I would need an iAntacid

I am working at home this morning so that my hacking cough (getting better) does not disturb my coworkers. One benefit of doing this is being able to drink delicious, delicious home brewed coffee… so much better than the stuff from the single-serving machine at work. It is perhaps a good thing that our office does not have the Starbucks iCup machine (as seen at Microsoft). My already precarious digestive balance would be upset permanently.

Thanks to Jenni, whose blog I’m returning to after too long a hiatus, for the link.

Side effects

I’m still fighting this cold. Today was better but tonight I’m still hacking hard enough to pulse a vein in my forehead. And it’s sapping my energy, both at work and on the blog (as if the longeurs between posts on this blog weren’t bad enough, now my limited brain cells are being crowded out by mucus). And as of last night I’m all out of Robitussin (aside: who came up with that name? It sounds like it’s meant for robots).

So my brain is fighting with my body, which points out that there is a need to do something about the pounds of extra turkey in the fridge. As a result, tonight was turkey pot pie night. Somehow in between coughs we assembled two, which are now in the freezer, with one more waiting in the fridge (we didn’t make enough crust—that’s tomorrow). And I have to come up with a Christmas card soon.

Is this cold over yet? Can I please get it out of my system before the weather turns cold again and makes things worse?

Back on line

Quiet few days after Thanksgiving. We had a successful dinner and then spent Friday catching up on sleep and doing … well, a whole bunch of other stuff I don’t remember. Lisa’s folks, here since Tuesday, took off yesterday, leaving the rest of the weekend for us to recoup.

And I had to recoup from a few things. A nasty cold, for one, that settled in my throat sometime on Wednesday, followed by nasty headaches brought on by all the coughing. I’ll survive but hope that it lifts pretty soon.

In the meantime… what’s up with the world? It’s been in the mid-50s here all week while in Seattle… snow?

T2006: The Rise of the Turkey

Last year it was a mild and easy meal, the year before an epic battle, the year before that a show-off feast, and in 2002 and 2001 we helped out in other people’s kitchens. For this, the fourth Thanksgiving in a row we’ve hosted and the sixth since I started blogging in 2001, we’re playing it cautiously. I am getting over a cold and Lisa isn’t moving around too spryly either. So the menu is a little more conservative this year:

I stayed up late last night working on prep. I cooked two quarts of chicken stock, pre-boiled the Brussels sprouts and toasted and buttered the pecans, brined the turkey, and Lisa and her mother made the gelato filling and the pie. And this morning we’re not too far off: there’s bread to be cubed and bulk sausage to be thawed for the stuffing, more biscuits to be made, a turkey to be roasted, and the green beans and the final assembly on the Brussels sprouts. I’m not as far ahead of the game as Isis, but we’re not doing too badly.

And I’ve even influenced some others; one of my coworkers is evaluating the pros and cons of duck a la hairdryer. I’m looking forward to hearing that story.

Houseblog confessions: the mailbox

It’s been a while since I did anything non-kitchen-related on the house, but the time had come. Today I finally got around to hanging a mailbox by our front door.

This may strike some as odd, since we’ve been living in the house for over two years, but until we replaced the front door last November we had a mail slot. This we opted to do away with after much debate. We appreciated not having to stop the mail and just letting it pile up in our foyer when we went on vacation, but we didn’t appreciate the mail slot’s tendency to let the foyer equilibrate with the outside temperature.

Thus vanished the mail slot. And for the last year the mailman has been leaving our bills, junk mail, and magazines (because that’s all that comes by mail any more, practically) either inside our screen door or on our side porch. Which is ok except in the pouring rain. And, you know, we’ve had some of that lately.

So did we opt for a period mailbox? Perhaps one of these fine numbers from Restoration Hardware or Architectural Mailboxes? Or even an antique reproduction?

Reader, we did not. We got the $24.95 cheapie mailbox from Home Depot—so cheap they don’t even have it on their web site. Looks like anodized aluminum, bends like a tin can, but hopefully it’ll do its job and keep the mail dry.

Waiting for Vista…

I have a new laptop on the way at work, and, yesterday’s post notwithstanding, I’m looking forward to getting it so that I can load Windows Vista on it.

Why, you may rightly ask, would I want to do that to myself? Well, Vista is the first Microsoft OS in seven years that I haven’t used as my primary OS while it was in prerelease status, so I’m feeling a little behind the curve. But also it just feels like time. I’ve been using XP since 2001 in prerelease form (starting during my summer internship), and all the novelty of the new issues in XP has worn off. I’m tired of:

  • Long delays in the UI when booting and waiting for services to start
  • Long delays in the UI when switching from one network to another or into disconnected status
  • Bad power management during sleep (see yesterday’s post)
  • Weird screen switching behavior
  • Needing to reboot all the time
  • Three or more keystrokes to create a folder

Will any of this change in Vista? At this point, I have no idea, and that’s what I’m looking forward to exploring.

Choices reduce satisfaction…

screenshot of windows vista showing all the shutdown options, courtesy joel on software

Joel Spolsky writes an interesting perspective about how introducing choices in a software interface can make the UI worse. He uses the example of the new Shutdown UI in Windows Vista, and points out that there are seven states of Shutdown (Switch User, Log Off, Lock, Restart, Sleep, Hibernate, and Shut Down) that are exposed to the user, together with two shortcut icons, at least one of which has indeterminate meaning.

The scary part is that I have been doing software engineering for so long that I would be among the chorus of voices asking for separate Sleep and Hibernate options. The issue of choice vs. simplification is not a trivial distinction. Every engineer and product manager thinks giving more choice to the user is great, and every one of them is saying under his breath, “Because it means I don’t have to guess what the user is really going to do, and therefore I can pass the complexity on to the user.” This is busted behavior.

In defense of the Vista team, and I do (I hope) still have friends there, the implementation pictured here is better than the current implementation in XP, where to Restart, Lock, or Sleep you first press a button on the Start menu labeled Shut Down. But Joel’s point remains: unless you fix the underlying confusion in the user interaction model, cleaning up the menus is like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.

This is one area where the Mac doesn’t do a better job, by the way, but at least all the menu options are easily accessible, and the default sleep/wake behavior is much more intelligently implemented than on a PC. (My MacBook Pro can sleep overnight without a problem, while my Dell will drain its battery if I put it to sleep with a full charge.)

Thanks to the Product Marketing blog for the link.

Kitchen shakedown

We had an opportunity to give the kitchen a trial run before Thanksgiving. On Saturday night we made a polpettone—big meatball, essentially an Italian meatloaf—along with two pots of bolognese sauce and a cake. Last night we had our neighbors over to help us eat the bolognese sauce and the cake. It was an entertaining visit: they have a nine-month-old who was consistently the center of attention and in turn distracted by Joy and Jefferson, who decided they adored her.

The kitchen is functioning pretty well now, though it may be a while before I finish the missing toe kick since that involves traveling to Ikea. The odds of my doing that before the holidays are slim and the odds of my doing it on Friday are nonexistent. I may be crazy, but Ikea on Black Friday? I’m not stupid.

Missing out on Upshaw

I was saddened earlier this month to realize that I couldn’t sing in the concert I was most looking forward to in this symphony season, the Boston premiere of El Niño (The Child) by John Adams. I was particularly down because I would be missing the chance to sing with Dawn Upshaw, who has been one of my favorite soloists since I stumbled across her stunning voice on the definitive recording of Górecki’s Symphony No. 3 … wow, twelve or thirteen years ago now.

I’m now sadder because I wouldn’t have had a chance to sing with her in any circumstances. According to a news clip buried in yesterday’s Globe, as well as an earlier alert on the TFC grapevine, Ms. Upshaw is bowing out of the concert and other performances because she is being treated for early stage breast cancer. According to her manager, she plans to be back on stage in three months, so hopefully this is simply one of those things that has been caught in time. I hope I will have many chances to sing with her in the future.

New mix: doin the outside dance

My newest mix, doin’ the outside dance, has been posted to Art of the Mix and iTunes. I’m experimenting with iTunes’ new blog sharing code to put the songs on my site (see below). Unfortunately, only the parts of the mix that are in iTunes show up on the live preview.

The mix is composed of songs that were left over from the last mix… as well as some other odds and ends. I guess that makes it the Amnesiac to the last mix’s Kid A… which hopefully doesn’t mean that I’ll start singing about myxomatosis. It also obeys my informal rule about having songs by Mission of Burma and Big Star on all my mixes.


The deluge appears to have stopped here for the moment, so I can contemplate spending another few hours with the leaves tomorrow, in between painting and other house chores. I figured the few leaves left on our tree wouldn’t be a big burden after I got everything else up on Saturday, but I was wrong, wrong—after Sunday’s rain the back lawn looked like a compost pile. Ah, domesticity. Maybe I’ll get some other stuff done, too; there is at least one mix struggling to be born. In the meantime, we’ll settle for a Random 10:

  1. Sam And Dave, “Soul Man” (Soul Men)
  2. Kim Kashkashian, viola – Stuttgarter Kammerorchester, Dennis Russell Davies, conductor, “Trauermusik” (Lachrymae (Hindemith, Britten, Penderecki ))
  3. The Blind Boys Of Alabama, “Just Wanna See His Face” (Spirit Of The Century)
  4. Thurston Moore, “Psychic Hearts” (Psychic Hearts)
  5. Pixies, “Tame” (Doolittle)
  6. U2, “Stories For Boys” (Boy)
  7. Nina Simone, “Mississippi Goddam” (The Best of Nina Simone)
  8. Richard Hickox; Collegium Musicum 90, “”Paukenmesse”: IV. Sanctus” (Haydn: Te Deum/Paukenmesse/Te Deum)
  9. Elvis Costello & The Attractions, “Shipbuilding” (Punch The Clock [remastered])
  10. Monty Python, “Bookshop” (Monty Python’s Contractual Obligation Album)

Thanksgiving, early

Reading today’s Cary Tennis advice column (one of my guilty pleasures, btw), “Does less of a paycheck make him less of a man?,” I find myself thankful for how lucky I really am.

When I was between jobs after moving back east, it was extremely difficult. Financially it was OK, though not great; Lisa was chomping at the bit to do some much needed house renovations and we didn’t have any cashflow to permit it, and trying to find a job was challenging. But emotionally it was one of the worst periods of my life. I have since discussed this with my therapist and concluded that there were two major factors at work on top of the standard major-life-change stuff that depresses anyone: having a major part of my identity bound up in what I did for a living, and not wanting to disappoint my wife. The pressure of those two things combined with an uncertain job market and existing depressive tendencies were enough to drive me through the floor into a major depression. A glance at any of my writing between October 2004 and March 2005 won’t bear that out, because I didn’t write much about it, but it was pretty severe.

The one thing that pulled me through was Lisa’s support. Which brings me back to the advice column: I can’t imagine being in this guy’s shoes and having to deal with the lack of support his partner discusses. Talk about kicking someone when they’re down. Ladies: this is not how to help someone who is underemployed and trying to get their self esteem back.

So yes, I am extremely thankful for what I have with Lisa. I’m not sure I would be here today without it.

iPod Users: Universal Music are thieves

The recent announcement that Microsoft would share $1 of revenue for every Zune sold with Universal Music Group—because, according to UMG Chairman and CEO Doug Morris, iPod-like devices are “just repositories for stolen music, and they all know it”—sounds familiar. So I went back and found the precedent for this apparently unprecedented business model: the 2004 CD MAP settlement. This madlibbed version of the Zune revenue-share announcement should clarify the similarities:

In 2004, the music companies, including UMG, agreed to share revenue from CD sales with consumers. Forcing the issue were Attorneys General of 43 states, Commonwealths and Territories. UMG refused to admit to price-fixing but agreed to compensate consumers between $5 and $20 per claimant.

“These companies are just repositories for stolen consumer money, and they all know it,” this consumer says. “So it’s time to get paid for it.”

And after pulling highway robbery via price fixing for six years, these guys call us thieves? As Laurie Anderson would say, “It takes. It takes one. It takes one to. It takes one to know one.”

The unstoppable power of a fully operational kitchen

kitchen layout

It has been a long time since our kitchen has been ready for prime time, but since the weekend’s work we now have a couple of meals under our belt and I have to say, I like the setup. On Sunday we roasted a chicken—about the simplest recipe I know (stuff two lemons into the cavity of the chicken, salt and pepper, close the cavity, cook at 350° breast side down, flip the bird over, and finish at 425°, monitoring breast temperature with a probe), but it went very smoothly.

The redesigned kitchen has some nice work triangles: fridge to sink and prep surfaces, prep to garbage and stove, stove to sink and dishwasher, dishwasher to cabinets and sink). I really appreciated them last night with a more complex meal: gnocchi with mozzarella and meatballs in a tomato and onion sauce. It sounds complex but it’s pretty simple, at least if the gnocci and meatballs are prepared ahead: one can diced tomatoes, an onion peeled and split, some butter and a little salt, simmer for 30 to 45 minutes. Toward the end toss the gnocchi in the boiling pasta water and scoop them out when they float; drop them in the sauce, add meatballs and mozzarella, and park in the oven for 10 minutes. Pretty ambrosial.

The last part of the process: our new SimpleHuman trash can. It felt wrong to have our battered old can in the new kitchen, so we gave the kitchen (and ourselves) a present. The concept of trash can as ceremonial gift isn’t new, of course; check the review of this model which notes it was a gift to the owner’s new condo. Also check out this extensive kitchen hack description, pointed to from the Ikeahacker Blog, that calls the SimpleHuman trash can “lovely…I never thought a really expensive trash can could make me happy.”

Of course, all this trash can talk reminds me of the definitive commentary on trash cans and consumerism in general from Charles Schulz: Charlie Brown buys a new trash can, takes it home and unwraps it, then comments to Shermy that he has to do something with the wrapping paper. Shermy suggests to him that he put it in the trash can, and Charlie Brown says, “Boy! That sure is handy!” — conveniently neglecting to notice that the need that the trash can handily filled was created by it in the first place.

Holy gnostics, Batman: it’s the Rosicrucian-signal!

secret rosicrucian symbol

A good link for everyone who read and enjoyed Neal Stephenson’s Quicksilver: a scan of the 18th century work Geheime Figuren der Rosenkreuzer, aus dem 16ten und 17ten Jahrhundert (Secret Symbols of the Rosicrucians from the 16th and 17th Centuries). Gorgeous book even if one doesn’t speak German—and isn’t an occult philosopher. Thanks to BoingBoing for the link.

Good translations via Adam McLean at the Alchemy Web Site, including a set of illustrations that probably inspired the producers of the late TV show Millennium. I particularly remember seeing an image like the one on the right on that show a few times.