Tuesday, August 26, 2014

A Great Video

I saw a link to this over at Metalsucks.net and this is a hilarious cover of "The Trooper". Sorry about the dumb ad you need to sit through for the song that is just modern Youtube I guess... but it is worth it.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Different Views of Fashion and Beauty

The supplement to the NY Times has a fashion magazine which is a large, thick magazine featuring hundreds of models with clothing of all types and shapes, and the naturally beautiful models to boot. And this is what they picked out FOR THE COVER:

All I could say was WTF? Her hair and makeup are intentionally messy and she is wearing what appears to be a shapeless drab winter coat. Of all the women in this magazine and all the fashion that was available, this was the "best" for the cover?

The answer is clearly yes, because I'm certain armies of editors and "experts" chose this cover carefully and sweated over every single photo shopped detail. This answer, however, is because THEIR idea of beauty and fashion is completely opposite from not just middle America but of most Americans anywhere. However, we aren't the audience for this magazine, so our opinions are utterly irrelevant.

I am still astonished that they could take such a beautiful woman and make the entire shot so unattractive. And to go further, this was one of the most attractive shots with this model (she appears to be wearing a shapeless sack in other photos). But obviously, it isn't aimed at me, so what the heck do I know.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Head in the Sand on Dams and Hydropower

The popular (untrue) image of the ostrich as a bird that puts its head in the sand came to mind as a I read a recent NY Times article titled "Large Dams Just Aren't Worth the Cost". This article describes the usual culprits that plague dam construction:

1. Cost overruns
2. Dams take much longer to construct than originally planned
3. Dams displace local residents (many in impoverished third world countries) who rarely thrive in their new locations
4. Dams that are paid for with foreign loans (for many years the World Bank provided funding) often do poorly because the dam revenues come back in local currency and the loans are denominated in dollars; thus even if they hit their "nominal" returns, they don't reach their "planned" returns when adjusted for currency depreciation

These are all true objections to dam construction. However, these same criteria can be applied to virtually any energy construction project, from coal plants to nuclear plants to major LNG efforts.

One key point that the article completely misses is that dams don't require spending for "fuel" once they are up and running, and often it is fuel and distribution of fuel that bankrupt energy companies in the third world. The dam requires rain / water to generate power, and if this changes significantly, it can change the amount of power provided, but this is still generally better than "nothing".

There simply would not be electricity in many areas of the third world without hydropower, and the choice really isn't between other alternatives and dams, it is a choice between power and no power. Once a dam is built they often can be run with a few individuals and if there are major problems you can bring someone in to fix them. You don't need to find coal or fuel oil (which moves in price and is denominated in dollars that the country often doesn't have). On the other hand, complex machinery and distribution systems can't be left in the hands of areas with revolutionary governments and broken economies because in short order they are often taken apart and destroyed.

Many of the problems with dams being unprofitable are actually the fault of the local un-functioning and corrupt economy. In third world countries ill-enforced laws encourage people to "steal" electricity and prices are often kept low to avoid unrest (who really cares if that loan to rich countries is repaid, anyways?). These problems are endemic to all of the alternatives and are "a feature, not a bug" of any of these local projects.

As far as the damage to locals and their livelihoods, this is true and absolutely sad. However, since Western companies have largely gotten out of the dam building business (due to environmentalist pressure), the actors that have come into this space have zero compunction about locals as long as they don't actively destroy the site with military tactics. From the article.
All this runs directly counter to the current international dam-building boom. Chinese, Brazilian and Indian construction companies are building hundreds of dams around the world, and the World Bank announced a year ago that it was reviving a moribund strategy to fund mega-dams.
Thus by forcing Western companies out of the act of building dams, all of this business just migrated to comparatively ruthless firms from China, Brazil and India. While these countries are nominally "non-aligned" and the left loves them for tweaking America, in practical terms they just partner with dictators, have little compunction about offenses that get Western firms in hot water (like bribery or displacing local tribes), and build the same exact dam, anyways. This compounds the economic model where Western firms can't compete in the third world because of our restrictive laws, and then the Chinese and other unchecked state sponsored or ruthless firms just fill the vacuum. As a result, the West goes from having SOME influence to having NO influence, and the same exact dam is built anyways.

The article should have focused on the advantages of dams which are:
1. They require little local skills once completed, which is often a big benefit in countries where experts leave or are replaced by political appointees
2. They require nothing for fuel to keep running, meaning that it will keep running even when the country runs out of dollars to purchase and transport fuel
3. They leverage local assets, which are the river, and turn them into something useful for the country, power, which is absolutely needed for everything from cell phones to modern medicine to the basics of a functioning economy

And finally, they should have noted that the "West" does not have a monopoly on construction skills or funding and as soon as we abdicate the field, any ability to impact the morality or processes involved with dam building exits and we hand it over to ruthless state sponsored and funded enterprises who will build that same dam.

The final impact of all this is that these third world economies are all enmeshed in the orbit of state actors from other countries that pay lip service to human rights in public (at the UN) but pay little respect to them in actual practice.

Cross posted at Chicago Boyz

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Saturday Night Flyover Country

First…a word from my sponsor…

now…back to my regularly scheduled programming

We Are Saved

By the ten thousandth Starbucks near where I live.  I always think of the line from the movie "Best in Show" where the husband describes aeeing his wife as she sat in a Starbucks across the street from the Starbucks he was sitting in.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Shark Week

Fooldjah. It's grouper not shark. Wild caught from Florida waters by a very good friend. To me this is the finest tasting fish there is. It has a delicate flavor, not too strong at all. I refer to it as the walleye of the sea.

What I have learned after years of experimenting with grilled fish.

-Always, always always coat fish with oil as it helps keep the flesh from sticking. Vegetable oil works best, olive oil has a higher burn temp and will retard the more desirable browned crispness. After experimenting with many different spice coatings the best one for me is Jerk seasoning. I like using Penzey's. Use sparingly to avoid covering up the natural flavor.

-A very hot fire is best. Flip fish only once after observing the flesh the change in appearance from transparent to opaque. 2-3 minutes per side depending on thickness. It's a visual decision, not judged easily by a timer or thermometer. Undercook and letting fish rest will retain desirable juiciness. To make handling easier cut filets into manageable pieces. Fish baskets are awkward laid on a Weber, better for holding over an open fire.

-Fish from fresh water (salmon excluded) are best batter or crumb coated then deep fried. No matter how hard I have tried they stick to the grill too easily and much of the filet becomes either mutilated or destroyed, some will fall through the grate too. My luck with thicker fresh water fish has been better and if you have a secret then share it with me.

-Salt water fish are more firm and will remain in one piece easier. They also have more fat and will retain a juicy and flaky texture, much easier to flip with a spatula.

-The same technique works very well with salmonids from fresh or salt water.

-Avoid any farm raised fish entirely. Farm raised fish swim in and consume a concentration of their own waste. Yuuuuuukkk.

Good fishin' to ya!

Monday, August 18, 2014

Florence, Italy - Il Duomo

In April I travelled to Italy. We landed and took off from Florence. I was astonished by the beauty and cleanliness of Florence, at least in the places we visited near downtown and in the hills above the city.

While in Florence the size and scale of Il Duomo is staggering. I recommend reading in detail about the construction of this amazing cathedral since it took centuries and was extremely complicated and advanced for its time.

As a layperson however I was amazed at the facade and its beauty.

At night the views were spectacular, as well. The entire city seemed to gather near the cathedral with vendors, tourists, and students mingling and having fun.

Cross posted at Chicago Boyz

Saturday, August 16, 2014

MJ Image on Prudential Building

They did a great job with the MJ images at the old Prudential building.  It isn't just the windows being lot or dark - they also cut some of the corners to round them further.

Damn it is cold out for mid summer.   I hope this isn't a forewarning of a winter like last years'.

Saturday Night Flyover Country

45 years after...

Friday, August 15, 2014

Grilling For One

It's been a boring summer here at the Country Bunker Bar & Grill since she has gone on a liquid diet.

Her two per day health shakes and daily exercise is to be commended. Sweets and desserts were her weakness and it showed. She even bought a special blender that chops up nuts and fruit rinds into a foamy yogurt slop. It's hard to argue staying slim and fit in old age but it leaves me with a conundrum.

What can I grill for myself? It is summer and it's enjoyable to remain outdoors each evening with the perfect weather we've had. I must have flame cooked food or I will die.

Favorite BBQ and grilling masterpieces have been off the list. Ribs, pulled pork and my favorites are a no go. It's been a one man show on the deck with the Weber.

The favorite slow cooking selections can be made but only when others are over so leftovers are kept to a minimum. It's been a rotation between grilling a single chicken breast sandwich, brined pork chop, brat, sausage or the humble burger. While they may be simple foods but I can honestly say they are by far the best tasting simple single serving grilled foods I can make. It has been a challenge and one I have overcome by necessity.

I tried using the Smokey Joe at first and it's fine in a pinch or for tailgates but controlling the fire so it is just right is difficult. The solution is using the full size Weber and building a very small fire on one side. When the flame gets too hot the grill can be spun away from the heat source to calm down the flames if necessary. I have discovered that grilling is all in the timing. Why does this seem so new to me? It's confounded me due to one single item on the grill.

For years grilling has been more of a challenge than BBQ but through necessity I have learned the trick. Four minutes over a hot flame on each side and two minutes off the flame to rest. It's all juicy, tender and well seasoned and damn it does taste great. The cover is only used to extinguish the fire. BadaBing!

I do miss my slow cooked summertime BBQ so. I miss the scent of hardwood smoke wafting in the gentle summer evening breeze. I miss everything about it. This cannot go on forever. She has to get tired of eating that smoothie slop but how can I ask her, "Would you please gain some weight already?"

Monday, August 11, 2014

Lori's Amish Peanut Butter Cookies

Continuing on the theme of recipes from my grandmother's recipe box, today we have Lori's Amish Peanut Butter Cookies.

I honestly have no idea why these are "Amish" - I guess Lori got the recipe from an Amish woman somewhere along the way.

First off, the ingredients:

1.5 cups shortening
4 tsp vanilla
2 cups crunchy peanut butter
2 cups sugar
5 cups flour
1 tsp salt
2 cups brown sugar
3 tsp baking soda
2 tsp baking powder
4 eggs, well beaten

There were no instructions on this card, so I just began mixing stuff together.  I finally used my grandmother's old standing mixer, pictured below.
I am guessing it is from the 60's but don't really know.  It is a heavy beast - that much I do know.

As you can see from the ingredient list above, this recipe is GIANT.  It barely all fit in the mixing bowl, and I needed to use my hands at times to prevent all of the batter from overflowing, but it all worked out in the end.

The card then said make loose balls with a tablespoon and flatten them with a sugared cup.  Bake @350 for 8-10 minutes.  I made mine a little larger and ended up with about 85 cookies.  Here are most of them.

These are outstanding and will not last long.

Cross posted at ChicagoBoyz.

Thursday, August 07, 2014

The Master Of Baiting

Attracting whitetails to the farm has been an ongoing project/hobby for the past nineteen months. My first attempt was to raise food plots. Using a mixture of clover, chicory and turnips the soil was plowed and seed planted. Well it didn't take. Time for a new plan.

A shed antler found on the property late last January.

Coming to the conclusion that if I did not correct the soil properly and tend to it regularly what little time and effort I had time to put into it wasn't going to be successful. Similarly two friends have been trying to raise sunflowers to attract doves on the same property. It has been futile. Just a guess but without correcting the soil and regular maintenance that sunflower patch has been a waste of time for them as my food plots have been to me. What to do?


Yep, every few weeks I will be placing bait out to bring in and hold does to the property in order to attract the many bucks that roam the area. This effort began over a week ago in an ongoing plan to scout the property early in order to pattern these critters for the upcoming archery/crossbow deer season that begins October 1. Bait can range from corn to peanut butter to Kool-Aide to apples, acorns and other easily obtainable produce. On the internet there are hundreds of fool-proof homemade baits others have used with success for years.

With so many new modern prepared deer bait products to choose from I went with a commercial liquid called Buck Jam from Evolved Habitats. At $6 (with  my discount) per gallon every two weeks this will be placed in two or three of my selected spots. Spots that I have learned most of the deer travel on our property. Pre-season scouting and recognizing the signs they leave builds confidence in the selected spots and increases my chances for success.

Figuring out where they travel has been much easier using our trail cams. Having eyes on the property when I cannot be there allow me to eliminate unproductive zones so I can focus on spots deer most frequent. Last year my limited season was cut short by weather but my efforts patterning the movements increase my potential for success this year by far. That and having a crossbow allow me to have from October 1 to January 15 and the multi-season option provides me with a lot more time to be out in the woods, not just the two week firearm season.

Over one week ago I traveled to the farm to place my trail cam near a prime spot and laid out the bait where the cam could do its thing. Doug came along to help. We also shot off a few mags from my Ruger 10/22 and practiced using the new crossbow.

This Parker crossbow is incredible. I have the scope zeroed in so tight that at 20 and 30 yards I can place a dead center shot consistently. A 50 yard shot would not be a reach and I have all the confidence I can make a clean kill shot at that distance if necessary but my choice would be closer.

In addition I have been practicing on a 3-D deer target from my upstairs window to simulate shooting from a high position. I will be bring the crossbow along to Gunstock and you guys can try it for yourself.

We emptied one gallon of the very viscous sweet & salty corn flavored Buck Jam onto two logs near the wooded entrance trail to the wooded deer bedding area. They have liked this spot as an exit/entrance in the past and it is adjacent to a new alfalfa field that deer love to eat.

This alfalfa field may as well be one huge food plot for me that requires zero maintenance and zero cost. Mom seemed to like the alfalfa while little Bambi went for the Buck Jam bait.

Six days later I returned to download the cam images and see what happened to drop by and sample the Buck Jam bait. There were 1,129 photos total. Upon review the settings on the cam were on ultra sensitive so branches and large weeds moving in the recent stiff winds caused a lot of unproductive images that I had to cull through. In day two of the bait placement this doe showed up.

The scars along the side of this doe indicate she may have had an unfortunate incident with a barbed wire fence.

One night she showed up with friends.

Night time or day time it didn't make much of a difference.

These does really love that Buck Jam bait.

Doesn't that looks like one satisfied pair of backstraps?

Monday, August 04, 2014

Maxine's Fresh Orange Squares

I have mentioned before that my grandmother died a few years ago and one of the best things I received when we were cleaning out her house was a giant box of recipes.  In the box are some recipes from her friends as well.  Yesterday I tried Maxine's Fresh Orange Squares and they came out pretty well.

I bought a giant bag of oranges from Costco last week and frankly, they are pretty bad.  I hate wasting, so went to the recipe box to look up a recipe to try to use a few of them.

1 cup packed brown sugar
1 egg
1 cup flour
2/3 cup finely chopped peeled orange (about 1 large)
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
Orange glaze*

*Orange glaze: Mix 2 tbsp. grated orange peel, 1/3 cup sifted confectioners sugar and 2 tsp water until smooth

Heat oven to 350. In small mixing bowl, beat sugar and egg on high for 3 minutes.  Stir in flour, orange and nuts.  Spread in greased 9x9x2 pan.  Bake 30 to 35 minutes or until golden brown.  While warm spread with glaze.  Cool, cut into 1.5" squares.

Below is the finished product:

The squares were pretty dense.  I substituted almonds for the walnuts because that is what I had laying around and it worked fine.  The orange glaze is delicious on top.  I imagine this would be even better with good oranges.

Cross posted at ChicagoBoyz.

Sunday, August 03, 2014

Investing Related Items

Over at Trust Funds for Kids I've been updating the portfolios and researching relevant topics for detailed analysis.

One interesting item to me is ADR's or American Depository Receipts, which represent foreign stocks trading in US markets. "Sponsored" ADR's trade on NYSE and NASDAQ and "unsponsored" ones trade on the OTC or "pink sheet" markets. Recently one of my stocks (Siemens) went from a sponsored to non-sponsored ADR status and I started researching it here.

I also researched the impact of currency moves on a portfolio, focusing on the Australian dollar vs. the US dollar and its effect on a particular Australian Bank Westpac. It is interesting to view the two elements in an intertwined fashion, since the US dollar was a poor performer over the last 5 years relative to many other currencies.

Finally I look a bit at performance over the last year and marvel about how easy it is to assess performance these days with free graphing and overlay tools, compared to the manual effort in past years'. It still is difficult to always properly factor in dividends and the timing of cash flows (investments), but that's a different story.

Cross posted at Chicago Boyz