Newman Wins

I love me some figs.

This is a pretty recent phenomena, though. I used to be scared of figs in the raw. The chewy skin and the flesh-like texture repulsed me. I'd eat liverwurst before I'd eat a plain fig, which, maybe isn't really that remarkable since I've loved liverwurst and it's more attractively described cousin braunschweiger for most of my life.

But, right, figs.

For years I only enjoyed figs in their newton form, and only because I didn't consciously make the connection that maybe Fig Newtons had some figs in them. Making yet another connection to liverwurst: it also took me several years before I suspected that liverwurst contained liver.

Even the word is strange. "Figs."

It sounds like something that you wouldn't really want to eat. The sound of the word makes me think of mushrooms and pine forests.

So, but I've really learned to love a raw, dried fig over the last couple of years. It's a healthy snack that satisfies a craving for sweetness, but without really leaving you hungry for more. Raw figs, too, have become a treasured, but rarer part of my diet. Usually only eaten at restaurants that have the nerve to serve a raw fig, maybe drizzled in honey, maybe just sliced in quarters, for several dollars. The lack of value doesn't make me any less likely to buy them, though.

Tonight, though, I've come full circle. I opened up a pack of Fig Newman's (low fat, no less) as an after-dinner treat. They're definitely the best fig I've ever had in newton form, and probably the best fig-based food ever. They're figgier that your regular newtons, and the fig tastes much more like an actual fig.

Microkernels and You

I've been reading a lot on the internals of the Mac operating system (OS X) and I've come across some fascinating articles I'd like to share:

The Wikipedia article on the Mach kernel is fascinating stuff, covering the development and history of what was once the most promising operating system kernel. Microkernels were going to change the world at one point, and although a modified version of Mach is used in OSX, the GNU Hurd, and NEXTSTEP, monolithic kernels seem to have some massive performance advantages. If there's a fundamental revolution in memory access, or some sort of improvement that allows much larger caches that in our current chips, this advantage might disappear, but that looks unlikely.

One of the major innovations of Mach, and one of the qualities that make Mac hackery such a pleasure, is the interprocess communication that allows applications to communicate with each other.

The Mach chapter from the Dinosaur book is also interesting, and is required reading for any operating system enthusiasts.

If you're still curious, the Wikipedia entry on microkernels is also good stuff.

HOWTO: Children of Men

Don't watch this unless you've already seen Children of Men.

Here's a video clip of how some of the effects in Children of Men were created. It's interesting to see how much work went into scenes that feel so effortless and so much like a documentary.

Jet Blue: We Screwed Up

I'm sure this is getting posted everywhere, but here's a video of JetBlue CEO David Neeleman taking the blame for stranding passengers on airplanes for 10 hours.

This is the first time I've seen YouTube used for something like this, but I'm sure we'll see more of it in the future.

There was a lot of talk back in 1999 about the Cluetrain Manifesto and it looks like some corporations are actually getting on board.

Whereas in the past it would take a full-on media bombardment to try and clean up a public-relations disaster of this magnitude, now the CEO can sit down with a camera, upload a video to YouTube and reach a wider audience, with a more controlled message.

Macaroni and Cheese Recipe

I originally posted this in a Metafilter thread, but I figured it probably belonged here as well.

I've been on a macaroni and cheese kick for the past few months, and I've tried out a variety of recipes in my quest for the perfect concoction.

Here's the recipe I use:

Ingredients:
1.5 cups milk
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
1 lb. macaroni
1 lb. grated cheese (cheddar, colby, jack, etc.)
salt, pepper, and a little nutmeg
1/4 cup breadcrumbs

First, preheat the oven to 450 and lightly butter a 3 quart baking dish. I use an enameled oval cast iron baking dish with a lid, but use whatever you want. I've found that the deeper the dish, the better the mac and cheese.

Cook the pasta for 5 minutes in rapidly boiling water and set it aside to drain.

Preheat the milk to slightly warmer than room temperature. You're going to need this in 5 minutes.

Make a roux by melting the butter in a saucepan and then whisking in the flour a little at a time. Make sure that when you stir in some flour it's dissolved before you stir in the next bit. Let the roux cook for 2 - 4 minutes.

Take the saucepan off the heat and stir in the warmed milk a little at a time, whisking the whole time. You're making a thick bechamel here, btw. Once the milk is completely stirred in return the pan to the heat and bring to a boil, stirring the whole time. You don't want the sauce to burn, here. You can stir in the salt, pepper, and nutmeg at this point. Make sure you don't use two much nutmeg, by the way.

Once it's boiling turn the heat down really really low and cook, stirring occasionally, for 4 minutes.

Put the pasta in the baking dish, pour the sauce over top of it, and gently fold in the cheese. The mac and cheese should be the same consistency the whole way through, at this point.

Sprinkle on the breadcrumbs and then bake for 20-25 minutes. It's done when the top gets crunchy and starts to brown.

One variation with this is that you can add a can of cream of asparagus soup to the bechamel right before you combine everything in the dish. Cream of potato works well as well, but isn't as interesting.

Feingold, FTW!

I don't know what they've been putting in the water up on Capitol Hill. The entire Democratic party has been showing a lot more spine these days. They've been taking actual positions on things. Opinions have been shown. Lines drawn in the sand.

And no one has been showing more steely resolve than Wisconsin's Russ Feingold. Check out his opening statement from Tuesday.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iThF86SYRJk]


That's how you throw down the gauntlet. That's how you stand up to bullies.

Feingold '08, baby.

Let the 2001 Jokes Commence!

Seagate is releasing a new device in the summer called "DAVE" (Digital Audio Video Experience). The concept is deliciously simple: it's a dinky little portable hard drive that you can slip into your pocket. It uses a 1.8 inch drive, so it's bite-sized, and it has a shiny little case, so it's sexy.

But wait! There's more! It also has a battery, Bluetooth and WiFi! So you can carry it in your pocket (or in your geek holster), and access it from your phone, your iPhone, your computer, etc. In theory, anything that has bluetooth should be able to get into the DAVE.

I've actually wanted a device like this for quite a while. The idea of having a series of gadgets that can all talk to each other, which I can carry on my person and which properly use a wireless network connection stirs something deep within me. It gives me a glimpse of a day, maybe years from now, when my phone will be smart enough to talk to my pants, and my socks will be able to form coherent opinions on the way I stomp around.

I just bought a 512MB transflash card so that I can my full use of my DS Lite. You wouldn't believe how small these devices are. It comes with an adapter that is the size of a SD card. SD cards used to be the smallest form of storage around, and now we're making devices that can fit inside it. And the best part is that this half-gig storage device that's the size of my pinkie-nail was only $6. After shipping.

We're getting to the point where everything around us can have storage. My phone, my iPod, my DS Lite, and my keychain all have far more storage than I had in my first computer, by a couple of orders of magnitude. Transistors are the cheapest and most numerous things on the planet, and they're still getting cheaper.

What happens when everything has storage? We're able to carry around all our music, all of our movies, and every word that was written down before the 18th century? The hardest thing is actually using all that data. We have to have some way of tracking down that one specific photo of Aunt Frannie that we took 3 years ago, and not having to crank through that hard drive via a phone interface.

It becomes less about the storage and more about the filing system.

Ah, I want this future. I want it so badly. I want full-text searching on every book I've ever read. I want cross-references to be able to be dropped into conversation like so many delicious conversational croutons (crou-tingly!). I want my ebook to be able to talk to my portable hard drive and instantly display every book I've ever read. And then I want to be able to *share* that with friends, acquantainces, and passers-by. I want to become a walking database of my experiences.

The DAVE isn't that magic device. Not yet. But it's pretty close.

Ch-ch-ch-changes

So the Great Redesign has reached a temporary stopping point. This site is really designed to be my home on the web, with links to my various projects, pictures, and personas. Bshort.org will continue to be my photo site, although that may get migrated to a shiny new domain at some point.

I'm using Blogger to manage this redesigned site. It's quite a change for me, since I've managed most of my sites either using code I've written myself or code that others have written, but which resides on my own servers. The primary cause of this shift is that I'm just sick sick sick of comment spam. It's the only thing that has made Movable Type unpleasant to work with. I've tried all the remedies. I've applied all the patches. I've spent more time on it than I'm willing to admit, and I'm just ready for something that will work, with no configuration, and without any fiddling. For now, that's Blogger.

This site was mostly designed in Photoshop, the header is from a picture that I took in France, and the backend was written using Emacs. If you're not using Emacs then you're missing out.

The Question

Friends and family often ask me "what kind of computer should i get?"

This is always a loaded question. It's like asking "what kind of sweater should I get?" There's not just one type of sweater that's perfect for a given person. Some people want a sweater that's going to keep them warm while they're chopping wood at their cabin up in Maine, some people want a sweater that won't cause them to overheat while they're sitting in their office, and some people just need a sleek simple sweater that isn't going to get all stretched out after one year, and which won't pill up in a week.

It's the same thing with computers. There are computers that are small. There are computers that are fast. There are computers that are very cheap. There are also computers that work really well.

And if there's ever a type of computer that I'd recommend for everyone, it's the last type. Everyone needs a computer that just works. If you're not able to use the computer to do things because the hardware fell apart on you, or because the operating system got borked, or it's so riddled with viruses that it runs at a glacial pace, then it's of absolutely no use to you. It doesn't matter how powerful it is, how much RAM it has, or how cool it looks; if you can't use it then it might as well be a toaster.

And that's why I always bring up the Mac thing with people.

"Are there any specific programs that you need to be able to run? What do you need to be able to do with it? Are you running Photoshop? Are you looking for something that will allow you to browse the web and answer email?"

At this point I'll pop the question.

"What about a Mac?" I'll say.

I usually get this look, like I've just cursed at a cotillion.

"You'll never get viruses," I say.

"You'll never have to worry about spyware or hackers or reinstalling the OS." I usually get a pretty positive reaction to that one.

But still. People almost never bite. The Mac is somehow /different/. It's strange.

"Will I be able to run Word on it?" is a common question, and since the answer is "yes," it's one I look forward to.

"What about the Internet? Does the Mac have the Internet?" that's usually from people who think that AOL is the Internet.

"Yes," I say. "You'll have the Internet. You'll be able to run Word if you want to. You'll be able to still email people who have PCs. You'll be able to synch your Treo to it. The only difference is, you'll be able to do those things better."

And that's where I usually lose people. They'll start to look a little incredulous. I think they think I'm insulting their computer prowess or something. Which I'm not.

I program all day long on a PC. I've used PCs professionally for nearly a decade, but I use a Mac at home (a 2 year old Powerbook), and it's not for novelty's sake. It's because I get more things done.

I'm able to write web apps quicker because I have access to an actual *nix environment. I'm able to manage my photos more efficiently because of iPhoto. I'm able to work without fear of getting a virus because of yet another bug in Outlook / Internet Explorer / etc. And because everything is so tightly integrated, I can set up my home computing environment so that I have these tight little loops that allow me to store and retrieve information, from a number of different sources, which means I don't forget to do things anymore.

That's the secret. That's why people that own Macs usually are fanatical about their Macs. It's changed their lives. It allows them to get more things done. And it's both as simple as you want it to be, and as complex as you can handle.

So, there you go. Do you want a computer? Get a Mac.