Monday, August 10, 2020

Garlic Shrimp & Chorizo Meatballs

I was looking through some Blue Apron meals options last week and was interested in ordering the Garlic Shrimp & Chorizo Meatballs with Saffron Mayo & Romesco-Dressed Corn. I was about to place the order when I thought that I could just buy all the ingredients and make the dish myself. It didn't look too terribly hard to do, as most of the ingredients are easily sourced and the amounts needed are clearly specified in the recipe.

The only thing I had any issue with was the romesco sauce that was needed to dress the corn. Blue Apron would have provided it for me, but, since I was doing this recipe without the safety of pre-made sauces, I would be on my own. My local grocery store didn't have any, so I decided to search the web for a recipe and make it myself. Several options for making romesco sauce are available on he Internet. It's basically just tomatoes, roasted red peppers and some spices (depending on which recipe you use). I don't know how this stuff is supposed to taste, but mine tasted like a tangy tomato sauce with a tiny kick.

The only real issue I had with this recipe is that my chorizo meatballs collapsed and fell apart. What came out of the oven were meat piles rather than meatballs. I suspect that the chorizo I used wasn't fatty enough to bind together with the breadcrumb mixture. But, I'm still just an amateur at all of this, so I don't know. I'll be more vigilant the next time I attempt meatballs.

Overall, I enjoyed the dish. The meat piles had a nice kick to them and there was a nice garlic flavor in the shrimp. I'd probably be willing to make a second attempt at this, though it will probably be a while before I do.


Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Otto Keeps Giving The Wrong Number

Otto got a call from a Credit Card scammer spoofing a well-known Wells Fargo phone number. When asked about his debt load, Otto, flushed the toilet and told the rep that he had spent a lot of money of Beanie Babies so he had a huge amount of debt. What came next was about five minutes of the rep trying to get Otto's credit card number with Otto constantly giving him the customer service numbers. Otto eventually figured out what the rep meant by "Membership Number" and gave him a sixteen digit number, but must have misread it because the rep said it was invalid. The two of them argued over whether or not Otto was messing with the rep. Otto got so upset that he threw up.

Monday, August 3, 2020

Home Again

We drove back home this weekend. Five people and a load of luggage can get very cramped, even in a mid-size SUV. But, we powered through, drove the entire route in the course of a day and wound up home just before midnight on Saturday. We had a great trip, but, before returning to reality this week, I want to mention a few things that were too brief to make full posts about:
  • We had lunch one day at ACME Oyster House in Gulf Shores. I had tried several times to get into the New Orleans location over the years, but it has always been packed. So, it was a nice surprise to walk into the Gulf Shores location for a late lunch and find it nearly deserted. We had raw oysters, char-grilled oysters, gumbo and onion rings. It was a very pleasant lunch. 
  • Other touristy places like LuLu's, The Yard and Lambert's were doing social distancing well, but the wait times were enormous, so we didn't bother trying to get a table at any of those places. 
  • We had a nice, socially distant lunch at The Hangout where we had snow crab for an appetizer and cheeseburgers for the entrees. There's a lot to do there besides eat a meal, but the side shows and activities apparently don't pick up until evening. 
  • There was a shark bite incident one town over from us at Orange Beach on Friday. We had been in the water early that morning and noticed a lot of small fish schooling around the area attracting flocks of birds. A pod of pelicans even swooped in very close to us to gobble up some fish. So, it came as very little surprise to us that predatory marine life was out in the area. Thankfully, the victim at Orange Beach only had to get a few stitches and will make a full recovery. 
  • My daughter was thrilled to find a store called Faux Paws Dog Shoppe when we went to The Wharf at Orange Beach. She bought doggo a bunch of cute things including a bandanna with "Wiggle Butt" etched on it. 
  • The girlfriend and I got some drinks at the Kentucky Mist Distillery at the Wharf and, to be honest, we weren't impressed. Certainly not for $8 a drink. 
  • We stopped at a Popeye's on the way back in order to sample their entry into the Chicken Sandwich Wars. Their Spicy Chicken Sandwich is very good. I don't know if it's better than Chick-Fil-A, but at least I can eat it without feeling guilty about contributing to a company that hates on homosexual marriage. 
  • Doggo was happy to see us upon our return but not overly so. Boy Boy clearly took great care of her. 
It seems life a lifetime ago when I had said that "family vacations are a lot of work". But, this trip has convinced me that I was wrong with that statement. At the very least, a family vacation won't SEEM like so much work so long as you actually enjoy where you're going and the family you've got in the first place. 

Friday, July 31, 2020

The Park at OWA

We spent a good chunk of the day today at OWA, a 520-acre entertainment destination in Foley, AL that boasts a section "downtown" outdoor-mall area as well as a small theme park. It's kind of like Disney Springs meets Santa's Village. We had heard that the attractions were fun and that the park was fairly new and that it wasn't very crowded. And the rumors were true.

We had lunch at the Groovy Goat which is billed as "The Grooviest Restaurant at OWA", and, yeah, okay, it's pretty groovy, I guess. It offers a wide range of options and is reasonably priced, so it's easy for a family to eat there and find something there for everyone. I decided to eat light and went with the "grown-up grilled cheese" because I knew I'd be sampling the wares of the confection makers in the shopping center and I wanted to save some room. We got some delicious and unique donuts at a place called Crazy Donuts. And you can actually make your own donut creation there which basically involves you putting a bunch of stuff on top of a glazed donut and/or injecting it with filling.

I've said before that I'm not a huge fan of amusement parks, but The Park at OWA is really more of a B-musement park than an amusement park. The vast majority of the rides are pretty tame by Disney or Six Flags standards, which is actually perfect for a guy like me who needs to pop a Xanax before going on something like The Batman. I was honestly very impressed with how clean the park was and how reasonable the concession prices were. And, best of all, there were incredibly small wait times for the rides. All for the admission price of $20.

Thursday, July 30, 2020

The Banana Boat Horror

Banana Boat. The term evokes images of historic tropical transport boats and a sunscreen brand that has a history of giving people chemical burns. While lounging at the beach this afternoon, sipping a few locally brewed beers, we got the notion that doing one of those touristy "banana boat" rides might be fun for the kids. These sort of rides involve a large, inflatable, banana-looking catamaran being pulled by a jet ski for about 10 minutes. Sounds fun, right? I guess it is, if being whipped around on a bunch of rough waves is your thing.

We all waded out to this plastic monstrosity that looked more like an inflatable hotdog pontoon than a banana pontoon. And it's some guys job to push everyone up onto it, including me who has gotten way too chubby due to this COVID-19 quarantine thing. And, soon, we were off and crashing through the waves and the wake of the jet ski. Meanwhile, the ball of my femur is digging into my acetabulum because of the way I was forced to sit. So, I'm in pain, the girlfriend is in pain, one of the kids is terrified, my daughter is struggling to keep her bathing suit on and the last kiddo is urging the jet ski pilot on. By the time we had turned around, so much salt water had gotten into my eyes that I couldn't see anything which was probably for the best.

Seriously, though, the banana boat people were super nice and cool and I'm ultimately glad that we took the ride. I just never want to do it again.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Doggo Has Separation Anxiety

Uncle Jason Taking Luna For A Pup Cup
My daughter asked her boyfriend, whom I refer to as "Boy Boy", to take her dog Luna in for the week that we are on vacation. Boy Boy said that she was doing really well for a while, but, yesterday, she seemed down and spent about three hours in her doggie den laying on her bed with kiddo's shirt. Boy Boy, hoping that familiar surroundings might help perk her up, brought her back home to hang around while he went to work.

I had my oldest daughter look in on her on her lunch break and she said that doggo was laying on kiddo's bed crying. I sent Jason over to the house to play with doggo because he's her favorite person outside of the family. He was able to coax her out with her favorite treats and then took her through the Starbuck's drive-thru for a pup-cup. After that, she was a lot happier and they tossed the ball around in the back yard for a while. Luna still doesn't quite get the concept of "fetch", but she had fun.

When Boy Boy picked Luna up later, he said that she was in a much better mood and that she was running around his house full steam and playing with his family. So, I guess that sometimes a girl just needs a trip to Starbucks to perk her up.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Fort Morgan

We visited the Fort Morgan State Historic Site this morning. Fort Bowyer had been built in the area after the Spanish vacated in 1813 and the British attacked the rudimentary fort twice during the War of 1812, the second attack (which also happened to be the last battle of the War of 1812) resulting in a British victory in 1815. Fort Morgan was built on the site of Fort Boywer between 1819 and 1834.

Fort Morgan was captured by the Confederates just before the start of the Civil War and was used to provide protective fire for blockade runners. During the Battle of Mobile Bay, the Union captured two Confederate ships and destroyed another. Union forces also captured Fort Gaines which freed up additional Union land forces to attack Fort Morgan. After a two week siege, the fort was surrendered.

The fort was renovated in the 1870s but soon fell into disrepair. President Cleveland allowed for the further renovation of the fort between 1895 and 1900 adding several concrete batteries. During World War I, the Army established a radio transmitting and receiving station at Fort Morgan as a part of a nationwide Morse-code communication network. In April 1942, the Army constructed an airfield. Initially, the Coast Artillery brought five Model 1918 155mm (6.1-inch) guns to equip the fort to defend against German U-Boat attacks. The Army placed two of the guns on top of Fort Morgan on mounts that permitted 360 degrees traverse. The remaining three guns stood on the fort's parade ground. The War Department turned Fort Morgan over to the State of Alabama in 1946. Fort Morgan was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1960.

Fort Morgan Parade Ground
The Parade Ground At Fort Morgan

Monday, July 27, 2020

Crab Hunting

Mr. Krabbs the Crabby Crab
Each night that we'e been here in Gulf Shores so far, the beaches we have seen swarms of kids and
adults with flashlights running along the beach chasing cute little sand crabs. Last night, we decided to join in and headed out to Gulf Shores State Park to do some to crab hunting ourselves. All you need is a bucket, a net, a small flashlight and a plastic red filter to cover your light so that you don't confuse any turtles.

Ghost crabs, more commonly referred to as sand crabs, are little crabs that live in small burros on the beach. They come out at night and are fairly easy to spot with a spotlight. We saw dozens of them last night and wound up catching and releasing about a dozen of them. They ranged in size from absolutely tiny to the size of a fist. I'm told that ghost crabs are not particularly tasty, so, if you decide to hunt them, don't bother trying to eat them, just catch and release.

Overall, it was a fun family activity. That is, until we got locked in the Gulf Shores State Park parking lot with a few other families. All the signage said that the park closed at 10pm. When we tried to leave at 9:30pm we found that both of the gates had been locked. I called the number on the parking ticket and eventually got someone to come and let us out.

Late Night Crab Hunters As Seen From Our Balcony

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Jellyfish Sting

It can be rough out there on the beach. There are a lot of hazards such as riptides, heat stroke, sharp coral, and, of course jellyfish. We learned first hand about handling jellyfish stings this morning when my daughter got stung on her wrist while boogie boarding. She described the sensation as an annoying burn, but wasn't more than a bit put out by the experience. Still, we were prepared for such an eventuality, so we administered some first aid.

What To Do If You Get Stung By A Jellyfish

  • Inspect the area for hanging tendrils and pull any off with tweezers
  • Rinse the area with vinegar (NOT cool fresh water or sea water)
  • Apply cortisone cream for the itching
Contrary to popular belief, peeing on a jellyfish sting is not effective and may actually result in more pain. 

Saturday, July 25, 2020

Welcome To Gulf Shores, Alabama

We spent about four hours today driving from Birmingham, Alabama to Gulf Shores. We've rented a condo right on the beach. I could jump off of my balcony, and, if the fall didn't maim or kill me, I would be right on the beach when I landed. Gulf Shores is clearly a tourist town, but it offers a lot of opportunity for family fun. We've already hit the beach to kick around some waves and dig up some sea shells. I'm personally looking forward to having some of the great seafood that Gulf Shores has to offer.

The weather has been a bit stormy today and the waves have been a little choppy. There's a rip-tide advisory going on as well. Even though it isn't the sunniest day, and the ocean isn't as blue as I had hoped it would be (yet), it's still a beach and I'm still just happy to be here.

The Ocean At Gulf Shores, Alabama

Friday, July 24, 2020

Back In Birmingham

Eleven years ago, I spent a few days in Birmingham in order to speak at and attend a mathematics conference. Today, we're spending the night while we're en route to Gulf Shores, Alabama. We're going to be spending an entire week down there for a socially distant vacation. For now, we're just hanging in Birmingham, chowing down on some Zaxby's and resting up before taking on the second leg of the trip tomorrow.

I've heard it said that Sailor Sam is from here, but I've never been able to find him.

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Scammer Calls Otto Some Bad Names

Otto got a call from a debt consolidation scammer that prefaced the call with a female auto attendant. When the live rep came on, Otto said that he wanted to talk to the lady he had been talking to. The rep ignored him. Otto then tried to make sure that the rep was wearing a mask so that he wouldn't catch Coronavirus over the phone. Again, the rep ignored Otto.

Otto explained that he had a high balance on his credit card because he had purchased a lot of Beanie Babies. The rep again ignored Otto and tried to steer him back on track towards providing his credit card details. Otto dripped out a few details about his credit card, just the issuer and an expiration date. But, when Otto was asked to provide the actual card number, he instead gave the customer service number.

Surprisingly, instead of realizing that he was being had, the rep was pretty persistent in trying to get Otto to read him the correct number. After several minutes of back-and-forth, the rep finally called Otto some bad names and hung up.

Monday, July 20, 2020

About That 99.957% Survivability Rate

"COVID-19 is not that big of a deal", you've likely seen screeching across your Facebook feed. Reassurance is offered in a phrase similar to "The Coronavirus survivability rate is 99.957%". The number on the right of the decimal often changes a little based upon which exact figures someone is using for their calculations. This "survivability rate" is calculated by taking the number of COVID-19 fatalities reported in the US (143,000 as of this writing) and dividing it by the total US population size (331,002,561). This gives us 0.0004320. To account for the percentage, we have to move the decimal two positions to the right which gives us .043% (rounded). Subtract that from 100% and you get a survivability rate of 99.957%. So, this number seems to say that your chance of living through the COVID-19 pandemic is 99.957%. You gotta like those odds, right? Unfortunately, that figure is deceptive for a number of reasons.

There are a myriad of different ways to calculate fatality rates of any given disease. The 99.957% figure is an inverse of what is called the crude mortality rate. The crude mortality rate takes the number of deaths due to a disease and divides it by the total population. Indeed, you have likely seen posts on Facebook saying "The mortality rate of COVID-19 is only .043%!". What's wrong with that number? Well, it has been about 25 years since I have taken a college-level statistics class, but it seems to me that there's some selection bias involved. To illustrate what I am getting at, let's do some comparisons of various mortality rates from 2019 using 328,200,000 for the 2019 population:

Disease Number Of Deaths Crude Mortality Rate Survivability Rate
Heart Disease 647,000 .20% 99.800%
All Cancers 606,880 .18% 99.820%
All Accidents 169,936 .052% 99.948%
Chronic lower respiratory diseases 160,201 .049% 99.951%
Stroke 146,383 .045% 99.955%
Lung Cancer 142,670 .043% 99.957%
Influenza 55,672 .017% 99.983%
Car Accidents 38,800 .012% 99.988%

So, what does this tell us? This tells us that the three leading causes of death last year each have a survivability rate of 99% (truncated). This tells us that, while we can all agree that every person has a 100% chance of eventually dying of some cause during some year, the chance of dying of any one specific cause in any one specific year is minuscule. Using the crude mortality rate, your chance of dying at all in 2019 was .9% giving you a survivability rate of 99.1% for the year (assuming 3,000,000 total deaths in the US).

Some people rail against mask mandates, social distancing and banning large gatherings for a disease with a survivability rate of 99.957%. To that, I say, heart disease has a survivability rate of 99.8% so eat all the fatty foods you want! Why are we banning smoking in bars and putting labels on cigarettes when Lung Cancer has a survivability rate of 99.957%? Why do we require seat belts when car accidents have a whopping 99.988% survivability rate? Because calculating an individual's risk of dying of a disease involves a number of factors and is much more complex than just dividing two numbers. But, even if we accept the crude mortality rate method, those tiny percentages still equal a lot of people, and, without those mandates and guidelines, the number of deaths would surely go up.

Maybe you don't see any deception or selection bias in those numbers. At the very least, the crude mortality rate doesn't indicate the likelihood of someone dying who has contracted the disease. For that number, we need to calculate the case fatality rate. The case fatality rate is the number of deaths from a certain disease divided by the number of people diagnosed with the disease. To find the case fatality rate of COVID-19 in the United States, we take number of reported deaths (143,000) divided by the number of US Coronavirus cases (3,830,000). This gives us .03733. If we move the decimal to account for the percentage, then we get a Coronavirus case fatality rate of 3.7% in the US. For comparison, the case fatality rate for influenza was less than 1% for 2019. And, keep in mind, we're only about 8 months into 2020, so the number of Coronavirus deaths will certainly increase.

As it stands, Coronavirus is on track to be the third leading cause of death this year. Just as we want to keep Heart Disease and Cancer deaths to a minimum, so too must we enact measures to keep the Coronavirus deaths to a minimum. All of the peer-reviewed science indicates that masks and social distancing offer at least some measure of protection. So, for now, keep your public interactions to a minimum. And, if you do go out in public where there's a crowd, then put on your mask. This isn't about freedom, this isn't about an unnecessary panic, this is about compassion. This is about keeping that .043%. crude mortality rate as low as possible.

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

American Auto Repair Coverage Calls Me

I can accept that there may be legitimate businesses out there that offer extended warranty coverage for automobiles. This recent call, however, that connected me with a company called American Auto Repair Coverage, seems to me like they're scammers. First off, they used a foreign call center that hid behind a spoofed number to screen me for eligibility. In my opinion, this is a tactic that a legitimate business would not use, as it's illegal to solicit via a fake number (see the Truth In Caller ID Act). 

The audio from the call center side is tough to hear, so the recording picks up when I got transferred to a rep from American Auto Repair Coverage. When I asked if I could be arrested for unknowingly letting my extended warranty lapse on my 2015 Fiat 500 the rep laughed. I also asked her at one point if she was wearing a mask so that I wouldn't get COVID over the phone, and she again, laughed. At one point, I guess I asked too many questions and she wondered out loud if I truly was not interested in extended warranty coverage for my vehicle. This was the second red flag that made me think that American Auto Repair Coverage is a scam: The rep clearly wanted to push me through the process so that she could get to the next call and thus wanted me to ask as few questions as possible. Once I cleared that rep, I was sent to an account manager that triggered a third red flag. He used a number of high pressure "urgency" sales tactics like limited availability and fake-sounding discount incentives to get me to buy in. Of course, once I was asked for a credit card number, I played dumb and gave him the Visa network toll-free phone number instead. Once that happened, the game was up and he knew he was dealing with someone who wasn't interested. He scolded me for wasting his time and kicked me off of the call.

Monday, July 13, 2020

RIP Google Play Music

I knew that this was coming. I'd been notified quite some time ago that Google Play Music was going away and would be merged into Youtube Music. I tried to ignore it, as if refusing to think about it would somehow stave off the execution. But, alas, earlier tonight, I got the notification from Google that I should start migrating my Google Play Music library into Youtube Music. So, it was with great trepidation and regret that I hit the Transfer To Youtube Music button. And I instantly regretted it.

Youtube Music Sucks

I'm sure that, now that people from Google Play Music are migrating over, development on the Youtube Music interface will speed up exponentially. But, for now, the interface is horrible. Not only is the navigation counter-intuitive, but key features from Google Play Music are missing or broken in Youtube Music. Here are my main gripes about Youtube Music:
  • No "Offline Mode" switch.
  • Uploaded songs and streaming songs are split into two different libraries 
  • No tag editor: If you messed up your song tags with an upload, you have to delete it and upload it again with the corrected metadata.
  • Cannot like or dislike downloaded songs while offline. 
  • Cannot swipe to skip songs.
  • Casting is broken
  • Cannot save a queue as a playlist
  • No detection of duplicates being added to a playlist
  • Google Assistant can't play Youtube Music playlists
As I said, development in the Youtube Music app will likely accelerate now, but, it seems to me that most of the above issues should have been addressed before the migration. For now, Google Play Music still works, and I hope it'll continue to work until those issues get taken care of.