Sunday, July 29, 2018

Rocker Bottom Shoes

I developed osteoarthritis in both knees at the age of 16 when I started running cross country. Many years ago, I read (in print!) that the leading cause of osteoarthritis in juveniles was dehydration, and I know I didn't increase my fluid intake when I started running (unfortunately; this is your cue to get more to drink so you stay hydrated). Thanks to my physical therapist, I am not (often) bothered by that knee pain. Yes, you can beat osteoarthritis! One of the suggestions from my physical therapist was always to wear athletic shoes for the cushioning and support. This has been the simplest fix so far! After a flare-up, I do need to treat the pain and perform my PT exercises regularly, but after that my "maintenance" state is just to wear good sneakers at all times.

Based on my experience running cross country, I want my shoes to provide motion control as well as lots of cushioning. Motion control shoes ease the stress on my wobbly ankles, and hold my arch in a better position. I tend to pronate when I walk, and supinate when I run, so when my shoes provide proper cues for both conditions, I experience less pain. This is why I choose motion control over stability. However, I also have a very heavy stride, wearing through the soles of my shoes very quickly, so the more cushioning, the less pain I feel.

Until bilateral ankle pain visited me, I was a huge fan of rocker bottom shoes, specifically Skechers Shape Ups. Some Skechers are so cushioned that I call them "marshmallow shoes" for all that squishiness! Shape Ups are very cushioned! The rocker bottom forced me to roll into each step instead of stomping with my heel, thereby reducing heel and knee pain. Instead of needing a new pair of shoes every 3 months, I could generally wear one pair almost a year before I noticed the characteristic ache in my knees of needing new shoes. However, the arch support was negligible. I took a pair of 3/4-length shoe inserts, and cut out just the arch following the shape of some other inserts I had that built up the arch in layers that made it easy to see the shaping. I put that "just the arch" cut-out underneath the liner in my Skechers Shape Ups, and my feet were finally comfortable!

However, the rocker bottom is not stable on your front-back axis (it's fine side-to-side, which is why it didn't originally bother my ankles). You should not wear these hiking, mowing, or on uneven surfaces.

After 5 cushioned years in my Skechers Shape Ups, I hit 2 years of near-continuous ankle pain that is somewhat soothed with normal flat-bottom shoes. sigh However, if you have a heavy stride, you want a cushioning shoe, and you don't mind the lack of arch support or you don't mind adding your own arch support, these shoes were great! I'm looking for my next favorite shoes.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Raspberry Pi Zero W, back from noboot

I had a brief power outage recently, and my Raspberry Pi Zero W did not survive - but the original Raspberry Pi Zero right next to it came through the power bounce without problems! (Power and cable modem internet have been bouncy this month.)

I tried to power it up on two known-good power sources. I tried another micro USB power cable. I didn't see any lights any time I tried, so I thought this Zero W was completely dead.

Then I ran across this suggestion to try a different SD card. Since that's so simple to try, I did, and now my Raspberry Pi Zero W works again! The old SD card spewed errors all over dmesg when I tried to mount it on my computer, so that was definitely the problem.

So now I'll add trying a new SD card to the list with power and cable to get a Raspberry Pi to boot.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Chicken and Rice

I usually skip "me too" posts and comments, but how to cook moist and tender chicken breasts every time [from The Kitchn] does exactly that. I feel bad for not already sharing how easy and delicious this is!

I usually skip the first step of flattening the chicken. I've tried cooking chicken breasts both ways, and as long as I keep the thinner end of the chicken breast farther from the center of the heat and the pan, the end result is just as good in less time, with less of my kitchen exposed to raw chicken. I season very lightly with salt and garlic powder, but no pepper. I use either olive oil, or almond oil poured off my almond butter. It's especially tasty when some almond butter gets in the pan! If the chicken breasts are thick, I leave the heat on low for the second round of cooking for 10 minutes too. In less than 25 minutes, I have freshly cooked, delicious chicken breasts!

The chicken leaves some delicious broth in the pan, and often some bits of chicken. For my next step, I make rice with the chicken broth. I use my Progressive microwave rice cooker. So, for instance, if I make basmati rice, I add one scoop (about 3/4 cup) of basmati rice, and three scoops of liquid. I start with as much chicken broth as was left in the pan, and then I add cold water to fill three scoops. I microwave that for 18 minutes in my 900 Watt microwave. Then I take the rice out and stir it up. Since my crowd strongly prefers soft rice, I add two more scoops of water, sample it to adjust seasoning levels (usually just salt and garlic powder), and then microwave for another 12 minutes. Brown rice gets 21 minutes then 14 minutes; compared to the first round, the second round of cooking uses 2/3 of the water and 2/3 of the microwaving time. Now I'm up to an hour of cooking time, but 50 minutes of that is hands-off with no peeking so it's low effort.

From this point, it's a week of chicken and rice, but that's a delicious combination! Chicken with veggies over rice, chicken burrito bowl over rice, chicken stir-fry over rice, classic chicken and rice casserole, southwestern chicken and rice casserole, chicken fried rice, chicken and rice soup, pineapple chicken and rice, Greek chicken and rice, and that's just off the top of my head if you keep the chicken and rice paired together! I enjoy sliced chicken on my sandwiches, and rice is always a tasty side dish.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Sugary Fun

The first project of summer vacation this year was sugar + water.

The first segment was to make hummingbird food for the hummingbird feeder I picked up from Dollar General (technically, it was my kids' Mother's Day present to me). I found many online resources, that most matched this one. The ratio is one part white sugar to 4 parts recently-boiled water (presumably to sterilize it). We followed the admonitions not to add food coloring, nor to change the proportions. I instructed my kids to measure how much the feeder would hold (then water the plants with the excess), and to calculate how much sugar to add to that much water. We then set that aside to cool overnight. I had them sample 1:4 sugar water for reference, and I was informed that hummingbirds are lucky because that's tasty.

If you wanted to continue on the hummingbird theme, here's a collection of hummingbird resources (maps, books, crafts).

The second segment was to make rock candy. The directions varied with the website, from as high as 3:1 down to a moderate 5:2. I went with the super-saturated note from Science Bob and stopped at 1:1 (possibly too low) when the sugar took much, much longer to dissolve in boiling water. I dipped popsicle sticks (made of untreated wood) in the solution, then rolled them in sugar, put clothespins above the sugar level, and placed the sticks in small (to the tall and narrow side) jars to wait for cooling and crystals. Next time, we might add flavors!

And now we wait impatiently for sugar crystals to grow ...

One piece of trivia from my college Optics class is (unverified) that sugar water circularly polarizes light, so you might be able to add on further science ...

Thursday, April 27, 2017


I read this article, So You Like Flavor? Don't Soak Your Black Beans! at Serious Eats that references an LA Times article, Don't soak your dried beans! Now even the cool kids agree.

That made me wonder How to Soak Dried Beans (from the US Dry Bean Council). They recommend and describe the hot soak method to reduce cooking time and to result in consistently tender beans. I looked up cooking times at How To Cook Dried Beans (from What's Cooking America) and Bean Varieties (from the US Dry Bean Council), giving more credence to the latter. Then I read How To Cook Beans in the Oven (from The Kitchn).

I used to (cold) soak my beans overnight, then cook for 8 hours in the crock-pot. After that research, I have a new method (that takes just about as long).

I pour 2 cups of pinto beans and 10 cups of water into my dutch oven. I heat it to boiling on the stove, then boil for 7 minutes. Now I place the dutch oven inside the oven (for heat retention) for 4 to 24 hours; I usually let the beans sit overnight. Before cooking, I exchange the soaking water (outdoor plants love these nutrients!) with fresh water. I add minced garlic or garlic powder and ground cumin at this point. I return the dutch oven of soaked pinto beans to the oven, and bake at 350 degrees for 2 hours. Around 1 1/2 hours, I add 1/2 teaspoon of salt, stir, and test the beans for done-ness. I expect 6 cups of cooked pinto beans from 2 cups of dried beans.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

VirtualBox and shared clipboard

Based on the number of results from a search, I feel grateful that I haven't had the shared clipboard between the Mac OS X 10.11 host of my work laptop and the Xubuntu 16.04 guest break sooner.

I read the documentation. I read many of the search results, including this older thread. Those commands gave me error messages! (This is useful, not terrible.)

/usr/bin/VBoxClient-all: 31: /usr/bin/VBoxClient-all: /usr/bin/VBoxClient: not found
/usr/bin/VBoxClient-all: 32: /usr/bin/VBoxClient-all: /usr/bin/VBoxClient: not found
/usr/bin/VBoxClient-all: 33: /usr/bin/VBoxClient-all: /usr/bin/VBoxClient: not found
/usr/bin/VBoxClient-all: 34: /usr/bin/VBoxClient-all: /usr/bin/VBoxClient: not found
/usr/bin/VBoxClient-all: 35: /usr/bin/VBoxClient-all: /usr/bin/VBoxClient: not found

I did a directory listing to look at the available VBox scripts, and saw that those were symlinks. Based on that, if I had to guess, the VBoxClient script was renamed to VBoxClient-all without updating the script itself where it called itself. Doh! The simplest fix was not to edit the script giving the errors but to add a symlink for the "old" name. The symlink solution will also aid any other scripts that were also not updated to call the new name.

user@guest:~$ cd /usr/bin
user@guest:/usr/bin$ ls -l VBox*
lrwxrwxrwx 1 root root 27 Jan 18 08:58 VBoxBalloonCtrl -> ../share/virtualbox/
lrwxrwxrwx 1 root root 62 Jan 18 10:06 VBoxClient-all -> /usr/lib/x86_64-linux-gnu/VBoxGuestAdditions/98vboxadd-xclient
lrwxrwxrwx 1 root root 46 Jan 18 10:06 VBoxControl -> /opt/VBoxGuestAdditions-5.0.32/bin/VBoxControl
lrwxrwxrwx 1 root root 27 Jan 18 08:58 VBoxHeadless -> ../share/virtualbox/
lrwxrwxrwx 1 root root 27 Jan 18 08:58 VBoxManage -> ../share/virtualbox/
lrwxrwxrwx 1 root root 27 Jan 18 08:58 VBoxSDL -> ../share/virtualbox/
user@guest:/usr/bin$ sudo ln -s /usr/lib/x86_64-linux-gnu/VBoxGuestAdditions/98vboxadd-xclient VBoxClient
user@guest:/usr/bin$ ls -l VBox*
lrwxrwxrwx 1 root root 27 Jan 18 08:58 VBoxBalloonCtrl -> ../share/virtualbox/
lrwxrwxrwx 1 root root 62 Apr 12 11:04 VBoxClient -> /usr/lib/x86_64-linux-gnu/VBoxGuestAdditions/98vboxadd-xclient
lrwxrwxrwx 1 root root 62 Jan 18 10:06 VBoxClient-all -> /usr/lib/x86_64-linux-gnu/VBoxGuestAdditions/98vboxadd-xclient
lrwxrwxrwx 1 root root 46 Jan 18 10:06 VBoxControl -> /opt/VBoxGuestAdditions-5.0.32/bin/VBoxControl
lrwxrwxrwx 1 root root 27 Jan 18 08:58 VBoxHeadless -> ../share/virtualbox/
lrwxrwxrwx 1 root root 27 Jan 18 08:58 VBoxManage -> ../share/virtualbox/
lrwxrwxrwx 1 root root 27 Jan 18 08:58 VBoxSDL -> ../share/virtualbox/

That might have been sufficient, but I thought this command also sounded promising.

user@guest:/usr/bin$ sudo rcvboxadd setup
Removing existing VirtualBox DKMS kernel modules ...done.
Removing existing VirtualBox non-DKMS kernel modules ...done.
Building the VirtualBox Guest Additions kernel modules ...done.
Doing non-kernel setup of the Guest Additions ...done.
You should restart your guest to make sure the new modules are actually used

And the report after a reboot is: OUCH! Lesson 1: do not try to install the HWE kernel (hardware enablement)! Virtual Box is not happy when you mess with the kernel. (Longer version: installing HWE conflicted with virtualbox-guest-x11 and that's necessary. I thought virtualbox-qt would be sufficient, but that didn't seem to be the case.) Without a skilled administrator, I don't think I would use that VM again! Lesson 2: make a snapshot before kernel upgrades! Or just any ol' time, because backups are good! I suspect the symlink helps too, but overall VBox feet were shot in the process of trying to restore the shared clipboard.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Chocolate Cake

In recognition of this cluster of birthdays, I present my favorite chocolate cake recipe that I have made for many years, originally seen by me on the back of the Hershey's Cocoa container. However, I have discovered some enhancements for that original recipe. Every time I try a different recipe for chocolate cake, I wish I had made that recipe instead (with one exception: this chocolate mug cake with peanut butter: "The One" Chocolate Mug Cake at Budget Bytes).

The first tip I learned in graduate school. One of the other students made the most delicious chocolate cake, so I asked her for the recipe. As she told me, I realized it's the same recipe, so I asked her for her technique instead. She sifted her flour while I, through a combination of following my original recipe that said unsifted flour and laziness (woo hoo! no sifting!), did not. Thank you, Gail! Made with sifted flour, the color of the cake was lighter, the texture softer, the crumb finer, and the overall taste better.

The second tip I learned from reading this posting of that recipe: do not add as much boiling water as listed. Wow, that helped! At this point, I didn't think the recipe could get any better. I'm glad I continued to make minor changes anyway.

I read a blog post (that I can't find now) where the author had used many different brands of cocoa powder to make brownies (I believe). The overall conclusion was that dutch-processed cocoa was preferred by this informal tasting panel. This led me to search for dutch-processed cocoa, and to discover that it's hard to find! I finally found Fair Trade Organic Baking Cocoa from Equal Exchange at Weaver Street. It was on sale, so how could I resist? The chocolate cake was even better! The chocolate taste was simultaneously more gentle and more present: delicious!

At this point, I believe this is the pinnacle of homemade chocolate cake, with those three tips. However, I admit that I am curious to know how much method makes a difference (often, like sifting flour, method makes a tremendous difference). When I was growing up, my mother assured me that The Creaming Method was The Right Way To Make A Cake, but that Two-Stage Method has its supporters too.

Although I couldn't find the post that sent me on the trail of dutched cocoa, I did find some other fun references.

Tangentially related to cocoa powder is the discussion of Baking Powder and Baking Soda at noting the origin of Devil's food cake.

To which I say, have some more chocolate cake. It's for science!