Archive for May, 2010

Good requirements, bad product

Monday, May 31st, 2010

The Consumerist [] has a short article on the Pentagon’s recipe for brownies — no not the happy-fun kind of brownies, the military stopped testing that in the ’70s. We’re talking K-Ration, nuclear-war proof, post-apocalyptic edible, made from shit cockroaches won’t eat, cardboard brownies.

The article on the consumerist [] is basically the following two quotes, but they are so perfect, I’m going to reproduce them here:

Shortening shall be a refined, hydrogenated vegetable oil or combination of refined vegetable oils which are in common use by the baking industry. Coconut and palm kernel oils may be used only in the coating. The shortening shall have a stability of not less than 100 hours as determined by the Active Oxygen Method (AOM) in Method Cd 12-57 of the Commercial Fats and Oils chapter in the Official and Tentative Methods of the American Oil Chemists Society. The shortening may contain alpha monoglycerides and an antioxidant or combination of antioxidants, as permitted by the Federal Grain Inspection Service (FGIS), and the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act and regulations promulgated thereunder.

I like it! A well written, clear and concise, technical requirement… Of course there is one tiny little problem with this requirement:

[NPR] asked Penny Karas, the founder of Hello Cupcake bakery in Washington, D.C., to whip up us a batch. And to be honest, they weren’t too good: dry, crumbly and dense. But they did taste as if they might last quite a while if boxed up and shipped to a war zone.

Yep. This situation is a familiar problem to me as a Solution Architect… Well defined technical requirements that produce technically correct products that, due to the business requirements of the various stakeholders, no one wants to use…

I can’t tell you how many projects I have been on that I have had to fight some MBA holding sales|product|operations (delete as appropriate) weenie over their insistence on the inclusion of some brilliant business requirement like “It has to be good after a NUCLEAR FUCKING WAR!” Don’t get me wrong that might be a valid business requirement for military rations. It might even be a lofty goal for a mobile phone network. It is not, however, a useful or necessary requirement for a value added service in the mobile industry. No one cares if their phone can download music after the first strike! Well… Ok, maybe the guy who launched the bomb wants to download “We will rock you”.

Anyway, thanks to S****** for the link, head over the original article on The Consumerist [] with links to the actual recipe and the NPR article.

4d-infinity packing damage!

Thursday, May 27th, 2010

I’m a little behind on my Economist reading due to my prolonged exposure to Americanism over the past 3 weeks… but I just ran across this gem [] in the print edition.

4d-infinity packing damage!

What is the most efficient shape for randomly packing things into a container? Physicists at New York University and Virginia Tech have carried out a series of experiments and, among all the shapes they have tested so far, the tetrahedron (a pyramid with four triangular sides) [is the best]

Two things:

First, someone at VT is playing way too much D&D…

Second, the Japanese figured out long ago that the best shape for packing things was cubical… that’s why Fiji water bottles are square and why the sell square watermelons in the land of the rising sun.

I have to wonder if it would not be a better use of NSF funds to send these slackers on an oriental campaign to the local Asian food store to find the mythical icosahedral tofu!

Make love, not Porn

Wednesday, May 19th, 2010

I missed this short TED talk, because it was not pushed via the feed to subscribers, so I give credit to S****** for pointing a link to it out on Andrew Sullivan’s blog at The Atlantic [].

Andrew adds a great quote:

Why would social ills decline as porn becomes more widely available? No one knows. But the one thing porn really causes is masturbation. Internet porn keeps men at home one-handing it. As a result, they’re not out in the world acting irresponsibly – or criminally.

Michael Castleman, in Does Pornography Cause Social Harm? []

Don Quixote

Wednesday, May 12th, 2010
Miguel de Cervantes
Edith Grossman
On Goodreads []

Don Quixote. Yea. Don Quixote. It’s been on the reading list a long time. But not always. Despite how famous Don Quixote is — a pillar of western literature and the first modern novel — I kept putting off reading it. I think it was because I had to read a part of it in Spanish when I was in school. And Spanish class was like a little taste of hell in the purgatory of high school.

Don Quixote reentered my sphere of consciousness in 2005, on the 500th anniversary of it’s publication. It took a few more years for me to get around to buying it in 2007. Then it sat around for over a year, staring at me every time I walked by the bookshelf. Then, once I did get started, I was reading it for almost two years. I started reading it in 2008 when I took time off for my daughters birth. And I just finished the last 200 pages on a 30 hour air trip to the US. I wonder how long it would have been if I didn’t have to make such a long trip?

I enjoyed Don Quixote despite the long struggle to actually get it read. Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, his squire, are memorable characters. Over all the story is good, it’s just not something I can read quickly, at least not if I want to actually understand what it is I’m reading. The language doesn’t flow, I suspect a lot of that has to do with being translated and written in a colloquial form from a time half a millennium ago. There were a lot of footnotes about changing meanings and wordplay in the original that doesn’t translate.

On thing that put me off early on in reading was the windmill scene. Everybody knows about the windmills; it’s the first thing that comes to mind when I think of Don Quixote. But then, the whole episode is about a page, and it’s really early on in the story. It’s like the having the climax of the novel at the beginning of the story.

But after a long struggle to get through the later half of the first part the story picked up again. The second part, where Don Quixote‘s fame becomes the main foil, as people start to play with is madness and Sancho’s gullibility, was more fun to read than most of the first part. If Cervantes was prompted into writing the second part because of the less-than-good “false Quixote” that someone else published after the first part proved successful, then the author of the false Quixote did the world a favor. I doubt Don Quixote would be half as famous if it stopped at the end of the second sally. The third sally, which comprises the second part, is the best. Except for maybe the windmills.

Athens, Greece, March 2010

Friday, May 7th, 2010

Candice an I went to Athens for a weekend in March. Why a weekend in Greece? Job interview. But the job is in Boston — don’t ask why the interview was in Greece it’s complicated. I did get the job, I’m in a hotel in Boston as I write this.

When we arrived in Greece the taxis were all on strike, luckily the train from the airport was still running so we could get to our hotel. But given that the city has gone from strikes and protests to riots and firebombs in the bast two days I guess it could have been much worse.


Flying in on Thursday night and out on Sunday afternoon makes for a short trip and throw in an afternoon for a job interview and we didn’t see too much. But our hotel was within walking distance of Monistiraki, the heart of the tourists sites and the Acropolis. Which was good because the Acropolis was the only “must see” on my list.

I’ve been to Athens before [], a bunch of the people I knew in London were from Athens and I spent a week there in the winter of 2001 []. I have a lot of film photos from then. I’ll have to dig them out and take a look but in my memory they are actually better then the shots I have from this trip. For some reason the sun was just harsh and the scaffolding was everywhere!

Anyway, we visited the various sites on and around the Acropolis — the Parthenon [], the Erechtheum []. The ruins of the Agora [] or Market from the ancient Greek and Roman eras. Which includes the best preserved ancient Greek temple in the world; the Hephaisteion [] aka the Temple of Hephaestus. We even went to see the Acropolis Museum [] which was lacking given that the best of the Parthenon marbles are, um, in London. (Oh yea, it’s like picking at someone’s open wound.)


Really that’s about all the sights we saw. The rest of the time we enjoyed the local food and wondered around the tourist shopping areas of Monistiraki and Syntagma. That’s all the time we had. One day I’d like to see more of Greece than just Athens; the islands and the other big ancient cities of Delphi, Sparta and Olympia. One day. It’s all on the list.

You can see the whole Athens, Greece, March 2010 photoset on Flickr [].

Ritual interrupted

Saturday, May 1st, 2010

I’m off to Boston in a few hours. Not looking forward to 22+ hours in a plane plus stopovers and travel to and from the airports… Not fun. Cattle class. Not fun.

I am excited to be starting a new job. Looking forward to the people and the challenges. Time to stretch the brain and do something new and exciting.

But… As I put my daughter to bed tonight it really hit me that I won’t see her for 3 weeks. I think it will be hard on us both, and on my wife. I have cultivated a singularly bad habit in my girl: She falls asleep in daddy’s lap every night. I will miss this. It’s one of the best things in life. Even when I struggle with her, trying to get her to sit still and settle down so she can go to sleep. Even then it’s the highlight of the day. The interactions as she settles down — smiles, laughs, when she points something out to me. The warmth and love when she does finally curl up and drift off to sleep. How beautiful she is when she falls asleep. Even how cute she is when she snores.

It’s going to be a long three weeks. I think I will miss this bedtime ritual more than I’ve missed anything else in my life on the many times I’ve flown off. It’s different from the feeling of missing your significant other. I don’t know how to describe it, it’s just different, a different part of you that aches.