Tuesday, May 5, 2009

What if Scotty was wrong?

Sometimes I have random thoughts. Okay, often I have random thoughts. They're often a little odd, but regularly keep me entertained while commuting, at the gym or doing other things which don't fully engage my brain. This string of thoughts is probably a little more towards the "I have no idea how you thought of that" than others. You have been warned.

What if Scotty, the engineer from the Star Trek Enterprise ("No bloody A, B, C or D") was wrong? What if you really could change the laws of physics?

What if, all of a sudden, spring constants changed. What if springs, all of a sudden, got drastically stiffer or more squishy (What? Squishy is a technical term...and even if it's not you understood what I meant.)? Think of the havoc that would ensue. Old guys' wrist would be broken as their watches exploded. Water fountains, soap dispensers, many things with buttons would explode as the springs that kept their switches and handles in place suddenly caused those buttons and switches to rocket out of their housings. And, what if it was just a quick thing. Like after five minutes the spring constants reverted to normal? How long would it take for someone to figure out what had happened? Would the world believe it?

Or, what if air suddenly became drastically more or less compressible. Or friction just disappeared...or increased by a factor of 10? It would be like ice skating...or walking with velcro on the bottom of our shoes.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Quotes from the family.

All of these are actual things said by my family this weekend.

Mom: How long does it take to boil water in the microwave?
Me: That depends on the wattage of the microwave, how much water, what temperature the water starts at, what type of container it's in...
Sarah (my sister): Two minutes!
Me: Or you could just put it in for a few minutes and check on it.

Me: How do you people live without a scroll wheel on your mouse?

Me: You need to learn to Google.
Renee (woman who's been cutting my Mom's hair for as long as I can remember): Google? What will that do for me?
Me: It will answer all of your questions.
Renee: So, it's like God?
Me: Yeah, kinda, but without all of the scary angels.
Mom: And the forgiveness.

Me: Do you have any coffee filters?
Mom: Yeah...why do you need coffee filters?
Me: I have cups of food coloring, why would I NOT need coffee filters?
(I was in a crafty mood. It doesn't happen all that often. My nephews and I made colorful snowflakes.)

(Before sending me to run into the grocery store to get a container of cottage cheese she had forgotten to buy.)
Mom: If something other than cottage cheese finds it's way into the bag, that's fine, but I'm not paying for it.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Space...there's a lot of it out there

I've been thinking about the satellite collision that happened last week and just how amazing it is that it actually happened. I mean, I know there's a lot of stuff up in space orbiting our planet. But there's also a lot of space up there.

If you think about it, two objects traveling along the same line (essentially one dimension) have a pretty good chance of running into each other. You get one going in the wrong direction or at a different speed and, well, it's gonna happen (think about two trains running on the same track). Adding an additional dimension, like with cars driving on the road, there's still a reasonable chance that two will collide, but the odds go way down. Think about how many cars are on the roads each day and how few of those actually hit each other. There's just more room in which to move and more ways to move out of the way of each other. Then, adding the third dimension, the odds of a collision go down even further. Think about airplanes. It's rare to hear about a collision of two aircraft that are in the air. The chances of two airplanes being over the same bit of ground, at the same altitude at the same time aren't very high. Airplanes are just too small compared to how much air is up there to fly around in. And airplanes only have a couple of miles of altitude in which to fly. Once you get into space, there's not only a whole lot more miles of altitude to inhabit, but the farther you go up, the more space there is. (Think about it like this: Draw a small circle. Now draw a bigger circle around it. Do that a couple of times. Now, start at the center of the circle and draw a line to the edge of the biggest circle. Do that again. Notice how the point where the lines intersect the circle get farther away as the circles get bigger? Same idea with altitudes. The farther up you go, the more room you have on that circle...or in that altitude.)

So, in order for these two satellites to collide, they had to be over the same bit of ground, at the same altitude, at the same time. Looking at the satellites' orbits (top inset picture here) , these two satellites were rarely over the same bit of ground at the same time. Add in that they needed to be at the same altitude (objects in orbit are constantly losing altitude. It's not a lot, but that's why you sometimes hear of satellites needing to be "boosted" in orbit, or the space station needing to fire it's engines in order to increase the altitude. So, satellites are always changing altitude. It's slow, but over time it makes a difference.), and the odds have to be astoundingly low. It just boggles my mind thinking about all the things that had to come together to get these two little specks (compared to the gianourmous size of space) to collide.

Also, the Astronomy Picture of the Day is a very cool web site and should be in everyone's RSS feed. (What! You don't have an rss reader? Start here. Best thing since the iPod...which is even better than sliced bread.)

Monday, February 2, 2009

The much requested Chocolate Eclair Dessert Recipe - with pictures!

When I was growing up, Mom sometimes made what she called Chocolate Eclaire Dessert. It was a family favorite, my sister even requested this as her birthday cake a couple of times and it was often taken to church for potlucks when someone forgot that the back half of the alphabet brought better desserts. I don't know where the recipe originated from. Others have said that their relatives have made the same type of dessert, so it's probably a random "Good Housekeeping" recipe or whatever. Today, it remains a family favorite with Mom, my sister and I making it fairly regularly. And, most of the time, when we take it somewhere, someone wants the recipe. Since I have no qualms about sharing, I thought I'd put it up on my blog, complete with some pictures of how it's made.

So, hold onto your tastebuds cause here we go.

Chocolate Eclaire Dessert.

First thing to know, this is better made the day before you plan to eat it. That gives the graham crackers time to get nice and mushy. Normally, I prefer crunchy things to stay crunchy, but this is one exception I'm happy to make. I've tried it made in a shorter timeframe, with the graham crackers remaining kinda crunchy. It's not near as good. So, give yourself at least 6 hours, preferably overnight between time of creation and time of enjoyment.

The ingredients:
3 cups milk
1 regular size container Cool Whip (8oz I think)
2 small or 1 large box instant pudding - vanilla or french vanilla
1 box (1lb) graham crackers - original flavor
1 tsp (or so) vanilla (optional)
1 container frosting - milk chocolate

As you can see, I use Kroger brand for most everything. Except the frosting. I haven't found a generic frosting that I like. I use skim milk. Using milk with a higher fat content would probably yield a richer dessert. I tried it with the extra creamy Cool Whip once. Surprisingly, it didn't taste as good. What I haven't tried is light Cool Whip and Sugar Free pudding. My thought is if you're going to eat dessert, you should go all the way. But I know some people have diet restrictions. If someone gives this a go with lower calorie alternatives, please let me know how it goes.

Combine the milk, cool whip and pudding in the mixing bowl.

The yellow is the pudding. I like to use French vanilla. I think it gives the whole thing a better taste. I also make this in a big Tupperware measuring cup. This decreases the amount of stuff I have to wash and makes it easier to pour the pudding mixture into the pan. It does have the downside that the measuring cup isn't quite big enough and I always splatter a little bit of pudding stuff while I'm mixing it. I don't wear my best t-shirt when making this and try not to get distracted while mixing, to keep my counter a little cleaner.

Once everything is combined, keep mixing. You want to give the pudding a little bit of time to set-up and you want everything light and fluffy. I usually mix for about 2 minutes or so.

Add the vanilla and mix some more. Maybe another minute or so. This is completely optional. I think it give it a slightly better taste, but people haven't complained when I forget it. If you add vanilla, use good vanilla. Artificial is no substitute for real. And the stuff you get in the grocery stores here has nothing on the stuff you can get in the markets in Mexico. I like the Posa brand. Best stuff I've ever found. Unfortunately, I'm almost out. Need to find someone doing a mission trip to Juarez this summer and see if they can bring me back some. I didn't see any real vanilla last time we were in Reynosa. Maybe this summer.

Here's where things get more complicated.
Not that it's really all that complicated, but I think the layering is what intimidates some people. It's not that hard, really. Plus, I don't think it's really possible to screw this recipe up.

Set the pudding mixture aside. Line the bottom of the 9x13 pan with graham crackers. Most likely, whole graham crackers will not completely cover the bottom of the pan. You have two options. Don't worry about it or break/use broken crackers to fill in the gaps. I like option two. But I'm an engineer who's weird about stuff like that. As long as the gaps aren't huge, you probably wouldn't be able to tell the difference if you don't fill them in.

Pour half (or so) of the pudding mixture on top of the graham crackers.
Add another layer of graham crackers.

This picture shows the little pieces of graham cracker a little better.
Note that there's still some holes/gaps. It's not a big deal.

Add the remaining pudding mixture.

This is before I added all of it and smoothed it out.

Top with a final layer of graham crackers.

Don't worry if your final layer isn't entirely even and level. Frosting covers a multitude of issues. You'll have some graham crackers left over. I like graham crackers for a snack, especially with a bit of leftover frosting on them.

Cover the pan and refrigerator for at least a few hours, overnight is best. The key is you want the graham crackers to be soft rather than crunchy. This takes some time.

Total time from gathering ingredients to putting it in the refrigerator to setup is usually 10-15 minutes for me, depending on if I put the mixer and beaters away where they belong or not and if I have to wash out the measuring cup. So, aside from having to make it the night before, this is a pretty quick recipe.

Once the pudding mixture has setup, or just before you serve it, top the dessert with the chocolate frosting.

I'm pretty sure the original recipe had you make the frosting yourself. I think the canned stuff is just as good, if not better. Plus, it's easier and everyone loves it with the canned stuff.
When you're spreading the frosting be careful. The crackers are soft and mushy. This makes
everything taste better but makes it more difficult to apply a very thin coating of frosting. I don't bother and just use almost the whole can, smoothing out as I go and covering all of the random graham cracker irregularities. I usually reserve a little frosting so that I have something to top my leftover graham crackers.


If, for some reason there's leftovers (like in the case of a very small gathering and an alien or zombie attack...or alien zombies, before you get to dessert), you should probably refrigerate the leftovers.
So, there's the recipe and some pictures.
Go forth and volunteer to bring dessert to your next potluck or group gathering.

Monday, January 12, 2009

For sale: Full leg brace and crutches. Cheap!

I had my surgery follow-up doctor's appointment this morning. I got a whole lot of questions answered, learned more about the inside of my knee and, most importantly, got the okay to bend my knee and exchnanged the big, bulky brace for a much more comfortable, flexible brace. I'm cleared to walk around on my own (no crutches) as much as I'm able, go back to work, do upper body and abs work at the gym, drive and resume pretty much my normal life as soon as I'm comfortable doing that. So that's all great news. I still have to wear the brace while I'm up and about, but I don't have to sleep with it. And I'm pretty sure it will fit under most of my pants. And I do still have some swelling in my knee. That's normal and apparently is the last thing to go back to normal. So I'm guessing I'll be doing a lot of elevating and icing of my knee for a while. But, overall, I'm exceedingly happy with the answers that I got and the results so far. Okay, just being able to bend my knee makes me overjoyed. It's the small things. :)

Apparently the surgery that I had was the 85% solution. For 85% of the population, this surgery, the physical therapy that follows and maintaining a good, balanced exercise program completely fixes the issue. For the remaining 15%, there's another surgery (which sounded like a whole lot of not fun) that fixes most of them. While I've never been anyone's definition of normal, I'm really hoping that I'm at least normal enough to be in 85%.

Starting hopefully sometime late this week, I'll be doing physical therapy. I don't know if that will be the "come in three times a week" type or the "do these exercises on your own and come back in a week" type. I'm hoping it's the later. I'm doing the therapy at the same place as last time, so the people know me and know that I will do what they tell me to. But, we'll see. PT will last 3-4 weeks and then I go back to the doc and we evalute where I'm at.

In the meantime, I'm hoping to return to work starting tomorrow. I don't have the stamina for full days yet, but short days are better than nothing and talking with my immediate supervisor it sounds like it would be helpful for me to have easy, face-to-face, interaction with my coworkers while I'm doing this stuff. Plus, I'm pretty sure I'll be less distracted and more productive (and have fewer computer issues) if I'm at work rather than at home. I have to go back in through the medical department, get their approval to return and get a medical parking spot (read: assigned and much closer to the door). So that will be the first hurdle. Hopefully it will go smoothly and I'll be able to get at least a few hours or real work done tomorrow.

Many, many thanks to everyone who's helped me out, stayed with me, brought me food, visited, drove me places, prayed with and for me, let me vent to them, offered to help, encouraged me, made me laugh, and everything else. It's been a tough time, especially last week and I know it's not over, but you guys have helped me through it all and I know you'll continue to help me out as I need it. I don't have the words to say other than "Thank you so very much". I couldn't have made it without you.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

What I did on my first day free from Couch Arrest

My first day off couch arrest. Yeah! I celebrated by duct taping a garbage bag around my leg (and dressing and brace) and showering. Wow did that feel good. Amazing how much difference just getting clean can make you feel. Of course, after that and getting breakfast I was pretty worn out. I don't quite understand how, on Monday, I worked all day and then went to the gym for about 90 minutes and was fine. And yet on Thursday just taking a shower and fixing breakfast requires a couple hours on the couch to rest up from. I guess that's another thing to add to my list of things that I don't understand. After my shower, I proceeded to spend most of the day on the couch...but I could get up anytime I wanted to. (It's the small things I've been holding on to.)

I'm off the prescription painkillers but am still hitting the ibuprophen pretty hard. I think this is to be expected. Advil PM is an amazing thing and made my night much more restful last night. It worked many times better than the prescription sleepytime drugs they gave me. I need to find out what that stuff actually is and remember that it doesn't work well for me. On a related note, I apparently respond really well to Demoral.

I saw a standup ad for the Monsters vs Aliens movie when I went to see Valkyrie last weekend. Today I looked up the trailer. I think it's got potential. The scene with Bob (or Blob?) hitting on the Jello made me chuckle. Valkyrie was interesting and enjoyable. A good drama with some action to liven it up a bit. The accents were a little distracting at times. Why is it that almost all of the Germans who weren't being played by Tom Cruise had British accents? I guess the director let everyone use their own accent and a lot of Brits were cast. Tom Cruise's very American accent did stand out at times. But it was only slightly distracting. He also didn't get to smile much...such a shame. (What...the man has a nice smile. That's all I'm sayin'.)

AMC is streaming the old British tv show The Prisoner for free (and without commercials!) on their web site. I had heard much about this series but had never seen any of it. I watched the first episode this afternoon. It was interesting but kinda slow moving. That's not surprising given that it's from 1967....and British. I'll probably watch some more episodes when I have some time. If you're unfamiliar with it, it's worth at least watching that first episode, just for cultural awareness as the series is referenced fairly often.

If you need noise cancelling headphones, these JVC ones are a good deal. I have a similar set that I bought before going to India last year and they work great. They don't block out all of the noise (nor do they claim to) but they make a very significant difference. And they're comfortable enough to wear for long periods of time.

My dad sent me a cool email that had pictures of a car that had run over a mattress...and just kept going. Apparently this is not a good idea.

60 lbs of tangled spring wrapped around the drive train. The driver drove over 30 miles with this mess, stopping only when it punctured the gas tank and ran the car out of fuel. Apparently the driver also complained of a "shimmy" when driving at high speeds.

Lesson of the day: stop driving if you ever run over a mattress. Better yet, don't run over a mattress.

And I think it's time for exercises, dinner, more exercises (well, the same exercises but again) and a movie to get me through until bed time.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Musings from the couch

So, post-surgery day two is winding down. I'm off couch arrest tomorrow which means I'm allowed to get up and move about to do more than just go to the restroom (and move from the bed to the couch and back again). Not that I'm going to be doing that much moving about. While I can put full weight on my leg, it's not a lot of fun to walk around. And, since I can't bend it, sitting in a chair isn't really comfortable. Maybe I'll lie on the floor for a while tomorrow, just for a change.

Today was full of all sorts of visits and phone calls from friends and family and many of them brought food. I stocked up before the surgery and now my refrigerator is overflowing. Not that I'm complaining, I just find it kinda humorous. When your world is reduced to the size of your living room...or, more practically, what you can reach from your seat on the couch, you look for the humor where you can. :)

But, fortunately, there's this great thing called the internet (maybe you've heard of it?). My world may be roughly the size of a.....yeah, I'm not certain what this is the size of....it's a bit bigger than my cube at work but smaller than a boxcar....definitely bigger than a breadbox...anyway, when your world is small, as long as it includes a computer with internet access, much of the world is at your fingertips. And some of the places in that world can be kinda cool.

Some interesting (or not, judge for yourself) things that I've come across today:

Yugster is kinda like Woot, but the stuff they sell isn't quite as cool. Today's offering was a collapsible silicon collander. Now I can see the benefit of these things, but the headline "Saves Valuable Cupboard Space!" makes me alternate between chuckling and scratching my head. Maybe it's just that I've got amble cupboard space for everything in my kitchen (and then some), but how exactly do you measure the value of cupboard space? And how do you decide what's deserving of the most highly coveted spots? I guess you probably go by what's the most used, but what about the big things that only fit in one spot? What if that's the most convenient place for something else? Do you have to do a cost-benefit analysis to see if it's worth putting the giant stand mixer in the spot where Mr. Coffee really should go because that's the only place that Ms. Mixie can live? And will that upset Mr. Coffee to the point where he won't make good coffee anymore?

Which reminds me of something completely unrelated...except by the coffee thread. One of my coworkers got a new coffee pot for Christmas and brought it in to work (this was on Monday...back when I was actually going to work and was able to bend my knee and stuff). And, as often happens, a couple of us got to talking and we decided that what you really needed was a sentient coffee pot that could figure out not only exactly how much coffee you were going to drink that day but also how strong you wanted it and then would brew it exactly like that. That would be cool....until the day it decided to rebel against it's evil meatsack overlords and decided to go out hunting for Sarah Connor (or possibly unleash nuclear weapons on the 12 Colonies....wow am I looking forward to the return of Battlestar Galactica). And that way only leads to death and destruction (and possible Summer Glau kicking butt and taking names, which is always fun to watch).

Another thing I came across was that it's Dave Kellet's birthday. He's the creator of the Sheldon web comic. For his birthday, he asked that his readers introduce just one other person to his comic. So, consider yourself introduced. I've been reading Sheldon for, I don't know, over a year now. It's another thing I discovered via the Whedonverse...he was doing some strips about Joss Whedon and possibly Firefly. The original strips were enjoyable enough to earn Sheldon a place in my rss feed reader and I've been enjoying it ever since. You should check it out. You might enjoy it too.

And I think that's about it. Tomorrow I get to fix my own meals and hobble outside to get my own mail! I'm not sure if I should laught or just sigh about the fact that I'm excited about this.

Thanks to all who have stopped by, stayed with me, called, emailed, brought food and everything else. So far, this whole experience has been a lot easier than I thought it would be and that's all thanks to you guys.
Anyone want to go to lunch on Friday? If you'll drive, I'll buy.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Well that's not exactly what I expected

So, it's about noon on Tuesday and I've been home from surgery a couple of hours.
Praise God that things went well!

The good news is that my meniscuses (meniscies?), ACL and all of that are all good and in tact. And I'm feeling pretty good right now.
The bad news is that the issue was a misaligned knee cap. But, we're pretty sure it's fixed now. My surgeon went in and loosed the tendons on one side (no idea how) and thermally shrunk the tendons on the other side (I have visions of plastic shrink wrap...I think it's a little different). So, I'm currently in a leg brace that's keeping my left leg completely straight and, at least for the next two days I'm on couch/bed arrest. Mary, the very sweet post-op care lady, said that I can get up to use the restroom and that's about it. Which isn't going to be a lot of fun. And, oh yeah, I get crutches too. First time for those. Fortunately I can put as much weight on my leg as I can bear (which right now is a lot...we'll see when the pain meds wear off), so it's not too hard to maneuver around.

I'm not certain exactly what the recovery timetable and such is. I don't get to take the dressing off my leg until Thursday night/Friday morning. I have to keep this brace pretty much full time. Next Monday, at my follow-up visit, hopefully I'll get a flexible brace, but we'll see. After that, yeah, I don't know. And not know is something that I'm never fond of. I've got this idol of wanting to control everything. It's convenient in that it manifests itself in wanting to have lots of knowledge and be prepared for everything. But it's also annoying in that it really bothers me when there's stuff I don't know and don't really have any way of knowing at least for a while. "Wait and see" has never been my strong suit.

So, that's the not so fun news. The good stuff is that I'm not really in a pain. My knee aches sometimes, but it doesn't hurt. I've had some food and tolerated that well, although I didn't eat a whole lot. And I'll have lots of time to catch up on movies and tv shows and books and all sorts of other stuff while I'm stuck on the couch and at home. So, that's something.
Also, my church is amazing. I pretty much need someone here for the next two days...that whole couch arrest thing. People have been mobilized and it's all set-up. So, I'll have lots of company and friends and stuff. And I have a people to call in case I need help with other things. I'm not great at asking for help, but I'm guessing that this will teach me to be better at it.

In the meantime, if you have good movie suggestions (especially if they're available free and legally to stream on the web) I'd love to hear them.

We have the technology, we can rebuild her

Off to knee surgery in a few minutes.  I slept lousy last night and I'm thirsty.  But neither of those is a big surprise.  I'm not as nervous about the surgery as I was yesterday afternoon.  I was doing some not terribly interesting tasks at work and my mind got to wandering.  Often not a good thing.  I recognized that excessive worry wasn't going to do any good...and also that just telling myself not to worry wasn't going to do any good.  So I pulled out my iPod and put on Dustin Salter's sermon on providence.  Excellent sermon and what I needed to hear right then.  No matter what happens today, it is God's plan and I am in His hands.  His are the hands that guide the boat.  His are good hands and there is no better place that I can be.

Thanks to all who are praying for me.  I'll update when I get back and get recovered enough to form coherent sentences and type.  Until then, no news is good news (unless you're Mom, she gets a phone call either way.  :) )