Wednesday, August 23, 2023

Manon's Stick Library

Manon had a brain wave this spring to further redirect the many dogs that come by from messing with her garden. [You might recall a previous effort from 2021] In addition to having a water bowl, she decided to add a stick library.

I was very happy to help her with a sign.

The first version was done with felt tip pens on yellow paper with a plastic cover. It did the job, but within a few weeks, the sunlight had faded it.

Manon decided she needed a better sign. She found a blank wooden oval at Dollarama and asked me to do the lettering with acrylic paint.

Manon giving chalking the sidewalk to inform the users of the library services
The Stick Librarian chalking directions featuring Stick Library Sign Mark I

How we made Stick Library Sign Mark II

Although I have a steady hand with felt tips and pencil crayons, I'm pretty useless with a paint brush. So I made stencils. 

Here's what I did:

  1. Scanned the oval and uploaded the image so I could have the exact shape and size in GIMP (free image manipulation software)
  2. Gave the wooden oval three coats of bright yellow acrylic paint - letting it dry between each coat
  3. Used GIMP to mark out the text with a nice sans-serif font, including the curved bits (had to Google to find out how to curve a line of text with GIMP, but it wasn't too hard).
  4. Printed it on a sheet of paper 
  5. Taped a clear plastic sheet over the paper. 
  6. Making sure to do it in stencil fashion, used an exacto knife to carve out the letters in the plastic.
  7. Taped the plastic stencil sheet over the sign
  8. Painted the letters with black and purple acrylic paint. 
  9. Removed the stencil
  10. Filled in the empty bits of the letters and covered over where the paint spilled outside the stencil lines (mostly)
  11. Glued on the butterfly, flower and heart pieces that Manon had painted
  12. Graciously invited Manon to paint the rim with the colour of her choice, which happened to be silver
  13. Sprayed it with three coatings of a UV-protective coating
  14. Attached the wooden oval to a piece of wood I spray painted yellow a long time ago and attached a rare earth magnet from a discarded hard drive to the wood so the sign would stay attached to the metal bucket (I've had both the wood and the magnet at least 15 years - illustrating why one should never throw anything away that might be useful some day)
A month later, the new sign is still looking very bright.

Impact of the No-Late-Fee Policy?

one of those hard drive magnets screwed to the sign stand
Keep those old computer parts!

While I'm a big fan of libraries encouraging access by not having late fees, I'm afraid that Manon's adoption of the no-late-fee policy means that sticks are seldom returned and the collection is getting depleted. If you have extra sticks hanging around, you'd be welcome to drop them here.

Or we'll just wait until the next derecho

Another impact

It might be my imagination, but I've noticed that when we're out on the patio in the evening, people walking by with their dogs seem to be smiling at us more than they used to.

Saturday, August 05, 2023

Addressing the Sambal Oelek crisis

An empty 3.5 litre sambal oelek jug - is anything sadder?
A heartbreaking sight

The Sriracha - Sambal Oelek crisis continues.

Apparently, Huy Fong is still not getting the hot peppers it needs to make the sauces many of us rely on.

InsideHook reports that many suppliers are getting a "fermented, acidified mash" from the Louisiana Pepper Supply. I would guess this is why we see the many knock-off sriracha brands available at Loblaws, Dollarama and everywhere else.

For me, I'm fine with knock-off sriracha because regular old Huy Fong Sriracha is a fine mild sauce but it's no big deal to me. I can taste that other sauces aren't the same, but they don't bother me. I suspect that David Chan, the boss of Huy Fong doesn't like using someone else's fermented mash and it is entirely likely that a fermented mash isn't appropriate for sambal oelek.

Dave snipping the chilis out on the well-ventilated patio
I hope the shortage ends before winter

Because even if the fermented, acidified mash is okay for sambal oelek, it doesn't seem like anyone is selling any kind of sambal oelek.

I need sambal oelek for my daily existence. And two weeks ago, I finished my last jug.

So... I did my research and learned that sambal oelek is a chili paste condiment from Indonesia and Malaysia made of red chilies, salt and vinegar. I watched four or five videos of people making their own sambal oelek and decided I could do it too.

On a trip out to the burbs, I found myself at Bombay Spices Ottawa and they had little green Thai chilis for sale. I filled a bag and bought them. The cashier felt he should warn me about these chilis. I gave him a patronizing smile.

Back at home, I left them in a container next to the window for about a week so they could ripen.

Then I followed these steps:

  1. Rinsed the chilies
  2. Took everything outside (it was strongly suggested that this would promote domestic harmony because apparently some people experience unpleasant effects from hot peppers being chopped and ground in not fully ventilated areas)
  3. Cut the chilies into a mason jar
  4. Added a spoonful of MSG (most people add salt, but if you're supposed to be low sodium, MSG will apparently enhance the flavour more with less sodium)
  5. Added a glug or two of rice vinegar (I'm sure regular vinegar would be fine, but my rice vinegar is getting old)
  6. Added a bit of tap water
  7. Attached the mason jar to the blender blade (Did you know that mason jars perfectly fit on Osterizer blenders? It's one of those design choices that give me hope for the world)
  8. Ran the blender on "grate" for a few seconds and then "grind" for about 30 seconds 
  9. Voila! I had my own sambal oelek
Mason jar with sambal oelek ingredients on an Osterizer blender base
See! The mason jar fits!

I should note that in a couple of the videos I watched, the cooks sautéed their chilis. But others didn't and I'm lazy, so I did not sauté. Others added onion or garlic. Again, I'm lazy, and besides, why dilute the flavour? So I kept it simple.

I am happy to report that the Thai chilis were in fact hotter than the standard cayennes used in Huy Fong Sambal Oelek. The Thai chilis gave a very pleasant bite to my breakfasts and lunches. According to thrillist, they range from 50,000 to 250,000 Scovilles. Lower than, but overlapping, the 80,000 to 400,000 range of Scotch bonnets. Cayennes max out at the low end of the Thai chili range.

Sadly, my first jar of sambal oelek is all but finished. Next time, I will buy a much larger quantity of raw peppers.

Friday, June 16, 2023

Improving air quality with our new Corsi-Rosenthal Box

This morning, Ottawa has a "Special Air Quality Statement" that says "High levels of air pollution have developed due to smoke from forest fires" and "Wildfire smoke can be harmful to everyone’s health even at low concentrations."

So I am glad that I made a Corsi-Rosenthal Box with five MERV-13 air filters this week!

In case you're thinking of making one, here are some assorted notes:

  • There are a ton of videos out there on how to make a box. I started with How to Build a Corsi-Rosenthal Box featuring Dean Richard Corsi from UC Davis (I mean, his name is on the box).
  • Dean Corsi uses 2" filters. They are probably better than the 1" filters I used. But I couldn't find any 2" filters locally.
  • I got my filters from Home Depot: Filtrete Healthy Living Maximum Allergen Filter MA02DC-3PK-2, 20 in x 20 in x 1 in, 3/Pack 
  • The fan came from Home Hardware: HOME ESSENTIALS 20" Box Fan - with 3 Speeds, White. (An inexpensive fan seems to be fine.)
  • The inexpensive basic blue tape I had on hand was easiest to work with, but  I ran out and had to switch to heavy-duty black Gorilla tape. Next time, I'm going to have lots of the cheap blue stuff around.
  • Corsi demonstrates a 4-filter version that sits on the floor without extra leg supports. That's what I would have done, but I had a fifth filter and a bunch of scrap wood in the basement to make legs so I went with a 5-filter design.
  • On TikTok, I saw a guy from California advocating a version that has a single filter taped to a fan. Apparently, this doesn't help much according to a UC Davis case study: Testing different configurations of do-it-yourself portable air cleaners
  • There are different views on how long the filters are good for. I figure that if the forest fires die out and I only use the box sporadically when people are over, the filters should be good for about a year before I have to get a whole new set.
  • Some people say you don't need cowling to blocks off the corners of the box fan. But Corsi recommends it, so I went with cowling.
  • The little piece of wool that shows the fan is on and shows the direction of air flow is not strictly necessary, but I figure it will do until I can get a miniature version of one of those tube man air dancers they put outside car dealerships.

Wednesday, May 03, 2023

I have a valuable vintage Boggle game

I discovered recently that I have a rare collectible in my game collection. It's a Boggle game from the early '80s.

Boggle has 16 six-sided dice with letters on the side that you mix up in a square grid and then try to identify as many words as you can from adjoining dice in the three minutes it takes for sand to run through a little hour glass.

It turns out that in 1987, after I bought my game, they reissued the game with the letters rearranged differently. And while there doesn't seem to have been any official announcement about why, people have noticed that the F and the K are now on the same cube. 

This means that when you play the "new" Boggle, you'll never find words that contain both F and K. Like "funky" or "firetruck".

But if you play Boggle at my house, those words could appear.


Wednesday, April 19, 2023

My sixth shot

I'm just back from getting my 6th shot - the latest Moderna bivalent. 

I'm eligible because I'm immuno-compromised not because I'm an old guy. 

But the nurse might have thought that I am an old guy because when we discovered the sleeves were too tight to pull up for the shot. I said "You know what? I'm sick of this shirt. Have you got a pair of scissors?" 

She made me do the initial cut, but helped me tear the shirt enough to do the injection. 

It was all over less than a minute later and I barely felt it go in.

Friday, April 14, 2023

Fellow residents of Ottawa: You are welcome

Do you remember March 3, 2023? We got 15 cm of snow. It was the fourth big dump of snow this calendar year. After tuckering myself out shovelling, I decided to shell out the bucks and order an electric snow shovel.

It arrived on March 10.

Since then we've had a few flurries that melted before I could even get outside with the new shovel. 

Was my purchase of an expensive electric shovel the reason we received no more significant snow falls? I see no other explanation.

I regret that my purchase did not prevent the ice storm with its resulting tree destruction and power failures, I think the fault for that probably lies with someone who was thinking of buying a generator but didn't.

Yesterday, it went up to 30°C. Right now, it's 21°C. I imagine someone
is thinking I should move the electric shovel to the basement and the boots next to it to the closet.

But rest assured my fellow winter sufferers, I will keep these things by the door a while yet.

And I will also hold off on putting the summer tires on the car.

Monday, April 10, 2023

Terrible news: Huy Fong's Sambal Oelek

On Saturday morning, I made the trek up to Somerset Street to shop at the Lim Bangkok. I wanted some of their excellent bok choy and gai lan, but I needed a bottle of hoisin sauce and I thought it would be a good idea to get a new 3.5 litre jug of sambal oelek because I am getting low - only  a couple of weeks left.

And I need my sambal oelek. It is a straight-forward and simple blend of ground cayenne peppers, salt and vinegar. I eat it with every meal. Particularly breakfast. 

At the Lim Bangkok, I started in the sauce and oil aisle. Found a bottle of hoisin sauce no problem. But where were the jugs of sambal oelek? Not in the regular place. No 3.5 litre jugs, with or without garlic and not even the little 8 or 18 ounce jars. I feverishly checked the other aisles in case the jugs were moved. But I was not hopeful. The Superstore moves things on a regular basis. I assume to make us walk back and forth in the store more and interact with the staff, but I haven't seen products shift spots at the Lim Bangkok in ten years.

So, I picked out healthy bags of bok choy and gai lan and a bundle of green onions and went to the cash. The cashier whom I suspect is the owner is always friendly, so I asked about the sambal oelek.

"The factory is closed," he told me.

"Forever?" I asked.

"Don't know if they will come back."

After a sad trudge home, I did some internet sleuthing. News reports indicated that Huy Fong Foods who makes sambal oelek (and the very popular Sriracha sauce) had suspended operations in 2022 because of the world wide cayenne pepper shortage, but there was no news about a current suspension.

The Huy Fong Foods website actually has an easy-to-find email address for their customer service office! So I sent an email:

Subject: Is your factory closed? 

I am in Ottawa, Canada and I went to the nearby market called Lim Bangkok to buy a new jug of Sambal Oelek. I was surprised to find none at all. Not even in small jars.

The store owner told me that your factory is closed and he didn't know what would happen.

I read that you had to suspend production last year. Has the same thing happened again?

Will I one day be able to obtain your sauce that adds such pleasure to my life?

I understand that this is harder for you and all the people at Huy Fong. I wish you all the best.

Thank you,

This morning I received this reply:


Unfortunately, we are still experiencing a shortage of raw material. Although some production did resume this past Fall season, we continue to have a limited supply that continues to affect our production. At this time, we have no estimations of when supply will increase.

Because we do not sell directly to retail/market levels, we cannot determine when product will hit shelves again and/or who currently has product in stock. We are grateful for your continued patience and understanding during this unprecedented inventory shortage.  We are currently working on trying to avoid future shortages.

Thank you,
Customer Service

There you have it. In a very short time, it seems that I will have no sambal oelek. It's going to be harder to motivate myself to get out of bed in the morning.