Friday, June 26, 2009

Generation Gap

Big news is big news, and it impacts us all in some way. But people and events hit us differently at different points in our lives. Virtually every blog I read is written by someone younger than I am, and usually 10-20 years younger. And it's clear that the death of Michael Jackson has hit this generation very hard. People talk about it being "too soon" -- which it was -- or remembering where they were when they heard.

Don't get me wrong -- I believe Michael Jackson was a really important figure in entertainment. He has been a part of the pop landscape for almost my entire life. But he was never really mine. My younger sister was crazy about the Jackson Five, but I was a couple of years too old to be caught listening to ABC. And by the time the "King of Pop" was born in the 80's, my formative years were behind me. Billie Jean, Man in the Mirror, and much of the other work done there is still some of the best video music that has ever been made, but the emotional connection for me is obviously not what it is for the thirty-something generation who learned what music is by listening to MJ.

For us it was the Beatles, and I guess the parallel event is the death of John Lennon. I was watching SNL in my new apartment with my new wife on my new pit sectional when I heard. And the world changed forever on that night. So while I don't have it, I get it. While we will all mourn the real American idol for myriad reasons, those of you for whom he provided the soundtrack for your coming of age have my sympathy. Bust out your one glove, crank up Thriller and don't be afraid to shed a few tears for childhoods that will never return.

Via con dios, little Michael.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Don't you wish your boyfriend was hot could cook like me?

So, yesterday was the wife's birthday. Normally I don't pay a lot of attention to my family, friends, pets, loved ones, other people, or my surroundings in general. In fact, my life often feels like time-lapse photography, where I look up and notice a whole different set of people in the room than were there what seemed like just a second ago. But, if you are willing to have sex with me and admit to it, and birthdays are important to you, then I'm going to try to bring my 'A' game to that one day a year. And the wife likes her birthdays.

Luckily for me she has exquisitely simple tastes. She has said that she fell in love with me the first time she tasted my pizza, which I know to be an exaggeration, if not an outright fabrication. But it means I manage to avoid finding just the right place to take her for dinner every year in exchange for a couple of hours in the kitchen. (This is also how we avoid any undue Valentines Day foolishness, except the pizza is heart-shaped and only red and white toppings are allowed above the cheese.) This is yesterday's effort:

Green onions, bell pepper, zuchini, fresh tomato slices, mushrooms and pepperoni with mozzarella and provolone cheese, homemade sauce and a hand-tossed, 100% whole wheat crust. I'm still working to get the crust just right, but if you've ever wanted to make whole grain breads that don't rise like cardboard and taste like wood, you might want to buy Peter Reinhart's book.

You have to start the dough the day before, but it's totally worth it. Then you should e-mail the author and tell him he should send me money because I'm pimping his book on the Internet. His pizza dough is the only thing I have tried that I didn't really love (don't tell him that), and that's only because I like my crust pretty thin and crispy, and his dough is more tender and bready like they tend to make on both coasts. I haven't tried a deep dish with this crust. One of you in the Midwest will have to let me know how that goes.

The most significant change I have made lately is slicing cheese instead of grating it. I've always tried to avoid pre-grated cheese because it's dry and tends to burn before it melts right, but using little slices of ball mozzarella and provolone instead of grating blocks myself has definitely stepped up the flavor a notch. (Bam!)

Oh, and you're going to need one of these:

Actually, you don't really need one, but you will want one, because it effing rocks like a hurricane. Sometimes I make bread just so I can play with the mixer. Seriously. The wife is not the only one who has good birthdays.

Speaking of presents, she got a Wii, because she is cool, but also because she is a girl. The allure of multi-core power and graphics acceleration is mostly lost on her, and she hasn't ever liked a shooter game that I know of, with the exception of Fallout (1 & 2). If Emily is to be believed, this may be the last time you hear from me, as the Wii will have consumed all of our waking hours from now on.

Oh, last thing on the cooking. My most important kitchen accessory is this apron:

Oh, plus there was a cake, but it was eaten before any pictures could be taken.

Update: I almost set the kitchen on fire this morning, probably because of the headspace thing. I may have to lay off the cooking for a while.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009


I knew a guy many years ago who fancied himself an author, so he worked on an assembly line in order to free his mind for writing in his head all day. He thought up plot lines and characters and all sorts of stories while attaching Widget A to Flange B. My current job is like the opposite of that. At least when I'm doing it correctly.

I spend all day thinking about how computer systems and related technology and such can be better or more helpful or become self-aware and destroy mankind. Then I work to make that happen. By "all day" I mean the two or three productive hours per day that I can squeeze between reading e-mail, meetings, random questions from co-workers, social networking, drinking, television and all my hobbies. And by "work", I mean reading and writing papers and creating "research prototype" systems that no one will ever use. And I occasionally boss some college students around.

But that's during the "between times". When I actually get involved in something intriguing, I have almost no space in my mind for anything else. Sleep becomes optional, the alarm clock irrelevant, and if my workspace were a little further from the food I would probably lose some weight. I still haven't the foggiest idea why I write this blog (more on that later), but I do know that I can't do it when I'm "in the zone." There have been studies that suggest that when people are seriously focused on a problem and someone speaks to them, not only does the person not pay attention to the interruption, they may literally not hear it. Intense concentration inhibits our senses. (Right now the software developers are wondering what my point is, since they spend most of their day in this state.)

So this is a long and not very interesting way of saying that I can't write right now, it's bothering me, and it's probably going to get worse before it gets better. I've just started building two sets of research tools for two different projects that do completely different things and have to be done more or less at the same time. And "the same time"* is relatively soon. The worst part is that both systems are my own ideas, so of course they are infinitely more interesting than anything else I could be working on.

People who do a lot of scientific or very technical work talk a lot about being in the zone, and how exciting and rewarding it is. But we don't talk much about how hard it is to get there, how long it takes to really get out, or how difficult it is to think about anyone or anything else while there. The wifely unit's birthday is tomorrow and I'm trying to claw my way back into the real world so that I can wrap her presents and make her pizza and pay her the attention she deserves every day. But just when I think I'm out, the syntax graphs and service primitives and retargetable architectures keep pulling me back. I think I will call my newest tool Fredo.
* Sincerest apologies for all the "scare quotes". I just don't seem to be able to stop myself. It's just a good thing you're not here in person or I might have to do the finger quote thing. This only helps to prove my point that I can't write when it's like this.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

I am an Ass

I attended a networking happy hour thing for tech people at a local -- let's call it a restaurant -- last night, at which I drank too many beers and stayed entirely too late, because that is what I do. So when I got home it seemed like a good idea to get on the computer and post a silly thing I had seen earlier that day as my Facebook status. It was, "Why isn't phonetic spelled the way that it sounds?"

Hilarious, right? Drink six pints of beer and try again. It gets funnier.

I have an old friend that I have known since third grade who has been teaching elementary school (like first graders or some such) since she got out of college. We'll call her Mrs. Jones, since during the few months we dated in grade ten, the Billy Paul classic was more or less our song. For those of you too young to know Me and Mrs. Jones, I can only offer my sympathy that you missed the very best time ever to be a teenager. I have hard evidence if you don't believe me. If you were too old to care about the soul revolution, like maybe Rassles' grampa, then maybe you should stop reading and start on that next angry letter to the editor.

Anyway, Mrs. Jones is like the sweetest woman you would ever want to meet. Elementary school teacher, right? Plus married to an artist, beautiful kids, loves Jesus, active in the community and beloved by friends and family alike. And a redhead, which is a thing with me. So the next morning, in what I'm sure was the spirit of playfulness and fun, and maybe a little because she remembers what an ass I was in grade ten, she commented that "ph" is always pronounced with the "f" sound, so there should really never be any confusion about words like "phonetic".

So did I "lol" or thank her for the info or point out how smart she was or even just ignore the comment? Oh. Hell. No. I fired back that she had really only shown that "phonetic" sounded like it was spelled, not the other way around. In public. Of course. Why? I suppose I can plead hangover or sleep deprivation as mitigating circumstances. But mostly it's because I'm an ass.