The reward of deferred gratification

Revenge is wicked, & unchristian & in every way unbecoming, & I am not the man to countenance it or show it any favor. (But it is powerful sweet, anyway.)

Mark Twain in a letter to Olivia Langdon (later his wife), 27 December 1869. She was in Buffalo, New York and he was in New Haven, Connecticut nearing the end of a forty-nine city tour of the Northeast US in which he lectured on his travels in the Sandwich (now Hawaiian) Islands

In December, I wrote of an unnamed greedy 3rd party bookseller on Amazon who apparently fraudulently cancelled my US$54 order of a Ricky Jay book when he thought he could boost the price to the sky and make a mint off it (this was the day after Jay died).

In the four months since, I’ve enjoyed seeing that seller’s obscenely inflated price for the book drop precipitously on both Amazon and AbeBooks as the book sits unsold and once again gathering dust as it probably had for some years. His highest price was over US$200, about 400% of the price I ordered it at, and in the last four months he dropped the price at least six times. I guffawed when I discovered that, last week, he dropped it back to the original $54 on both sites. (Why “he”? It’s cynical, I’ll admit, and possibly bordering on sexist, but also based on decades of experience.)

And why am I writing about this again? Because today, I received in the mail this “As New” copy of just that book from a bookseller in Malmö, Sweden who doesn’t seem to view recently-deceased authors’ books as revenue-squeezeboxes. The book cost me US$33.57, including overseas postage, and arrived in six business days with a passel of cool stamps.

On the cover is Zazel, real name Rosa Richter, the first woman to be fired from a cannon, 2 April 1877. She was fourteen at the time.

Click for a larger size

My temptation is to write to the December seller again with something along these lines:

I’m sure you’ll be pleased to hear that I just received an as-new copy of that Ricky Jay book for the excellent price of $34 postpaid. Sorry I haven’t kept in touch, but I’m back and eager to hear how that greedy bastard thing is working out for you.

But that seems excessive, with unhealthy, red-faced teeth-gnashing the likely result, so writing it here will suffice. I’m sometimes mean in thought but rarely in deed.

Related serendipity: The day after I got that good price on Celebrations of Curious Characters, I received an email from AbeBooks saying they found a book I put on my want list in 2002, Natalie Wood: A Biography in Photographs, whose press run in 1986 was fairly limited. I clicked, fully expecting the US$100+ price I’ve seen a dozen times in the past seventeen years, but immediately bought it when I saw the price was $16.76. It arrived on Saturday. Now that’s deferred gratification.

Uneasiness sets in

Jeremy Hardy, Ricky Jay, and John Clarke were on my mind this week because “The News Quiz” just started a new series (the 43-minute “Extra” podcast is posted Monday nights here), I got good news about a particular book, and it’s now been two years since Clarke left us.

There are some people you wish would live a long time. When you have just a handful that you respect highly, it becomes increasingly unsettling as their numbers dwindle.

In praise of (the) Arnold Palmer

For the last few years, and year-round, my favourite drink – other than the occasional margarita or three at the Border Cafe – has been the Arnold Palmer (the non-alcoholic version, that is). Contrary to the 1:1 iced tea to lemonade ratio places most often serve under that name, Palmer himself preferred 2:1 tea to lemonade, as do I, except that I use a freshly-squeezed lemon-limeade.

My tea of choice for a couple decades now has been Luzianne quart-size tea bags for iced tea, the brand most often served in the Southern US. I like a strong tea whose taste doesn’t water down quickly in ice, so I use five quart bags to make a gallon of tea.

I go through about a gallon-and-a-half of this mix about every five or six days, which would normally involve a rather large bowl of simple syrup; instead, I use a sucralose solution. In the past several years since its patent expired, pure sucralose powder has been widely available at far cheaper prices than, say, Splenda packets – about one sixth the price in the end. It’s not a supermarket item, though, because the pure powder is 600 times sweeter than sugar; because of this, Splenda uses dried corn syrup powder as filler, which is why you see dextrose in its ingredients. I make a solution of 4g sucralose powder to 2 oz/60 ml of water and use a lab eyedropper bottle to dispense – 3 drops for coffee, 9 for a single 12-ounce lemon-limeade, and so on. It’s even simpler for the iced tea – exactly 1/16th teaspoon of the powder is perfect for a gallon. My lemon-limeade is the juice of half a lemon and half a lime plus 10 ounces/300 ml of water.

As to citrus squeezing, this is the best tool – great for both lemons and limes. I made a half-gallon of lemon-limeade earlier today, and squeezing every last drop out of twelve lemon and lime halves with this, leisurely, took maybe five minutes total. By the way, the bad reviews of this device you might see are from people who don’t know that you put the cut face down in the juicer. Yeesh.

Chef’n FreshForce Citrus Juicer. Dumb name, but it’s the best.

The inadequacy of your bread

Eater.com article: How Tech Bros Fell in Love With Baking Bread

It appears there are some people out there buying the 52-pound (that’s weight), US$600 Modernist Bread volumes and actually using them (more on the books in the comments here). I suppose some home bakers might feel inadequate reading the details in the linked Eater.com article on expensively-overproduced hobbyist bread for the braggart, but I didn’t. Mostly, the words “overthinking”, “overkill”, and “overcompensating” came to mind, and, as I finished the article, “Criminey.”

Mind-boggling though those details are, it was still sort of interesting to read.

A sample caption from breadstagram: “Loaf from yesterday’s cut video. 80% bread flour, 20% whole wheat, 80% hydration, 2% salt, Leaven was 100% hydration, whole wheat, young (4 hours), and comprised of 10% of total *dough* weight (60g for a 600g loaf). Hand mixed via Rubaud Method for 10 minutes. Bulk for 3.5 hours, low 80s F, with coil folds at 60 minutes and 120 minutes (around 40% rise in volume).”

Yeah…no. The stress these people put on themselves doesn’t sound enjoyable. I’m glad my bread-baking remains at a relaxed level. I’d stop doing it if it seemed that much like work.

Sourdough boule in my kitchen

 

The moon within five years?

Really?

Show me the money.

One guess as to what it was that cost that much

“Was it worth it all? It certainly was to me personally, which obviously makes me suspect as an objective witness to the expenditure of $24 billion of the taxpayers’ money. Besides, I frankly gave little thought to the financial end of the space program, just as I never considered what percentage of the GNP Flash Gordon might reasonably twit away exploring the caverns of Mongo.”

Michael Collins, Command Module Pilot, Apollo 11

Transatlantic Sessions series 7

I read a few weeks ago in a year-old interview with Jerry Douglas that a new series of Transatlantic Sessions was to be recorded in October of last year, so I’m hoping that did happen and that a new series will appear this year.

In the six BBC Scotland series to date – released irregularly in 1995, 1998, 2007, 2009, 2011, and 2013 – there are twenty-one hours of some of the finest music I’ve heard and seen. It’s by far the best-produced live music series of the many I’ve watched. Jerry Douglas and Aly Bain are the musical directors for all six series; their names guarantee the quality of the finished product.

All six series of Transatlantic Sessions are available on DVD, often for around US$20 a series on eBay – cheap at twice that price if you ask me. Make sure it says region 1 or 0 if you’re in the US. You won’t be able to play UK-produced region 2 discs unless you have an all-region player like me. I would avoid the PBS-released version because it’s a short compilation.

If I included all my favourites below, you’d be scrolling through to the day after tomorrow, so I’ll show just a handful. Okay, a baker’s dozen. These tunes are all from series 3, 4, and 5 – in my opinion, the best of the six series.

Timely bread in more ways than one

Click for a larger version

After seeing this ThermoWorks article this morning, I decided it was high time I made soda bread for the first time – the result above. This late date is slightly embarrassing since I’m of Irish extraction (100%, I think) and this is maybe the twenty-fifth or thirtieth kind of bread I’ve made.

Several years ago, I bought the pictured 3.5 quart KitchenAid Dutch oven (alas, long-discontinued) to get a better shape on the sourdough boules I bake, and figured its smaller size would probably help with this fairly wet dough as well, and it did indeed. It probably sped the baking a bit, too. When I took the lid off at 40 minutes, the central temperature was 203°F/95°C, just a couple degrees and minutes from being done.

It’s a fast and tasty bread. I’ll be making it more often than never from now on.

Cinnamon tree just out of range

Chang’e 4 (left arrow) and its rover captured by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera on 8 February

The source LROC article is here. As to the title: The Chang’e lander is named after the goddess of the moon and the rover, Yutu 2, takes its name from the large jade rabbit said to accompany her. Both were mentioned as Apollo 11 orbited the moon prior to landing. From the mission transcript:

095:17:28 Capcom Ron Evans: Roger. Among the large headlines concerning Apollo this morning is one asking that you watch for a lovely girl with a big rabbit. An ancient legend says a beautiful Chinese girl called Chang-O has been living there for 4,000 years. It seems she was banished to the Moon because she stole the pill of immortality from her husband. You might also look for her companion, a large Chinese rabbit, who is easy to spot since he is always standing on his hind feet in the shade of a cinnamon tree. The name of the rabbit is not reported.

[Chang-O is also spelled Ch’ang O and, in the more modern rendition, Chang’e. Chang’e was subsequently adopted as the name of the Chinese unmanned lunar exploration programme, the first spacecraft of which was launched in 2007. The third in the series, Chang’e 3, was the first to land which it did autonomously on 14 December 2013 in Mare Imbrium. The rabbit’s name of Yutu, stated by Evans as not reported, was given as the name of the first Chinese lunar rover, delivered to the surface by Chang’e 3 and it translates to ‘Jade Rabbit’.]

095:18:15 CMP Michael Collins: Okay. We’ll keep a close eye out for the bunny girl.

Chang’e

Update 2 May 2019: Much closer Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter views can now be seen in the LROC posts Above the Landing Site and Chang’e 4 Rover on the Move

Faulty premise

I heard this interstitial while listening to “Car Talk” today:

“As soon as you wake up, you need the latest.”

Do I really? This seems presumptuous.

“And that is why ‘Up First’ is here. It is NPR’s morning news podcast.”

Yikes. That sounds like a stressful way to spend the first minutes of consciousness.

“In just ten minutes, you can start your day informed.”

Yeah…no. In just ten minutes, I can start making my second Americano.

Apollo 11 documentary update

The trailer for “Apollo 11” is out, and the reviews for its premiere last week at Sundance are quite enthusiastic, so there’s a chance of it having more than the very limited theatrical release Sundance-selected documentaries usually get. Here’s hoping.

“It’s one thing to boast about the specs of these images, and quite another to see the spruced up footage for yourself. It’s rare that picture quality can inspire a physical reaction, but the opening moments of ‘Apollo 11,’ in which a NASA camera crew roams around the base of the rocket and spies on some of the people who’ve come to gawk at it from a beach across the water, are vivid enough to melt away the screen that stands between them. The clarity takes your breath away, and it does so in the blink of an eye; your body will react to it before your brain has time to process why, after a lifetime of casual interest, you’re suddenly overcome by the sheer enormity of what it meant to leave the Earth and land somewhere else.”
– David Ehrlich, Indiewire

I was glad to see that, at least in the trailer, they used none of the footage previously seen in the 1972 “Moonwalk One” documentary.

“There was one guy, his name was Urs Furrer, and he was a well-known cameraman. He was a big guy – his name means ‘bear’ and he was big like a bear. I’d look for him because I knew that he could put this camera on his shoulder. I don’t know how much it weighed with a thousand feet of film on it; it was a ton. But he could use it like a handheld camera.”
– Theo Kamecke, director of “Moonwalk One”

The Surveyor landers would be jealous

Here’s some beautiful descent footage from the Chang’e-4 spacecraft that made the first ever soft landing on the far side of the moon last week. When it rotated quickly toward the surface at 1:01, I found myself instinctively saying with a grin, “Pitchover!” I’d suggest viewing this full-screen.

Here’s the descent profile you’re seeing in that video:

Beijing Aerospace Command and Control Centre

The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter team have determined where Chang’e-4 touched down, its approximate position in the Von Kármán crater shown in the older LRO imagery of the area below. LRO will next pass over the Chang’e-4 site toward the end of this month, when they ought to be able to snap a picture of the lander on the surface. Depending on LRO’s altitude at the time, it will show up as anything from a few bright pixels – remember that it’s just the far side and not a dark side – to something showing a bit more detail of the lander, the rover, and perhaps its tracks.

NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University

First full panorama released of the landing site, produced from 80 images:

“Yeah, sure, high-def landing video, but does it bounce? I thought not.” – Surveyor 3

Okay, so the descent engine didn’t cut off at the right altitude, but that new one still can’t bounce.

A prickly situation

Above, my Christmas present to myself this year: a 1991 Looney Tunes sculpture by Ron Lee. When the Warner Brothers Studio Stores still existed, I would visit whenever I was near one – almost never buying anything, but spending fifteen or twenty minutes admiring all the Ron Lee stuff in the back of the store, where two or three dozen of his latest sculptures would be on display. I think he produced well over a hundred Looney Tunes sculptures over several years, possibly approaching two hundred. They were too expensive for me back then, but their extraordinary quality and beauty were compelling. Like all his work, this is made of white metal with a solid polished onyx base, so it’s pretty hefty at nearly six pounds. It’s about ten inches high.

Lee has done a lot more than just Warner Brothers characters – he’s most well-known for clown sculptures (shudder) – but the Looney Tunes and Betty Boop designs are my favourites. I have four now – five if you count the Tweety duplicate I have over at my office.