On September 30, I will become a naturalized US Citizen. Connie and I will be celebrating the occasion over at Fiery Ron's Home Team BBQ in West Ashley. You're welcome to stop by at your leisure to join us for drinks and some of their yummy BBQ. We'll be there from 7:30 PM to 9ish. Stop by and hang out with us a bit!

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Sampling Trader Joe's Poutine

A little while ago, I learned that Trader Joe's sells poutine in their freezer section. I was somewhat skeptical about the product, but it got a favourable reaction from the website I saw it on, and from one of my friends that tried it out. On a recent trip out to the Trader Joe's around here, Connie picked up a package, and we tried it out this evening.

Disclaimer: I grew up in Western Canada, and as far as I knew at the time, poutine was never a thing in Edmonton. I'd heard of it, but never saw it anywhere. Fries and gravy was easy to find (and was a lunch time staple during high school), but not poutine. I have very little experience with poutine.

Trader Joe's poutine is a bag of frozen french fries, a pouch of cheese curds, and a pouch of gravy (they call it beef sauce).

Trader Joe's poutine

Frozen french fries ready for baking

Pouch of cheese curds, and a pouch of gravy

The instructions are pretty simple. Bake the fries at 425°F (about 220°C) for 20-25 minutes, and put the pouches of curds and gravy into a pot of just barely simmering water to thaw them out. You'll want to keep an eye on the pouches, especially the cheese curds. If you leave them in the water too long, or let the water get too hot, you end up with a mass of molten cheese rather than individual curds. My pouch of curds ended up a bit on the melty side, but the individual curds were still mostly separable.

When the fries are baked golden brown and delicious, put them all on a plate, cut open the pouch of curds, and sprinkle them over the fries.

Fries and curds

Cut open the pouch of gravy (not sauce) and spread over the fries and curds (careful not to burn yourself).

Poutine!

Serve right away while everything is still hot.

I dug in and was pleasantly surprised. The gravy, although thinner than I prefer, was actually pretty tasty and sort of reminded me of the fries and gravy I used to eat for lunch at the mall. The curds were pretty good, squeaky as they should be. The package is easily enough to serve 3-4 people, although one hungry person wouldn't have a problem finishing the whole thing off.

I don't know if I really get the whole poutine thing, but that's probably because I never grew up with it. I can't say how good Trader Joe's poutine is compared to any other poutine, but I'd totally buy another package just to do fries and gravy with.  As fries and gravy, Trader Joe's has a pretty decent product here. I might reduce the gravy down a little bit, or do something else to thicken it up a little more, but otherwise it's pretty good.

Ugly construction attempt

My first attempt at building a circuit using the ugly construction technique. It's supposed to be a simple oscillator circuit using a J310 transistor.

Ugly construction oscillator circuit

One of the advantages of ugly construction is that if you're working from a schematic or circuit drawing, building is pretty easy. I found that soldering components to the copper clad required a bit of patience, because it's essentially a very large heat sink. Put the soldering iron on the copper clad, add solder until you get a good sized pool, leave the soldering iron in place and place the component.

For this particular circuit, Vcc is applied to the big resistor with the free lead and output is off the capacitor with the free lead. I soldered on a piece of wire to make the ground connection easier. Haven't applied power to test it out yet. Will see if it works later on.

Reading glasses

At my last regular eye exam, I told my opthalmologist that I thought it was time for a second pair of glasses that I could use for reading and other up close work, because I'm running out of nose room to push my regular glasses down so that I can see things near my face.

Unlike those reading glasses you pick up from the store, in my case they're just a weaker prescription. If those store reading glasses came in clip-on form, they'd probably work just fine.

This time, I decided to try out Zenni Optical to get the glasses from. Connie ordered a pair of glasses from there a little while ago and was satisfied with what she got. I picked out what seemed like a decent looking pair of glasses on my face and put in an order. I wish Zenni gave more options for filtering frames besides just pupil distance and frame style.

The new glasses arrived today, just under two weeks after placing the order. So far everything seems to be pretty good. The glasses fit reasonably well, although the arms might be a little on the short side. Vision wise, they are good. I can hold things at a reasonable distance from my face and read them pretty easily. No unexpected distortions in the field of view.

So far so good. Now to see how they stand up to regular use.

Feeling old

This year, one of my nieces started her first year of undergrad at the University of Idaho, the other one started 8th grade. A friend from my Detroit days has two daughters in high school now (I remember seeing them visiting the office in a stroller). Nala will be turning 10 this year and Simba will turn 9 a few months later.

On top of all this, I need reading glasses now. All of this is making me feel a little Old now.

On the plus side, we're in a better position financially than I think I've ever been in before, and on a good path to improving it even more. The list of things and activities to keep me entertained continues to grow.

Getting older, but things are pretty good these days. I'm quite pleased with that.

We've reached another financial milestone!

After reaching the debt-free (non-mortgage) point last year, our next big goal was to fill up the emergency fund. We had a target of 6 months for the emergency fund and today we made it to that goal.

Connie's been doing a great job at keeping us on track and I've been doing a pretty decent job at resisting the temptation to buy all the electronics things to play with out at the workbench.

It's a good feeling having the emergency fund filled up. It gives me a sense of security that I don't think I've had before. It's nice knowing that there's this financial cushion behind us and that if anything major happens, we won't have to scramble much to deal with it.

Hopefully we won't need to tap into it, but it's there if we need to, and that's a good feeling.

Now our next goal is to get back to funding the retirement accounts.

Diving into Asimov

My latest reading obsession has been Isaac Asimov. I've always been a big scifi reader, especially in my teens, but none of Asimov's books ever ended up in my library. I certainly knew of him, but for whatever reason never read any of his books until now. My scifi tastes were more along the lines of Robert Heinlein, Anne McCaffrey and Frank Herbert.

Several years ago (back in 2011 according to my Goodreads list) while browsing the shelves at Mr. K's, I came across 3 of the 5 books from Asimov's Foundation series (books 1, 3 and 5), and decided to pick them up. They sat on the shelf for a while before books 2 and 4 joined them on the shelf.

I finally got around to reading the Foundation series at the beginning of the year. I had just finished reading the final book of Robert Jordan's epic Wheel of Time series and needed something different to read. I was feeling like getting back into scifi again, and Asimov fit the bill perfectly.

3 months of Asimov immersion and I was finished the Foundation series. Fantastic series that spans several centuries. I really enjoyed reading it.

Having whetted my appetite, I started looking for some of his other books and acquired a copy The Robot Novels, a compilation of the first three books of the Robot novels, and Robots and Empire. They play a prequel role to the Foundation series, and are more scifi whodunnit mystery novels. I found them very entertaining to read. I want robots now. Just about to start on Robots and Empire, and looking forward to seeing how this one is and how it fits into the Galactic Empire scheme of things.

After the Robot novels, I have the Second Foundation series, and Prelude to Foundation to dig into. The Second Foundation series should be a little different. While they're in the same setting, the three books were all written by different authors. Looking forward to getting to those books.

After that I'll start looking for the books in the Galactic Empire series.

Nexus 5 touch screen issue

For some odd reason, my Nexus 5 has now developed this 5 mm strip along the right side where no screen touches are registered.

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Note the nice clean border where the phone thinks there's no touch screen.

It's not a large area, but it just happens to be where the scroll bars are positioned, and the letter 'p' on the keyboard. If I'm lucky, I can tap and get a 'p', but most of the time I end up getting an 'o'. Depending on the application, there might be a few other controls along that strip which would be inaccessible. I also can't drag anything to screens on the right.

I've established that it's not a screen calibration issue. With the 'Show touches' option turned on under Developer options, the phone registers screen touches right where I tap the screen, except for that 5 mm strip along the side. This time there's no screen protector or case getting in the way. The phone is completely naked.

I think it was on Saturday when I first noticed the odd behaviour while playing Ingress. I couldn't get something to pop out from the right side of the screen. Didn't think much of it because I thought maybe it was just a UI change that got snuck in. It wasn't until I started trying to do more things with it today that I realized the dead zone was there.

Power cycling and a factory reset (after copying backups off the phone) didn't help matters, so I think it's time to make another call to Google tech support.

Update: After calling Google tech support, a replacement (refurb) phone is on the way. If they determine your phone can't be fixed using their normal troubleshooting, and it's eligible for a warranty replacement, you're sent a link via email to the Google Play store where you "purchase" a replacement. You also get an RMA form and a return shipping label. When the replacement phone arrives, I'm supposed to box up the broken phone and send it back to Google. After the phone is received by Google and checked out, the credit hold from the purchase is removed from the credit card.

Work spiders

A couple of days ago, while I was walking in to work from the parkade I spotted a spinybacked orbweaver (gasteracantha cancriformis)and it's web strung between some shrubs and a tree. Almost ran into the darned thing. They're one of the neater looking spiders I've come across. Tried to get some pictures of it with my cell phone, but the camera's autofocus kept focusing on the background. The next day I brought in my little Sony point and shoot, but still had the same problem. Autofocus kept focusing on the background .

So today I brought in the DSLR. Fortunately the spider and it's web was still around so I was able to (finally) get some pictures.

Spiny orbweaver

Spiny orbweaver

As I was leaving, I also saw this fine specimen of a Golden silk orbweaver/banana spider a little higher up in a tree on the other side of the sidewalk. Like the spiny orbweaver, the phone and little camera wouldn't focus on the spider, so I got a few shots of it today.

Spiny orbweaver

Spiny orbweaver

Spiny orbweaver

Unfortunately when I left work, the spiny orbweaver had gone, web and all. My guess is someone wasn't paying attention and walked into the web, sending the spider into the bushes, or hitching a ride with whoever walked into it. The banana spider was still there though.

Back in April my wife, Connie, went to Rome for 3 weeks for Easter and the canonization of two popes.

Four months later, she's "live" blogging each day of her trip. For her, it was a pretty amazing trip. She got to experience a lot of Rome, and visit a lot of places with historic and Catholic significance. There are also lots of neat pictures too.

She's half-way through her trip now. Head on over and follow her along on her journey.