Site changes

New look for 2014

New Look

Retirement gives me some free time to play around with my hobbies so I gave a new look using the WordPress  2014 theme. This themes is designed for magazines rather than for “blogging”. I expect this site will become a scrap book over the coming years so the new theme fits the site’s mission well. I can use the blog for announcements and the pages to share photos, music, and video.

Copyright and License

With the new look comes a copyright statement and Creative Commons License down in the footer. All of the material hosted here is created by me. When sharing material created by others, I’ll do that by link.

Comment Policy

Comments are welcome but moderated and there are rules.

  1. Comments must be relevant
  2. Comments must be relevant
  3. No plugging your commercial interests
  4. Abuse of others will not be tolerated
  5. Rants will not be tolerated
  6. Links are frowned upon to protect the naive from drive-bys

Bread by the numbers

Bread by the numbers gives my favorite bread recipe. This recipe is a mash up of the basic white bread from Joy of Cooking and the learning recipe from the book Bread Alone and cooking ratios. By knowing the ratios, remembering the recipe becomes easy.

I’ve been doing some WordPress hacking the past couple of days.

  • The site now has a custom header image
  • The site now has a custom side bar.
  • The top level pages now have child pages
  • The top level pages and child pages have a custom side bar that shows the page tree for navigation.
  • The home page now allows navigation by categories.
  • I added my favorite bread recipe.



And The Priest Fainted Lentil Soup

I have no idea why I named it thus other than to warn you that this is not Mom’s Lentil Soup. It has a good bit of other stuff in it as inspired by several recipes for lentil soup that I found on the Internet. I know, Internet recipes are risky. Often they assume experience but this one does not. If you can measure, dice stuff keeping all your parts, and sauté without burning the house down, you can make this main dish soup. It is pretty thick so it can be served as a soup or over rice as a curry but it is a vegetable stock not relying on cream or coconut milk.

This recipe is assembled in three passes. The first pass does all the slicing and dicing. The second pass sautés the veggies. The third pass creates the soup.

Vegan Note

I use Better than Bouillon “chicken” stock for this soup. This product contains a small amount of rendered chicken fat. The largest ingredient is salt. Most of the flavor is from glutamates and other wonders of food science that have non-chicken origins. A table spoon gives a whole lot of flavor that beats most home made vegetable stock. This product is an America’s Test Kitchen favorite. And is the start of most canned stocks. Do yourself a favor and use it. And rest assured that not even Grissom or Sherlock Holmes can find chicken in this product.

How much

This recipe makes four to five servings. I ate a bowl and filled 4 pint containers with the leftovers.


This recipe requires the following tools.

  • 5 quart Dutch oven for 1 pot simplicity
  • 5 or so 2 cup prep bowls to hold diced vegtables
  • 1 quart prep bowl to hold the sliced potato
  • measuring spoons
  • chef’s knife
  • cutting board

As you can see, it is all basic stuff. If you elect to double the recipe, you will need larger prep bowls and a 7 quart Dutch oven.


I like to list the ingredients in the order they are prepared and added, so here goes.


For this recipe, I went lazy and used a prepared curry seasoning, Frontier Natural Products Co-Op Balti Curry found at Whole Foods. This curry seasoning is a blend of coriander, garlic, ginger, cumin, roasted red chili powder, cinnamon, brown mustard, and a whole bunch of other stuff that will give a complex taste. This goes into the oil while it is being heated to begin the sauté step.

2 to 3 tsp curry seasoning of your choice

Carnivore Option

I’ve not tried this but if I wanted to add a bit of meat flavor without adding a whole lot of beast, I’d add one Chorizo sausage prepared as follows. Skin the sausage and mush it flat on your cutting board. Toss it in the Dutch oven, set the heat on medium high (7.5) and brown. Then pick up with sauteing the vegetables using the rendered sausage fat as a starting point. Add additional olive oil as needed and run with it.

Diced stuff

Prepare these vegetables for sauté by dicing small. Small dice is about pea sized for purposes of this recipe. The idea is that all these ingredients be about the same size as the cooked lentils.

  • olive oil to sauté, enough to cover the pan bottom, usually 1 to 2 ounces
  • 1 red pepper, diced small to give about 1 to 1 1/2 cup of product
  • 1 large onion, diced small to give about 1 1/2 cup of product
  • 2 carrots diced small to give about 1 to 1 1/2 cup of product
  • 4 ribs celery diced small to give about 1 to 1 1/2 cup of product
  • 2 cloves garlic minced

Soup Step Ingredients

I sliced the potato into thin quartered slices for no good reason that that is what I’d seen done in a dehydrated Minestrone soup kit I use from time to time.

  • 4 cups water
  • 1 Tbsp Better Than Bouillon “Chicken” flavor
  • 1 potato quartered length wise and potato crisp sliced into thin slices
  • One can (14 oz) Muir Glen fire roasted diced tomatoes
  • 1 cup green lentils


I use the following procedure for my soups. First, I gather up all the ingredients and measure out the spices, salt, liquids, etc into prep bowls. I dice up all of the vegetables into prep bowls. Multiple ingredients may go into a prep bowl provided that they are added at the same stage in assembly. For example, all of the vegetables being sautéed can be staged into a mixing bowl or sauce pot. Similarly, the water and Better Than Bouillon may be measured and combined in a 2 quart sauce pan for later addition.

  1. If making the carnivore option, skin, mush, and brown the Chorizo. Scramble it up good.
  2. Next, add the diced vegetables, curry powder, and oil and sauté. I usually start the sauté at medium hot (7.5). Things will get off to a slow start but should start sizzling nicely as the vegetables give up their water. For this recipe, continue the sauté process until the vegetables are soft, the onions are translucent, and volume is reduced about by 1/2 to 2/3. The sauté process concentrates the vegetable flavors. I didn’t elect to caramelize the onions to save time. As the rate or water release drops (sizzle reduces), lower the heat to 5 then to 3 lest you burn the onions. If you have the heat right, there is no standing water in the pan and nothing is burning with a nice sizzling sound and visible steam release. Most recipes blatantly lie about the time required for this step. I play it by ear, literally. The step is done when things get quiet and stay quiet when stirred. The amount of steam coming off is greatly reduced from that observed when things were sizzling vigorously at the start. The vegetables will cover the pan in a shallow layer. I’d guess 15 to 20 minutes to this stage.
  3. Finally, add the water, Better Than Bouillon, tomatoes, and lentils. Bring to a boil at and reduce the heat to a simmer. Let simmer for 45 minutes to 1 hour. If desired you can add some extra salt but usually, the Better Than Bouillon base provides enough. If too salty, you’ve probably used a heaping measure of BTB. A level tablespoon please.
  4. When done, the lentils will be al dente. Add lemon or lime juice, salt, and pepper to taste at time of serving. I suggest 1 tsp of lemon juice or lime juice per serving as bowled.
Citizenship Personal finances

Income in the United States

This post grew out of research I did to prepare a discussion about income in the United States for my church’s discussion group. As I prepared the presentation materials for the opening of discussion, I learned quite a bit about how fortunate I was and how things fit together. This post is based on the following references.

  1. Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2012, United States Censure Bureau Report P60-245, 2013.

An understanding of this information is important to making both personal and public policy decisions.

Standard of living

How much income does it take to support an individual or household in the United States? I was surprised to learn these figures. Unfortunately, I’ve forgotten the source so take these as 2013 thumb rules

  • $30,000 individual self-sufficiency possible
  • $40,000 individual savings for retirement and set backs
  • $10,000 per additional member of the household.

The $30,000 figure represents the income needed to live independently and provides basic housing, transportation for work, food security, and basic health care in the absence of chronic diseases or injury.

The $40,000 figure represents savings for retirement and for maintenance of reserves to meet minor health emergencies, out of work contingencies, save to replace a vehicle, etc.

The $10,000 figure represents the incremental cost of adding an additional non-working resident to the household. Thus, a single head of household with 2 children requires $50,000 for a basic standard of living and $60,000 for a secure standard of living. For a two parent household, raise these figures to $60,000 and $70,000.

Individual Income Distribution

2012 Personal Income Distribution
2012 Personal Income Distribution

This figure shows the Census Bureau’s 2012 estimate of individual income density in the US. The bar height is proportional to the number of individuals in a $2500 band, for example from $40,000 to $42,999. Normalizing by the total number of people surveyed gives an estimate of the probability density function of income levels in the US.

There are some inconvenient truths here.

  • The distribution is not Gaussian
  • The distribution is bottom weighted
  • The distribution is noisy
  • There are high-low income band pairs, cause unknown

The important thing to take away is how income is distributed. A large swath of young (< 15) are counted as zero income. The median individual income of about $40,000 is well below the middle of the range considered in the survey ($50,000). Household income has a similar distribution with the median income being $51,000.

Percentile Stuff

Because the data is gnarly, it is helpful to think of it by percentiles as shown by the figure below.

A few useful income groups
A few useful income groups

The figure shows some of the more important income bands. A percentile boundary represents the fraction of the population making less than that income level. For example, the tenth percentile tells us that 10 percent of the population earns less than $10,500. One quarter of us earn less than $22,500. One third of us earn between $30,000 and $62,500. Similarly, one quarter of us earn more than $77,000 and one fifth of us earn more than $92,000. Our doctors and dentists earn more than do 98 percent of us. The top 1.5% of income earners make more than $167,000 and to leave the 99% requires an income greater than $350,000.

Income and Standard of Living

Let’s interpret the income figures in terms of standard of living. Most importantly, the bottom 1/3 of us do not have the income to live independently. The middle 1/3 of us range from struggling to get by to independent with some savings. A 90th percentile income, although statistically wealthy, is not practically wealthy and requires careful choices of housing, automobiles, children’s education, etc.

Occupation and Income

Income of Common Occupations
Income of Common Occupations

The table above shows median income for commonly encountered occupations. Median income is that income level dividing the occupation into two equal sized groups. Half make less than median and half make more. In choosing occupations from the reference, I was careful to choose occupations we commonly interact with. So barbers, auto mechanics, plumbers, waiters, cooks, janitors, dentists, surgeons, etc are all present as are some glamorous occupations like airline pilot.

Race and Income

Household income by Race
Household income by Race

The table above shows median household income by racial group. Just the facts, no opinions and no rewarming of racial stereotypes. But half of black and Hispanic households are struggling as are maybe half of all households.

Age and Income

Income Inequality Discussion.008

This figure shows median income by age group taking the 10 year slices commonly used.

Implications for Markets

Other than the racial disparities, skill, experience, and the emergent nature of economic system behavior go a long way toward explaining these data. Broadly consumed goods and services must be either inexpensive or subsidized. For example, we all need our hair cut. To be affordable places an upper bound on the fees for this service and the earnings in the profession. The providers of this service don’t have a lot of pricing power because half of their market earns less than $40,000.

Upward Mobility?

Income and Education
Income and Education

The data show that the keys to upward mobility are educational attainment and experience in our profession, trade or occupation. But demand for services sets limits on upward mobility. First, we can’t all be rock stars or brain surgeons. The demand is not there. As the data shows, the most important thing we can do is to finish high school. After that, we can attend a trade school, apprentice in a trade, or attend college to acquire professional knowledge and gain experience in our profession being attentive to changes in demand for our services.

Implications for policy

The data suggest a few implications for public policy

  • Tax where there is money to be had, that is the top quartile.
  • Services in broad demand must be inexpensive or subsidised
  • Goods in broad demand must be inexpensive or subsidised
  • Jobs are demand driven. Subsidizing the bottom 1/3 of us produces demand for goods and services. Subsidizing the top 1% produces speculation or savings.

And a few implications for personal choices.

  • Education affords access to an occupation, trade, or profession that is in demand and pays well.
  • Choose occupations, trades, or professions for which demand is growing or under-served.
  • Choose occupations, trades, or professions that pay well
  • Be attentive to changes in demand for your occupation, trade, or profession and follow demand.
Personal Computing

New Windows, SOS

Retired life is a zero sum game for now. For the first five years, I’ve chosen to live completely out of pocket by delaying the start of Social Security payments until age 70. To keep my retirement finances on track, I use ESPlanner to estimate my annual discretionary spending, See Finance to track expenses, and TurboTax to do my income taxes.

ESPlanner is a Windows program and I keep a Windows Free Household. Well, something had to give and I let the Windows camel into the tent but keep it in a corral using Parallels Desktop. This article describes my initial experiences with Parallels Desktop and Windows 8. Windows 8 is not your father’s Windows but it is awfully familiar in all the bad old ways.

Parallels Desktop

Parallels Desktop is a low administration version of the Parallels virtualization product designed for use by mere end users like me. Although I’ve been in the industry for over 30 years, I consider myself an end user when it comes to virtual machines and products so Parallels Desktop is my kind of product.


Guest      An operating system running in a Parallels Desktop virtual machine

Host        The operating system running directly on the hardware, in this case, OS X.

Hypervisor            The part of Parallels Desktop that mediates between the guest operating system and the underlying hardware.

Virtual Machine     A simulated computer provided by Parallels Desktop using the Intel virtual machine facilities.


Parallels Desktop installs from a down loaded disk image. The retail box gets you a license key that you enter once installation is complete. The installation process is the one Mac OS X users know well. Just run the installer, let it verify that the host environment satisfies the preconditions, and then do the install. The product installs as a normal application bundle into /Applications. No surprises here.

Gest Installation

Parallel’s guest installation is straight forward. Parallels Desktop walks you through creating a virtual disk, starting the virtual machine, and loading and starting the Windows 8.1 installer. From there, it is the Windows installation experience  you know and love. Walk through the installation wizard answering its questions, let her rip, let the VM restart, and let Windows get itself caught up to date. As you remember, Windows will do an update download and a mandatory restart. That mandatory restart can be put off a couple of times but sooner or later, Windows 8 will insist on restarting. Might as well save yourself pain and get it over with.

Windows 8.1

When you are shopping for Windows, do pay extra for the standard Home Edition new system version. This version is somewhat more permissive in that it will allow you to make installations on a small number of virgin disks on the local subnet without requiring an earlier product to be present.

The System Builder edition lets you make one installation. Subsequent installations require contacting Microsoft to have them deauthorize the earlier versions. System Builder considers an installation to be subsequent if any part of the hardware has changed including the disk. Based on my reading, if you mess up a virtual machine, it’s likely you will need to call Microsoft and ask mother, may I to create a new instance of Windows. 

So, if you are an infrequent Microsoft customer, go to Best Buy or some such and confirm that you’re buying the correct version. And for their help, give them some love. You’ll probably not find the home/family version at Amazon or NewEgg. (I couldn’t but then again, Microsoft product jargon is mind numbing).

Remember the classic Steve Jobs jab, “Home Edition, 29.95. Business Edition, 29.95, Galactic Edition, 29.95”

Windows first impressions

Windows 8 is better than its predecessors in many ways.

  • The stack is execute disabled — this closes many buffer overflow attacks.
  • The heap is execute disabled — this closes many buffer overflow attacks.
  • Things work correctly for users that are not the administrator.

But Windows 8 hides many things. The UI has been reorganized around touch screens and touch gestures. Some touch gestures have mouse equivalents but they are not thought out in the same way as in OS X. And Windows is unclear about which gestures are mouse and touch screen and which are touch screen only. And it fails to explain the mousing technique for most mouse gestures. You just have to futz around until something useful happens.

Summoning the charms

One particularly frustrating thing in Parallels Desktop is summoning the Charrs. The charms are UI dingbats that let you search, see the list of programs like Launch Pad, and do some other common actions. Moving the mouse to the upper right corner is supposed to make them appear. Unfortunately, OS X gets first dibs on mouse events and the charms don’t appear.

The administrator user

The installer gives administrator rights to the first user created. As with earlier versions of Windows, the user holds these rights continually but unlike XP, the various system administration operations will ask for confirmation. On first launch of a downloaded image, Windows will ask if you really want to run this random thing from So it is a bit harder for things to be installed behind your back. But I don’t trust Redmond to get it right.

Just a user user

So the first thing I did after all the initial updating and restarting was over was to create a second user dave with regular user rights for every day use. This gives me another layer of insulation from acts of malware. Before performing administrative actions, Windows will tell me that I’ve initiated an administrative action and will ask for the administrator password. Not as elegant as sudo but an improvement over XP. So you give the admin password and you will be asked for additional confirmations for each admin action. So it is harder to be had than in the past.

Should something sneak by, running as dave prevents a process from touching the system files. Important system files are writable only by the administrative user so a process holding user id dave can’t alter them or install executables in Program Files, etc. Just a bit safer.

Active X

I guess Active X is still around and but less able to commit mayhem. Any Active X widget will be running as user dave with dave’s object access rights. Any Active X thing asking for administrator rights will be outed and I can kill it with extreme prejudice.

As a rule, I do everything I can in OS X where Apple and BSD sandboxing are in effect. The BSD Jails are pretty effective at keeping things out of mischief and I have OS X set up only to run signed executables built by developers who have purchased signing keys from Apple. This stops a lot of malware but $100 is chump change for a pro black hat. But, get caught and Apple kills your keys.

I don’t know if Microsoft is doing the same with signing of images, but the new versions are much more robust than the prior Microsoft art. The attack surface is still pretty large so Parallels Desktop provides another layer of containment. But Parallels can be exploited. Again, keep the attack surface small. I’m pretty much keeping this Windows instance stock.

Parallels Tools

Parallels Tools allow the guest to create native windows and to see a chroot subset of the file system. Once a guest process is launched, you can pretty much ignore the guest and interact with the user process in a regular Aqua window. And keep the data in the shared file system branch where the files are visible to Time Machine for backup.

Unfortunately, there is no Parallels Tool to summon the charms.

Personal Computing

Mavericks, Drobo, and More

For the past several months, I’d had a full volume on my Gen 2 Drobo. What’s a Drobo? It is a Firewire/USB external disk drive designed for use by small offices and professionals. Drobo is popular with photographers, musicians, video editors and such as an external storage device because it has some interesting properties.

  • It is disk failure tolerant
  • It is easy to expand
  • Failure recovery is easy
  • You don’t have to be a professional storage admin to manage it

I’ve had this device since the Fall of 2009 when I purchased my current Intel Mac Mini. For the past several months, the system had been giving me fits with slow performance and unfinished disk backups. Being newly retired, I had the time to look into these problems in depth.

Some History

I’ve been a Mac OS X (say ten) user since 2002 when I purchased my dualie G4 mirror door machine. I’ve been migrating stuff forward through 8 OS X updates and a hardware swap so things had gotten crufty with abandoned executables, senseless start up items, etc, passe widgets, etc. Time for a house cleaning.

Second, in 2012, living in the east coast hurricane alley, I decided off site disk backup was good and began using Carbonite for this. In 2013, I became curious about Pogoplug and began using it too. Thus, I had 2 off-site backup daemons churning the file system.

In June 2013, the Time Machine volume became full in a way that caused it to mount Read Only. The drive reported write protected status to Time Machine rather than end of medium status confusing Time Machine’s end of medium logic so it just sat there and told syslog it was in trouble. No really clear user messages

Summer of 2013 also saw the Snowden Disclosures about NSA agressively trying to spy on all Internet traffic, FISA, Patriot 2, etc called to our attention. I decided to discontinue off-site backup to minimize exposure to acts of my government.

Winter Cleaning

I went through the start up items using Clean My Mac and disabled those not being used. Once comfortable that these changes are safe, I’ll use Clean My Mac to delete the old items. Clean My Mac knows what can be bushwacked and what must be kept around. For example, it won’t propose deleting or disabling the OS X UI server (a really bad thing).

I cleaned up old stuff from my TIvO days, iSTAT menus days, etc. Anything not essential to normal operation that I was able to identify as a 3 rd party add-in became history. Carbonite gone, PogoPlug gone, Quicksilver gone, ISTAT menus gone, SMART monitor gone. Amazingly, with the the third party crud gone and the external disks having free space again, life was good.

How Time Machine works

Time Machine is a really cool Apple OS X system service that has been around for several years. Time Machine is designed to back up a UNIX file system to external USB/Firewire disk storage. It doesn’t do tape because appropriate tape drives are $5000 devices that require SCSI interfaces not found on personal computers. The way TIme Machine works is to maintain a current virtual image of the file system on the external drive by making  a baseline backup plus hourly changes. As the program runs, it consolidates the hourlys into daily snapshots, weekly snapshots, and monthly snapshots.

The way it does this magic is to make a copy of each unique version of a file to disk hourly. Files that don’t change are written just once. Files you are working on are written hourly. Say you are writing a letter and do the following.

  1. Save the template
  2. Edit the template to make something useful
  3. Save the draft
  4. Print the draft to preview for proof reading
  5. Edit the draft
  6. Save the draft
  7. Print for mailing

Depending on how this activity spreads out over time, Time Machine will capture one or more versions of the letter, the final draft which is persistent and perhaps one of the two working copies.

How does Time Machine keep things straight? Behind the scenes, Time Machine keeps a version history for each file listing the current version and each available previous version. This history is organized for easy query by directory and date. When you enter Time Machine, it opens the directory and shows you your home directory for the current day in a Finder style window. You can poke around the current time in Finder. To move back in time, you use a slider at the right side to pick the available date and time.

Time Machine uses hard links to construct these virtual views in the Time Machine universe. This allows normal UNIX file operations to show what is available and to restore a directory or file becomes a simple UNIX copy.

More about the full volume

Drobo originally held the following disks

  1. 1TB Western Digital Caviar Green
  2. 1TB Western Digital Caviar Green
  3. 2TB Western Digital Caviar Green

Drobo proposed creating a 2 TB volume but reports 16TB total size, the maximum for this model. Drobo takes some off the top to store metadata so 2 TB is actually 1.8TB or so. Thus, to have a true 2 TB HFS+ volume requires more than 2 TB of installed disk. With the drives I had, the best Drobo could do was 1.8 TB and if I added a disk, it would give me a true 2 TB volume. The bad bit was that it went write protected rather than staying read write and returning end of medium status.

Drobo is file system aware unlike RAID which is disk block aware. Drobo tires to be smart about how it splits up file blocks across the available disks and how it creates and organizes forward error correction data for the file data. When there are two identical disks as the volume started out, Drobo mirrors. When I added the 2 TB disk, it reorganized the files and forward error correction to be spread across all 3 disks in such a way that the volume could be supported by any 2 of the disks.

Because this volume was made from 1 TB, 1 TB, and 2 TB, the Drobo tax still prevented creation of a 2 TB OS volume. About 1.8 TB were available because Drobo needed 200 GB (about 10 percent) for its internal record keeping.

Adding the third disk

In December, I ordered a 3 TB Western Digital Caviar Green disk from When it came, I allowed it to warm up to room temperature and installed it. Drobo recognized the disk, filled out the 2 TB HFS+ volume and proposed creating a second smaller volume from the available extra. I took up Drobo on this offer. After a couple of days, it had done the necessary data reorganization and life was good.

The disk failure

One of the 1 TB disks failed early in the new year. Drobo became write protected again and Time Machine became unhappy. After a couple of days, Drobo had reorganized the data and forward error correction and again became read write. Magic. I didn’t have to do a thing other than leave the beast alone, a hard feat for a former Navy Nuke trained to do something when things go wrong! The something I did

  • Stop Time Machine
  • Unmount the volume
  • Tell Drobo to go to standby
  • Let Drobo do its thing unmolested

Replacing the disk

When I came back to replace the failed disk with a new Western Digital Caviar Red 3 TB disk, I recabled the drive on Fire Wire. The drive woke up on its own in healthy status. I inserted the drive in the slot of the failed drive. After a minute or so, Drobo discovered the drive and proposed creating an additional volume. I opted out of this. So here’s what I did.

  • Cabled the drive to the Fire Wire bus.
  • Added the Audio Interface to the bus as last device
  • Removed the bad drive from Slot 2
  • Installed the new 3 TB drive in Slot 2
  • Waited some
  • Started Time Machine

Time Machine is still sorting things out but has begun doing backups again. It will be writing data for a good bit of today. Once it finishes, I’ll unmount both volumes on that Drobo, restart the Drobo, and add volumes covering the new space. I should be able to create a second volume that is a full 2 TB.

What to do with the new space

Time Machine is aware of disks and slices. Time Machine is smart enough not to back up the backup volume. OS X is also aware of disks and slices and knows which volumes are on which disks and slices. Although there are new volumes out there, they should not be used for data because they are on the same disk as the Time Machine volume. That means they can’t be backed up. Death of the Time Machine disk is also death of these volumes.

Time Machine will let you add volumes to the backup pool. I believe these may be on the current Time Machine disk. So once I have Time Machine happy and the available 5.4 TB formatted, I’ll add the new storage to Time Machine’s volume pool.

Choosing Disks

Best Buy and the other local retailers have consumer grade disks on the shelf. Both WD and Seagate package disks with cables, screws, etc for retail sale as internal disks. The catches

  • Unknown handling by customers. Was one dropped? ++ungood
  • Designed for light use

I’ve always had poor luck with disks bought at retail. They seem to last a year or two before going tango uniform (toes up). So I prefer to buy from Mac Sales or Amazon who package disks properly (like Sun packaged its repair part disks). I’ve had good service with these, 4 years for the WD 1 TB that failed.

WD makes its OEM disks in several grades identified by color. The 5400 RPM disks are Caviar Red and Caviar Green branded. The Red are rated for small storage array use. The Green are rated for PC use. The difference is that the Red are designed for a bit more activity as the storage array may not spin the disks down as often as a PC will. Several things are at work here.

  • Multiple hosts can read and write to the array
  • The array can do read and heal passes over the data
  • The array is less aggressive about saving power by spinning disks down

The Science Behind My Diet Change

This is a link to an NPR story that explains why I’ve changed my diet to be largely vegetarian. This article describes all of the biology that shows that humans are not designed to be every day carnivores. It is safe to have a meat meal every now and again but our daily diet should be plant based and may include fish and shellfish.


  1. Dr Oz Blog
  2. NPR Story

It’s all about critters

As you know, our digestive track is on the outside, topology speaking. The exterior surfaces secrete acids and enzymes that digest our food. The intestines absorbs nutrients from the food we eat. We live in symbiosis with a diverse colony of bacteria that help us to digest our food and, occasionally, some that are less than helpful. Most obviously, eating spoiled food introduces the bacterial that cause garbage gut, a technical term well known to those of us having dogs in the household.

It turns out that what we eat establishes conditions that allow different types of bacteria to be our guest helpers. Researchers have found that the gut bacteria colony changes in composition pretty quickly with a change in diet. This change completes in about four days. Unfortunately, some of the colony produce toxins as a byproduct of metabolizing the food we eat. It is this process that causes garbage gut when we eat spoiled food.

The catch is that eating unspoiled food can produce toxins that have less immediately obvious effects. Bacteria present in regular meat eaters metabolizes a specific amino acid into a specific toxic metabolite that the gut can absorb. That metabolite is responsible for establishing the conditions that spawn arteriosclerosis plaques. The involvement of the metabolite in plaque formation is partially understood.


TMAO is the acronym for trimethylamine-N-oxide. Bacteria present in regular meat eaters produce this compound by metabolizing lecithin (a popular mold release agent in baking) and L-carnitine, an amino acid commonly found in meat. L-carnitine takes its name from the Latin root for meat, carnitas in Spanish and is present in animal meat and eggs.

The liver metabolizes TMAO into several harmful substances that are believed to have a role in plaque formation. Without TMAO, these substances are not found.

The interesting bit is that high TMAO levels are present only in frequent meat eaters. Those who seldom eat meat (both vegetarian and vegan) are able to consume lecithin and L-carnitine without producing TMAO. Those who eat meat invariably have TMAO in their bloodstream.

Some get the double whammy

Most body builders eat a high meat diet (yes, chicken counts but fish doesn’t). Many also take supplemental L-carnitine. Individuals eating a diet high in meat and supplementing L-carnitine, are in double jeopardy by throwing fuel on the fire with their L-carnitine supplementation. As we will see, high meat consumption and L-carnitine supplementation explains the high mortality rate to stroke and heart disease among strength athletes.

Several high profile boutique cardiologists were, before this was known, recommending L-carnitine supplementation as was a leading ubiquitous supplement seller. They are no longer making these recommendations.

The Detective Work

One quarter of all fatal first heart attacks occur in patients with none of the traditional risk factors for coronary artery disease. Researchers have long suspected diet but were looking at the obvious cholesterol rather than in the shadows. Recently, researchers realized that it couldn’t be LDL, HDL, and triglycerides because these were similar in the two populations. So, they began looking for something that was common in the heart disease population but uncommon in the healthy population. They compared the blood of patients with similar lipid profiles but with and without the disease. The difference turned out to be TMAO. Patients with heart disease had high levels of TMAO. Healthy patients had low levels of TMAO.

From where did the TMAO come?

The researchers fed a diet of red meat and eggs to subjects. They found TMAO. They placed the subjects on one of the antibiotics commonly used to treat garbage gut and the TMAO level dropped sharply. So red meat, eggs, gut bacteria and TMAO are now strongly linked and bacteria are known to produce TMAO from these foods. We don’t know which bacteria or exactly how TMAO initiates plaque formation but we don’t need to know. Those that seldom eat meat and eggs had low TMAO levels and low rates of coronary artery disease and stroke.

We Know Why Boutique Low Fat Vegan Diets Reverse Heart Disease

Dr Dean Ornish and Dr Neal Barnard, among others, advocate a strict vegan no added fat diet. This diet has dramatically lowered blood lipids in patients that adhere to it and most undergo remission of their blockages. We now know that these diets worked by lowering TMAO and we now know that these benefits can be achieved while eating a more normal vegetarian or vegan diet. No red meat, low TMAO. Regular meat, high TMAO. It’s that simple.

Personal Conclusions

You can eat nuts. You can put oil on your salad. You can have steak or chicken for Sunday dinner. But fish would be better and oysters, clams, scallops, etc are OK. Even when fried as long as you don’t eat beef, pork, or chicken, regularly. Once a week is probably OK because consumption for several days is required to change the gut bacteria to a harmful population.


Hopped Up Hoppin’ John

Dreading the thought of another New Year’s Day meal of bland black eyed peas and boiled beyond recognition collards. Fear not, there is hope with Whole Foods Luke’s Hopped Up Hoppin’ John and Dave’s Yankee Greens from last winter.


I’ve listed the ingredients in the order of addition. The evening before preparation, measure out the black eyed peas, check them for foreign matter, and put them on to soak.

Serrano pepper’s are hotter than Charlotte in August so handle them with gloves and wash up the cutting board and tools in hot soapy water.

  1. bacon, diced , 6-8 slices
  2. chorizo sausage, 1
  3. yellow onion, 1 cup diced small
  4. celery, 1 cup diced small
  5. red bell pepper, 1 cup diced small
  6. Serrano pepper deseeded and minced, 1/2
  7. garlic, 3 cloves minced
  8. cayenne pepper, 1/4 tsp
  9. bay leaf, 1
  10. fresh thyme, 4 spring pulled 
  11. chili power, 1 tsp
  12. black eyed peas, 1 1/2 cups
  13. rice, 1 cup
  14. beef stock, 6 cups


I like to do my bacon in a 350 oven so I’ll dice it up and get it going while I dice the vegetables.

Luke’s method follows.

  1. Dice the veggies up, Serrano pepper last and queue up at the stove
  2. Peel the chorizo sausage and mash it flat with a potato masher or similar tool (board knife, big cleaver, etc).
  3. Dice up the bacon
  4. Fry bacon in dutch oven
  5. Remove bacon and set aside
  6. Gently brown the chorizo in the bacon fat.
  7. Add vegetables and spices and cook through — onions translucent. Additional oil is not indicated. If roasting bacon and sausage, move to the stove top at this point.
  8. Drain soaking black eyed peas
  9. Add stock, black eyed peas, bacon and simmer for 20 minutes
  10. Add rice and simmer 25 minutes until rice and beans are tender
Holiday Letter

2013, Year of Changes


Winter Wonderland —

About the image

This photograph is an Internet image by the artist Pete at the link. Unfortunately, Pete didn’t give contact information or license information. I’ve used this image without permission on a non-commercial share with attribution basis.


I’m 65 and I Like It

With apologies to Alice Cooper! But this October I celebrated my 65th name day. (Well 66th if you are a C programmer) One of the good things about becoming 65 is that you are Medicare eligible and Congress encourages you to sign up in a timely manner. Well, I did. And I also signed up for an AARP Medicare Supplement policy that picks up much of what Medicare does not, like the 20 percent copay. Medicare sets you free from the swamp of the individual policy market and from employer group insurance. This latter item was the last check in the box for retirement for me. I have a pre-existing condition and the CABG scars to show for it. Entering the personal market as it was before the ACA (Obamacare) would have been ugly. I’ve yet to make a Medicare claim but that will change in January as my 6 month well baby checks become due again.

Home Remodeling

When not to call the Bath Fitter

This is a picture of the head wall of the hall bath tub surround. When I bought the house, the 50’s blue tile was cracked with what appeared to be grout or caulk in the cracks. The original owner (I’m the second) tried to make a voyage repair. Given that everything was 50’s ugly and tired, the plan was to renovate in 2007. My employer had other ideas and shipped me off to Newport Rhode Island. While up there, the house was on the rental market and the mold kept eating.

I returned in June 2010 and started planning for retirement including a resumption of the restoration of 3444 Fletcher. Last fall (October 2012) I attended the home show to see what had happened and hoping to meet a contractor interested in my project. Bath Fitter was there for show and tell and would happily put new acrylic surfaces over my tired tub and tile. But doing a little reading and knowing there was trouble with the original 1950’s work, a traditional renovation was indicated.

The original construction used drywall for most of the bath surfaces but the wet areas were  a scratch coat of plaster on wire lath with tile on top. The scratch coat is porous and a bit crumbly. The working of the walls with time apparently had caused some failures in the plaster which wedged between the tile and plaster causing linear cracks just above the spout and around the corner. Water’s surface tension dragged it into the cracks and the wood became just a little wet. Just wet enough for those black pets to grow. Bath Fitter was willing to cover all of that up with faux tile.

The proper repair is to remove the original interior finish materials, remove the eaten wood, sister up new studs along side the originals and flush with the originals (they are 2×4 for real, not 1.5 by 3.5 or so). They are also dense hard old growth, not farmed stuff. Once studs are repaired, new Durarock or Wonder Board (cement wall board) goes up, acrylic sealer is applied, and tile over the Durarock. That’s the right way to do it. While we’re at it, we’ll also replace the galvanized waste piping with PVC, upgrade the electrical, and insulate the exterior wall.

At the home show, I met Ron Blount, owner of Blount Custom Homes. He’s a Tidewater Home Builder’s guild member and occasional participant in the home show build. He does larger custom homes and a lot of kitchen and bath work. I happened by while the market was still slumbering so he came out for a consultation, worked up a design, and made a proposal which I accepted. The project has gone very well with the first results in use as seen below.

When we finish the hall bath, the look will be similar to the master bath below. This is about a $13 K project including the custom vanity and mirror made by a local cabinet shop. The fittings are Kohler Tubi. The cabinet depth is matched to the wall set back. These photos were taken with available light hand held. The shower recessed light is on. The lamp is a CREE LED warm white recessed trim rated for wet areas. EcoSmart (Home Depot house brand) assembled the lamp from CREE LEDS and powered electronics made in the Triangle. Home Depot also has Edison base CREE lamps in warm and daylight. These are nice!

Blount Custom Homes has a crew of good subs but does most of their own carpentry, similar to Tommy Silva’s model but perhaps not quite as much high end. A Mexican American crew did the dry wall. Norfolk country boys did the plumbing and wiring. and Troy of Straight Line Tile did the tile work. Troy is an unflappable perfectionist. His work in the shower amazes me every day. He did a super job working in the alcove and the change from 12×12 tile to 6×6 tile at the top. Evan and Ron helped me pick appropriate materials and design elements appropriate to a ’50s mid-Century rambler. The nice cabinets, mirror, and shower door just appeared after some discussion of my preferences. This project took a good bit of faith on my part but it has gone well so far.

Mirror and trim up