Monday, April 28, 2008

Free Britannica access for web writers

Web publishers can now get access to the complete online content at Encyclopedia Britannica online for free. The rules state that you have to be a blogger, webmaster or writer. Hey, I guess I qualify for all three!

I'm off to sign up. You have to fill out a form and be approved. I'll report back here whether it's useful or not after I've had a chance to try it out. I tend to stay away from sites you have to pay for, so even though some of their content is free, it's been a few years since I'm visited it.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Thoughts on Cell Phone Etiquette

Yesterday, I was in a brand new library and as I entered, signs warned me to help keep everyone's visit to the library pleasant, and one of the ways was "no cell phones." This annoyed me because my son was home alone and I always want him to be able to reach me if he has an emergency. To him, an emergency is usually, "Can you stop and buy me some soda?" but still, that's the main reason I have a cell phone and I'm not going to turn it off just to allow library patrons to have a pleasant visit to the library.

I put my ringer on its lowest setting (I have an older pre-pay phone and it only vibrates when you set it on high volume, which kind of defeats the purpose). I also had it right on the table so I could grab it and silence it as soon as it rang. And I took care to talk quietly when it did ring, which was only my husband saying he was on his way to get me. We didn't talk long.

So I was thinking about cell phoneetiquette. What did they think would be annoying to other library patrons? Loud ringing? Loud talking? Many of the patrons seemed to be moms, I bet they would be annoyed at not being able to be reached if their children had an emergency.

I was thinking about this when I went into Panera Bread with my husband. The sign on the door offered free WiFi and said nothing about cell phone use. But we were bothered and offended and our time at Panera wasn't pleasant -- but it had nothing to do with cell phones. It was just normal conversation among those at tables near us that disturbed us.

First, a group of 3 women were exchanging news. Apparently they had a common acquaintance who was very sick an in need of an organ transplant. And, it seemed one of them knew someone whose family member had died and donated organs. So the talk turned to donating organs and leaving one's body to science and I thought my husband was going to have to throw out his lunch half-uneaten. But fortunately for us, these ladies were finished eating, and left.

Almost immediately, two men sat down at a nearby table. Their fist talk was work-related and it sounded like we were safe from more unwanted topics. (I need to make a note here -- I was no trying to evesdrop, these people were all talking loud enough for people at other tables to hear them quite clearly.) But I was wrong, one of the men asked about "Mom" and the other began to reply about the details of caring for his aged mother, details I didn't feel we needed to hear.

People make such a big deal about cell phone etiquette. They are so concerned that people not be loud an obnoxious on a cell phone. But they don't think about the fact that people can be loud an obnoxious when they aren't using a cell phone. Maybe we should have rules for how to speak in public rather than rules for where we can and can't use our cell phones.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Taking my Asus Eee PC on the road

Well, not very far on the road. I am a stay at home mom. I don't go out much, at least not to places where I can bring my little computer. But today is my wedding anniversary. My husband wanted to take me out to lunch, and to save gas, I rode along with him while he visited a couple of customers (he sells window blinds). He dropped me at a brand new library in the town I grew up in, and I'm sitting here writing at a nice table with a built in lamp and a built-in electrical plug, right next to a nice window overlooking what would be a pretty outdoor waterfall if it was later in the season when there would be water in it.

I was disappointed to find there doesn't seem to be free WiFi. Our little library out in the boondocks has free WiFi (though that may be because one of the librarians' husband is a techie type, he probably set it up, I bet it's hardly ever used. Ironically, I just wrote an article about WiFi finders and I now know all of the best ways to find out whether there is free WiFi where you're going, and I recommended checking before you leave, but did I do that? No.

Monday, April 21, 2008

The Asus Eee PC -- I think I jumped too soon

I wanted one of these little mini notebooks, or netbooks as I've heard some call them. I would find myself, several times a week, staring at a picture of one of these cute little laptops on some website or other. I decided I had to have one. I got it for my birthday at little over a month ago.

I had 2 reservations, 2 things that worried me about this computer I'd never seen in person till the box arrived from Amazon. The size of the screen was the biggest drawback, as far as I could see. We have a portable DVD player with a 7-inch screen. It's fine for watching DVDs on it, if you have it up close. My husband and I have used it to watch DVDs on together, snuggled up in bed close to each other. You don't want the screen to be too far away from you, even for watching a DVD. But when you have to read text on a screen that size -- well, I was worried about it.

My second reservation was the size of the keyboard. I have small hands, but would this keyboard be too small? I compared the published dimensions with my old NEC MobilPro. I find it easy to type on that, but that is fully half an inch wider. How much difference would that half an inch make?

My short answer to these drawbacks is that they are not as bad as they could be. I will elaborate more on the plusses and minuses in another post. The topic of today's post is why I think I should have waited before purchasing this little machine.

Two reasons, or maybe 11, depending on how you count.

The first is, Asus is now planning to make one with a 9 inch screen. And I hear one with a 10-inch screen isn't far behind. A 9-inch screen would eliminate my biggest criticism of this little dream computer. It wouldn't make the overall size any bigger, since the 7-inch screen is surrounded by a wide buffer that includes the unit's speakers. Though it also makes the price go up, so maybe I am happy with the one I've got.

The second reason I think I jumped too soon is that something has finally happened that I've been waiting years for: computer manufacturers are finally starting to realize there is a market for devices like this. Ever since I learned about the NEC MobilPro, I wondered why there weren't more little devices like that. The problems with the MobilPro were that it was priced too high and it needed to sync to a regular computer.

With the success of the Asus Eee PC, Intel has said that 10 different computer manufacturers are committed to design little competitors for the Asus. One is already out, or nearly so -- the HP Mini Note will be for sale in May.

This new class of mini notebooks (I reject the term "netbook") are all about portability and simplicity. They have enough computing power to run the types of applications you want to have with you on the go. They have components that are designed to use less electric power. They boot quickly (at least the Asus unit does -- that's one of it's great selling points, in my opinion). They don't do everything and are not meant to replace your other computer, but to offer another choice so you don't have to drag that heavy laptop with you everywhere you go.

I figure, if 10 different companies make computers like these, one of them is bound to make one I'll like better than my birthday present. And my only consolation will be that I've been able to use mine all of these months when I could have been waiting for its competitors to come out.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

The perfect loaf of home-made bread

I should have taken a picture of it. It was beautiful.

I've been perfecting this recipe for a number of years now. I started out trying to make a nice crusty Italian loaf. Then I added ground flax seed. Then I added other whole grains and things. Then I experimented with some white whole wheat flour.

Here's the recipe I've come up with.

3/4 cup water
2 cups bread flour (unbleached)
1/2 cup white whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon instant yeast

3/4 cup water
1-3/4 bread flour
1/2 cup white whole wheat flour
3 tablespoon mixture of ground flax seed and ground sunflower seeds
1/4 oat bran
1/4 wheat germ
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon malt powder
1/2 tablespoon gluten
1 teaspoon instant yeast

I start the night before. I make the biga in the bread machine and leave it there. I let it go through the dough cycle and leave the machine on all night. It will keep it slightly warmer than the rest of the kitchen, and the biga will do it's fermentation. Somewhere I read if I'm not going to make the bread the bread the next day, I need to take it out of the bread pan, put it in a plastic bag and put it in the fridge, where it can stay up to 3 days. If you do this, get it out and let it come to room temperature before you use it in dough.

In the early afternoon, I make the rest of the dough. I take the biga out of the pan and put it on a sparayed cutting board (sprayed with oil. Then I use my bread cutter thing to cut it into about 10 pieces and let it sit while I make the rest of the dough.

My pan has you put stuff in the pan in the order I have listed it, water then bread then extra ingredients then yeast last. I do this but I try to have some of the flour lannd on top of the whole grains so it will mix better. I measure out the flax annd sunflower seeds together into my coffee grinder and grind them into a powder -- so the measure is really for the whole seeds than the groud mixture. Adding ground flax and sunflower seeds supposedly gives you all of the essential fats you need in one dose.

On top of the dough ingredients, I lay the pieces of the biga and put the whole bucket into the bread machine. I watch for a couple of minutes and use a spatula to scrape the top if necessary.

90 minutes later, I have a nice big mass of bread dough. I flatten it out with my hands into a vague rectangle, roll it up, pinch the seam and place it seam side down on a piece of parchment or (last time I didn't have parchment) onto a baking stone sprinkled with corn meal. Cover and let rise about 45 min.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. If you have parchment, leave the stone on the lower oven rack while the oven is preheating. Transfer the bread to the stone by lifting and sliding the parchment carefully. Throw 2 tablespoons of water over onto one side of the oven and quickly shut the oven door. Set a timer for 1 min. and repeat, throwing the water onto the opposite side of the oven. Close the oven door, turn the temperature down to 400 and set the timer for 30 minutes.

When it's done, resist the urge to cut it for 20 minutes or so. Enjoy!


I've decided -- that I can't decide what my niche is for this blog. I want to document my freelance writing career, and I want to include samples of my writing.

Here's what I like to write about:

baking, esp. bread baking
graphic arts

See what I mean? How can that be a niche?

But then I looked at some other blogs, blogs of people who are somewhat famous in the internet world, and some of them just blog about what they are thinking about. So, that's what I'm going to do, regardless of the fact that I'm not even a little famous.

I'm going to really try to post every day. Some days my posts will be a bit longer than others. I would like to do a big post about my new toy, the Asus Eee PC blush pink 4 Gb mini laptop. I heard somewhere they have named a new category of laptop -- well, not named after this cute little computer, but because it's so popular and other companies are making similar ones, they made a new category name. I forget what it is, though. I think I won't have time to write a huge long review of the Asus Eee PC, however, so I think instead I will post several shorter, topical reviews, and link them together (like, things I like about it, things I don't like about it, about the operating system, comments I get from people when I'm using it). So be watching for that.