Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The solution to dense bread

I made 2 loaves in the last few days, one being a Bread Without a Timetable and another the Dill bread, both from Smitten Kitchen. Both turned out pretty good, but somehow really dense.

I figure it's 2 things:
1. My house is not warm. The dough takes more than twice as long to double in size. With the dill bread, it was more like 6 hours compared to the 1.5 to 2 suggested in the recipe. After 2 hours on the counter, it looked almost exactly the same! So I turned on the oven to "warm" for a couple minutes, stuck the bowl of dough in and shut it off, then left it for the rest of the afternoon. It looked great after that.
I did the same for the second rise, except I forgot to turn off the oven that time for about 6 minutes. As it turns out, "warm" is actually pretty hot. After a mad dash to the oven to yank it out, there was a thin crust just starting to form. Oops. Luckily it still turned out okay. :D

2. I don't have bread flour, so I use regular all purpose flour. I think this is the big factor. I am going to try these again with some Vital Wheat Gluten next time and I think they will be much more soft, chewy, and bready-awesome.

Monday, August 10, 2009


With the current interest rates progressively sucking - most "High Interest" Savings Accounts - and yes, those are sarcastic quotes - are now at 1% or less. Just a year ago or so, some of them were up to 4%!

Anyways, I was looking for somewhere better to park a chunk of money, so I asked around, and a friend told me about corporate bonds and how you can buy them at a discount (ie. pay 90 cents for 100 cent value), AND get a decent interest rate too - maybe 4% (what I later discovered is called the coupon rate). Not amazing, but for security, better than 1.2%.

To me these fee like GICs, since they're both locked in until the maturity date, but corporate bonds are slightly less guaranteed. By this I means it depends on the rating - and there are several different scales. According to S&P, for instance, AAA is outstanding, which means very secure and stable, like banks. (Read: You will get your money back with the rate promised.) Then it goes down to AA, A, then BBB, etc. Once you get down to the C and D ratings, you are risking not getting your money back. Of course, these "speculative quality" bonds tend to have better coupon rates.

Correction Aug 15/09: Turns out these aren't locked in. So not like GICs at all.

So I did some research, and I did not find great deals. A lot of bonds were selling for over par, and the 4% and up coupon rates had maturity dates that waaaaay into the future. Like 2015 or later. Combined with the fact that the minimum purchase is $5000 per transaction, I don't think it's worth it. I assume (or hope) there will be better opportunities in the next 4 years.

What I don't understand at all is why people would even bother investing in bonds that are over par with a tiny coupon rate. If your yield is going to be less than 1%, why not just put it in a savings account or make a GIC ladder? There must be a reason, right? Or are those people chumps?

In the meantime, I've learned a little bit about bonds, so it's not a total loss, even though I haven't found a solution yet. :)

Addition Aug 15/09: I think my solution, after talking to people, is trust funds. But apparently those are going to disappear in 2011 in Canada because the government wants that taxable income. Jerks.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Chinese dictionary with drawing capabilities!

For anyone who knows Chinese or is learning it, check out nciku.

This is by far the best Chinese/English dictionary I've seen online, because instead of having to look up words by stroke number (the traditional method) or pinyin (not useful if you don't know how it's pronounced), you can just draw it in a little box, and then pick the one you want from a list that populates as you draw. Neat, huh?

I noticed there are lots of neat tools for learning Chinese, like a conversation of the day section, a stroke-order section, faqs, etc.

Right now I am making up characters to see what comes up. :)

Vos in Guatemala

While on a recent trip to Guatemala, I stumbled on an interesting dialectal Spanish variation: the pronoun vos.

As in many other languages, it is one of the multiple forms of 2nd person (you), but in this case, it's a step in familiarity above tú. For those unfamiliar (no pun intended) with Spanish, here's a quick overview of the standard:
  • . Familiar 2nd person singular, used between family and friends.
  • Usted. Formal 2nd person singular, used to politely address strangers, acquaintances. Also used in power/age difference situations.
  • Vosotros. Familiar 2nd person plural, the plural counterpart to tú. Generally not used in Latin America.
  • Ustedes. Formal 2nd person plural. In the absense of vosotros, it is used for both formal and familiar situations.
I asked the locals to describe how vos is used in Guatemala, and here are my exciting findings:
  • It is more familiar than tú - for very close friends and family. In Guatemala, it does not replace tú. It does in other dialects, such as in Argentina.
  • The verb is conjugated differently from any other pronoun. The stress is generally on the last syllable, and when irregular, it usually follows the infinitive form.

    "you have" tu tienes / vos tenés
    "you can" tu puedes / vos podés
    "you eat" tu comes / vos comés

  • According to one Guatemalan guy (in his mid to late 20s), the connotation is a bit more forceful. This explains the necessity for familiarity before using vos, or you're definitely going to offend people.
  • Some interesting gender usages:
    Between guys: vos. Apparently it would be weird between close buddies to use tú. "It would be too... flowery," said one guy.
    Between girls: vos.
    Between genders: tú. It is weird or inappropriate - I'm not sure which - to use vos to address someone of the other gender, even if you are close friends. However, this doesn't apply between siblings.
  • This is not a generational difference. People of all ages use vos.
Of course, a big disclaimer is that personal preference or type of relationship overrides general guidelines:
One guy said that with one particular friend he always uses usted. "I don't know why - it's just something about her."
Another girl told me she knows a family where one guy (about 25) uses vos with his brothers, but usted for his little sister. "Que feo!" (how horrible!) she remarked.