Holiday Letter

2012, That Was the Year that Was!

2012 has been an interesting year that included bidding a fond farewell to Faux News, my 64th birthday, Barak Obama’s reelection, a new blue ray player, and a new camera and several milestones.


This summer, Aunt Mildred, Dad’s brother John’s wife passed away. This fall Johnny and Sue Gray (Dad’s sister) celebrated their 65th wedding anniversary. Shortly after that, Uncle Charlie Hamby passed away and recently, Aunt Gurla, John Watson’s wife. Aunts and uncles are getting thin on the ground.

Last year’s round of Christmas letters brought news of Peter Newcomb’s passing. Peter and I worked together at Combustion Engineering. Peter was a key part of the management of our simulator upgrade business, and was, like me, a former Navy Nuclear Propulsion professional. Peter was an interesting character who just missed a walk-on as offensive end at Penn State and worked for Pensky Racing in his miss-spent youth. One summer, motorcycling with his wife on holiday in North Carolina, Peter road by the farm and noticed the sign and asked about it on his return to work.

Charlie was notable in his dedication to the farming way of life and his active support of farm land preservation. Charlie was eloquent in his recollections of the good times had on the West Rowan, NC farms during the rough times of the depression. The Hambys, Watsons, and Bargers farmed the land at the west end of Sherrils Ford Road with the Watsons and Bargers on what was to become the extension service farm, “state farm” next door to today’s Hamby Brother’s Farms. One quote that has stuck with me over the years is, “I’m a farmer because I’m too stubborn to work for somebody else” Charlie also actively supported responsible hunting by leasing a tract for dove hunting to the local game preserve. Charlie was a character always ready with a ghost story for the nieces and nephews.

Gurla (Barger) also spoke fondly of her years growing up on the farm, particularly recalling how the three families would work the fields together and would help each other in times of hardship. This sort of helpfulness was a farm life tradition with 3 generations and sometimes 4 living on the farm. These were the days when mechanization was beginning. During the depression, my dad’s family worked the land with mule and horse teams. After the war, they began to mechanize and shifted from tobacco and cotton to dairy production. Uncle John was the leader of this transition, introducing ideas brought home from NCSU School of Agriculture.

Back in the day, people actually married the girl next door. Mildred Watson was dad’s girl next door and Gurla Barger was John Watson’s girl next door. As you drive around west Rowan County, you see names like Berringer Road, Hildebrand Road, etc, named for the farmers who built them for access to Sherrils Ford Road or the Statesville Road. During the pre-mechanized period, farms produced livings for several of the sons. With mechanization, national, and now world commodity markets, it is a challenge to support one family and children often move to the city as we are seeing in my cohort and our children.

Now, most of us are wage slaves in varied occupations and scattered all over the south east. Only a few cousins still farm, notably Louise Watson and her husband Joe Dean and Paul Hamby who does corn and beans on Hamby Brothers Farm. One second cousin is working on a microelectronics PhD, something about sharks with lasers. Another is a genetic biologist and is actually studying reef shark migration using DNA analysis. Another is a nurse. Cousin Jackson is in the large animal veterinary pipeline at Kansas State. Another is an undergrad at NCSU, judging from his Facebook posts, majoring in NCSU sports fan. Another has just started UNM and is either undeclared or unconfessed. And cousin Dustin is angling to work as a race car mechanic for one of the NASCAR teams. Others are IT professionals, cosmetologists, farm land preservationist, wilderness preservationist, you name it.

You know you’re old when you start reading mail from Social Security

Will you still love me when I’m sixty-four? Well, I’ve made it past that milestone and have actually been reading the Social Security Administration mailings I’ve received for the last two years. In the past, I would file them with the tax records after taking a brief glance. Needless to say, my retirement planning is changing from strategic to tactical.

I’m in that brave new world of defined contribution retirement. The strategic part is that I began saving for retirement in 1972 and believed Billie Holiday when she sang, “God bless the child who’s got his own.” Early on, I did not like the idea of leaving my retirement to the good graces of others and have been a conservative retirement saver. I also have a good financial advisor at Essex Financial Services which is the top ranked independent financial planning company in Connecticut. Hooking up with EFS was a beneficial side-effect of Mom’s injury back in 1993. The law firm who did Mom’s estate planning referred me to them. Between the two I’m well positioned to retire at 65 should I wish to while maintaining my standard of living.

It is important to do some careful planning as transition approaches because time value of money things can be counter-intuitive, particularly when Social Security is part of the mix. I found a good planning tool at that can do basic time value of money things. The basic planner is free and serves as a sales tool for their software and web services. The basic planner can function in accumulation mode or in economic mode. In the traditional accumulation mode, you tell it how much yearly income you would like in retirement and it determines the assets you’ll need to accumulate to produce that income. In economic mode, you tell it what your assets are, how they behave, and your obligated expenses (debt and other contractual obligations) and it will tell you how much discretionary spending your assets can support considering Social Security.

The model presents things in terms of your obligated expenses (taxes, contractual expenses, Medicare Part B, and your additions). Discretionary spending is anything not included in the obligated expenses Way cool. This is how I determined that I was OK. The model lets you add life stage expenses to the obligated side of the ledger. These may be things like eldercare, college expenses for offspring, or capital expenditures for home, cars, boats, etc that are one shot or recur for a few years.

When to take social security is the counterintuitive bit. Not having a surviving spouse, it is simple for me but the complexity of Social Security law with surviving spouses, disability, two earnings histories, two ages, two longevities, etc in the mix makes for a complex optimization problem. Esplanner has a tool for this problem too, unfortunately not free. In my case, it concluded the obvious, wait until 70 to collect Social Security. This increases yearly payout by 1/3. If you live to 85 (a reasonable assumption given aunt’s and uncle’s longevity), you break even. The counter intuitive bit is that this actually lets you increase you standard of living by freeing some assets held in reserve to produce late in life income for higher yearly discretionary spending. I would have expected being fully out of pocket for five years to have the opposite effect but the increase guaranteed (assuming Dec 2012 law) late in life income gives the opposite result for me.

The optional fee-paid models also lets you make assumptions about investment behavior and runs Monte Carlo simulations to determine the 95/95 spending supported over an ensemble of several hundred investment performance and yearly inflation random walks out to age 100. It also has an upside planning mode (a third option) that assumes that all equity investments are lost. Given this scenario, it does a Monte Carlo analysis to determine the 95/95 income that your bond investments can produce.

The basic planner does best estimate planning. If you guess the ensemble average investment performance and inflation rate conservatively (lower investment yield and higher inflation shrinkage) you will be ok but with lower predicted spending rates. Given that model initial conditions change each year as you spend and investments perform or not, it is good to repeat the exercise every year or so planning income harvesting for 2-3 years out.

This outcome is highly dependent on your total assets and the split between tax-favored and taxable accounts. You have to run the models for your individual initial conditions and assumptions. And the model produces predicted results. Actual results will differ.

At Last, a Real Camera

I finally tired of point and pray photography. With retirement approaching and time to kill, it was time to acquire a real camera. My pick is the Sony Alpha 65, a digital SLR camera, but with a twist. This camera uses a half-silvered fixed mirror that passes most of the light to the main sensor but splits some to a second sensor that services the viewfinder and phase shift autofocus sensor. The viewfinder is electronic which lets the camera show technical info and settings in-set in the finder. The finder design is excellent. I can see the full frame with my bifocals on and a diopter correction makes it possible to focus without them or I can let Auto do that chore. The finder also has a way-cool artificial horizon that lets you level the camera in pitch and roll. A pure optical finder can’t do this trickery at all. A hybrid finder can show a much smaller amount of information, usually mode, shutter speed, and aperture.

The fixed mirror makes the camera quite and low shake, just a focal plane shutter is moving. The shutter and electronics are capable of 10 frames per second until the burst buffer fills. The camera can also shoot full motion HD video in addition to high quality stills. The autofocus is like that in a motion picture camera. It continually focuses the camera as the subject moves and allows use of the zoom during filming. The auto exposure logic manages passable sunsets and indoor candids. This is the first camera to get them decent.

Being an enthusiast’s camera, it is also capable of full manual exposure and focus. In this way, it handles somewhat like a film camera but aperture and shutter speed are set using a front finger wheel. You have to toggle between them. Most of the time, you pick one and let Auto pick the other. Another convenient control lets you manually bias the exposure and you can configure the camera to take automatic bracketed 3 or 5 frame bursts.


So far, I’ve avoided writing politics here because I know many of you are set in your preferences and won’t be persuaded. But, many of you are just getting started. I’ll write a bit about my biases at any rate. First and foremost, I’m a city mouse. I grew up in small town New England on a river and surrounded by woodland. Gales Ferry, CT ( the Ferry) was a great place to grow up, but I’ve become a city mouse.

I was fortunate to go to a good private high school with a twist. Norwich Free Academy provided high school services to Norwich and the surrounding towns on a contract basis. That is to say, it had elements of a public school but also elements of a private day school. I was fortunate to have good teachers and one taught me civics. I firmly believe that whatever our political preferences, between elections, we all should work together for the good of the commonwealth.

The two great inventions of man that make everything possible are written language that allows us to have an institutional memory that is potentially but not necessarily accurate and the city that brings us together to specialize and trade. Life as we know it today is a result of our making effective use of these two enabling inventions. Great cities are more than the sum of their parts and owe their essential character to the interaction of those parts to make something more than the whole. Technically, they are systems. A system is an entity whose existence results from the mutual interaction of its parts.

When you look beneath the superficial analysis offered on the for-profit news or even NPR, when you look at the long analysis pieces in journals like The Atlantic Monthly, you see that our divide is between city mice and country mice. The city mice understand the benefits of living and working together and are willing to chip in for the common good. Many things that are just there in the country must be preserved and maintained or provided in an organized and engineered fashion in the city, things like open space, woodland for recreation, etc must be reserved and maintained to sustain the resource when exposed to concentrated use. Water, waste disposal, environmental quality, all require greater and more sophisticated effort than in the country because of scale. But because we are concentrated, we bring together critical masses of resources and talent to do things that don’t happen in the country. And we all realize that these advantages of membership require us to pay our city club dues (taxes).

That connection is less strong in the country. Many individuals seek country life because they find different things to value in a rural setting including a sense of freedom that results from the lower density of people in rural areas. Rural settlers provide their own water and sanitary services and schlep their own trash to the transfer station because the population is too diffuse to require doing these things as community services. Yet we still have to be good stewards of our land and follow good practices to preserve clean air and water to the benefit of both city mouse and country mouse. Because the country is less densely settled, the challenges and conflicts are different and a one size policy does not fit both our dense urban areas and the Nebraska outback with its 500 person Connecticut-sized counties. Techniques and doctrine that are adequate in the country fail under the weight of concentrated life in the city.

I view government to be much like a gardener. The gardener clears his garden patch, amends the soil, and maintains a proper environment in which his garden plants can prosper. The sower sows seed on prepared soil, unprepared soil, and rock. The seed falling in the seed bed germinates and grows well while that landing on sand and rock does not grow. I was fortunate to land in good soil. Like Paul realizes the importance of maintaining healthy soil on Hamby Brothers Farm, I realize the importance of maintaining healthy national soil so my second cousins and their kids can prosper too.

Many of our differing political preferences follow directly from our urban or rural living choices. One school of thought believes we’ve chosen where we live to be consistent with our political taste. Another believes that cities, by their very nature, are liberalizing forces in our lives. I lean to the second of these opinions but I have seen indications of the former in my cousin’s choices of places to retire.

Personal Computing

Mountain Lion Arrives

After yesterday evening’s fireworks wound down, I installed Apple OS X Mountain Lion on Oswald Cobblepot, my middle-aged Mac Mini that does photo, movie, and music chores. Mountain Lion installs in two steps, purchase of the installer from the Mac App Store and running of the installer. The installation process takes a couple of hours but requires minimal attention once started. At least, that’s the case when upgrading from Lion to Mountain Lion.

I was a little bit nervous. Although the skies were quiet when I kicked off the update, another wave of storms came through the area about mid-way through. The thunder gods were kind and left the power alone. Once installation is complete, the machine restarts using the new OS image and updated programs. The changes from Lion to Mountain Lion are subtle. Apple has revised the OS X applications to look a lot like their iPad counterparts in IOS 5. They’ve added messages, reminders, notes, and a notification system similar to that in IOS. A lot of the release is about integration with iCloud. Mountain Lion syncs notes and reminders in addition to calendar items, contacts, and mail.

At the moment, there appear to be no downsides. The applications that I use weekly work without fuss. These include iBank and Investoscope, both purchased outside the App Store. Gatekeeper is a new feature of Mountain Lion that is baked into the process launch services of the operating system. The process manager checks each application being started to verify that it was signed by the Apple App Store or a registered developer. Gatekeeper will let you run unsigned applications by presenting a dialog reporting that the image is unsigned and requesting authorization to run it.

Apple did not tinker with Air Play other than to make it possible to redisplay the Mac OS X desktop on an Air Play display server. iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch, Apple TV, and other Mountain Lion equipped Macs can be Air Play display servers. This is a nice touch for business. Buy an HD HDMI interface projector, connect it to an Apple TV, and presenters can show visuals without all the silliness that goes on at meetings. And you can play Hulu+ content on your telly, even things not permitted to play in iPad/iPhone.

Another thing Apple left alone is the annoying habit of the window manager of going into beach ball mode and refusing to let you work with another application when you make a slow to finish request. In 10 years of life with OS X, I’ve yet to see a pattern to when the window manager does this. Modal dialogs are evil, particularly those that kidnap the mouse until dismissed. Apple is slowly eliminating this sort of thing but there is still some of it left. OS X’s great strength is that it is multi-user and multi-tasking from the kernel up. No need to act like Windows 3.1.

A third party audio player went into a hard run playing a high resolution FLAC file while I was writing this article. That’s about it so far for troubles. And this may be the player’s fault, not the OS update.


New DTV Antenna

In early June, a local company installed a DTV antenna for me. About 2 weeks later, I discontinued Cox TV service but kept Cox Internet service. The experience was reasonably pleasant and my TV watching not at all affected. After all, how many reruns of Ice Road Truckers and Mythbusters can one watch in a night? There’s so much program being produced that you can’t see it all as it originally airs. As I learned my way around Netflix, Hulu+, and iTunes, I found myself watching less and less off the air (TiVO, actually). Thus the decision to scrap cable TV.

A DTV antenna is the device that lets you do this. This is a post mounted device similar in appearance to an oven rack with some wire frame bow ties in front of it. The Antennas Direct antenna that I have gives about 14db of gain and is surprisingly compact but it is UHF only. Our area has only UHF channels so the reduced bandwidth is no loss. The antenna mounts to a J post mount secured to the roof. This requires some roofing skills. The antenna feed line and ground line cross the roof and drop down. The feed line continues to the smart home voice/data/video distribution panel in my closet. The ground line continues down to the power panel ground rod.

The local installer installs these antennas for $300. It typically takes a 2 man crew 2 hours to do the installation. On my day, they got behind courtesy of Tidewater congestion and left as a thunder storm approached with the mast and feed line ungrounded. I contacted the owner and they came out about one week later to complete the work. The crews doing this work have some basic construction skills but are not licensed electricians and don’t have old work electrical skills. If they did, they’d be much better paid licensed electricians.

If you are considering a change from cable or dish TV to DTV by antenna, I’d recommend having a licensed electrician do all the inside wiring out to the exterior of the building. Your electrician will have the old work skills to add wiring to your building with a minimum of mess. Let the antenna people wire down to the ground block that your electrical installs. This will result in a much neater installation. The folks who do this work just don’t have the time to do a neat old-work job like your electrician would.

When I was researching grounding, I learned several things. The antenna and feed line must be grounded. This is true for both DirecTV and DTV antennas. The National Electrical code requires it and DirecTV requires its affiliated installers to do proper grounding. A quick survey of the neighbors shows that grounding is not happening. Most installations have no grounding at all.

Why ground? Electrical and fire safety. Grounding keeps exposed wiring, like the F connector body, at ground potential to protect you and your equipment from the mysterious influences of strong electric fields. The second thing it does is to mitigate the possible lightening damage should the mast be struck. I’m surrounded by trees but a strike on one of my trees could hop over to the house, particularly the TV antenna. The energy follows the ground wire which directs it to ground. This is a better deal than having it use the building to find its way to ground. Even with a ground wire, the lightening energy will probably hole the roof deck and splinter the framing it passes near on the way to ground. There may be a fire. Without grounding, the damage would be much more and the fire off to a much better start. A Ledyard neighbor learned about lightening strikes. This one punched a hole in the garage roof and splintered the corner studs and started a small fire which the volunteers were able to put out without major loss. Back in the day, antennas were properly grounded unless homeowner installed. All the local TV retailers provided antenna installation service and did it right.

How well does off-the-air work? Better than cable actually. Digital TV works perfectly or not at all. When it begins to get flaky, the picture tiles where packets of the picture data went missing. There is no snow, ghosting, strange colors, etc. Just a pristine image or nothing. The cable companies typically compress the local broadcasters additionally to get more channels on the cable. Got to make room for that adult content somehow. It is typical that PBS looks better off the air than off cable.

By not watching cable, I’ve missed most of the political nastiness that the SuperPACS have aired 😦 I’ve been using Hulu+, Netflix, and iTunes to watch the best of the best from the last decade or so. I’ve been buying Game of Thrones and Merlin from iTunes, and filling in from Netflix and Hulu+ I can always find an hour of TV worth watching after catching News Hour, Daily Show, and Colbert Report.


IPad Faceplant

In a moment of clumsiness in the dark my original iPad took a high dive off my dresser to do a face plant on the oak floor five feet below. Miraculously, there was no visible damage but sadly, no Apple Care. Yesterday I dropped by the Apple Store to visit the Genius Bar. Had I been an Apple Care dude, they would have swapped it for a refurbished unit. In spite of my clumsiness. My alternative was to do an exchange for $250. I spent some time looking at the new one while awaiting my turn at the bar. You can’t believe the new display; it is drop dead gorgeous. Since I use mine for magazine reading etc, I opted to pick up a new iPad. What to with the old one?

Well, it’s not kaput but mostly usable because there’s about a thumb width of dead screen at the top. Many tasks are still possible and for someone without, it is a free introduction to iPad and half off on a refurbished unit. A little display flipping moves the bad stripe out of the way, the touchscreen is still good and AirPlay is unaffected. The bad spot is an annoyance.

A friend lives in a house full of Frankenstein Windows machines built by her son and handed down. Mike keeps current so she has Win 7, Home Essentials, Xbox Live, and Netflix but is still tied to her desk. I showed her the new one at church and pitched my retired unit to her. She was fascinated by Scribbles and Paper. And she paints which means she’d like the drawing programs that can do water colors, pastels, and pen and ink — that’s Paper. And I showed her the conceptual design her son’s Small Potatoes architect friend had made for me. She’s game so I’ll clean the beast up and get her started with an iTunes account and a good password so her granddaughter doesn’t spend her into the poor house. And add a few of my favorite apps so she won’t have to run them down herself.

The real magic of iPads is AirPlay. I can play anything in my iTunes library on the iPad or send the output to Apple TV to see on the big screen. As Cult of Mac has noted iTV is here today, you just have to integrate the bits as I described in an earlier post. The magic of the new one is the high res Retina display. Text approaches book quality, Time Magazine’s Lightroom, Flipboard Photos, NatGeo, PBS video, etc are crisp and luminous because blacks and contrast, already good, are the best LCD display out there. Images are smoother with noticeably less posterization. Skin tones are natural. (Nothing helps the Fox bimbos! Not even Apple magic can make them real) After that, it is little things like touchscreen insertion being easier and textures and shading in the UI widgets.

The camera is a pleasant surprise. It is the same one in iPhone 4s and it is sharp. The Retina display shows the full image in a manner almost like using a big view camera. You can see to compose. This may turn out to be a surprising bonus. Maybe some entrepreneur will make a tripod mount for it.


One Thing

April 1’st Unitarian Church of Norfolk service was a lay service conducted by the youth group. Their theme was making the world a better place one small act at a time. No sixties grandiosity, just ten’s pragmatism — do the doable, it will matter to this one. The youth carried this theme through the service beautifully in all of its elements. One, Eric Vick, is a budding singer songwriter who killed the following original work.

One Thing

why make a change?
Why do anything?
That’s all i hear coming out of this world
why make a change?
it won’t do anything.
the worlds as crummy as it’ll ever get
that’s all i hear when i walk down the streets,
that’s all i hear when i turn on the news.
this is what we say, to the world.

you can’t save them all, well what about just one.
which one is good enough, which one deserves it.
i can’t save them all, but I’ll go ahead with it.
I’ll choose this one, and know its worth it.

Negativity, shouldn’t slow us down
we are the molders and builders of earth
our thoughts provoke, and sway their minds
what would you say if i told you one thing?
one small change could do, great things.

One Thing copyright by Eric Vick, used by permission. Eric Vick Hampton Roads teen, not the Eric Vick at

This service closed to a standing ovation and was easily the best since my return to UCN in June 2010. Bravo Zulu teens.


Lounge Audio and Video

Last summer I finally acquired a 21st century telly, a Panasonic plasma TV. My old Hitachi 27″ was refusing to die but it couldn’t do modern audio and video tricks so I upgraded. That was just the beginning of this adventure which continued with image adjustment and routing of audio over to the hifi. This last trick was not hard but not obvious.


Audio Bit Schlepping

I’ve been an audio hobbiest for 40 years. I began by building a Dynaco Stereo 70 power amplifier and PAS-3 preamp from kits in 1967. Over the years a Conrad Johnson PV-1 preamp, Gas Ampzilla power amplifier, and Dhalquist DQ-10 speakers have come to stay. Sources have come and gone over the years with a Cambridge Audio 610 tuner and Cambridge Audio DacMagic being my current sources. Much of my music lives on a Drobostore storage array connected to a Mac Mini running OS X Lion (10.7). How do the bits get from the Drobostore to the DacMagic?

Eating Recipes

Yankee Greens

My new diet requires me to eat more salad stuff. With just me to feed, I’m losing a lot of salad greens to decay before they are consumed. Keep them too long and you risk garbage gut so I needed to find an alternative. On impulse, I bought a pound of Trader Joe’s mixed greens (collards, mustard, turnip, and all that other good Southern stuff). On the back of the bag was a receipt for Mediterranean Greens so I gave it a try. It is easy, keeps in the fridge once cooked up, and proved to be quite tasty. The secret is olives, garlic, and tomatoes.

So, why is the title of this article “Yankee Greens?” My southern aunts cook greens with salt pork and that’s about it. And they boil them beyond recognition to the color of an old sea bag.  So this is a bit of a tease — yes, Nancy, I’m teasing you!

It may be possible to cook the greens for less than 30 minutes. When they first wilt down, they are a bright green and look terrific. Trick is that you have to cook them enough to permit them to be digested. Thirty minutes is clearly enough. Is 15 minutes too little?

Yield: 4 Servings


  1. 1 lb mixed greens or any winter greens
  2. 1 c sliced olives, green, black, or kalamata
  3. 4 cloves garlic
  4. 1/4 c sun dried tomato strips in olive oil
  5. 1 15 oz can diced tomatoes, plum is best
  6. olive oil as needed to sauté everything


7 qt Dutch oven or other pan that will hold 1 lb of greens


  1. Press the garlic, slice up the olives, and dried tomatoes.
  2. Wash and dry greens as needed
  3. Sauté the garlic, olives and dried tomatoes over low heat for about 5 minutes. Use sufficient oil to cover the bottom of the pan.
  4. Add the diced tomatoes and sauté until hot (2 minutes more)
  5. Stir in the greens and let them wilt down
  6. Cover and cook on low heat for about 30 minutes

Almost Vegan Life

As I mentioned in my holiday letter, I’m eating mostly vegan. I’ll have a cheat meal or ice cream on the weekends but I’m sticking to the straight and narrow during the week — fruits, vegetables, beans, and nuts. Since the holiday, I’ve lost about 10 pounds.

Eating vegan is not hard. To actually loose weight, I’ve had to switch from a mostly vegetarian diet that included dairy products to a vegan diet with dairy only as a cheat day treat. Since making that change, I’ve actually started to loose weight as Dr Furman described in Eat to Live. He writes that if you keep the faith, your weight should settle in near your healthy weight.

The past 18 months has been a search for meal alternatives a meal at a time. When I moved up here, I switched breakfast from cereal to salmon and fruit. After 6 months, I switched to fruit and nuts. Twelve months ago, I stopped fixing meat entrees because I couldn’t find the good lean grass fed beef that I like. I started learning to make chills, curries, etc using beans. Last summer, I found One World Vegetarian Cookbook and began making some of the African and South American fare found in its pages. About six months ago, I stopped eating frozen for lunch and began eating fruits, vegetables, and nuts. At this point, I was pretty much eating vegetarian other than bacon with eggs on Saturday. This fall, I started baking bread with the return of cool weather but was eating too much so I’ve had to give up baking. During this experimentation period, my weight was slowly creeping up so I had to drop the cheese and chocolate I’d also been eating. Since making this change, I’ve started to loose weight.

With the return of cool weather, I’ve been making “Red Soup”, a Hamby family thing. I believe my grandmother served it while my parents were growing up. Dad married the girl next door and went off to war. Mom lived with Dad’s parents during that period and learned to make red soup from my grandmother. (Watsons don’t know red soup.) I’ve since figured it out and started making chicken and Manhattan clam chowder variants. This fall, I learned to make a bean variant that comes out pretty good. I use 6 oz dried beans soaked, onion, cabbage or celery, corn, sweet potato, peas, and a couple of cans of unsalted diced tomatoes. The onion is softball sized. Everything else is 1 cup of whatever. Process is simple. Sauté the onions in a dutch oven or stock pot, add everything else and water to cover plus a cup or so and bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce the heat to low for a slow simmer. Let cook until the beans are soft. Add make-up water as needed. You can add herbs and spices as desired. I’ve tried sherry, fresh basil, dried basil, cinnamon, black peppercorns, dried red pepper, and a red chili power.


2011 Holiday Letter

Merry Christmas and best wishes for a happy and prosperous new year.

2011 is drawing to a close as a rather unremarkable year for me personally. I’ve been back in the Virginia low country for about 18 months now and am slowly recovering from my stay up north. Last winter, I managed to paint the living room and hallway. This winter, stripping the master bedroom trim and painting are the plan. I’m slowly getting settled. Maybe I’ll actually make it by retirement.


The three of us (Dave, Rhea, and Lord Nick) remain in good health. Rhea will be twelve in a couple of months and Nick will be 6. Both are liking Tidewater after having their doubts about the 2010 heat and southern strength thunderstorms. The year started with the Boxing Day snow and the New Years day snow (a foot). For thunder storms, we only had a couple that were impressive here at home though several more passed through the area. We also had one gentlemanly hurricane which flooded the Hague and turned my church’s basement into an indoor wading pool. Later that week, the pecan tree did drop a widow maker in the yard, fortunately with nobody in the LZ.

Nick’s Toes

Nick is recovered from peeling nails. The horny outer covering was separating from the interior causing some distress. This condition can have several causes, bacterial, fungal, or autoimmune. In Nick’s case, several months of tetracycline cleared his condition so it was most likely bacterial. He goes back for a well baby check on Tuesday. He’s been making a big production of scuff marking, something which stopped while the toes were tender. Hopefully this is cured. But he’s missing his regular peanut butter treats.

Dave’s a Vegan, Mostly

Dave had a rather interesting encounter with his cardiologist back in November. After years of preaching the American Heart Association diet, Dr. Panigrahi is now advocating the “Eat to Live” diet because he was not pleased with the results the AHA diet was producing in his patient population. The Eat to Live diet is one of several low fat vegan diets. The author is a cardiologist and does have a side business selling some supplements and condiments but is promoting this diet because it offers quantifiable health benefits in his patient population. The diet is a vegan diet that is sustainable. It is plant based with fruits, vegetables, and beans being unlimited. The author recommends some nuts such as almonds or walnuts to cover essential fatty acids. Protein is not a concern as long as what you are eating is diverse. The author makes an interesting point, 100 calories of broccoli has more protein than 100 calories of beef.

The diet works by reducing fats and animal proteins, increasing vegetable and fruit antioxidants, and adding beans and their antioxidants and fiber. It is a really easy diet that is gimmick free and opens up the broad spectrum of world fare from Africa, India, and the Caribbean nations.

I do still have bacon and eggs for Saturday breakfast and eat meat for holiday meals and the occasional lunch in town. I’ve found that I’m less hungry and that a handful of nuts or dried fruit is a good filling snack. By eating complex whole foods, blood sugar remains more stable and I’m not bingy.

I had been moving in the vegan direction anyway for a number of reason, mostly the difficulty of obtaining tasty meat in the big city and the difficulties of cooking for a family of one. By the time I dropped in for my fall checkup, I was 90 percent of the way there. Cereal wasn’t working so I’d switched fruit and nuts for breakfast. I’d be ravenous by 11 AM when eating cereal breakfast. In January, I’d switched to vegan suppers. In June, I’d stopped eating frozen for lunch and switched to a vegan lunch. For me, only some small adjustments remained, mostly eating more greens. One advantage of the changes made was that in November, my cardiologist was able to halve my blood pressure medication (Diovan). I hope, that by watching grains and starchy vegetables, I can begin to loose the weight that has come to stay over the years.

Around the Neighborhood

Rhea and Nick are liking Tidewater. They enjoy oceanfront walks, trips to the local pet expos, and the luxury of a fenced yard. Nick likes to torment the squirrels. I suspect that is a sport the squirrels also take up from time to time because they’ll run along the top rail of my neighbor’s stockade fence just out of reach. Our bunnies have all learned to eat at the neighbors. Dave likes the access to the beach, big city parks, shopping, culture, and entertainment. And Tidewater has some of the best healthcare in the nation.

I live next to Norfolk airport. A lake, one of the city reservoirs, separates Azalea Acres from the airport and we have a nice treed park at the end of the street. The Norfolk Botanical Garden is our other major neighbor. The subdivision is mid-50’s modern hip roof ranches and most of the neighbors are senior Navy enlisted, Navy retirees, and small businessmen. We have a good mix of people. This morning while the air was still, the neighborhood was fragrant with the smells of Christmas curries in preparation. Many of my neighbors originated in the west Pacific island nations.

Bald Eagles Return

Norfolk Botanical Garden is home to a pair of bald eagles. This spring, the female flew into the path of an airliner on final approach at Norfolk airport and was killed. The wildlife folks took the three chicks off to raptor rescue because they were a size dad couldn’t feed by himself. The chicks have been released and migrated north normally. In early December a new pair had occupied the nest and set up house. They should be laying eggs soon. The Norfolk Eagle Cam has been updated and you should check in from time to time. There are now three cameras, one looking down on the nest, and two that can be tilted, panned, and zoomed to follow activity in and around the nest. You can read more about the Norfolk eagles here. The page should become active in January.

This Old House

I’m catching up on home repairs this year and next. The electrical service panel needs replacement. The old FPE panel is notorious for breakers that fail to trip and bus bars that fail to hold breakers. It will be history in the next few weeks. This is a good time to do such work. Our local tradesmen are pretty open right now and looking for renovation work with new construction still in the dumps. I also need to make some carpentry repairs to cover accesses that the plumbers cut to reach plugged and leaking kitchen drains and to cover the TV, phone, and data distribution panel in my closet.

Longer term plans are to renovate the baths and kitchens but those plans are still in the conceptual design phase. My old hip roof ranch is about 1000 square feet so the baths, linen closet, and utility closet are a Chinese box puzzle of interlocking pieces. The baths feature 24 inch doors and I’m a good 23 inches wide. I’d like proper 32 inch entry ways. That means moving everything around. The house has a full bath plus a half bath off the master bedroom, a bit of a conceit in such a small house. I’d like to reconfigure the space to separate the bath and the water closet with both accessible from the hall. That means moving the furnace which is a big cost driver because the central duct in the crawl space would need replaced and the gas and vent relocated. The furnace and air handler are about 5 years old with 15 years of service ahead.

21st Century TV

I did update the TV after 20 years of service from my faithful Hitachi CRT. I retired it and  added a new Panasonic plasma TV. It connects by HDMI to my TiVO HD and Apple TV 2. My old DVD player continues in service for now. I use the Apple TV for Netflix and iTunes rentals. I’m finding it difficult to justify a Blue Ray player when the Apple TV is playing HD video without trouble. We’ll see. The future new disk player will also pick up SACD duties but HD Tracks is making DRM free high resolution audio available at market disk prices.

The  TV passes audio to the hi-fi via TOSLINK. I can now hear nice stereo TV audio on my 70’s relic preamp, amp, and speakers. A Cambridge Audio DacMagic turns the bits back into analog stereo and does a glorious job of it. The DacMagic up samples the audio to 24 bit 192,000 samples per second audio which is lush and detailed. A new version of the DacMagic features another doubling of the up sampling and an audio level control allowing it to be used to directly drive a high quality power amp.

Between the Apple TV and the DacMagic, it looks like disc media is on the way out. Most music goes into the Mac to be added in lossless form to iTunes. I have the sound of the disk without having to search for it in a disorganized music library.