five items in search of a post (a list of sorts)

This has been a strange winter break. I've been working at the library, collaborating with Allan on some paid writing work, taking care of the massive number of appointments and personal chores that pile up while I'm in school, seeing a few friends... but also making sure I spend a fair amount of time on the couch either reading or watching DVDs.

The one thing I haven't been able to do is any serious writing for wmtc. My brain and my time management somehow doesn't get past scraps of notes and drafts. We leave for Quebec on Sunday, so chances are dwindling. On the other hand, my courses this term may not be too taxing. (I'm being polite. I think they're pure manure.) So I might actually write these posts in January.

Here are a few items that don't warrant posts of their own, but might be useful for someone Googling or stimulate conversation or provide a moment of entertainment.

1. How to make hard boiled eggs that peel perfectly.

Here's a great way to make hard boiled eggs that don't crack and always peel quickly and easily.

I really dislike struggling with a hard boiled egg, removing the shell in tiny little shards, or removing half the white along with the shell. This way, the shells zip right off in a few large pieces and leave the whites smooth and intact.

I've tried all different methods and this works every time. What you'll need:
- Eggs - I make a full dozen at one time, but you can make any amount this way.
- Pot large enough to hold the eggs and a lot of water
- Another bowl, like a mixing bowl or sturdy serving bowl
- Ice cubes
- Slotted spoon

- It doesn't matter if you use fresh eggs or eggs that are a few days old. The internet says fresher eggs don't hard-boil as well. I have not found this to be the case.

- Place the eggs gently in a pot, and fill the pot with warm or hot water from the tap.

- Place the pot on the stove, and put on the lowest possible heart for 5-7 minutes. Leave the pot uncovered throughout.

- Increase the heat a tiny bit (on an electric stove, to 2 or 3). 5-7 minutes.

- Increase the heat a bit more (to 5). Another 5-7 minutes.

- Increase the temperature to 7 or 8. Now the water should come to a rolling boil, but the eggs won't crack. I like my hard boiled eggs thoroughly hard inside, so I let them boil away for a good 10 minutes. If you prefer them slightly softer, adjust accordingly.

Now comes the cool part that makes the eggs peel easily every single time.

- When the eggs are almost done, place a large empty mixing bowl in the sink. Have ice cubes ready.

- When the eggs are done (after the water has been at a full boil for at least 10 minutes), turn the heat off and place the pot on a cool burner. Use a slotted spoon to remove the eggs from the pot and place them in the mixing bowl.

- Turn on the cold water, and when the bowl is partly filled, add the ice cubes.

The cold water will shrink the membrane that binds the shell to the egg. But other methods, such as running cold water from the tap over the eggs, don't work as well, because all sides of all the eggs don't get cold enough.

Hard boiled eggs will stay fresh in the fridge for more than a week. When you're ready to use them, firmly tap the large end once on a plate (or a paper towel on the kitchen counter), then lift off the peel, working your way around the egg.

2. Dietary cholesterol has no effect on blood cholesterol.

Speaking of eggs, did you know that dietary cholesterol has absolutely no effect on blood cholesterol? The long-accepted wisdom that egg whites are good but egg yolks are bad has been disproven. Egg yolks do not raise your total blood cholesterol, and in fact they raise your high-density lipoproteins (HDL), also known as "good cholesterol".

In fact, knowing the cholesterol content of any food is useless. If you're concerned about blood cholesterol levels for cardiovascular health, reduce your intake of saturated fat. As my doctor put it, eggs are fine - unless you fry them in butter, then eat them accompanied by bacon and buttered toast. But the egg itself, either hard boiled or poached, or scrambled in a nonstick pan with vegetables, is super good for you.

3. If we have an appointment, please don't call me to confirm. And if you do, please don't ask me to call you back.

When did the confirmation phone call begin? It seems to me that we used to make appointments and be expected to show up. Now every office - the doctor, the vet, the podiatrist, the hair salon, and so on - has people leaving messages confirming your appointment. I dislike this. I don't need calls telling me where to be and when. That's why I keep a calendar (or diary or appointment book, if you prefer).

I don't like receiving confirmation calls, but I can ignore them. What I really dislike is confirmation calls that ask me to call back. The hair salon I use leaves a message asking me to call and confirm my appointment. They're very difficult to reach on the phone; the front desk staff is harried and you're always put on hold. So for every appointment, they're essentially asking you to call twice - once to book the appointment, and a second time to confirm it, unless you happen to be answer their confirmation call, which I never do.

To avoid having to make this second phone call, I've taken to asking them to confirm my appointment when I book it. After I've made the appointment, I ask, "Could you do me a favour and mark this confirmed? I'll definitely be there, and if I can't make it, I always call to reschedule." It works. But I'd really rather not bother.

4. AlternativeTo

Do you know AlternativeTo.net? If you're looking for a type of software and want to see what's out there, or if you're using something you're not overly thrilled with and looking for an alternative, you can search here.

For example, Allan and I are wondering about an alternative to RefWorks, the research-management software I use through the University of Toronto. Once I get my degree, I won't have free access to it anymore, and it's probably not worth $100 per year for the license. Here's what AlternativeTo tells me. (Googling "alternative to refworks" also brings up this page.)

5. And you thought it was three kings and a donkey.

The last item in this list is another list. Thanks to my friend S, partner of M@, I bring you 25 awesomely inexplicable nativity scenes. Now this is the spirit of Christmas!

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