2006 August at John Mackey's Blog



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  • How I Spent My Teen Years
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  • August 21, 2006

    Just do the math

    Yes, there are double posts today because I couldn’t get Blogger to post yesterday’s entry until today. Lots to read — none of it substantive.

    Some have noticed my collection of old school calculator watches. This one was first:

    Classic. “Time”less. When you change the battery, the date defaults to January 1, 1985. It’s tough to beat.

    But AEJ managed. She found me this one online a little over a year ago — for when I have to dress formally. (It looks like steel, but don’t be fooled. It’s painted plastic.)

    I did a little more online shopping at vintage watch internet stores, and I just ordered this one. It’s really supposed to be for AEJ, but I think I might be borrowing it on occasion — like, when I’m pimpin.

    And I just won an Ebay auction for this watch, which I’ve wanted since I was 10 years old. It’s an original Pac-Man video game watch. I remember this cool kid who had one when I was in, like, 4th grade. I was so jealous. At the time, I thought he was really rich, ’cause he had this sweet watch. What’s funny is that the watch probably cost $20 back then — and I paid several times over that to get the same watch today. I consider it an investment. I mean, gems like this will appreciate forever, right?

    Unrelated… AEJ and I made a crazy-delicious dinner last night: Beef Burgundy with mashed potatoes. It’s basically just beef, slow cooked in red wine and a bouquet garni of carrots, onions, parsley thyme, etc. With AEJ’s signature mashed potatoes, this is one of the tastiest dinners we’ve made. Since all of the above photos are just pulled from websites, here are two pics of our dinner. Neither picture is spectacular — but it’s hard to make beef look like much. Next time you’re in town, give us some notice, and we’ll cook it for you in person.

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    August 19, 2006

    Texas Tour

    I was excited to find out this morning that I’m heading back to Texas in a few weeks for two short residencies. First up, from September 28-October 2, will be my first visit to The University of Texas at Austin to work with Jerry Junkin on his performance of “Redline Tango.” The concert will be on October 1 — my birthday! I’m really bummed that I won’t be spending my birthday with AEJ this year. I’m kind of in denial about that. We’re just going to pretend my birthday is October 6.

    On the morning of October 3, I’ll head from Austin up to Lubbock for a few days on the Texas Tech University campus. Sarah McKoin is doing “Turbine” in a concert on October 5. I’ll head back home on Friday the 6th.

    These trips are sandwiched between two trips to Arizona State, where Gary Hill is doing “Turbine.” I’ll be there on September 25-26 and again on October 12-14. The concert is October 14.

    And, by the way — “Snakes on a Plane” kicks ass. AEJ and I saw it Friday night in a packed theater full of people who most definitely read about the movie on the Internets. I’ve never seen so many comic book readers in one place in my life. It was a blast.


    August 17, 2006

    NASA Jet Propulsion Lab tour

    On Tuesday, only a few weeks after we made our reservation, AEJ and I went to the NASA JPL — the Jet Propulsion Lab. JPL is a NASA center, but it’s staffed and managed by Caltech. (Its independence makes it feel more legitimate to me. I’m just waiting for the government to change NASA’s official mission to “Go find Jesus.”)

    The JPL is in Pasadena, probably 15 minutes from our house. We left early, though, so as not to risk being late. We even rushed through lunch — Snackers at KFC.

    We got to the gate at the JPL, but we were 45 minutes early. (Damn lack of traffic.) The security guard gave us directions to a shopping district 2 minutes away, so we headed there. What did we find in that shopping center? Why, a Petco! Inside, there was this guy:

    And… Well, I don’t know what to say about this guy.

    After parking at the JPL, we waited in the lobby for a few minutes for the tour to start.

    They had things to read, like Universe. It seemed a little smart for me.

    This is a map of the massive JPL. See all those numbers? There’s no key. Nowhere. If you work at the JPL, you just know the number of each building. These are rocket scientists.

    I dug this — an old-school phone with a directory of rocket scientists.

    It seems that science is more an emphasis here than, say, English. AEJ’s explanation was that everybody is left-brained. I was just like, “the employee’s only what?! I have to know!”

    They give you this sweet badge when the tour starts, just so you look extra cool.

    In the 1970’s, NASA sent Voyager out into space (it was a JPL project), and it sent back all kinds of amazing photographs of Saturn (and other planets) that I remember seeing when I was a kid. The thing is still going. It’s now over 2 billion miles away — and it still works. That’s a model of it on the right.

    One thing they did was include a sort of Earth time capsule on the Voyager. There’s a disc — basically a metal record album — and it contains greetings from Earth in many languages, some music, and photographs of people, and Earth, and all sorts of fun things like that. It was Carl Sagan’s idea. So, there’s a record behind the panel pictured below, and this metal panel you see is actually the record player. Etched onto the metal are the instructions for using the record player. Their thinking was that the instructions would use the universal language of math and physics. Okay, so I’m from Earth, and I know how to use a record player — and I still don’t have a clue what these instructions are telling me to do. What’s that thing at roughly 4 o’clock? Is that the flag of Japan? Is this a Japanese record player? What’s that thing at 8 o’clock? It’s pretty and all, but I’m baffled. Imagine how the aliens will feel.

    Here’s one of the many models.

    Here’s a rover model.

    No disassemble! Number 5 is alive! Oh, you wouldn’t believe the hijinx.

    This building housed the JPL control room. We were taken to see it, but were not allowed to photograph it.

    Why does the JPL need this big commercial-looking poster on its building — especially if the tour doesn’t stop there? I want to go skating at the Robo-Dome! (It must be a roller skating rink, right?)

    The tour ended in the building where they have a duplicate of the Mars rovers. This is where they test things before they send commands to the real rover on, well, Mars. Or… at least that’s what they claim. Maybe, just maybe, all of the pictures we’ve seen from the rovers were taken right here!

    The JPL is a fun tour. If you’re going to be in LA, and you know several months in advance, make a reservation. It can take a few months to get through the wait list, but it’s worth it. Maybe when you’re there, they’ll let you roller skate with the robots.


    August 11, 2006

    The Story of Crisco

    When AEJ and I were antiquing in Massachusetts a few weeks ago, I found the best cookbook ever, first published in 1913 : “The Story of Crisco : 250 Tested Recipes”

    Did you know that Crisco is kosher? It’s true. From the book…
    “Rabbi Margolies of New York said that the Hebrew Race had been waiting 4,000 years for Crisco.”
    I don’t even know what to say. Too… many… jokes…

    Ever wonder what the Crisco factory is like?
    “It would be difficult to imagine surroundings more appetizing than those in which Crisco is manufactured. In sparkling bright rooms, cleanly uniformed employees make and pack Crisco.”
    That is a tour I’d love to take.

    But is it safe to feed Crisco to my children? Boy is it ever…
    The Importance of Giving Children Crisco Foods
    “A man seldom seems to be stronger than his stomach, for indigestion handicaps him in his accomplishment of big things. Equip your children with good stomachs by giving them wholesome Crisco foods — foods which digest with ease. They may eat Crisco doughnuts or pie without being chased by nightmares. Sweet dreams follow the Crisco supper.”
    I believe those would be sweet dreams of heart disease and bloat.

    Procter and Gamble, the manufacturers of Crisco, also offer this assistance:
    “We will go to any length to help you in the cause of Better Food. We realize that women must study this product as they would any other altogether new article of cookery, and that the study and care used will be amply repaid by the palatability and healthfulness of all foods. A can of Crisco is no Aladdin’s Lamp, which merely need be touched by a kitchen spoon to produce magical dishes. But any woman is able to achieve excellent results by mixing thought with Crisco.”

    And with that, I give you a few recipes…

    Fish Pudding
    I’m not going to type this whole thing in, because reading about a pudding made of fish, Crisco, and milk, topped with a sauce of cream, Crisco, and onion — well, I threw up a little in my mouth. And that’s still in the first chapter of recipes…

    Fried Chicken
    You’ll be happy to know that the only ingredients for this recipe are “Chicken” and “Crisco.” No batter, nothing. Just get a chicken, and fry it in Crisco. Delicious. An alternate recipe is “Fried Chicken, Mexican Style,” which adds a clove of garlic, two tomatoes, a green pepper, and some extra Crisco. I’m not making any of this up.

    Kidney Omelet
    Oh, this one I have to try. Ingredients: 4 kidneys (from any animal — it doesn’t specify. beaver? sheep? your call.), 6 eggs, 6 tablespoons of Crisco, some parsley, and 2 tablespoons of cream. Basically, you just dice the kidneys and fry them in the crisco, then add them to an omelet. I think Denny’s serves this as a Grand Slam option.

    Fried Egg Sandwiches
    Includes Crisco, hard-boiled eggs, cream, and something called “fritter batter.” You’re supposed to free the eggs from the shells and “pound with Crisco and cream to a paste.” Then you spread the paste on a roll, cover the roll in “fritter batter” and deep fry the sandwich in more Crisco. Seriously. It’s not a fried egg sandwich like ” a sandwich with a fried egg on it” — it’s an egg sandwich, deep fried, with Crisco on the inside and outside of it.

    I love a tasty sandwich — but I prefer they combine both Crisco and sardines. Does Crisco have a recipe for me?

    Why yes, they do.

    Sardine Sandwiches
    2 tablespoons of melted Crisco, a dozen sardines, 1 tablespoon of whipped cream, and a tomato. Just spread all of that on a slice of white — or wheat, if you’re watching your health — bread.

    But my absolute favorite recipe has to be:
    Fried Parsley
    Ingredients: Crisco, 1 bunch of parsley, salt and pepper
    Wash, pick and dry the parsley; put into frying basket and immerse in hot Crisco for 15 seconds or until crisp. Salt and pepper to taste.

    And for dessert…
    Crisco Drops
    1/2 cupful of syrup, 4 tablespoons of Crisco, vanilla extract, water, and salt. Melt everything in a saucepan, allow it to cool, and drop onto Criscoed tin. Makes twenty drops. Perfect for a holiday party — and acceptable for Passover! (I’m totally bringing these next year, Newman!)


    The List

    I’m back from the post office, where I just mailed all of my materials for consideration on the next Texas UIL “Prescribed Music List.” For those who don’t know, the state of Texas has a big list of music — band music, orchestra music, solo and ensemble music — and schools can choose any of the music on The List to perform at Solo & Ensemble contest each year. My understanding is that schools can play what they want during the year within their own school, but performing it at “Contest” requires that it either be on this list, or that special permission be granted on a piece-by-piece basis. Schools are simply more likely to play something in the first place if they have the option of also playing it at the contest.

    Last year, Grapevine High School — consortium member for “Turning” — applied for special permission to perform “Redline Tango” at their area contest. That request went before the UIL board, they voted, and it was determined that Grapevine was allowed to perform it — but only Grapevine. See, the UIL board has several options when a school makes a special request like that. They can say no, they can say yes — but just for you and just once, or they can say yes and add the piece to the Supplemental List, meaning that it’s basically added officially to The List. “Redline Tango” was only approved as a one-off, meaning that anybody who wanted to play it this year at contest had to again apply for special permission.

    The good news is that every four years, The List is redone, and right now is when the committee is going through materials to decide what will go on the next list. I sent in four pieces — “Redline Tango,” “Strange Humors,” and “Turbine,” all for wind ensemble, and “Mass” for percussion ensemble. The whole process ended up being pretty expensive. All members of the committee are to receive a package with each score and a recording, which meant making eight copies of each of the three band pieces (but fortunately only one copy of the percussion ensemble piece). I put everything on nice, heavy paper, which added a considerable surcharge. (My thinking on that is that even though I’m self-published, the materials need to look good — and “legit” — not like I’m selling them out of my garage.) With binding, the copying bill was $150, plus $80 for postage.

    Nearly $250 is a chunk of change for photocopying and postage, but if even one piece ends up on The List, it opens up a lot of performance (that is, rental/sale) opportunities. That’s a big “if,” for sure, but it’s like the lottery. You can’t win if you don’t play.

    In other news… It looks like Jerry Junkin is doing “Redline Tango” at the University of Texas on, of all days, October 1 — my birthday. I’d sure love to attend that concert. A few days later, Sarah McKoin is doing “Turbine” at Texas Tech, and there is a chance I’ll be at that one. That’d be fun. Well, except for the travel. Who would have guessed that flying was going to be even less-pleasant this fall than it has been?