Friday, October 21, 2011

Steve Jobs, Frank Lloyd Wright and Coco Chanel.

Good Evening Everyone,
Much, probably too much, has been written of Steve Jobs' life, death and the further trials and tribulations of Apple, but as a recovering Apple evangelist (ca 1988), I feel the need to spend some electrons on it.

While it is not a term in common use any more, I suspect that a classical writing of history would put Jobs in the "Great Man" category, though perhaps with a better family life than the typical Great Man. A revisionist would spend all of his time focused on the foibles and failings of Jobs, pointing out that he was a perfectionist, an information control freak, and an intellectual bully. Gawker has a fairly detailed story on the downsides of interacting with Jobs, and if you get tired of all of the wedding cake flavored obituaries, have a look.

For me, though, the emotional connection to Jobs shows that the world lost an artist a little over two weeks ago, one that affected much of our everyday life. Anyone involved in the computer industry knows that Gates was the better businessman, Wozniak a superior engineer, Kay a better researcher, Kapor the leader in charitable work (though Gates has done well recently)...but Jobs was Frank Lloyd Wright dealing with civil engineers, or Coco Chanel working with seamstresses. His taste, and his taste alone, mattered.

Apple, in Jobs 2.0, could see the opportunity to take drab beige boxes and make them colorful, combining software, hardware and music together to create and dominate the portable music market, and after twenty years of hearing about how gorilla arm made touchscreens unusable, building a mediocre phone but awesome palmsized computer, followed by the smashing success of the iPad....not a bad run for a guy who took time off from computing to go build a movie business and get rich all over again by selling it to Disney.

RIP Steve. I never knew you, but my life is better for it all the same.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Chili and the Church of BBQ

Howdy Folks,

When it comes to both BBQ (also barbeque) and chili, I have to say that I'm a lover, not a fighter. I worship at the church of BBQ and will take chili with beans or without beans for communion. For y'all who didn't grow up in the South, or in Texas, or think that I'm some sort of pervert, allow me to explain...

When people talk about chili in Texas, there is frequently a discussion about whether or not beans can be in real Texas chili. Now, no one is ever quite sure just what, exactly, real Texas chili is, but beans are definitely a sticking point with many. Actually, I take it back. Just like a real religious debate, everyone is sure that they have the unique revelation from on-high about just what real Texas chili is. The anti-bean folks can get quite worked up about it, but to me, there are only a few required parts:

  • Spicy spices (I use chili peppers, garlic and cayenne)
  • Tomatoes of some sort
  • Beef (preferably fatty, as leaner cuts don't provide enough flavor)
Cinnamon, peas or other clearly unnatural substances are, however, wholly unnatural and against god's will vis-a-vis chili. If it's got cinnamon in it, it might be tasty, but chili it ain't. 

Now, while chili is perhaps a soup of the gods, BBQ is nearer and dearer to my heart and waist line. Unfortunately, though, "To Barbecue" is a term often used by unlearned peoples to indicate "cooking outside on grill". Those of us fortunate enough to know better, however, know that hot dogs and hamburgers do not a BBQ make. Unfortunately, the brotherhood (and sisterhood) of BBQ also has its own religious wars underway.

First and foremost, there is "beef vs pork". A silly argument, implying you can't have both. The meat argument is often followed by  "dry vs. wet" (without sauce vs. with sauce). After that, there are arguments about "mustard vs. tomato" sauces, and that's before you get into entire sub-genres of arguments of types of rub, hickory smoked vs. mesquite smoked and what-have-you. Peh. Do wine connoiseurs argue whether red wine is better than white, Pinot Noir better than Cabernet Sauvingon? Perhaps, but if so they are short-sighted idiots. I'm a simple man to keep happy--I'll take a big slice of brisket, a pig sandwich and whatever else ya'll have...and tomorrow, I plan to attend a noon service at a church in Yokohama.

Good Eats Y'all!

PS Found this from the former CTO of Microsoft discussing a trip to a few Texas BBQ spots:

Monday, June 20, 2011

Tokyo disaster planning: with Pics!

Good Evening Y'all,

Since things have been busy in the day job, it's been tough to keep up with my once per fortnight target blog posting, so hope to make it up to both of my dedicated followers. Post-quake, while we didn't have any materially negative effects, we did identify a number of things that we could improve in our planning in the event we had to either (a) head for home quickly or (b) get out of the house with a minute's notice or so.
After thinking about it, and combining some camping gear with red cross backpacks, here is what we ended up with:

After thinking about it, and combining some camping gear with red cross backpacks, here is what we ended up with:

  • A leatherman multi-tool that includes everything from a bottle opener (for those pesky, non-twist off bottles) to a sharp knife, the leatherman is light, compact and makes you feel like a boy scout even if you believe that the great outdoors should stay outside. This particular version comes with a penlight as well. In the same picture, there are also two hand-crank LED flashlights, and while the light bulb won't warm the hand like the old incandescent lights, they hold a charge for several hours after getting cranked. 
  • This all-purpose radio (with slightly more limited Japan capability than I would like, but fine in AM bands) is also hand crank, and designed for outdoor use. For those of us who care more afraid of  dying of boredom after a life changing event, this handcrank radio provides (a) exercise (b) music, assuming that radio stations are cooperative and (c) a USB port that you can use as a cell phone charger for smartphones. Oh, and it has a headphone jack, so you can jam away without having all of the neighbors who evacuated with you demand your head.

  • While not the height of fashion unless "grey" is in this year, the emergency ponchos are lightweight, and should keep you both warm and dry in the event of unplanned excitement. Add to that two survival blankets, and should provide some protection from nasty climate.
  • A small first aid kit with some bandaids, two light sticks, K rats (well, ok, calorie bars) and a couple of masks round out the "grab and go" packs.
Not pictured: Lots of water that makes up about half of the packs, because it is absolutely, incredibly boring.

Missing items that I plan to add: Asthma inhaler, more complete first aid (especially non-aspirin cold medicine, decongestants. antihistamines and antibacterial cream). Spare pair of eyeglasses. Shoelaces and/or other rope (I like shoelaces because they are multi-purpose). Duct tape. Matches and/or lighter.

Missing items that I may add: PHS phone, since no one is on the network, it would be nice to be generally reachable. Spare shoes.

Items My (retired military) Dad Thinks Are Missing: Man portable missile weapons, predominantly utilizing gunpowder, both of the concealable and non-concealable variety. Ammunition for same. Camo ponchos and two-way radio. Helicopter. (OK, I"m making one of these up. I'll let y'all guess which one.) 

I'm curious, folks: What do y'allhave in your disaster kits? Anything obvious that I left out?

Thursday, May 12, 2011

I'm Fixin' to talk to y'all...all of y'all...

Howdy Folks,

For those of y'all used to earthquake news and whatever, sorry that today's post will instead explore the intersection of English, Ainglish and Texan, specifically the brilliance of "y'all". While those from the left and/or right coasts of the US, and, in fact, in Texas public schools, the English teachers explain the second person plural as being "you", despite the fact that the second person singular is also you.

Now, as a people not inclined to create unnecessary complexity, the second person plural became not you, but "y'all", a logical contraction of "you all" (I find it unlikely that it originated as "Your Awl", as Awl wasn't important in the great state until Spindletop). And, noticing that even the second person plural was vague in the case of greater than two other people, "all of y'all" came into existence, a form which I refer to as the "second person superlative plural". In this case, it is clear that the entire group being addressed is included. Now, no proper language explanation ever ends without examples, so, if addressing a football team:

"Y'all over here on the left. Y'all are offense. Y'all need to score."
"Y'all over here on the right. Y'all are defense. Y'all need to really stick 'em."
"Now, all of y'all go out there and kick some *. "

Questions? Comments? Random acts of literature? Feel free to post below....

Friday, April 15, 2011

Tokyo: The new Abnormal part II...

Good Evening Everyone,
This post has been edited because I wasn't that happy with it after posting. I have now reached "happy enough". I hope that the "happy enough" feeling is contagious.
The New Abnormal:
  • Every time I hear high pitched chimes, I automatically assume that there is an earthquake en route, since those chimes are what the radio uses to notify you that the early warning system has gone off.
  • My daughter has a solid understanding of what earthquake means, and how to hide under the table, but is not really clear on what "scary" means. "Earthquakes are scary," she says, smiling. Very different than monster muppets, where she hides her face and goes quickly for a hug.
  • When I saw a facebook post from a buddy that he had walked the entire Yamanote line loop (about 40 km), my assumption was not "This is some Oxfam charity thing", but instead "Oh, wonder how long it was shut down."
One severely undercovered story on the Tokyo effects of the quake was just how well Tokyo building codes and engineering held up to the shaking. When I look out my window each morning, my daughter and I play "count the cranes on the skyline", starting with the ones closet to us...not only did none of the ones we could see fall down, I have heard of more cranes falling in Houston than in Tokyo in the past three or four years.

Not all was good in the world of construction, though. In the suburbs and exurbs around Tokyo, there was substantial liquefaction damage (If you went to church, you know that the foolish man built his house upon the sand, but they didn't mention that it turned to water during an earthquake).  The stats for the damage are at the daily yomiuri, or for a picture of what a manhole looks like when soil turns to water, you can click through.

Finally, I had an interview with AOL-Huffpost about TEPCO condolence money that I really didn't think was controversial...but then again, I'm rational, or at least I tell myself that at night before bed. The text of my e-mail (later covered in actual phone conversation) follows:
OK, I haven't followed the details[on compensation by Tepco to affected communities], but it is imperative to separate radiation poisoning (ie what is going on at the plant, presumably, and could kill you in hours or days if you aren't wearing a spacesuit) from higher levels of radiation exposure, which increases your risk of cancer. 

Assuming that the payments are for the latter, this seems similar to what tobacco companies in the US did in the following suit:

Now, that [tobacco] was a court case and so absolved them of further liability, and the Tepco payments do not as they are "mimaikin", but it is unclear to me how this is different in principle or in practice, or is even particularly Japanese--excepting, perhaps, the willingness to pre-emptively take some sort of liability without a court of law requiring it.
Some of the one-liners in the phone conversation are more interesting "...It's not that TEPCO is a big evil empire that's going to come and lay waste to their farms. ...", but the content is roughly the same as the e-mail.
As always, I welcome comments, feedback, questions and other random acts. Spambots and those computers lacking personality not welcome.