So, after almost 20 years, I find myself back in Phoenix. It feels like I’ve come home. I hadn’t realized just how much I missed the desert until I got back to it. Mind you, getting here was a bit of an adventure. The wife and boy came out the first of October, as she had to start work on the 5th and we wanted to get him into school as soon as possible. I stuck around in CNY until late October, finishing up some projects for my employer, figuring out what was coming to Arizona and getting the RV and Jeep ready for the trip.

We decided to use the move to Arizona as an opportunity to shed a bunch of baggage (furniture and other stuff) that we never really liked and didn’t want to move. So the decision was made to bring only what would fit in the cars and the motorhome. This meant leaving behind the bulk of the furniture (except our bed, Sleep Number beds break down into amazingly small packages, even for kings) and being pretty selective about what else made it on the RV. As it turned out, Kara drove out with the Malibu packed fairly full, then I packed the motorhome full as well, with clothes, tools, computer equipment, pictures, etc. I had to leave the Jeep fairly empty, as I was towing it behind the motorhome and it was already pushing the towing limit for the RV.

Monday, October 19th was originally supposed to be my pull out date, but I didn’t finish loading the RV until late on Tuesday the 20th, at which point I decided I was leaving no matter what. So I wrangled the dog and all three cats out into the motorhome and started off. The adventures started before I even managed to get out of town, the battery door on the RV popped loose and I had to stop to fix it before I could go any further. While getting back into the RV, Bob (one of the cats) decided he’d already had enough of this and was getting the hell out of there. Fortunately, there was a friendly coed nearby from the college who managed to coax him to come to her and we got him back into the motorhome.

From that inauspicious start, things progressed fairly well (I did discovered that cats don’t recognized Chicken McNuggets as food) until about 2 a.m. in Ohio, when the first of the tires blew out. Fortunately, it was on a rear wheel, which are duals, so the only real evidence was the noise. I have AAA, including RV coverage, so I called them out to change the tire (I was pretty sure I didn’t have the right size socket for the lug nuts, I later found I was right). However, the AAA service provider for that area didn’t have the tools to change the tire on a 32′ motorhome either. They were able to refer me to another service provider, who came out and put the tire on (still waiting on the reimbursement from AAA). Luckily, the cats decided to behave through this and I didn’t have to hunt down and recapture anyone.

I got back on the road at about 6 a.m. and made it through Cleveland and Columbus before the next tire blew. In the same position. In retrospect I suspect that the spare was quite possibly the original tire from 1991 and it just died of old age. I limped along to a rest area and spent some quality time taking a nap and then checking Google for the nearest tire place. Apparently 19.5R8 tires are getting fairly difficult to find, as I was only able to locate one within safe limping distance. In any case, I purchased a new tire and had it put on, then hit the road again, heading south through the Smokey mountains. Other than tires, the RV had run flawlessly and the ReadyBrake I had installed on the Jeep was working great. I was even getting reasonably decent gas mileage, which was good, because I was spending a lot more money on tires than I had planned.

I had gone into this trip with grand plans to make sandwiches on the road as my food supply, but that was soon thwarted by the fact that the RV alternator wasn’t properly charging the auxillary batteries and the cooler I had stored my lunch meat in wasn’t cooling. So I was eating at random times, when I got hungry enough. I didn’t want to stop to eat, but I almost had to, because it was impossible to drive the RV, eat a sandwich and fight off Bob at the same time. Any time I would put my food down, Bob would be on it in a heartbeat, tearing off what he could and taking off to eat it somewhere in the back of the RV. Never mind that they had food (in fact, the cats had dumped their food, so it was everywhere), he wanted my food. So meals were rather sporadic and hurried affairs, usually very late at night while the animals were asleep.

It wasn’t until I hit Arkansas that I had another escape attempt by Bob. I had pulled into a rest area to get a few hours sleep, which meant taking Morgan (the dog) out for a walk. While trying to get her back into the RV, Bob decided to make a break for it. This was a bad thing, it was 3 a.m. and the rest area backed up against a swamp, if he went in there, he was gone. Fortunately, I had a secret weapon that Bob couldn’t resist… cold cuts, specifically, bologna. I laid a trail of bologna back to the motorhome and then worked my way behind the cat. While he was scarfing down the bologna, I snuck up on him and grabbed him, throwing him back in the RV. That done, it was time to hit the road again.

The trip proceeded without excitement until I hit Dallas. At rush hour. In torrential rain. And the windshield wipers decided they had had enough and were going on strike. Fortunately, traffic was moving fairly slowly and there was a clear patch on the windshield, so I was able to keep moving until I got out of the rain, but it was a bit exciting there for a while. I made it to Abilene, where I stopped at my sister-in-law’s and stayed for a couple of nights of much needed sleep and food. The sleep was needed because any time I stopped to sleep for a couple of hours, the dog insisted on being walked every ten minutes and wouldn’t let me sleep. So, I hadn’t had more than about an hour of uninterrupted sleep since the trip had started. This also let me wait out the remnants of hurricane Patricia, which were sweeping over West Texas at the time.

Once out of Abilene, I once again had a fairly uneventful day of driving, the weather was good, the RV was running well (even managing to keep up with the 75+ mph speed limit) and life was good. Until I hit Benson, Arizona, when another tire blew out. This time it was on the same side (driver’s), but it was the inner tire of the dual wheels. The problem was, it was 10 p.m. on a Saturday night and nobody within 40 miles of Benson stocked an 19.5R8 tire. I had planned to make a side trip to Sierra Vista to drop off a keyboard and six boxes of vinyl record albums at my father-in-laws, instead, I had him meet me in Benson and we off-loaded the records the next morning, after I’d spent a night in the Motel 6 at I-10 and SR-90. After we’d transferred the albums, I waited for Kara and the boy to meet me while I moved the RV to a truck parking lot and unhitched the Jeep.

Once Kara met me, we transferred the animals to her car, loaded the shredded spare from the RV into the Jeep and drove on in to Phoenix. After a night in Phoenix, I finally found a replacement tire for the RV and got it mounted and balanced, then headed back to Benson with the tire in the back of the Jeep. At which point, I had to wait for AAA again to put the new tire on (I really have to get a proper socket for those lug nuts). Finally, I was able to hitch the Jeep back up to the RV and get the whole load to Phoenix. I was never so happy to see South Mountain in my life.

Amoeba Net

Imagine, if you will, a time before the Internet, a dark time even before local area networks were common, when communication was done on dialup lines using modems. Amoeba Net dates to that period, the early 1990s. I was working as a contractor at the proving grounds of a large automobile manufacturer, creating an application to manage the checking in and out of cars from the proving grounds. The idea was that each division would have an application on their end that talked to a central database and control application at the gate house. A division would be able to create entries in the database indicating who was allowed to take what cars off site and when (as there were a lot of prototypes on site, this was rather important). The whole thing was to be written using the dBase III database language as compiled using Clipper. The division offices were to be connected to the gate house using short haul modems (also known as a line driver) and twisted pair wiring. The gate house would poll each division office in turn and request updates to the database. Very simple concept, and it worked great in the development lab. But no plan ever survives contact with the enemy.

In this case, the enemy was the local telco, who was also responsible for installing the twisted pair lines between the divisions and the gate house, a few hundred meters to a kilometer at worst. Well, that’s not exactly what happened. We set everything up and began testing, but the signals from the line drivers were just fading into nowhere and weren’t being picked up on the other end. We were able to check continuity and it was there, but the resistance was way too high. As it turned out, the telco had run each set of lines to the local central office (CO), and then back to the gate house, a distance of tens of kilometers instead of under a kilometer. The line drivers simply weren’t built to push the signal that far. The problem was, the project had a hard implement by date, it was coming up fast, and the date the telco gave for correctly wiring things up was way past that. And that’s where lateral thinking comes in.

Hayes Smartmodem 1200
Lateral Thinking

At the time I was heavily involved with FidoNet and had more than a passing familiarity with Hayes 1200 bps modems. I did a little digging and discovered that you could turn the carrier signal on the modem on and off with AT commands without actually dialing numbers. The records were small, so the speed difference (1200 bps vs 9600 bps) wasn’t an issue, it was just a matter of getting enough modems. We acquired 9 modems, one for the gate house and one for each division and wired them up to the twisted pairs. By turning the carrier off on all the modems, we basically created a modem party line, where everybody was listening in. To send a record to the gatehouse, the sending modem would first check to see if the line was in use (was there a carrier present?), if not, it raised its carrier, which notified the gatehouse computer that someone wanted to talk to it. The gatehouse then raised its carrier and the record was sent to the gatehouse. At the end of the transaction, both modems shut down their carriers and the conversation ended. Sending notifications from the gatehouse to the divisions was slightly (but only slightly) more complicated. The gatehouse would raise its carrier, which would cause the other modems to perk up their ears, it would then broadcast an identifier that told the other modems which of them should raise their carrier. The correct modem would raise carrier and the transaction would be completed, after which both modems would again shutdown. Each transaction had a simple CRC check (as I recall, I based it loosely on the XMODEM protocol), that was used for collision detection. If the gate or division computer got a bad CRC, it was assumed that there was a collision (or some other problem) and the transaction would be retried some random number of seconds later.

All in all, it worked amazingly well. Messages went back and forth between the gatehouse and the divisions and users were able to update the access control lists without an issue. And nobody but the project manager and I knew anything about those Hayes modems.

Nextbook Flexx 2-in-1 10.1

So, my tired old TF101 Transformer tablet finally bit the dust last week and I went looking for a replacement. I really wanted something that had a decent display and could act as a laptop replacement if so desired, as I hate carrying my full on (and heavy) laptop around, but would still function as a tablet. Oh, and it couldn’t cost more than $200. Well, while at Wal-Mart, I stumbled across this little gem for only $180. It runs Windows 8.1, so it’s actually a full laptop with a display resolution of 1280 x 800.

nextbook flexx 10.1
Nextbook Flexx 10.1

The keyboard detaches from the screen so you can use it as a tablet as well. It runs Win 8.1 pretty well, considering the limited RAM (2 Gb) and has an SD card slot for expanding the built in 32 GB of storage. There are two cameras on the display half, front and rear facing, that are each 2MP, they’re obviously for video conferencing, you’re not going to be using them to take pictures with. The speakers aren’t bad, located on the rear of the display half, in the lower corners. I’ve found the best way to get good sound out of them is to hold the unit in such a way that your hands redirect the sound forward, but frankly, most people will use headphones.

The Windows App store is a bit light on some things, particularly Google apps, but there are reasonable substitutes for most of the applications I use on a daily basis. The latest version of Internet Explorer is pretty good, I’ve not yet had a reason to install Chrome to get anything to work. So far, the biggest lack I’ve seen is a Metro app for Google hangouts, they work in Internet Explorer, but only in desktop mode. It’s not a real problem, though, I tend to use my phone for those anyway. It will, surprisingly enough, run Minecraft (in desktop mode) well enough that it isn’t unbearable to play, but you still aren’t going to buy this for its gaming ability.

The keyboard isn’t anything to write home about (or with [I’m not writing this on it for instance]), but it is serviceable for light duty. The touchpad is, in my opinion, the weakest link, it can be tricky to click on things, I find myself using the touchscreen or an external bluetooth mouse instead.

There is a micro USB to Go port on the display half, along with a microSD card slot, headphone connector and a micro HDMI connector. There are two USB ports on the keyboard half, but they don’t provide a lot of power, so don’t expect to plug something like a USB hard drive into them without a powered hub in there as well to provide the added juice they need. Speaking of power, the battery so far has lasted me all day, with intermittent reading, web surfing and watching video. The charger is a 5V 2.5A unit with a barrel plug, so you can’t use just any old USB adapter to charge it, more’s the pity. However, finding (or making) a proper USB to barrel plug adapter should be possible.

All in all, I’m pretty happy with the unit, it is somewhat hackable and it should be possible to run Linux on it, which I plan to try in the future. I’m also interested in the possibility of putting ChromeOS on it and running it as a Chromebook. For now, though, I’m going to stick with Win 8.1 and see how well I adjust to it. There is an 11″ version with essentially the same specifications, except for 64Gb of storage instead of 32 and a backlit keyboard. It runs about $50 more, and for me, wasn’t worth the additional cost.

If you’re in the market for a new computer and are on the fence over whether you should get a laptop, or just a tablet, this may be the computer for you. It’ll easily handle basic word processing, etc. as well as web surfing, videos and basic photo editing. It’s not a gaming machine, but it doesn’t claim to be, and frankly, hardcore gamers will spend more on their video card alone than this machine costs, but it is a good all around, everyday use machine that can be used as a tablet or a laptop as the situation requires.

The Bug-A-Salt

Bug A Salt Gun
The Bug A Salt

Tired of houseflies and other pest? Finding your old fashioned fly swatter to be ineffective? No longer get a “charge” out of your hand held bug zapper? Have I got a tool for you! This is the Bug-a-salt, an assault rifle for hunting insects. About the size and feel of a larger NERF gun, it fires table salt like a small shotgun. It’s an absolute blast to use and very effective. You load it up with table salt, cock it, and release the safety. A sight pops up, aim at the offending six legged  critter and pull the trigger. Out flies a bit of salt at high speed that, in the best case, kills the insect or at least shreds its wings, making it an easy target for a second shot. A third shot is seldom necessary. It does take some practice to get your aim down, but, like a regular shotgun, absolute precision isn’t necessary. The best part is, the effective range is about 5 feet, so the little annoyances never know what hit them (if you can’t get within five feet of a housefly without spooking it, you seriously need to work on your stalking skills). It’s effective for most insects and arachnids, although larger insects (like palmetto bugs in Florida) may laugh it off and pull their own weapons.

The ammunition is standard table salt, anything coarser or finer doesn’t work as well. It’s essentially an air gun, so there isn’t any residue other than the salt, in fact, I’ve heard of people using it to salt meat on a grill. Some of the Amazon reviews mention problems with durability, but I’ve had mine for over a year without any issues. It’s gone up in price since I’ve bought mine, it’s now about $50 on Amazon. As for safety, you wouldn’t want to get shot in the eyes with it, but anywhere else just stings a bit, I wouldn’t worry about the kids getting a hold of it, just supervise them when using it. It does leave some salt residue, it’s not a lot, but it is there.  All in all, highly recommended and a really fun way to get rid of pesky houseflies.

Gluten Free Chicken Strips

Gluten Free Chicken Strips

A deep fryer is handy for these, although not entirely necessary.  A skillet with couple of inches of oil should suffice if the strips aren’t too thick.


2 cups masa harina
1 cup corn starch
1 cup rice flour
1/8 cup brown sugar
seasoning to taste
4 eggs
1/2 cup of water.
1 lb sliced chicken breast

Preheat the oil in the fryer to about 375 deg F.

Mix half the corn starch with the seasoning. I use Montreal/Canadian steak seasoning, but you can use whatever you like. Salt and pepper are the essentials. Wash and pat dry the chicken and throw it into a gallon zipper seal bag with the corn starch/seasoning mix. Shake until the chicken is well coated.

Beat the eggs thoroughly with the water. Mix the masa harina, remaining corn starch, brown sugar and the rice flour in a bowl. Dip each piece of coated chicken into the egg mixture, then into the masa mixture, then into the hot oil. Cook until golden brown and floaty, 3 to 5 minutes, you don’t want it raw inside.

The brown sugar helps give a nice brown, crispy breading while the masa gives a bit of a corn chip taste. You can play with the seasonings, but the key is to make sure they go on with the first layer, not the last (although mixing a bit of the seasoning mix into the masa enhances it’s flavor as well).

Gluten Free Chocolate Chip Cookies

These chocolate chip cookies are so good, you won’t care that they’re gluten free.

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) softened butter
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup coconut flour
  • 1/4 cup tapioca starch/flour
  • 8+ ounces chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350° F (325 in a convection oven).

Cream together the sugars and butter until light and fluffy, add the eggs one at a time, fully incorporating each before adding the next, then add the vanilla. Combine the salt, soda, coconut flour and tapioca starch, then mix slowly into the egg/sugar mixture. Add chocolate chips to taste. Drop by the teaspoon onto cookie sheets (I line mine with silicon baking sheets or parchment paper, makes clean up much easier) and bake for 15 minutes (about 12 minutes for a convection oven). Your times may vary as ovens aren’t consistent.

Remove from the oven and let cool, then hide them from everyone else.

Almost 10 years? Really?

Decided to do a bit of maintenance on the blog today and happened to notice that the first entry in the archives is dated July of 2004. So that means I’ve had this site up for nearly 10 years, it hardly seems possible. I’ve gone through seasons where there were no posts to seasons with multiple post per day (not many of those!), but one thing has remained unchanged: God’s love for me and all mankind. I’ve always felt that theologians try to make Christianity too complicated, Christ Himself kept it very simple, confess, believe and accept. Confess you need Christ, believe He loves you and will forgive you, and accept that forgiveness. All the rest will follow in good time. Christianity is not a religion of law and taboo, it is all about being free in Christ. This freedom is not license to sin, but rather the freedom of knowing that our sin will be forgiven if we turn away from it back to Christ. As Christians we shouldn’t be acting out of fear that we will be smitten when we make a mistake, we should be living in the joy that we don’t have to fear making a mistake.


I’m not a huge Christmas person. Don’t get me wrong, I like Christmas carols and enjoy some of the traditions, but I find the relentlessness of the season to be exhausting. It’s hard to escape it short of hunkering down in a hole somewhere far from the rest of the world (an admittedly tempting prospect at times). Add in the faux controversies (Happy Holidays vs Merry Christmas, Keep Christ in Christmas vs Xmas, etc.) and I’m ready find that hole well before the actual holiday comes around. It can be hard to remember that, while the birth of Christ is important, it’s His death and resurrection that really matter. Sometimes I think Cromwell and the Puritans had the right idea when they outlawed Christmas, as it strays further and further from its roots. Perhaps it would be better to have a secular “Solstice” celebration for everybody and then, for Christians, follow up with a quieter, more contemplative Christmas celebration. The gift giving and commercialization could follow the secular holiday, leaving Christmas proper to the Christians. We just have to make sure we avoid creating a Robot Santa Claus that will attack holiday mirth makers. Merry Christmas!

Gluten Free Pound Cake

My wife is gluten intolerant, so we do a lot of gluten free cooking. We’ve found that cakes and cookies tend to work pretty well with gluten free flours. This recipe is based on the traditional pound cake recipe (1 lb butter, 1 lb eggs, 1 lb flour, 1 lb sugar) and makes a rich, slightly heavy cake.

1 lb softened butter
1 lb sugar
1 lb eggs (approx)
2 tsp vanilla
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp xanthan gum
1/4 lb coconut flour (approx)
1/2 lb rice flour (approx)
Preheat oven to 350 F
Cream together butter and sugar until fluffy, incorporate eggs one at a time. Blend in vanilla. Slowly mix in coconut flour, xanthan gum and baking powder. Continuing to beat, add just enough rice flour that the mixture is the consistency of normal cake batter.
Put batter into buttered and floured pan (or pans) and bake until a cake tester comes out of the middle clean (Approx 20-40 minutes, depending on pan size and shape).
Cool in pan on a rack, then turn out.

Salted Caramels

2 cups sugar
2 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup butter (1 stick)
3/4 cup corn syrup
Kosher salt

Bring sugar, butter, corn syrup and 1 cup of the cream to a boil.
Add remaining cream slowly, keeping the boil going.
Continue to boil until temperature reaches 245 to 250 deg F, slowly reducing the heat as the temperature increases. 245 deg F will yield softer caramel, 250 firmer caramel, above 250 will give you something like Werther’s.

Pour into an 8 square inch dish, either buttered or lined with parchment paper and let cool. When the caramel has formed a skin on top and is slightly firm to the touch, sprinkle with kosher or coarse sea salt, fairly liberally. Allow to cool until fairly firm, then cut into squares with a pizza cutter liberally coated in butter. I have no idea how long they’ll keep because they never last more than a day or two around here.

Warning! These are highly addictive and extremely rich.

If you use a good heavy saucepan, you shouldn’t need to stir much once things come to a boil. A good candy thermometer is a must though.

Salted caramels on holiday plate
Salted Caramels