The Spool of Destiny
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Ye Olde Spool of Destiny
Ye Olde Steve of Destiny
The Albany Bulb
Previously on
April 20, 2014  - Best Non-Newtons Ever
Fig Bars
These are a giant pain in the butt to make,but incredibly delicious.
Adapted from the Fanny Farmer Baking Book by Marion Cunningham (Alfred A. Knopf, 1984)
Cookie Dough -
  • 2 sticks butter ( or 1 stick butter and ½ cup vegetable shortening – this makes a nicer crumb to the cookie, but make sure you find a non-hydrogenated shortening. Some good quality leaf lard would probably be fabulous if you can find it)
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 3 cups flour – I use half white, half whole wheat with good results (or just use King Arthur White Whole Wheat flour)
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
Fig Filling –
  • 2 cups (1 pound) finely cut dried figs – Note: if you use the old dried-up figs from the supermarket that come wrapped in a little circle, the chopping will be brutal. Find some nice plump calmyra figs (or whatever is the least tough and dried-up looking) and they will be much easier to chop. Keep rinsing the knife with cold water as you go to make things easier.
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • ¼ cup fresh orange juice
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons fresh water
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
To make the dough:
In a large bowl, cream the butter/shortening and gradually add the sugars. Add the eggs and vanilla and beat until smooth and fluffy-ish. Sift together the flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda in a separate bowl. Gradually beat into the butter mixture until completely mixed. Turn the dough out onto a large piece of waxed paper. Cover with another piece of waxed paper and flatten into a thick cake (about ½ - ¾ inch). Refrigerate for two hours or so. Or wrap in plastic or foil and refrigerate overnight.
To make the filling:
Combine the chopped figs, brown sugar, orange juice, lemon juice, water and salt in a large, heavy saucepan. Cook over moderate heat, stirring for about 10 minutes until the mixture comes to a boil and thickens up. Set aside to cool completely (or refrigerate until the next day).
Putting it all together:
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
If the dough has chilled more than 2 hours, leave it out till it becomes malleable. On a WELL-FLOURED surface, roll half the dough at a time until it’s about ¼ inch thick, into a rectangle about 15 inches long and 7 inches wide. This is not an easy dough to work with, and may require a bit of patching. Cut this rectangle in half lengthwise. Spoon ¼ of the filling down each strip to one side of the center, leaving about a one-inch margin on the filled side, and stopping a bit short of the ends. Using a long metal spatula to help you, flip one of the long sides of the dough over the filling, then seal the edge by pressing the edges together.
Do the same for the other side.
Then, using the spatula as needed, turn the rolls so the seam is on the bottom, and press the rolls down so they’re flat and about 1 ½ inches wide. Cut the rolls in half for easy transporting, then move them to an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake for about 15 minutes until golden brown. Cool on the sheet for 10-15 minutes, then transfer to a rack. Cut into cookie-sized pieces.
Repeat this process with the other hunk of dough.
They are soft and chewy for several days after baking if you can keep them that long.
February 17, 2011  - So Maybe Flash Isn't All Bad...


(press spacebar to clear)

July 13, 2010  - Thank You, Mask Man
Way back when I was working at One Pass Film & Video, doing computer graphics and animation, one of my favorite clients was John Magnuson Associates (which I think was just John at the time). He was producing commercials for The Wherehouse, a mall-type record store that I don't believe has survived into the digital age of music. They were definitely low budget productions and I provided the cheezy animations. But what made it interesting was listening to John's stories of San Francisco in the 50's and 60's, and his own complicated life and family chaos, and Lenny Bruce.
Magnuson produced "The Lenny Bruce Performance Film," a 1965 show in a San Francisco nightclub. It was the only time his entire live performance was filmed, and came near the end of his life. Included on the dvd version of this (get it here!) is the animated short "Thank You Mask Man," with dialog from one of Bruce's live bits. John gave me a tape of that cartoon when we were working together, I think he considered it one of his crowning achievements. I hope he doesn't mind if I share it with the three of you who occasionally visit (The video quality is rather poor, but good enough to enjoy with the audio)
July 11, 2010  - What was I thinking? Or was I?
Our house is a flight of stairs up from the street, but the garage is right down there at the sidewalk. A few weeks ago I was down there planting some flowers along the sidewalk, so I opened up the garage and pulled out the boombox to listen to some Penguin Cafe Orchestra while gardening. Unfortunately the door slipped down and the plug was pulled out of the outlet, twisting the male end into tragic uselessness. This was rather distressing, as it was a fairly heavy-duty expensive extension cord. I was about to throw it out, but then I thought, well, I can go to the hardware store and get a replacement thing to screw on there and my extension cord will be good as new and I will have saved millions of dollars as well as saving our landfill from the hideous horror of one more extension cord.
Sadly, somewhere between this sparkling moment of brilliance and the hardware store, I neglected to continue thinking about what I was doing, and this was the result:
On the plus side, I've invented the first lesbian extension cord!
March 21, 2010  - Westward Ho, with Celery
Somewhere in the late 18th or 19th century, Arthur O'Appert Appert became the first Appert to simultaneously migrate from Switzerland and Ireland to New Jersey, ancestral home to all (or some) migratory Apperts. He established a celery farm in Allendale and was so phenomenally successful that he later added onions to his list of one crops. Sometime later, and the recorded history is vague on the details of this, he realized that green onions could be harvested sooner and more frequently, and soon the swamps of Allendale were transformed into an astounding empire of mirepoix that continued to grow through generations (2) of Apperts and I am not ashamed to tell you that my own father, who was also an Appert, was at one time the greatest scallionaire in all of New Jersey.
By the by, that farm is now the Celery Farm Natural Area and Lake Appert is its central feature. There are some other Apperts I don't know who went to North Dakota and left behind Appert Lake National Wildlife Refuge. North Dakota is the only state I have yet to visit; when I get there I'll let you know what that's all about.
Of course great power and wealth also lead to great conflict and something else that I can't remember just now, and so many of those Apperts moved westward, until we hit the Pacific Ocean. Not being sailors, and a little short on frequent flier miles, we decided to settle in the San Francisco bay area, where you can now observe us in a realistic Appert-like habitat (reservations required).
There are also a number of other fine (and far more reputable) museums in the area if, for some reason, you wish to explore the non-Appert aspects of this extraordinary region, but you'll have to look elsewhere to find out about those.
You can learn more about Lake Appert and the Celery Farm on Jim Wright's blog
DECEMBER 21, 2009  -  Just in Time (at least in my time zone)
For a good many months I've been swearing (quietly, under my breath) that under no circumstances would I fail to update this site before a year had gone by. Well, I've got a few hours left now, though still not a whole lot to say, Sadly, since joining Facebook, I find that I'm able to satisfy my need to make inane and embarassing statements in public more easily in that venue, rendering this website an anachonistic anomaly, suited only for the tragic junkyard of equally silly vanity websites. But since I do like having my email address (99% spam!) I feel like I should keep this site up to date. And maybe one of these days, those guys at will cough up some respectable dough and buy me out. Though I'm not sure I'm willing to surrender the domain of us coastal Apperts to those midwestern Apperts. It upsets me that they were so willing to give up the seaworthy traditions of our Swiss ancestors and move so far inland.
I've thought once or twice about converting this to a music blog, since that's one of my primary edutainment interests, but I don't have any particular knack for writing clever music reviews. And my taste in music is hardly mainstream. And if someone were to drop by right now with a giant box of Legos, I'd have to drop the whole plan and build a model of the world's largest IHOP or maybe a train station or a penguin with lots of doors and windows. That's the wonder of Lego.
Meanwhile, I'm waiting for the wonder of of a stream of consciousness (or as James Thurber experienced it, the stream of nervousness) to grab hold and let this page write itself. But having been up since 4:45 this morning, and having just had an excessive number of Brussels Sprouts (does that actually need to be capitalized? And should there be an apostrophe?) the muse is not coming to me. And now with the extra burden of the grammar of Brussels Sprouts tearing at my heartstrings, or brainstrings, I think I really just need to leave this for another day. If I can't come up with a clever theme in the next few weeks, you may just have to put up with some holiday photos, or a detailed reminiscence of some of the more extraordinary Lego structures I have built in the last 25 years.
DECEMBER 21, 2008  -  Separated at Birth:
Brian Williams      Droopy Dog
Brian Williams Droopy Dog
NOVEMBER 26, 2008  -  Shades of James Thurber!
drunk bird cartoon

This is the funniest cartoon I've seen since before you were born. I don't mean that as an insult, I didn't actually laugh out loud when you were born, it's just that I haven't really felt the need to share a cartoon (and risk having the New Yorker come after me for copyright violation) since the demise of James Thurber, and maybe Chas. Addams and maybe a few other guys. The drawing itself is very reminiscent of Thurber's style, especially the animal at the man's feet (probably a dog, but you never know). I don't even know who "e.h." is; I probably should have done more research before posting this update, but it's been so long and I'm entirely sick of what's been up here for the last too many months (not to mention that the Fats Waller link is now dead - wish I had saved that, it was a good one).
This is one of those jokes that you either get or you don't, or you get but don't think it's funny or maybe you don't get and do think it's funny. What appeals to me is the sensibility yet impossibility of the situation. I also appreciate that she isn't carrying a pink elephant, that would be way too cliche. The bird itself is also very Thurberish - somewhat vulture-like, but somewhere between bemused and gloomy, insofar as it's showing any emotion. "Here's that bird you used to see when you were drunk..." How could she have found such a thing? And where? How would she know? This picture asks a lot more questions than it answers, and that's the signature of a fine cartoon. It may also be the signature of a fine cigar, but I wouldn't know about that. I wrote my senior thesis on the place of humor in literature and wound up spending a lot of time exploring what it is that makes something humorous. It's not as easy as you'd think. Thanks, E.H. And perhaps I should mention here that both my wife and my mother think I have a 'peculiar' sense of humor, so if you don't get it, you're not alone.
FEBRUARY 2, 2007  -  Happy Ground Hog Day!
night light
click to enbiggen
Here's the night light I wrote about last time. Sorry to keep you waiting six months for a picture of it, and sorrier still to have brought it up in the first place. This is a pretty sad website if all I can think to write about is shopping for a night light. So this time I'd like to get a little more serious and talk about something that's on all of our minds these days.
We, as Americans, are imbued with certain inalienable rights. They're spelled out right there in the constitution. George "Shrub" Bush (a brief moment of silence for the recently departed Molly Ivins), because he is a decider, has decided to alienate us from certain of those rights. Just little things, like habeus corpus, personal privacy and free speech. Upon inauguration, every president takes an oath of office in which he swears to "uphold and defend" the Constitution of the United States. Mr. Bush is quoted (in November of 2005) as describing the Constitution as "just a goddamned piece of paper!" With a president like this, who needs enemies? Well, of course Mr. Bush needs them - he and Dick Cheney are making a fortune off their war on terror.
Fortunately, there's one man who is standing up for our rights, a man who has the courage to stand up to our repressive, criminal government. I'm talking, of course, about Ed McMahon. This noble soul and popular television personality has taken out ads, small ads, tucked into the back pages of elite liberal publications like the New Yorker and Smithsonian Magazine, no doubt at great personal expense, to remind us, as Americans, that there are some things "that we all have the right to enjoy."
Our Hero Ed McMahonWhile I don't believe it is specifically spelled out in the Constitution or the Bill of Rights, it doesn't take too much reading between the lines to understand that our founding fathers clearly intended for every man, woman and child (and perhaps animals, too) to have the right to enjoy a relaxing bath. It wouldn't surprise me to learn that Ed is enjoying one right now, even as you read this. I would like to add my voice to that of Ed McMahon: patriot, father, actor, distinguished aviator, bingo caller, and husband, and encourage each and every one of you to go - right now - and enjoy your relaxing bath. Because maybe Bush and his cronies can supress your right to peaceful demonstration, maybe they can imprison you without cause, maybe they can torture you - but they can't take away your inalienable right to enjoy a relaxing bath!
Side note:Frequently, on the same page as Mr. McMahon's ad, there is another small advertisement, ostensibly offering a "one size fits all" beret for $10. Obviously it's impossible for one beret to fit all sizes, and were one to design such a beret it would undoubtedly sell for much more than a paltry ten bucks. The whole thing is clearly a sham (not a tam, a sham). The man pictured in this advertisement:
beret guy
who goes by the pseudonym "John Helmer," is in fact Ed McMahon's arch-nemesis, and would, given the opportunity, pull one of his giant berets over Ed's face and prevent him from speaking out about our bath rights. This swarthy, bug-eyed little European (and you know how seldom they bathe) is the ringleader of an organized terror brigade of anti-McMahonists. You can spot them at once by their ill-fitting berets, and their shifty eyes. Don't be deceived by this axis of sartorial evil, take off your hats and get in the bath!
SEPTEMBER 22, 2006  -  Let's Glow!
Sandals take a hike
fig. 18 - Chappaquiddick - No Exit
As a capitalist American, I occasionally take great pleasure in the meaningless products I routinely purchase with money I have not yet earned. Case in point, as I was just reminded by a visit to our opulent American bathroom: our new nightlight. Our previous nightlight (and perhaps many of you lesser Americans have not yet achieved the economic stature required to understand the need for a comforting low-level luminance to guide you in your nocturnal visits to the lavatory, but rest assured that if you truly believe in the American Dream you will sooner or later understand that you need this - even more than you need electric air fresheners that change their tantalizing aromas periodically so that you won't be bored by them and purchase the competitor's product) was a simple and inexpensive plastic fixture that has sufficed for many years, in large part due to my prescient purchase of a four-pack of replacement bulbs, also quite reasonably priced.
Tragically, the last of those humble and reasonable bulbs passed away several nights ago, leaving us stumbling blindly through the night. Days, many painful days, went by before that happy intersection of my happening to be in the supermarket and happening to remember that we needed a new bulb for the nightlight. And wondrously, in the great American tradition, I found myself in the perplexing quandary of having to decide whether to buy a four-pack of new bulbs for $2.95, or spend $14.95 for a wondrously luminous and fully functional nightlight-clock. Naturally I opted for the most expensive possible option, and I'm happy to report that if were you now to stumble into our bathroom in the dead of night, not only would your path be subtly illuminated by a warm and comforting glow, but you would also be immediately aware of the time - something that I personally never ever want to know between the time I go to sleep and the time I have to start the next day. What was I thinking! But it does have a really cool glow to it.
Later that same day I bought nine bags of concrete (for a project unrelated to the above purchase). That purchase had none of the rosy capitalist glow of my previous purchase of the nightlight. Bags of concrete just don't inspire that pleasure of ownership on which our dubious economy is based. I mean, really, can you imagine anyone ever bragging about having just bought some concrete? It's not quite the same as saying "yes, I just bought a new Ferarri," or "hey, I just bought a nightlight that's also a clock!" But for me, and probably for most other people who find themselves buying concrete or cement or other dry bagged aggregates, the purchase did fill me with a sense of enthusiasm for the project ahead, in which those dead, dry bags (at 80 pounds each, they felt very dead indeed as I hauled them up the flight of stairs to my backyard) would be blended with water and turned into a magic substrate capable of taking any form and holding it for a lifetime well beyond my own. Naturally, all sorts of weird things that happen to be laying around the yard are going to find themselves embedded in this new surface (part of a patio area outside the shed in our back yard), and my pal Leiko (who now calls herself Lake, though her real name is Reiko, and I need to ask her about this one of these days) is going to come help me pour the concrete and decorate it. She's a "freelance artist/whatever you need done I can do it" sort of person, who claims to really love concrete. Any woman who can make that claim is a friend of mine. I'm sure the results will be interesting. There will probably be pictures here sometime soon. If only we could embed some clock-nightlights in there!
AUGUST 25, 2006  -  Hi there!
The Deadly Sand Puma
fig. 17 - Deadly Sand Puma
I've been working on an essay about corn and bombs and stuff for quite a while now and that was going to be my next update, but I keep finding out more interesting and disturbing information about corn and bombs and the thing keeps getting longer and more disorganized and worse yet it's starting to feel like homework and I was never very good about that so in the meantime I thought I'd just blather on about nothing for a bit in case someone is still visiting this sorry site and is disgusted to note that I haven't updated it since May and has maybe been thinking (that same someone, that is) that my sentences tend to be too short in general and has been hoping to stop in here at, a site that has yet to justify its existence, and really why should it since no one's asked for such a thing yet, and find that the first paragraph is now just one long run-on sentence about corn and bombs and blathering and finally about almost nothing but itself and also possibly ending on a nudiustertian reference to the goings-on of the previous Wednesday, on which nothing of any particular note occured but since you asked I might as well tell you that I came in to work at 6:30 a.m., drank three pots of tea, a liter of water, some carrot juice, ate three pieces of fruit that I won't bother to name here, spent an inordinate amount of time trying to debug a bit of javascript that I suspect was originally written by my cat, thought about sending a Japanese friend a message to the effect of "sara moki kara ochiru" but never got around to it, rode my bicycle to the BART train, removed the left-side toe clip and tried to bend it back to its proper shape, went to the fish market where I again refrained from saying "sara moki kara ochiru" despite the Japaneseness of everyone else in the store, bought a lovely salmon, brought it home and cooked it along with a sweet potato and cauliflower and salad all of which we ate out on the deck which is starting to get rather chilly at dinnertime now that the heat wave is over and we're back to our usual foggy San Francisco summer pattern, washed the dishes while watching the Simpsons, then sat down at the computer to take care of some household business but found myself falling asleep instead, just as you probably are now, just praying that the next bit of punctuation will be a period.
MAY 19, 2006  -  The Here and Now, the There and Later
blue heron and luminous flowers
fig. 1 - Blue Heron
When ending a phone call, or parting company with someone, I generally say "Bye, now." Maybe it's a regional thing, or a linguistic anomaly that has followed my family from the old country (which one I'm not sure), or maybe it's some peculiar psychological twist in my own nervous mind, seeking assurance that now is indeed the time to say good bye. It seems to annoy my spouse, who wants to know why it's necessary to include the 'now' part, since it's clear from saying 'bye' that the parting is taking place in that moment. Obviously you're not saying 'bye' for later, knowing that you'll be leaving in an hour but wanting to get the departing formalities out of the way. Although that might be handy for situations like long tedious meetings that everyone is anxious to leave. You could stand up every 10 minutes or so and say, "Bye in twenty minutes!," "Bye in ten minutes!," and your companions would be comforted to know that the end was near. And if someone in the meeting is going on and on with no end in sight, when that last ten minute interval had passed, you could get up and say "Bye Now!" and leave the room, knowing that you hadn't offended the speaker, as you were already clearly obligated to leave at that moment - the one we call NOW.
autumn night in the wallingford
fig. 2 - Wallingford
Curiously (but not really) my standard greeting is "Hello there." Again, prepositionally superfluous, though at least one step closer to being a complete sentence than if I just said "Hello." I suppose the 'there' part is shorthand for "Say, you there whom I have just now espied in that particular spot where you are [standing, sitting, whatever...], I would like to acknowledge my awareness of your presence by saying hello." You can see that it's a lot easier to say "hello there." I suppose that just saying "hello" would also suffice, but as you may have guessed from reading today's entry, my credo is "why use one word when two will do!"
This is an unrelated footnote4.
MAY 11, 2006  -  Let Me Off this Train!
My daily routine begins thusly:
  • Wake up 5:00 AM
  • Get dressed, make lunch if I forgot to last night, pack up, remind cat waiting at back door that I am not the person who feeds him in the morning and he can't come in yet, ride bike one mile to BART
  • Take 5:44 Fremont train to Lake Merritt, transfer to Dublin/Pleasanton train
  • Ride bike one mile to office, exchange tiresome greetings with security guy, ride elevator to third floor
  • Change into work clothes (i.e. exchange shorts for jeans), check mail, make tea1 and oatmeal2, deal with disasters that have mysteriously cropped up overnight
  • Update this website (at least once every five months)
BART, or the Bay Area Rapid Transit, is, most of the time, an outstanding public transportation system. Most of the time the trains are exactly on time, the seats are upholstered, the floors are carpeted, the cars are shiny and graffiti-free. My previous transit experience was the New York subway system, and in terms of efficiently moving huge masses of people through complex urban pathways it sets the standard. But imagine if when you got on the subway, they gave you an ice cream cone and a priest rubbed some lucky palm ashes on your forehead. Then you would be on BART.

BART stations have tiles that mark where the doors of the train will be when it stops, and people dutifully line up at these spots and enter the trains in a relatively orderly fashion. My recollection of the NYC subways is of a platform full of swarming masses all of whom would cram themselves through the doors at once when the train arrived. I've lived here for almost 30 years now, and I still resist the lines. I just can't be party to that kind of orderliness.

However, being that I have my bike with me, it is helpful to be the first one through the door, as there are a limited number of seats near the door which are best suited to bicyclists or wheelchairers, and those seats are also coveted by any number of lazy and selfish but otherwise unencumbered people, and it is my sworn duty to beat them to those seats. That's usually not a problem before 6 a.m., but on the way home in the afternoon, when the lazy people are out en masse, it can be a real battle. Heading home, I transfer at Bayfair, and almost every afternoon I get off the Dublin/SFO train, and wait alone on the platform at the spot for the first door of car number six of the Richmond train. As the train pulls in, at the last second, a big fat black lady magically appears next to me and no matter how I maneuver my bike to block the entire doorway she still manages to shove her way in before me and grab that prime spot. This has been going on for months. To add insult to injury, she is also one of those people who apply their perfume by the bottleful, so I usually go to the other end of the car to escape her toxic fumes.

This is something I've been noticing more and more lately, especially on men. It seems to me that men who wear cologne usually wear enough to cover 10 or 20 people. I expect that if they're applying it every day, they eventually become desensitized to it and start using more because they can't smell it themselves. Personally I'm very suspicious of men who wear cologne. Men should smell (discreetly) like themselves. A woman who is clever enough to apply just a subtle trace of fragrance can generate some intrigue - if you catch just a hint of a pleasing aroma coming from somewhere then you do seek it out. But when you're slapped with a dissonant cloud of odorosity3 it's just plain intrusive, and in the case of a hyperallergenic fool like me, painfully uncomfortable. Men, who are generally lacking in the subtlety gene, should avoid scented products altogether.

Another curious BART anomaly I've noticed is that some people get on the train and immediately move to the next car. Some just keep going, to where I do not know. There's one guy that stands at the same spot on the platform every day, one car ahead of me. As soon as he gets in he starts moving towards the back of the train. Why doesn't he just get in the last car? I've though about asking him, but then he'd think I was as crazy as I think he is.

Well, there you have some boring transit facts followed by a stupid rant. But at least I've finally updated the page, after more than three months. I don't know how these daily bloggers do it. They can't possibly have a day job or children. But I'll make my best effort to update this again in another day or two...and here's another first - footnotes!

  1. From an iron teapot shaped like a melon, some nice Yamashiro Ichiban Ujicha.
  2. If you want the real deal, you've got to go Irish. That Quaker guy is o.k., but Wilford Brimley is just creepy!
    oatmeal box
  3. I thought I just made up that word, so I did a Google search of it and came up with some of the most bizarre results I've ever seen!
    footnote to the footnote: I just checked again and this very site is now the number three google listing for odorosity!
    Yet another footnote: Checking again, December 22, 2008 - now I'm the sixth entry under odorosity on Google. Clearly the concept is catching on, and I take full credit for it!

  4. New Feature! Song of the Week Secretly hidden here in the footnotes, where the recording industry police will never find it!

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