Saturday, May 27, 2006

Crispy Fried Talapia with a Side of Auto Body Repair

For this recipe you will need two fillets of a mildly-flavored fish about 1/2 inch thick, 1 1/2 cups bread machine flour, 3/4 cups water, 1 T vegetable oil, 1 clove garlic, 1 t dried dill, 1 t salt, fresh-ground white pepper and a slightly dented sports car.

Wed 24 May, 2006

Dear Diary,

This morning as I was backing into my parking place at work I got a bit too close to the car on my passenger side and my right side mirror scraped his right rear body-panel. His bumper also scuffed my car right in front of the passenger door, pushing it in slightly. Resisting the temptation to go park somewhere else, I left a card under his wiper and went in to work. He and I chatted later and after a brief discussion with the local police, the exchage of insurance information, etc. he was good to go and get his car fixed on my insurance company's dime. That left my car to deal with.

carIn general one doesn't want to file a lot of small claims against one's insurance. It's not quite the same as Machiavelli's admonition never to do one's enemies small injuries but the concept is close. If you make your insurance pay for small problems the amount you save is generally less than the increase in your premiums. Since my dent isn't very big I decided to deal with it myself.

pullerThe first problem to deal with was that the side of the car was pushed in just enough for the front edge of the door to catch on it when the door was opened and closed. I stopped by an auto parts store on my way home and bought a cheap suction cup dent puller.

When I got home I pulled over the garden hose to wet the car for better suction and had at the dent. dent I was not wildly successful. The problem was the raised letters "V6" on the dented area that made it difficult to get a proper seal. If I got the car really wet and held down the edges of the suction cup with my other hand I could get a bit of a tug, but not enough. Water would seal the gap briefly but was insufficiently viscous to hold against air pressure long enough to pull out the dent. It seemed clear to me that I needed something thicker -- gooier -- something a bit like polygrip.

I am an uncertain mechanic, to put it as charitably as possible, but I am a pretty good cook. If I can change a problem into a culinary problem I can usually solve it. So, needing some kind of goo, I dashed into the kitchen and made myself some goo. It should be noted that I was under some time pressure here. I was scheduled to do supper that night and the wife would be home in half an hour. If she got home to find that I had dented my car and not fixed supper that would not be good.

I grabbed a small bowl and dumped in about 1 1/2 cups of bread machine flour. I added a bit less than a cup of water and a bit of vegetable oil. I was shooting for a consistancy just a bit thicker than pancake batter. The batter needed to rest for a minute to develop the proper gooey consistancy so I turned my attention to supper. Supper was to be talapia, and with fish I usually like rice which takes twenty minutes to cook. I put a pan of rice on the stove to cook while I continued to struggle with the dent. Back out to the driveway...

I ladled a bit of batter down the side of my car, put a generous teaspoon-full in the middle of the suction cup and splotched it against the dent. A quick pull and the dent was noticably smaller and less pushed in. It was still hard to get a good seal over the letters (next time I'll make the goo a bit thicker) but it worked well enough. After a few minutes there were still a few rumpled bits (which I am still working on) but the side of the car was generally back where it belonged and the dent was getting hard to see. Back to the kitchen...

I had used very little of my batter and I still had the fish to cook. Hmmmm... I grabbed an egg and whipped that into the batter along with a teaspoon of salt, a teaspoon of dried dill weed, a clove of pressed garlic and a bit of white pepper from the grinder. I put a quarter inch of vegetable oil in a frying pan and heated it quite hot. I poured the batter onto a large plate and layed the tilapia fillets in the batter on each side before dropping them into the hot oil. I poured about a tablespoon of the batter on top of each fillet and, while they cooked, I dashed out to the driveway with wet paper towels to de-goo my car.

I cooked the fish about three minutes a side over high heat to keep the pan hot. That time is approximate, I cooked each side to a medium-brown color. The extra dollop of batter crisped up nicely, giving the fish a hard, definite crunch. I sprinkled the fish with a bit more salt and the juice of half a lemon just before I took it out of the pan and served it with the rice and some tomatoes and eggplant left over from lunch at a favorite local Lebonese restaurant.

I am still working on the dent. The photos above are after photos so it's not quite perfect yet. The dent is much less visible than the pictures suggest -- I chose the angle and lighting to show off the dent and I jazzed the contast a bit to make it easiert to see. I'm currently looking for just the right slim, rigid slightly curved object to poke in from the door opening to pop out those last few bits. I'll keep you posted.

One last word of advice. If you decide to use this technique to fix your car (and, possibly, your supper) be sure to wear old clothes. All the splitching and splotching with a batter-covered suction cup tends to leave one rather splattered. But the fish is really tasty.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

A Perfectly-sensible Story About MySpace from Reuters.

I spend quite a bit of time complaining about the biases of the Reuters News Service so it is incumbent on me to mention when they get something right. This has not proven to be an excessive burden since it doesn't happen very often -- but it has happened again. This morning's story by Jill Serjeant, dateline Thu May 11, 8:23 AM ET, gets the MySpace social-networking phenomenon exactly right.

I have quoted the story -- As freedom shrinks, teens seek MySpace to hang out -- in its entirety since links to news stories go stale sometimes, especially stories they are, shall we say, out of line with the editorial direction of the wire service. Here it is:
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - They paper their virtual walls with kittens and cartoon characters, give their address as Candyland, their age as 103 and announce they are yearning for true love.

Welcome to the secret, yet very public, world of young teens who are flocking to social-networking Internet sites both to chill with friends and to figure out the timeless adolescent question "Who am I?"

Although originally aimed at 20-somethings interested in independent music, Web sites like, which is owned by News Corp, have attracted an enormous following among middle school students, and cultural theorists say it's not hard to see why.

As the real world is perceived as more dangerous with child abductors lurking on every corner, kids flock online to hang out with friends, express their hopes and dreams and bare their souls with often painful honesty -- mostly unbeknownst to their tech-clumsy parents.

"We have a complete culture of fear," said Danah Boyd, 28, a Ph.D student and social media researcher at the University of California Berkeley. "Kids really have no place where they are not under constant surveillance."

Driven to and from school, chaperoned at parties and often lacking public transport, today's middle-class American kids are no longer free to hang out unsupervised at the park, the bowling alley or to bike around the neighborhood they way they did 20 years ago.

"A lot of that coming-of-age stuff in public is gone. So kids are creating social spaces within all this controlled space," said Boyd.


The ranks of Santa Monica, California-based has swollen to more than 73 million members in two years, making it the second-biggest Web domain after Yahoo in terms of page views. Other popular teen sites are,, and

Most MySpace members live in the United States but a British version was launched this year and Australia will be next.

More than half of 15- to 20-year-olds who are online are using MySpace, according to the company's research. They use the site's design technology to create personal "spaces" that resemble a cross between a high school locker and a secret diary.

Researchers say older teens and 20-somethings use the site more for friendship, sharing music and arranging meetings and parties.

The younger set use it to chill with known friends and work out their own identity. Some construct fantasy lives of vast wages, luxury cars and say they are searching for "live-in pimps." Others confess touchingly to being geeks, loving uncool movies like "The Sound of Music" or list their puppy as their lover.

"Building identity is a lot of what a teen-ager is. The majority feel they don't fit in," said networking consultant Ross Dawson, chairman of Future Exploration Network.

"This is the first generation for which it is entirely natural to socialize in a digital environment. Mobile phones, instant messaging, texting and being online really are their life support," Dawson said.


Under-14s are not supposed to use MySpace but tens of thousands ignore that stipulation, inventing ages and high school careers still beyond their reach, and sometimes posting sexually precocious pictures.

To meet concern over possible sexual exploitation of children, MySpace hired a safety czar in April and requires under-18s to review safety tips before registering. It also restricts the profiles of under-16s to users they know.

It says it has deleted more than 250,000 profiles of under-14-year-olds since 2004 on the basis of tips by parents and algorithms that search the site looking for keywords and phrases that identify very young users.

"We are now deleting something like 5,000 under-age profiles a day," said Shawn Gold, head of marketing for MySpace.

Gold said the dangers should be kept in perspective. "If MySpace were a state it would be twice the size of California, but the crime associated with it would be a five-block area of New York City."

For all the adult alarm over the coarse language and provocative poses often seen on such sites, Boyd said teens are doing just what they have always done.

"Adults are not normally privy to these teen-age expressions. But when teens hang out in public they do these stupid things and they always have.

"Teens are trying to figure out their sexuality for better or worse. It's a problem for parents to pretend like it doesn't exist. If parents have an open mind and can hear their teens expressing themselves in all their ridiculousness, they can make sense of it and it stops being so scary," she said.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Implosion Photoblog

Originally uploaded by bigleehimself.
I got up before the sun came up today to go see the demolition company bring down a twelve-story building across the street from Crabtree Mall in Raleigh. I took along the trusty Kodak to do a bit of photo blogging.

It was a cool, rainy Sunday and the implosion was scheduled for 7:30 am. The early hour on a Sunday was chosen because they had to close several major streets for a few minutes to blow the building. Add in the light rain and you get an event where only the most dedicated rubber-neckers were in attendance.

Clicking on the photos will take you to bigger versions in my account.

My plan had been to watch the implosion from the parking deck of the mall but was turned back by a policeman who said the a press pass was needed to get in there. Several people I spoke to had actually come the night before the pick out the best spot in the mall parking lot to watch but when they came back in the morning they couldn't get in.

The spot where I and my fellow rubber-neckers wound up was on a road that runs behind the mall and a bit up the hill. There were a couple of trees in the way but we had a pretty good view of the building (which you can see in the background here.)

I heard some people say that the parking lot of the old Steak and Ale further up the hill had a better view. The people on the hill in this photo are up there. I thought about walking up there but decided that the other location might have worse tree problems that where I was standing -- and I didn't want to lose my spot.

Quite a few people brought their kids. The wet weather held down the crowd and everyone could find a spot where they could see.

This gentleman was sitting in the brush up on the hill taking photos. His camera was a smallish digital of some sort -- too small to show in this photo. His photographer's pose with no camera visible made him look a bit like a mime doing an interpritation of a photographer.
I'd watched quite a few implosions on TV but this was my first opportunity to watch on in person. The "implosion" is handled by blowing out the supports for the middle part of the building first then knocking out the support for the outside once the middle is already falling. That makes all the outside walls fall in towards the center and the whole building falls inside its old footprint.

impl1Those first explosions -- the ones that take out the support for the building's center can't really be seen. You hear them... BANG. BANG. BANG. BANG. BANG. ... and you think Dang! It's going. I'd better take a picture! but there is nothing to take a picture of...

Then, while you are waiting for your slow-cycling Kodak camera to get ready for the next shot they blow the supports for the outer wall and you miss your chance to get a shot showing the visible explosions. You do have time for exactly one shot as the building collapses in on itself...

...and all the shots you want of the big cloud of dust.

After the implosion the pile of debris is smaller than you expect it to be.

after3After the explosion I took this shot from the bridge that is in the foreground of my photos of the implosion. These guys arrived on the site amazingly fast. They probably weren't that far away when it came down.

Note to self: The next time you photograph a building being blown up be sure you get a decent "before" picture and don't wind up grabbing a crappy-crop version from the middle of a wide angle frame.

Friday, May 05, 2006

El Stinko de Mayo

stinkoI'd like to correct a misconception people have about today's Mexican holiday. Most people think that the idea is to go down to the local cantina on May 5th and get stinking drunk -- and then to add the resulting May 6th hangover to the list of grievances that make us rather cross with Mexico. This is not what el Cinco de Mayo is all about.

according to Wikipedia,
El Cinco de Mayo ("The Fifth of May" in Spanish) is a national celebration in Mexico. It commemorates the victory of Mexican forces led by General Ignacio Zaragoza over the French expeditionary forces in the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862.

Historical background

In 1862, in response to Mexico's refusal to pay off its debt, Britain, Spain and France sent troops to Mexico; they arrived in January of 1862. The new democratically-elected government of President Benito Juárez made agreements with the British and the Spanish, who promptly recalled their armies, but the French stayed, thus beginning the period of the French intervention in Mexico. Emperor Napoleon III wanted to secure French dominance in the former Spanish colony, including installing one of his relatives, Archduke Maximillian of Austria, as ruler of Mexico.

Confident of a quick victory, 6,500 French soldiers marched on to Mexico City to seize the capital before the Mexicans could muster a viable defense. Along their march, the French already encountered stiff resistance before Zaragoza struck out to intercept the invaders.

The battle between the French and Mexican armies occurred on May 5 when Zaragoza's ill-equipped militia of 4,500 men encountered the better-armed French force. However, Zaragoza's small and nimble cavalry units were able to prevent French dragoons from taking the field and overwhelming the Mexican infantry. With the dragoons removed from the main attack, the Mexicans routed the remaining French soldiers with a combination of their tenacity, inhospitable terrain, and a stampede of cattle set off by local peasants. The invasion was stopped and crushed.

Zaragoza won the battle but lost the war. The French Emperor, upon learning of the failed invasion, immediately dispatched another force, this time numbering 30,000 soldiers. By 1864, they succeeded in defeating the Mexican army and occupying Mexico City. Archduke Maximillian became Emperor of Mexico.

Maximilian's rule was short-lived. Mexican rebels opposed to his rule resisted, seeking the aid of the United States. Once the American Civil War was over, the U.S. military began supplying Mexicans with weapons and ammunition, and by 1867, the rebels finally defeated the French and deposed their puppet Emperor. The Mexican people then reelected Juárez as president.
cincoOf course, there is nothing wrong with going down to the local cantina for pocas cervezas on el Cinco de Mayo [Note: be sure to squeeze the lime wedge into the beer and poke it down into the bottle. Most Mexican beer doesn't taste right without the lime and Corona has no taste at all.] Just don't blame your hangover on the poor Mexicans who are celebrating their hundred-and-forty-some year-old, temporary victory over the evil and insideous French.

Monday, May 01, 2006

¿ Quien es Juan Galt ?

Today thousands of hispanic immigrants, many of them illegals, took a day off from work to demonstrate for "immigrant "rights". The idea is to have a one-day "strike" to show the US how dependent we are on the work done by hispanic immigrants. It is a somewhat-less-drastic version of Ayn Rand's character John Galt who decided to "stop the engine of the world" by inspiring scientists, engineers and industrialists to drop out of society.

Anyone who has read my blog in recent months knows that I am generally sympathetic to the idea of immigration reforms that would provide our current illegals with an opportunity to continue to work here. (I also support building a wall/fence/whatever to keep more from arriving until we have dealt with the ones we have now.) But, like I said, I am sympathetic to the situation of the illegals, most of whom I see as working very hard, living modestly, and making very little trouble.

Todays demonstrations are a big mistake for the immigrant community. They are doing themselves no good by letting a few ethnicity pimps make them seem Anti-American -- something which they overwhelmingly are not. The average illegal immigrant has come to the US to work hard and try to make a buck -- money which they send back to their families in Mexico by the billions. They have not come here as reconquistadores who want to take back the South West US because it was "stolen" from Mexico. They have come here to mow grass and pick fruit. The whole "re-conquest" thing comes from a few pointy-headed college professors and from a handfull of leftist "activists" who use the issue to grab for the microphone and to claim to represent the marchers.

The fact of the matter is that the hispanic workers aren't important enough to the economy to make much difference by taking a day off -- or by disappearing altogether. Having them around is good for the economy -- but not so good that we couldn't do without them. I support a guest-worker plan of some sort for humanitarian reasons -- not because I think the economy can't get by without one. So the message sent by the demonstrations will not be that the immigrants are necessary -- but that the are ungrateful and demanding. They are less likely, rather than more, to get fair, sensible treatment from the federal government now that they have further alienated the voting public.

Of course this all suits the ethnicity pimps just fine. The more polarized and poisonous the atmosphere of the immigration debate in this country the more power and media attention they will get. Your average low-wage hispanic worker is not particularly savvy, politically speaking. While you watch the news coverage of today's events please bear in mind that most of the people out there marching behind their Mexican flags have no notion what message they are sending.