Cooking for Geeks - A Review

It seems that most of the writing that I've been doing is reviews.  Fortunately I have plenty of articles to write in my head, but the times that I feel like writing are pretty inopportune (such as my commute.)

So, dear friend, we have another review of an O'Reilly book, and providing full disclosure, I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a review...  All integrity accountability in-place, let us begin.

Chapter 1 opens with the headline "We geeks are fascinated by how things work, and most of us eat, too."  This book makes it very plain that it is a book for geeks (who want to learn more about the alchemy that is cooking), by geeks (who know some things about said alchemy).

While I already have a basic competency in the kitchen, there was a lot of value for me in this book, even beyond the underlying explanations of "how" and "why".

One of the things that I appreciate most are the quick hacks to improve your life.  Probably my favorite is the Pizza Stone tip. The tip is to  keep your pizza stone in your oven; it will take longer for your oven to come up to temperature, but the stone will help to keep the temperature more even.

Probably the greatest value from this book is in technique.  Rather than just a list of steps, there is a lot of explaination of "how" to do something as well as "why".  Even though I have some experience cooking, I do appreciate that the assumption is that the reader is a thorough beginner.

All in all, I found this book to be pretty fun and very informative.  I've already recommended it to others, and do so without reservation.

The book's website is http://www.cookingforgeeks.com/, and it can be purchased from Amazon, or from the publisher here.



On Hoodies

I have yet to find the perfect hoodie.  Unlike the perfect knife, I am surprised at this, because it doesn't seem like it should be that hard.

This may come as a surprise, but I've only recently come to appreciate Hoodies.  I can only think of one that I'd had during my youth that I didn't particularly care for, and didn't have any during my time in the Corps.

Perhaps they've only now come into my life because my office is in an unheated basement, or perhaps it's that my last few jobs have allowed for more casual attire.  In any case, as is natural for me, now that I've experienced a thing, I have opinions on the matter.

The most obvious is the question of Zippered or Pull-Over.  This one is actually pretty easy for me.  While I appreciate the decorability and unified front pocket of a pull-over, the flexibility of partial-openness (as well as lower static generation) make me a Zippered man.

The one Pull-Over hoodie that I have has one flaw that is unique to it's shape that causes me annoyance, and that is that the neck hole is too small.  I may have a large head and neck, but I'm surprised that the hole is as small as it is.  It's small enough that it's hard to pull my head through the hole, and the neck sits uncomfortably close on my neck.  I may need to go so far as to cut the neck to extend it, but then I'll have to do some sewing to keep it from ripping further.

So as far as Zippered Hoodies go, there is a feature that is unique to them that deserves attention when looking for the ideal hoodie.  The zipper border - the piping of the garment material outside of the zipper itself - should be large enough that it covers the zipper teeth when closed.  One of my hoodies, which I like despite it's two significant flaws, has an almost completely exposed zipper.  It doesn't bother me in the normal wearing of the thing, but I am incredibly aware of it when resting something on my chest or stomach, such as a tablet, laptop, or handheld game.  At times like this, I can feel the device scraping against the zipper, and it's all the more annoying because it seems like a completely unnecessary oversight.

Next are the features that are of crucial importance to me, but aren't specific to either style of hoodie.

The pockets should be large enough to fit my hands in to the wrist, and even better, fit a largeish handheld game system (Nintendo DS XL or 3DS XL) completely, parallel to the ground.  If the pockets aren't big enough to do that, they're too small.  Additionally, and have raised sides so that it's rare that anything (such as a DS XL) could fall out accidentally.  Surprisingly, I don't have any that fail at this.

The sleeves are something that I wouldn't have expected to be an item of consideration, but alas, here I am writing...  The material of the sleeve should have ample room for at least the average man.  My arms are not by any definition "large", but one of my hoodies has sleeves that only barely fit.  This is only compounded by the next feature of the sleeves: the cuffs.

The cuffs should be - I would have thought this would go without saying, but then again, here we are - *elastic*.  And not just a little elastic; I should be able to push them up to my elbow, and have them stay there.  I don't know when or why I started doing this, but when I'm doing work, if I'm wearing long sleeves, they're probably at least half-way up my forearm.  When I'm passively consuming information or media, they may be down to the wrists, but when I'm producing, my sleeves are probably up.  This is my own bias and habit, but it is still a thing for me:  Why someone would make comfort-wear without comfortable sleeves is completely beyond me.

Finally, the hood.  It should go without saying that the main job of a hoodie is to be a sweatshirt, but with-a-hood.  So, you could reasonably be expected that a sweatshirt pattern and material with a decently-sized hood would be pretty easy to come up with.  Alas, here I am...  A hood should be much larger than the head wearing it.  In my opinion, I should be able to pull my hood up, with my head all the way to the back of it, and it should come down to just over my eyes, and be loose around the sides of my head.  What we're talking about is the Sith-look.  Unfortunately, most of my hoodies' hoods barely come up to frame my face.  That makes me sad.  They had one job to do that made them different from a sweatshirt, and they failed.

Most of my hoodies actually fail at the hood.  In fact, the features that I've complained about in each of the last several sections all refer to the same hoodie.  Amazingly, it isn't my worst hoodie.  Due to an absolutely awesome hood, I love that one, but it's a strange love; it's a love of the best of mediocrity.  If I could find a hoodie that was good at all of these, I'd buy 10 of them and probably give most of the rest away.


On Cultural Norms and Perception

At both my last gig and the current one, coffee was available via a Keurig.

At the previous gig, it was declared that you should remove your used cup when your brew was done, and if the reservoir was empty, you were to fill it.  There were some people who seldom (if ever) did this, and there was much snark and gnashing of teeth.

At the current gig, we do the opposite: When you open the cup holder, you will have to remove the previous person's cup, and if the water is empty, you will have to fill the reservoir.  You do these things because you are incentivized to do so, as either condition is a barrier to you getting your drink.  As a result, there is no grousing or emotion aside from perhaps being briefly delayed.

In the former, a lazy person has caused you more work.  In the latter, the worst-case is that you lose a trivial lottery.

I think the second way is better.


The Macintosh Terminal Pocket Guide - A Review

The Macintosh Terminal Pocket Guide - A Review

Disclosure: I received a free copy of this ebook in exchange for a review.

The "Macintosh Terminal Pocket Guide" by Daniel J. Barrett (published by O'Reilly Media) is a handy quick-reference for leveraging the power of the terminal to use your Mac more efficiently. This book is especially helpful for guiding you through the use of commands that are built-in with your Mac, which may vary from other Unix-like distributions that you may be more familiar with (such as Linux.)

As is typical for an O'Reilly Pocket Guide, the book is pretty terse, and it is not all-inclusive.  It does briefly describe each command that it covers, but most entries are between a couple of paragraphs and a couple of pages. It varies depending on the complexity of each command, but most commands include a small bit of descriptive text (typically 1-3 paragraphs), a handful of the most-common options, and some examples.  Typical use-cases are covered, but due to space constraints, they really are limited to the most common options; A book this size could probably be taken up solely by covering the options for `ssh`, `grep`, `tar`, and `ls`.  (In fact, there is a Definitive Guide for SSH, and a Pocket Reference for `grep`.)

This book is not set up to be a friendly introduction to those who are completely new to the Terminal. However, if you are comfortable with the terminal and could use a handy quick-reference, this is a fine tool to work more efficiently with your Mac.

The book can be purchased here.



On the "Skills Shortage"

Companies: You cannot complain of a "Skills Shortage" if you expect the moon and sky for "skills requirements" (esp. if you refuse to accept anything but a full match), are hiring for one person to fill the workload of three people, and pay below-market value.

There wouldn't be a skills shortage if you were willing to A) pay a decent wage for what you're asking for (if you must have a perfect fit), B) plan to hire someone "close enough" (especially with cross-compatible skills) , and/or C) provide training.

(Hint: if any of the people related to the hiring process mention recession or unemployment as reasons that people should be willing to accept lower pay, right there is where you're hurting yourself, and are part of the problem.  If you do hire someone, they will leave you as soon as a reasonable offer comes.)


"On Crap Detection" By Howard Rheingold (O'Reilly Media)

I found a video series titled "Crap Detection 101: How to Distinguish Good and Bad Information Online" by Howard Rheingold (available from Oreilly Media), and was instantly intrigued.  When the opportunity came up to see it free as part of the Blogger Review Program, I felt that it would be a good choice.

The short version:

If you are a cynic and/or have been on the net for any significant amount of time, this series probably isn't for you.  If you have children, it's a good idea to watch this so you can frame how you want to talk to them.  If you know older (non-web-savvy) people getting on the net, perhaps for the first time, buy this for them.

The main points that I boiled this down to are:

  • Be aware of Bias
  • Look into the source
  • Wikipedia is a place to begin research, not end it.  (See previous)
Accounting for my personal biases, and assuming the intended audience, I give it a 4/5.

The Long Version:

This video series by Howard Rheingold (UC Berkeley and Stanford University lecturer) addresses the basics of protecting yourself from misinformation and fraud while going about your daily online life.  Broken up into 11 videos (including a short intro and conclusion video), this series is probably short enough for someone new to the material to take in all in one shot.  Personally, being a cynic and long-time internet user, I found it to be slow and fairly basic.  However, I am not his target audience.

Mr. Rheingold addresses his target audience as pretty much everyone who is encountering the internet for the first time.  That is tricky, however, because even my four-year-old son has used the internet.  A few years ago, my In-laws decided to get off of WebTV, and I was to be the instrument of their transition.  (No, I didn't have a choice.)  Had this video existed at the time, I would have purchased it for them without hesitation.  I had given them a brief list of warnings ("No Nigerian prince is going to ask you for help with a financial transaction" and "Don't click on links in emails that claim to be from your bank, even if it looks real"), but I think that the presentation of this material was better.

Being a parent of youngin's, I think that they're going to grow up with a strong sense of cynicism.  This video series may help inform you about topics to bring up, but anyone younger than middle-aged will not be able to sit through the video.  The tone is conversational, and the pacing is fine, but Mr. Rheingold is just not a good fit for a younger audience.

The production and presentation of the video gives me mixed feelings.  The video looks great.  But it looks to be done in Mr. Rheingold's home office, which I find I have mixed feelings about.  It's certainly better than the blank light-beige conference-room wall common to most informational videos, but the posters and monitors in the background are distracting.  Rheingold is joined by Mark Brokering of Safari Books Online, who asks leading questions on each topic.  Rheingold's sound level is fine, but Brokering's is often a little too low.  My final criticism on the presentation is that Rheingold references his laptop, especially when demonstrating a site.  When he does this, it seems to distract him, and he forgets what he was saying.

I think that this series covers very well the idea of "Being aware of Bias".  In fact, I think that it is mentioned in every section.  There is an excellent example early-on regarding Martin Luther King, and he covers ways to begin looking into the people presenting information to you.

Later on, he touches on some sources to leverage to investigate urban legends, hoaxes, etc, which I think is especially helpful to the target audience.

I especially appreciate that he addresses Moral Panics ("Protect the Children!"), and by pointing out that censorship is against the founding ideas behind the internet, and that censorship would destroy it.

I think that two topics that really deserved treatment were neglected (or under-served).  The first is Privacy Settings.  I think that making people aware that there are different levels of visibility to the internet (especially when using social media sites/apps), is of crucial difference.  To this day, I see faux-pas on Facebook where an uncomfortable topic is posted on someone's Facebook Wall instead of in a private message or chat.  (Personally, I don't like Facebook having that information at all, but sometimes it can't be avoided.)

The other topic, somewhat related, is Over-Sharing.  My sister is 10 years younger than I, and when she first set up her Facebook account, her information was widely-viewable, and she'd posted her phone number, mailing address, and talked freely about her comings-and-goings.  It took yelling at her a few times before she finally fixed some of the issues, but at least some of those were taken down.

In Conclusion:

All in all, this series is a great resource for older Net-Newbies, and a decent starting-place for parents.  But if you've been on the net for some time, it's probably not for you.  All in all, I give it a 4/5 stars (attempting to account for my biases.)



Indie Game: The Movie Soundtrack

The digital edition of "Indie Game: The Movie" was finally released today.  I was disappointed that the movie has been on-tour for so long before this happened, but I understand and acknowledge that they had their reasons.  I look forward to seeing it.

But this blog post isn't about the film.  As a special "thank you", Jim Guthrie's soundtrack for the film was released today as a bonus I believe to the Kickstarter backers.  For this I am grateful.

Let me start by saying that I had purchased his previous album for the Superbrothers: Sword and Sworcery game "The Ballad of the Space Babies", and I have found that to be fairly amazing.  There are a several tracks that I simply love, and I think I've listened to it every day for the past two weeks.

Unfortunately "Indie Game: The Movie (Soundtrack)" has not resonated with me thusly.  In fact, it has left very little impression with me, (other than one song reminding me strongly of Sunny Day Real Estate.)  My biggest disappointment is that I was hoping to experience a similar reaction to BSB, but instead it strikes me as a bunch of incidental music.  It may complement the film spectacularly, however it is not an album that I think I will ever sit down and listen to and experience again.

I mean no disrespect to Mr. Guthrie; this is but one man's impression.


UPDATE: I've just finished watching the film. It is a wonderful story wonderfully told, and the soundtrack fits in perfectly. That doesn't change my earlier opinion, but the soundtrack does indeed suit it's intended purpose.