This is not a blog. So sue me!


Crikey, things are looking up!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Friday, July 10, 2009

Chocolate truffle tart for Erin

Credit goes to Lucy Waverman for the idea in a Globe & Mail food column.

I brought this evil dessert along to the rowing club pot-luck supper yesterday. It's the single simplest and most impressive uncooked dessert that I know. The basis is ganoche which is heated cream with chocolate whipped in.

For 7 inch pan:

10 oz dark chocolate
1 cup whipping cream
2 tbsp liqueur (optional)
2 tsp grated zest of orange/lemon (optional)
1 cup cookie crumbs or nuts (e.g. ground almonds)
2 oz - half stick - butter
Decoration.

Prep time: about half hour plus time to set in fridge - 2-4 hours.

Use a 7 inch spring form cake pan to allow the dessert to be removed easily (but you can make this in any container as long as you line the pan with silicone paper or something like that). This dessert is very sticky at room temperature, but handles well once frozen. If you are taking it to a party you can cut it up when frozen and either serve frozen or thawed.

Method:
Make a crust with your favorite cookie crumbs mixed with melted butter (1 cups crumbs to half stick of butter). Or use half ground almonds instead of the cookie crumbs. Mix the crumbs and the melted butter and press into the bottom of the pan.

Heat cream to just about boiling. Remove from heat break the chocolate into pieces and addto the cream to melt. Stir well until smooth. Sir in the zest and liqueur. Pour over the crust. Leave to set in the fridge. Remove from pan and decorate as you like.

Stored well wrapped in a freezer, seems to keep well for 6-10 months. I find that if I make several at one time and keep them for special occasions it saves on mess and work.

Decoration suggestions.
I find taking the cake out of the pan painting it with orange marmalade and then sticking on sliced almonds looks nice. Add a few curls of chocolate or dried apricots or frozen raspberries...
At room temperature you can shape the dessert, so even if you have an accident, drop it off the plate onto the kitchen counter like we did on one memorable occasion, it can be repaired. Orange slices, mandarin segments, whipped cream...

Variations:
  • You can build up layers of different flavoured ganoche, once the first has set. Adding a can of sweetened or unsweetened chestnut purée to the ganoche makes a nice contrasting colour. Or use different chocolates; better quality chocolate is expensive but worth it; milk or white chocolate can look stunning as layers.
  • If you are covering the cake with nuts then just pour on the different layers and allow to set. Gently swirl them if you are not covering the with nuts so that the swirls show a nice effect.
  • Different fruit toppings or swirl in something like gently crushed raspberries from Dentz farm. M-mm!
  • Different liqueurs: orange is great. There's a really nice inexpensive orange flavoured drink from the LCBO called Monsard Orange & Brandy. This won't break your budget at $24, and it's nice to drink as well. Forget that over-priced French stuff...although remember "Absinthe makes the tart grow fonder.*"

Depending on the depth of the pan you can make this tart as deep as you like. Hmm...a deep tart...sounds like we could craft some kind of joke around that as well.

* - Stolen joke alert!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Jerk to inflate

Over the years we have acquired several inflatable PFDs all branded as "Sospenders".
The first 2, bought in 1995, included life harnesses and are auto-inflate. They have a water soluble "pill" which will allow a spring loaded pin to pierce the CO2 capsule and inflate the life jacket, hopefully, in the case where one plunges, unconscious, over the side. They are also suitable for non-swimmers because one doesn't have to have ones wits about one for the things to inflate.

The other 2 PFDs we bought in about 2000 are so-called manual inflation models. These are lighter (no built in harness, so no heavy stainless steel rings and clips) and they have to be inflated by pulling a handle. They are nicer to wear just for a quick run in the dinghy or on a calm day.

When we bought the PFDs we bought about 3 sets of spare gas bottles and retention plastic clips to prevent the handles from being pulled accidentally - you have to pull quite hard: the handle at the end of the cord says "JERK TO INFLATE", which for pathetic reasons I find hilarious.
The thing we noticed at the time we bought the second set was that the design of the inflators had changed and the plastic clips we had for the old ones are not the same for the new ones...same idea, but about 3 mm different in size.

So far so good. In 2001 we had one of the automatic PFDs serviced by Sporting Lives Inc. - a friend had tried out the inflation of the device (at my suggestion) and had pulled the cord off when it didn't inflate. Totally my fault - I had unscrewed the gas bottle to prevent accidental inflation, and had forgotten to rearm it properly. Must be the drinking.

So the inflator was broken and the servicing company had replaced it and serviced the jacket for $40 US including shipping, which I consider to be reasonable.

We have used all the PFDs sporadically for the last few years, but have always taken care of them. Check them regularly and inflate & repack them annually.

We then bought a new boat in 2009 - on board was a non-automatic PFD identical to the ones we already had. It had no gas bottle or plastic retaining clip. So we started the search for our spares (somewhere in the basement) unsuccessfully. No worries, we thought...the product says "Sospenders by West Marine" on it. We'll just hie ourselves to the nearest West Marine and get the bits.

Not so fast, boater...West Marine no longer carry the compatible retaining clips for the brand of inflators that is in all these PFDs. The company that built the PFDs (and serviced them) used other suppliers' inflators and is no longer in business, having been bought out by Stearns in 2005.

Hours of fruitless searching for these tiny plastic clips on the web later...f*ck it, I thought, the only purpose of these clips is to add a bit of impedence to the pull cord so that the thing doesn't go off accidentally when one is moving around. I have experimented with a piece of stiff stainless wire formed into a clip and it works very nicely. I think we can save ourselves a lot of fooling around and just use this for the ones that don't have plastic clips, or to re-arm them in future if we use the PFDs in earnest (which destroys the plastic clips).

So, a pair of needle-nosed pliers (Leatherman Wave, always in my pocket) and some stiffish 1mm thick stainless wire. Cut the wire to 2.5 cm, shape a curl in each end and put the ends of the wire in the holes replacing the clip. About 10 mins of experimenting, including trying the destructive test of pulling the handle and voilà! It is, in my eyes, a better design than the plastic clips, can be created by anyone, anywhere and reduces dependence on the manufacturers whims, design changes etc.

Of course the current generation of inflators has a tiny plastic peg in a hole, that will require some thinking to reproduce...if we ever get one of those.

One interesting thing: the professional servicing of these $150-$300 units seems to be non-existent now. I can't find anyone in North America who does this. Dozens of companies do this in the UK and Autralia, for example. Perhaps there is no market for this here. Perhaps in the UK, people are less ready to throw out an expensive item and take safety seriously so they have them serviced. Perhaps it's fear of litigation in NA...plenty of insurance companies will sue anyone they can think of if someone they insure is damaged by a defective PFD.

(We even heard of a Canadian marine surveyor who killed himself to save his family assets because he was being sued by a US insurance company. He had the misfortune to survey a boat that subsequently sank, killing a woman. However, I digress.)

Personally, having knowingly modified a PFD, I am willing to take the risk upon myself. So sue me :-)


Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Santa's helper - confession time

My conscience is troubling me - I fancy myself a rationalist, but in December I took part in the swindling of a little girl (aged 6). She'll hate me when she grows up I know. What can I do? I was begged by her lovely mother to help out:

Santa Claus
North Pole
H0H 0H0
Canada
24 December 2008

A Special Message from Santa

My Dearest Elizabeth,

I have thought long and deeply about the gift you want so much: a poodle. Not just any poodle, but a black poodle. I know that you have tried your best all this year and that you have been a very, very, good girl. Your mommy and daddy say you are a wonderful daughter!

Elizabeth, I am truly sorry, but Santa cannot give pets to anyone! My job is to give toys to good girls and boys - but a dog is not a toy! A dog it is a living, breathing animal that requires a lot of time, money, hard work and constant care and exercise.

Every Christmas there are dogs and cats given to children by their parents. Sometimes the children cannot care for them and the poor puppies and kittens have to go to the Animal Shelter: homeless! It makes them very, very sad!

If the time comes and your parents think that it is right for you and your family to have a pet, then you can talk to them about it. Until then you must be patient.

If you want to keep Santa's magic, please keep this message a secret from everyone except your mommy and daddy. Let me know what you think about it, you can write to me anytime, not just at Christmas.

I will be sure to bring you a special gift instead!

Give your little brother a hug from me!

With much love,


Santa.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

National Do Not Call Disaster

For quite a while this thing has been bubbling under- the fact that the CRTC has sold the National Do Not Call list to a bunch of unscrupulous, possibly criminal elements.

On or around Oct 1, 2008, in my usual got-to-be-first geeky way, I added a couple of cell-phone numbers (Don's and mine) to this list, as soon as it opened for business. The transaction was completely on-line...add number, then another number. I also added another friend's home phone number. The security was so lax I could add any number I wanted. In retrospect I should have added the numbers of the CRTC privacy point person but we can't all be prescient.

Everything was fine for a couple of months. Then this story came from the CBC. People were receiving more calls on their phones than before. The CRTC said that it was "under investigation."

Then in January 2009, this report from Yahoo news Canada - the CRTC basically admitting that they had sold the list, the do-not call list, repeatedly, for $50 to telemarketers. It could then be downloaded.

Now as we all know, telemarketers are honest, decent types, who really don't want to bother you at suppertime.* Clearly they didn't really have a use for this list (of people they shouldn't call, right?) so perhaps through the magic of the internet, the list was, possibly a little bit sort of, passed on and downloaded by a person in the United States. Nothing technically illegal is done.

One doesn't need to be Inspector Maigret to work out what happens next, and what happens next is entirely legal in the strict sense of the word. Don and I started getting automated calls from machines in the United States. Every day. We have never, ever got nuisance calls before. We only use these phone to call one another (very rarely handing out the numbers to anyone). These calls now warned us of dire happenings because our car warranty is running out or some such guff. That this phone spam is automated is even more annoying (as we cannot ask to be taken off the calling list and they cannot pretend to do so).

Some research shows that these calls come from the most shady side of the outbound telemarketing world, probably run by organized crime. So Canadians who previously had anonymous cell-phone numbers are now being targeted by this traffic. Uurgh.

(I suppose it's only fair. For many years, boiler rooms run out of Canada were targeting U.S. citizens for stock purchasing scams. It took a lot of cross-jurisdictional wrangling to get that stopped effectively.)

So I got fed up and wrote to my Member of Parliament:


To Mr Guy Lauzon, House of Commons,

A question of privacy

Dear Mr Lauzon,

Late last year when the National Do No Call List was started, I registered some cell phone numbers, although I had practically never had any unwanted calls on these numbers. Perhaps one in 6 months.

This was clearly a huge mistake! And I am very upset about this.

We have since started receiving daily calls to our cell phones from numbers with area codes in the United States. These are automated calls, mostly from numbers that are reported to be part of some kind of phone scam e.g. involving expired car warranties (949 256 9179).

I feel that the CRTC, the organization that set up this registration scheme, has been dreadfully mismanaged.
Somehow they have allowed my cell-phone numbers to be given to unscrupulous persons (probably organized criminals).

In addition, when I actually put my numbers on the system using a computer, there was no security
- I put several numbers on, and one for a friend. (I think that this mistake has since been remedied,
but it clearly exposes how poor the implementation of this scheme was).

When I answer these calls, I get to pay for the connection. If I don't answer calls, then I may miss
something very important. I feel that my only recourse is to get another cell-phone number for my phone,
which will leave me paying additional costs and be a serious inconvenience.

If this had been a commercial company and not a federal government agency, I would probably try to
get the transfer fee back from them or some compensation, but I probably don't have that option.

I find this very frustrating and a serious betrayal of my privacy to be exposed like this.

What can be done about this?

Sincerely,

Susan Welsh.
cc. vieprivee@req.lnnte-dncl.gc.ca, privacy@req.lnnte-dncl.gc.ca
(email addresses for the CRTC and Do Not Call list privacy staff)

---

Perhaps something will come of this. Perhaps pigs will fly.

* IMO telemarketers are pond-slime, second only to email spammers in their evil ways and deserve to be eliminated (see previous spam-related entries). That's right...I'm a pacifist - but we're only talking about eliminating pond-slime so no harm done.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Spam quarterly review - penis enlargement resurgent!

Once more into the breach...I do this as a public service, so you don't need to worry about the slimy things caught in your spam filter.

The big story, as always, is penis enlargement spam. It's rampantly ballooned in the last quarter! Drugs are down and fake watches are up. There are more new categories than I have seen in one review before. Overall volume is down. This may reflect some serious recent spam-killing actions, metaphorical and actual.

The current profile looks like this:
  • 19% Posh watches practically being given away. This is up from 12% from last quarter.
  • 19% Discount pharmaceuticals, including offers of drug trials for viagra and queries about having "heartaches." (Headaches, heartburn or lovelorn? Perhaps all three). Dramatic decline from 56%.
  • 11% Penis enhancements and help for your (always female) partner. More than doubled in size! That's more like it!
  • 10% Why do you need Adobe software? (Because I'm a pathetic web programmer...)  Cheap "genuine" software, with reference to financial crisis as excuse for piracy, presumably. Avast! New category, shipmates! I think MS and Adobe better cut their prices dramatically ;-)
  • 9%  We ship worldwide: Hot deals/Member services/Status accessories and attributes/eBay/Payment accepted/Safety information. Unimaginative. C'mon guys you can do better than this! 
  • 4%  Appeals to update your firewall, O.S. etc. Also a new category. Also lame.
  • 4%  Diets endorsed by Oprah...you'd have thought that wouldn't be a recommendation worth having, but I guess she's tried a few. Up from 1% last quarter.
  • 3% Your check is (still) waiting (is that Czech or cheque?) and other bogus sales confirmations. Also up from 1% last time.
  • 3% Dating sites, with transparently lewd come-ons...eew!
  • 2% Activate your Internet TV/Watch movies on your PC. New category.
  • 2% Gambling - who put the bling in gambling? Perhaps no-one, it's down from 6% last time.
  • 1% This is why you are fat. What little me? I've always been told I was robust! New.
  • 1% Appeals to laziness (Why work? Why get out of bed?) Why indeed. New.
  • 1% From "Doctor" Berry; "Clearance: Save up to 75%.-Choose Real Taste™" (which is a Pizza Pizza slogan). Clearance pizza as a cheap medication?  Yay! New.
  • 1% Unspecified financial help to fix what ails ya.  Well this isn't the flood of financial crisis help offers that I predicted but it's up.
Someone asked why I bother. It's interesting. It only takes 5 minutes. There are only about 10 categories every time. Seeing the patterns, shows that mostly the originators are few, somewhat stupid, and trying to appeal to the more stupid or at least to non fluent English-speaking people. Specifically those who think that wearing a fake Rolex will make women like them and that someone is going to give them health, money, fame and entertainment while they lie on the couch, eating crap.

Hmm...sounds OK, doesn't it?

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