Just when you thought the browser wars were over…

The public beta of Internet Explorer 7 hit today. Reaction: Dave Winer, CNET, PC Magazine/ABC News/Go, PC World, RealTechNews, Ars Technica.

The ironic thing is that the folks at A List Apart posted a new CSS based fluid three column layout today, claiming they had found “The Holy Grail,” a three column layout using CSS and a minimum of browser specific hacks. Unfortunately for them, as promised, the layout breaks on the IE7 beta.

Other notes: the Google toolbar works without complaint; my home page and default search provider settings were honored, even in the new dedicated search field; RSS (or “feeds”) autodetection works as promised; the built-in RSS reader is category aware and provides some nice search and sorting features; and lots of other stuff.

Sloan alum (re)gains the Mass CIO reins

The Massachusetts CIO controversy (short version: previous CIO shafted for trying to move Mass government away from Microsoft Office via a push for open document standards) appears to have resolved itself: Sloan (MBA 1990) grad Louis Gutierrez, currently chief technology strategist at the Commonwealth Medical division of the UMass med school, has been appointed the permanent CIO. The interesting thing is that he was the CIO of Massachusetts during the mid-90s, during the Weld and Celluci administrations, prior to stints at Harvard Pilgrim and other healthcare related organizations. In fact, he was the Commonwealth’s first CIO.

I predict that a lot of the noise around OpenDocument and the state will die down. With Gutierrez’s track record (the state, Harvard Pilgrim, the Federal Reserve, and UMass Medical School), I think he’ll be a little more seasoned in how he handles the issues.

Waltham Hannaford not the solution to grocery hell

There’s been something of a revolt on the Arlington list recently about the poor quality of service and availability of goods at the Arlington Stop ’n’ Shop, the bigger of the two full service grocery stores in town and the only one open after 9 pm. The frustrations range from inexplicably poor product selection to inexplicable unavailability of stock items (parsley, skim milk in anything smaller than gallon containers, shredded wheat cereal)—and those are just my stories; there were somewhere north of 30 individuals complaining on the list. My contention has long been that if Stop ’n’ Shop had to contend with competition like the grocery stores that we had back in the South, or in Seattle, or pretty much anywhere we have lived, they’d fold like yesterday’s news.

When I heard that Hannaford had opened a store in (relatively) nearby Waltham, I was ecstatic. The Hannafords that I had visited in Virginia, North Carolina, and Tennessee were large, well-lit, well stocked stores that ran the product gamut from organic produce to cornflakes. I had high hopes that this would be our new store of choice.

Sadly, my hopes were dashed. Hannaford had taken over an existing store, and the corporate dark color paint and wood, so well suited for large open buildings, made the small interior space seem cramped and low. The meat counters looked good, but there was no tuna at the fish counter, and the produce, while plentiful, left something to be desired in freshness and eye appeal. The rest of the store just felt cramped and low, and the checkout staff were too busy with their own conversations to actually make eye contact with us.

Ironically, I may have found an answer in the other Arlington store, Foodmaster aka Johnny’s, which though smaller and less convenient seems friendlier and better stocked. But I’ll have to continue to hope that a real grocery chain will come along and beat the stuffing out of Stop ’n’ Shop, because it appears on first glance that Hannaford won’t be the one to do it.

New Hooblogger: Opinionista

Thanks to a tip (which I have sadly neglected for about two weeks) from Greg, the roster of Hoobloggers now has a big ol’ luminary: Melissa Lafsky, the Opinionista, oft-cited on Gawker, newly free of law firm hell, and now following her dreams of becoming a writer. She seems to have picked up more than her fair share of wingnuts, weinerboys, and out-and-out psychotics in the short period since she went public, so I’d like to give her some props for her courage.

Friday Random 10: classical and s/t edition

It’s that time: yes, the posting well has run dry. What comes up on the ol’ iPod?

  1. “Waitin’ for a Superman,” Flaming Lips
  2. “Allegro impetuoso“ (Górecki’s Kleines Requiem für eine Polka), London Sinfonietta
  3. “Sunway,” Rob Wasserman
  4. Gloria (Ludwig Senfl’s Missa L’homme Armé), the Suspicious Cheese Lords
  5. “Missing,” Everything But The Girl
  6. “17,” Smashing Pumpkins
  7. “Olive Pressing Song,” Unidentified Italian male chorus (field recording)
  8. “Laura,” Scissor Sisters
  9. “M.I.A.,” M.I.A.
  10. “Minor Threat,” Minor Threat

Background and instructions for this meme in my inaugural Random 10 post.

Hell Night 2006

hell night 2006 at the east coast grill in somerville

It was a cold and rainy night in Somerville, but inside the East Coast Grill it was hot as hell. Hell Night was underway. Eight of us were there to brave the heat of the most amazing hot cuisine in the world. Cuisine where dishes with habañeros are mild by comparison, and heat is expressed in Bombs. Cuisine where appetizers have names like “Weapons of Ass Destruction,” accompanied by drinks like The Cold Fusion Martini and The Hurler From Hell. And then there was the Pasta From Hell: the raison d’être and original dish of Hell Night, a dish so vilely full of peppers that it was reputed to cause uncontrollable vomiting, or worse, in those who were at the same table where it was consumed.

The eight of us—Charlie, Niall, Tennessee Lee, Greg, Bill, Julian, Andrew, and me—crowded around the bar, blue ribbon winning beverages in hand, waiting for our table. We compared preparatory strategies: several of us had premedicated with Pepcid, others grasped eagerly as rolls of Rolaids were passed. Around us there was an excited buzz. A server walked past in red hospital scrubs and a face mask. There was a stocky black man with an LCD belt buckle flashing the word “HOT” and a sweatshirt embroidered with red peppers.

We finally got a seat, in a room lit by dim red light bulbs, and ordered a round of appetizers. One Hurler, one martini, both five bombs; a plate of thermonuclear hot wings (six bombs, described on the menu as “Weapons of Ass Destruction”), a plate of Hell Fries, an order of littleneck clams with habañero peppers, four bombs apiece. And an order of Pasta From Hell, one of only two items on the menu with an eight bomb rating

Others around the table had been working on Tennessee Lee all week. “You have to order it, Lee. The honor of the State of Tennessee is at stake.” It was agreed that he would eat it and that we would all get a taste; Andrew refused Lee’s generous offer of a 60-40 split.

That settled, Lee shot the Hurler (a raw oyster floating in homemade pepper vodka) and blinked. “That’s pretty hot,” he said. I tasted the martini, and unbidden a description from the 2004 Hell Night floated through my mind: “Julian drank the martini and got very quiet for the rest of the night…” It was in fact the nastiest beverage I had ever drunk, far worse than the Hurler. I carefully replaced the martini on the table, ate a few littlenecks and some Hell Fries, and nibbled a jalapeno pickled with habañeros and Scotch Bonnets—probably the least hot food I ate all night.

Out of the corner of my eye, I noted Andrew returning the second hot wing he had taken uneaten to the common plate. A wing bone sat on his plate, and sweat was starting from his sideburns and under his eyes. He reached for the ketchup, poured about a cup of it on his plate, and started eating it with a spoon. I’m not normally a ketchup man, but I took the bottle and put a little on my plate as well. It was the only food on the table that had no hot peppers.

The LED belt buckle man, now identified as Doctor Pepper (backstory in an article in the Patriot Ledger), approached the table, waiver form in hand. Lee signed the waiver after much blustering from both sides, and the Pasta arrived. Lee took a big forkful, twirled it, and forked it into his mouth. Doctor Pepper said, “Oh, man! Ain’t seen nobody take a big first bite like that!” Lee took another bite. He said, “Where I come from…” and paused, then downed his water in a gulp. As Doctor Pepper cackled behind him, he gasped for breath and said “You know, I can see how people would vomit from this.”

The plate went around the table. Each of us took a piece of the pasta. I consumed a noodle about two inches long and started frantically eating ice. It was without a doubt the hottest food that had ever been in my mouth. I wasn’t brave enough to eat the sausage. For that matter, no one was. Shortly there was no pasta left on the plate, mostly due to Lee’s valiant efforts, but much of the sausage remained untouched.

Entrées arrived, to our collective relief. I passed a dish of cole slaw—with no peppers—over to Tennessee Lee. “You might want some of this,” I said. He took several forkfuls in gratitude. My Korean spicy noodles with shrimp and scallops (rating: 4 bombs) were a mild, refreshing, civilized delight to my brutalized palate. I can only imagine how Lee felt about his five-bomb skirt steak.

A feeling of dreamy satisfaction settled over me as the endorphins kicked in. By the end of the night, one thing was clear: Hell Night would always be a stag event for us because none of our wives or girlfriends would ever be so stupid as to bring this on themselves.

Pisney?

As long rumored, Pixar was acquired by Disney yesterday, and headline writers showed no restraint (witness Slashdot’s Pixar Eaten by Mickey Mouse, and Techworld’s Disney buys Pixar and Steve Jobs for $7.4 bn).

I got an email from an old friend in the animation business who was at Disney before the merger. He says that the word is that the two animation units will remain intact and separate organizational units for the time being, with the only possible overlap area Toy Story 3 (which Disney had wanted for themselves but which will likely now be done in the Pixar unit).

All I ask is, if you are planning to use the combined form of the name, please use the one in the headline rather than the alternative, for obvious reasons.

The eighties never die

New at Art of the Mix: your scary 80s 5 and your scary 80s 6. As I write on the site, odd-numbered volumes in this series contain songs that I’m ashamed to remember (e.g. “I Can’t Wait” by Nu Shooz), and even volumes contain songs I wish I had listened to at the time.

Copies will be on the way shortly to the usual suspects; if you’d like to be a usual suspect, let me know.

I’ve been trying to make these for several months, but it took a long time to put them together. Sometimes making these themed mixes feels like I’m clearing my throat… it’s necessary but there’s something else I have to say. Not sure what that is yet.

Boycott Sony blog goes quiet, for now

Sony Boycott Blog: Farewell, for now. I think it’s time to move into new challenges: like, having raised awareness of the dangers of DRM, how do we act to keep DRM free music alive? I will be embracing those issues in my new DRM category here on the blog and look forward to getting your ideas and input.

On a technical note, does anyone know how to prevent new comments from being added to a WordPress site while still allowing old comments to be displayed? Turning comments off on a post appears to delete all the post’s comments.

And, speaking of DRM awareness, check out this piece on David Byrne’s blog about DRM:

Happy New Year. Don’t Buy CDs from the Big 5.

CDs from the big five run the risk of damaging your computer, opening you up to security risks, and you can’t rip the music onto your iPod. Stop buying CDs now. At least until they guarantee us that they will never try this sh*t again.

O.K., I’m exaggerating, but if I need to carry around a list to know which CDs I can safely buy it’s getting out of control.

Ensemble Robot!!!!!

Very cool. One of my favorite former wine store clerks and MIT grads, Christine Southworth, is branching out from her gamelan-inspired composition to writing new works for new instruments. Specifically, she has an upcoming concert with a new group, Ensemble Robot, at the Museum of Science on Wednesday. Featuring “an 8-foot tall double-helix-shaped xylophone played by electromagnetic hammers,” “a flower-like instrument that opens and closes, with small, motor-powered fans to pluck strings,” and “a large tetrahedron of air pistons, controlled by compressed air“ that plays organ pipes as it opens and closes. Rawk!!

Alive and kicking

It surprises me a little that the worst travel experience I had in the last week might just be the drive into work. It took about 2 hours to make a 40 minute drive from our place in Arlington into the office, thanks to a snowstorm whose peak activity was during the morning rush hour and which is still continuing, albeit less fiercely, now. (Confidential to Mother Nature: Yes, you have a sense of humor, we get it. Now knock it off.)

The day at Ft. Lauderdale was constructive and the flight home uneventful. I’m awfully glad to be back in one piece now, and to have enough leisure to finish submitting my expenses.

—Speaking of which, am I the last person to figure out that you can go with an e-ticket number directly to an airline’s website and it will provide a printable receipt? I went through a fair amount of hell reconstructing my final receipts from credit card statements when I went to Germany last fall; it appears that on at least one airline, Northwest, the process can be much simmpler.

Back on terra firma

It’s nice to kind of be back in the US. My VP of sales and I are in the Summer Shack in Logan’s Terminal A, after a fun day of travel that included the following:

  1. A brisk cold shower at 4:30 am Austrian time
  2. A 3 hour drive from our hotel in Austria to the Münich airport
  3. A quick hop to Amsterdam and a two hour layover
  4. A 7 and a half hour flight to Boston

Next stop: Ft. Lauderdale and a sales call tomorrow morning. Ah well. As the Beasties said, No sleep till Brooklyn.

Until I get back into a normal updating routine, I leave you with this thought: the prospect of an evening of fine ulcer inducing cuisine at Hell Night at the East Coast Grill is a lot more attractive after a week of Austrian food. Even fine Austrian food. We were planning to go last fall but couldn’t get a reservation, so we’ll be there next Wednesday. Looking forward to seeing a bunch of friends and any random Boston bloggers who might be in the house.

Quiet days in the Alps

We’ve been working pretty hard here the last couple of days, so no real time to write and reflect. This morning, though, most of my team took advantage of a little extra recuperation time, so I sat in a quiet corner of the hotel lounge, taking advantage of the wireless LAN, drinking coffee and watching the snow come down. It was incredibly peaceful here at the Waldklause.

Our hosts have been determined to share with us many traditional Tirolese experiences. Last night, that included driving in a four-wheel-drive vehicle up a steep and winding icy road with many switchbacks to a small inn, taking dinner in a cozy wood-paneled room, and, after much trepidation and building of courage, donning miner’s headlamps, hopping atop wooden sleds, and rocketing back down the road. This is called “bobbing,” and while the sleds weren’t really the traditional bobsleds, they felt as though they were going about as fast. I acquitted myself well, being the second of the five Americans down the hill. But it was after midnight by the time the sleds stopped at the bottom of the hill.

The most interesting moment of the evening, though, was a powerful Proustian moment I had just after stepping inside the lodge. The faint aroma of sauerkraut permeated the air, and I was back for a minute in my grandmother’s kitchen. We sat down to dinner, which was to be served family-style with no menu, and my seatmate wondered what the meal was to be. “Well, we at least know there will be sauerkraut,” I said. My tablemates were astonished; none of them had smelled anything, and they poked fun at my specificity—“Not rotkraut? Only sauerkraut.” To my delight, it was sauerkraut, and really good too, with a plate of ribs and potatoes. “To give you extra weight going downhill,” my neighbor said. Um. It was good, but after last night I need no additional help to slide down hills at top speed.

I just skiied down a mountain and boy are my legs tired

Day one of this trip, since it turned out to have the best weather, was our outdoor fun day, and we spent it at Sölden on the slopes. I skiied longer and faster than I ever have, starting about ten in the morning and wrapping up at 4 pm with a final ski down to the parking lot on icy narrow trails in the fading light. Keeping up with our company’s regional VP of sales was a challenge, as he skis about as fast as he drives on the Autobahn, but I managed it.

In the process, I learned a few things. Like: you can stretch your legs longer and further and work your body harder than you think. And: your muscles may still beat you up in the morning, but at least you’ll be able to remember that you went skiing in the Austrian Alps at a height of between 2000 and 3100 meters with a bunch of crazy Germans, and you only fell twice. Not bad for less than three years since I started skiing in earnest, especially considering I didn’t get to the slopes at all the winter of 2004–2005.

Killing time in Amsterdam

And alas, I mean in the airport, not the city. After an hour and a half my coworkers and I have exhausted the (admittedly impressive) shopping and entertainment options, including an outpost of the Rijksmuseum, and are parked on benches awaiting our next flight, which takes off five hours from now.

I’ll have to see if I can find the art installation that turns up as the top result for killing time schiphol airport. It sounds like about the most interesting thing going right now.