Wednesday, November 23, 2011
by Blob
It's bright and pleasant
But those late Autumn breezes
They be mad crisp, son
Wednesday, November 9, 2011
by Blob

A few years ago, Mrs. Cynical Optimist was diagnosed with a dairy allergy. At about the same time, I started working on my weight. These factors combined to promote a higher interest in cooking and cooking well. As time has gone by, we've discovered a number of tricks and ingredients which work well as substitutes, gradually returning some of our favorite dishes to meal time. It occurs to me that since these are works-in-progress, perhaps a record of what I did and might do differently could be useful. So, I present the first of a series: Dairy Free: Macaroni and Cheese.

Butter was easily solved: Earth balance makes a number of buttery, nicely-cooking dairy-free margarines.

Milk is a bit more complicated. We find soy milk to be good for drinking and with cereal (particularly in sweetened, vanilla flavor), but it has a tendency to break when cooking, making a watery separated mess. Canned coconut milk has become our cooking milk of choice. The light variety can be used in place of milk, and the higher fat in the standard variety can replace cream (to an extent).

Cheese. We've not found very much in the way of a good cheese substitute yet. Soy Kaas makes a decent mozzarella flavor, which we've used in pizza and pasta filling. Their cheddar is okay, but not nearly sharp enough. Unfortunately, I have to go way out my way to get Soy Kaas, so I often pick up Daiya shreds at the local megamart. Daiya melts well, but has even less of that cheesy punch than Soy Kaas.

Having found all the necessary pieces, however, I set out to make one of Mrs. Cynical Optimist's favorite (and much missed) dishes: Mac-n-cheese.

I began with Alton Brown's recipe, but here's my ingredient list.

Ingredients:
    Filling:
  • 3 Tbsp Original Earth Balance
  • 3 Tbsp flour (I used (and highly recommend) Montana Sapphire)
  • 2-1/4 cups light coconut milk
  • 2 Tbsp Grey Poupon (less if you don't love mustard)
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 tub (4 oz) "Better Than Cream Cheese" (It's not, but it's not bad, either)
  • 2/3 bag (8 oz) Daiya cheddar style shreds
  • Salt & pepper to taste
    Topping:
  • 1/3 bag (4 oz) Daiya cheddar
  • 3 Tbsp Earth Balance
  • 1 cup bread crumbs

In addition to the obvious substitutions, I omitted onion and bay leaf (because I didn't have them - a mistake I won't repeat), paprika (because I didn't think it would help without the onion and bay leaf). I replaced dry mustard with Grey Poupon because I love the way it tastes in grilled cheese, so I thought we'd try it here, too. I was surprised by how much milk the recipe called for. I happened to have an unopened can of coconut milk, and the remaining halfish-can from the weekend's cookery. That made around 2.25 cups, while Alton Brown's recipe called for 3 cups dairy milk. It seems to have been enough.

  1. Get your pasta water started
  2. Melt the Earth Balance in a saucepan, whisk in the flour, keep it moving over medium-low heat about 5 minutes, make a light roux
  3. Realize you should already have your coconut milk ready; hastily open can and retrieve leftovers from this weekend's pancakes from the fridge, while not burning your roux (This step may be optional)
  4. Stir in coconut milk and mustard, simmer for 10 minutes
  5. Add pasta to water
  6. Preheat oven to 350
  7. Temper the egg: whisk it slightly, and then slowly add hot milk/roux mixture to the egg while stirring to gradually bring up the egg temperature without scrambling
  8. Once warm-to-hot, stir egg mixture into the saucepan
  9. Stir in (Not Better Than) cream cheese and cheddaresque shreds
  10. Salt and pepper. More than you think you need, but taste, taste!
  11. I also added a bit of our fake grated parmesan, but I don't think it added much, nor would it be missed
  12. Drain pasta, fold into mixture, turn into casserole dish
  13. Top with remaining cheddarish shreds
  14. Melt remaining Earth Balance, stir in bread crumbs to coat
  15. Top casserole with buttered bread crumbs
  16. Turn oven to bake, put casserole in for 30 minutes
  17. Move close to top of the oven, turn on broiler to brown top for 3 minutes
  18. Wait five minutes (nuclear hot!), serve

The result was a concoction of surprising fidelity to the original, at least in terms of texture. Creamy and smooth, it felt like good mac and cheese. Unfortunately, it's lacking that sharpness real cheddar brings, and overall was just not cheesy enough. However, we both had seconds, and it was difficult to not have thirds. It definitely qualifies as comfort food.

I'm going to try this again, putting the onion and bay leaf from Mr. Brown's recipe back in, and using Soy Kaas cheddar and omitting the creamish cheeseish. I will report back on the result when it's done.


Brand names are included herein because these are the things I've found to work best from much trial-and-error. I've not been compensated in any way by the makers of these products.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009
by Blob
Tuesday, February 24, 2009
by Blob

MC Frontalot alerted me to a meme (via Twitter) where you randomly select a band name, album title, and a photo for the album cover.

For the band name, hit Random on Wikipedia and use the title of the first article as your band name.

For the album title, grab random quote from The Quotations Page, and take the last four or five words from the last quote.

Finally, for the album art, take the third picture on Flickr's Explore the Last Seven Days page.

Over at BuzzFeed, there's a thread with some incredible contributions. I was in a creative mood this afternoon, so I worked one up, too. Here's mine:

One part Jonathan Coulton, one part John Mayer, one part Jonathan Winters, Gabriel Adams' first major label release, One Might Wish to Hide, bursts onto the folk/pop scene with a fresh vocal style, catchy, witty lyrics, and stirring pop arrangements. Watch this one; Gabriel Adams is a force to be reckoned with.

Full quote: The incognito of lower class employment is an effective cloak for any dagger one might wish to hide. --Margaret Cho

Gabriel Adams: Mayor of Pittsburgh

Photo: 15/365 I Promise... by noimnotclarence

Friday, February 13, 2009
by Blob

Either you've been living under a rock for the last few weeks or you're familiar with the "25 Things" meme. I refuse to use Facebook and I'm aware of it. Well apparently, Rachel, of Glimmerville fame, came up with the brilliant idea of inventing 25 "facts" about yourself. My friend Kris ran with it and came up with this post. I thought this was a brilliant idea, and I commented (before I learned that Rachel was involved) that I was tempted to copyemulate1 him, but that I would refrain from doing so for a change.

However, the two protagonists both encouraged me to do so, so here they are, twenty-five spectacularly untrue facts about Blob, the Cynical Optimist-in-Chief.

  1. I spent three years in a Tibetan monastery meditating and doing little else. It was during this time that I learned how to harness and manipulate the power of beans. Sadly, my return to the western world with its pressures and its deadlines has left me with little time for meditation and led to the loss of most of my powers. Not all, however, as my wife will attest in displeasure after a trip to Chipotle.
  2. Like most kids, I played doctor with childhood female acquaintances. Unfortunately my specialty, psychiatry, was not particularly conducive to me getting to see their naughty bits. On the other hand, I was able to buy my first Jaguar before graduating high school.
  3. I earned a Bachelor of Arts in Applied Waste Management. Fortunately, my career went in a different direction.
  4. On my first attempt at passing my driver's exam, I set a testing center record by running over seven different traffic cones during the maneuverability test. Two of them were intended for another kid's test.
  5. I have never been on an aircraft that did not experience engine failure on a later flight. To the best of my knowledge, no one has perished in any of these incidents, nor is there any correlation between my presence and the various engine problems. Still, it's a weird fucking coincidence, and I'm on the no-fly list.
  6. My Confirmation name is Isidore, for St. Isidore of Seville, the patron saint of computer programmers.2
  7. A friend and I worked out a new graphical display system over dinner one evening which would have scaled to any desired resolution and would have been more efficient than CRTs, LCDs, DLPs, and plasma. We made copious notes on the back of a napkin. Contrary to what TV and the movies would have you believe, this is no way to record important discoveries. While we weren't looking, a waitress cleaned up the table. We've been unable to duplicate the brainstorm.
  8. For a time, I was convinced that I was adopted, the child of a visitor from an alien race and a girl from Albuquerque. This is because my parents told me that was the case. Years of therapy have helped me become the productive member of society you know now.
  9. I'm told that my first word was "interstitial".
  10. I did a brief stint as a car salesman.3 I once made a really, absurdly great deal, taking in a trade and cash for a new Mercury Grand Marquis well above MSRP. The sales manager revoked my commission after discovering a body in the trunk of the traded-in car.
  11. I believe the staple to be the most honorable of office supplies.
  12. For the first twenty years of my life, I twirled my spaghetti noodles clockwise on the fork; for the second twenty, counterclockwise. One of the few things I'm looking forward to on my rapidly approaching 40th birthday is switching back.
  13. At least once a month I get confused for Chris Elliott. By his aunt Harriet.
  14. I was a foreign exchange student in Germany for my junior year of high school. My host family's custom was to be nude indoors at pretty much all times. Unfortunately, I was an adolescent boy and they had a hot German daughter. I thought for a while that puberty meant "permanent erection". They politely never mentioned it, however. Even when I inadvertently poked Frau Gerber in the butt while passing her in the kitchen. With my penis. Which was erect.
  15. I served two tours in Iraq during the first Gulf War. Thankfully, my unit never saw any action. My Army nickname was "Fodder" due to my consistently poor marksmanship scores.
  16. My brother and I ran with the bulls in Pamploma in 1997.
  17. I was the first person to suggest using platinum as a catalyst for converting internal combustion engine exhaust into slightly less nasty stuff. This provided a market for the previously worthless metal. It really was just a coincidence that my grandfather owned an old platinum mine.
  18. I DVR Oprah. Even the reruns.
  19. When frightened, like most people, I want to go to my happy place. Unfortunately, the restraining order that bitch took out makes that impossible. I don't understand the problem; she doesn't even use her hamper most of the time.
  20. I can't cry. Doctors have told me there's some rare deformation of my tear ducts. I keep several bottles of Visine on my person at all times. I'm almost glad I can't fly any more, with just three ounces and the dry, rarefied air, I'd almost certainly have serious eye problems on a flight of any length.
  21. I spent seven years in a federal prison for wire fraud in connection with an unfortunate incident involving my Commodore 64 and a 1200 baud modem. I'm not permitted to discuss the specifics, but I can tell you that the "official" Enron story is not true.
  22. I did a brief stint performing in adult films. Embarrassingly brief, if you take my meaning.
  23. My best childhood friend was tragically killed in a freak food processor accident. I graduated culinary school without ever having chopped a vegetable thanks to a note from my therapist, help from my fellow students, and some very understanding instructors. Turns out, restaurateurs don't really have much patience for my problem and I was forced to seek other employment options.
  24. I have six toes on my left foot. I had my right small toe removed so that I could still be strange, but have ten toes.
  25. While in prison, I did a correspondence course in Psychiatry. Turns out, I had it seriously wrong when I was playing with the neighbor girls. If I'd done Psychiatry correctly, I'd have been swimming in naughty bits.

1 Yeah, I do this a lot.
2 Part of this is true; St. Isidore really is the patron saint of Programmers. He lived in the seventh century. Which was even before the time of Charles Babbage.
3 I'm not proud of it, but this part is actually true. We all do foolish things in our youth, mine was just particularly foolish.
Friday, January 16, 2009
by Blob

I was challenged by Kris Johnson to provide you with sixteen random tidbits about myself. I had to do it quickly in the short span of time permitted by my schedule, so this is what you get:

  1. When I went off to university, I was convinced that I didn't want to study for a career in computers, because I didn't want to ruin my hobby.
  2. I dropped out after a year, having run out of funding. I thought it was unwise to bury myself in debt without any real conviction about what I should attempt to learn. The irony is that I've paid enough in credit card interest during my adult life to have paid off student loans.
  3. In 1995, I was involved in two automobile accidents and received one absurd traffic citation in the span of four months. The resulting insurance premiums (for three years) were higher than either of my car payments at the time.
  4. I never fought back, having been teased and bullied as a child. I had foolishly bought into the "turn the other cheek" nonsense I'd learned. Instead, I punched a massive partition dividing our junior high school gym during class one day rather than the child who was teasing me, knocking it off its track. That event seems to have been a turning point; after that I was mostly left alone.
  5. I have never so much as tried a cigarette, but I will have a very occasional cigar.
  6. I get absolutely freaked the hell out when I encounter a person taller than myself. At six-foot-five, it's a rare occurrence, though.
  7. Despite my knowledge of the odds and any jokes about it being a tax on people who are bad at math, I play the big jackpot lottery a few times a month. I'm acutely aware that the odds of winning are vanishingly small, but they're the best chance I've got at doing many of the things I want to do in this life. I refuse to be enough of a dick to get rich the old-fashioned way.
  8. I have made great strides, but I still conduct myself as a very poor loser in tests of skill. I do not mean to do so; I'm genuinely pleased for the player or team who beat me. It's never the losing that bothers me, it's the performing below my personal standards that does. I seem to be unusually inconsistent at most things.
  9. I do not make New Year's resolutions, but I am trying to tackle my weight again in 2009. I lost 55 pounds in 2005, but gained it all back in 2007 having reverted to old, bad habits during my convalescence from rupturing my achilles tendon.
  10. I am a Formula One racing fan. I consider myself primarily a Ferrari fan because Enzo used to sell road cars in order to finance his racing team, rather than racing to sell cars like most of his competitors. This is, sadly, not still true, but you've gotta respect the tradition. They do make it hard to support them, though, sometimes conducting themselves in an unsportsmanlike manner.
  11. Despite my size, I prefer small cars. I don't need a machine to do big and strong. I need one to do quick and nimble.
  12. I really need to learn to say, "No," more often.
  13. I am making myself late working on this. This will not ensure domestic tranquility.
  14. I'm thirty-seven years old and I still essentially live paycheck-to-paycheck. It's astonishing how well my expenses have always managed to grow to fit my salary.
  15. I have a phobia of scorpions. I assume this is due to Clash of the Titans, since I've never encountered one in the wild.
  16. I don't seem to have "favorite" things any more. I can no longer point to a favorite band, song, color, or food. I don't know if this makes me strange, noncommittal, or if it's just part of getting older.

Whew, it's done.

I'm going to leave off the tagging portion. It may be bad form, but I literally don't know anyone well enough that KJ hasn't already tagged.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008
by Blob

Dear reader, I pose this question for you:

Should I hold myself to a different standard than I hold other purveyors of fiction?

When I read fiction that touches on science or technology1, and said science is wrong2, it bothers me3. However, if the rest of the tale is exciting, intriguing, or otherwise entertaining, I am all too happy to let it slide.

The idea I've started entertaining for this year's NaNo novel is based on some pretty lousy science. I don't want to get into the details just yet, but suffice it to say that it would bug me if I were just the reader.

My problem is twofold. First, it's NaNo; to reach the goal, I just need to crank out 50,000 words, regardless of how useless they are. And second, it troubles me that I can't think of a more elegant way to cause the scenario which is the basis for the story, and I'd really hate for my first success4 at NaNo to be based on something that would bug me as a reader.

As I said, though, if it were another author's book, I'd let it go and enjoy the rest of the tale.

So what do you think? Should I write the story, warts and all, or should I spend the next three days cramming for a better idea? Your comments would be welcome.



1 Would it kill Hollywood to hire a nerd or two to vet the so-called hacking that goes on in TV and movies?

2 And, sadly, it almost always is.

3 Bad science in non-fiction, like our news and politics, makes me even crazier, but that's a whole 'nother post.

4 This is rather unlikely, given my track record

Friday, October 3, 2008
News, Stuff >
by Blob

Welcome to cynicaloptimism.org.

I'd always meant to register myself a real domain name, but having conned a number of people into visiting the old site on a regular basis, I was a bit daunted by the proposition of getting things changed over.

Plus, there was the problem of figuring out what the heck to register. Blob's an okay nickname, but no untaken variations of it appealed to me as a domain name. So, I tried many dozens of things until I came across cynicaloptimism, which I felt conveyed the essence of my outlook on life nicely concisely.

This was back in May, mind you. It took me until now to be satisfied that the new old server would be stable and that I could migrate things over reasonably efficiently. That's right, no longer is everything running on the old Pentium 133 with 32MB RAM. We're talking dual P3-450s with 1GB, baby. That ought to improve some of the performance around here.

Not much else is going to change in the near future, however. You'll still get nearly daily Haikus and occasional other content. I was working on a flash fiction project actually, which has turned itself into a short story. I hope to get that done before November and NaNo.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008
by Blob

Her smile was genuine, completely care-free. Reginald marveled at it.

Since he'd gone off to war twenty years ago, he had never felt like that. Happy, calm, at peace. How marvelous he found it that she could be that way, and as she giggled as she twirled beneath his hand, how wonderful that she could almost make him feel it again.

She was younger than he was; not much older than he had been when they put a rifle in is hand at age seventeen and called him a man. He'd done his duty, aided his nation in her time of need. He'd killed young men who had never wronged him and he carried the guilt of it all these years. It's true that they would have—wronged him, that is—had they had the opportunity, but he knew that it was only because they, too, were doing their patriotic duty. In the intervening years, he had learned it could all have been avoided with just a bit more understanding and a little less posturing by politicians on all sides. That had made him angry and bitter, too. That was almost worse than the guilt.

She had never known war, though, so perhaps the innocent glee of it came naturally. Still, she was old enough to have her own share of burdens. At a mere twenty-two years of age, she'd already lost a husband to disease and a child to still birth. And yet, here she was, swaying to the blare of klaxon horns as though it was a symphony.

He'd enjoyed getting to know her. Grace was her name, he suddenly remembered. Fate had put them at a table together that evening, just as it had made sure their mutual affection and attraction could never blossom into something more. They'd exchanged tales, both happy and sad, talked at length about their triumphs and their fears. She had been working as a clerk since her husband died, but she was studying to become a nurse.

Grace had won her ticket through some sort of lottery. She said that she had spent a significant portion of her life savings on the dress she wore that night. It was simple, but effective. Bright red and delightfully clingy, yet with a flare at the hem that billowed with each twirl.

He hadn't had the heart to tell her that he had spent several times as much on mere sashes for the fashions he had tailored for the nobility and heiresses that comprised his clientele. Upon reflection, though, he realized that no amount of gold could bestow on the majority of them the simple, ethereal beauty that the Grace possessed that evening.

He pulled her tight to himself, draping her arm around his neck and placing his around her waist. The more enthusiastic portions of their dance had set her heart racing and he could feel it through her chest. She flashed that smile at him again and to his surprise he suddenly felt his own, cold, cynical heart flutter and leap.

His memory flashed, a feeling awakened something that had lain dormant for two decades. A girl that he had loved very much before the war, a girl not too different from Grace. He'd forgotten all about her and about who he was before. He'd felt this feeling then, too, before chaos took it all away.

In the space of an instant, the memory had passed and he was once again in the moment. Perhaps for the first time in twenty years he was truly in the moment. Impulsively, he leaned down to kiss her and as her smile parted for him, he closed his eyes.

They spent a lifetime in that kiss, they married, had children, grandchildren, they grew old together. When they stopped to catch their breath, he was surprised to find that only moments had passed.

When he opened his eyes and saw her smiling again, he smiled right back at her. He knew joy.

As they joined again in a different, more purposeful kiss, the asteroid the klaxons had been warning about smashed into their ship. Apparently, the crew had failed to revive the engines in time and no rescue ship had reached them.

Far better to die like this, he thought in that final moment, than to live like that.

Thursday, December 13, 2007
by Blob

Fig. 1
Forza Motorsport 2

I mentioned way back in 2005 that I was smitten with Forza Motorsport. Well, two and a half years later, I have an Xbox 360 and its successor, Forza Motorsport 2. FM2 is just as much fun as its predecessor, with even more paint customization options and more physics and polygons and shit.

I have a couple of friends on my friends list who, like me, love the racing sims. One of them, we'll call him CBizkit, invited me to join the ARS Technica gaming forum racing league, and eager to test my skills, I joined up.

FM2 has a Performance Indicator system, whereby points are assigned for things like horsepower, weight, braking power, tire grip, and even shift time. For each race in this series, each driver takes a 2002 Lotus Esprit, which has a base PI of 695 and adds modifications to get as close to (or usually on) 850 as possible. You can add handling mods like tires and weight reduction or horsepower mods such as turbochargers and exhaust systems, or in many cases a combination of the two. Then you can adjust the car's transmission and suspension settings to suit the track and your driving style. This leads to quite a varied field of cars on most tracks and a great deal of challenge in finding the best setup for any given race.

Furthermore, being the complete and utter nerd I am, I can't resist creating the occasional writeup on the forum of my goings on, usually in the form of a press release/race report in the style found on my favorite Formula One news sites. Expect crossposts of those, such as the one you're about to read, to become a regular feature of the blog until the season is over.


Blob Motorsports marks its debut at Tuesday's ARS Group One race at Maple Valley

"When we started this season," says Blobemetheus, CEO of Blob Motorsports and driver of the currently 5th place #42 Lotus Esprit, "it was just me and a car." He adds with a characteristic grin, "Okay. A couple of cars."

"But, you know, I had to do everything. Line up sponsorships, pack up the gear, haul the cars, drive 'em, tune 'em, replace dozens of snapped carbon fiber wings, deal with suppliers. It was a nightmare. And you can see from our early results that it just wasn't working. I couldn't even line up the car at the season opener in Laguna Seca. That was a real heart breaker. We did all our preseason testing there, and I was feeling pretty good about the car and the track. I think I could have taken it to the big boys, but alas, we'll never know."

Blob, as he likes to be known, then went on to a string of DNFs, including the exhibition race at the Nurburgring and a race at Sebring that had been going well until he ran out of fuel just two laps from the finish.

"Well, I got into a wall early on and needed to pit. Of course, I had to get out of the car myself and bang out the body work. I climbed back in and turned in some decent laps. I thought I was good to go on fuel, but obviously I was wrong."

Blob hopes he's put all that behind him, now. While in Germany, he put in the last few phone calls required for the incorporation of Blob Motorsports.


Fig. 2
Blob Motorsports Decal on the #42 Lotus

"I've got a business manager and a mechanic and a logo now. Man, what a relief to be able to concentrate on what I'm best at: Getting that gorgeous hunk of metal around the circuit as fast as possible."

It seems as though the arrangement has payed dividends immediately. After the action packed and ultimately aborted first start at Maple Valley, he'd secured third place. "And even if Audiocee hadn't gone out, I think I would have caught him after the pit stops," says Blob. "I'd done a little bit of engine damage trying to keep it off the wall while sliding on the grass, but it's nothing we couldn't have cleaned up in the pits."

Blob Motorsports opted for an all-handling configuration at Maple Valley, sacrificing ultimate speed for control and consistency.

"After a few dozen practice laps, I had a real good rhythm going. I was flat for like 90% of the lap. Of course, with all that wing, I didn't get much above 140, but the car was solid and stable. But I knew I was in for a fight on Tuesday because I was still nearly a second off Uni's time. But I figured that if I could just run it clean, I might stay competitive."


Fig. 3
The grid at the restart

After the restart, clean was the operative word. While there's much speculation and justification around race control's decision to restart with a random starting order, Blobemetheus was happy to retain his second place grid spot.

"It was good. I was running a really tall first gear, so I was very happy I managed keep the revs up without smoking the clutch or the engine at the start. I was able to keep touch with Audiocee, who started first, and when he went wide, I slid past on the way up the hill. After that, it was clear sailing for four laps."


Fig. 4
Blobemetheus taking the lead

On the fifth, though, Blob made his first error and went wide, giving Unimetal and the #007 Lotus an easy pass for the race lead.

"I just missed my apex. I wish I could blame it on something other than driver error, but that's all it was. A momentary lapse of concentration can cost you a lot out there, especially when the other driver's got nine tenths per lap on you. I saw him coming and obviously let it rattle me."


Fig. 5
Final lead change: Unimetal on top

Blob nearly caught Unimetal at the top of the hill on the very next lap, but having to check up to avoid collision, that was the last he'd see of him all day.

"After that, I just fell into my rhythm and did my thing. I think I had one more minor off, but other than that, I was pretty good, even when the tires started to lose grip. Unfortunately, I needed Uni to make a mistake at that point and it seems like he never did. I've gotta give Unimetal and the 007 team their propers. They did their homework and drove a good race."

Still, after a very disappointing start to the season, the second step of the podium must have been a big boost for the young team.

"You bet! While I hope for bigger and better things as the season rolls on, my first podium is very exciting. Thanks go out to the fans and to the guys at Blob Motorsports. Oh, and to CBizkit, for giving up a lot of points and letting me lap him. Twice."