Suburban Blitzkrieg

This shirt arrived in the mail while I was away on business and last night was the first chance I got to wear it. Sarah and I thlnk it’s really clever, but we really don’t expect the locals to “get it.”

Suburban Blitzkrieg

If you want one of your own, you can get it over at I like that they’ve started shipping overseas. If you live in the U.S., and maybe also Canada — I’m not sure — you can get it shipped for free. Note: I bought this shirt when it was part of a competition and thus I got it for $5 cheaper than the current going rate. But even $20 isn’t a bad price, either.

Easy Peach Cobbler

This one gets the record for shortest duration from the point of recognizing the need to delivering a finished product — mostly because we had all the ingredients at home at the ready. We’d had a big jar of peaches sitting around for a long time, with no usage planned. Then reservations at the restaurant for this evening fell through and we scrambled to find another place to eat with only 2 hours notice. We conferred with our fellow diners and decided to head over to their house for dinner (nice of them, right?). And they asked us to bring something sweet.

Crap. 5pm on a Saturday night. You know what pastry shops around here have to offer on Saturdays at five pm? Two things:

  1. Nothing
  2. Worse than nothing

But after the success of the Bleu Cheese Crisps (those were super easy too), I whipped open that same cook book looking for something in the desserts section with “Easy” in the title. “Easy Peach Cobbler” — there’s our winner.

1 cup self-rising flour (who buys that? Use 1 cup of regular flour, 1 tsp baking powder, 1/2 tsp salt)
1 cup milk
1 cup granuated sugar
1/2 cup butter
1 big jar of peaches in syrup – the 1 kg size (gross…something like 600 g net weight)

Melt the butter in a 9×13-inch baking dish. Blend flour, milk, and granulated sugar; blend well. pour mixtrue on top of melted margarine. Do not stir. Place undrained can of peaches evenly on top of mixture. Do not mix. Bake at 450°F for 20 minutes. Serves 6.

Perhaps we can get our guinea pig focus group to comment directly, validating my own sense of pride in the practicability of this recipe.

P.S.– If you notice this post disappear later this evening, it means the Easy Peach Cobbler didn’t deliver all that it promised.

Rödelheim / Eschborn

I’ve been on business trips to the Frankfurt area before, but this week was the first time I’ve stayed there over night since December 2003 (and back then, I was city-hopping from Regensburg to Würzburg to Babenhausen to Toulouse and back to Detroit).

It was kind of weird, being on the edge of the city, out in those fields, separating Eschborn from Rödelheim. I don’t know what kinds of crops these were — wheat? Some other kind of grass? Either way, it was nice to be able to walk from the hotel to the factory those two days for the training sessions I gave. I get the impression there was not very much else to walk around and do in that area, which is just as well, since the training sessions completely wore me out. That happens to me a lot on overnight business trips; I put in 10 or 12 hour days, always trying to catch up on stuff that would otherwise fill up my inbox…especially if I’m traveling alone.

Here are some pictures of the area:

Rödelheim Rödelheim Rödelheim Rödelheim Rödelheim Rödelheim

Zwei Tage im Frankfurter Raum

I’m spending the next two days in Frankfurt (am Main, natürlich, and more precisely Rödelheim and Eschborn) on a business trip, getting there sometime this evening via a carpool from Regensburg with a big long layover at a workshop in Pommersfelden.

View Larger Map

Anyone wanting to meet up, show/tell me where to eat, etc. please comment here with your email address and hopefully Sarah won’t mind relaying your info to me via my mobile phone (not sure what my connectivity to email — work or otherwise — is going to be). I’ve been there more than a few times before, but never overnight, which has always meant a big long day with early morning train travel, too much coffee to get me through the middle, and a drowsy, throbbing return trip the same evening.

I don’t expect anything particularly exciting about Rödelheim or Eschborn, but I would appreciate some general tips about the Frankfurt downtown area. I figure I ought to be able to S-Bahn it into the city and explore, if only those in the know could tell me which lines and stations to use.

I’m headed back Thursday afternoon on an ICE.

take your computers apart once in a while and blow the dust out of ’em

We bought a cheapo laptop a couple years ago that has been…well…pretty good to us, I guess. We mostly use it around the house — it’s particularly handy in our test kitchen, given how many recipes we find online, and having our conversion tables hosted there, etc. Also, that’s the computer we take with us when traveling.

So anyway, over the last year or so, it’s gotten noticeably slower, and I had been hard-pressed to figure out why. We don’t make it work very hard:

  • There’s rarely more than one person logged into it at a time.
  • Although we could, there are no web or database servers running on it.
  • I do a little light-weight photo editing via the GIMP from time to time
  • We mostly use to connect to the web via WLAN, for the purpose of
    • general surfing
    • checking our mail
    • uploading pictures to flickr
    • plain text editing and uploading of web page files (like when I’m tinkering with the blog)

Nothing too taxing. This is a laptop running Kubuntu, a Linux distribution, which by reputation is great for older (cheaper!) hardware. So I was flummoxed by symptoms of dreadful slow-downs in performance after about 20-30 minutes of having the machine on. I could tell when it was going to happen because it would get pretty hot near the exhaust ports, and I could just hear the fan make a certain high-pitched noise at the top of my hearing range — sort of like how I can tell when the TV is on but muted without looking at it. When it starts making that sound, everything grinds to a halt.

I thought it was related to Firefox (which had/has a reputation for being a memory hog) and noticed that the slow-downs seem to come quicker when using Gmail — especially after leaving that page open for a long time. Using our Gmail accounts via IMAP/Thunderbird instead of through seemed like it helped, but didn’t completely relieve the symptoms. I’d even beefed up the RAM awhile ago and more recently taken the back off of the laptop to look for obvious problems or dust I could clean out…no dice.

So, I was just about to junk it and purchase a newer cheapo laptop from the little second-hand computer store in the Pustet Passage, next to the Ex-Faßl Döner shop. I armed myself with about 500 Euros (planning to spend between 350 and 450) I walked into the tiny shop early Saturday morning and described the problems I was having to Stash Komputerski (he seemed Eastern European). His first guess:

“Sie sind Raucher, oder?” Taken a bit aback, I told him no, we don’t smoke. Then he put his nose right up against the lappy’s exhaust port and took a big sniff.

“Hmm, tatsächlich.” (As if my word wasn’t good enough.)

“Prozessor? Celeron, 1.5GHz.

“Schauen wir mal…” So we fired it up and he whipped out a little digital keychain thermometer — 35°C right off the bat.

“30 Minuten. Das wird 30 Euro kosten. Gehen Sie einen Kaffee trinken.” I shrugged and headed home (we live around the corner; Sarah’s coffee’s the best.). When I came back exactly thirty minutes later, he looked up as I walked in and shouted “Fertig!”. He popped up from around his tiny workbench and whipped out his iPhone. I wasn’t really impressed; I’ve seen those before, and why was he encroaching on my personal space? I was sure I smelled bad, and he looked like he did too.

Then I clued in. He was showing me pictures he took of the work he did during those thirty minutes (I’ll post them here if he emails them to me — he seemed reluctant). He applied a heat paste and pulled a metric buttload of dust and hair out of the nooks and crannies of the heat sink, none of which was visible to me upon my cursory inspection. I asked why there was no heat paste on the processor to begin with and he told me Siemens Fujitsu expected me to throw that computer away after a few years, so they didn’t bother with that stuff. He also told me that the reason he asked whether we smoke was that tar gums up the heat sinks, reducing their effectiveness. We fired up the computer again and the thermometer showed 28° — a marked improvement.

I took it home, excited at the prospects of using that lappy for longer than a few minutes at a time, but was disappointed to find that Firefox was still pretty sluggish — with or without Gmail open. Bummer. Last ditch effort: complete, fresh, re-install. You should only have to do with that Windows, right? Apparently not, because it seems to working like a champ now. A few hurdles with the re-install:

  • The proprietary drivers for the Broadcom 43xx series of WLAN chips still have to be downloaded separately (albeit more easily than before), so you’ll need a cable connection to get that working if your machine has that brand of WLAN chip.
  • The X server couldn’t start for some weirdo reason. I remember how much trouble I had with that, getting it to work originally…there were many hours of tweaking involved (I suspect it has something to do with the lappy’s 1200×800 resolution). Fortunately I’d made a backup of my xorg.conf file as the absolute last thing before staring the reinstall and could fall back to that.

The lessons here:

  1. Take it in before giving up hope. There may be something Stash can see that you can’t.
  2. You might have to reinstall, even if that’s something only Windows users are supposed to have to do.
  3. If you do have to reinstall, think about the hours you invested in tweaks (your network settings, your video settings, etc.) and back those files up for safekeeping!

Bleu Cheese Crisps

Hang on tight, please — this post is going veer and swerve violently around three pillars of pleasure for me: linguistics, google, and cheese.

First, the cheese:

Sarah’s mom gave her a book of recipes compiled by alumnae of her Catholic high school founded by an order of French nuns a couple of years ago (the giving, not the founding). Up until now, we haven’t done much with it except make fun of its name (I’ll spare you). But after our Strawberry Shortcake success on the weekend, I started thinking that we’ve become rather famous (at least in circles around the water cooler) for our dessert prowess. It might be good to branch out. So I started perusing the book and I found a winner pretty quickly.

Bleu Cheese Crisps

1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 4-oz. package crumbled bleu cheese, softened
1/2 cup chopped pecans or walnuts (pecans are so hard to find here)
1 baguette sliced

Mix butter and bleu cheese until blended. Stir in pecans and set aside. Place baguette slices in a single layer on baking sheets. Bake at 350°F for 3 to 5 minutes. Turn slices and spread evenly with bleu cheese mixture. Bake 5 minutes. Serve immediately. Yields 32 appetizers.

We’re thinking about editing the recipe; we’ll update this post if it works well. These are really good and easy, but we’re interesting in giving them a boost of red or black pepper (or paprika maybe) and seeing how that goes.

Which brings us to the linguistics:

This stuff is fairly similar to Obatzda, which is a typical Biergarten treat. You’d expect more flavory things in an Obatzda like onions and garlic, but the general concept here was by-and-largely the same, if a bit more refined, owing to the touch of Fronce. Anyhoo, I was thinking about Obatzda, the word. Not so much what it means (someone explained that to me years ago), but what its non-Bavarianized equivalent would be. Based on what I hear people at the office say when they’re excited (mostly negatively…is that telling?), I surmised that the ‘O’ represented a high-German “an” and that the ‘batzd’ was a past-participle with a silent ‘-ge-‘ past-participle marker that Bavarians (at least here in the Oberpfalz often just don’t need to use). Lo and behold, that wikipedia link above confirms the suspicion. How I found that out is the third pillar of this post.

What’s the sound of me dorkin’ out on the computer? “Goosh!”

Man, that’s fun to say. It’s short for the Google Shell (think bash, ksh, csh, tcsh if you ever had a unix account at your university or place of employment). For the keyboard-loving information junkies, just point your browser at and go to town – start off with an ‘h’ command to show you what’s available. The best part? In my opinion, it’s the “addengine” command, which puts the goosh toolbar in your Firefox browser’s list of searchboxes. From there, you have the power of all those commands right in the search box. Here’s how I used it and was so tickled that I started this post: “wiki Obatzda” and “in shortcake”. I love the keyboard.

Strawberry Shortcake

I was tasked with finding a dessert for the grill party this past weekend. I thought we might have something that would work in the recipes already posted, but it has been witheringly hot for the past several days and the vast majority of our posted desserts are, of course, chocolate. Which is great, but not when it’s 90° and humid. So I started searching for strawberry recipes and I found this. We gave it a whirl earlier in the week and were blown away, so we did it for the party, to great acclaim. I’ve made a couple of alterations (like drastically cutting the sugar content), so I’ll post my adjusted recipe here. It looks complicated, but it comes together quite easily.

2 c (276 g) flour
1 T baking powder
1/2 t salt
3 T brown sugar packed
1/2 c (110 g) butter
2 t sugar
3/4 c (180 ml) milk

Preheat oven to 425°F (218°C) and line a cookie sheet with parchment. With knife blade attachment on food processor, process flour, baking powder, salt, brown sugar, butter and 2 teaspoons granulated sugar until mixture resembles coarse meal. Pour mixture into medium bowl. With wooden spoon or paddle attachment on electric mixer, add milk and mix just until it forms a smooth dough. Scoop dough onto cookie sheet in 6 equal mounds. Bake 15 to 20 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from oven; transfer to wire rack and cool.

1 qt ripe strawberries, washed, hulled and sliced
3-4 T sugar
1/2 t vanilla extract

In a bowl, mash half of the sliced berries. Add sugar and vanilla and stir. Chill mashed berries and sliced berries separately for at least one hour.

Whipped Cream
1 c heavy whipping cream
3-4 T powdered sugar
1/4 c sugar
1/4 t vanilla extract
1/4 c sour cream

In a deep, chilled bowl, whip cream, sugars and vanilla with a whisk or hand mixer until soft peaks form. Add sour cream and whip until stiff peaks form. Serve immediately.

Grill Party

What better way to kick off the month than with a Grill Party?

Gracious hosts Kerstin and Christoph invited members of the team at the office — past and present — over to their house for a glorious night of eating, drinking, and general merriment. The basic format was the same as last year:

  • Bring your own grill fodder, and Christoph will grill it for you.
  • Bring something to share.
  • Kerstin and Christoph provide the drinks and the infrastructure, and if you’re extra lucky, a place to sleep and even a ride home the next morning.

We were extra lucky.

Sarah and I brought dessert*, and it was definitely a hit — the kind people break their diets for (sorry about that).