Archive for May 2004

Living the bug-free dream

An interesting post about Where Bugs Come From -- the computer kind, not the creepy crawly kind (we know where those come from).

...[A] classic tale of slippery assimilation, trying to find that ridiculous cut-off point where a program went from being short enough to be bug-free, to long enough to be inevitably buggy...This, of course, is the promise of structured programming, of functions, of objects. If we can write 137 lines of code without a bug, then we can structure our programming style so that were always writing units of fewer than 137 lines. We can build those units into components, and voila! No more bugs.

If only it were so simple! Having used various approaches to programming -- from the by-the-seat-of-the-pants methodology to hard-core unit testing for each and every class that's written -- I can say that there's no magic bullet, no magic number of lines, no magic anything. It's just freakin' work, and lots and lots of testing, to get your software to the point that it does what it's supposed to, and when it doesn't, to gracefully alert the user that something's gone amiss.

Tonight in SoHo

A reminder: I'll be at the Apple Store in SoHo tonight from 6-8 PM participating in the New York Bloggers event. I'll be discussing the technology of blogging with the dashing Anil Dash and the fording Paul Ford. Please join us if you've nothing better to do on a rainy New York evening.

The subway centennial

You have until the end of the year to check out the New York Public Library's exhibit, The Subway at 100: General William Barclay Parsons and the Birth of the NYC Subway, but why wait?

Celebrating the centennial of the opening of the New York City subway system in 1904, this exhibition both salutes William Barclay Parsons, the first chief engineer of the subway, and recognizes the importance of the subway system to the life and growth of the city.

Sounds great, and since the subway is one of my favorite things about New York City, I'm keen to learn more about its construction and history. I'm adding this exhibit to my to-do list.

See Spot and his electric sheep

Electric Sheep image by Spot DravesSpot Draves' presentation of his electric sheep was one of the best presentations I attended at last February's O'Reilly Emerging Technology Conference. Electric Sheep is a screen saver that uses a distributed computing model (a la SETI@home) to create and render new "sheep."

When the screen-saver is activated, the screen goes black and an animated 'sheep' appears. Behind the scenes, the screen-saver contacts a server and joins the parallel computation of new sheep.

Every fifteen minutes 24/7 a new sheep is born and distributed to all clients for display. Each sheep is an animated fractal flame.

The sheep are amazingly beautiful, and hearing Spot speak about his work is great. Lucky for you, if you're in NYC tonight you can experience it yourself. Spot will be doing his presentation at the dorkbot-nyc gathering. Also there will be a presentation on "Gameboy Hacks" at the same meeting! It's a geek's delight! Wednesday, May 5, 7pm at Location One in SoHo (NYC).

Jane Jacobs speaking tomorrow evening

Jane Jacobs, the author of The Death and Life of Great American Cities will be speaking tomorrow night about The Past, Present, and Future of Office Skyscrapers. It's free, but registration is required. Thursday, May 6, 6:30pm in the Great Hall, City College (NYC).

An appetite for A.J. Liebling

Between Meals: An Appetite for Paris by A.J. LieblingA few New Yorkers ago, David Remnick wrote a retrospective on the author A.J. Liebling, A. J. Liebling at one hundred. Mr. Liebling's writing appeared in the magazine long before I was even born, and I wasn't aware of him. But Mr. Remnick's article was just the thing to pique my interest. Towards the end of his piece, the author gives passing mention to one of Mr. Liebling's final "masterpieces", Between Meals, "a memoir of Paris and of pleasure itself."

On a whim I ordered it from Amazon, ignoring the reviews who failed to see its classicality and felt, "One star is an over-rating!" I'm happy to report I haven't enjoyed a book so much in ages! Here's a passage from page 62, where Mr. Liebling riffs on current (current being 1959, when the book was written) food preferences:

Personally, I like tastes that know their own minds. The reason that people who detest fish often tolerate sole is that sole doesn't taste very much like fish, and even this degree of resemblance disappears when it is submerged in the kind of sauce that patrons of Piedmontese restaurants in London and New York think characteristically French. People with the same apathy toward decided flavor relish "South African lobster" tails -- frozen as long as the Siberian mammoth -- because they don't taste lobstery...They prefer processed cheese because it isn't cheesy, and synthetic vanilla extract because it isn't vanillary. They have made a triumph of the Delicious apple because it doesn't taste like an apple, and of the Golden Delicious because it doesn't taste like anything.

I'm not so sure times have changed. These days I've been trying to focus on the essential elements of flavor when I'm cooking and eating. I'm growing a whole slew of herbs this summer, and edible flowers, to experiment with in the kitchen. I'm continuing to stick to seasonal, local offerings from the greenmarkets so that I may become an eater who truly tastes the tomato, the ramp, the fava bean. As Mr. Liebling puts it, I've begun my apprenticeship as a feeder, and I hope to be able to share more of the culinary experiences on this site. At the very beginning of his book, Mr. Liebling instructs:

The primary requisite for writing well about food is a good appetite. Without this, it is impossible to accumulate, within the allotted span, enough experience of eating to have anything worth setting down. Each day brings only two opportunities for field work, and they are not to be wasted minimizing the intake of cholesterol. They are indispensable, like a prizefighter's hours on the road.

The challenge is clear. Let the field work begin!

Hawks in Cambridge?

Megnut reader Joanna emailed today with a report of hawks near MIT. No, not Donald Rumsfeld-type hawks, but real live hawks, the bird kind! Someone has even set up a web cam of the hawks so that others can watch the baby hawks grow up.

Outside my window at work overlooking Mass Ave in Cambridge, lives a family of red-tailed hawks - a mama hawk, a papa hawk (smaller than the mama) and two chicks, hatched on Easter Sunday...According to some online research, these chicks will fledge in about another 2-3 weeks. They are just starting to practice stretching and flapping their wings, and often tease each other by poking each other and spreading their wings over the other.

For those of you who will be checking in on the web cam, she also cautions:

P.S. A word of warning to vegetarians - we often see them feeding on rats, squirrels, and pigeons and it gets pretty gruesome at times.

Ah, nature! And in Kendall Square, no less.

Update: apparently the cam is only active Monday through Friday from 9-5 (EST).

The Economist says Fire Rummy

There's no shortage of news articles about abuses of prisoners in Iraq. And now several publications, including the New York Times and The Economist are calling for the resignation of US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. The Economist's op-ed, Resign, Rumsfeld has a clear premise, "Responsibility for errors and indiscipline needs to be taken at the top."

The scandal is widening, with more allegations coming to light. Moreover, the abuse of these prisoners is not the only damaging error that has been made and it forms part of a culture of extra-legal behaviour that has been set at the highest level. Responsibility for what has occurred needs to be taken-and to be seen to be taken-at the highest level too. It is plain what that means. The secretary of defence, Donald Rumsfeld, should resign. And if he won't resign, Mr Bush should fire him.

Sounds about right to me.

Gardens cool and trendy now

"The Blog Generation Takes Up Its Trowels" is a New York Times article on young urban gardners, many of whom are artists. The article describes, "a passion that is blossoming among a certain segment of culturally plugged-in urban 20-somethings and early-30-somethings. They may not own backyards, but they are determined to make things grow." Why that sounds just like me! Alas, I found the article annoying and hipstery, but I'm happy that more people are discoverying the joys of gardening.

Also, what? "The Blog Generation"? Egad.

Personal Democracy conference

On Monday, May 24th in New York City there will be a
Personal Democracy Forum to, "bring together political figures, grassroots leaders, journalists and technology professionals to discuss the questions that lie at the intersection of technology and politics -- to take a realistic look at where we are now and where we are headed." Alas, democracy as we know is not free. The one-day forum costs between $50 (student) - $195 (general admission) to attend. Ouch, that's a lot! I wish more things in the US were like the way they are in Europe, where unemployed people can get in for free, or at least have some discount. That said, it looks to be an interesting line-up of speakers.

To Boston by bus or bust

Usually when I go home to Boston to visit my family, I spring for the Acela train because you get guaranteed seating and it's fairly fast (~3.5 hours). But it's also very expensive, nearly $200 round-trip. So this past weekend I resorted to my old friend, the Peter Pan bus. And would you believe it, if you purchase your ticket online in advance (all you seem to need is one day before you depart), it's $30 round-trip. $30! Ok, they stick you with a $4 fee for "will call pick-up" but still, that's nearly six trips to Boston for the price of one train trip. And both ways, my journey was four hours exactly. Sure, it wasn't as pleasant as the train, and there's no plug for your laptop, and they showed the movie The Recruit both ways, but what do you expect for that price? I'm going to take the bus more often, I just can't resist a bargain!

Bosox commentary as cartoon

It was Lock who first pointed me towards Soxaholix, a daily comic strip about the Red Sox, complete with links. And I am very grateful, for this site makes me laugh even in the depths of my sorrow. Yesterday's frame following Boston's 10-6 loss to Cleveland begins with, "This team named after the indigenous peoples of the Americas is starting me on a trail of tears." If you love the Olde Towne Team, this is the site for you.


How broken is email? It's so broken. It's so so overwhelming destroyed by spam that I may give it up entirely. After less than 72 hours away from my computer, I have over 5,000 messages, and it took three hours to download them all. A week away from the computer could mean a full-day of downloading and digging out. And anything more time off than that could be an irrecoverable situation, where I could just never get through all the old crap and get back on track. Argh. (And yes, I'm using SpamAssasin and all kinds of complicated filtering, etc.)

Better betting

Back before I left Kinja, Gina and I made a bet about the ads on the Kinja site -- how long before non-text ads appear? Advertising has never been one of my favorite revenue models for a web site, and when we made the decision to go down that road at Kinja, it was with reservation that I agreed. Too often web sites allow the ads to run amok, ruining the experience of the site. But in discussing the ad approach, we agreed that we'd use text ads, and limit their placement. It sounded like a way that ads could work without ruining the experience of Kinja: reading.

But all you have to do is look at Nick's Gawker Media properties (Gawker, Gizmodo, Wonkette, etc.) to see that our view of advertising -- and belief of when advertising has run amok -- are not aligned. And I knew it was simply a matter of time after my departure that gaudier, flashier ads would appear on Kinja. So Gina and I decided to place a wager on exactly how long that would be. Alas, there were no winners, because we couldn't disagree about how long it would take. We both knew it would be fast. And we both bet it would be less than a month. I've been gone two weeks and two days from Kinja, and there's already a giant CNet ad right in the middle of the digests. Blech.

Who's behind the stove?

Today in the New York Times, Who Really Cooks Your Food?, an examination of the chefs behind the famous chefs at renowned high-end restaurants.

Alert restaurant customers already know that when a second in command is announced on a restaurant menu under the title of chef de cuisine or executive sous-chef, it signifies that the chef whose name is on the marquee might be a few blocks, or a few time zones, away.

Of course this isn't a surprise, though what was a surprise to me was the news that Eric Ziebold, Thomas Keller's chef de cuisine at the French Laundry, has resigned. According to this article, Keller is now back in California managing the relaunch of the French Laundry, which closed for renovations while his New York restaurant, Per Se, opened. Though Thomas Keller is my favorite chef, I haven't had much interest in eating at Per Se, simply because nothing could top my night at the French Laundry. And now that he's not even in the kitchen, I'm less inclined than ever.

Discussion about computer science careers

For all you Bay Area readers who are interested in a Computer Science career, here's a lecture you may be interested in: It's Never Too Late: Careers in Computer Science.

The Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology and Google are pleased to co-sponsor an all-star female panel on education options for entering and re-entering Computer Science and IT on Wednesday, June 2 at 6:00pm at Google's headquarters in Mountain View, CA. Attendance is free but space is limited and you must pre-register.

Look like it should be interesting.

Thomas Keller and Per Se

Big article in New York about my favorite chef Thomas Keller and his new restaurant in New York City, The Perfectionist Gets Burned: How Thomas Keller survived the fire that almost took down Per Se.

"Just the other day, Thomas was so proud to show me how they use painter's tape in the kitchen," [The French Laundry Cookbook co-author Michael] Ruhlman says, visiting the Per Se kitchen one afternoon. Instead of tearing the tape from the roll to, say, label the plastic deli cups that hold the ingredients at each mise en place, every strip of tape at Per Se is cut with scissors, every edge perfectly straight. Immaculate. "Because it's all one thing to Thomas. You can't be lax in one area and perfect in another.

"It's not about the sweeping vision," Ruhlman adds. "It's about the minute vision. There are no big decisions. A great restaurant is the result of a thousand little decisions. A place like this is just composed of details. It's a pointillist picture. So every night after service, you'll see Thomas down on his knees, scrubbing out the cupboards."

Ah, that sounds like the Thomas Keller who charmed me as I read Michael Rhulman's wonderful book, The Soul of a Chef: The Journey Toward Perfection. I love the minute vision, the focus on the thousand little decisions, making sure each one is as right as it can be. Of course, such perfectionism is exhausting, but I think that's just how I'm made. And reading this makes me want to take back what I said the other day about not wanting to eat at Per Se. Maybe I do after all...

A lecture on the development of the New York City subway

Tomorrow night (Thursday) at the New York Public Library there's a free lecture on The Development of the New York City Subway System that sounds interesting.

Transit Historian Peter Derrick will discuss why New York City needed an extensive rapid transit system, the political and financial difficulties in getting new lines built, and the impact the subways had on the growth of the city and the well being of its population. The focus will be on the largest stage of subway expansion, the 1913 Dual System of Rapid Transit, under which most of the existing IRT and BMT lines were constructed.

Free. From 5:30 PM - 7:00 PM. Science, Industry and Business Library, 188 Madison Avenue, New York.

Welcome to the new nut

If you can see this message, it means you've arrived at the new home of Alas, not everything is perfect and there is still some work to be done, but in the coming weeks I'll try to straighten it all out. First thing you may notice is that I've changed the style of my permalinks, which means a lot of old permalinks have broken. I've tried to do some redirecting where I could, but for the really old links (from Blogger days and hand-coding days) the links are just gone. Also, I haven't been able to import all of my hand-coded entries in Movable Type yet, so about a year's worth of posts from mid 2001 - mid 2002 aren't here yet. I'm working to get that stuff back online. Aside from that, I think things are OK. Shoot me an email if you're getting some wonkiness.

In doing this whole process, I discovered something about if it were a house, it would be one of those houses that's got a lawn full of old cars, porches piled high with broken bird cages and sofas with the stuffing coming out, and hallways crammed with books, boxes and dust. By which I mean, what a mess! Five years of haphazard placement of files and random uploading resulted in a directory structure that would make a librarian cry. On the new server, I've tried to be more organized. We'll see how long that lasts.

Amazing dining at Eleven Madison Park

I've had my share of tasting menus but last night's six-course tasting menu at Eleven Madison Park was one of the best. With wonderful big windows looking onto the lush Madison Square Park, and an interior filled with flowers of all kinds, Eleven Madison Park's atmosphere got the evening off to a great start. The champagne that followed continued the thrill. Usually the tasting menu is a series of small plates, demonstrating the breadth and depth of the kitchen. At Eleven Madison Park, the breadth is more visible because they don't serve everyone the same dish. So each course was actually one thing for Jason and something different for me. Like a creamy pea flan with morels for one and asparagus with goat cheese for the other. Or skate in brown butter and cod. Arctic char and salmon. Each course we ate half of what was on the plate, then switched. So the six-course menu (which actually eight courses counting the tuna tartare amuse bouche and the chocolate soufflé) ended up providing eleven different things to eat.

And wowzers, but were they good! The pea flan was creamy and sweet and the most beautiful shade of green. The four fish courses were each distinct, each wonderful. And the only course that was the same for both of us was a côte du boeuf -- beef -- that was perhaps the best piece of meat I've ever eaten in my life. It was such a great experience to have so many textures, so many flavors -- and with the wine flight we had to accompany it, so many different wine tastes -- that I wonder why I'd ever want just a larger plate of one thing. I am fully subscribed to the Thomas Keller school of thought when it comes to portion size: three or four bites is a wonderful amount, enough that you experience it and yet not so much your tongue tires of the flavors. Each last bite leaves you wanting more. And yet the next course comes and it's another exiting adventure and new flavors. I can still nearly taste the pea flan on my tongue!

I definitely recommend Eleven Madison Park and hope to have the pleasure of dining again there someday.

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