December 22, 2016

A Pox Upon Your House!

Filed under: la vida pobre — Benjamin Vulpes @ 9:59 p.m.

A homebuilder bought the lot next to the house that I rent, and has been building a house upon it for lo these past four months. He ripped out the privacy hedge between our properties so that his mass-produced pressed-shitboard insult to the word "house" might press up as close as is legally-allowed to the property line; coated all of my cars in a fine layer of all sorts of dust from soil to concrete to gravel; and made heinous noises, mostly between the legally-allowed hours of 7AM and 7PM during the week but also during the weekend when applying the composite roof.

Most recently and offensively, he woke from my sweet ad libitum slumber compacting the gravel ahead of pouring his driveway.

And so I pronounce curses upon him:

May the foundation of every home you build crack.

May the siding I heard your caulking contractor complaining about the gaps in never seal completely.

May your roofs need replacing before their warranties expire.

May your modern, high-efficiency HVAC units output a meagre trickle of cold air.

May the company underwriting your warranties discover the quality of your workmanship.

May the mounting points for the solar panels you eschewed installing never seal properly, and force an early roof replacement.

May you take a wander around your freshly-constructed fire hazard, and find deep shame in the fact that your siding contractors can't match the grain on vinyl siding designed to look like wood and to match at panel seams.

May prospective buyers of your craft, such as it may be called, also see the miserably bad siding job, and demand a greater discount off your ask than you ever imagined granting in a tight housing market.

May your wife demand that you waste tens of thousands of dollars extending the life of your ailing pet by weeks.

May you and your agents struggle to sell the house, burdened with the embarrassment of the heinously bad siding job.

May your box truck never pass DEQ, and may you never figure out why.

May your next door neighbors (hi!) throw obscenely loud parties with lots of cigarette smoke, swearing and hateful rap music during the open houses at which you'll struggle to unload your bullshit paper on the next greatest fool.

May the roofers who work on your buildings without safety equipment fall from the third story and bankrupt you with a safety practices violation suit.

May your children take on as much nondischargeable debt as is possible, while also spending whatever pittance you saved for their college, and may they waste that time and money in pursuit of degrees that will never show any ROI or educate them meaningfully.

And finally, may you be left sitting upon a pile of inventory when the housing market crashes next.

September 15, 2016

Enlightened Self Interest and Dishwashing Optimizations

Filed under: la vida pobre, philosophy — Benjamin Vulpes @ 9:36 p.m.

I wash the dishes in my house. The chore suits my domestic arrangement well, as I vastly prefer having my food cooked to cooking it myself, and I can typically knock out a day's worth of dishes in under twenty minutes. It's a valuable "active meditation" for me, much like yoga. The difference being that the forty minute bike ride into and out of the city each day has completely eaten up my allocated time for exercise, I like my yoga sessions to go for something on the order of an hour and a half, and just cannot summon the fucks to do yoga regularly anymore.

Anyways, the dishes. On those infrequent events where my little family ventures to a friend's house for dinner (and even less frequently, stay long enough past the child's bedtime to observe the friends' dishwashing practice), and those more frequent events where the friends congregate in our little cottage ("Baby it's a cottage, not a hovel! An adorable cottage, a ten minute walk from the river!") , I like to note the various processes my friends use to do dishes and their various strengths and weaknesses. Since I do this particular chore on an ironclad schedule of every fucking day, I have spent a fair amount of cycles on optimizing the work, and I'm going to share some of the optimizations I've found with you! Aren't you lucky.

A few principles that drive my dish-cleaning practice:

  • Minimize dirty dish lifetime on usable surfaces
  • Keep the dishwasher empty and ready for loading at all times
  • Use the machine to do as much work as possible
  • Minimize time spent washing dishes
  • Have the right tools
  • Optimize hardware choices for dish-wash-ability

Because I am a tightfisted jew, I've emplaced my family in a tiny cottage with a tiny kitchen. When shopping around for the new place, I was dead-set on finding a house with a garbage disposal, or "garburator" as our sorry ("Sorry!") neighbors to the North call them, but eventually relented and traded the garburator for a hood over the stove, as: cleaning dishes is simply messy work, and if I can ease the cook's job on the smoke side of things, well shit who knows what marvelous new dishes she'll crank out, thereby improving my life rather more dramatically than having the garbage disposal would. The other factor that shifted out from underneath my original list of "must-haves" was that we eventually elected to live waaaay out in Milwaukie (technically an unincorporated part of Oak Grove, but this digression threatens to spiral out of control into real-estate insider baseball if I keep on in this vein), which unlike Portland and in the same fashion as other civilized places does garbage pickup once per week and so disposing of food waste into the trash can.

"What?!" I hear you ask, "Portland does garbage pickup at a frequency of less than once per week?!" Why of course, friend! In a laudable (but not lauded!) attempt to reduce the amount of landfill mass the city produces, some glorious socialist of mayorhood past determined that henceforth the city shall provide tiny little compost buckets, which shall live on citizens' counters to receive disposition of food waste. The state decreed that citizens shall empty those (now particularly stinky, on account of only having warm decomposing food matter in them) buckets into the yard debris bins which are collected weekly, and that collection of refuse sent to an industrial composter. The incentive the governors fell upon to get people actually using their harebrained scheme dovetailed perfectly with their goals to reduce landfill: drop garbage pickup from once per week to every other week.

The whole charade is an excellent example of how the slow-motion socialist takeover has robbed my generation of even knowing that they've been robbed. Not only have the services delivered been halved, but it's sold on the premises of "composting is better than landfill" and "we've reduced our landfill flux by thus and such amount (by halving services)". No shit, I could more than halve the carbon output of the metro area, just by taking away the cars of the bottom 50% of earners, and before you go off on me for "omfg but that's precisely regressive taxation!!" consider that the cost of garbage takeaway is a vanishing fraction of household budget for the wealthy, and for the impoverished Greshamite a thing to consider very carefully in the monthly cashflow allocation. The wealthy can simply spend another impossible-to-see-from-orbit fraction of their wealth to have the larger garbage cans delivered and emptied, while the poor (and barely-middle-class like myself) had to decide if we're going to spring for the larger can or simply live with fewer pickups.

The tiny kitchen in my hovcottage basically demands cleared counters for any sort of serious cooking project—there's barely room to turn around, much less spare square inches for dirty dishes. To that end, an important principle of dish-doing (and in fact living a sanitary, tidy, well-groomed life) is to keep the counters clear for use. So: whenever I find myself at loose ends for ten minutes (eg in the middle of a conversation, taking an interruption while the lady puts the child to sleep), the first task I turn to is to push more dishes through the cleaning pipeline, ideally all the way into the dishwasher.

On the topic of the dishwasher, there are two mandates from heaven regarding its use: 1) keep the dishwasher empty, and 2) use it as heavily as possible.

The first is a hard efficiency requirement, and a prerequisite to making progress on dishes at the drop of a hat, with a minimal amount of faffing about. If the whole effort is judged not by dishes returned to the cabinets (which it won't be, "out of sight, out of mind" and all that), but rather on the time between the transition into the dirty state and the transition off the counter, whether that be into the dishwasher or back into the cabinet, then optimizing for that case demands that one keep the dishwasher unloaded or running at all times.

The second mandate, "use the dishwasher as heavily as possible" is significantly more floppy and subject to interpretation. At the highest level, it means "wash nothing by hand that the machine can wash for you". In practice it must be construed situationally: if the thing is 1/3 full and the person clearing the dish pipeline doesn't anticipate more loads coming through, run that fucker and empty it! Odds are that the next meal is going to blow clean through that remaining 2/3rds capacity leaving one with dishes to clean by hand. Number and size of pots and pans to clean also affects optimal dishwasher use: you don't want to waste precious rackspace on a single giant pot (which may well interfere with your top rack spray arm as well!), so clean that shit by hand!

Minimizing time spent doing dishes is the fundamental cost function to apply. A large pot takes approximately as much time to clean thoroughly by hand (give or take a baked on sauce) as 3-4 plates, if you have your tooling well dialed. Therefore, if you can stick 6 plates into the space that a pot would otherwise occupy, you should clean the pot by hand and wash the plates in the dishwasher.

As far as tools go, the selection I've found most useful consists of a flexible ceramic scraper, a chain mail scrubber, soap and sponges, and scouring pads. One pass with a putty scraper should be adequate to get more-or-less anything off the surface, a brisk scrubbing with a chain mail scrubber (strive to purchase capital equipment that will last, it'll save you the headache and opex inherent in depending on consumable tools) should remove the small bits impractical to pop off with the scraper, and a final pass with a sponge and generous helping of soap will clean the surface and (if you're doing it right) get the rest of the bits off. A scouring pad is a useful addition to remove the most persistent films and baked-on greases.

Picking dishes that can survive heat and water and soap is another optimization route. For me, this means regular conversations with The Procurement Department about the unsuitability of various household items for cleaning in the dishwasher, and the unconscionable impact such devices have on the time it takes to "do the dishes". EVERYTHING MUST GO IN THE DISHWASHER AND THAT MUST BE FINE. At least until I hire a dishwasher for my house.

Until such a day as the children are large enough to do the dishes themselves (at to my stringent requirements at that) and I can deploy my human assets against the problem, I will continue to lust after commercial dishwashers like the Noble Warewashing UH30-E. Dishwasher duty cycle is the largest single component in my dish-processing flow, and if I could get that down to a 2 minute run instead of a 40 minute run (granted, the dishwasher in this rental is old and slow, but I've never used a consumer dishwasher that didn't take at least 30 minutes per large, moderately-soiled load), holy shit the time I'd save.

At the end of the day, I try to treat dishwashing as any other industrial process. There is capital equipment involved, and it should be operating more-or-less continually. There are resources (counter space, primarily in my case), for which contention must be minimized. I want to keep the high-quality meals coming out of the kitchen, and so I do my damnedest to set my dearest chef up so that her job in making us food is as easy as my job in loading the dishes—everything the lady needs to make me happy should be ready for her use.

Enlightened self interest! An important princple in the humble domestic sphere.

October 11, 2015

dakota french toast, fried bananas and salad

Filed under: la vida pobre — Benjamin Vulpes @ 12:00 a.m.
dakota french toast, fried bananas and salad

She's what, 40 weeks pregnant at this point? Even so, this is what she makes for me of a sweet Sunday:


French toast made from Great Harvet's amazing Dakota bread, bananas lightly dusted with Muscovato sugar and cinnamon before frying, a salad and of course coffee.

May 27, 2015

adult breakfast-for-dinner

Filed under: la vida pobre — Benjamin Vulpes @ 12:00 a.m.
adult breakfast-for-dinner


Chicken and feta sausages with sweet corn fritters. Known to children as "pigs in a blanket".

May 26, 2015

just another day in sunny cascadia

Filed under: la vida pobre — Benjamin Vulpes @ 12:00 a.m.
just another day in sunny cascadia

Pick up girl at airport, procure nice bread/meat/cheese bits, acquire various friends, do dinner in the park. Walk home, followed for two blocks by:


Just another day.

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