Oktoberfest 2009!

Posted on Sep 17 2009 | Tagged as: Uncategorized

It’s that time of year again. Oktoberfest! We decided to celebrate it when the Germans do – in September. Go figure. Get ready for more hijinks and embarassment, all documented with many megapixels. Hopefully, I will stay a bit sober. Check out last year’s grizzly scene here. Until the postmortem pictures show up feast your eyes on the live webcam!

…And here they are!  A glorious shutterfly gallery of all the fun:  http://steinmetzoktoberfest.shutterfly.com/


Holiday Trigonometry

Posted on Jan 04 2009 | Tagged as: Uncategorized

CIMG6736The older kids have been terrific in helping to put up the various Christmas decorations this year.  This is our first Christmas in the new house so I felt that we had to decorate properly, even though things have been a bit rough work-wise and health-wise.  We’ve all been a bit preoccupied with everything but holdiay planning.

I didn’t give much thought to the decorations though a little forethought would have helped.  I wanted to hang a big wreath on the chimney from before the house was built and I should have asked the builder to stick in a hook when he was building the Chimney.   Instead I was at the top of a 20′ ladder w
ith a cordless drill putting276.JPG a hole in the mortar.  There is a basic physics problem here.  The masonery bit needed a good bit of pushing to go in but that meant pushing me away from the ladder.  Equal and opposite reactions, you know.  Since I was 20 feet off the ground I didn’t like being pushed away from ladder, to be honest.  Carrie was at the bottom of the ladder the whole time ready to call 911.  I used epoxy putty to anchor a hook.  You know the stuff  the loud, bearded guy on TV is offering for 3 easy payments of $9.95 but you can just pick it up at Ace for $4.50.   The house is pretty far from the street so we got a pretty big wreath for visibility.  Hauling it up the ladder without falling off was no easy thing, complicated by small children who wanted to climb under the ladder.  So far the hook is holding.

CIMG6502_edited-1.jpgThe tree was also a big project.  We live on a “farm” that had two crops to maintain the advantaged tax position that farms get, hay and Christmas trees.  The hay part just means we only cut the grass once a year.  The Christmas tree farm wasn’t maintained and the trees are way to big for anything smaller than a cathedral.  We lost the farm assessment when we built the new house but I still won’t cut the grass.  The trees work well enough if we just use the tops.  Now that we have a 2-story foyer we can accomodate a fair fraction of those big trees.  Getting it through the door was another matter.   Putting it in a stand meant for an 8-foot tree was another.  We lashed the tree to the upstairs railing and aleviated Carrie’s fears that one of the babies would pull the thing down.  Of course, now you could do a high wire act across the support lines.  We couldn’t have done it without the teenager’s help.  I bragged about the “18-foot monster” on Facebook.

Well, Christmas came and went.  Times being what they are, I had to hock my cooking pots to get Carrie a new date book cover.  Carrie hocked her date book  to get me a new pot rack.  Surprise!  2.5 year-old Nathan did have the presence of mind to say what he actually wanted when sitting on the Macy’s Santa’s lap: candy.

Now we are faced with the question of when to take down the decorations.  My office building yanked out the festive stuff on Jan 2.  Of course, they put it in the week before Thanksgiving.  We didn’t put our tree up until the week before Santa came.  It was such an effort I’d like to enjoy it for a while.  So when is the last decent moment to take everything down?  MLK-day?  My office hasn’t starting putting up the civil rights decorations yet so I figure I’m okay, still.

There was a teachable moment in this holiday I wasn’t about to let slip by before the tree came down.  Sure, I said it was 18 feet tall, but is it?  The older guys are taking physics this year so I asked them.  “Measure it,” they said.  “How,” I asked.  You can’t run a tape measure down the trunk with all the branches and a ladder won’t reach to the top.    The boys eventually came around to the notion that I actually wanted them to apply their book learning to a practical problem.  By now they know that you can find the height of a right triangle if you know they length of the base and the angle of the vertex formed by the base and the hypotenuse…and so do you….remember?

h = b tan(Θ)

Sure you do.  We needed a tool to measure the angle so I got them to build a “sight protractor.”   I don’t have a protractor handy so I started talking about making one by bisecting angles and all kinds of complicated tricks but Jake said “why don’t we just print an image of one off the internet.”    Grrr.  Kids today.  Back in my day we built “mnemonic memory devices out of stone knives and bear skins” (Spock said that once).

CIMG6724 So we made the gizmo with the protractor, a straw, a penny and some string.  Then we measured an abitrary distance from the tree and put some masking tape on the floor to mark the spot.

CIMG6729CIMG6740Then we shot the tree top.   A bunch of us did it to get different observations and allow for experimental error.

CIMG6728Nathan helped, of course.  Preventing him from poking himself in the eye with the protractor straw was the big challenge here.
CIMG6733

Jake, always handy, had his scientific calculator in his backpack.  When I was in 10th grade, 1975, Keith Davis kept his TI scientific calculator in a holster on his belt.  THAT was not a good idea.  The ladies didn’t have the proper respect for geeks back then.  You didn’t catch me doing that.  That was only because my Commodore calculator took 4 “C” batteries.  I could barely lift it.  Anyway, back to the present, the spread of estimates was wider than I expected, 36 cm, but we were using a penny dangling on  a string, after all.  By the way, since we are scientists we used the metric system.  We averaged the results and got 4.52 meters.   For you non-scientists that’s 14’10”.  Remember, I bragged it was 18 feet.  I guess I exagerated during the afterglow of our magnificent achievement in setting up the tree.


CIMG6737

Merry Christmas!

Posted on Dec 25 2008 | Tagged as: Uncategorized

Click on image for full size version

Click on image for full size version

The Night Before the Steinmetz 2008 Christmas

(with huge apologies to Clement Clarke Moore)

‘Twas the day before Christmas, when all through the farm

All the creatures were stirring, with great cause for alarm;

The stockings were barely hung by the chimney in time,

As the days were too quickly approaching two-thousand and nine;

The children were hyped up on holiday treats,

While only visions of bedtime left empty sheets;

Ma-ma busily wrapping in the craft room, and Art last-minute shopping at Drug Fair,

Were hurrying to avoid a Christmas nightmare,

Later that day on the lawn there arose such a clatter,

As the family wrestled with garland, lights and a leftover construction ladder;

The candles in the windows were placed in a jiffy,

Then the tree was brought in – would it be decorated by Christmas? It was iffy.

Now Art insisted on getting into the Christmas spirit and hanging a wreath,

Risking his neck and ours as we all stood in the snow beneath,

He threw down the line, then turned with a jerk,

Whistling and shouting, and putting us to work;

“Now, Jakob! now, Nathan! now, Austin and Carrie!

Now, Maxfield, now Ryan! Hurry up! Come on now, hurry!

To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!

Now hoist away! Hoist away! Hoist away all!”

And then, in a twinkling, everything was all set,

The night before Christmas was upon us as we sipped some hot chocolate,

We realized we had found true holiday spirit in working together as we looked around,

And, we enjoyed some peace on earth with each other before morning, when all the children came down with a bound.

Their eyes — how they twinkled! They were awestruck!

Santa’s spirit had come despite crying and pouting – what luck!

Gifts (and re-gifts) of love were torn open with the force of a bomb

For some really cute pics, check out artsteinmetz.com!

Slowing down now to send our friends and family hugs and kisses,

We hope you enjoyed your Chanukah, Kwanzaa, Winter Solstice and/or Christmas,

We hope you and yours were able to enjoy some holiday cheer,

And we look forward to seeing you in a Happy New Year.

Hot Chocolate Face-Off

Posted on Dec 13 2008 | Tagged as: Uncategorized

You may be going through life drinking your basic Swiss Miss instant hot chocolate and being perfectly happy.  Still, if you are like most people you occasionally wonder if there is something more out there.  How would your life be different is you put in the extra effort to make “real” hot cocoa with real milk?  Well, this post won’t answer that question.

What follows is a post with about as much excitement as George Costanza’s “Candy Bar Face off.”  You may want to stop here.  Still, “Seinfeld” was a hit show so we will soldier on with your indulgence.

You could spend $20 on a tin of what is still instant or you could spend $185 on a Louis XVIII Chocolate Pot but both of those ideas would be silly.

CIMG6407.JPGWe will answer one question.  What is the best hot chocolate we could make with the stuff lying around the house?  “We are men of science,” I told the kids, so I couldn’t just make the damn cocoa.  I had to turn it into a “teachable moment.”  I peeked into the pantry and came out with cocoa powder, bakers chocolate and Swiss Miss.  From-scratch hot cocoa had to be better than instant, right? After all, real milk tastes so much better than powdered milk.  I figured the chocolate square-based drink would win in a walk due to the higher fat content but let’s see.

We made the instant according to package directions.  We made the “Favorite Hot Cocoa” recipe from the tin of Hershey’s.  We also made that same recipe using the 1 oz. of Baker’s Chocolate instead of powder.  The cocoa powder and Baker’s chocolate are both unsweetened.   Both the “real” recipes had the same about of milk and sugar added.   The Hersey’s recipe calls for boiling the powder with sugar and a bit of water for a couple minutes before adding the milk.  Melting the chocolate square was a more challenging.  We put one chopped-up square into hot milk and stirred  for a looooooong time.  You should never boil the milk.  I got distracted by the usual children’s mayhem and boiled the milk.  Start over.

Finally it was time for the face off.  CIMG6446.JPGThe powder-based drinks looked good.  The square-based one looked a bit gritty.  There were many atomic bits of chocolate that would not melt.  We could just not make it homogenous with any amount of stirring.  We lined up three times seven cups (this family is just too big) and poured in a precisely equal amount of each drink.  So what did we think?

There were three adults, three teenagers and one 2 year old but the verdict was unanimous.  The Baker’s chocolate was too intense.  The Hersey’s powder drink had a slighly gritty feeling (though it looked smooth) and the instant was just right!  That’s right, the mix with a zillion cryptic ingredients and powdered milk was the big favorite.

I kind of expected the teenagers to drift back to the XBox before this experiment was over but Austin really got into the spirit of it.  While I was being Mr. Science he went back into the pantry and found some Hershey’s Semi-Sweet Morsels.  He melted them on the stove and added milk.  No recipe, just a handful of chips and some milk.  His concoction had the same problem with homogenizing the milk and the chocolate but his brothers declared his version the best “scratch” recipe by far.  Sadly, since no notes were taken this recipe has been lost forever.

How could the cheapo instant stuff be the favorite?  I have a theory.  Let’s dismiss right away the idea that the chef’s prep skills were not up to snuff.  It may be that we like what we are used to and when offered cake we still prefer stale bread.  The instant stuff is all we’ve ever had.  When Starbucks offerered samples of their hot cocoa I thought it was way too rich.   I put the shot in my coffee instead of sugar.

My grand aunt grew up during the depression….in Serbia.  The quality of protein in her diet, when she had it at all, was not USDA choice.  As long as I knew her, she thought pickled pigs’ knuckles were the biggest treat.  When she babysat us on Saturday nights we would have a “party.”  That meant my brother and I got popcorn, “Nani” got the got pig knuckles and we would sit in front of the TV watching “The Lawrence Welk Show.”  For the record, I do think pigs’ knuckes are revolting.  Wunnerful, wunnerful.

He’s Up!

Posted on Dec 12 2008 | Tagged as: Uncategorized

Max Walks!

CIMG6404.JPG

Max walks at 9 1/2 months.

More Incorrect Predictions

Posted on Nov 28 2008 | Tagged as: Uncategorized

Art’s latest appearance on CNBC.   It disappointed Dad to learn I did this from the media room at my office (a closet with a camera) and never saw Erin Burnett.

Older appearances are here and now have their own link called “Punditry” on the right.

Drunkard’s Drive

Posted on Nov 14 2008 | Tagged as: Uncategorized

“Drunkard’s walk” is the metaphor used in Statistics to describe a random path or it could refer to a drunk guy walking around. It could also refer to the Google Street View car. For the uninformed, these are the cars that Google employs to drive around with GPS units and cameras mounted on top taking pictures up and down streets. These images integrate with Google Maps to give you a street level view of any address you care to see.

Anyway, Street View makes the most sense in dense urban areas so I was shocked to see our house in semi-rural NJ show up. Why would Google use resources to cover our area?  Well, they probably didn’t plan to.  This map shows the Street View coverage in blue. It mostly makes sense. The covered areas show methodical mapping of every street as you get close to NYC. Then there was the day the driver got lost.
Yeah, the guy with loads of GPS technology on board goes off the map into unexplored territory. Check out the ramble around Gladstone. He doesn’t go down the side streets in any regular way but he does go on some dirt roads! Quite a joy ride. He briefly goes on the highway again but gets wanderlust a couple exits later. So that’s how our house winds up on Street View. I won’t make it easy for the kidnappers by posting the link here but you know where to find it if you want.

There has been lots of commentary about the social ramifications of this technology. When you deploy dozens of vehicles randomly taking millions of pictures some interesting stuff is bound to show up. Car crashes, houses on fire, people flashing the camera. You can see some events unfold in time as you move the map view up the street. Incredible. Maybe you can find where the wayward Google car stopped at a pub.  Are there security concerns? Privacy issues?  Yeah, well, get over it.

White Slavery, Buggery and Pederasty -or- What I Saw at the Flea Market

Posted on Nov 10 2008 | Tagged as: Uncategorized

Some candy, little girl?

Some candy, little girl?

I love books and paper and print. I love stationary, notebooks and fancy pens. Ironically, my handwriting is atrocious and I hate the physical act of trying to form letters with a pen. I have many nice notebooks that I will never write in. Yet, here I am, blogging away when I could never be bothered to write a journal.

I am a voracious reader, though, so when an old book comes my way I get excited. Each October, the volunteer fire department holds an auction and flea market as a fund raiser. I make a point to get to the book tent and snag some vintage volumes. I have found some great stuff. Sometimes I score a noteworthy first edition like “The Old Man and the Sea” and “The Fountainhead.” Don’t get excited. They are generally pretty scuffed up so while I might sucker some chump on eBay, a collector would not pay real $$ for them.

Here are some of this year’s finds:


Emily and her less Famous sister, Anne.  1893

Emily and her less Famous sister, Anne. 1893


...you must stop these urchins from disturbing my repose!

...you must stop these urchins from disturbing my repose!

I’ve heard of Charlotte and Emily but the Bronte’s were a literary dynasty. Father’s and daughters and cousin’s and uncle’s. I’ve never read “Wuthering Heights” but it’s been on the list because I love hearing Kate Bush scream “Heathcliff!”

An “Horatio Alger story” has entered the idiom in America as an expression to describe someone who has hauled themselves up by their bootstraps. Back when people did have bootstraps Horatio Alger wrote stories about boys who through “luck and pluck” acheived success. In his day, his popularity was on par with Mark Twain’s. Ironically, most Horatio Alger stories weren’t about success through personal achievement. Luck was usually the greater part his protagonist’s success, since, rather than start a new buggy whip business or invent the steam donkey, he came to the attention of a wealthy older gentleman who ultimately adopted the lad. Hmm. This unvarying narrative in dozens of books has led deconstructing types to assume Alger was a pederast. Perhaps this is why Alger’s works are all but forgotten, even though the ideal lives on.

Enduring stories.  1890 and circa 1920

These two volumes were published approximately 30 years apart, which testifies to how popular they were. “This edition of “Telegraph Boy” was printed in or around 1879. You can read it here. “Struggling Upward or Luke Larkin’s Luck” has no date but looks like it was printed in 1910, or so. It was written in 1868, according to Wikipedia.

Before The Mast.jpg

“Two Years Before the Mast” was a bestseller in it’s day and an enduring classic. It is a memior by a “Harvard boy” of a stint as a common tar aboard aboard a ship during the waning years of the “Age of Sail.” It describes the tough life of the common sailor and pre gold-rush California. It was reprinted several times and made into a movie in the ’40s. The edition I found was the 1911 edition which includes an afterward by Dana’s son and some striking illustrations.

Flaming tar barrels tossed overboard

Flaming tar barrels tossed overboard

I had already read a contemporary reprint while I was going through my Patrick O’Brian phase. O’Brian wrote a famous series of novels about a British sea captain and ship’s surgeon during the Napoleonic era. This duo is one of the great buddy teams in English literature. Kirk and Spock of the Royal Navy. Bits and pieces of the 20.5 books were mashed up to make the movie “Master and Commander.” They are ripping yarns that were written during the 1970’s to 1990’s but the prose style is spot-on Jane Austin and laced with very dry wit. It’s a thing. There is a cult around these books. A movie, a record album and countless “companion” books have been based on these novels. The “Gastronomic companion” is called “Lobscouse and Spotted Dog.”

Finally, I found this:

Dedicated To the Army of Loyal Workers who, in the name of God and Humanity, have enlisted in this Holy war for the Safety and Purity of Womanhood

“Fighting the Traffic in Young Girls -or- War on the White Slave Trade” published in 1911. The picture at the top of this this post illustrates the lurid images the reader is treated to therein, where we learn that ice cream parlors “largely run by foreigners” are the “first step” in a descent from virtue of the flower of all-American womanhood. “For God’s Sake Do Something!” cries General Booth on the cover. Booth, it so happens, was the founder of the Salvation Army (he was a Methodist minister, not a military general). While forced prostitution is no laughing matter, the fevered prose of this volume strikes the modern ear as out of tune. Again, putting on a French deconstructionist hat, we can infer that American, white, Christian women are uniquely vulnerable to this crime. They are, obviously, the World’s paragons of virtue so preying on them constitues the “Greatest Crime in the World’s history.” The African slave trade apparently pales (excuse the pun) in comparison. This was published shortly after the horrors of King Leopold’s Congo rubber colony were exposed but the millions of “savages” who were murdered are of little consequence, relatively speaking.

There are some real zingers in here:

Shall we defend our American civilization, or lower our flag to the most despicable foreigners—French, Irish, Italians, Jews and Mongolians? We do not speak against them for their nationality, but for their crimes. American traders of equal infamy, to the shame of the American name, have stocked Asiatic cities with American girls.

On the Pacific Coast eternal vigilance alone can save us from a flood of Asiaticism, with its weak womanhood, its men of scant chivalry, its polluting vices and its brothel slavery. Bubonic plague in San Francisco and Seattle was alarming. Mongolian brothel slavery, the Black Death in morals, is more alarming.

On both coasts and throughout all our cities, only an awakening of the whole Christian conscience and intelligence can save us from the importation of Parisian and Polish pollution, which is already corrupting the manhood and youth of every large city in this nation.

Wow. To be fair, the book is unequivocal in it’s condemnation of slavery of all types but it is revealing of the moral relativism and casual racism of that day. This book, which seemed pretty out there, turns out to have been an important polemic of the day. You can still get it on Amazon! Or you can read it at the Gutenberg Project.

One of the great things about browsing old books is walking down avenues you’ve never noticed before. On the other hand, it’s humbling to find there is so much going on you know nothing about.

Did you know Ian Flemming wrote "Chitty, Chitty, Bang, Bang?"

Did you know Ian Flemming wrote "Chitty, Chitty, Bang, Bang?"

Another nice thing about these old books is I finally have a decent place to put them. When we built our house we opted for a library instead of a stuffy “living room” that nobody lives in and is only used for formal occasions. We actually hang out in the library now; reading the paper, playing checkers and whatnot. The only problem is, the shelves are almost full. Carrie and I agree that the old books and classic literature in our collection deserve shelf space but she thinks her Danielle Steele paperbacks deserve space and I think my “Star Trek” companion books do. Surely, you agree with me!

What You Think Matters in Politics, Doesn’t

Posted on Oct 27 2008 | Tagged as: Uncategorized

Many of my friends think the policy positions of the presidential candidates matter to voters. They don’t. Obama will win and McCain will lose. That result was baked in the cake last spring. Nothing either candidate has said will have any impact whatsoever on the outcome. It is funny to see folks get all worked up about the positions of the candidates. Yet again, it’s about-the-economy-stupid. BUT…The important thing to note is the election is NOT about what each candidate promises to do about the economy. It is about where the economy is now, about blaming the incumbent and throwing the bastard out.

Perhaps you’ve noticed the stock market lately.

Is it a coincidence that McCain’s fortunes have plummeted at exactly the same time?

Economic cycles happen. Much as we’d like to think we are in control of thing’s we aren’t. Even in the old Soviet Union there were cycles. If anything, they were worse (though hidden) because planners are even worse than markets at allocating resources. The pickle we are in could be the same no matter which party controlled Congress or the White House but we need somebody to blame. The elder Bush was “unbeatable” after his victory in Gulf War I. No democrat of any stature wanted to challenge him so an obscure governor got the nomination. Then the economy took a downturn right before the election and Bush was out. Carter wasn’t responsible for the “Malaise.” Hoover didn’t cause the depression.

There is a lot of academic research on this stuff going back to the 1970s covering a whole century of elections. Basically you can predict how much of the popular vote the challenging party will get based on growth, Inflation and unemployment, with an adjustment for incumbency. The models are extremely accurate. What doesn’t matter in these models are candidates’ positions! Since the early part of this year, these models have predicted that Obama will win. So, sure, he might have a visionary plan for universal health care, or he’s a closet socialist with a vaguely foreign sounding name, but it just doesn’t matter. It just doesn’t matter. It just doesn’t matter (chant from the movie “Meatballs”).

Good luck to President Obama. He’s going to need it.

“Ancient Chinese Secret, huh?”

Posted on Oct 22 2008 | Tagged as: Uncategorized


Chopstick Greeting

  • As long as I can remember noticing, 30 years ago, say, Chinese take-out places have used the same chopstick sleeve with the same horrible English greeting. Maybe that was forgivable when Nixon went to China but now I believe there are more than several folks in China who speak English quite well. Before the Olympics, the Chinese government found the practice of, er, liberal translations on signage in Beijing embarrassing enough that they sent squads of language police around to “help” business owners fix things. Given that around a million Americans see these sleeves every day, you’d think word would get back to the printer about this. Maybe they screwed up the order back in 1975 and printed 5 billion instead of 50 thousand. They’ll be gone in another 20 years.

    By the way, we said “Peking” back when the chopstick sleeves were written. If stupid Americans can get with the program, why can’t they?

    On the other hand, I read my VERY FIRST useful fortune from a cookie the other day. I keep hoping for something good like “Tomorrow at 3pm you will narrowly avoid being hit by an Entenmann’s bakery truck. The mortified driver will offer you cookies.” Instead I get “Puppies are nice,” or something.

    So anyway, you know how you lose touch with friends and you don’t want it to happen but it just does and the longer you put off contacting them the more guilty you feel about not doing it so you put off doing it some more and weeks become months and then years? I was in that state with a couple people and was trying to screw up my courage to invite them to my big 50th birthday bash. Then I cracked open a stale cookie and got this:

    Naturally, I took it as a sign, got off my ass and lifted my heavy burden with an email (which amazingly was still valid after all the years). Thank goodness the printer for the fortune cookies has a copywriter with decent English skills. The lucky numbers were garbage, though.

    BTW, the title of this post refers to the classic catch phrase in a Calgon laundry additive commercial from the 1970’s.

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