Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Six Degrees of Linked In

A while back, when I was seriously looking for full-time work, I took a friend's advice and joined Linked In.  Supposedly this would allow me to connect with all the high-powered people in my background who were panting to find me a new job.  Sadly, the high-powered people in my background are now mostly retired or dead, and the few that are on Linked In don't want to be bothered.  I haven't deleted my profile, though, because it has allowed a few old friends I'd lost touch with to find me.  Now, however, it's starting to weird me out.

One of the features of Linked In is that it sends you little messages asking whether you know certain people and would like to connect with them.  Usually the software's rationale for recommending someone is pretty clear - that person is a former co-worker, for example.  I was startled a couple of months back when my former brother-in-law popped up at the top of the list; I hadn't heard from or of him in about 20 years.  I can understand why the algorithm made the connection, though; we're the same age and went to the same high school and the same college.

This week the recommendations have been a little creepier.  One is a woman from my book club.  The club is the only connection I'm aware of between us and that isn't mentioned in either of our profiles.  I guess you could say that we are both adjunct university faculty living in the Phoenix metro area, but we work for totally unrelated schools, teach completely different subjects, and live on opposite sides of the Valley.  The other recommendation that startled me is my cousin who lives in Scottsdale.  She and I are related through our mothers, so we've never had the same last name; we aren't the same age, never went to any of the same schools, and our career paths had nothing in common.  We were both born in South Dakota and now live in Arizona - is that enough for the software to theorize a connection?

My best guess is that Linked In uses an algorithm based on "six degrees of separation" and is checking for friends of friends of friends in its records.  Somewhere in the murk of the Linked In database is a friend of my cousin who also knows someone who knows someone who knows someone who knows me.  I hope.  Otherwise, Big Brother may actually be watching.

"A fascinating game grew out of this discussion. One of us suggested performing the following experiment to prove that the population of the Earth is closer together now than they have ever been before. We should select any person from the 1.5 billion inhabitants of the Earth—anyone, anywhere at all. He bet us that, using no more than five individuals, one of whom is a personal acquaintance, he could contact the selected individual using nothing except the network of personal acquaintances." ~Frigyes Karinthy, Chain-Links

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Not the Pilgrims' Scalloped Corn

This year was my sister's turn to play host for Thanksgiving.  I spent a good chunk of yesterday helping her clean house (I WILL expect payback at Christmas).  This morning I made scalloped corn, my contribution to dinner.  My version takes longer than recipes using canned cream corn as a base and it doesn't have the richness of those with heavy cream as a thickener, but it has an intense fresh corn flavor that had all the relatives asking how I made it.  If you're in a hurry you can use frozen corn instead of fresh, but it's not quite the same.

Beth's Scalloped Corn

7 ears of fresh sweet corn, husks and silk removed
1 tsp flour 
1/2 c plain light soy milk (yes, regular milk would work, too)
2 scallions, including greens, chopped
1 1/2 Tbl melted butter
1/2 cup crumbs (I used Ian's Whole Wheat flavor Panko crumbs, available at Sprouts)
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cut the corn kernels off the cobs and set aside.

Then, use a small knife to scrape ("milk") what's left on the cobs into a saucepan.  Whisk in the flour and 1/4 c of the milk.  Cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, until the mixture has thickened. Microwave two cups of the reserved corn kernels for two minutes on high.  Add the cooked kernels and the other 1/4 cup of milk to the mixture in the saucepan and stir together.  Use a stick blender, food processor, or regular blender to puree until smooth.

Add the puree and the chopped scallions to the remaining corn kernels and stir together.  Taste; adjust the flavor with salt and pepper as needed.  Pour into a 1-quart casserole (not greased!). Stir together the melted butter and the crumbs.  Scatter evenly over the top of the corn.

Bake 30-35 minutes at 350 degrees.  Serve warm.  Serves 6 normally or 9 on Thanksgiving when 20 other things are being served.

Variation: Add 1/2 cup of chopped yellow pepper before pouring into the casserole.

"The Indian Corn, or Maiz, proves the most useful Grain in the World; and had it not been for the Fruitfulness of this Species, it would have proved very difficult to have settled some of the Plantations in America. " ~John Lawson

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Going Pro

I've actually had lots of things to blog about over the last week - our latest book club meeting, a new split pea soup recipe, my dilemma over whether to buy new windows for the house - but no time to do it.  I've been busy finally getting my professional act in gear.

Although I've been an independent contractor in the web and graphics design business for most of the last 6 years, the preponderance of my work was for a single client.  The work from that direction has been drying up, though, and it's time for me to become a real freelancer.  That means buying my own domain for my online portfolio, updating my resume, printing my own business cards, putting together sample contracts and invoices, and setting up appointments with several prospective clients - plus telling my previous "boss" that our relationship is changing.  Fun (and not-so-fun) stuff.

While uploading my portfolio files to my new domain yesterday I realized that it doesn't have some of my best recent work on it, so today I'll be revising the website.  I hope.  I'm on the fence as to whether I should just rebuild it from scratch.  My previous host was my Internet ISP; they provided free personal webspace for email clients, but didn't allow it to be used for business.  That meant I could use it to display my work but not to actively solicit clients.  This is probably the right moment to say, "Show me the money!"

Next step: call my accountant and see what I need to do to keep things straight from a tax perspective.  More not-so-fun stuff - but when I'm all done I should have the pleasure of choosing my own clients, preferably all within easy commuting distance.  I'm starting to feel like a real grown-up.

"The freelance writer is a man who is paid per piece or per word or perhaps. " ~Robert Benchley

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Hot Stuff

When I was a little kid, my Uncle Gilbert used to occasionally make pork sausages in his basement.  Sausage production was a real event; it took several people to feed the ingredients into the grinder, make sure the casing didn't prematurely detach from the stuffing nozzle, and tie off the individual links as the forcemeat filled the casing almost to the bursting point.  I've never really understood that saying about laws being like sausage in that "it is better not to see them being made" - when I was six or seven, watching Uncle Gil and his sausage crew in action was my idea of a good time.

Since I started cutting the fat in my diet I've almost stopped eating pork sausage.  Generally I substitute Jenny-O's Italian-flavored ground turkey in spaghetti sauce, breakfast casseroles, etc.  However, their Italian flavoring is similar to that in sweet Italian sausage, and every once in a while I want hot Italian sausage instead.  Today I was in the mood for scrambled eggs with hot sausage, so I took some plain unflavored ground chicken and kicked it up a notch.  If you don't like your sausage quite this hot, cut back on the pepper or add more ground chicken.

Hot Italian-Flavored Chicken Sausage

3/4 lb unflavored ground chicken (or turkey)
1 1/2 tsp fennel seeds (preferably toasted*)
1 Tbl finely chopped garlic
1 tsp coarsely ground black pepper
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper
1 tsp kosher salt
1 Tbl chopped fresh parsley (or 1 tsp dried)

*To toast the fennel seeds, heat them over medium low heat in a non-stick pan, shaking frequently, until they become fragrant and just start to brown.

Mix the ingredients thoroughly until the herbs and spices are evenly distributed throughout the ground chicken.  Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes so the flavors have a chance to blend.  Use as you would any bulk sausage - or, if you want pseudo-links, wrap individual "sausages" tightly in plastic wrap and poach them in boiling water.

"I used to help my granddaddy make sausage. He would mix it up in a cleaned-out washtub with his hands, no gloves. Man, if we did anything like that today, they would jack the jail up and throw us under it. " ~Jimmy Dean