Honesty and Excuses

Posted in Pointless Words of Wisdom on October 7, 2013 by themaroon

I think the line between honest and dishonest people is the willingness to accept excuses. The dishonest always say “I lied because of…” or “I broke my promise because…”

What they never understand is that, minus a handful of people suffering from some pathology, nobody is dishonest without reason. People lie because they don’t want to hurt someone or don’t want to lose something. They go back on their word only because there is some gain in doing so for themselves. Dishonesty a purely selfish act.

Honest people do that too, if maybe much less frequently, but when they’re thinking back on their actions they take responsibility for them. Honesty is never feeling that someone or something made you lie. It’s realizing that you and you alone made the choice.

Cringeworthy Journalism

Posted in Uncategorized on June 14, 2013 by themaroon

I’ve been enjoying, or perhaps more accurately cringing, at the tech media coverage of the whole NSA non-scandal. It really shows just how insular, hive-minded, and stubborn this little segment of the media is. The broader mainstream media, of course, moved on from the story quickly.

Here’s a rough timeline of the coverage:

June 6th: Glenn Greenwald reveals a horribly-designed PowerPoint slide about PRISM, an NSA data collection initiative, saying “The National Security Agency has obtained direct access to the systems of Google, Facebook, Apple and other US internet giants, according to a top secret document obtained by the Guardian.” And “The Prism program allows the NSA, the world’s largest surveillance organisation, to obtain targeted communications without having to request them from the service providers and without having to obtain individual court orders.”

Almost immediately after: The CEO of every company involved flat out denies these allegations, as well as ever having heard of PRISM. Either all of them are lying (a big risk for a CEO of a publicly traded company, especially since he’d be more or less guaranteed to be screwed by a whistle-blower) or Greenwald simply misinterpreted the slides. Or they’re bogus, or just inaccurate.

June 7th until today: The media keeps writing articles about how awful it is that the NSA is collecting all of our private data. Here’s a great example of such shitty journalism from today’s WaPo blog: “Last week, leaks revealed that the Web sites most people use every day are sharing users’ private information with the government.”

No, they didn’t. But I suppose “last week everyone mistakenly came to the conclusion for 15 minutes before we were promptly corrected…” doesn’t make for interesting reading, so let’s just go with the sensational headline.

We know two things now. One, that Google, et al. occasionally give data to the government when it comes to them through proper channels (which we already knew), and that that data goes into some software called PRISM, which we didn’t but is essentially irrelevant. We all know it went into some software somewhere, right? It’s 2013, nobody expected it to end up hand written on paper and stuffed into boxes. The name is meaningless.

The conspiracy theorists are out in force too. My favorite refrain is “The CEOs are just lying so they don’t end up like Joseph Nacchio.” Nacchio, for those who don’t know, was the CEO and chairman of Qwest who is now serving a prison sentence for insider trading. According to Nacchio it’s all a setup for refusing to turn data over to the NSA. Apparently they got the SEC to bring charges, a jury of 12 civilians to convict him, and a judge to sentence him. That, or he was guilty of insider trading. Certainly if someone sentenced to prison says it was a government setup, it’s worth repeating on tech blogs.

Weeks like this make you wonder, why do people who are seemingly intelligent, and so pride themselves on being so, act so stupidly sometimes? Why does hacker news have to have 15 of its 20 links full of stories outraged about something we know is probably not even happening for the following week and or two? I follow segments of the financial media as well, nothing like this ever happens there. Nobody would blatantly ignore the truth for this long when writing for the business pages.

I really just don’t know. Maybe we’re all sensitive to data collection. Maybe we’ve all read too much Orwell and genuinely worry about the government as if it’s some nameless faceless blob vying for control over us, rather than an organization of fellow citizens who, while far from perfect, really are just trying to make the country a better place for us.

Because if there’s one thing I’m sure of, it’s that the people at the NSA are patriots too. They’re not evil. They’re trying to do a very tough job, which is helping to keep our country safe. We might not like how they’re doing it, or think the tradeoff is worth it, and that’s a discussion we should have. It’s hard to have when there’s so much secrecy involved, but we do have some control over it since it’s overseen entirely by elected officials.

But either way the discussion should be without hysteria. We shouldn’t simply assume everyone involved is lying and stick with our original interpretation of the facts, even when they were refuted almost within minutes.

Stand Back, I’m About to Do Science!

Posted in Uncategorized on May 3, 2013 by themaroon

This Kiera Wilmot story cracks me up. It went viral yesterday, and today people all over the country are coming to her defense. It’s ludicrous. Scientists are even defending her now.

First of all, let’s not call what she was doing a “science experiment”. She made a toilet cleaner bomb, just like I did when I was a kid. I didn’t even have Google back then and I knew what was going to happen.

A science experiment, to borrow a definition from Wikipedia, is “an orderly procedure carried out with the goal of verifying, falsifying, or establishing the validity of a hypothesis.” She made a toilet cleaner bomb, got busted, and said it was for science.

I did the same kind of stuff when I was in high school, though I was at least smart enough not to do it on the playground. She doesn’t deserve two felonies for it certainly. She maybe deserves the expulsion, if for no other reason than being dumb enough to do it at school.

I’m just upset that I keep seeing what was obviously a teenager dicking around reported as a science experiment. There’s a big difference between “teenager excessively charged for toilet cleaner bomb” and “teenager arrested for science experiment” and it’s sad to me that even mainstream news outlets resort to the latter for ratings.

I suppose if I used this blog to lament every instance of bad journalism I came across I’d never get anything else done (and I would publish more words than the New York Times) but this one just seems especially heinous.

Good Riddance to Google Reader

Posted in tech on March 18, 2013 by themaroon

Ever since Google announced they’re killing off Reader, the Technosphere has been full of bellyaching. To an extent I understand it. I’ve used Google Reader nearly every day for a very long time. Not so much because Reader is a fantastic product, but because it’s adequate while most of the alternatives suck.

A little known fact, before we started Blue Frog Gaming I had decided I was going to do a software startup of some kind, and the first idea I started working on was to be an alternative to Google Reader. I wanted something with a lot more social functionality. Sort of like what Twitter has morphed into for a lot of its users, sharing articles, etc., but without the inane celebrity drivel and outdated character limits. This was well before the invention of the Facebook platform, or Twitter and to be honest it may have been ahead of its time had I gone through with it.

What’s the point? Not much, other than to say I can understand why people don’t want to lose Reader. Especially since most mobile-based reader clients sync with Reader. I haven’t played around with some of the alternatives yet, but I’m not sure there’s another one that’s free and of acceptable quality.

That said the reactions have been ridiculous. Half of the commenters I’ve seen have said something like “I’ll never trust Google again!” Trust them to do what? Run a free service that they feel isn’t of a higher value than the cost to maintain? If you trusted them (or any other company) to do that in the first place, you’re an idiot. Google has a responsibility to do what’s best for Google.

Also what are you going to do about it? Start searching on Bing? Ditch Gmail for Yahoo? Leave Android for iOS? (That one you might do anyway.) Drop Google Docs for Zoho? All because they shut down an RSS reader?

Then there are the people arguing that Google is being stupid. Maybe, but I doubt it. Google has much more of an idea of what Reader is worth to them than I do. I’m just a guy who has no real information other than I like it, and that’s true of almost everyone complaining. All the crackpot theories about how valuable the “influencers” are that Google is about to lose have me in stitches. If you’re so damned influential, how come you couldn’t get anyone to use the product you’re so pissed is dying? Google should really be terrified of you being upset! And to what end are you going to use that massive influence now? Talk everyone into switching to Apple’s phones where there will also be no Google Reader?

Thinking about it from a business case, I suspect the only reason Google Reader ever got out the door, way back in the dark days of the internet, was to get people to log in. If you remember back in 2005, there really wasn’t much reason to give Google any personally identifiable information. Before Gmail, which pretty much nobody had back then, I don’t even think you could create an account with Google. You just went there and searched and moved onwards.

Google realized early on that having more information about customers let them tailor ads to customers and therefore make more on ads. That’s why they launched AdSense, which not only monetized traffic outside of Google, but gave Google a good idea what their users were doing online to improve ads on Google.

And while cookies and IP addresses are great, there’s no better way to get information about someone than to have them give it to you. A logged in user not only gives you basic demographic data you’d otherwise have to guess at, they give you their name (which there are all sorts of ways to find other data from, including income) and they let you track them easily across browsers and devices.

So in 2005, putting out a product that netted zero revenue but got people to log in was well worth it. Nowadays Google has no shortage of people logged in. Gmail’s one of the bigger email providers. They’ve got YouTube, Wallet, Android, Drive, Docs, etc. A lot of their products are still second rate, but some of them aren’t, and when you add them all together you’ve got enough that most of the net is logged into Google all the time. There’s probably not one Reader user who won’t stay logged in on some other service.

And for someone who uses an RSS reader, this is probably the best thing that could happen. I’ll be surprised if 10 services that are better than reader don’t replace it in a year. Reader has barely been updated in a long time. It’s mobile clients suck. It’s adequate and popular, which is a combination that prevents any real improvement in RSS readers and has for years. It’s Internet Explorer 6 all over again.

So let it go. It’s a little acute pain to alleviate a chronic one for both us and Google. In the end we’ll both be better off.

 

MVK Redux

Posted in Food/Beverage with tags on February 1, 2013 by themaroon

A couple weeks back I guest posted on the Priconomics blog about a minimum viable kitchen for cooking gourmet food. It got a great response, with lots of discussion on Hacker News, other blogs, and some people emailing me directly.

Overall I thought the article was pretty well-received. The audience it was aimed at is sort of infamous for being very opinionated, even when not very knowledgeable, so I expected some ridiculous replies such as “you don’t need a whisk” or “boiling meat is a perfectly acceptable way of cooking,” which, I suppose, is true if you’re an 18th century Englishman. But overall the level of discourse was good.

There were a lot of intelligent comments that were repeated often and that I thought are worthy of addressing, so I figured I’d write a quick post here to do so.

First up was my advice to buy a set of pots and pans. I said to just get a decent 10 piece set in your budget range, and a lot of people said something like “just buy pieces individually as you need them.” Those people mostly don’t realize that cookware sets count lids as pieces. You don’t need 10 different pans for sure, but you’re really getting 6, which is at least really close to what you do need. A typical 10 piece set is something like:

  • Large Sauté Pan w/lid
  • Large Skillet
  • Small Skillet
  • Large Saucepan w/ lid
  • Small Saucepan w/lid
  • Stockpot w/lid

I suppose you could argue that the large skillet is redundant and that you could use the sauté pan instead. A professional would tell you that they are different tools used for different purposes,  but even if we concede the point (which I’m inclined to for home users) if you were buying pieces individually you’d end up with the other 9 for sure and you’d pay more for having done so.

One caveat though, budget 10 piece sets often skimp on pan sizes. Make sure you get one with a 12” skillet as the large, a similarly-sized sauté pan, and a 4qt saucepan, not the 10” and 3 qt you often see on cheapo units. Sam’s Club has a decent 3 ply set for under $150 that meets the proper dimensions.

Anyway, I’ll stand by the original advice because I bought a 10 piece set awhile back and rarely does a week go by where I don’t use every pot and pan in it. And I’ve never needed to buy another, though I did buy a couple more saucepans because you so often find yourself multi-tasking with them. I have a 1, 2, 3, and 4 qt, and some dishes use them all.

Some commenters said to pick up aluminum pans at a restaurant store. That might make sense. There are some people who object to aluminum for health reasons, but they are cheap and heat evenly. The good stainless steel sets have aluminum in the middle because of that. That may be good advice if you live near such a store (I never have) and don’t believe it will give you Alzheimer’s. I’ve read that aluminum also deforms easily and doesn’t last long, but again, I’ve never purchased one, so I don’t know.

Another one I heard a few times was to buy a cast iron skillet. That’s probably not bad advice, and would be one advantage of not purchasing a set. The thing about cast iron is that it’s not really necessary, and it’s a pain in the ass to take care of. I do have one cast iron piece that to be honest I’m like as not to get too wet and have to scrub rust off of and re-season every time I clean it. Your mileage may vary, and it’s quite possible I’m just too dumb to use them properly, but I just don’t find them worth the trouble generally. I consider that one a matter of personal preference.

Almost nobody argued with my objection to non-stick pans. Good! 70% of all cookware sold in the US is non-stick though, and this confirms my suspicion that’s because 70% of people don’t know what they’re doing.

A common objection, mainly due to price, was the electronics. The mixer, blender, and ice cream maker were deemed unnecessary. I added them because I felt my initial definition of a gourmet kitchen required them. Many soups use a blender. Almost every dessert uses either a stand mixer or an ice cream maker, and the cookbooks I said I wanted to be able to make over 75% of do have dessert sections. I probably eat fewer sweets than 95% of people, but I still find myself making desserts for holidays, entertaining, etc. Still you could leave them out and still make lots of great dishes and save a couple hundred bucks.

Some people said to get a food processor instead of a blender, but I feel that’s terrible advice. These people, without exception, are the ones who think it’s ok to chop vegetables in one. It’s not, at all. The result will be uneven, and culinary school 101 teaches that you want the ingredients to be evenly chopped so they cook at the same pace. And perhaps worse, the processor macerates cell walls. Ask anyone who has chopped parsley for tabouleh in one. The result is much soupier than if done by hand, and kind of gross looking.

Sure, you might be saying I’m being overly perfectionist on that point. But isn’t that the point of gourmet cooking? Loving detail is what separates Spiaggia from Olive Garden. 

If you want to save time chopping, get a mandoline. It’s a lot cheaper than a food processor, and will give you even cuts quickly without liquefying your veggies.

I have a food processor and I use it for one thing, which is making pie crusts. I use my stand mixer and blender quite often, and generally not for desserts. But your mileage may vary. Except for the whisk. You need the whisk.

What it comes down to in the end is what types of food you’re making.  Do you have a family that loves ice creams and sorbets? That $40 ice cream maker will pay for itself, and the stuff you make at home (especially with sorbets) will be much better than the stuff you buy. Find yourself making lots of soups? Spring for a good blender.

My goal was to leave the door open for just about everything. Sure, many recipes will require something specialized (and usually inexpensive). Want to make a quiche? You’ve already got the stand mixer (crust), the blender (aerating batter), and the baking sheet. Now you just need a 9”x2” cake ring for $16. Want to make Thomas Keller’s famous cornets? Get the cream molds for $7. John Besh’s crawfish pie? Grab a set of 8 oz. ramekins for $11.

I did miss a few things. Measuring cups being most noticeable. It’s hard to follow a recipe without those. If you made it through the first article and this far in this one, you might like a book I’m reading that explains, among many other things, the history of measuring cups and other forms of cookware called Consider the Fork. It’s far more interesting than I’ve likely made it sound.

Anyway, I’m always interested in what people would have done differently. I’m still nowhere near an expert in the kitchen. I’m just a guy with a lot of really good cookbooks and the equipment to make the stuff in them.

2013

Posted in Me: My Favorite Subject. And Hopefully Yours Too with tags , , on January 7, 2013 by themaroon

If I had to pick a favorite holiday it would be New Year’s Day. Not so much the day itself, which on a good year consists mainly of not being too hung over to choke down some sauerkraut, but the meaning. While I try to make introspection a routine, I never find myself so motivated as at the end of the year.

Last year was a bit of a rollercoaster for me. My divorce was finalized and a silly legal battle ensued that is still ongoing. I went through a tough breakup, made much tougher by the fact that those are new for me and I had no idea what I was doing. I learned another valuable lesson about choosing acute pain over chronic.

On the other hand, things were good too. The aforementioned breakup lead, quite surprisingly, to a new relationship that’s in many ways the healthiest one I’ve ever had. My company had a rough 2011, but managed to rebound a bit in 2012, keeping us in decent shape. We spent the entire year working on a project that is yet to launch (but coming soon) which is a first for us. But the longer development cycle, though frustrating at times, wasn’t due to mistakes or ever moving goal posts. It was just because we were building something awesome, and sometimes that takes time. It is, I think, the most well-managed project we’ve had, and a good game too.

I’ve continued with my hobby of cooking and taken it to a new level. Some techniques I’d struggled with came together. I’ve gone from basically just cooking other peoples’ recipes to also experimenting on my own with a reasonable degree of success. Sure, I’m no Thomas Keller yet, no matter how many of his dishes I cook (dozens at this point) but I’m a hell of a lot better than I was in 2011, and I’m confident that I’ll be even better by the end of 2013.

My goals for this year at work are centered around making the new project a success. For me personally that means mostly doing a good job of hiring a couple key people, filling the roles until we do, and helping the great people we already have (and we do have a top-notch team) make the product I know they’re capable of.

My personal goals are two-fold. One is to take better care of myself physically. I actually had that goal last year and did a pretty good job of it. I’d say about 8 months out of the year I made it to the gym regularly. This year I want to get there even more. I know that’s the most cliché resolution ever, but there you have it.

I also want to improve my financial picture a bit. I know I’m doing much better than the average 32 year old, since most people my age are in debt and I couldn’t live that way. But I could do better with what I have. Perhaps I’ll talk a bit about it as I implement the plan.

Overall I expect it to be a good year. I’m feeling refreshed and my motivation is renewed.

New Orleans

Posted in Travel with tags , , on December 28, 2012 by themaroon

I finally made it to New Orleans earlier this month. I’ve been a huge fan of Cajun food for nearly a decade, and I love blues and jazz music, so having never been here was borderline criminal.

We landed on a Saturday long before check in time so we had to wander around the French Quarter for a bit. We ended up stopping at the Royal House Oyster Bar for lunch. The oysters fresh off the gulf might have been the best I’d ever tasted. The gumbo confirmed my suspicion that the stuff I’d made the previous weekend had way too much roux in it.

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Dinner Saturday night was at Cochon. We started with fried boudin balls. I had one of the daily specials, a boneless piece of goat wrapped in house made pancetta. Juliet had a braised pork shoulder with mushrooms and cheesy polenta. We debated dessert (the pineapple upside down cake with coconut lime sorbet was very tempting) but decided it’d be better to just put our drinking caps on.

image

We hopped in the cab and aimed for Bourbon Street but the cabbie told us the place to go for live music was Frenchmen so we hopped around there, listening to an eclectic mix of zydeco, jazz, and hard rock, drinking local beers and some excellent bourbons I’d never heard of before.

Juliet's new hair piece.

Sunday we took a nice walk down to the Aquarium, then checked out the French Market District. We strolled around the park looking at art and had beignets at Café du Monde. I got both a math and English lesson from a street urchin who forcibly cleaned our shoes and tried to charge us $40. Trust me, if you’re in New Orleans and someone tells you “I bet I can guess where you got those shoes,” remind them that the word “got” is not synonymous with “have”. You’ll have more fun correcting the hobo’s grammar than you will explaining to him why you’re not paying $40 for a very bad shoe cleaning.

Dinner was at Emeril’s NOLA. Despite his reputation of being more of a TV personality than a real chef I’ve had dinner at a couple of his restaurants and have always had good food. That night was no exception. Swordfish was on special and was excellent.

After that we headed to Bourbon Street. Again we bar hopped, listening to different jazz musicians. Our favorite was probably Jamil Sharif at the Maison Bourbon.

Monday was a mellow day. It was raining so we went to the movie theater. Not very touristy, I know, but we saw Hitchcock in this great theater at Canal Place. There are maybe 30 seats in the whole place, and they’re more like leather couches. Waiters take your order for food that’s actually pretty decent. Not a bad way to spend part of a day when the weather is bad.

Dinner that night was at August. I had the best turtle soup I’ve ever tasted (by far) and  specialty cuts (not sure which) of Two Run Farms beef on mozarella whipped potatoes with gremolata and marrow crust. Dessert was a satsuma creamsicle with mandarin sorbet and a yogurt meringue. I’m a sucker for citrus, so even though I was overly stuffed after that and the gratis desserts at the end, it was worth it.

Since it was close to our hotel and we were leaving the next morning we spent our last night in town drinking a couple too many hurricanes on Bourbon Street and listening to local jazz musicians once again.

Around that time I came down with a cold. It was fortuitous that we had a couple days of quiet time scheduled on the beach in Gulf Shores, Alabama. The place was quiet due to the off season, but the weather was really rather pleasant. Not going for a swim pleasant, but walking on the beach was a nice way to clear my stuffy head. Again I ate some local oysters, and not a whole lot else since I was feeling ill. We spent three days mostly just decompressing, which was nice after the craziness that is New Orleans.

Then we had one last night in New Orleans. We ate dinner at an unremarkable restaurant and then headed to Frenchmen. A porter at our hotel had told us that his uncle Ellis Marsalis was playing at a bar there called Snug Harbor. “Wynton’s dad?” I’d asked. Sure enough, it was. I’d listened to his stuff since high school, and I love jazz piano, so I had to go check it out. The show was brief but of course fantastic. Despite his age, Mr. Marsalis seems sharp as ever.

And that was pretty much our trip. We grabbed some beignets and souvenir pralines on the way out in the morning. Overall it was a blast and I’d definitely love to get back there one day.

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