How I journal today

I keep this blog for non-theological issues, last writing last September about disaster preparedness. That’s weighed on me lately, with the floods here in the East, volcanoes in Hawaii, fires in Greece and — above all — the unresolved crisis in Puerto Rico as the new hurricane season ramps up. So I’ll be writing up how I am preparing for emergencies and why. Something more than pointing at the site (though it is useful).

Which means keeping notes and writing some documentation, which I do best by logging my days. “Blogging” is a coy contraction of “web logging” so I could log my days online, but that would hamper candid thoughts. I could log in a book like generations have done before me, but I have a pile of half-written blank books to show that’s futile. I’ve decided to journal in a text file, then produce it as a web page that I can read locally (that is, from my own computer) through a web browser. (Could I read the text file? Sure. Am I drawn to reading web pages? You bet.) Here’s how I do it.

I treat each month as its own document, and (should I keep this going) each year as its own “volume.” So I created a set of nested folders: “2018” within “Journal” within Dropbox, so I can also see and edit these files from other Dropbox-connected devices. I have a folder within “2018” called “assets” for keeping images files: think “scrapbook clippings”.

In the “2018” I’ll have a file for each month; I’m calling July’s The “.md” is for Markdown, a light way to markup my texts that I can do on the fly. Above all, I don’t want to be distracted by a word processor; you can write with Markdown in a terminal (as I do at home) or on a text editor on a phone. Remember Microsoft Notepad? That would work too. For the sake of this example, putting one underscore on either side of a word _like this_ makes italicized. One or two pound signs or hash marks (#) makes the line a level one or level two header, respectively. That’s how I divide the journal into weeks and days, respectively. Starting a line with a > makes a block quote. Once you get used to Markdown, you can do more, like add images.

(If you know Markdown, I use the kramdown variant and use a YAML header: title and author only. If that means nothing to you, don’t worry because it’s what’s another program will use to make the HTML web page.)

Pandoc is a tool to convert documents of one format to another, in this case Markdown to HTML. It runs on the command line, but there are graphic interfaces like this , but I’ve never used them. (This page helps Windows users.) It’s the command line that makes Pandoc fast and thus preferable. I can select options within Pandoc, too.

Here’s the command I run to regenerate my journal:

pandoc -s --toc -H bmfw -o 2018-07_journal.html

The -s makes the HTML document a stand-alone, self-contained single webpage. The --toc gives the page a table of contents, in this case each day of the month so I can jump any given day. The -H bmfw pulls in a file called bmfw (more about that later) to supply CSS, to style the page to make it more readable. The -o outputs the HTML to a file called 2018-07_journal.html. That I open with my preferred web browser, Firefox.

Journal page as it appears in firefox

I was inspired by this blue-named site for my format, thus the bmfw file above. I fiddle with it as I like, say, making the text monospaced for now. This is what the beginning of my journal looks like. The “July 2018 Journal” and “Scott Wells” come automatically from the YAML header I mentioned above, but are not required. But what did I do to get it? At the beginning of my file I typed

title: July 2018 Journal
author: Scott Wells


There’s a blank line after the second ---. So the beginning of my journal looks like this:

Opening text in terminal window

I hope that gets you started.

Preparing for emergencies: your plans?

It’s hard not to look at the suffering following Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria plus the earthquakes in Mexico and not have deep empathy for those people suffering. (Indeed, you may be one of them.) As each disaster happened I wondered, “what would I do to prepare?” and drew on my Gulf Coast childhood memories of hurricanes and flooding. The difference is that Washington, D.C. (my home) is likely to get different disasters, and now that I am an adult need to be responsible for myself and my family, and helpful so far as I can to my neighbors. And I need to be a good world-citizen to others not near me who need immediate help.

So, what to do? I’m talking about material preparation, but also spiritual and probably political preparation, the last being what power can be harnessed to overcome political roadblocks. (We’ve seen evidence of this this week.)

I’ve been documenting some plans and identifing some resources. Until then, what are your plans (or habits) for when disasters strike? What tools do you need to prepare? What incentives or encouragments do you need to take steps now?

Feel free to comment as I work through this myself.

Ten non-resolutions for 2017

So, it’s 2017 now. I’m in that group of people who wants to make New Year’s resolutions, but doesn’t keep them well. I’ve made ill-fated resolutions about losing weight so many times that I’ve given up on them. I’ll try these ten non-resolutions instead:

  1. Try to keep my sodium intake down. That should help with my blood pressure.
  2. Find and use a tailor to make my clothing fit. Easier than trying to tailor myself.
  3. Try to walk a bit more. It’s the most exercise I get, so I might as well get more.
  4. Move my diet closer to vegan (I’m already a vegetarian) particularly by restricting egg consumption. I don’t really like them anyway, and it’s a good way to lose some more saturated fat.
  5. Work on core strength. Do those exercises I learned in physical therapy. A concrete step to overcoming back pain.
  6. Settle on a good haircut, with a reliable barber. I wasn’t going to lose skull weight anyway, so a good haircut would help my head look better. Ditto the beard.
  7. Cut back on white bread. I like it, but it sits on me like lead.
  8. Try to take outings that don’t focus on getting food or eating.
  9. Take the stairs more and see if that helps strengthen my knees, or see an orthopedist if it doesn’t.
  10. Learn to stretch my back to help relieve back pain.

So I won’t make a resolution to lose weight, but will endeavor to change those behaviors that will get me closer to having those health and appearance improvements that I attribute to weight loss. After all, it’s not the particular number of pounds that I want.

We’ll see if that works, or at least if I can keep up with it.


Tools to scrape data from a website

This is another one of those notes-to-self for later, and perhaps to inspire others to try. Putting the log back into blog. While I’d love to learn enough Python or what-have-you to scrape the data from a website, the following tools got the job done.

  • to do the heavy lifting of scraping. The best option I found in an exhaustive half hour of searching and testing.
  • Open Refine to split columns where I wanted, though that’s only a part of its power
  • Using a spreadsheet as a crowbar to make sure the data was in the right columns. Open Refine probably is the right tool, but good ol’ LibreOffice Calc got the job done.

And pen and index cards, to note what I did so before I try and scrape data from another site, I’ll do a better job.

Vegan ham #3: Lam Sheng Kee Vegetarian Ham (Bacon Flavor)

best-vegan-hamThe first two installments (1, 2) of this review series makes the third very easy — and satisfying. Until we have a chance to sample more vegan hams, Lam Sheng Kee Vegetarian Ham (Bacon Flavor) will be the one we will buy for hot and cold ham eating.

But to be clear, I mean “ham lunch meat” substitute, not country ham or honey-spiral-thingy. It’s not as sweet as the chicken flavored ham, but not as smoky as breakfast bacon either. Just think ham lunch meat. It’s chewy without being gummy, flavorful but not cloying and — in one hot preparation — made a delicious fried rice. Fine, as long as you don’t oversell it. $10 for the kilogram log.

If you find it (or the chicken flavor ham) please note it in the comments.

Please excuse the bit of plastic wrapper
Please excuse the bit of plastic wrapper.

Vegan ham #2: Lam Sheng Kee Vegetarian Ham (Chicken Flavor)

The vegetarian chicken ham Let me start by saying I really like this product. Even if it has about two too many words in its name. I think “vegetarian ham” is easier to understand than a “chicken ham.” After all, a vegetarian analog is like the meaty original, but made without animals. But is a vegetarian chicken ham a now-meat-free version of a ham, but originally made with bird flesh? Or pork, made like bird, but now made with soy?

It’s none of these, I gather. It’s light, savory, lightly spiced vegetarian product that I’d call “imitation chicken lunch meat”– which I think gets the point across, even if that might not pass regulatory muster, and again suffers for having two too many words in it. And to be clear, it’s like a processed chicken product, like the inner part of a chicken nugget, so don’t expect long fibers of imitation meat.

A confession. I don’t think I ate this one hot, but ia slice of the vegetarian chicken hamt has probably enough flavor to stand up in a soup. Indeed, next time I hope to make a pot pie with it. But it’s so delicious cold that this is how we plowed through it. Often in strips on a plate with other food, or sandwiches. I think this is the same product that my go-to Vietnamese Buddhist restaurant serves in slivers in a cold lotus root salad (Gỏi ngó sen). Both the restaurant and the supermarket where we got the Lam Sheng Kee Vegetarian Ham (Chicken Flavor) is at the Eden Center, in Falls Church, in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. It comes frozen, in a 1 kilogram log for about $10 at the Good Fortune Supermarket.

My mother used to make a perfect-to-spread “blender chicken salad” and I think this product would be ideal for it. Other ingredients to buy would be the vegan Just Mayo (at Target) and vegan Worcestershire sauce. This used to be easy to find: just get the cheapest brand. But now they all have anchovies. The same supermarket has large, cheap bottles of vegan Worcestershire sauce, from Taiwan, with the soy sauce — a bit thinner than I like, but it’s not that you use much, right?

In any case, this vegan ham is a winner, and I’ll buy it again. But what if you wanted ham ham? That’s for next time.