Archive for category Uncategorized

What did I do wrong?

Posted by on Sunday, 18 March, 2007

Maybe I can pull a jwz and ask my readers for help — cooking help! Perhaps even the Hacker Kitchen can advise me.

So there I was, making a simple hot salmon mousse, and the cookbook explains how to make a nice sauce to dribble over it:

Melt 2 Tbsp butter in a nonstick saucepan. Dilute 2 tsp cornstarch into 1/2 cup milk, then add gradually to the melted butter over low-medium heat, while stirring continuously. Add 1/2 cup dry white wine, salt, pepper, and continue to stir until sauce thickens. Remove it from the heat, stir in 2 beaten egg yolks and lemon rind gradually, whisking fast until the sauce is even and smooth. […]

Seems easy enough, doesn’t it? I melted the butter, then thoroughly mixed the cornstarch into some milk and added the milk to the butter. But when I added the wine — bam! Instant curdling. I ended up with a big lumpy, gooey mass in the middle of the sauce. I couldn’t tell if it was coagulated milk solids (reacting to the acidity of the wine), or if it was the cornstarch, or some combination of the two. I was so frustrated that I tossed the whole sauce, and repeated the whole experiment using skim milk (rather than whole milk). Exact same results. So I guess milkfat wasn’t coagulating; it must have been either the milk proteins or the cornstarch.

Mind you, I’m no spring chicken when it come to cornstarch. I remember my naive days of trying to mix cornstarch into a big bowl of soy sauce, and getting ‘clumps’, and then learning how to dissolve it first in a teeny bit of sauce. But this whole experience has bewildered me.

Cooks, what’s going on here?

Obligatory Whiny Post

Posted by on Wednesday, 7 March, 2007

I know that I usually blog about things that excite me, but it just wouldn’t be a blog if there weren’t some sort of rant every now and then, right?

Let me vent about some miscellaneous pet peeves.

  • Digital photo albums:

    I love getting invitations to view friends’ online photo albums as much as the next guy, but it really annoys me when I go to the site and see 100 photos that are clearly nothing more than a thoughtless dump of someone’s digital camera. I don’t want to see blurry photos. I don’t want to see 12 pictures in row that are 99% identical. It’s called a photo album, folks. You know, an album? Like, choose the good photos and put them in a book on your coffee table? Don’t waste my time by making me comb through your ugly contact sheet while trying to spot an interesting photo. Please, put some thought into what you display!

  • Notice people around you:

    Pay attention to your surroundings when in public places; it’s not the place to be self-absorbed — you can do that at home. Don’t block the aisle with your cart in the grocery store while you browse a shelf. If you’re going to stand on the escalator, move to the right so others can pass. (I don’t care if it’s you first time on the subway, notice that everyone around you is standing on the right, climbing on the left? Pay attention to the convention!) When boarding a train, let people off the train before trying to push your way in, you insensitive clod.

  • Learn how to ask for help:

    When asking for help with software in a public forum (like an email list, or chat room), provide complete information. It’s useless to say, “I’m trying to do [general vague task], and I’m seeing an error message that says [some vague recounting of error text]. What is wrong?” It then becomes a game of 20 questions. Those of us trying to help have to repeatedly pull information from you: what exactly did you type? what exactly did you see as output? how did you configure things? Please don’t make us play this game. We can’t read your mind, and it’s a waste of time to have us repeatedly interrogate. Instead, gather up all of the information that describes your environment and what you’ve done, and present it all up front when you ask for help. We need to see literal transcripts of what you’re doing, not vague descriptions of the task.

What I Did on my Winter Vacation

Posted by on Tuesday, 2 January, 2007

Lots of things!

I spent a lot of time rolling on the floor with my son. That’s good.

I did a bunch of work on a new 2nd Edition of the Subversion Book, which is busy being updated to send off to O’Reilly in the spring. We’re not only updating it to cover Subversion 1.3 and 1.4 features, but doing a pretty big reorganization of the outline and topics as well. We’re also going to put a bunch of “best practices” recommendations into it, which people have been asking for.

I start experimenting with new features on my camera, which I discussed in a previous post. Lots of fun.

I finally finished my wife’s Cookbook Recipe Database, now online at last! It only took me four years and four complete restarts to get it done! First I wrote a bunch of homemade LAMP stuff (my own SQL stuff, my own python object model, my own CGI scripts…), but it turned into a huge mess. Then I tried Zope, but that was too complex for me. Then I tried Plone , which was great, but pretty much overkill. I wasn’t writing a content management system, just a simple web-based database. Finally I discovered Django, which is effectively “Python on Rails”. It was exactly the wheel I had been trying to invent way back in my first attempt! In a matter of an hour or two, I had crafted the whole database in some simple python declarations. Anyway, all the site needs now is some CSS, poor ugly thing.

I supercharged my banjo during the break too. After nine months of playing the one, I finally put new strings on the beast. And while on vacation in North Carolina, I discovered brass fingerpicks in a store (instead of the usual nickel ones)… as well as metal thumbpick, instead of the usual plastic ones. Finally, as a holiday gift I got a torque wrench that allows me to evenly tighten all the screws on my drum head to a precise tension. So between the tightened head, the brass picks, and the new strings, the banjo sounds even better than when I first got it. At last Friday’s jam, someone said it sounded “like a laser beam” from across the room. Woo!

My Local Taqueria

Posted by on Saturday, 2 December, 2006

I love my local taqueria:

Oh noes! Application not responding!

Posted by on Wednesday, 8 November, 2006

New Backyard

Posted by on Sunday, 24 September, 2006

We’ve been in our house more than 5 years now. It started out as a decrepit place, artifically split into two apartments. After a couple of years of hellish gut-rehabbing (while living there), it came out as a beautiful single family home again. And, as by my wife’s design, the kitchen is fully half of the first floor.

Since the rehab, we’ve been focusing our savings on fixing up the exterior of the house. Last year we removed the horrible light-blue aluminum siding and replaced it with painted cedar planks. The backyard, however, had been turned into a dead field full of broken glass, nails, and wood chips. Construction will do that.

it just so turns out that the electric guitar player at my weekly folk jam is a professional landscape designer, now gone freelance. He drafted up a new yard for us, something full of vegetables, ferns, fruit trees, flowering bushes, and lots of native prairie grass. He even put in a brick patio:

It only took about 3 weeks… poof, a new yard! Yeah, it’s kinda stumpy right now. But in a couple of years, the plants will all spread out and no dirt will be showing. Woo!

(For those playing along at home, yes, the two yard images were taken with a wide-angle 19mm lens.)

Three Strikes

Posted by on Thursday, 7 September, 2006

Blogs are supposed to be places for rants, right? Well, I’m really annoyed, so here’s my rant.

My wife and I joined the local YMCA last April. We paid for a one-year family membership up front. I’ve been going to the Y every week or so, mostly to swim laps before work, occasionally to use the gym.

Strike 1: Three times over the last six months, I’ve shown up to swim, change into my swimsuit and towel, only to find the pool door locked. I get dressed again, come back out, and am told, “oops, the lifeguard just never showed up.” I finally filed a written complaint about this about two months ago, suggesting they hire a new lifeguard.

Strike 2: In August, we received a letter saying that our YMCA was going to close down, that they were selling the building next spring. The letter also said that this was a confirmation of a similar letter that had been sent out in March. Hm, that’s funny. So we signed up for a 1-year membership on April 29th, but as we forked over our wad of cash to the administrative folks at the desk, nobody bothered to tell us that the YMCA might not exist in a year? Seems a tad slimy, don’t you think? (Are we going to get a partial refund if they close before April 2007?)

Strike 3: I came to the Y to swim this morning. They swiped my membership card, and told me “Sorry, you have no membership.” I was dumbfounded, and told them that I had been coming for six months. According to their computers, however, the ID number on the card had expired in the year 2000. I told them, yes, I had briefly been a member of a different YMCA back in 2000, but that I had been using this ID just fine for six months. The woman insisted that the card must be six years old, despite the fact that the photo shows me wearing glasses I’ve only had for three years. I tried to point that out, and explain that the old ID number must have been accidentally placed on the card last April, and that the computer must have only just started noticing this fact. After 20 minutes of bickering, they finally located my wife in the system, then cut up my ID card and forced me to buy a new $7 card on the spot.

So finally, I went in, put on my swimsuit, and discovered the pool was locked. Again. No lifeguard.

So let me say this: I am REALLY GLAD that the New City YMCA (1515 N. Halsted, Chicago) is shutting down next spring. This the most mismanaged health center I have ever experienced. The national YMCA organization should definitely put their money into other YMCAs, and I pray the other YMCA’s don’t rehire whatever administrative imbiciles are running this place.

Slides for our talks

Posted by on Thursday, 3 August, 2006

I’ve been getting lots of emails asking for slides of the two talks that Fitz and I gave at OSCON. One of these talks was deemed the best talk of the conference by Ted Leung… and we’re flattered! I’ve posted PDF files of the two talks at this location.

iPod shields and… no sales tax

Posted by on Sunday, 23 July, 2006

I recently received an iPod Nano as a (very expensive!) gift. I have to say, the user interface beats the pants off my old samsung mp3 player. It’s just wonderful. All my iPod-toting friends gave me a unanimous warning about getting some sort of protective case for it, to ward off the horrible scratches that quickly accumulate on the device’s screen and mirror finish. Fair enough, so I went with one recommendation and got the invisible shield. Instead of a big bulky case (which defeats the point of the Nano’s sexy thinness), this is an invisible space-age plastic laminate that covers the device. You can’t even tell it’s on, except for the fact that the device takes on a slightly tacky, rubbery texture. This ain’t so simple plastic wrap though. This is the same freakish, indestructible material they designed for the edges of helicopter blades! What’s really entertaining is the video showing somebody snapping a pen in half while trying to poke a hole in the material, or watching some guy just repeatedly stab at his shielded iPod with car keys. It’s almost too painful to watch.

Well, I’m glad I got the shield anyway, since yesterday I dicovered my 9-month old son happily chewing on the device with his newly minted 6 teeth. Not a scratch! (On the device, that is… I have no idea about my son’s teeth.)

Thanks, Invisible Shield!

I splurged and bought a remote-control that adds a radio feature to the iPod (so I can keep listening to NPR), and then yesterday I bought a recording of Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles on the iTunes Music Store. It was great to listen to a book on the plane to Portland today.

Portland? Yes, Portland, for the O’Reilly Open Source Convention, where I’m giving two talks. After getting to my hotel, I went into a sandwich shop and saw a nice veggie sandwich on the menu for $5.70. I went to the register and ordered the sandwich.

Me: “I’d like the veggie sandwich.”
Clerk: “Is that all?”
Me: “Yep.”
[awkard silence]
Me: “So… how much?”
[Clerk stares at me with giant expression of “duh”]
Clerk: “$5.70, like the menu says.”
Me: “Oh.”

That’s right, I had forgotten that Oregon has No Sales Tax. This is strange, because it seems that a line of my pre-programmed buying-stuff script is missing. I was busy waiting for the guy to tell me what the total was, and he was just waiting for me to fork over the already-obvious amount of money. Weird.

Convention talks

Posted by on Wednesday, 17 May, 2006

By the way, my co-worker Fitz and I are going to collaboratively present two talks at the O’Reilly Open Source Convention this coming July. I’m quite excited… I’ve never been to OSCON before, nor have I been to Portland. Click on the logo below for more info about OSCON.