Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Foresworn II

So when we last left our intrepid pilot, he was on a sandbar somewhere in the greater expanse of Alaska, with a malfunctioning GPS. I was on the other end of a satellite phone connection, warm and dry in a pilot shop in Anchorage, having just realized that I'd broken my fervent promise never to do help desk.

With clearly great reluctance, our lost pilot turns off the GPS, and I hear the sigh of relief when it boots back up just fine. "Oh! The numbers on the lower left hand side are..." And he rattles off a software version number that makes me want to facepalm. He hasn't updated the software on this thing in years... in fact, I'd bet good money he hasn't updated since he bought it. "And here's the satellite page! It's searching! It thinks the date is... what??"

I nod, even though he can't see it, and pitch my voice low and soothing again. "Was that the last time you'd used the GPS, sir?"

"Oh. Uh. Yeah, I guess it was."

"Your GPS basically went to sleep when you shut it down, and now it doesn't know that time passed, so it's staring really hard in the wrong spot of the sky for the satellites, sir. It's okay. Turn it off again, and listen to my instructions before you turn it back on. I want you to repeat back to me what you're gonna do. You're going to hold down these two buttons, and continue holding them down for three seconds after you push the power button again. What are you going to do?"

"I'm going to... do I hold the power button down for three seconds, too?"

"No, sir, just those two buttons."

I wait. Approximately three second later, the full-pitched panic returns. "It's not finding them yet!"

"It's going to take about ten minutes." I soothe, and desperately reach into my bag of tricks for ways to distract, soothe, and generally de-panic pilots. Time for the biggest one I have. So I pitch my voice up bright. "While we're waiting, what kind of plane do you have?"

He perks up by reflex. "Oh, it's a supercub!"

"Really? What mods have you put on yours, and what are you planning?"

A few minutes later, in the middle of an extended discussion on the best way to spend a limited budget at the amazing and wonderful world of airplane mods known as F. Atlee Dodge, he breaks off. "Hey, it's working! I see where I am! How'd I get... never mind! I can get back to the airport!"


"Um, how much do I owe you?"

I contemplate the absurdity of trying to take a credit card payment from the middle of nowhere over a satellite phone for telling a guy to press three buttons, and reply brightly, "You owe me coming into the shop to get that GPS software updated, next time you get back into the Big City!"

"Okay! Thank you So Much! I'll be right there!" He hangs up, and I put the phone back on the hook with a shake of my head and a sigh.

Fearless Pilot Shop Leader asks all the questions she needs to by just raising her eyebrows. I check - there are no other customers in earshot, just one back by the used avionics counter. I hold up my fingers and waggle air quotes. "I'm on a sandbar and my GPS doesn't work."

She nods, and points over to the GPS update computer. "I got another one over there, waiting for you."

"Can do!" I shift my but off the stool, and head off to another day in the life of tech support. At least I get to talk about airplanes while doing it!

Sunday, February 7, 2016


Many, many years ago, I was in engineering school, with lots of friends who were computer geeks, working helldesk. Help Desk is a job where one has a phone line to even more concentrated stupid than twitter in political season, and is forced to try to help people from the most inarticulate to the most clueless fix whatever went wrong (usually user-caused.)

I swore I'd never work helldesk.

Fast forward quite a few years, and I've gone from working for airport maintenance to taking a job just for the fun of it, at Alaska's best avionics & pilot shop. (Miss that place! They're Good People, and do excellent work!) I was the pilot of the pilot shop ladies, and as such, I got to spend a fair amount of time doing updates, changing settings, and fixing many a pilot's GPS. Backing up their data before doing an update was an interesting in negotiation and trust.

For some reason, many a gentleman whose livelihood depended on guiding clients to his few scratch strips out in the bush where no one else knew a way in to a Dall sheep herd with trophy-sized males... was a might bit paranoid about people handling his GPS data.

And if you think guides are paranoid, let's not even talk about small-claim miners!

They responded well to complete honesty. "Look, sir, I'm rebuilding my T-crate. I couldn't care about your scratch strip, and I couldn't get out there anyway. Now, if you had a line on pre-WWII thickness aircraft sheet aluminum? That'd be a different story!"

I knew they trusted me when they came in and asked when I'd be on shift to fix their GPS.

Well, one day, the talented and beautiful leader of the pilot shop staff answered the phone, then stuck it in my direction with a rather odd look on her face. "It's for you."

"Awesomest Pilot Shop, Wing speaking, how can I help you?" I chirped, raising an eyebrow at my fearless leader.

There was a pause. A pause of a very peculiar variety. The quality of pause that told me this was a satellite phone call, and the pause was mostly lag as voice bounced back and forth from orbit. You get the oddest little hesitations ingrained when you do enough satellite phone calls, waiting to be sure you're not speaking over an incoming voice. And sure enough, after the small hesitation of I'm not saying anything else + lag, came a male voice that was hitting the highest alto of panic, near unto soprano as he yelped in fear.

"I'm on a sandbar and my GPS doesn't work!"

Ah. Interesting. Depending on where he was in where-ever-in-the-world, this could be real trouble. I pitch my voice as low and soothing as possible. "What happened?"

"I was chasing caribou tracks up a braided river, and got completely lost, and now I'm low on fuel and my GPS doesn't work!!" The panic was strong with this one, and for good reason: if he ran out of fuel before he found something that vaguely passes for civilization, he might get the CAP to do a search sweep and rescue him. Or he might die. If he panicked and left the only easy thing to find - the airplane - the chances were pretty high on the latter.

So I hitched myself onto the barstool of Long Phone Conversations, tucked the phone between my shoulder and ear, and slowed my speech down while dropping it to the same register as used for enticing scared cats out from under the pile of parts. "All right, sir. We can fix this. Let's start at the beginning. Does it even turn on when you push the power button?"

"It does, but it can't find the satellites!"

"Aaaah. Okay, I want you to turn it off, and then listen to my instruction before you turn it on. When it comes on, I want you to tell me what number shows in the lower left-hand corner of the boot-up screen. And then, when it goes to the satellite page, what date it's showing."

The pause is longer this time. "If I turn it off, do you think it'll come back on?"

"I'm sure of it, sir. We're going to find the software version number, the internal date, and then we're going to reset it so it thinks it's fresh from the factory and has to search then whole sky, instead of staring fixedly in the wrong spot for the satellites."

I'm sure of it. Just as sure as I'm working helldesk.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Hello, Texas!

The first time I visited this town, I was straight off the plane from Anchorage. It seemed abominably flat, dry, dusty, and treeless, with only scraggly bush. (Mesquite is to Texas as willow scrub is to Alaska, I guess.) It also got dark too darned fast, and let's not talk about the heat! Yeah, when my love asked me if I wanted to move here, I nearly crawled out of my skin.

Then I moved away from where the mountains plunge into the sea, down to Tennessee in the Lower 48. After a few years of the suburban outskirts of Nashville, growing steadily more allergic to the place, I end up moving to the very same town. Funny, the way it's changed.

Sure, it's flat, with those wide-open skies I miss from Alaska, and the air is crisp and clean. I can see for miles, unlike being lost in the humid haze - once again, severe clear means you can see things fifty, even eighty miles away. (In Tennessee, it seemed a severe clear day meant 30 mile visibility.)

It's winter, but the wind is a dry cold that doesn't slice straight through your layers and turn every joint and old injury into stiffness, pain, and swelling. No, here, a windbreaker will do where the same temperature in Tennessee would take several layers and still hurt. Even better, the only thing setting off my allergies here is the dust on the boxes and stuff we're unpacking!

The people are friendly, the food is great, and the sunrise is beautiful to watch with a cuppa.

If I'd learned to like this place the first time 'round, I would have missed some great friendships, and a really interesting job, and plenty of awesome memories. On the other hand, getting that east-of-the-Mississippi-River experience has let me appreciate the wonders here.

Still miss Alaska. Don't miss Alaskan winter yet!

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Oxtail Soup (in slow cooker)

2 pounds oxtail
3 carrots
4 stalk celery, chopped
1 onion
1 can diced tomatoes
1 can great northern (white) beans (low-carb, skip this)
1 Tablespoon minced garlic
2 Bay leaves
1 cup red wine
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp rosemary
1 tsp oregano (or thyme)
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1 Tablespoon beef bullion
2 cups turkey broth (or beef. Or water)

olive oil

Note before you start: this is one of those things that really, really works better with 12 hours in the crockpot. If you only have 6 hours, make something else.

Start by roasting the oxtails. Preheat oven to 425 F (220 C), coat oxtails in salt, pepper, olive oil. Stick in oven for 15 minutes. Contemplate this would probably work broiling. Worry about it. Open the door, poke at them, then give them another 5 minutes to get really nice and brown.

While they're roasting, pull out a 4-quart slow cooker. (You can always make it bigger by adding more stuff). Chop carrots, celery, onion. At this point, you can saute them first for greater flavor, or you can just dump them in for greater ease.

Add tomatoes and beans to slow cooker. (You could always chop up a potato or two and add that instead, or a handful of barley. Or be low-carb, and stick with just the carrots.) Add wine, Worcestershire sauce, and spices. Take oxtails out of oven before they burn, add them & their fat & pan juices to the slow cooker.

Dump a tupperware of turkey broth on top, to clean out your deep freezer, and add a heaping spoonful of beef better-than-bullion on top, to cover the turkey taste with beef. Or, if you don't need to clean your deep freezer, add some water, beef bullion, and maybe a little more wine. And drink some wine. I used a nice chambourcin. Don't cook with anything you're not willing to drink!

Turn the slow cooker on low, and leave it alone for at least 8 hours. Then pull the oxtail chunks out, and shred the meat off the bones. If you left it for 12 hours, this pretty much consists of the meat falling away in lovely shreds while you fish the bones out of the soup. If you didn't, return the meat to the soup. Serve!

I served it with a salad & the rest of the bottle of wine. And some oyster crackers on top, because I felt like it.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Happy Hanukkah

When all seems darkest, and the only choices appear to be a spread of dystopias, when it seems that all is blood, and fire, and ashes, and persecution...

Remember, the Children of Israel are still here.

They've seen Assyrians and Hittites, been slaves in Babylon and exiles in the Siberian gulags. They've wandered down into deepest Africa, and across the sea to undiscovered continents full of howling wilderness. And still they carry the Torah with them.

Despite being conquered, again and again, enslaved, and massacred in many languages, by many tribes, as the words changed from pogrom to genocide, they still light the candles on the menorah.

And so, let us celebrate again that though world has burned before and will yet burn again, still hope will live on with laughter, light, and love long after today's conquerors are tomorrow's dust.

And so goes the heart of many a Jewish holiday: "They tried to kill us. They failed. Let's eat!"

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

The past is another country...

Tonight, we were going through boxes in the storage unit that haven't been opened in years (two moves? three, for some!)

Peter broke out in surprised laughter, and waggled a picture frame at me. "Here! I can't believe I still have this! Can you find me in here?"

I took it, and immediately was stymied by my inability to read Afrikaans. The military class standing proud in their uniforms, though, was perfectly clear. I looked at it, and there, near the end of one row, were a pair of appled cheeks and two ears he'd grow into. This was clearly long before the next picture I know, which shows him among a group of very dirty, bearded, bedraggled and triumphant men standing on captured Russian equipment, but the cheeks are still the same. As I pointed at it, and he confirmed with a chuckle. "Is this back when you were a bright-eyed innocent and unworldly young man?"

He cast his eyes up, and the grin deepened in his white and silver beard. "Further deponent sayeth not!" He took the frame back, while I ruminated on that very South African variation of "no comment."

But as he packed it carefully away in the very small pile of things to keep, he took one long last look at it. The smile fell away to something much sadder, more wistful and quiet. "That was before I learned that I wasn't bulletproof."


He gently put the picture facedown, and left the past staring into shadow.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Low Carb Cheesy Garlic Breaad

It's not exactly like the pizza place down the street, no, but it's pretty close. Beware and be warned, though, that this paired with a salad was slightly more than two very hungry people wanted to eat for dinner. (Swapping all the carbs for protein makes it really filling!) Must remember the trick of adding yeast for bread flavour in other recipes...

Original recipe here,

Ingredients (for bread base):

1 1/4 cup almond flour
1 Tbsp coconut flour
2 eggs
2 Tbsp olive oil
1/4 cup warm water
1 tsp yeast (or 1 pack)
1 tsp sugar (for the yeast to eat, not you)
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1/4 tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp xanthan gum (optional, to prevent crumbling)

Ingredients (for topping):

1 1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
3 Tbsp butter, melted
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp Italian seasoning
1/4 cup chopped crispy bacon


1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

2. In a small bowl, combine warm water and sugar and stir until dissolved, then add yeast. Set aside.

3. In a large bowl, combine almond and coconut flour, salt, baking powder, garlic powder and xanthan gum, stir well.

4. In another bowl, crack the eggs and scramble.

5. To the flour mixture, add olive oil and yeasty water mixture and stir well.

6. Add beaten eggs and stir. Then add the 1/2 C mozzarella shreds and mix gently until cheese is mixed well throughout.

7. Grease a 9x9 square casserole dish or large cookie sheet well. (If you want deep-dish-style dough, use an 8x8 casserole dish.)

8. Spread dough in casserole dish, or make a square / desired shape on cookie sheet.

9. Bake at 400 degrees for approx. 15-17 minutes or until the sides of the crust turn golden brown. (The top may still look uncooked.)

10. While base is baking, rinse the yeasty-water bowl, melt the butter, and add the garlic powder, italian seasoning, and salt. Mix well, so you can brush over the top of the garlic bread base. If you don't have a brush, use a spoon to gently dribble in a grid pattern, so you get the whole surface. This'll stay molten when placed on top of the oven/stove.

10.5 This is also a good time to make the salad & set the table, and spoon half a cup of marinara sauce into a bowl for eating with the breadsticks.

11. Pull base out, contemplate hitting it with the pizza cutter to make discrete sticks for easy cutting later. Decide that's too much work.

12. Top the base with the bacon & the rest of the cheese. I also added some mexican cheese mix, because yummy.

13. Bake at 400 degrees for about 8 minutes or until cheese is melted.

14. For the final 2 minutes, turn broiler on to brown the cheese. Beware! Cheese goes from melty to smoking in .45 seconds flat - keep an eye on it!

15. Remove from oven and let stand for 5 minutes before serving.