heliopsis: yellow daisy (Default)
SunBug Solar installed my panels this week, and it was good. They started bright and early (7:30 AM!) on Wednesday, and worked for three days.

Brian, the electrician, arrived first. I showed him my electric panel, and he pointed out that (a) there was no room to add any new breakers, and (b) the wires inside were a mess. I have 100A service, and he suggested I consider upgrading to 200A service, since I'm considering an electric car some day soon. So I decided to go for it. This made his job considerably bigger than had been planned, but he set to work.

The installation crew arrived shortly thereafter and started unloading ladders and gear. I walked around the house with Carter, the foreman, and then I pedalled off to work. When I got home, there were rails installed on the upper part of the roof to hold the panels, and markings on the roof over the porch. Over the next two days, they installed the rails and the panels, while Brian worked feverishly to get the electrical work done.

By Friday evening, the panels were all in place but Brian was still finishing up. He got the power back on about 6, and finished at 7. Frankin and I offered him a beer, and we talked for a bit before he headed home. He still needs to come back on Monday, and National Grid needs to send someone out with a new (reversible!) meter before I can start generating electricity, but it's looking good. Brian told me about when he installed solar panels on his home. He was so excited that he didn't wait for the reversible meter, he just started generating. But it turns out the that the standard meter turns the same direction regardless which way the current is flowing. So not only did he give the power company two days' worth of electricity, they actually charged him for it. He's not making that mistake again.

I was going to post a bunch of pictures, but it was a lot easier to let Apple take care of it. If you're interested, you can check out my photo site.

Going Green

Oct. 1st, 2011 09:18 pm
heliopsis: yellow daisy (Default)
When Google bought ITA Software, the options I had been granted years ago turned into money. A nice chunk of money, but not enough to retire on. I decided to spend some of the money on improving the energy efficiency of my home.

I had an energy audit, complete with IR photos of my walls. This revealed that my walls were well-insulated, which I find a bit hard to believe. They're certainly not up to Canadian standards of insulation, but then again, winters here are not as severe. It's also true that my gas bills are not outrageous. I used to pay more for gas in my previous apartment, which was a lot smaller. Anyway, it was good to know that the previous owners had done a good job with insulation, because that's a messy job and not much fun.

What I really wanted was solar panels, so I looked into this. (OK, actually I started by looking into solar panels and then, when I felt guilty about doing the fun thing first, I did the energy audit.) It turns out to be a really, really good idea to put solar panels on your house these days in Massachusetts. The state has big subsidies, and even the federal government has a bit of a subsidy for this. There are plenty of companies eager to install solar panels, several of which will install solar panels for free. Yes, for free: they install the solar panels and you buy your electricity from them, at a fixed rate, for a few years. They collect the subsidies, you get electricity at a discount, and everybody's happy. But when I talked to one such company, they were only willing to put enough panels on my roof to produce half the electricity I consume. I figured I could do better than that.

Sure enough, I found a couple companies willing to install enough panels to generate all the electricity I use. I have to pay some money up front, but I happen to have some money at the moment. Once this is done, I'll get my electricity for free. The panels should last 30 years; certain components will need to be replaced in 15. They estimate that the system will pay for itself in about 5 years. Oh, of course I'm not simply disconnecting from the grid. The way it works is that my panels pump energy into the grid during the day, and I draw from the grid as I need it. The net over the course of a year is expected to be neutral, but I may need to pay a few bucks some months, while I'll get a refund in others. I'll have to track this to see how it turns out.

Really, why wouldn't everybody do this? Well, of course not everyone has a roof that's well suited for solar. I have a south-facing roof with no shading, thanks to Medford's anti-tree policies. And as usual, it takes money to save money, even despite the subsidies.

The solar installers will be here Wednesday to get started, and they expect to be done this week.

I've also started down the path of replacing my old boiler with an ultra high efficiency boiler. The energy audit said that I could probably save 30% on my natural gas bill by doing this, and that's significant. The subsidies for efficient boilers are not so generous, and I don't yet have an estimate of the total cost, but I expect it's well within my Google-enhanced budget.

Next, I'm hoping to persuade F. to replace his car with a plug-in hybrid of some sort, so that his daily commute can be solar powered. Of course, that would be a significant increase in our power consumption, so I'd end up buying electricity again...

I drink a cup of Yogi Tea most mornings at breakfast, and each tea bag has a little fortune on its tag. One of the recurring ones is "You will feel fulfilled when you do the impossible for another." Whenever I get this one, I think yes, I suppose so, but that seems awfully hard. I've decided to settle for feeling smug when I do something sensible for myself.
heliopsis: yellow daisy (Default)
Frankin and I flew up on Wednesday afternoon, arriving in Calgary a little after 22:00. Of course, that's midnight EDT, so it was a long day. Thursday morning, we (Frankin, Kirsten, her two children, and I) drive up to Blooming Fields, a PYO farm and cafe between Didsbury and Olds. There, we picked saskatoons (which the iPad wants to spell "sadist one") and had a late lunch. The weather that day, and each day so far, has been splendid: sunny, warm but not hot. It has been a wet year in Alberta, so everything is lush and green. The canary grass is 7' tall and the barley clothes the land in gold-green velvet.

After lunch, we went to the Farm, where Mom had prepared baked beans for dinner. We picked over the saskatoons, and I made a Saskatoon-raspberry cobbler for dessert. We also had a wilted lettuce salad, using lettuce fresh from the garden, and bread fresh from the machine.

Saskatoons are small, purple berries which superficially resemble blueberries, but they are entirely different. Those who grew up with blueberries, find saskatoons dry and weird tasting; those who grew up with saskatoons, find blueberries watery and insipid. I have never encountered anything that tastes like saskatoons, and the combination of saskatoons and raspberries is the best thing in the world. The cobbler was delicious, exactly what I had hoped for: not too sweet, intensely flavorful, and more fruit than cobble.

Today was a Farm day. Mom and Dad are retired from farming, so there's no heavy labour; but they still keep a gorgeous garden. Dad and I picked up chairs and tables from a neighbor, and Frankin and I washed them this morning with the hose. Mom and Dad have a large German Shepherd named Gabriel, whom everyone calls Gabe. He's a fearsome looking dog, but he's as gentle as they come. He's a bit starved for entertainment, living with two older people, so he loves to play--and one of his favorite games is to pounce and snap at the stream of water from the hose. So cleaning the chairs was half cleaning, half entertaining the dog.

This evening we had grilled steaks, from a cow grown on the farm; potatoes, carrots and Swiss chard from the garden; and rhubarb pie, with rhubarb from the garden. I made the pie, and it was exquisite.

Oh, and as you can see, I have Internet access. My parents now have high-speed Internet, including a wireless network. Life is good!
heliopsis: yellow daisy (Default)
I read about Solar Metal Roofing through spam from Angie's List, and I'm intrigued. I think I'd like to use some of the money I'll get from the purchase of ITA by Google to improve the energy efficiency of my home, and I've been thinking I probably need to deal with the roof sometime in the next couple years anyway. Unfortunately, none of the providers touted by Angie's List happens to be anywhere east of the Mississippi. So I thought I'd ask the wide, wide world of the web if anyone has any experience with this. I've contacted a provider in Walpole, MA that looks promising and also Angie's List's top-rated "earth friendly" roofing contractor in the Boston area and a Medford company to see if they provide solar laminate metal roofing, but maybe somebody knows somebody who's cousin's rabbi's uncle's brother-in-law's neighbour's friend did this recently. If you have any recommendations (or warnings!) please let me know!
heliopsis: yellow daisy (Default)
I was getting tired of Russian porn spam, so I've decided to switch over to Dreamwidth.  If you're already on Dreamwidth but your name isn't the same as your LJ name, please friend me on DW so that I can reconnect.   I've also screened comments so that you can comment here with your DW name if you have one that isn't the same as your LJ name.
heliopsis: yellow daisy (Default)
I woke up in the middle of the night, as one does, with the vague notion that there ought to be a word that sounds like "procrastinate" but which alludes to Procrustes from Greek mythology. I got up to go to the bathroom, which is usually the correct response to these midnight musings, and came up with "procrustenate." ([livejournal.com profile] sovay may be wincing at the mashup between a Greek name and a Latin ending. Sorry!) Then I started to wonder what the word would mean.

Now, Procrustes was a nasty piece of work. He pretended to be a friendly innkeeper, inviting travellers to spend the night. But he only had one bed, and if you were too short for the bed, he'd stretch you on the rack; and if you were too long for the bed, he'd cut off first your feet, and then your head, to fit you in the bed. As a Very Tall person, you can see why Procrustes' story has always held a grip on my imagination.

So, what would it mean to procrustenate? Well, it would mean to cut off essential things in order to meet an arbitrary requirement. And then I realized with a start that this was a word we have needed for a long time. "I wish the damned Tea Party would stop procrustenating, and get serious for a change."

There are several things I like about this new word, none of them conducive to clear and precise communication. One is, of course, its extreme similarity to an existing word that is just on the edge of familiarity for many people, such that using the new word will leave them utterly confused. Another is that the unstressed syllable simply must be spelled with an 'e,' distinct from the 'i' in its more familiar near-homonym, creating opportunities for generations of pedants to click their tongues in dismay at the ignorance of the spelling public. Finally, Procrustes himself is sufficiently obscure that any well-meaning writer pretty much has to explain him when alluding to him, so the word, while precise and valuable in meaning, is also likely to leave even well-informed people scratching their heads.

You might reasonably object that the semantic space of "words alluding to Procrustes and meaning foolish or dangerous omission in pursuit of arbitrary goals" has already been amply filled with "procrustean," and you would be correct. It's a good, sturdy adjective with a proven track record and plenty of mileage left in it. But it lacks the urgency of a verb, and I think that's what "procrustenate" offers. We no longer have politicians who are willing merely to talk about monstrous cuts to essential programs (and simultaneous, identically vast cuts to taxes on the richest people); no, our current political life is filled with Procrustes' disciples, eager to actually increase the suffering of the poor, the sick and the old in order to "reduce the deficit." Not because there is any actual, pressing need to reduce the deficit (interest rates on government bonds remain at historically low levels) (and anyway, Bush II ran up a much larger deficit pursuing his Thrilling Adventure in Mesopotamia) (and besides, if there were such a need, surely the richest americans wouldn't mind so much having their tax rates raised to, say, the rates charged under Holy Saint Reagan) but because, as far as I can tell, they hate poor, old people and want them to suffer.

So I urge you to use this new word in all your correspondence. It shouldn't be hard to work it into conversations about the economy or the government. You can use its noun form, procrustenation too, but I recommend against creating any new adjectives. Let's leave some room for good old procrustean to breathe.
heliopsis: yellow daisy (Default)
That's what horses say. I'm playing a horse ("Nugget") in T@F's upcoming production of Equus. You may wonder why. I thought it would be fun to be part of this play, and to work with Dave, but having just finished The Lady's Not For Burning I didn't really want to learn a lot of lines. Also, there's a whole lot of gardening I want to do this spring. I can do theatre in the fall and winter, but I can only plant a cherry tree in the spring.

So playing a horse sounded like a fun challenge. There's no words or voice inflection to work with; it has to be all physical. This will be an interesting challenge for me, since I tend to be a rather intellectual performer. I look forward to the challenge.
heliopsis: yellow daisy (Default)
In the world:

visited 7 states (3.11%)
Create your own visited map of The World
Pretty pathetic, really.

In the United States:

visited 18 states (36%)
Create your own visited map of The United States
I have a whole lot of the US to visit.

In Canada:

visited 9 states (69.2%)
Create your own visited map of Canada
I have much better coverage here, though of course it's illusory. Since the Western provinces are about as big as France or Germany, it's a bit spurious to say that I've covered so much territory when really, I drove through. One more thing: I notice that James Bay is rendered as land rather than water on this map. For shame!
heliopsis: yellow daisy (Default)
After four performances of The Lady's Not for Burning this past weekend, you'd think I'd have been theatred out. And I nearly was; but I wanted to see the ASP production of Cymbeline, so I bought tickets on Sunday morning and went with F.

It was delightful. It made me wonder why it's a rarely performed play. But then I thought a bit more about the final scene, and it became clear. This performance was delightful precisely because they didn't take it too seriously. The human emotions, they took seriously; but the plot? A pastiche of Shakespeare's Greatest Hits. (I'm not even sure what a "pastiche" really is, but it sounds like a messy, awkward collage, doesn't it?) You've got your king spurning his loving daughter, and the lost children raised in the wild, and Romans and Welshmen and a woman dressed as a boy and a murderous queen and an exiled husband and "poison" that puts the victim into a sleep like death and mistaken identity and impersonation and a scoundrel who persuades the aforementioned exiled husband to test his distant wife's fidelity and and and... The only things missing, really, are a Jewish moneylender, a sorcerer and a bear. Thanks to [livejournal.com profile] plumtreeblossom's advice, we sat as far from The Foundry as possible (which, by the way, I have found to be distinctly mediocre. I've eaten there twice, now, and can think of no reason to return) so we got to enjoy the dialogue and the sound effects uninterrupted by Beyoncé.

One of the things I loved about the show, and this I have to attribute to The Bard, is the plotting of the last act. After the climactic battle (brilliantly staged, I thought, as a narrated dance piece), the prisoners are brought before the king and layer after layer of deception is revealed. But for an awful moment, it looks like it's all going to fall apart. The aforementioned exiled husband is reunited with his (recently dressed as a boy) wife, and his first action is to strike her in a rage. We get this close to Othello (and the actor playing the husband was black, what's more) before the aforementioned scoundrel speaks up and confesses his crimes, leading to tender reunions and forgiveness all around. Even the scoundrel is forgiven. It's hard to know whether Shakespeare imagined that the final scene would build in dramatic tension and resolution, or if he was deliberately parodying himself with all the identity swapping; either way, I think you'd have to perform it tongue-in-cheek, as in this performance. In addition, the fact that 7 people played fifteen rôles (including one rôle played by three actors in succession, whoever happened not to be busy at the moment) was a brilliant comment on the identity confusion within the text. I must add, though, that despite the doubling of rôles, it was always immediately obvious which of the fifteen characters was speaking at any moment. That is a tribute to the performer' skill, and to the director's vision.

If you haven't seen Cymbeline, you're too late; I caught the last performance. But you can still come see me in The Lady's Not for Burning at 8:00 next Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights at Unity Church. It's a play about a Chaplain who would like to be a bluegrass mandolin player—kind of like The Jazz Singer in Appalachia. There are some other subplots, too, for comic relief.
heliopsis: yellow daisy (Shadow in the barley)
while searching Amazon for a poodle-shaped dish (for reasons too complicated to go into here), I encountered this:
CK Products "I Love You" Break-Up Bar Chocolate Mold
Well, which is it? "I love you" or breakup?
heliopsis: yellow daisy (mouse cake)
I had the idea to make this a couple years ago, and I have made various versions of it over the years. I think I finally got it right yesterday, so I want to write down the recipe for posterity. The cake has already added to my posteriority.

The basic idea is to make an upside-down cake (which is usually a cloying, canned-pineapple and maraschino cherry thing) using fresh apples and gingerbread. The tricky part is that fresh apples are inherently rigid, so they don't fill the bottom of the pan as neatly as canned pineapple rings. I solved that problem this time by squashing the apple slices with my hands so that they broke and squished together, filling the pan while still retaining individuality. And I unmolded the cake as soon as it came out of the oven, which was key to getting a tidy top.

Herewith, the recipe: )

Serve it warm with ice cream or whipped cream. Since you used whole wheat flour and fresh apples, you can have the leftovers for breakfast without guilt.
heliopsis: yellow daisy (Default)
in 2011, in rough order of distance from where I am right now:
Medford, MA
Arlington, MA (at least, I think I did: I stayed at [livejournal.com profile] muffyjo's place when my heat was out during the renovation project. But that might have been late in 2009.)
Dorchester, MA
Harvard, MA
Calgary, AB
The Farm
Berlin, Germany
Köln, Germany

I think that's it. I should travel more widely this year.
heliopsis: yellow daisy (Default)
I understand there's a snow emergency in Boston.

We're having a Chinook in southern Alberta. The temperature is above freezing, there's sunshine and a Chinook arch. The ground is covered in snow from a week ago, but it's a very pleasant day here.

Please be careful shoveling the snow. I'd feel terrible about gloating if one of my friends got hurt.

Free wifi!

Dec. 4th, 2010 09:01 am
heliopsis: yellow daisy (Default)
I'm making a day trip to Baltimore to celebrate my godsons' 14th birthday. Through the munificence of the great and all-knowing Google, there's free wifi on the plane. So, greetings from a mile up!
heliopsis: yellow daisy (Default)
ITA Software is hiring again. We've been hiring quietly for the last year, but now we're getting serious about it again. We especially need people who can do Quality Assurance with automation: sharp, devious minds with good scripting skills. We are also looking for software developers. You don't have to know Lisp to apply--in fact, I'm a little suspicious of Lisp fanatics. C++, Java, and Python are good to have in your toolkit--and Lisp is good to have, too. For the software engineering jobs, you should go to our website, pick out a puzzle and submit a solution and a resume through the website. For QA, you can also submit through the website, but I could get a referral bonus if you send the resume to me. (I can't get a hiring bonus for software engineers because, well, I do a lot of the hiring. Conflict of interest.)
heliopsis: yellow daisy (Default)
This past Friday, while flossing my teeth, I dislodged a chunk of an old filling. I knew this was coming; my dentist had pointed out the failing filling the last time I was in. I'd decided to leave it alone because I've maxed out my dental insurance for the year. So much for that.

I called the dentist Monday morning, and got in that afternoon for an evaluation. They made a spot for me at 3:00 today. Now, I had already planned a cleaning for 5:00 today, but it turns out you can't swap one for the other because different people provide the services. So I had a 3:00 and a 5:00 appointment. I took my iPad with me so I could at least read email and write my weekly report between appointments.

I arrived about 3:05, but the dentist was busy with an elderly woman in pain, so I had to wait a while. About 3:30 they got me in and pumped my jaw full of novocaine. When they work on your back, lower molars, apparently the only thing to do is freeze a major nerve at the back of your head, so I quickly lost sensation in the right side of my tongue and face along with the molars. It's kind of creepy when you find a rubbery thing in your mouth, and after chewing on it for a bit you realize it's your tongue.

There was much grinding, and swapping of tools, and rinsing and spitting through lips that I only discovered weren't closed by observing their failure to contain the fluids within. They removed the old filling, carved away the bad bits of tooth, and left me with a jagged stump. Then they soldered and plastered and painted, and now I have a shiny, new, temporary cap. I will have to go back for a root canal, but at least I have been spared the ordeal of "crown lengthening." I will get the permanent crown in the new year, when my insurance kicks back in.

By the time they were done, it was 4:30. I had a half hour in the waiting room, and then the cleaning. Usually I'm pretty stoic, but I had used up all of my cope. Every little jab and poke made me wince. But that was done after 45 minutes, and I pulled myself together and went home.

So, what did you do today?
heliopsis: yellow daisy (Default)
I've had a busy weekend.

Saturday, Frankin and I went to his gym. That sentence feels so strange to me: That I have a boyfriend who goes to the gym. That I went with him. That, unspoken, I have my own gym, which is different. I have become one of those people who goes to the gym. I'm mostly glad of this, though there are times when it feels like I'd rather do something else... Anyway, after a gentle yoga class, some weights, a swim, a soak in the whirlpool, a shower and a sauna, we were starving. We picked up some lamb chops and mushrooms and went back to my place. Frankin cleaned the mushrooms while I washed farmshare broccoli; then I made herb oil (garlic, cumin, black pepper and a little salt in olive oil) and applied it to the chops. Sautéed the mushrooms with onion, garlic and parsley, steamed the broccoli and grilled the lamb. It was delicious. Dessert was apple crisp, with apples picked fresh last weekend, and honey whipped cream.

Oh yeah, I got my first harvest of honey from my hives. 17 pounds of honey! It's delicious. I've used almost a whole pound already.

Back to the honey whipped cream: I thought this would be tasty, and it was; but I discovered something else, too. The honey stabilized the whipped cream. Usually when you make whipped cream, it separates after a few minutes. You can whisk the water phase back in a couple times, but it's just not so nice. But the honey whipped cream doesn't separate. I have some leftover in the fridge from yesterday evening, and even 24h later, it's still fluffy and delicious.

Today was the day for planting perennials at the church, which took until two. Then home to tackle a couple projects. I had a bunch of tomatoes to make one last batch of tomato sauce, so I put that together and into the oven. I also had a chicken that needed to be roasted, so I seasoned it and then let it rest on the counter while the sauce cooked. I use Alton Brown's tomato sauce recipe, which involves roasting the tomatoes in a hot oven--too hot for the chicken. While the tomatoes were roasting, I assembled an apple bread pudding from the heels of three loaves of bread, eggs, brown sugar, soymilk, cinnamon and a little butter.

Pulled the tomatoes out of the oven and turned down the heat, then put the chicken and pudding in. I remembered I had a roasted acorn squash that needed to be used up, so I made a batch of squash dumplings. I kind of follow Alton Brown's recipe, except not: he uses as much potato as squash, and I don't use any potato; I also leave out the nutmeg, because I like to be able to choose how I sauce my dumplings, and nutmeg feels constraining.

While the tomato sauce cooled, I formed the dumplings and put most of them in the freezer; I kept about a sixth of them out for my dinner. Then I ran the roasted tomatoes through my food mill to make sauce, and reserved a bit of the sauce for my dinner. I added some leftover lamb and chicken to the sauce and simmered it while I brought some water for the dumplings to the boil. The rest of the sauce went into the freezer so that, some winter day I can thaw out a bit of summer.

I remembered I had some pancetta in the fridge, which Frankin had bought a while ago, and which was in danger of spoiling; so I laid it out in a pan and roasted it in the oven to make it nice and crisp. (I have also, it seems, become a person who has leftover pancetta.) Now I have crisp pancetta in the fridge to use as a garnish.

The sauce and dumplings were delicious, and the bread pudding was, too--especially with the leftover whipped cream. The chicken is done now, and cooling; I plan to take the meat off the bones and enjoy it later in the week. But right now, I need to clean up the kitchen and go to bed.
heliopsis: yellow daisy (Color house)
Today has been a day of modest but satisfying accomplishments:
-I got up early, had a healthy breakfast and went to the church to meet the landscapers. There, I threaded an electrical cord outside for them to use, then arranged for them to move a rose bush which I had been worrying about how to move.
-I had a reasonably productive day at work.
-I prepared myself a tasty, vegan dinner using eggplant. I've never felt like I knew what to do with eggplant; now I finally have a recipe I can use again. If you're interested, it's Alton Brown's Eggplant Pasta.
-I balanced my chequebook. Normally, this is no big deal, a step in my monthly bill paying; but this time around, I could not get it to balance for two nights running. I was beginning to lose faith in arithmetic, when I discovered my error.
-I paid my bills. I like to do them all in a lump once a month.
-I bought some new music: John Adams, and The Scissor Sisters. I meant to get some Lady Gaga in honour of her recent forceful stand against DADT, but I couldn't decide whether I wanted an album, or a sampling of videos. I get the impression that you can't really appreciate Lady Gaga's music without the visuals.
heliopsis: yellow daisy (Default)
When you see this, take a picture of yourself just as you are, and post it along with an imperative quoting or paraphrasing this one.

My hair is too long.
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