September 21, 2008

Buttercup Squash

Filed under: food — origamifreak @ 7:19 am
Tags: , , , , , ,

After reading about Lisa’s butternut squach gnocci and talking to her about it this morning, I recalled my post last autumn when I compared various squashes and buttercup won.  I bet that recipe (which already sounds wonderful) would be EVEN BETTER using buttercup.

On the outside it is not an attractive fruit. Here is a picture of some buttercup squash I am planning on baking this weekend for the rest of the week’s lunches:

Since the previous post was on a different blogging host and will eventually go away, I will paste it here:

BUTTERCUP, by a Landslide!

In my ongoing quest for the ultimate perfect baked winter squash, I’ve been trying different varieties.

In my earlier Squash-Offs I’ve tried acorn, carnival, delicata, and butternut. First delicata won, then butternut.

Not tonight. I’d read about buttercup and decided it would probably be up my alley (dry, creamy flesh, sweet), and got one at Wegmans last week. Didn’t get around to baking it until tonight, against acorn and butternut. Omigosh, there’s no comparison. Buttercup, hands-down.

Kudos to whomever bred such a lovely thing*. And I don’t care if the seeds are hard to separate. I can buy other squashes just for their seeds, if necessary!


P.S. Nothing that tastes this good should be only ONE POINT for a cup of it**.

* After some hunting around, I have discovered I have AF Yeager and E. Latzke, North Dakota plant breeders to thank:

Yeager, A.F. and E. Latzke. Buttercup Squash: Its Origin and Use. Fargo, ND: Agricultural Experiment Station, North Dakota Agricultural College, 1932. Bulletin/North Dakota Agricultural Experiment Station no. 258. 19 p. NAL 100 N813 no.258

In 1922 North Dakota researchers Yeager and Latzke undertook a squash breeding program that was initially focused on the Hubbard squash. Their aim was to develop a desirable variety that would take the place of the sweet potato, which had proved unsatisfactory in variety testing in the region. This report, issued ten years hence, describes the origin of the Buttercup variety, a small turban-shaped squash selected from an accidental cross of Quality and Essex Hybrid, and also considers growing methods and the variety’s cooking and food qualities. A good portion of the bulletin consists of general instructions for cooking and several dozen recipes (p. 13-19). With black-and-white photos, and bibliography (sources cited in footnotes).

** Turns out the SEEDS are where all the fat and calories are. 5 points for 1/4 cup! I guess kittens know this too, because they beg for them (well, at least the orange one does). Yikes. I better put those Away.

September 15, 2008

Scum Baiting *

This American Life aired a story this weekend about an internet sport, in which people under assumed names pretend to be victims of email bank fraud scams to lure the scammers into compromising positions and take their time away from scamming real victims. If you want to download this episode for free, do it this week, because after that you will have to pay, or just have the option to stream it.

I want to say right up front that I realize that the scammers are ruthless and frequently dangerous. It is the ethical and moral ambiguity of scam baiting and the psychology of the practice that intrigues me.

In the particular case described on the radio, a team of baiters lured two or three scammers 1400 miles from home in Lagos to a dangerous and unpleasant city in Chad not far from the border with Sudan. I’m still reading the message forum that discussed the bait while it was occurring (I’m about halfway through the 133-page thread), and it is apparent at this point in the story that the original scammer is in pretty dire straits; he has no money (not even for checking his email or placing cell phone calls), his compadre has a debilitating leg injury, and they just want to go home.

The scenario is an opportunity to watch two vastly different worlds collide. Some of the forum contributors are surprised that the scammers continue to “fall” for the bait, and can’t understand why they don’t just quit when the stakes become uncomfortably high. The reason for the surprise, I suspect, is that most of those people on the forum have never been to west Africa, and possibly not even to the third world with people who really live there. Here is a quote from one of the spectators:

I’d just like to give my thanks to YW, Jojo and Prof… not unimaginable bastard pig, or travel agent or, well fat bloke in underpants… but EDUCATORS!

I learned a little of this region of Africa during Kuku’s excellent adventures, but now I feel like I’m gaining an intimate insight into the day to day life of this troubled region.. without ever leaving my chair. Cool

Thank you… we are in your debt. I just wish geography/meteorology/social science/world politics had been this exciting at school Smile

It is especially peculiar to read comments by spectators, who imply that in jail or the hospital the scammers would have access to food or showers. There is one exception on the forums, who appears to be from Nigeria, originally.

I visited a Cameroonian friend in Ivory Coast in the autumn of 2001, between the military coups. The country was under martial law, and because of that, pretty stable. I had a wonderful time. Really. Because I was with people who really live there, and they were good friends. It was like another planet, however, and after having been there I now understand some of the things that had previously perplexed me about the way some of my foreign colleagues have handled things in the US. Here are some observations:

  1. You cannot plan things in the third world, but must remain very flexible. Office hours are inconsistent, forms and procedures are arbitrary and change without warning, and it is more about who you know than what you know, in order to actually get things done. Everything is negotiable.
  2. Free enterprise thrives. There were many people who had set up shop as telephone service providers, by sitting on the side of the road and charging a fee for others to use their cell phone. There were sometimes lines of people waiting to place calls. There were small “gas stations” where people had jugs and bottles of fuel to resell to moped drivers. One even had a Texaco star earnestly painted on the side of his table.
  3. Resources are extremely limited. I know this sounds obvious, but I really mean it. Enabling technologies that facilitate communication are extremely expensive (in local terms) to use, and are often not functional. I spent several frustrated sessions in an internet cafe in Bouaké and I can say first-hand that using those computers is not easy (starting with the French keyboard layout). And in the scheme of things, it was a really nice internet cafe.
  4. There is very little community infrastructure. You can’t rely on services that we take for granted, like trash removal, phone service, electricity, water, street repair, etc. Some are there for some neighborhoods, some are not, and all are intermittent. The only time I encountered police was in Abidjan when we were riding from the airport to the house of my friend’s cousin. The driver and I were up in front, and the other four were in back. A cop stopped us on the highway because he was concerned that I might have been kidnapped. After I convinced him that I was OK in my broken French, we drove on and soon pulled over so I could move to the back seat and my presence in the car wouldn’t be so obvious (the driver was understandably nervous about attracting any more attention).
  5. It was a great shock to see the amount of waste in the US, upon my return. Even something as simple as a lawn seems naked without clothes lying out on it to dry. Any cleared space on the ground was used for drying food. Everything was re-used so many times that containers and bags were sometimes unrecognizeable.

Based on my personal experience, here are some thoughts about scam baiting:

  1. In the scenario described on the radio, I think the scammers at first thought they had a “rich” dumb mark. However, by the time they had been lured to Abeche, I think they knew that there was not a real evangelical church behind the emails. However, they knew they had real live Americans on the other end of the line, and therefore they might still get some money out of them if they played along for sympathy. In a few emails the scammer pleads with the baiter(s), saying “this is not a game.”
  2. The reason scammers might not suspect early that they’re being baited is because in their world, (the third world), it is inconcievable that anyone would use time and money to sit around on the internet and mess with people just for fun, with no expectation of profit. That kind of leisure is available to the western middle class, and taken for granted by us who live in this world.
  3. In the places I saw on the forum where ethics was discussed, I did not find any mention of the ethics of baiters sending small amounts of money to scammers to keep them interested or communicating. I saw mention about baiters trying to get money from scammers (which is discouraged), and discussions about how far a bait should go, especially in terms of danger for the scammer, but not whether baiters could or do send money to scammers. The reason I bring this up, is that for me, I do not see a problem with baiting as long as only words are used on the scammer. It would be a very ugly scenario if westerners used their wealth to pay scammers to go into danger or humiliation. Then it becomes a puppet show for the benefit of the privileged, with real people dangling on the end of those strings.

One spectator in fact did bring up this idea, and it was discussed:

has anyone considered maybe sending them some small ammount of money so we can get them back online and talking to us?

I mean this bait is definatly worth a think, although it is against the rules and such, I think this safari is WAY TO good, and i think its way to early to stop….

by sending them 20$ they cud get back on the PC, and we cud bring even more tears to their faces…

Just a thought, probably not a good one, but I think this is one bait that would be worth roping on a bit

And shot down by one of the baiters:

Never in a bazillion years would we ever consider sending these lads even a penny. It really sucks that we can’t hear from them or get any messages across without the phone, but whatever. Look at the reasons why? We had said from the very beginning that we fully expected them to fall off the map at some point. We knew where we were sending them, and this is exactly what we were hoping for (minus the jail cells). We were continually amazed at how resourceful they managed to be. These cockroaches have survived a lot, and for about 9 weeks of it they managed to stay in touch. Well done, scumbags.

We’re doing our best to find ways to kick this bait back into action. None of us want this to be over either. We had a productive chat yesterday about some strategy to get ND off of his ass, so we’ll see how that pans out. But yeah, sadly it looks like the boys are now just another couple refugees in Abeche that will be spending days dodging rebel gunfire rather than running 419 scams in a cafe.

Still, it concerns me that sending small amounts of money might be a temptation for baiters in general. And it’s a very ugly scenario if they do.

The ethics of baiting can be complex. Later in the same forum, the baiters had identified a couple of new scammers and lured them to Chad as well. These two seemed genuinely interested in becoming evangelical missionaries, as an alternative to scamming:

I have no doubt in my mind that these guys are 100% serious about [the church]. There is no scamming involved here, from what I can see. These guys are different than Adamu. Adamu still had it in his mind that he was scamming the church. These guys, however, honestly want to be part of the church. That’s probably cruel of us. Ooops.

This was discussed on the forum:

Ah, an interesting ethical conundrum… It appears the lads are not looking to “scam” the church, as they are perfectly content with the huge payout that they perceive will come with simply posing as deeply religious individuals, is that right?…. I guess the question then becomes: Yeah, but if they were not presented with this opportunity would they still be doing 419s? I think I know the answer, in which case they deserve evrything that’s coming.

The baiters confirmed that scamming was the curent M.O. of these guys by using a different identity:

I know the answer to this. I was chatting with him online one day, as Dover. Well, at this point, I did not know if they were scamming. So, I sent an ASEM from an account that I set up that looks like a lad account, asking for help with my maga. While talking to me about spreading [the church], he was writing my lad character back with directions on what to do.

And later:

I truly believe that they would set up the church. I have dealt with a LOT of lads. I am pretty good at spotting a [genuine church member]. And I honestly think that these guys would do a fine job as [church] ministers. I reallt think that they would be the real deal. I think that they would set up shop and actually run the church. I will not be so naive to think that money is not a part of it. But I truly believe these idiots think that this is their way out.

A few weeks later:

They most certainly are [continuing their scams from Chad]. Like I said, we are currently straight baiting them as other, non-related characters.

I won’t even go into the ethics of any of the parties posing as a representative of a bogus religious organization, because that’s enough material for a whole entire blog (or a Commandment), just by itself…

Here are some additional perspectives about scam baiting:

* This title is purposefully ambiguous about whether this is baiting OF scum and/or BY scum. You decide.

September 11, 2008

Dog “rescues”

Filed under: dogs — origamifreak @ 9:16 pm
Tags: , , , , , ,

I really like Newfoundland dogs. They’re generally calm, friendly, affectionate, and they like swimming. I first met one about 15 years ago and have harbored a particular fondness for them ever since.

One time in CT I even picked one up that was wandering around in the dark in the middle of the road. A large, slow-moving black dog in the road on a pitch black night in an area with no street lights and sharp curves is a hazard to both himself and to cars, so I stopped on the shoulder to look for his ID, and there wasn’t any.

He waited patiently while I thought about what to do, and when I asked if he wanted a lift while I figured out where he lived, he got right in the back seat and sat quietly in the middle. It was funny, because he was so tall, it looked in the rear view mirror like there was a human sitting back there. I took him to Lisa’s nearby house where her Yorkie tried (unsuccessfully) to intimidate and chase him out of my car. (Charlie considered my car to be HIS territory.) Lisa put Charlie back inside and we drove around the neighborhood looking for a house with lights on, and finally found a guy who knew the owner and took him in for the night and arranged to get him back home (3-4 miles away).

Apparently this dog had a habit of getting out of his yard (the latch wasn’t secure), and wandering over to the corner store where he’d hang around waiting for kids to drop food, etc. I spoke with the owner on the phone a couple of days later to make sure he got home and was surprised by his nonchalance about the whole thing. He was a very nice dog and really shouldn’t been loose like that. I wonder sometimes why people don’t care more about their animals.

Anyway, this past weekend I had fun participating in the water tests that the local club hosts every year in the state park next door. The tests were for the purposes of getting titles as working dogs. There are two working areas in which Newfies earn titles: draft and water rescue.

If a dog acquires all of the following titles, he or she earns the über-title “Versatile Newfoundland” (VN):

  • AKC Championship in Conformation
  • AKC Companion Dog title in Obedience
  • NCA Draft Dog
  • NCA Water Rescue Dog (WRD)

Over the past 22 years there have been only 331 Versatile Newfoundlands ever designated. Last weekend we saw two get it by earning the WRD title. Here are the official results:

Saturday – Sept 6th:

  • WD Jolly Roger’s Darktown Strutter handled by Roger Frey
  • WRD Paradiso Stella Polare at Jolly Roger handled by Roger Frey
  • WRD Top Shelf’s Fire Island Annie CD, WD,DD,CGC,TDI handled by Rosemary Miller to a new VERSATILE NEWFOUNDLAND TITLE
  • WD ReQualifier VN Am/Can.CH. Jolly Roger’s Cherry Danish CD,WRD,DD,CGC,TDI handled by Eileen Bergal
  • WD ReQualifier VN Jolly Roger’s Danish Maid CD,WRD,DD,CGC,TDI handled by Eileen Bergal

Sunday – Sept. 7th:

  • WRD Am/Can. CH Pouch Cove’s All You Can Be CD,WD,DD handled by Nancy McKee to a new VERSATILE NEWFOUNDLAND TITLE
  • WD ReQualifier VN Jolly Roger’s Danish Maid CD,WRD,DD,CGC,TDI handled by Eileen Bergal
  • WRD ReQualifier Upwood’s Odin WRD, RN handled by Jackie Upwood
  • WRD ReQualifier Spirit Feather CD, RAE, TD,TDD, WRDX,CGC handled by Joyce Arivella

I helped in the “take a ring” exercise by being one of the silent swimmers (only one of three people calls for help). I also took a bunch of photos, and even rented a nice telephoto lens for the purpose.

The weather on Saturday was pretty bad, but Sunday was fantastic and I captured a few nice shots.

Odin “rescuing” Jackie on Saturday. He is one of the less well-known colors, gray. There are 4 standard colors – black, Landseer (black and white), brown, and gray.

Spirit going in after her bumper. She has the Landseer coloring.

Roger and one of his dogs, after the hurricane hit. Notice the streaks on the water from the wind.

Sunday the weather was much nicer. Here is JR going in after Nancy. He earned his VN at the end of this test. A point of trivia – JR is a son of the Newf that won Best in Show at Westminster a few years ago. (That’s where the “Pouch Cove‘s” part of his name comes from. Here’s a picture of JR when he was a puppy. Pouch Cove is a very popular sire; as of last year there were 24 offspring who had earned the VN title.)

Here is Odin going after Jackie, again. He’s one of the prettiest jumpers I’ve seen. I love the way he really stretches out.

Here are the judges and titleists:

September 7, 2008

Tracfone Experiments

Filed under: technology — origamifreak @ 4:10 am
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Fed up with paying >$350/year to Verizon Wireless for phone service that I hardly use, I let my friends talk me into getting a Tracfone. I have pre-paid about $200 (should have been $150, see #10 below) for the same amount of minutes and a year’s worth of service.

Here are some things I’ve learned in the process:

  1. Have the phone you order online sent to your work address, because even though the order form doesn’t tell you this when you put in the shipping address, FedEx will demand a signature AT YOUR DOOR.
  2. FedEx drivers are very nice. At the first failed attempt the driver put his own cell number on the sticky note and when I called to ask about the second delivery, he agreed to put the package on a different driver’s truck so it *could* be delivered to work. This is after FedEx phone agents said they couldn’t re-route the box and that Tracfone had to do it. Tracfone had said that they couldn’t re-route anything after it had left the warehouse.
  3. To get a real manual that has actual useful information, go to the manufacturer’s website and download one from there. The thing that comes with the phone is virtually useless.
  4. The Tracfone website menu that is supposed to allow you to transfer your existing number to your new phone is broken. It kept saying that I needed to put in 5 digits for the zip code. I had.
  5. If you want to transfer an existing number to a Tracfone, DO NOT try to do it through the automated phone menu. The automated phone menu will cheerfully guide you through all the steps to activating the phone. WITH A TOTALLY NEW NUMBER. Instead, you should press the button for technical support, and have them talk you through it. (Who knew?)
  6. Once your SIM card has been activated, you can’t change the number on it. They have to mail you a new SIM card and you have to start all over.
  7. It takes at least a couple of days to receive a new SIM card via DHL.
  8. DHL is very nice. They are willing to leave packages between your screen door and front door, even if you aren’t home to sign for it.
  9. It takes about 5 minutes to get a new SIM activated with the old cell number, if you requested the “port” of it over 2 days ago.
  10. If you have a Double Minutes for Life phone, you do NOT need to buy the DMFL card. (This should have been obvious, but I was tired.) In the end I spent $50 more than I needed to, getting something I already had. *sigh*
  11. You can get up to 200 extra minutes if you use the bonus codes listed at
  12. When you add the airtime card is the point where you see the extra 100 minutes for switching from another provider. So in total I got 300 extra minutes.
  13. To set up your voicemail, call your cell number from your cell phone and go through the menu. Unfortunately this actually costs minutes. (GRR)
  14. To find out the email address of your new phone, send an email to your computer. There are two ways to do this: 1) text only “sms” 2) text and photos “mms”
  15. Both of the messages from the phone to the computer arrive quickly. They have different addresses: 1) and 2) (where XXXXXXXXXX is your cell number)
  16. If you reply to each of the above addresses from the computer to the phone, they take different times to arrive. The message arrived almost instantaneously. The message had a 640×480 picture attached and took 58 hours for the phone to notify me of its existence. It only took about a minute to actually download. See numbers 18 and 19 below.
  17. If you “save content” on the mms message, you can use the attached picture as your wallpaper. This is apparently the only way to transfer photos and other content to your phone, since the USB and bluetooth connecters are apparently for charging and headset purposes, respectively.
  18. Later on this photo will be unviewable due to “insufficient memory.” This is because the picture I sent, while indeed a 640×480 jpg, was also 134 kb. It’s actually pretty impressive that it arrived and saved at all.
  19. If you are sending a photo to the phone make sure it’s under 23 kb. In The Gimp this means that the ‘jpg quality’ slider should be set to around 75% on a 640×480 image. If you do this, the message will arrive almost instantaneously.
  20. The LG wired earset works just fine on the Motorola, and allows the radio function to work.
  21. Listening to your voicemail from a landline is tricky and depends on the provider. I was lucky to find a comment from someone on a message board who had figured it out and is in the same area code as I am. Your best shot at this is googling to see if someone has already figured out a solution. YMMV.
  22. You can’t transfer files between the phone and a computer via the USB, but you can charge the phone via a USB cable connected to a computer. Here’s how. I have tried the software/driver-hacking method, and it works.

Overall, it’s been quite an education. I’m getting too old for this sort of thing.

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