wed, 06-jun-2007, 14:32
fedex scan

Apparently, FedEx is using some sort of new math where the word “second” is equivalent to three.

Here’s what Apple’s email said when our order was shipped:

Order Date:
MAY 31, 2007

*Shipment Information*

Shipment Date:
JUN 01, 2007

Delivers by:
JUN 05, 2007

If you look at the FedEx tracking image you can see that the package was received on the first (day zero), and was in Fairbanks on the fourth (day number one because Saturday and Sunday don’t count). Then it sat around on the day it was supposed to be delivered (the second day), and it’s out for delivery today.

tags: Alaska  Apple  FedEx 
sun, 03-jun-2007, 14:33

the omnivore’s dilemma

the omnivore’s dilemma, michael pollan

Books Acquired

Books Read

I got a lot of books this month. My reading has slowed a bit now that we’ve got more than twenty hours of daylight and there’s lots of projects to get done outside (vegetable garden, dog yard cleanup, etc.). But that doesn’t stop me from reading the book blogs and literary magazines, adding to the queue, and taking BookBurro over to AbeBooks for a used copy of what’s what. In addition to getting some real bargains at AbeBooks, I’ve also frequented the local new and used bookstore for some stuff (I had no idea King Arthur Flour published a whole grain baking book until I saw it at Guiliver’s—woo hoo!), and even picked up some things from Barnes & Noble when I couldn’t find them anywhere else. Sometimes you really do want a giant-size selection.

Here They Come

Another in McSweeney’s Rectangular’s series, the book looks good and is well made. It’s a slice of life story (that freshman-year writing class is really paying dividends) told from the perspective of a thirteen year old girl living in abject poverty in New York City. Their apartment is filled with garbage bags and rotting refuse because they can’t pay for trash pickup, the toilet water freezes at night, and their father has abandoned them to live with a woman referred to throughout as “the slut.” Sounds depressing, I know, but the girl narrating seems to be completely open to the world and the full variety of experiences it offers without being upset about the particular hand she’s been dealt.

Not much happens, despite taking place over at least a year, but all the details and neighborhood characters in the novel really bring it to life, and the narrator is a fantastic and unyielding observer of the world around her. The result is a very rich, rewarding and emotional book that sort of sneaks up on you because of it’s apparent simplicity.

This was one of the books considered by the litblog co-op in Spring 2006 (note that the posts at that link are in reverse chronological order, so start at the bottom if you're reading it). The author participated and had this to say about the book and how she views her fiction:

I’m one of those writers who really believes that you can “show” rather than “tell” a story and you’re right, a lot of writers out there are busying themselves with telling conventional stories with conventional plots and because of it they are missing out on all the other ways there are of being on the page and of sounding on the page. A lot of writers think it’s their responsibility to instruct or entertain the reader, whereas I believe it’s more important to witness – I think it was Michael Ondaatje who said, “a writer should be like a mirror walking down the road” and that’s how I try and think while I’m writing.

I think that’s why I came away somewhat amazed by the book, despite nothing really happening and a lack of a normal plot. Many foreign films appear to have little or no plot when compared to American films, and yet, by the end, you've come away with something more than the story being told. What’s interesting to think about in is why this is so rare in fiction, even though for most of us, our lives really don’t conform to a classic storyline plot, at least not at the scales at which most novels operate. Sure, I was born, grew up, went to college, had some relationships, and now I’m married with six dogs, a cat, and a job sitting in a cubicle staring at a pair of computer screens. But take almost any year out of that life and it’s pretty plotless. Maybe it’s just too hard to write a novel that people will want to read that is as mundane as a real life. It’s a credit to Yannick Murphy that she was able to do it with Here They Come.

Thinking with Type

This one came highly recommended, although I can’t remember where. It’s a really good looking book, and it’s worth the cover price for how well put together it is, and for all the examples inside. It’s not particularly good as a style guide, though. For that, I’d recommend Robert Bringhurt’s The Elements of Typographic Style. It’s much more concerned with proper typsetting, and the rules of producing a document or book that looks good. I think the books really complement each other, and this is a case where Amazon’s “Better Together” section really does make the right “Buy this book with…” suggestion.

The Omnivore’s Dilemma


I’ve read previous books by Pollan, as well as many of the pieces he’s written for The New York Times Magazine, but this book is a real tour de force of personal experience and investigative journalism about our food system and how screwed up it is. Pollan starts with the omnivore’s dilemma, which can be expressed simply as “what should we eat today?” It’s a very complex question, especially in today’s world, because our food system has been drastically manipulated by science and politics, and at the same time, we’re living in bodies designed for a vastly different eating environment.

As an attempt to explain the dilemma in his own life, he considers four meals: a fast food meal (Industrial / Corn) eaten in the car, a meal prepared from foods purchased at a local Whole Foods Market (Big Organic), a meal prepared from local foods grown on sustainable farms (Pastoral / Grass), and a meal from foods he collected and killed (The Perfect Meal / The Forest). You can tell from the chapter titles how he feels about each of these meals, but as you travel the path with him and actually see where the food he’s eating comes from, it’s hard not to agree with his conclusions.

This is one of those books like Fast Food Nation where you shouldn’t pick it up unless you’re willing to evaluate what you eat and the consequences of your choices. I came away from Fast Food Nation never wanting to eat fast food again (short of In and Out Burger, maybe). I was already familiar with most of the arguments in The Omnivore’s Dilemma, but the volume of evidence in the book makes those arguments hard to refute. In our own life, we’re trying: we bought a side of beef from a local beef producer, we’re trying to buy as much produce from the Farmer’s Market as we can, and we’re spending a lot of time and effort in our vegetable garden this year. I may spend more time in the outdoors this summer both hunting game, and down in Chitina filling my personal harvest quota of salmon.

That’s the sort of commitment Pollan’s writing can inspire.

Easy Guide to Sewing Pants

It turns out that this particular book (and, frustratingly, an awful lot of sewing books in general) is specific to sewing women’s pants. Luckily, the book has lots of material on getting a proper fit for almost any female body type, and I expect that with the exception of a certain piece of external anatomy that women lack, there are women whose lower half is shaped enough like mine to fit a pair of pants. It’s been a very long time since I’ve sewed anything complex (I don’t think dog beds count), so I don’t think I’m going to start my efforts with pants. After I’ve made a few simple shirts I may move on to pants and hopefully this book will help with getting a proper fit.

The Yiddish Policemen’s Union: A Novel The Dictionary of Popular Yiddish Words, Phrases, and Proverbs

You’d be hard pressed to avoid hearing or reading something about this novel. His previous novel, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, so expectations were high. The novel is a detective story, set in an alternate reality where Sitka Alaska is a temporary Jewish homeland, soon to revert back to Alaskan control, and where Yiddish and “American” are spoken alongside each other. Despite the confining nature of the detective genre (the hard drinking, divorced cop; shady figures controlled by some darker agent; occasionally gunplay; etc.) Chabon tells an entertaining story filled with the atmosphere of a Yiddish community in southeastern Alaska. And the writing is fantastic.

One of the excellent riffs from the novel. Page 290:

The brake and gas were rigged to suit a man of his stature, and he handled them like Horowitz sailing through a storm of Liszt.

When I first read that I did a double-take, read it again, laughed, and felt compelled to put on Horowitz in Moscow. The book is filled with intelligent references like that one. The sort of thing that’s probably missing from lowbrow pulp detective fiction, but which fits right in here.

I can’t say that Chabon was completely successful, though. I liked Kavalier & Clay better, mostly because I didn’t think the story moved along fast enough or had enough of the twists and turns one might expect from this sort of genre, but I think it’s better have tried something new and interesting, than to just keep writing the same books over and over again. Chabon has demonstrated that he can write gloriously in a wide range of different literary forms, and even if each book isn’t the “perfect” novel, I’ll keep reading because I know it’ll be an interesting ride. What more should we ask for?

I saw the Yiddish Dictionary in the remainders pile at Barnes and Noble, and decided it might help with some of the Yiddish words in Chabon’s novel. As it turns out, you don’t need any special understanding of Yiddish because Chabon is careful to put the words in enough context that it’s easy to figure out what he’s talking about. And unless the Dictionary is really, really bad, Chabon isn’t really writing straight Yiddish anyway since most of the words that appear in the novel aren’t in the Dictionary.

Whole Grain Baking

I got this book at the end of the month so I’ve only had a chance to make one recipe from it (Dark Sourdough Rye), but the bread came out very good. My initial impressions of the book are very favorable. It’s got weights along with volumetric measurements for all ingredients (I do all my bread baking by weight), includes sections on breakfast foods, cookies, cakes, quick breads, sourdoughs, rye breads and normal yeasted breads. Since I already know how to make bread, I didn’t spend a whole lot of time reading the introductory sections on technique and ingredients, but there is a fair amount of this material so even a beginner would find the book useful. It is the sort of book where you’ll probably need to plan a trip to the store before attempting a new recipe. In contrast to some of my other favorite baking books (Hamelman’s Bread, Beranbaum’s The Bread Bible), this one has lots of recipes with ingredients not often on hand in my kitchen. That’s a good thing, I think, because it complements my other books well, but you can’t just get up on Sunday morning hoping to make a new recipe without some foresight.

Think UNIX

I read this book when it first came out in 2000 and it’s always the first book I recommend when people ask me what book they should get if they’re interested in learning Unix. It’s main advantage over the other books you’ll find is that it’s not a command manual or a tutorial, it’s a book that discusses both why and how Unix is different from other operating systems. For example, a tutorial-style manual might discuss pipes and how you use them, but I think it’s useful to know that the reason you’re using a pipe is because one of the philosophies of Unix is that it’s a large set of small, fast, single-purpose tools; rather than a small set of large, slow, multi-purpose tools like Microsoft Windows offers. Learning to use Unix isn’t just about learning the commands, it requires re-thinking the way you’ve probably been doing things for a long time under on other systems.

I got my copy for $6 at AbeBooks, but it’s back in print again, so if you want a new copy, click the link above.

Voyage Along the Horizon

A tale within a tale, written in an wry, early 20th century style, this book tells the entertaining story of a scientific expedition to Antarctica gone wrong. I enjoyed the style and atmosphere, but the book never comes to any satisfying conclusion.

At the end of the book there’s a brief interview with Marías where they ask him about the ending of the book. He says:

…the end of a novel isn’t usually very important. In fact, people never seem to remember the endings of novels (most especially crime novels—that’s what makes them so re-readable) and movies (especially, once again, thrillers and whodunits). Conclusions and final explanations are often the most irrelevant—and disappointing—parts of a novel. What counts the most—and what we remember the most—is the atmosphere, the style, the path, the journey, and the world in which we have immersed ourselves for a few hours of a few days while reading a novel or watching a movie. What matters, then, is the journey along the horizon–in other words, the journey that never ends.

I don’t think I entirely agree, and it matters in the context of this book, because at the conclusion, I was left thinking, “that wasn’t a very good ending.” So I didn’t like the way the book ended, but I really did enjoy the things he says are most important (style, atmosphere, etc.). I think the best books are those which have it all. Why restrict yourself to style and atmosphere, when you can have that, plus good characters, an entertaining plot, and a fantastic ending (see Icelander)?

tags: books  review 
sun, 03-jun-2007, 09:41

Planting day

Start of the garden

Yesterday we planted the garden. The plan was:

Plant           Spacing    Num  Feet    Actual Number
--------------  ---------  ---  -----   -------------
cabbage (cb)    24" apart   10  20'         10
potato (pt)     24" apart   13  26'         17
greens (lt)      6" apart    6   1.5'        6
broccoli (broc) 12" apart    6   4'          6
cauliflower     16" apart    6   6'          6
zucchini (zchn) 36" apart    2   6'          2
rhubarb (rhub)  36" apart    1   3'          1

Top bed: 32' (scale: 2 characters / foot)
|   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   |           |       |     |     |
|cb |cb |cb |cb |cb |cb |cb |cb |   caulif  | broc  |zchn |zchn |
|   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   |    (6)    |  (6)  |     |     |

Bottom bed: 32'
|   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   |  |  |     |
|pt |pt |pt |pt |pt |pt |pt |pt |pt |pt |pt |pt |pt |cb|lt|rhub |
|   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   |  |6 |     |

We wound up planing the potatoes fourteen inches apart, rather than twenty-four because that’s what we’ve done in the past and we were reusing the landscape fabric from last year on that section of the garden. So we actually got seventeen potato plants in the ground. We also squeezed another cabbage in between the lettuce and the potatoes, so we were able to plant all ten plants. In past years we’ve had problems with the potatoes getting green from exposure to light, so we’re going to hill the soil around the plants as they come up. The two potato plants on the end are spaced 24 inches apart, so we can find out if a more generous spacing improves the yield.

I also got a new pair of boots to replace my Redwings. I bought my first pair of Redwings when I worked at the steel mill and I wore them every day on that job. They lasted seven or eight years. My second pair only lasted three or four years. The sole came unglued from the leather part and the instep section also separated and cracked. This time around I bought a pair of Hathorn boots, which are the economy sub-brand of White's, and like White's, they're made in the United States and are re-buildable. Hopefully they're better built than my last pair of Redwings.

tags: boots  food  garden  vegetables 
mon, 28-may-2007, 13:03



This weekend we spend a lot of time getting our vegetable garden ready for planting. The first plant date here in Fairbanks is June first, so we’ve got until Friday to get everything set up and ready to go. We spent most of the day on Saturday removing the top layer of dirt from the garden, and replacing it with a pickup truckload of soil we got from Great Northwest on College Road. They support the Dog Mushers, so we support them. We replaced five wheelbarrow loads on the upper bed, eight loads on the lower bed.

Sunday we rented a rototiller and rototilled both beds. We did three passes on each bed, and only had the tiller out for a couple hours. In the past I’ve always turned over the soil by hand, and I can say without reservation that using a rototiller is a much easier way to go. I think it churns the soil up better too, so hopefully we’ll have fewer problems with clay this year.

We got plants from the Farmer’s Market, Alaska Feed, and some from Calypso Farms. We’re growing Russet potatoes, basil, and several varieties of cabbage, zucchini, broccoli, cauliflower, and salad greens. I had hoped to grow beets, but we didn’t see any starts for that, which may mean we need to start them from seed directly in the garden. Andrea also got some flowers that should help keep pests away from the crops, as well as improve the soil.

tags: food  garden  me  vegetables 
mon, 21-may-2007, 17:20

Delta Meat Company Logo

Delta Meat & Sausage Company

Last week we ordered a side of beef from the Delta Meat & Sausage Company in Delta Junction, Alaska. They’re about two hours south of Fairbanks and raise their own beef without antibiotics or growth hormones. I’m not sure what percentage of their diet comes from grass, but since the farm doesn’t use antibiotics, corn must not be a very large part of their diet (cows aren’t designed to eat corn, so corn-fed beef require loads of antibiotics to keep their guts functional). Relatively speaking, it’s a local business, so significantly less petroleum was consumed getting our meat to us that would be required for the meat trucked up from the lower 48 to service our local megajumbomarket. It's a good thing.

Delta Meat butchers the meat into a “supermarket” cut, which means the labels conform to what you’d expect to see at the meat counter. Before our steer was cut up, we talked to the butcher about what what we wanted done with it. We found that we used the ground meat more quickly than anything else on the moose I shot a few years ago so we geared our cuts toward producing more hamburger meat.

We picked up the side at the Sears parking lot. Five boxes.

Here’s what she wrote on the receipt regarding the cuts and whether we wanted them or not:

  • Arm—No (I'm not sure what this is)
  • Chuck roast—Yes
  • Chuck steak—Yes
  • Short ribs—Yes
  • Stew meat—No
  • Rib steak—Yes
  • Round steak—No
  • London broil—Yes
  • Bottom round roast—Yes
  • Rump roast—Yes
  • Tip roast—No
  • Cube steaks—No
  • Brisket—Yes

Anything listed as “No” was turned into hamburger meat. Keeping the brisket whole was the only thing we asked for that unusual enough that they didn't have a sticker for it on the package. We're going to turn some of the brisket into corned beef, and Andrea will cook the rest using a family recipe.

The “standing side weight” was 291.5 pounds, and the cost is based on that weight. We paid $2.65 / pound, or $772.48 for the whole thing.

Here’s what we got:

CutNumberTotal weight
2 pound packages59118.0
London broil35.6
Rump roast28.6
Chuck roast415.4
Boneless sirloin steak67.8
Porterhouse steak612.1
T-bone steak59.3
Chuck steak47.6
Tenderloin steak21.9
Rib steak35.0
Short ribs515.6

In total, that's 212.5 pounds of meat, for an average cost of $3.64 / pound. Cheap, and I believe it is much better quality meat than we can buy, and is better for the cows, the environment, and for us (grass-fed beef is better for you, with better omega fatty acid ratios than corn-fed, feedlot beef).

tags: Delta Meat  food 

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