Can I live without Microsoft?

So I’m seriously considering switching our two home computers to Linux. I’m sick of paying huge prices for basic software. And since I’m no longer a poor college student, I can’t use that excuse to run unlicensed stuff. But when you combine the costs of Windows (I’m sure the new version won’t be cheap) and Office (again, new $300+ version coming out), I can’t afford to own a computer with up-to-date software.

It’s been a while since I used Linux — probably six years or so. Back then it was just a dual-boot toy that I used until I got sick of trying to get by with the available Linux word processing software. I’m not at all familiar with the current breed of Linux packages. But I also know I’m way behind the cutting edge on this now, and it shouldn’t be hard to find a good installation and get it working on these two computers.

The first move I’ve made is to install Firefox and stop using IE. I’ve done that at work, too. It’s not just the tabbed browsing and the banner ad deletion plugin — it’s partially just the fact that I’m using a good, solid browser that wasn’t made by M$. IE does seem a touch faster than Firefox both on initial load and on page loads, but I might be wrong. If it is slower, it’s not really a deal breaker. I really like Firefox.

I have to check out a few more things, first. One is the syncing between my Dell PDA and Linux.
I’d also like to try OpenOffice on Windows before I jump off and commit to using the Linux version. I know I’ll lose Streets and Trips (which I use only for the GPS on road trips). My TV program will probably not work. But otherwise, I think most things can be done with comparable (and open-source) software on the Linux side. I guess I could leave Windows installed, too, just in case I need it, but I’d like to avoid that.

More later…

Asiago Cheese Bagels

So, I hate big franchise-type coffee houses. I hate their smoke-free, bright interiors with decor that’s supposed to look artsy and free. I hate their yuppie clientel and the hours of operation that result from appealing to the rush-hour crowd. I hate the two chairs by a fake fireplace surrounded by tens of regular old tables and hard chairs — like those chairs are supposed to make it feel like your living room or something. I hate the fact that they still employ the same free-spirited workers as a non-chain coffee house, only because those people have no other coffeeshops in which they can work.

I’d patronize a unique, single-location coffeeshop over that any day. Give me one with bar hours, not commuter hours — it should open at 9 and close at 2, at least on the weekends. The people that are up before that can go to Starbucks or whatever. And bring in some real furniture: lots of chairs, couches, coffee tables.

Any coffeeshop worth going to needs to have an old staircase leading to a second floor, and it needs to have a outdoor balcony — with little tables and chairs out there. The lighting inside needs to be turned down to almost nothing. Bring in some lamps, so the people who want to read can sit by them.

There’s no coffeeshop near our house. There are places to buy coffee, but no coffeeshops — not even the big chain type. So occasionally we drive to the Panera Bread that’s about 4 miles from here, and we get regular coffee and a couple of their asiago cheese bagels. They are good, and they are worth the drive, but you can’t drive fifteen minutes every time you want a damn bagel.
So today I’m making asiago cheese bagels. Here’s my version of an Asiago Cheese Bagel Recipe. It’s basically a plain bagel with some cheese mixed in.

– 2 packets active dry yeast
– 3 tablespoons white sugar
– 1-1/4 teaspoons salt
– 5-1/2 cups flour (unbleached wheat flour is best, but all-purpose is okay)
– 8 ounces asiago cheese (one wedge-shaped chunk), divided
– 1 egg white

In a large bowl or mixer bowl, combine the yeast with two cups of warm water. Let stand until the yeast is dissolved.

Stir in the sugar, salt and flour. Kneed about 10 minutes.

With a knife, chop about half of the cheese into small chunks. Kneed these chunks into the bread dough. Cover and let the dough rise.

While dough is rising, finely shred the remaining cheese. If you like sharp, tasty cheese, this is the time to sample some.

Divide dough into 12 balls. If you want bagel-shaped bagels, punch a 1″ hole in the center of each ball and smooth the bagel around that. If you want a Panera-style asiago cheese bagel, just flatten the ball slightly.

Pour about an inch of water into a large skillet and bring to a boil. Three at a time, slip the bagels into the water. Simmer about three minutes, then flip. Simmer two minutes more, then flip again and simmer one minute. Repeat for the remaining bagels. Bagels should be slightly puffy. Blot bagels with a paper towel and place them on baking sheets lightly covered with non-stick spray.

Beat egg white with a tablespoon of water. Brush over bagels. Sprinkle shredded cheese on top of bagels and press down so the cheese bakes into the top of the bagels.

Bake at 350F 30 minutes or until browned. Remove from sheets and cool on racks.

Summer vacation plans

My brother, Jim Stewart, for some reason, has seen fit to indenture himself to the US Navy for an undetermined amount of time beginning at the end of this coming summer. That leaves us with one last chance to get out west for some hiking in the mountains. Since my sister, Sheryl Vine, is now living in Bozeman, Montana, we’ve decide to go to that area rather than return to our customary Wind Rivers in Wyoming.

There are other reasons for going there as well. For one thing, I’ve determined that I’m really no good at backpacking. Staying in that little tiny tent with no warm, comfortable base camp for the night drives me crazy. Seriously crazy. I’ve determined in the past couple weeks that part of the problem is that I’m out of shape, so when I get to the end of a long, hard hike I feel pretty crappy. That combined with the insanity of the emptiness of wilderness and the worrying about bears eating my food doesn’t do me any good.

So I’m been pushing for our trip to be mostly cabin-based this time, with long, hard day hikes tempered by nights spent at a base camp with real food and some sort of enclosed structure other than a tent. We haven’t really done anything like that. The closest I’ve been was backpacking for a couple weeks in Nepal back in 1999. That mainly consisted of going from one tourist lodge to another, and it was a lot of fun and worked well for me.

We found out that the Forest Service rents a bunch of mostly primitive cabins in the Gallatin National Forest surrounding Bozeman. For $30-45 a night, you get at least a place to sleep away from the bears, usually a wood stove and even electricity with some cabins. When they opened up reservations on Thursday of this week, I jumped on the web and attempted to book one. Their site, www.reserveusa.com, was a bit screwed up. But eventually we ended up with a reservation for the cabin at Windy Pass, located on the Gallatin Crest south-east of Big Sky, MT.

Here’s a good description of where we are going to go: http://www.cowboyhvn.com/Gallatin.htm; and here are some of the hiking trails in the area: Here’s a list with descriptions of some of the hiking trails in the area: http://www.fs.fed.us/r1/gallatin/?page=recreation/hiking.

Now, it’s not a wilderness area this time around, which worries us a little. With a wilderness area, you know what you’re going to find. Decently maintained trails, but for foot traffic only. No mechanical noises unless a plane flies over you. Undisturbed nature at its best, generally, other than the few people you will encounter. But these cabins are located in the National Forest, which means ATVs are allowed, for one thing. And it’s more accessible, so day-hikes are more prevalent.

Anyway, it can’t be all bad. During the work week, how many ATV drivers can there be? We’ll be on the edge of a huge petrified forest area, within hiking distance of some tall mountains (tall for Montana, at least), and snug and tight away from the grizzlies at night.

Last night’s speech: the positive

I have plenty of negative things to say about the current administration’s policies and programs, but I thought I’d mention the one positive thing I heard in last night’s State of the Union speech. The administration’s energy policy has been quite misguided, and so have its spending proposals, specifically its requests for spending related to alternative fuels and alternative energy (“Let’s spend a ton of money on decades-down-the-road hydrogen research rather than cutting energy use and increasing use of current alternative fuels. Yay!”).

But it is nice to see the President publically embracing cellulosic ethanol production and requesting funding for further development. It’s not a groundbreaking idea or anything, but he could have just as easily ignored that area of research. Cellulosic ethanol is close to being a large-scale reality — it has the potential to greatly reduce petroleum use. So does the use of new feedstock sources for the production of biodiesel, which is already an extremely effecient process. Now to work on ethanol emissions…