Archive for October, 2011

October 30, 2011

And Home Again

I mentioned last time that Domingo had a business trip coming up. Two weeks to Ko Olina, Oahu, Hawaii. I can’t complain, I tagged along for 9 days. It was a working trip for both of us. While Domingo was out, I spent my days working on research in the hotel. In the evenings we enjoyed the awesome scenery, and playing in the waves. I also got to test out my macro lens.

Doesn’t it look like a drawing and not a photograph?

It’s funny, because we just vacationed in Oahu in March (in time for the Tsunami). When we came home I was sure that would be the last we’d be seeing of the Hawaiian waters for quite some time. In fact, we weren’t sure we were going to have any vacation at all for quite some time.

I’m still hoping to graduate in 2012, which means buckling down to finish. Once I start a new job, it will take a while to accrue vacation time. It will be much harder for me to tag along with Domingo on these trips.

This year has been the year of fun business trips – China, Vegas, Hawaii. I have no illusions, next year will probably be much less exciting. Domingo has a couple trips lined up for next year already, but they’re to much less exotic locations, and I don’t think I will be able to tag along. Lily will be happy about that – less kennel time!

October 14, 2011

Poor Kitty

Lily is having a rough October. Last Friday was her annual appointment (read: lots of shots). The vet has been talking about getting her teeth cleaned for a few years ago, but last Friday his language changed from “we should start considering…” to “let’s schedule that appointment…”.

In order to get her teeth cleaned, she first needed a blood draw. I figured rather than make two additional appointments (and add to her stress level), we’d get the blood draw during that visit and come back in a week. Today was the big day. Since the teeth cleaning requires general anesthesia, the vet has us withhold food and water. If she has anything in her stomach, it can interfere with the drugs. Poor kitty was so confused. She kept crying and leading us to her food and water dish so we could see they were empty. All throughout the night she would wake us up because she was hungry.

Bright an early this morning, we took her off to the kennel for her second appointment. It’s was an “all day” appointment, she didn’t come home until 3:30! Again, the vet is requiring no food until tomorrow morning, and no water until tonight. She is just as mad as she was last night, except now she’s groggy and mad instead of just mad. She looks like she wants to sleep, but can’t. She keeps getting up and walking around (albeit slowly) to find another spot to try and nap. I may cheat and give her a little watered down food early. The vet said his main concern was the after affects of anesthesia can cause vomiting, but there’s no real risk. So once she’s allowed water, she’ll probably get a little food.

Next week Domingo is going on travel. I’ll be joining him about five days after he leaves, and miss Lily will be going to kennel. At least she loves the kennel, and they love her. (You know the kennel loves your cat when they send you a Christmas card with pictures of your kitty on it!) But getting her in the portable cat carrier and taking her in the car? That’s a completely different story.

So it’s two vet trips and one kennel trip all in the month of October. It’ll be a long time before she trusts us again.

October 9, 2011

For Coupons’ Sake

I love a good deal. Often that means scouring the clearance rack, or buying in the off seasons. When shopping online, I also do a search first for discount and coupon codes. (You’d be surprised how many student discounts there are out there!) So you would think I would be a couponer too, right? Well, not so much.

I’ve shied away from coupons for a couple of reasons. We’re picky on what we eat, and I had an impression that most grocery coupons are for junk and processed food, not produce and meats. Then there’s the effort to reward ratio. Most coupons are for 50 to 75 cents off. I’ll be the first to admit every little dollar adds up, but If it takes me three hours to find five coupons I’d use, I really have to ask myself if it’s worth it.

Still, it’s hard to claim I’m frugal if there’s a saving avenue I know I’m ignoring. And I know there are good coupons out there. I’ve been using the 20% off one item coupon from Bed Bath and Beyond, and the 40-50% off for Michaels. In fact, I never go to either of those two stores without a coupon in hand! There are bound to be other good deals, for more than just pennies.

So this weekend I started couponing. To keep from getting overwhelmed, I through out any circular for a store we don’t visit. (Aside from saving time, multiple store visits will increase gas consumption.) I also throw away any coupons for products we’re not interested in. After all, the goal is to save on items we’d by anyway, not be persuaded into buying more stuff.

This week I used a target grocery coupon, $5 off a $50 purchase. That was nice, since target grocery does have a variety of healthy options. Interestingly, after using the coupon today, the register popped out a catalane coupon, $7 off a $75 purchase. Now, sure that could have been a coincidence, but I doubt it. Retailers use coupons to track customers. Given the timing, I bet the $7 coupon was an attempt to see if I would spend more money ($75 instead of $50) in pursuit of a bigger reward. Not convinced? In the same purchase I used a $1.50 off Starbucks Via coupon, and received a $3 off two Starbucks Vias. Another bigger reward for spending more.

A while ago I posted about online retailers estimating a customer’s worth, and setting prices accordingly. I didn’t like that phenomena because I wasn’t in control of the message I sent. I didn’t know which of my actions would result in lower prices, and which in higher prices. Here, however, if I stick to only using coupons, maybe I can convince the retailer data miners that I won’t shop at their stores without them. The trick will be not letting the coupons influence me into make purchases I wouldn’t have otherwise made.

It may appear as though I don’t really worry about online anonymity. My first and last name is listed in the title of my blog. It’s in my email address, and my online signature. It’s not that I don’t think it’s a good idea to be careful, or that I don’t worry about privacy. From a practical standpoint, online anonymity doesn’t really exist. There’s not really much I can do, even when I try and hide.

You can’t hide from the Crowd

A decade ago, before facebook, myspace, there really weren’t many people online. You weren’t likely to run into many people online that you also knew offline. There was no one to recognize your photo, or who would know your real name. Now, with so many people online, finding out who you are can be easily crowd sourced. Take the example of the Toronto Kissing Couple. The internet was fascinated by a photo by Rich Lam, taken during the Stanley cup finals of a couple that appeared to be kissing. Within days, their identities were discovered through an acquaintance. During the same event, the Toronto police were able to identify rioters by asking people online to identify them in pictures. This is sometimes referred to as “crowd sourcing”: turning to a large group of people to solve a problem.

Crowd sourcing has even been used to help return lost cameras to their owners. With so many people online, chances are someone is familiar enough with you that they can recognize you in a picture, or by seemingly small number of innocuous details about your life.

You are your own worst enemy when it comes to anonymity

Even without crowd sourcing it can still be easy to deduce a person’s identity, especially if one is active in any kind of online setting. I have inadvertently stumbled upon the last names of several anonymous bloggers I follow. One blogger posted a link to her wedding photographer’s sneak peak page which included a photo of the wedding invitation, somewhat obscured but readable. Another linked her multiple social media profiles including her linkedin profile to her klout page, presumably to boost her score, then shared her klout page. A third blogger used her last name in her twitter handler. She never posted her twitter account on her blog, but she often tweeted with another blogger I follow on twitter and I recognized her profile picture.

Often our identity can be pieced together using small, innocent pieces of data. It’s called the Mosaic Effect. For example, by noting what times I post you can get a sense of what time zone I’m in. If I complain about a bad snow storm you know I’m somewhere cold. None of these details by themselves is enough to triangulate my whereabouts, but put enough together and you can get a very good idea. One study found 87% of the US population can be uniquely identified by just a zipcode, a gender and a date of birth. In fact, birth date is one of the most innocent details identity thieves look to steal.

Scary? A little bit.

Staying Safe

So what can you do to keep your identity and your privacy “safe”? It depends partially on what you’re worried about. One strategy is to come up with an online profile. Identify which details you’re willing to share and stick to it, no matter what. This is the strategy I employ. As a PhD student, I want to be found. A potential collaborator may want to know what university I go to, but there’s no reason a professional acquaintance needs my birth date. For that reason, I don’t share my date of birth, age, middle name (other than my initial to help differentiate me from the 100s of other Sarah Tylers), zipcode, or hometown, etc. in any public forum. Ever. No matter how innocuous the detail seems, or how obscure the online forum is. Of course that doesn’t mean someone can’t find these details with enough effort, I just won’t wake it easier for them.

With this strategy I am findable for professional colleagues, but somewhat protected from identity thieves and stalkers. Another way to protect yourself is to apply a little bit of misinformation. Some suggest creating an “un birthday” for online websites that require it.

The same rule applies to children. A report came out a year ago of identity thieves using children’s social security numbers. In their excitement about a new little one’s arrival, Parents often don’t hesitate about sharing a birth date or child’s first and middle name online. Some even post photos of birth announcements, which are archived by search engines. Yet with these details an identity thief is halfway to acquiring all the information he or she needs. Yes, you can get remove the fraud, but how carefully are you going to be checking your new infant’s credit history? Before the report came out it would have never crossed my mind.

Of course, nothing is full proof. Just like there is no full proof way to keep your car safe from thieves, there is no full proof way to keep your identify safe. But you can make it a little harder to steal your identify than then next guy’s.

October 5, 2011

Fall Traditions

I can’t believe it is already October. It’s been raining off and on since Monday which signals the start of the California winter season. Time to break out the fuzzy socks and pumpkin lattes! Living in California pre Domingo I never got excited about the change of season. Since then, my husband’s love of fall has rubbed off on me. We’re still a new family, but we’ve already formed some traditions.

I always try a new recipe using pumpkin for my husband, as well as make some of his favorite pumpkin treats from past years. Pumpkin is his favorite flavor, from pumpkin spiced lattes at Starbucks, to pumpkin muffins. I’m not a huge fan of pumpkin, and Domingo likes thinking of it as a special treat, so we rarely make pumpkin anything at any other time in the year.

In mid November we cook a mini-thanksgiving meal for just the two of us and Lily, our kitty. We spend the day cooking in the kitchen, together. Since it’s just the two of us, we stick to the basics: turkey breast, stuffing (following my mom’s recipe), cranberry sauce, asparagus, and mashed potatoes. Lily gets her annual can of tuna. It’s a lot of food, but the left over’s keep well and are just so yummy! Our mini thanksgiving is a chance to try out new recipes and I experiment with a new fall themed dessert. If the desert works out, I make another for Thanksgiving with our extended family. Otherwise, I go back to a tried and true recipe. (My mother in law things I’m a great cook, in part because she never finds out about my failures *wink*.)

Not surprisingly, some of our traditions center around shopping. We both love to shop and save money, and when can one do that better than the season that has Black Friday? We go usually spend some time leading up to Black Friday “gathering intel” as my husband would say. You can tell what will go on sale on Black Friday by looking around at the inventory. Target especially keeps excess stock in the shelves above the aisles. If they suddenly have 200 of a particular type of vacuum, you can bet it will likely be a sale. We really enjoy our shopping trips together. No one can make me laugh like he can.

Before you know it, it’s already winter. In honor of the first holiday in fall, I redesigned my blog.

October 4, 2011

I Love my Systems Guy

I mentioned a few days ago about being stressed at school. I talked with my adviser about the setback I encountered, and we came up with a game plan to get around it. All was good. Ha! How naïve of me to think so. Since then, I had a massive hard drive issues that threatened to derail me further. Actually, I had two hard drive issues.

The first was with my external hard drive that has all all my research data on for the project I’ve been working. I know, I know, I should have a backup – but that’s hard when you’re talking about Terabytes of data. After I restarted the computer the disk would not mount. I could not access any of the data. Campus technical support couldn’t figure it out. There suggestion was to reformat the drive, but that would delete all my data. I got so stressed out about it, I ended up with a horrible migraine Saturday night. That’s when my wonderful husband saved the day.

Domingo realized the computer couldn’t read the drive because of an incompatibility with the BIOS. The BIOS controls what the computer does when it’s turned on. It meant two things. Reformatting would only work until the computer was turned off. Once the computer was booted again, the incompatibility with the BIOS would surface again and the drive would no longer be accessible. And secondly, there was a possibility there was no problem with the hard drive, and that my data was still in tact. Sunday, we took the two hour trip to campus, and he confirmed the problem. We brought the drive back home, and since then have been transferring the data to an external drive that my computer at school will be compatible with. Had Domingo not figured out the problem I not only would have lost my data, but I would keep loosing the drive every time I restarted my computer!

Then, yesterday, I had a personal hard drive crash. I booted my desktop to get a disk head crash error message. Disk head crashes are often unrecoverable. Sometimes the drive will still work, but it’s usually prone to more crashes. In this case, I was able to start the computer just long enough to copy all the data off before it crashed for good.

I am so glad to have survived the week without any data loss.

Disclosure: This blog post contains Amazon affiliate links. I may earn a small commission with each affiliate link click. For more details please see my full disclosure about blog profit.

It’s October and time to break out the pumpkin! Pumpkin cupcakes that is. I found the recipe for pumpkin cupcakes online a few years ago. I think I may have changed the recipe slightly. The cake batter recipe was my own idea. I wanted an icing that had a doughy kind of taste (like the crust of a pie) but a little sweeter. It’s not a very exciting recipe, but it is the first one I came up with on my own. The idea to decorate the cupcakes to look like little pies came from the book Hello, Cupcake!.

Pumpkin Cupcakes

Ingredients:

  • 2 1/4 cups flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1 1/3 cups sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup canned pumpkin
  • 3/4 cup milk

In a medium sized bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, ginger, cinnamon, and nutmeg into a bowl.

In large bowl cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat eggs until frothy, combine with butter & sugar.

Blend in mashed pumpkin. Alternate between stirring in the dry ingredients and the milk, blending until batter is smooth.

I fill the cupcake tray 1/2 full instead of 2/3rds so I don’t get the cupcake top, and the cupcake is more pie shaped. Bake at 375° for 25 minutes.

Icing

The secret to the cake batter taste is a touch of anise. I add 1 teaspoon of butter extract and 1/4th teaspoon of anise extract. Anise has a licorice like flavor, so add very little to not overpower the vanilla and butter. The butter extract gives it that nice buttery taste (like dough). I used like half a drop of red food coloring, and 3ish drops of yellow to give it a batter-like color.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup butter
  • 3 cups confectioners sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon butter extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon anise extract
  • 2 tablespoons milk

Beat butter on medium speed until creamy. Add sugar slowly, mixing it in with the butter. Add extracts, salt and milk. If your frosting is too thick for your tastes, add a touch more milk. If your frosting is too thin, add more sugar.

To get half a drop of red icing, I typically insert a toothpick into the food coloring container, and then wipe said toothpick on the icing to transfer a tiny amount of food coloring.