Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Cool Solution to Skimmer Shoes

Review: Stomper Joe No-Show Socks

There really isn't a way to enjoy the free look and feel of a skimmer (deck shoe) when it is worn on a sweaty bare foot in the summer's heat. Yet anything more dorky and gauche than a skimmer worn with ankle socks is hard to imagine.

I've tried anklets in my deck shoes, but it doesn't take too many steps before the heels slip down to wad up under my arches, not comfortable or cool!

Then I saw these socks on Amazon, and decided to try them. They're called "No-Show" socks, but the innovative heel design makes "No-Slip Heel" a more apropos name. A slightly tacky gel cup is fused to the inside back of the heel, to hold the sock snugly in place.

Styling summer shoes instead of showing socks.
I bought a package of three pairs in gray to try them, and they worked so well I immediately went back to buy more. Khaki green, navy, tan, and white would all look the same hidden inside my skimmers as the original gray socks, so perhaps the color list helps promote the initial decision to buy. The wide choice of colors did let me pick out some for my spouse as well, with no worries that differently-sized socks would get mixed up in the wash. 

Speaking of laundry, my socks fit "as expected" right out of the package, but once washed, they were perfectly snugged to my feet. I've now sent the initial gray socks through several washes without any diminishment of the non-skid heel-cup action. In fact, if I didn't need to wear traditional socks with my dress shoes for speaking events, I'd toss all my black ankle socks in favor of a drawer full of Stomper Joes!

On my wish list for the future Stomper Joe product line: Zori-thong socks with the same non-slid heel cup. Then my feet would be covered for all my preferred summer foot-gear!

Monday, June 19, 2017

The Tangled Web, Or How to Out-Byzantine Byzantium

Review: The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. by Neal Stephenson and Nicole Galland

Melisande and Tristan are unlikely partners in a high-tech startup. Mel is academe, Tristan military. Mel speaks and reads dozens of—maybe a hundred—ancient languages, Tristan is fluent in the one languge she is not: bureaucratese. But Mel can't stand her current academic mentor, a sleezy fellow who takes credit for her work and makes unwanted sexual overtures to his protรฉgรฉe. She says yes to a high salary with benefits, and launches into the effort to help develop a new technology with military applications.


Usually, I need at least two complete reads through a Neal Stephenson novel, with some intervening time to absorb the revealed technology. Not this time. What Neal and co-author Nicole Galland have done is to examine the real-life implications of successful time travel (or "diachronic operations", the second "D.O." of the secret Department's title), while they simultaneously expose and lampoon the inevitable bureacratic takeover of a technical endeavor.

Even without the ancient tongues that bring Melisande into the Department, the language is dizzyingly, deliciously convoluted. Military acronyms and bureaucratic double-speak abound. My favorite passage involved the attempt of a rigid office-manager boffin to prevent the techies from using unsanctioned acronyms and labels. (The techies promptly labeled her policy memo with an unsanctioned acronym, of course.)

Perhaps the story's accessibility is due to the combination of Stephenson's favored Innis mode with a mixture of narration and epistolary delivery, particularly suitable to a novel in which time travel has scrambled the chronology. Some of those epistles are email, some are hand-scribed letters and journals written on parchment—some are even carved into living flesh. (Further detail might be a spoiler!) 

On the other hand, as I read I found myself uncomfortably reminded of my experiences in the late 80s and early 90s, working for a tech firm started by engineers. At the time I signed on, the founders were still in the top management positions, and we had a one-of-a-kind product in a brand-new tech niche. I was there when a venture capital firm bought out the company, still there when they "retired" the founder CEO and replaced him with a business-type. I left when the engineer-COO and engineer-R&D chief were also replaced by MBAs. (The firm was out of business a year later.)

No doubt that personal history added to my enjoyment of the eventual "fall" implied in the novel's title. But you need not have had a similar traumatic experience; D.O.D.O. is a great story, and you won't want to miss it!

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Easy Magic Meals: Mann's Nourish Bowls

Food Review: Nourish Bowls from Mann Packing Co.

I adore brassicas, raw or cooked: kale. cabbage, brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower. But too much of the same flavor gets old. And I don't really know how to mix them with other vegetables or spices to create a delicious dish.

Fortunately for my increasingly-vegetarian table, Mann Packing has created five delectable blends of steamable brassica vegetables with sauce and balancing roots. 

These have been available for a year already, but I only noticed them recently in the fruit-and-veggie section of our local Safeway. I've now tried three of the blends. The size of the bowl is sufficient for a main vegetarian entree for one, or a side dish for two. Even better, you can combine the cooked contents with other ingredients to create two or more full-size entrees. 

Monterey Risotto

I popped for the Monterey Risotto blend first, which combines three of my favorites, kale, kohlrabi and butternut squash, with a lightly garlic sauce that cooks into the veggies in the microwave. 

This blend works as a stand-alone entree, or as a side dish for grilled meat. It is not "juicy" enough in my opinion to work well as a topping for a rice bowl. I might in future combine the veggies in a skillet a Korean BBQ, and save the sauce packet to add as extra juice to another Nourish Bowl over rice.

  • ๐Ÿ˜ The garlic-soybean oil-parmesan sauce perfectly cuts the bitterness of the kale.
  • ๐Ÿ˜ When the squash is steamed to tenderness, the shreds of kohlrabi have not lose their crunch. The combination of textures elevates the dish.
  • ๐Ÿ˜– Unless you break up the block of rice and bury the chunks under the veggies before steaming, it can be dry and unpleasantly crunchy. 

Sesame Sriracha

The major players in this bowl (in addition to a tangy ketchup-style sauce enhanced with sriracha, sesame oil, and ginger) are Napa cabbage and broccoli, with brown rice, kohlrabi, carrots and snap peas. The kohlrabi here is cubed, so its earthy-root flavor is more pronounced than in the Monterey Risotto.

It's delicious as a stand-alone entree, but you should enjoy cooked cabbage and hot sauce if you take on the entire bowl on your own! 

Mann's chefs suggested grilled shrimp or prawns over a bed of the Sesame Sriracha blend, and it looks tasty. But we paired it as a side dish with grilled ears of corn, and the sweet/spice balance made the addition of meat unnecessary.

  • ๐Ÿ˜ Tasty addition to any sandwich in place of coleslaw.
  • ๐Ÿ˜– Contains cilantro. The cilantro is one of the last ingredients listed in the contents, and it is stem-shreds rather than leaves. I don't like the flavor of leaves of cilantro, but I didn't notice it here. If you avoid cilantro because of a cashew allergy, be warned. 
  • ๐Ÿ˜– Contains red peppers and sesame seeds in minor amounts.

Southwest Chipotle

This bowl pairs black beans and corn in a salsa to provide the steaming sauce for kale, cauliflower, kohlrabi and sweet potato cubes. 

Of the three varieties I've tried, this blend is the most versatile for meal creation. It's superb as an omelet filling. You can build an excellent vegetarian burrito with it. Stirred into pasta, it mates well with Alfredo sauce (just a bit is all you need!) We ate it over rice in a vegetarian rice bowl; the rice needed a bit of the liquid from another salsa, but just a bit.

  • ๐Ÿ˜ If you don't use the cheddar cheese, you can remove the only non-vegetarian component. This also removes the two non-food additives (used in the packaged cheese), powdered cellulose and natamycin.
  • ๐Ÿ˜ Add queso fresco to pop the protein level of the dish. Substitute it for the cheddar to take its flavor in a slightly different direction.
  • ๐Ÿ˜– Salsa contains red peppers and onions in minor amounts.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Managing Chaos

Review: Hired Powers by Sandi Hutcheson

The ideal beach-read falls into one of two categories; it is either a serious novel you've been promising yourself to read since high school, or a frothy comedic romance with no pretention of higher purpose.

Hired Powers is decidedly the latter, as evidenced by the opening scene. Jobless Jessica Powers encounters an otherwise-naked young woman in a trench coat and high heels. Soon Jessica has been hired to keep her out of sight, under the radar of an investigation into the motel death of a Superman-clad campaigning politician who died leaping into bed with a handcuffed "Lois Lane."

Is this woman, whose real name is Shelby, actually a hooker? Her carefully landscaped pubes do resemble an American flag, and she had been in the motel room with Georgia state senator Peter Payne. Plus, the money to hire Jessica to protect Shelby from the press—and having charges pressed—comes anonymously from an account in the Cayman Islands.

On the other hand, Shelby may be what she claims, an innocent who was duped into wearing those handcuffs. Either way, Jessica's job is to keep her on the down-low until after the election, and she'll be well-paid thanks to the intervention of Sammy Lawhead, Shelby's attorney. (That Sammy was also Jessica's boy-next-door high-school sweetheart and missed romantical opportunity supplies the other essential element of any romance novel.)

The squirrelly, twisted path they all take to accomplish their various goals is a perfect accompaniment to sitting in hot sand or a hot tub somewhere, whiling away vacation hours with nothing to do but enjoy the ride. 

It's a sweet trip!

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Bad Luck—or Unrecognized Fortune?

Review: Black Bead (Book 1 of the Black Bead Chronicles) by J.D. Lackey

Whenever there is a fuss about the prospect of human gene-engineering, more of the arguments are focused on moral than technical grounds. Ought we to change the genome? How do we deal with any technical failures? Black Bead seems to be about an entirely different question: Can a society into which such planned changes have been introduced recognize the value of an unexpected change?

Six-year-old Cheobahn's black bead labels her as a maladaptation. The tribal society into which she struggles to fit resides in a "home dome" that serves as a nightly fortress against a hostile environment.

Man is not the peak predator in this world, despite the psi powers that have been carefully introduced to the human genome. That's actually a subtly misleading statement; gene-engineering is done by the women of the matriarchal tribes, and they have suceeded in isolating these new powers to the females of the species.


The intriguing theme is well supported by the action of the novel, as Cheobahn and her older "Little Mother" friend Megan join with a trio of boys—Tam, Connor and Alain—to form a hunting group that will let the older four travel unaccompanied outside the home dome and its daytime farms. Their rite of passage to tribal adulthood is impeded by Megan's insisting that her too-young, black-bead friend Cheobahn be included in the hunting pack.

The tribal powers allow it, but because of the poor showing that brought the six-year girl her black bead, they restrict the pack to within two kilometers of the dome, barely past the local farms and gathering areas where pre-adults are allowed. What the tribe's leaders don't realize is that Cheobahn's unrecognized powers have already seduced the four older members to ignore the restriction. The five will end up far beyond the elder-imposed boundaries, in high joy and deep danger, relying on the uncertain abilities of the youngest amongst them to get home before dark.

This is excellent story-telling, thrilling and absorbing, with such a light hand on precursor clues that you scarcely notice the unanswered questions. (How did the boys persuade the Mothers to let them dress in new clothing? Is a real entity supporting Cheobahn, or is that just her visualization of her powers?)

But those questions will keep you awake at night, long after you have finished reading the short (166 pages) novel. They will whet your appetite for the next novel in the series, and the next.

Liner Note: 

This initial novel in the series received multiple nods in the year of its release: Benjamin Franklin Digital Award: Silver Honoree: September 2016; Indie Reader Approved, 4.5 star rating: July 2016; Library Journal Self-e Selection: July 2016

Thursday, June 8, 2017

With Strange ร†ons Even Death

Review: The Final Enemy by Dan Petrosini

That is not dead which can eternal lie. And with strange รฆons even death may die. —H.P. Lovecraft, quoting "The Necronomicon"

I was very excited by this Kindle Scout offering, in which a Davenport, Ohio, reporter discovers a strange effect emanating from a recently-fallen meteorite. The rock seems to have eliminated death by natural causes, at least within a 15-mile radius of its location. 

What an opportunity to examine the convoluted ways in which human nature and culture is bound up in the eventual demise of each of us!

So even though the book was not selected in the program, I bought it anyway, and eagerly began reading. Alas! The story quickly bogs down in a rush of "things happening." Worse, our reporter, Jack, is strangely unmoved by some of these events, and curiously overwhelmed by others. Instead of getting a look at how he—and we all—might actually react, we are treated to increasingly shocking scenes.

Without death, there is no reason for God, apparently. There is no real exploration of the premise, just a string of church closures and a snubbed pontiff to illustrate the fact.

Without death (and ridiculously soon), there are far too many people for the planet, leading inevitably to cannibalism and chaos. Not to mention a safe-guarded compound, where the government elites and their hangers-on have enough to eat, of course.

There is the deus ex machina way that the meteorite allows the death "by natural causes" from poisoning, but not from starvation or from complications due to age or disease. It also extends this effect only to human animals, and not any of the other beings with which we share the planet.

And then there is the oh-so-Soylent Green solution for producing extra protein, about which I will only say that it is the dietary equivalent of hoisting oneself by one's own bootstraps, multiplied by the supposedly-burgeoning population numbers.

I won't spoil the novel, because it needs all the help it can get. But if you're not disappointed by the ending, let alone the distressingly boring path the writer drags us along to reach it, you are a very different reader than I am.

Liner Notes:

  • The second half of this novel was full of obvious typos and grammatical errors. I suspect the proof-reader had as much trouble wading through it as I did. "Unstainable" for "unsustainable" produced the most hilarious error.
  • The writer made the same wrong turn that the Soylent Green film-writers who translated Harry Harrison's Make Room, Make Room! did, and went for visceral shock rather than reaching for more philosophical depths. Try the original Harrison novel for a slightly preachy, but much more nuanced look at the issues that might rise from overpopulation.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Lightweight and Delicious

Brief Review: Time Burrito by Aaron Frale

One of the best things about being a Kindle Scout is the frequent introduction to second-tier (even third-tier) possibilities that turn into first-rate reads.

Like Time Burrito, for example. Let's face it, I probably wouldn't pick this book out of a list as something I might enjoy reading. The cover's intriguing; the title is weirdly promising. Based on that, I might have snagged the book out of a yard-sale jumble, or spent a buck, buck-fifty max, on a library-offsale paperback.

Selecting the ebook from an online list? Likely not.

Fortunately, I got a peek inside, and read just enough of the story to get hooked. I was caught by the concept, a time-traveling loser with a simple, if circumscribed, ambition:  make better burritos. At the beginning, Pete's business is a food truck that provides local students with horrible but cheap burritos. If I could just discover the secret burrito recipe, he thinks, I would be able to make the best burritos in town.

A chance tumble through time, though, will reveal that it's not the recipe he needs, but better ingredients. The rest of this romp is the story of how Pete's peregrinations through time help him overcome his rival for the title of Best Burrito Chef, build a food empire on his secret burrito spice, and find true love. All by making a burrito that is lightweight and delicious.

Just like this novel.