with the book.

I exercise my brain. Some of the few things I do are to solve Rubik's Cube at least once a day, solve at least one crossword puzzle each day (I prefer the USA Today crossword on the Internet — it's free), and I solve a Sudoku puzzle each day. Even writing this blog, which I have been writing for seven years, is an exercise. Although, I must spend more time proofreading because I accidentally substitute words. For example, above I had written "CSS classes is typically" rather than "…I typically". Spell Check doesn't catch those errors.

The exercises won't stop the steady decline, but they help slow down the progress. Age is inevitable. I see it in some of my neighbors. One, a former friend, is visited periodically by paramedics now. She's beginning to suffer dementia. Another friend was caring for his wife who was suffering from Alzheimer's (she passed away this past week). A woman up the street, though mentally alert, is getting smaller and frailer. She occasionally goes into the hospital for something. They are the reminders of where I am going.

I am thankful that my genes are good. I take after my father's side of the family. They live well into their old age and remain healthy (for their age) — no medications, few trips to the hospital, active and alert. I have already lived longer than most of my relatives on my mother's side of the family. They rarely make it to retirement age.

One area of concern is the cooking. It is becoming more difficult to motivate myself to do a new cooking video regularly. They are a lot of work. I have to set up my home for the video. There are the cue cards to type and print. Shopping. I tape a step-by-step sheet to the wall (out of view of the camera). There is the video to shoot while cooking. That can take all day because of all the stops and starts. There are dishes to wash and a kitchen to clean. Then comes the post-production work of editing and encoding. Then I need to write the recipe and edit the photographs for this web site's Recipe Archive. Finally, there is the tear-down, returning my home back to a home rather than a TV studio. I feel less and less interested.

That is why I enjoy the vlogs so much. I can shoot, edit, and encode a vlog video in less than an hour. No shopping, no cooking, no washing up. And I can do the vlog sitting down. Lately I've been doing some cooking videos over two days, if possible, so that I don't work myself too much.

Sour Cream Apple Pie

A long time ago, maybe more than a year ago, someone sent me a recipe for an apple pie made with sour cream and a chopped walnut topping. I mentioned it in last Sunday's blog. I finally got around to actually making it yesterday, after enough research to feel confident I knew what I was doing. It turned out well enough to feature on the web site and upload the video to YouTube.

Although I shot and edited the entire video in one day, I did the final photography this morning. While the pie is warm it falls apart easily. I tried several shots, bringing a slice to a neighbor after each failure. Finally, with half the pie gone, I refrigerated the remaining pie overnight to set it up firm. It cut perfectly and the final photograph looks fine.

Although the photo is on the home page this week (and possibly next week too), I am entering it here so that it will become a permanent part of the Blog Archives.

Sour Cream Apple Pie

As for Vlogging:

I'm trying to keep up with the news. The stories are coming in faster than I can read each day. Those, along with reading All the President's Men again, are keeping me busy.