Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas the Geeky Mom Way!

Star Wars: The Old Republic
Image via Wikipedia
Merry Christmas everyone! I hope you are having a joyous holiday season, whatever you celebrate! I am blessed to have my dear family and many, many friends both 'in Real Life' and online.  I have been sharing Christmas greetings with Trusty Friends and family from all over the world.

The last few weeks have been a flurry of activity getting ready for the holidays, finding a new job, and picking up a new Geeky Activity--writing for  I'm quite tickled that they thought I wrote well enough to bring on board for a weekly column on the Jedi Consular class in Star Wars: The Old Republic

Yes, the game rocks, and yes, I am a confirmed fangirl. I love the KOTOR series, and TOR is a blast to play. On a scale of 1 to 10, I give it approximately a bazillion stars, which, for those of you counting, is Officially A Lot.

The other project occupying my time was the creation of two sound files with Christmas greetings. One was for extended family, since we now live 800 miles away from them.  The other one was for Trusty Friend Athos, who is from my Star Trek Lotus Fleet group.  He has been deployed and isn't able to be home this Christmas. We fleetmates decided that if Athos couldn't go home, we were certainly going to bring some 'home' to him. 

Creating these gifts involved many Geeky Activities, not the least of which included using Audacity.  I spent many an hour cursing out that program when learning how to edit the LucasCast podcast two years back. The great thing about it? It's free. The bad thing about it? You have to have a PhD in sound engineering to understand the darned thing.  GVerb? Are we talking about some new verb tense? Is a 'hard limiter' the bouncer at the bar who cuts you off when you've had one too many? Nope.  By the way, Audacity's 'phaser' is not at all the same as Star Trek's phaser. This is Important. I want to make sure my Trusty Friends are fully informed.

Anyway, after finally herding all the Lotus Fleet cats, and one resident self-described furry, into the Lotus Fleet chatroom, I was able to finish the recording of all the Christmas greetings and performances. Trusty Friends Jureth, Future, and Kheren should be commended for being brave and doing solo performances and putting mine to shame on top of it.  My son even contributed by playing a viola solo. I was humbled by everyone's contributions to help make Christmas better for a serviceman who can't make be at home this year.  I finished the editing, uploaded it to the Lotus Fleet site, and sent off a copy to Athos via Skype. He managed to get enough bandwidth half a world away to actually be able to download it.  I was tickled he received it in time for Christmas day.

My family, however, does not have Skype, nor are they Lotus Fleet members, so I didn't have the option to send them download links that way.  This was A Problem. Short of burning the mp3 to disc and sending it to them, I was limited in ways to get the file into their hot little hands. No matter what guarantees the shippers make, when you ship at the busiest time of the year, it means that your package might arrive sometime by the 24th century. Besides, I wanted family to have it before Christmas, not after.

I tried to send the file via email.

Fail.  The file was about 22 MB bigger than Gmail's 25 MB limit. Our little family of four had quite a bit to say to our family on top of the kids' performances.

I tried to upload it to YouTube.

Fail 1: They don't take just plain mp3s. It has to have at least 1 picture in it. It can be  a 1x1 pixel picture, but by God, that counts as a picture to make it into a movie. I opted to go with Renaissance paintings and stained glass pictures instead as something moderately more interesting than a 1x1 orange pixel.

I spent the day re-acquainting myself with Windows Movie Maker, which I had cheerfully learned in a weekend at the beginning of the year to help my son make a movie for his history class. After an extensive Google search of approximately .51 seconds, I found more Renaissance Nativity art than I could possibly ever use in a century. I happily added a number of images to the sound file and made a "movie".  I then tried to upload to YouTube again.

Fail 2: YouTube doesn't take projects longer than 15 minutes, and mine clocked in at 37 minutes.  I had actually read this before starting the movie project, so you'd think I would have paid attention to this Important Fact and that my sound file was entirely too long. Nope! Now, if you're Special, you can indeed upload files longer than 15 minutes. However, this involves getting somewhere in the vicinity of a billion people to like your videos and confirm that you don't post nasty stuff. I didn't have time to become 'Special'. The file needed to go out TODAY, darn it!! So, I tried to figure out how to break the freshly minted movie down into 3 parts smaller than 15 minutes in size to re-upload to YouTube.

Fail 3: Windows Movie Maker apparently does not like splitting music AND video at the same spot. The 'split' tool will split music, OR video. Not both, at least without jumping through about 15,853 hoops. I know this because I googled how to split the files on YouTube.

In desperation, because it was getting late on Christmas Eve, I turned to the Trusty Skype Posse (tm), who are experts in all sorts of gaming and geeky goodness, and who, like me, were of course ONLINE on Christmas Eve. I'm not quite sure what this says about any of us, but it says something interesting, I'm sure.

Anyway, Trusty Friend Jeff had an outstanding suggestion--upload the file to Dropbox, and then send the family the link to the file so that they could download it.  It was the perfect solution.

Dropbox allows you to upload up to 2GB of items for free, and then you can share the files with anyone anywhere. You can pay a monthly fee to increase that amount. This is a great way to transfer files from home to work, or in my case, transfer larger files from my home to the homes of my extended family.  Uploads are quick, and the program is easy to understand. There's also an Android app for it.

If you would like your own Dropbox account, you can use referral codes from either Jeff or me.  This will give you an extra 250 MB of free storage, and give Jeff or me an extra 250, too.  His referral code is  My code is

Merry Christmas to all!
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Friday, December 16, 2011

Geeky Mom Gaming--The Old Republic Pecan Pie recipe

Pecan pie.
Image via Wikipedia
About 20 years back, Trusty Hubby asked for one thing for Christmas--a homemade pecan pie.  This was when I was working on my advanced degree, and we were poor and so couldn't afford much in the way of gifts. In fact, I think we were still watching TV on our old portable black-and-white TV that Hubby's mom had given him. Somewhere along the way, the plastic knob had broken off, and we had to use a pair of pliers to change the channel. Nothing was going to keep us from watching Star Trek: The Next Generation. We were determined.  By the way, Star Trek definitely looks better in color.

Anyway, I decided if that was what Hubby wanted for Christmas, I was going to make the best pecan pie I possibly could. Conveniently, the Columbus Dispatch had a pecan pie recipe in the food section that week. I also had the Joy of Cooking, which is quite possibly the best cookbook on the planet. If you do not have a copy, go get one and use it. Between the two, I put together a recipe that has become a family favorite. Is it low-calorie? Heck, no. Who makes low-calorie pecan pies? Sometimes you have to splurge. This pie does not have a regular pie crust. I decided to use a crumb crust instead, so it's about as full of pecans as can be.  Hubby loved it, and I've made it every Christmas since then.

The other day, Trusty Hubby invited a co-worker over for dinner and asked if I'd make pecan pie again.  I agreed.  When I mentioned that I had to go make dinner, I was asked by the folks online what we were having. I replied, "Homemade turkey soup, fresh pan rolls, and pecan pie." Then I was asked by someone if I would adopt him, and I think at some point there was a profession of True Love.  I also got a tell from Shayla, and we shared some cooking ideas. I told her I'd post a copy of the recipe.  Now, I love gaming in general, but MMO gaming is unique in the way it brings people from all over the world together. Who knew I'd be sharing a pecan pie recipe with an international community?  That's world diplomacy at its best.

For those of you with dairy allergies or food restrictions, use a dairy-free margarine for the crust. You can also substitute butter-flavored vegetable shortening, or a mix of  vegetable shortening and coconut oil. For the pecan pie filling, you can use 1 tablespoon of your favorite vegetable or nut oil in place of the butter.

The Old Republic Pecan Pie Recipe

Crumb crust:
1 cup (4 ounces) finely ground pecans
2 cups flour
1/2 cup sugar
3/4 cup chilled butter, cut into small pieces

Pecan pie filling
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon flour
4 eggs, beaten
1 cup light corn syrup
1 tablespoon butter or margarine, melted
1 cup (4 ounces) pecans, chopped
3/4 cup (3 ounces) pecan halves

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

For the crust--in a large bowl, mix the ground pecans, the 2 cups flour, and 1/2 cup sugar. Cut in the 3/4 cup butter until coarse crumbs form, about the size of small peas. Press the mix with your fingers into the bottom and sides of a 10 inch pie plate or quiche dish.  Bake about 7 minutes. It will not brown--that is OK.

For the filling--combine the sugar and flour.  Add the beaten eggs, corn syrup, and butter, and mix well. Stir in the chopped pecans. Pour into the crust.  Arrange pecan halves on top in whatever decorative fashion you like. Cover the edges of the crust with tinfoil so that the crust doesn't burn. Bake about 50-55 minutes or until set.

Remove from oven and let cool so that you don't burn your mouth trying to eat it too soon!

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