How A Walking Tour I Couldn’t Take Helped Me Learn How to Get More Out Of Travel

In 1988 when I was 18 years old and fairly naïve, I went on a school trip to London and Paris, graciously financed by my parents. Leading up to this trip, I had done little to no pre-planning, figuring, without any concrete evidence to support it, that « The school chaperone knew London and Paris, and would no doubt be an excellent tour guide. »

These were famous last words.

The school chaperone’s familiarity with London and Paris was probably at best that of a seasoned traveller who had passed through these two cities a few times, and who had done a bit of pre-planning for this trip; in reality, in my no doubt clouded view, she came across to me as hardly the enthusiastic, tireless tour guide with a boundless, intimate knowledge of the locales I somehow expected her to have been. This of course is not her fault; one can hardly ever live up to being as good as the expectations hoisted upon them.

Don’t get me wrong; the trip was great, and the school chaperone was effective at chaperoning a small group of 17 to 19 year olds, and dare I say even moderately effective at being a tour guide. In fact, I’m probably being ungrateful, and she was no doubt a fairly good tour guide.

I did nonetheless have a rather enjoyable tour, having visited various museums and attractions in London such as The London Dungeon (a favourite for me), the Tower of London, Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum, and the War Cabinet Rooms. Speaker’s Corner one Sunday morning was a highlight of the trip.

I also found it curious though memorable one day when a number of us in the group decided to visit a London pub at roughly 3:30pm, only to find the doors locked; the publican did eventually open the doors for us. This was in the day when English pubs still closed for a time in the afternoon, due to a law from the First World War meant to curb excessive drinking by munitions production workers.

In Paris, we visited the Champs Élysées, l’Arc de Triomphe, and, if I recall correctly, Le Rond Point du Champs Élysées.

I remember a person in our group being rather almost obsessed with the crêpes street vendors were selling; as I recall, he favoured the Nutella spread. I myself indulged in bringing to life a French stereotype, that of walking down a Parisian street eating a baguette. On one of Paris’ bridges over the Seine River, I haggled with a street artist for a charcoal drawing of myself. I remember being fascinated by the abundance of chestnuts littering the ground and streets in some neighbourhoods.

The charcoal drawing of myself drawn by a street artist in Paris on a bridge over the Seine River in 1988

A critical point in the trip came on the day before we returned home, when we were crossing the English Channel from France back to London to stay the night before going to the airport the following day, and ultimately returning home back to Canada. There was a dock strike, as I recall on the Dover side, which delayed us by a good six or eight hours while waiting in Calais for limited space on the minimal ferry service which was operating. We were lucky when we finally arrived in Dover; the bus driver for the charter to take us to London had patiently waited through the delay for us, aware that our absence at the appointed hour was no doubt directly as a result of the dock strike.

Upon arrival at the hostel (which was different from the first hostel at which we had stayed earlier when in London) at roughly 18:00 or thereabouts, I noted a promotional tourist pamphlet at the reception desk for a « Jack the Ripper Walking Tour » which began at about 19:30. The timing was such that I figured I could quickly place my bag in the room and then travel over to the meeting point for the walking tour. However, I quietly and somewhat reluctantly, though probably wisely, realized that in a group setting on the night before returning home, this would be logistically less than perfectly easy to arrange for several in the group. Perhaps – probably – it was something that the chaperone would frown upon, having already had choice words about some innocent but clearly gullible behaviour of mine several days earlier at an attraction, at which I also managed to get separated from the group for about an hour.

I went home disappointed that had I known in advance about this walking tour, I probably would have keenly tried to insert it into the group schedule when we would have had the time to do it, or on an evening when a small willing party from the group could have gone. I did not resent the dock strike for having deprived me of the opportunity, even though all things being equal, had the dock strike not occurred and we’d made it back across to London several hours earlier as had been originally scheduled, there would have been a good chance that participation could have been arranged, or at least realistically considered.

I went home regretting not being able to go on the walking tour, squarely placing the blame on myself for having assumed that « The school chaperone knew London and Paris, and would no doubt be an excellent tour guide. »

About two years later, my parents went to London on a trip of their own; I was envious, wanting to correct my prior travel errors. The next year when they repeated their trip, I even listened for the first time to the walking tour cassette tapes I’d received three years earlier on my trip, and I became really envious of my parents, and I wanted to return to London.

Almost four years after the London and Paris trip, my parents brought my older brother and I to New York City over the Christmas holidays, and, as you can imagine, I planned out some attractions I would have liked to visit. My brother and I went to a winemaking shop I’d sought out (since I had recently taken up the hobby), taking the famed New York Subway; we visited the ConEdison Museum; and we patronized an electronics store to purchase a CD player for a home stereo I had. Passing by Rockefeller Plaza, we even decided on the spur of the moment to take a tour of the New York NBC studios, where we visited the studio for Saturday Night Live, as well as the studio for Late Night with David Letterman. This latter studio was a surprisingly small studio which on TV benefited from special camera lenses which made the studio appear larger. While hardly all trip defining or even noteworthy attractions, my brother later confided in me that he was glad that I’d planned out a few attractions to visit since he hadn’t done any such planning; I related to him having been disappointed in myself over not having done any research for the above-mentioned London and Paris trip and had as a result done some planning for this trip.

In the intervening years, I went on a couple more smaller trips, each time researching in advance to various degrees the various sites and attractions that I could visit.

One fateful day at the beginning of August, 2003, a bit over fifteen years after the school trip to London and Paris, my mother, now recently widowed, made an offhanded remark, perhaps just idly speaking aloud a passing thought without really being too serious. « I think I’d like to go to London in October. »

Without losing a beat, I replied « May I join you? »

And so began the trip of a lifetime for me.

I began planning my trip, while my mother planned hers. Plane tickets were purchased, and a bachelor apartment rented by the week was reserved, which we shared during the trip. I hit the internet, at a time when it was just beginning to grow and be useful as a means to plan such a holiday. I searched for festivals, museums, shows, recommendations, landmarks, tourist attractions, and the like. After I had spent several weeks researching a wide variety of museums and attractions, I felt satisfied with my research. At this point, a hunch lurked in my head, which fortunately didn’t backfire the way it had in 1988: I knew that while I had found a good variety of things to do and see, I also knew that I had found roughly only enough for about half the trip; however, I decided that I would leave the other half to chance findings once in London, something that fortunately worked well for me during the trip.

My trip brought me to several museums and local attractions, such as:

  • The changing of The Guard at Buckingham Palace, but I was disappointed because it was ultimately either cancelled or severely curtailed due to the rain;
  • The London Science Museum
  • The Charles Dickens museum, located in one of the homes occupied by the writer;
  • “The Mouse Trap” at St. Martin’s Theatre
Me at the London Dungeon in 2003
  • The London Dungeon, whose layout and exhibits had been changed enough from those in 1988, and which in 2003, had a greater emphasis on Jack the Ripper, as well as an indoor slow roller coaster type ride to bring visitors through a portion of the various exhibits;
  • The Medieval Banquet, which was good fun albeit slightly contrived, with actors and animators costumed in what I would describe as 1940’s to 1960’s historical and period Hollywood movie attire (think Robin Hood movies prior to Kevin Costner in 1991.)
  • The Museum of London, which seemed to grow larger and larger through every door and passage I went, and in which I found a fully constructed house. I was fascinated by the presence of this house in general, but particularly because there was a toilet room separate from the main bathroom, a characteristic I found curious and very interesting, especially since I had only ever seen it before or since in my grandparents’ house;
  • Covent Gardens, which I visited a few times, including one spectacular Saturday with the clearest blue skies and beautiful mild weather one could ask for;
  • Pollock Toy Museum, which was spread over two neighbouring Victorian-era houses, each of which were similarly high, but one having one more floor than the other as a result of shorter ceilings;
  • The Imperial War Museum;
  • The HMS Belfast, a World War II era ship-turned-into-a-museum;
  • The Victoria and Albert Museum at which I recall having seen a good amount of iron works which were saved from being melted down for their iron value during World War II;
  • The Clink Museum, located in London’s oldest prison;
  • St. Paul’s Cathedral
  • Shakespeare’s Globe Theater. which was rebuilt on a site 400 metres away from the site where the original had burned down, and the “new” buildings on that site were listed historical buildings which could not be demolished for the Globe Theatre project.

Unplanned visits included:

  • The London Eye, which I did not actually ride in;
  • Southwark Cathedral;
  • The Swiss Bells in Leicester Square, visited twice;
  • The Sherlock Holmes Museum, yes, at 221B Baker Street (resulting from having taken a Sherlock Holmes themed walking tour);
  • Three walking tours.

This is not an exhaustive list; there are several more museums and tourist attractions that I visited.

Having been an avid geocacher at the time, I also researched in advance a small handful of geocaches to find if and when an empty afternoon were to present itself; this proved useful, since at the time, Zone 1 in London on Sundays appeared to virtually shut down, and there were few activities, attractions, and the like open for tourists, or just about anyone else. (But I do recall having found a walking tour, and having gone to Speaker’s corner, on the Sunday morning.)

This activity led me to finding geocaches at The London Stone; Postman’s Park beside the London City Presbyterian Church, across from the Museum of London; and St. John’s Garden, a short walk over from Farringdon Tube Station. As I recall, all three were fairly easily walk-able each from the others within the afternoon, and that I indeed had planned out the route in advance as a function of being able to walk from one to the next to the next.

Another highlight of the trip was the ubiquitous presence of pubs in Zone 1. I generally avoided well known restaurants – in fact, I don’t recall having gone to a chain restaurant, or at least one I recognized as being part of a chain, at all during the trip. Certainly, besides the ubiquitous presence of Starbucks and a few Krispy Kreme Donuts franchises (the latter of which I was obsessed with at the time, but which I did not consume while on the trip), I don’t even recall having seen any other well known chains, including McDonald’s. Eating at pubs was a pleasant way to eat for me: In Zone 1, it seemed to me that when I wanted to have a meal, all I had to do was stop where I was, and if there wasn’t a pub more or less in front of me, all I had to do was walk a block or two either to the left or the right, and I was bound to find a pub that served food. It was a wonderful dining experience for me! Interestingly, it did not occur to me until writing this post that, assuming that at some point I tried to enter a pub mid-afternoon, that I never dealt with a mid-afternoon pub closing hours.

In between, my vacation and my mother’s coincided on a daily basis. It was not unusual for her to show me the occasional attraction, and of course often enough we dined together, as well as of course having shared an apartment during the trip.

And, having done my research in advance, I had found information on the “Jack the Ripper Walking Tour”, in which I participated early on during my trip.

During my research prior to leaving on the trip, I found the website for “London Walks”, and it announced that a well known expert on Jack the Ripper, Donald Rumbelow, would be leading the walk one evening while I was to be in London.

Leading up to my trip and on the advice of a friend, I bought a book on the subject of one of the various theories as to the identity of Jack the Ripper. I read much of the book in the time leading up to the trip, and indeed in the time leading up to when I took the walking tour once already in London.

I made a point of showing up at the appointed time and place on the evening that the walk was advertised to be lead by the well known expert. The walk was entertaining, visiting several of the key places surrounding the stories, evidence, and legends and lore of the Jack the Ripper story. I thoroughly enjoyed the tour and listening to the stories. One of the more amusingly memorable parts of the walk was when the group was brought through an area known as a gathering spot for skateboarders, and we had been warned in advance by the tour guide “Whenever I bring a group through here, I never know what to expect.” Indeed, we were not disappointed: One of the skateboarders saw our group, took his shirt off, and called out to us “I’m Jack the Stripper!”, much to our collective bemusement, giggles, and guffaws.

I asked the tour guide what he thought about the particular theory presented in the book I’d read. He politely dismissed it as just another author unfamiliar with Ripperology trying to capitalize on the subject. He went on to state that in his opinion, it consisted of connecting circumstantial evidence together insufficiently well, and that it lacked sufficiently substantial proof to connect the person in question above all others, given the available (and sometimes lack of) evidence in the case. As I see it, ultimately, the Jack the Ripper case is at its core indeed so fraught with insufficient and conflicting evidence, and in the meantime so much legend, lore and a certain romantic notion surrounding the mystery have been created around it, that it will continue for a long time to be ripe for many to capitalize on the subject – in an indirect sense, myself included here. But I digress.

The defining raîson d’être for my trip having been fulfilled, I continued with my trip as described above, thoroughly enjoying the various attractions I visited, and was enthralled by the vacation. Here are my pictures from the trip.

For many seasoned travellers, the above seems to be an easily compiled list of obvious and easy to implement options that so many tourists visit in London. Yet, in a lot of ways, it was the kind of trip that I’d wished my first trip fifteen years earlier in 1988 had been, and which I thoroughly enjoyed in 2003.

There was a key difference, however: I became personally invested in planning out the trip, and planned it out accordingly, in advance. I of course enjoyed myself due to the inherent value of the various sights and attractions; however, it was also due to how well it was being executed and the extensive planning I’d done.

As a result, in 2003, I managed to go full circle and participate in the walking tour that I would have loved to go on but missed out on in 1988, because of my lack of planning and engagement, not because of a dock strike, and certainly not for any rational basis to be disappointed in the school chaperone as a tour guide.

Katadyn Pocket filter capacity: The verdict is in

I purchased a Katadyn Pocket filter in 2012 for a variety of reasons, the principal amongst which was to have drinking water at my cottage during the off season (winter) when the water system is turned off to protect it from freezing. Issues such as not wanting to depend on neighbours and even just whether or not the neighbours were there, the relative convenience of having as much water as I was willing to filter when I wanted regardless of the hour, and not having to transport very large quantities of water from the city, circled through my head.

Like so many other people, I repeated in my blog the 50,000 litre nominal capacity of the filter cartridge as a deciding factor in the purchase of this particular filter. Despite having accepted the value as a ballpark figure to mean “you’ll get lots and lots and lots of water, a few orders of magnitude more than other filters”, I also recognized the ballpark nature of the figure, and that actual capacity would vary (possibly considerably) according to real world conditions such as varying water quality and just how vigorously one might clean the filter cartridge. Unfortunately, I have been disappointed with just how variable this figure has actually proven to be in my case.

In 2016, I began wondering about the real life capacity of the filter cartridge, given a noticeable change in pumping experience filtering water from my artesian well instead of melted snow from my front yard at the cottage. The obvious visual wear of the filter gave me a reference point, and, having kept notes, I revealed that since purchase and up to that point, I’d only filtered roughly 1,500 litres. I had estimated that I might attain a very rough total capacity of 3,000 litres.

In 2017, I had passed a benchmark: The plastic gauge that had come with the unit had passed over the filter, at about 1,650 litres, and by the time I’d written the post, I’d reached 1,750 litres. This represented 3.5% of the nominal 50,000 litre capacity. I mused over the lack of any reported real life capacities that I could find on the internet, going through some hypothetical arithmetic I was able to develop from one source.

I knew that I wouldn’t get anywhere near the oft-touted 50,000 litres. In anticipation of needing a replacement filter cartridge, I went to a store selling them, hesitantly because the replacement part has a fairly expensive price. I purchased a replacement, and was pleasantly surprised to get a 73.2% discount on the price at the counter (for reasons unknown). I surmised that a part of the discount was since the unit was in a box that had obviously been opened and resealed, although why it was so significant still eludes me. The only thing in my favour were the local consumer protection regulations requiring that in the case of a difference between the advertised price and the price at the counter, the consumer gets either up to a $10 discount from the advertised price if lower than the value at the register, or the value of the register price if lower than the correct price.

Since January, 2017, when the gauge passed over the filter unit, I have been bringing somewhat more water up to the cottage, up to five gallons at a time instead of just a single gallon, in order to somewhat extend the life of the filter cartridge. I have been continuing to use the original filter unit, wanting to take full advantage of its lifespan.

During my most recent weekend to the cottage in April, 2019, I began filtering water as usual. The filter had been cleaned and bleached prior to use. However, the filter quickly clogged, and suddenly, the plunger went down quickly; the unit’s internal pressure had been sufficient to collapse that which remained of the filter.  

The collapsed filter, note that the element has been worn and significantly ablated

It should be noted that the filter failure was due to the fact that over time and hundreds of filter cleanings, it had been physically worn away, and therefore the failure was due to it being thin (about 1mm to 2mm thick) and not because I’m inventing a frivolous claim of manufacturing defect.

I also have a definitive capacity of the cartridge I received with the original  purchase, under the various conditions of water quality I filter and maintenance: approximately 2197.5 litres (let’s round that up to 2,200 litres), or 4.4% of the stated 50,000 litre capacity. It was used up over seven off seasons at the cottage, providing a significant amount of the drinking quality water needed for cooking, cleaning, and drinking.

It seems that I didn’t get anywhere near the nominal capacity. Sigh.

Now it’s time to see how much capacity I get out of the second filter.

Cooking soup with single burner portable stoves for a crowd

As I recall, I began cooking big batches of soup (eight quarts and more) for my church’s after-service social time / coffee hour in early 2013.

On a lark, I had decided one winter Saturday afternoon that it would be a good idea to make soup the following morning during the church service and serve it during the after-service social time / coffee hour. I sought out a recipe on the internet for “big batch vegetable soup”, which sent me to a recipe on the Martha Stewart website for four quarts. The recipe suggested that it was very flexible, so I chose the ingredients I liked, ignored those I didn’t, and doubled the numbers to make eight quarts, the size of a large stainless steel pot I had. The next morning, I bought the requisite ingredients on my way to church, and upon arrival, I just started making the soup in the church kitchen during the service. During coffee hour, it was a modest hit; all of the soup was served, with none left over.

Since then, my soup recipe, having evolved somewhat from Martha Stewart’s, has become a small yet (I hope an) integral part of what has become a larger occasionally recurring food event.

This is in no small part due to a comment I received from a fellow parishioner that Sunday morning in early 2013. By the time she managed to come to my service table, the soup had cooled too much for her liking; this prompted me to invest in an inexpensive portable counter top single burner electric stove. At the least, the theory went, I could cook the soup in the church kitchen, and then upon bringing it out to the hall for serving, I could keep it hot. Since then, however, I have shifted to cooking the soup in the hall where it has been served, avoiding in the process the danger of walking through a hall with a large pot of boiling soup at a time when it starts filling with people.

I have since invested in the following:

  • a double burner counter top portable stove;
  • two more inexpensive single burner electric counter top stoves;
  • a somewhat more expensive, single burner induction counter top stove;
  • two 50 foot, 12 gauge extension cords, one of which normally does not get used;
  • and, already having had an eight quart stainless steel stock pot, I bought:
    • an eight quart stainless steel pot I found at a steal of a price at a second hand shop;
    • a slightly used 16 quart stainless steel stock pot at a steal of a price at a second hand shop;
    • a new 20 quart stainless steel pot for a steal of a price at a grocery store.

In a number of ways, portable counter top stoves are central, however indirectly, to the success of the soup I make, despite the relatively large volumes of soup I now occasionally make.

Over time, I have learned how to make large quantities of crowd-pleasing soup while also discovering some of the limits of counter top stoves, as well the upper limits of the environment in which I am using them.

My single burner, traditional coil stoves are rated at 1000 watts each (8.33A @ 120V). My double burner coil stove is rated for a total of 1500 watts (12.5A @ 120V). My single burner induction stove is rated at 1800 watts (15A @ 120V).

In my experience, it is possible to make the following capacities of my vegetable soup (your results may vary according to your soup recipe):

  • 1000 watt single burners:

I find that these units may be used for making eight quarts of soup in a two hour period, and 16 quarts if you have at least three hours to make it. (As a second burner, it also allows for the frying up of vegetables that are later added to the soup pot, although depending on your site conditions, you may not be able to operate both burners simultaneously at maximum capacity.)

  • 1500 watt, double burners:

I am able to make two eight quart pots of soup in a two hour to two and a half hour period.

  • 1800 watt, single burner induction stove:

Particularly ideal for making eight quarts of soup in less than two hours, and it will handily make 16 quarts of soup in a couple of hours. It will also bring 20 quarts of soup to a boil in just over two hours.

Planning, preparation, and logistics of “mobile cooking” for a crowd

This post is not on how to cook a full, multi-course meal or buffet for a large crowd; rather, it is about just a relatively small part of it. As described later and despite describing the portable stoves as being central to the cooking of the soup which is one of the two subjects of this post, attempting to cook a full, multi-course meal or buffet for a large crowd with consumer grade portable cookware, and in environments not set up for such cookery, is impractical at best; to do so would require planning and menu design far beyond the perview of this post.

Setting up and preparation:

Often when traveling to cook for a crowd, one is doing so in an environment that is unfamiliar, and depending on the circumstances (such as the type of hall in which I make soup for a crowd), is not set up for doing so.

From a cooking perspective, this means that I normally do more than simply collect the soup ingredients and throw them into a pot, hoping that tasty soup will come out a couple of hours later. Often, this means now that while cooking the soup takes place in the church hall, I prepare the ingredients in advance at home, typically the day before. Fresh vegetables are cleaned, chopped, and placed in containers for transport. Usually, they are mixed together, and even the olive oil is added and mixed in. Frozen vegetables are taken out of the freezer the day before in order to defrost them at least somewhat, so as to reduce the amount of time required to defrost them during cooking. I also transport all the fresh food in a cooler.

Equipment-wise, I bring most of what I need for the cooking part. (Fortunately, my church has tables, tablecloths, chairs, dishes, a commercial dishwasher, and the like.) Of course I bring the portable stoves and my pots, however I also bring my own cast iron fry pans and cooking utensils, such as spatula, ladle, and can opener. I even bring my own towels for cleaning up my area, which of course I launder myself.

Real life challenges to using portable stoves in areas not designed for cooking

I once agreed to making the soup for my church for the Fall Fair Luncheon, at which the soup would be the main dish. This was in contrast to my normally serving it informally in a mug as I usually do during Sunday coffee hour — sometimes on its own, sometimes as part of a modest luncheon — after the church service. This meant that I attempted to make a total of 44 quarts of my soup simultaneously in the same church hall. I came upon a reality of what I can only presume is a common condition of many halls not expressly designed (or recently upgraded) for high electrical demands, such as cooking for the very crowds they were designed to welcome. “That’s why there’s a kitchen, silly!”

I ended up learning definitively that the hall in which I was cooking the soup had only one electrical circuit, with what I was told (and which I later confirmed) was a 20 amp fuse. A quick addition in my head indicated that at its peak when I was trying to bring all 44 quarts of soup to a boil simultaneously, I was trying to consume between 29.6 to 31.7 amps on what proved to be a single 120V / 20A circuit!

(Note: I live in Canada, where the mains voltage is 120 volts, and unless specifically designed otherwise, circuits and circuit breakers — and in the still common situations where fuses are still used — are generally designed and set for 15 amp loads. I can only assume that the 20 amp fuse in place upon which I normally rely is there legitimately.)

It also led to what I consider to be an unfortunate conclusion, in the context of my desire to publicly (as opposed to hidden away in the kitchen) make my soup for a large crowd: The electrical outlets in many halls, designed and built decades ago, are often served by a single electrical circuit. Hall and home builders simply never envisioned nor intended for cooking, which often requires a large amount of electricity, to occur outside of a kitchen; at most, they may have assumed that someone might plug in the equivalent of a plate warmer, possibly two, to keep a casserole or two warm.

This led to my realizing that making my soup for the church had its limits. With some patience, I could still make my soup in relatively “small” quantities — usually up to 16 quarts at a time, and perhaps if I reduced the heat a bit at certain times, perhaps fry up the vegetables at the same time. However, the fuses blowing a few times confirmed that large quantities of soup — and more generally, large scale cooking — could not be cooked simultaneously in an area not set up for the loads required for cooking. This means that despite the fact that a “large hall” may have many outlets, unless the hall was designed or since upgraded for heavy electrical loads, there is a good chance that the many outlets are in fact all on a single electrical circuit.

Although I purchased all of my portable stoves for cooking in non-traditional areas, as I’ve learned, their value for cooking in certain circumstances is limited to actual cooking of relatively small amounts of food — as in, depending on which stoves are chosen for use, that which may be cooked on one or two portable stoves at a time — and only keeping warm to hot larger quantities of food that have already been heated up, only then using more of my portable stoves at once.

Which leads me to the following conclusion: Portable cookware are very useful tools for the traveling cook, but one must not have have illusions of “feeding the multitude” based solely on these tools.

Captain Obvious Update Comment: Putting aside (possibly sardonic) suggestions of “use the kitchen, silly”, it has occurred to me that some may say “well use a portable gas stove to avoid the problem with electrical limits”. To me, the obvious issue becomes one of ventilation being required to avoid the buildup of combustion gases, particularly carbon monoxide. Some may well bring a fan to prop in a nearby open window in order to assure extraction; this would require such a window can be conveniently located. Yes, I have an opinion on that subject, too, to the order of old windows that were never designed to be opened, or which have been long since painted shut. 🙂

Document Formatting When Joining Texts From Various Sources

I have mounted, on a volunteer basis and in a lay capacity, the annual reports for a community group to which I belong since about 2008.

Up to that point, the group’s annual reports were individual committee reports delivered to the secretary, individually printed out as and when received, and then stapled together with handwritten pages numbers when it had to be distributed, with an added cover page, and an extra page listing the reports and their page numbers. This did have the charm of not requiring a herculean effort and time requirement in both mounting the report, and on “printing day”, to print literally a thousand pages or more, depending on the number of pages to the report and the number of copies to be drawn. Admittedly, it does not take into account possible collating, as per how one might print out the reports (ie. pages with colour drawings and photos vs black and white, etc.).

The year I took on mounting the annual report, I believed that the annual reports should have been in an electronic format such as PDF so that it could be placed on the group’s website. But that was barely the beginning of why I took on the job.

To fulfill the technical goal of making a PDF for download from the website was not too difficult. Two easy options would have been to either scan the report once produced the “old fashioned way” and produce a PDF from all the images, or, at least for those received in electronic format, create individual PDF documents plus scan for those received on paper, then use a PDF joiner to string the PDF files together into a single document. In fact, at the time, I gathered as many previous annual reports as I could and scanned them, making them available on the website.

However, going forward, I did not consider either option to be satisfactory.

The aesthetic appearance of the annual report irked me. It wasn’t the old school printing on paper — to this day, I still print lots of paper copies for distribution. Rather, I saw an opportunity to put to the test some angst stemming from a bit over a decade earlier when the community group’s recipe book to which I’d contributed led to my having had a few ideas on improvements to the text’s basic formatting and overall layout. (The actual recipes, variety, organization, editing, and recipe testing that I learned went on behind the scenes, and the like, were beyond the scope of my interest, although one common error, separate from my angst, was a mild nuisance.) I of course wisely kept my opinions to myself, both at the time of the recipe book in the mid 1990’s, as well as at the time of initially volunteering to mount the annual report.

As can be surmised from the above, each report came from almost as many different people as there were reports, depending on how many committee reports given individuals would take on. Each person would typically type their report on their computer and email it to the office, or perhaps print it out at home and drop it off at the group’s office personally. They used whichever word processor they had: Sometimes simple text editors, or MS Write, or MS Word, presumably ranging through Word 98, Word 2003, and Word 2006. Presumably some people had Macs with whichever word processor they might have had. I believe that the secretary, who was sometimes typing up the reports which were submitted handwritten, was using a version of Wordperfect. Finally, I was submitting my reports at that point using OpenOffice.org. Presumably, there may have been other text editors or word processors used. Each instance presented a random opportunity for default settings to be different, as well as for the user to change the settings to those that suited their own personal taste.

As a result, each report predictably had formatting unique to each author, sometimes unique to each individual report, if two or more reports were submitted by the same person.

The various differences in formatting in the reports received included the following, without being an exhaustive list:

– varying text fonts and font sizes, and occasionally, more than one of either or both in a given report;
– varying line spacing;
– varying paragraph indentation, including lack thereof;
– line jumps or lack thereof between paragraphs;
– varying page margin widths;
– varying text alignment, typically either left justified, or left and right justified;
– the occasional use of italics over the whole document, beyond that which would normally be used;
– the inclusion or lack of section titles, sometimes (or not) rendered bold and/or italicised and/or underlined and/or capitalized;
– tables listing figures in formats unique to each table and report, or simple lists with varying bullet styles;
– varying spelling conventions, ie. American vs. British vs. Canadian spellings (ie. neighbor vs. neighbour, or center vs. centre);
– varying naming conventions: Sometimes full names, sometimes initialized first names with full last names, sometimes full first names with initialized last names, or sometimes very informally with only first names;
– varying honourific format conventions: sometimes honourifics, titles, and/or ranks would not be used, with persons simply named, and sometimes referred to with variations of their title such as Reverend, Rev., The Reverend, The Rev., etc.
– varying naming conventions for committee names, multi-word names, places, and the like, which were sometimes fully spelled out, and sometimes initialized, abbreviated, and / or contracted;
– etc.

As such, as alluded to in a previous post, minor changes and differences in formatting between the individual reports created subtle (or, depending on the changes, more obvious) visual changes in how each report appeared compared to each other, when joined and printed on paper or read on a computer screen. Multiple permutations and combinations of the above formatting issues often led to creating wildly varying end results which go beyond the subtle, creating a patchwork of formatting over the multiple reports joined together into a single document. This may be jarring to the eye of some readers, particularly when it is not a subtle, unified, overarching design choice, but rather the result of a decided lack of unified design choice.

This link shows a hypothetical example of how such a report could look (you’ll need a PDF reader) — with various individual reports each having unique blends of formatting as compared to each other. Note that I intentionally use the “Lorem Ipsum” text so as to highlight the formatting.

The obligatory let’s tie it all together part at the end:

When I collect the individual reports and create one document, I cut and paste all the electronic reports (and rarely, type up handwritten reports) into a single document, imposing a uniform text formatting throughout in the form of a standard font, font size, line spacing, (lack of) paragraph indentation, page margins, and standardized and / or uniform versions of the other items above. Pages are automatically numbered, and standard page headers and footers are automatically added throughout, with date codes to distinguish between earlier and later versions. Basic spelling and typing conventions are applied and made uniform. Note that I don’t dictate or edit writing style, so one report might have section headers, while another may not, nor do I edit for turns of phrase and the like.

This link shows the above hypothetical report changed (you’ll need a PDF reader) to show the same reports with some basic text formatting across the whole document made uniform, while allowing each author’s text flow (and implicitly, were each text to be unique, writing style as well) to remain relatively untouched.

Have I addressed my angst from the mid 1990’s? Yes.

Is the document formatting on the annual reports I produce every year a work in progress, with subtle improvements, changes, and the like every year? Of course.

A text formatting riddle

I’d like to propose my version of a little visual puzzle I saw years ago. In the following table, the same text is repeated in each cell. In eight of the cells, an element of formatting has been changed from the appearance of the text using a basic set of formatting, while the ninth contains, in this case, the default settings on my wordprocessor on my system. The riddle is to find which cell has not been modified as compared to the other eight. (View a slightly larger version of the table here.)

A hint of sorts: What the basic formatting settings are, or which word processor I used on which system or OS, all represent red herrings to solving which is “the original”, or “vanilla”, version.

a text formatting puzzle

Scroll down for the solution.
Scroll down to see the solution
The solution is B2, the cell / square in the centre of the table.

All the other cells have one thing changed from the B2’s qualities.

A1) The font was changed (from a Serif font to a Sans Serif font);
A2) The font size was changed to a slightly larger point size;
A3) The cell’s background colour was changed to a light grey;
B1) The text was italicized;
B2) Standard, unchanged text using my word processor’s standard settings;
B3) The text colour was lightened from a standard black to a grey;
C1) The text was capitalized;
C2) The text was made bold;
C3) The text’s line spacing was increased.

Besides at the core being what I perceive to be a fun riddle, it demonstrates how subtle differences can be made to standard document formatting in a variety of ways. It also alludes to the challenges presented by receiving documents from multiple sources for integration into a single document, such as a community group’s newsletter, or a community group’s annual report, presenting content and / or reports from its various members, leaders, subgroups, committees, and the like. In a forthcoming post, I will further discuss basic issues of varying formatting, and the need for standard formatting in a text document from the perspective of a layman editor of a community group’s annual report.

This past weekend, I made more pickled eggs. A lot of them.

This past weekend, I made over 19 dozen pickled eggs, produced over three consecutive “double batches” of my recipe, all in one day; this was a single-day record for me. According to my recipe for pickled eggs, a batch is about two and a half to three dozen eggs, depending on the size of mason jars used (the volumes and number of eggs in each jar play around with the pickling solution per egg required.)

In July 2018, I described my then-recent experiences over several sessions making large numbers of eggs in anticipation of a flea market at which I then sold my pickled eggs.

For this weekend’s production, I had started a week prior with an impulse purchase of seven dozen eggs to take advantage of a sale; the roughly six dozen for a double batch of pickled eggs, and roughly a dozen leftover for general use in the kitchen. A couple of days later, I bought another seven dozen eggs. Finally, on pickling day this weekend, I bought yet another six dozen eggs. I had begun with a vague notion of making some pickled eggs for a good customer (eight jars of 14!), and “some more” for my personal reserve, of which I actually already had a reasonable supply. Once I had bought the third round of eggs, I had it in my mind to also make jars of six for an upcoming church fall fair to which I give pickled eggs to sell, as well as to have jars of six on hand for gifts, and to bring to parties. The expression “unbridled enthusiasm” comes to mind. 🙂

On the point of being a bit too enthusiastic, I decided that while I am pleased with the overall production, given the personal reserve I already had had on hand, the production of the equivalent of one of the double batches — the last round of six dozen eggs purchased — should have been foregone. I am likely to be asked again relatively soon to make more pickled eggs for my good customer, during which I would be able to make more pickled eggs for my personal reserve; in any case, I would at least keep the torn eggs from such a production for my personal reserve.

Time commitment reduced!

My experience last spring preparing for the flea market made me think about the time commitment involved in boiling the eggs, and since then, I have experimented with increasing the number of eggs I boil at once from 18 to 36. I was successful, a key point having lay in having actively mixing the boiled eggs in the ice water at the end to ensure proper quick cooling of the increased number of boiled eggs. This time reduction made a huge difference this weekend! (Yes, my recipe has been adjusted accordingly.)

Peeling method

I have also figured out my peeling method, which (usually) helps reduce tearing, while of course helping to peel the shells: Peel eggs by tapping the bulbous end on a hard surface. and continuing while rotating the egg, then up-ending the egg and continuing to tap. (Yes, my recipe has been adjusted accordingly.)

Torn eggs

Earlier this year, I had came to the conclusion that for large batches of eggs, a tear rate of roughly one egg per dozen is acceptable, since I just put the torn eggs aside in a separate bowl, then bottle them together, which I keep for my own personal reserve.

This weekend, I had a good experience with my tear rate: There were only 11 eggs over the 19 dozen eggs with tears — in fact, only about six had tears, while a further five were merely deformed from shells which cracked during boiling.

Final count

The final count from this weekend is as follows:

– 8 jars of 14 eggs each for my regular customer
– 8 jars of 6 eggs each for the church fair, gifts, and use at parties
– 1 jar of 22 eggs for my personal reserve
– 2 jars of 13 eggs each for my personal reserve
– 1 jar of 9 eggs for my personal reserve
– 2 jars 6 torn eggs each for my personal reserve

And finally, here is a photo of what 22 jars of varying sizes with 229 eggs looks like:

This is what 22 jars, totalling 229 pickled eggs. looks like

Hotel WiFi Passwords — 2018 edition (aka what a snore fest)

Yet again, I am in a hotel using their wifi. Again, after being asked during check-in if I wanted wifi access, I was curious about how their wifi password would stand up to any kind of security test as they handed me a slip of paper with the information.

Sigh, it is a terribly obvious password that would only barely pass a “security by obscurity” test by virtue that by and large, people don’t have wifi guessing software with standard dictionaries ranging from a normal library dictionary to a hacker dictionary that anyone’s 11 year old could probably compile, certainly with the help of their friends. In fact, while there are no doubt dozens, no hundreds, no thousands of “obvious” word combinations that would meet the following criteria, it in fact is obvious that it is intended to be very easily remembered by an overwhelming majority of people, be they a typical everyday-anyone-off-the-street, tech savvy, forgetful, children, or “even your mom” (I am trying to delicately refer to my mother, who is both not tech savvy in the least, and very experienced in life, if you take my meaning.)

Back in 2015, I was on the subject again, having been impressed at least that the wifi password given to me appeared to be auto-generated at check-in, and obviously not susceptible to simple dictionary attacks.

I started this rant on hotel passwords in 2009 during a series of business trips in which I was at a lot of hotels, and was frustrated for the innkeepers that their wifi would have been so easy to steal for the cost of a night at the hotel and a series of repeaters in the bushes.

Since then, however, I came to realize that my concerns were a bit overrated. Firstly, the potential of signal theft in that fashion was only really was useful for neighbours of the hotels. Secondly, the technical aspects of providing multiple repeaters and power cords down the street (or as the case may be, through the woods) make the cost, both financial and in terms of maintenance, somewhat impractical beyond a few hundred feet.

This is based on some personal experience of the legitimate variety: Since about 2011, my neighbour at the cottage has had internet provided through, I believe, line-of-sight microwave service; it includes VOIP service to provide telephone service, which apparently is prioritized within the router setup. He kindly gave me the wifi password. After about a year, I installed a wifi repeater so that it could be useful within the house, since there was only about one location within the house within a usable radius of the neighbour’s router (a solid two to three hundred feet away); fortunately, I could plug in the repeater at that location. I have since also been giving him some money annually in appreciation.

What have I found?

The repeater is useful. It itself provides constant signal, although it has been susceptible to things like weather, tree foliage, and the like. And, unfortunately, the general service seems to be susceptible to the same, plus things like mountains, and probably the dozens of customers just on my lake and neighbouring lakes. (Yes, people keep on complaining, and no doubt the suppliers’ techies just shift “prioritizing” their services to each successive round of complaining customers, at the expense of the rest of their customers.)

But to wit, the quality of service, at least on the repeater we have, is only barely useful for things like YouTube and the like under the best of conditions; the speed drop from beside the router to our repeater is such that we were able to demonstrate to our neighbour that even if we were consuming such services, we could not be the source of the fluctuating service affecting his internet service (see above.) In any case, by and large we respect a request from him that we not use it to stream video and download large files, since his usage is also metered.

My brother has been wanting to improve our end of the signal for years by setting the repeater near the edge of the property, closer to our neighbour, with things like “waterproof boxes”, electrical extensions, and Ethernet cable through the woods a bit, and then hanging in the air above the clothesline. I have been responding bah humbug, it seems far too susceptible to the elements. As a former geocacher, the notion of a “waterproof” container left out in the woods is no simple feat, and even were it to remain locked, it — and the power cable, and the Ethernet cable too — likely would become susceptible to the elements in short order, and not worth the maintenance effort. It seems to be a challenge beyond most commoners such as myself and even I suspect my brother, more along the lines of the phone company or electric utility face on a daily basis. Remember how annoying it is when the power goes out or the telephones (landlines or cell network) don’t work? Why do they have local teams on the ready 24 hours a day to deal with this? Such outages are regular due to trees falling, water infiltration, and the like.

Is it really worth going to all this trouble in order to have a series of repeaters going down the street for free wifi? I doubt it would be useful to any real degree except to demonstrate proof of concept to your friends for bragging rights.

So … does it really matter how easy it would be to hack a hotel’s free wifi?

Obviously, to the hotel and any costs incurred, of course. The reduction in service and inconvenience that in principle such a signal theft may cause to the hotel and its guests? Of course. And, any illegal activities in which such illicit users may be engaging (kiddie porn, spam, financial fraud, etc.), of course it matters.

But, is anyone beyond the immediate neighbours going to bother with the series of repeaters and power lines through the bushes and/or down the street, possibly spanning several blocks and neighbourhoods?

I have to say “Poppycock!”

PS The “snore fest in the title” was not meant as a pun, but realizing that it unintentionally is — well, I like dumb jokes and puns, especially the dumb ones. 🙂 So, keeping it is intentional.

In the modern world of prepared foods, it must be challenging to be vegetarian. Vegan, extremely difficult.

For the past several years during my summer holidays, I have been visiting the grounds of a Buddhist monastery near my cottage as an activity. Normally, my visit centres around going about mid-day and bringing a picnic lunch to be enjoyed on the grounds, as well as walking the grounds and admiring the scenery, the various Buddhas throughout, and of course the temple.

At the gate, there is a sign with a crossed-out pictogram expressly, at least on a literal level, forbidding chicken, steak, and eggs to be brought onto the grounds. Obviously, the pictogram more widely means “no meat or animal products”. Underneath, it says “only vegetarian food”. The specific use of the word “vegetarian” confuses the matter.

As per my understanding of vegetarianism, generally eggs, milk, honey (surprise — made by bees, it’s an animal product!) and a few other animal products are acceptable; the interpretation to which I personally subscribe is “no animal flesh”. I assume, given the inclusion of the egg in the pictogram, that the policy is actually veganism, as in no animal products whatsoever. (If I am incorrect on this point, then that is only somewhat beside the point I am trying to raise here. Update 20180805: See notes at the end.)

I typically eat three meals a day of the meat and two vegetables variety, although peanut butter, pickled eggs and cheese are central to typical breakfasts. However, especially since in the past I have flirted with vegetarianism of the meatless-but-eggs-and-cheese-and-other-animal-products-are-fine variety, I don’t have a problem with the sign; I consider myself to eat a wide enough variety of foods that it isn’t an issue. Further, I do not have any food allergies or particular dietary restrictions — for instance, I do not have any dietary requirement to eat, let alone at every meal, certain foods; certainly for the purpose of this post, foods which contain animal products.

And of course, the monastery is clearly and very well within its rights to place such a condition on the guests it invites to visit its grounds: One does not need to visit the grounds if one is opposed to the condition. In any case, when I have visited, I have never had my picnic lunch bag verified at the gate. Once, I noticed a gentleman eating his lunch on the road just outside the gate; I imagine that he didn’t know in advance about the condition, and his lunch presumably contained some offending ingredient. I can only imagine that based on my personal experience, the gentleman saw the sign, and complied of his own accord without any intervention from the monks.

Nonetheless, planning my picnic lunch for these visits has proven to be quite the challenge over the years.

I bring foods which I enjoy and which I assume are vegan. I even now somewhat plan in advance for this lunch, including when I go to the grocery store on my way up to the cottage. I usually check ingredients lists. As revealed below, obviously not well enough.

And, so far, I realize after the fact every year that I have failed to bring only vegan foods.

One year, I made a peanut butter sandwich on Challah bread. That’s the braided bread often found in delicatessens and jewish bakeries. Challah bread nornally contains eggs.

Another year, as I was planning my lunch, I looked at the ingredients list of various products I wanted to bring: One cake contained eggs. Another commercial snack cake also contained eggs. Two favourite varieties of flavoured potato chips and similar snacks contained milk products (sour cream and onion, and cheese flavoured snacks). Pleased with myself, I did not bring either of the cakes nor the chips / snacks. However, I failed on the sandwich I’d brought: I made my peanut butter sandwich on the bread I make at home in a bread machine. I later remembered that the bread recipe I use contains milk.

This year, I thought I was really well prepared: My peanut butter and jam sandwich, on a very plain bread that did not contain milk nor eggs. Dried pineapple, which I had dried myself. Caramel popcorn, whose ingredients list did not contain any animal products. Juice boxes. And a few other items, which I deal with in the following paragraphs.

To my amusement, though not surprise, I learned after the fact that the roasted and salted cashews I brought may contain milk, along with peanuts and other tree nuts. This is in a grey zone, as the warning’s purpose is to inform that the cashews were prepared in a facility which prepares other items which may contain the offending items, and that cross-contamination might have occurred, not to indicate that the cashews actually contain the offending items, at least by design.

The following items were also brought, and which I later realized were not allowed under the above-mentioned presumed vegan food condition:

– a brand of salt and vinegar potato chips, whose “seasonings” contain lactose, and whose label states they contain milk, to my great surprise: I had bought the chips on the presumption that they contain potatoes, vegetable oil, salt, and vinegar;
– a variety of chocolate buttons candy, whose label states it contains milk (this should have been a no brainer, since they are in the milk-chocolate range of chocolates);
– a store brand of a swiss-type chocolate bar, whose label states it contains milk and eggs (again this should have been a no-brainer, at least for the milk);
– a chocolate-coated granola bar, which contains honey and multiple mentions of milk and milk products (once more, this should have been a no-brainer).

As such, I guess I will yet again have to plan better for my visit during my holidays next year: I will have to buy fruit cups and fresh fruits, while excluding the various above-mentioned items. These aren’t a real problem for me, but I do admit that these items are not always the first things that come to mind when I go shopping or make a last-minute grab for food for my lunches, be they regular daily lunches, or my visit to the monastery grounds.

In the past, I have subscribed to the mostly-meatless form of vegetarianism, for environmental reasons, principally in that meat consumes enormous amounts of water to produce. (As a side bar, one complaint I had was that prepared frozen pasta dishes could have been made in one extra variety: In addition to the vegetable lasagnas that are made, why not make traditional meat lasagnas exactly as usual, save that the meat hoppers are not filled during some runs?)

However, I am generally typical of North Americans in that I eat meat very regularly. Lately, for health reasons, I have been somewhat, mostly only very slightly, cutting down on my meat consumption; the environmental reasons of water requirements and carbon footprint in the form of methane production (21 times as efficient as CO2 as a greenhouse gas), have also been present in my mind.

But this little exercise makes me wonder how a vegetarian, let alone a vegan, or for that matter, someone who is lactose-intolerant, suffering from celiac disease, allergic to eggs, nuts and peanuts, or seafood, or who has some other intolerance to some food ingredient, is able to navigate commercially prepared foods, restaurants, and even dinner parties serving only foods “made from scratch” but in kitchens with the following ingredients, given the omnipresence of meats, milk, eggs, honey, other animal products, wheat, nuts, peanuts, seafood and any other I consider to be common and basic foods, and which in and of themselves are mundane, at least to me.

Yes, I am aware of various commercial foods and food management systems, such as nut-free candies and gluten free foods, and restaurants catering to the various issues raised above. I am also aware that making foods “from scratch” present options for my picnic lunches. My point here lies in the insidious degree to which certain common ingredients are used in food products not purchased for the presence of said ingredients.

Update 20180805: I have done some cursory checking into Buddhism and vegetarianism, and according to the wikipedia page on Buddhist Vegetarianism, (here’s my archive), the traditions of the particular monastery I visit likely fall under the “no meat, eggs and dairy” category, although strict veganism does not seem to be the case.

Making Pickled Eggs

I started making pickled eggs in late summer 2007, as I recall, as “a thing to do” to contribute to a church bazaar’s preserves table.  I had never eaten, let alone made, pickled eggs before; it was just an “out of the blue” conviction that had come to mind.  The first appearance of my eggs at the church bazaar was in the fall of 2008; I had believed that for the fall 2007 bazaar, I’d begun too late to pick up some confidence in making them in order to present my offerings at that year’s bazaar.

In the process, I learned how to make the pickled eggs, got some practice under my belt, and got a bit of an overview of the process.

Interestingly, the pickling solution I found on the internet, which I continue to use to this day, was key to what I now consider a long standing success.  Shortly after having begun my adventures in pickling eggs, I bought a jar of pickled eggs at the store.  I found said eggs to be slimy, and the pickling solution sour and too mouth puckering.  I ended up giving away the open jar to a family friend who liked them that way better than the recipe I use.  Had I bought the pickled eggs at the store first, I doubt I would have ever embarked upon making pickled eggs myself.

I began by buying small eggs, and stuffing as many as I could per mason jar; I soon began buying large eggs, and would pack the mason jars somewhat less tightly.  See below in the “Jars and Lids” section for further suggestions on how many eggs to pack per jar size.

Of course, I keep my eyes out for sales on eggs.  In the Montreal, Quebec (Canada) area in 2017-2018, a price of $5.50 for three (3) dozen eggs was a good sale price.  I will also buy eggs on sale at $1.99 per dozen.  (Prices in Canadian dollars.)

I eat my pickled eggs almost daily.  I continue to make the eggs for my church’s fall fair, although they typically only end up selling less than half a dozen jars each year.  And, I now make large numbers of pickled eggs for a small flea market in which I participate each year.  (See further down.)

Making pickled eggs, tips, and experiences:

I have seen various instructions on how to boil eggs, how long to boil them, and how to cool them properly in order to shell them easily and perfectly.  I have a view on that:  boiling and shelling eggs very largely isn’t about tricks and shortcuts, or such-and-such a special method.  It’s simply about boiling them the right amount of time, rapidly cooling them with ice, and a lot of work removing the shells.  Yes, some eggs shell more easily than others, and vice versa.  I have decided to give up on most theories on why eggs, particularly sometimes whole boxes of eggs, tear easily when shelling them.  One must simply immediately and abruptly cool them after boiling, using ice water, and be careful while shelling eggs; fortunately, I seem to have learned over the years how to shell eggs while largely avoiding torn eggs, barring the occasional batch of eggs that tear far more than usual.

What do I do?

  • I boil 18 cold eggs at a time.  This number generally works well for me.  You might find another number works well for you.
  • Fill the pot with cool to cold water to roughly an inch (2.5 cm) above the eggs.
  • Bring the pot to a boil.
  • Boil for eight (8) minutes.
  • Immediately drain the boiling water, and begin running cool to cold water over the eggs.
  • Immediately add ice cubes to the pot (keep the water), covering the eggs completely, and begin shelling a few minutes later when much of the ice has melted and the eggs have largely cooled.

Despite my instructions above, I have some recent and long term observations regarding this process:

  • When making large batches of pickled eggs, it takes time.  I find that there is little way around this, beyond having a helper or outright equal partner, if only because I find that boiling larger numbers of eggs at once makes for more variable cooling of the eggs (quick cooling being needed for easier or at least less difficult shelling), and that beginning the next round of boiling 18 eggs while still shelling already-boiled eggs is perilous, from the perspective of a less than optimal personal ability to manage multiple things at once in the kitchen.
  • The ice should be in cubes, not larger pieces of ice.  I am blaming a recent experience of a relatively high rate of torn eggs in a batch on the fact that the ice I was using was made in plastic food containers, making ice blocks far larger than typical ice cubes, and the notion that that probably affected the cooling rate of the eggs.
  • In my personal experience, a torn egg rate of about one egg per dozen is normal, to be expected, and not to be fretted over.  As far as I’m concerned and for pickling purposes, a torn egg is anywhere from a bit more than a dimple until just before it’s completely in several pieces.  (Use the eggs which completely break up for snacking while you work, or making egg salad sandwiches later.)  Torn eggs will pickle just as well, and are put aside, to be bottled together in my personal consumption jars of pickled eggs, and not to be given away.  This is of course purely aesthetic; but at a certain point, were a customer to buying from me, they would (rightly so) ask for a discount on a jar of torn pickled eggs.

Jars and lids:

I pack my jars as per follows:  6 eggs per 500mL mason jar, 9 eggs per 650mL jar (from a favoured brand of spaghetti sauce whose jars look like, and appear to act like mason jars, though according to some sources do not meet mason jar standards), 14 eggs per 1 litre mason jar, 22 eggs per 1.5 litre jar (a commercial jar that is not mason), and 30 eggs per 2 litre jar (“large” commercial pickle jars — yes, I imagine that most people might consider “large” jars more likely to be the 4 litre jars of pickles like you mostly see at restaurants and delicatessens).

The largest sized jar I like to pack are 1.5 litre glass jars.  They hold 22 eggs, and this size is now my reference for the largest jar size with which I want to work.  2 litre jars hold 30 eggs and are a bit too big, unless, of course, I am trying to make a clownishly big jar of eggs, which in the past I have wanted to do, and which in the past I have done.  I have no intention of ever packing 4 litre jars.

I give away and occasionally sell my eggs (see below), which means that over time, I have to acquire new mason jars of varying sizes.  While I obviously reuse my mason jars after I empty them, occasionally come across mason jars in recycling bins, and receive empty mason jars from friends and family for free, I still eventually need to replenish my supply of mason jars.

While I live in the big city where buying new jars by the case is a trivial matter,  I normally go to a nearby used-goods store, part of the Goodwill Network.  I buy mason jars one to several at a time, depending on what’s available, my needs, and whim.  Putting aside any illusions I do indeed have of “reusing and environment”, and fewer illusions of “helping people” (ie. not that the store isn’t helping people, just that doing so isn’t particularly one of my motivations when it comes to purchasing the mason jars or anything else there), I enjoy the convenience of getting them there, not getting a dozen at a time, and not having to pay any sales taxes (which is part of the local provincial and federal governments’ support of social and employment re-insertion programmes).  I normally only buy the Bernardin and Golden Harvest branded mason jars of 500mL and 1 litre sizes, while not the older mason jars in Imperial measurements (Canada has been metric since the mid-1970’s), and/or those which often are somewhat to very square — eggs, after all, are round! 🙂  I don’t buy other non-mason formats of jars, nor the 650mL mason jars that come from a commercial spaghetti sauce which is sold in jars which look like, and appear to act like mason jars, though according to some sources do not meet mason jar standards, since I get enough of them from my other cooking projects.

I look for pricing on the individual jars at 50 cents per 500mL mason jar, and 75 cents per 1 litre mason jar, and look for mason jars which (normally) have the old lids and rings on them.  (A bit more on reusing lids below.)

I normally buy new lids at a local dollar store chain at 12 for $2, plus taxes, bringing the price per lid to under 19 cents per lid, or about 69 cents per 500mL mason jar, or 94 cents per 1 litre mason jar.

Occasionally, I purchase boxes of 12 lid and ring combinations, but the last time I did so, if I remember correctly, the price would have been to the order of $5.39 plus taxes.  This would make the lid-and-ring combination cost just under 52 cents each, for a total of $1.02 per 500mL jar, or $1.27 per 1 litre jar.

The clincher:  WalMart sells cases of 12, 1 litre Golden Harvest mason jars, (obviously) with new lids and rings, for $9.49 plus taxes, or just over 91 cents per mason jar.  Only compared to the more expensive Bernardin mason jars are the reused 1 litre mason jars I buy more competitive.

So, the purchased reused 1 litre mason jars with a new lid, when I sell them (see below) — hence not counting them as a cost when I use them for my own use, and then use them again when empty — are only competitive cost-wise with new mason jars when I am able to use used rings.

Since I use the 650mL mason jars from the commercial spaghetti sauce I use, their cost is hidden in the price I pay for the spaghetti sauce.  Of course, I only buy them on sale. 🙂  Hence, the direct cost per se per such jar is for the lid only, ie. about 19 cents (lid only) or 52 cents (lid and ring).

Lids:

Normally, when I make my eggs, one of the many “either / or” categories that go through my mind is personal consumption vs. the rest, which are potentially destined to be eaten by anyone, be it by sale, gift, or plate of hors d’oeuvres being passed around.  I reuse lids for the personal consumption group, but all others receive new lids, mainly on ethical grounds based on the lids normally having been designed for single use.  I have generally had excellent results reusing lids, and the only problems I have had with seals were related to some floating spices happening to get caught in the rubber seal, preventing the seal from working correctly at that location.

As for rings, I try to reuse rings as often as possible (and therefore, when buying jars at the used-goods store, trying to get as many as possible with the rings and lids).  Normally, I throw away rings with any non-trivial amount of discoloration or oxidation, while reserving those with slight discoloration for my personal consumption, and finally spotless rings for the jars being sold or given away.

A recent experience using a used lid on a commercial jar:

During one of my recent batches of pickled eggs, I had intended to fill my 1,5 litre jar (capacity of 22 eggs) to be a showcase jar during an upcoming flea market at which I was going to sell my eggs, with the expectation that I would have no clue as to whether or not it would sell.  During a previous flea market, I had prepared a 2 litre jar containing 30 eggs to act as a showcase jar; it drew the attention of only one person. who ended up not buying it on the advice of his wife.  (She figured it would be far too large and would likely end up mostly not consumed; her husband purchased a far smaller jar.)

However, this year’s showcase jar was not to be; the cooking session during which I was to make the jar unfortunately included a higher-than-normal rate of torn eggs, coincidentally 22 eggs above the expected rate of one egg per dozen.  Hence, the jar was filled with the 22 most torn eggs, and kept for personal consumption.

I had used a “new to me” lid on the 22 egg jar:  The lid came from a commercial jar of mild salsa, the salsa jar’s neck having the same size as the neck of the 1.5 litre jar.  It sealed great.

When I opened the jar and ate an egg, I noticed that the flavouring was somewhat different from usual.  Good, but a bit different.

The next morning, I noticed the flavouring again, and realized that many of the eggs in the jar would likely taste that way.  I began to identify the new flavour, and I realized why it was there.

The reused lid had absorbed and retained some of the spicing from the salsa jar, which then was released in the vinegar in the egg jar.  Of course the lid had been properly washed in a dishwasher prior to use, and put in the boiling water immediately before bottling the eggs.

Fortunately, after a few eggs, the salsa spice taste was no longer present.  (I am not a fan of salsa nor salsa spice, but the taste transfer was very mild.)

So beware of reusing lids!

The obligatory wash-and-boil-your-jars-and-lids comment section:

When bottling your now-boiled and shelled eggs, and adding your now-boiling pickling solution, it is imperative that the following things be respected:

  • All used jars need to be visually inspected for cracks, chips and other defects; the presence of any of these are cause not to use them for canning of any kind;
  • All used jars need to be properly washed in advance (lids and rings, too);
  • At bottling time, your jars and lids need to be in a boiling water bath.  I have found that for pickled eggs, the time it takes to put several in the boiling water bath and then the time to take them out and immediately fill with the eggs and pickling solution, one jar at a time, is sufficient;
  • At bottling time, your pickling solution should be kept boiling in between filling the jars;
  • At bottling time, I have found that immersing your shelled eggs in a boiling water bath for the time it takes to place them in the bath and then remove them and immediately transfer them to a jar that has just been taken out of its boiling water bath, is sufficient;
  • At bottling time, your lids should be taken out of the boiling water bath and immediately placed on the just-filled jar.

In this section, the Hallowe’en Candy Rule applies:

I most recently was selling my pickled eggs at a small flea market in June, 2018.  In the months leading up to the flea market I had prepared, over roughly eight cooking sessions spread over three weekends, the following amounts of eggs:

  • (roughly) 29 jars of 6 eggs;
  • 9 jars of 9 eggs;
  • 9 jars of 14 eggs, plus:
  • 1 jar of 14 eggs, to keep for myself;
  • about 7 jars of 6 torn eggs;
  • 1 jar of 12 torn eggs; and,
  • 1 jar of 22 torn eggs.

This was based on rough notions of:

  • in years past, at the same flea market, I have sold as many as 19 jars of 6 eggs;
  • last year, I believed that I could have sold more than the 2 jars of 14 eggs and 4 jars of 9 eggs that I had prepared for the flea market, had I prepared more jars of those sizes;
  • prior to the flea market, I unexpectedly sold 4 jars of 6 eggs, then 2 jars of 14 eggs, then 3 jars of 14 eggs, to a contact through work who adored my eggs upon tasting them one day when I randomly decided to bring some to the work site (and therefore I had to scramble to make more of the large format!);
  • I would want / need a few jars for use at parties, and giving away in the intervening period and beyond;
  • my accepted torn egg rate of one per dozen, which materialized pretty much spot on, except and therefore plus the unexpected extra 22 torn eggs during one cooking session;
  • relative unbridled enthusiasm. 🙂

Which leads to the Hallowe’en Candy Rule:  Why would I want to go to all that trouble?  And what do I do with any leftovers?  Well, the Hallowe’en Candy Rule says that you should only give out candy that you would not mind having a large amount of leftover should you have overbought supplies, or should there to be few children who knock on your door for any of a variety of reasons like inclement weather, or a last-minute public scare causing parents to restrict their children’s trick-or-treating, or a change in neighbourhood demographics, or any other reason.  In this case, it didn’t matter if I overestimated the number of eggs to make for the flea market:  I like my pickled eggs, and any excess would be eaten by me, be brought to parties as hors d’oeuvres, or be given as gifts.

And how did the most recent flea market I participated in turn out?

For selling eggs, until recently, I priced the eggs at 50 cents per egg, except for the jars of six eggs, to which I would add an extra 25 cents to help compensate for the mason jar costs.  As of June, 2018, I now charge closer to 57 cents to 58 cents per egg (slightly variable depending on the jar size and rounding to the nearest 25 cents), which incidentally also brings the prices closer to the lower end of the range of prices for pickled eggs at grocery stores.

The previous price of 50 cents per egg was me being modest, and perhaps simplistic.   I knew that other artisans were selling 500mL jars of artisan pickled products and jams and jellies at $5.00 and more, depending on the item.  But I felt I couldn’t justify that much, and in any case, I had seen jars of 6 pickled eggs at a local discount store for about $3.49.  I felt somewhat uncomfortable raising the price on jars of six pickled eggs to $3.25 last year, despite it being on account of recovering some of the jar costs.  As of this year, jars were priced at $3.50 per jar of six eggs, $5.25 per jar of 9 eggs, and $8.00 per jar of 14 eggs.

Despite this year’s price adjustments, nobody said boo.  The number of sales on some sizes were up from last year despite the price increase.  And where it was down, I attributed that without hesitation to foot traffic and variations in salesmanship.

A quick back-of-the-envelope tally of sales income and costs for all the jars of pickled eggs listed above suggest that as a batch, I recouped my investment, and my margin is in the leftover product, including the torn eggs which were never intended to be sold (and weren’t).  Leftover amounts of unsold product intended to be sold were to the order of 13 jars of 6 eggs and 4 jars of 9 eggs.  As mentioned earlier, the Hallowe’en Candy Rule was not only a guiding factor in the business plan; in the end, it certainly proved to be an integral part of the business plan.

Update:  There is a second post on pickled eggs from October, 2018.

Shows on the Star Trek: The Cruise II, a.k.a. Paging The Squire of Gothos

During the Star Trek: The Cruise II, I was often wondering about licensing issues related to everything that was going on around me. Besides amusing me, there was a particular reason: Early during the cruise, Michael Dorn (Worf) made an uncanny quip while introducing Nana Visitor and René Auberjonois for their show: “You would be still be clapping even if I were reading from the phone book!”

From that comment on, I was frequently commenting to myself what later gelled in my mind into “Phone Book Recitals”. As such, I was often wondering about licensing issues and the economic choices which were made during the organization of the cruise regarding each and every show, event, and detail on the ship.

For instance:

  • The on-board PA system alternated between sound effects and music from mostly, as I perceived it, The Original Series, and pop music from the 1980’s. I noted several repetitions of tracks from the “Invisible Touch” album by Genesis, making me assume that the ship was rotating through the same play list of music. Part of me wondered how much of this latter part was targeting the likely demographics of the passengers, as in those of us old enough to both have enjoyed such music in our youth, and be able to reasonably comfortably afford being on the cruise, and how much of the 80’s music was being played due to a favourable music licensing deal. Despite this, I rather enjoyed both the sound effects and the music.
  • On the in-house television in the cabins, there were two channels which carried Star Trek; by the end of the cruise, I’d noticed that there were three. I typically would watch bits over three episodes of Star Trek a day when waking up or going to bed. On one channel, the second Abramsverse movie, Star Trek Into Darkness, appeared to be in almost constant rotation. On the other, there appeared to be a preponderance of DS9, with just enough Enterprise for me to notice. I only starting seeing some TNG near the end of the cruise. So: Are Star Trek into Darkness and DS9 lagging behind on broadcasting rights royalty income?
  • Near the concièrge desk, there were a number of video screens, apparently with constant and perpetual loops of the TOS episodes Charlie X, Shore Leave, and The Naked Time; another appeared to always have Star Trek: The Motion Picture playing. What was it about these episodes and this movie? Is it the same broadcasting rights royalty income conspiracy theory I mention above? Or just that the DVDs or BlueRays or digital copies got stuck in a perpetual playback loop?

Then there were the live shows and events I attended, almost all of which I otherwise found thoroughly enjoyable. Several of the shows had nothing to do with Star Trek, other than the fact that the performers happened to have been, well, the actors who portrayed Captain Sulu, Lt.Cmdr. Laforge, Odo, Major Kira, Q, The Doctor, and so on.

Given the several shows I saw, virtually all starring one or more Star Trek actors and / or personalities, while I was clapping at the end and otherwise (usually) thoroughly entertained, I was often scratching my head as to what the show I had just seen had to do with Star Trek, and (usually) expecting that I would have been equally entertained had the performers been any other performers, be they known stars, or career cruise ship entertainers.

Don’t get me wrong: With one exception, all were thoroughly enjoyable, perhaps more so because of who were performing. (I’ll even grant the one exception the courtesy of having been interesting in its own right, albeit beyond what I would have chosen had I known what it really would have been about beforehand.) However, despite rather enjoying the cruise and the shows I attended, I felt like I was giving a number of the shows and the performers a bit of leeway, while wondering where the “Star Trek” part was. Often enough, I was wondering how much a given show or activity was being presented because it passed muster based on the promoter’s entertainment committee’s (and I’m pretty sure the cruise line’s committee’s) “entertainment index” (though ignoring for Star Trek content), and how many licensing issues arose regarding more Star Trek specific shows, be it more Star Trek script readings (or readings of scripts that didn’t make it to screen), dramatic adaptations of fan generated stories, or more exposés on the inner workings of Star Trek.

For instance, John de Lancie and Robert Picardo (as well as other Star Trek personalities) performed a reading of a dramatization of the 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial (The State of Tennessee v. John Thomas Scopes) as well as individually in other shows having nothing to do with Star Trek. Robert Picardo also performed his current show called “BFF” with Jordan Bennett, (apparently) known for starring in Les Misérables on Broadway; except for a song opening at the beginning in which the Star Trek theme song is performed, it appeared to have nothing to do with Star Trek. Had the cruise been themed for the Stargate franchise, both John de Lancie and Robert Picardo, who also were secondary characters in that franchise, could have performed almost all of the same shows I saw them perform on the Star Trek cruise, and there would be little difference.

Yes, these actors have virtually all had acting careers before and after Star Trek. I imagine that at least a modest ability to competently sing and dance is a somewhat more common skill amongst actors than the general population, while generally, their portrayals on Star Trek usually had nothing to do with song and dance.  Yes, they do have lives outside of Star Trek. And yes, I don’t only watch Star Trek on TV, or only watch TV all day long; yes, I have other interests beyond Star Trek that have nothing to do with spaceships or TV. I understand that thirteen, sixteen, nineteen, twenty-three or forty-eight years after the end of the respective shows in which the actors appeared, they have gone on to other performing activities and interests, and in many cases actually have current shows – take Robert Picardo’s current “BFF” show, which I thought was remarkable for rating very close to zero on a scale of one to ten in Trekkie-ness.

But … I went to, I paid for, a Star Trek themed cruise. I did get part of it: Star Trek actors and personalities, and a number of Star Trek themed window dressings on the ship. And yes, of course, I got a great cruise!

Yet, from my perspective, the cruise felt like a cruise that happened to have an (almost merely nominal) Star Trek theme. I found it hard to immerse myself in Star Trek.

Yes, I got to see Star Trek stars. Yes, there was a good amount of gawking at “cool t-shirt” or “great klingon costume” comments (at least three of my Star Trek themed t-shirts drew attention from others).

However, I did not happen upon any impromptu “heated” discussions about anything Star Trek. The type I might have in mind would be the likes of ethical discussions over the Dominion War, which episodes were the best (or worst), or whether or not they should have actually killed Kirk onscreen (which I think was a mistake, both in and of itself, as well as how they did it; that he wasn’t with Bones and Spock at the time isn’t the point.) Admittedly, I do recall, more as an afterthought, having one brief conversation with someone: “Which starship would you see yourself on?” I replied that I’d liked to be on Enterprise-D, but if I were really lucky, I might end up being one of Janeway”s lost sheep (a reference to an episode in which she takes a personal interest in three under-performing crew members.) And to be fair, I was often running from one show to the next such that I had little time to sit back and seek out these kinds of bar conversations.

Basically, I felt that at the core of the cruise, there wasn’t actually enough Star Trek. It was like Trelane in the “Squire of Gothos”: So many of the trappings, but not quite enough of the actual substance.

Do you think that instead of reading the Scopes Monkey Trial, they could have read through another Star Trek script?

Could Robert Picardo have sung “My Darling Clementine” and the Doctor’s fantasy version of “La donna è mobile” in his show?

Do you think that Viacom or CBS or whoever deals with the licensing could have made the shows more Star Trek like?