Friday, August 29, 2008

Fun quote

"[I'd like to]...scream over the loud speaker, mounted securely on the roof of my car...expressing loudly...Hey, you in the multicolored vehicle...'Your proctologist called, they found your head!'"

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

PizzaPost

Well, here I am on Long Island for the week visiting family. An extremely important part of this trip has been to go to Fratelli Pizzeria near my parents' house. In my opinion the best pizza...anywhere. I have been asked by several friends to include photos of the pizza again, and so here they are.

I will mention that unfortunately this time the pizza was not quite as good as it usually is. The cheese was a bit too oily/fluid and the crust wasn't quite thick enough. Like anything done by human beings, though, the folks at Fratelli's are entitiled to a mistake once in a while. In general, the pizza is outstanding and it's what I think about when I think "New York Pizza."

I've gotten a comment or two from people who asked, "What's all this fuss about New York-style pizza?" I have also been asked why I am so enamored with Fratelli's pizza. So here is a list of the things that I consider paramount to a good pizza (in no particular order):
  1. Plenty of cheese: While a few pizzerias in Texas come very close to having a good pizza, much of the time they skimp on the cheese. If there isn't enough cheese, you get something that tastes kind of like cardboard with tomato sauce on it. Fratelli's never skimps on the cheese. The pizza in the photos is a standard cheese pizza (not "extra cheese").
  2. Proper crust thickness: Many people equate NY Pizza with "thin crust," and by "thin crust" they think "paper thin." That's not correct. While the pizza crust is thin, it is important to stretch the dough correctly. The proper crust consistency for the main part of the pizza should be that the bottom is completely cooked (ie. semi-hard), and then there is about an eighth to a quarter inch of softer dough above it. That dough is firm enough to resist the sauce (ie. it doesn't saturate the dough and make the pizza soggy), but is soft enough to give the crust some consistency. The proper yeast and rise is probably what causes this as you'll see very small air pockets here.
  3. Proper crust consistency: The dough for the crust is made with yeast, and some larger air bubbles should form in the dough. Overall it is a dryish, floury dough. Most thin pizza doughs are like this except maybe Pizza Hut.
  4. The sauce should have the proper taste and spice. The tomato sauce used for pizza has a good deal more oregano and thyme than Italian pasta sauce. It has a bit of a sweet flavor, while at the same time having the signature flavor from the oregano.
  5. The right cheese: I don't know exactly what kind of cheese or blends of cheese they use, but it has to have at least a good quality mozzarella cheese. A friend of mine says that using whole milk mozzarella cheese (rather than part-skim) is key. That may be true. What I do know is that the wrong cheese will make the pizza cheese very oily and/or watery and may not melt properly. The cheese browning a bit on top is what gives a good flavor as well.
  6. Toppings: The pizza should stand on its own without any additional toppings. However, pineapple, Canadian bacon, jalapenos, broccoli, and any other California toppings have no business on top of a thin crust pizza. Proper pizza toppings are one or more of pepperoni, Italian sausage, onion, mushrooms, anchovies, meat ball slices, maybe green pepper, and maybe black olives. Again, a good pizza stands on its own without toppings.
Note that while I am particular to NY-style pizza, that is not to say that a good Chicago deep-dish pizza doesn't have merit too. In fact, I believe finding a good Chicago-style pizza outside Chicago is probably as hard as finding a good NY-style pizza outside of certain parts of NY.

So there you have it...my word on pizza.

Monday, August 25, 2008

My New Policy

To The Telecommunications Companies:

Effective immediately any business that I do business with will need to pay a $15 per month service fee. I call this a Customer Fee and it is a fee that I charge businesses for the privilege of having me as a customer that pays his bills on time, consistently. This fee can go up or down every month depending on how much I have to pay telecommunications carriers in fees above and beyond the posted price for service. If the telecommunications carrier (cable TV, Internet, telephone company, cellular phone company) chooses to indicate on their web site the actual price for their service, before the standard state & local sales tax, and consistently charge that each month with occasional, publicized well in advance, nominal increases for inflation (or even decreases), then I will waive my Customer Fee accordingly.

Fee is based on charges that telecommunications carriers charge and are not federally-mandated fees, and can vary periodically depending on the phase of the moon and the price of pizza for that month. Doing business with me constitutes acceptance to my Terms and Conditions, listed somewhere deep inside my blog (you have to search for it) and it contains so much legalese you'll never be able to understand it anyway. Just figure that when you do business with me, you've given-up all your rights to a jury trial and you are bound to arbitration, and you'll need to come to my hometown for the arbitration. Basically if you don't pay my fee all kinds of bad things will happen, including ruining your credit rating. You are bound to do business with me for a two (2) year period. If you fail to complete your two-year term, then you agree to pay me a one-time EARLY TERMINATION fee of $250. Note that this is a fee and not a penalty (haha ... yeah, really) and is to reimburse me for liquidated damages (which is another word for sour grapes). Even though I've bound you to a two year term, I can cancel this agreement at any time without penalty, because I can.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

More Silly Poems

After I entered the funny Woot poem into the blog, I realized I had some other silly writings from my past to pass along.

This one probably won't seem as silly as it does to electronic enthusiasts. I'll give it a go anyway. It was originally thought-up by someone I knew in third grade...
One electric day in the bright of the light
Two burned-out capacitors got up to fight.
Back-to-back they soldered each other
Until there was no more rosin core.

If you don't believe me,
Ask the dead speaker.
He heard it all.

This one was done by a good friend of mine in high school. The story goes like this: We made Nitrogen Tri-Iodide after school with the science teacher. NI3 is a relatively mild explosive, and we had heard stories about it but didn't know too many specifics about how it worked or what to expect. So we made a batch of it up and it's wet and was quite unimpressive. This friend of mine (we'll just call him "H") decided to put some wet NI3 in a piece of filter paper and bring it home with him. The next morning, H met me at the tree as usual on the way to school and sang the following song, done to the tune of Oh Little Town Of Bethlehem:
Oh nitrogen tri-iodide
It's stronger than you think.
It blows up oh so easily
It leaves no trace or stink.

Last night I took the sample
That I had in my room.
I gave it just a little tap
And that damn stuff went **BOOM**.

To complete the story, H then proceeded to tell me how his ears were still ringing from the explosion. When his parents heard it, they asked him what he was doing in his bedroom. He told his parents he was playing with balloons and one popped. Heh...yeah, right. When we did finally get to school and met the science teacher, he put the NI3 into the sink in the science prep office, and was getting ready to drop the drain plug onto the explosive. H and I walked away and held our hands on our ears. The science teacher says, "What are you guys afraid of? Yesterday you said you didn't think it would work!" and then proceeded to drop the stopper. Following the loud **BOOM** and the room filling with iodine gas, a couple of teachers ran into the room thinking the three of us finally blew ourselves up (our science teacher was kind of known for being a bit unusual). Nobody was hurt, but we did learn about unstable nitrogen-based compounds. Nitroglycerin is kind of like NI3 in many ways.

One more factoid about NI3: If you've ever watched "Brainiac: Science Abuse" (a silly British science show) and wondered what the exploding paste was, now you know...

If you were a feline...

(shamelessly stolen from today's Woot.com podcast)

If you'd been born a kitten
You'd be satisfied to
Take naps and play with string
And do the things that kittens do.

You'd have no frustrated ambitions
Or low self-esteem
You'd just want a warm lap
And to lap-up warm cream.

You wouldn't have an urge to buy things
That you couldn't afford.
Relationships would be simple
And you'd never get bored.

But sometimes when you get
A little jealous of your cat
For being free from work and dating
Self-doubt and stuff like that...

Just think there's probably something out there
Maybe way off in space
Some kind of alien,
Advanced, super-intelligent race

Who's looking down at you
As you look down at your pet
And saying, "Human? Like dang
That must be easy as it gets!"

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Genetic Engineering

Interesting idea I heard on The History Channel's "Evolve" tonight:

A scientist studying reproduction and evolution in animal species theorized that genetic engineering is a natural evolution of human reproduction. The theory is based on the idea that through natural selection species evolve and improve themselves.

Over time, humans have evolved many traits that have served to improve our lifespan. The theory is that the development of technology is a natural selection process that is happening so that human beings can continue to improve their genetic material. He feels that genetic engineering is an evolutionary process that will effect that change.

While I'm not yet sure how I feel about genetic engineering, I was entrigued by the idea that science and technology could potentially be an evolutionary process in human beings.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Threat Advisory: Red (Severe)

Today's travel advisory level is at "Red" or the severe level.

Before you hurry to the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) web site and see what terrorist threat caused the elevation, calm down because this is my threat advisory and it measures how severely the government has impacted my ability to travel.

It took me over an hour to understand - not completely - what I could and could not bring on my upcoming airplane trip, how I needed to dress, what clothing I would be required to take off at the so-called security checkpoint, even what kind of laptop battery I could bring and by what means I could bring it with me. If you're planning an upcoming trip by airplane, please do check out the US Transportation Security Administration's (TSA) web site first. Seriously, if you don't you may be either abruptly finding yourself unable to travel or discarding a valuable possession. It is absolutely insane.

The DHS/TSA is a horrific example of paranoia resulting from real threats to US security. While every security precaution (and that is a truly conservative description) has its basis in real, factual security issues during air travel, the response is excessive. The fact is that any kind of transportation is not 100% safe at any time. There is no way to prevent someone with the intent on causing harm through the transportation system from doing so. The methodology employed by the TSA causes every citizen in the United States to be treated as though they are a criminal. While this may cause some people to have a feeling of safety during air travel, in reality it is only causing the people who really wish to do harm an inconvenience. The TSA's rules also encourage people who are less-than-stable to accept the dare that they cannot bring something aboard an airplane to cause harm. These procedures make people feel that it is OK to be searched, restricted, and otherwise inconvenienced in the name of some governmentally-conceived paranoid delusion. If a citizen were to act like the government in this regard, they would be considered mentally ill.

So what was it that caused me to get as irritated and frustrated as I am? (Glad you asked) Here's a partial list of things I would like to bring with me when I visit my parents:
  1. My laptop & an extra battery -- My laptop keeps me connected to the world, and gives me something to do on the 6+ hours I'll be spending in an airplane or in the airport.
  2. Nasal spray, pseudoephedrine-based decongestant, lemon drops -- If it isn't already obvious from the description, my sinuses tend to get congested and that can be painful (or worse) when the pressure in the airplane changes. These over-the-counter medications are what helps prevent problems for me.
  3. Nasal CPAP -- This is an air pump and mask that is needed for people with sleep apnea, like myself. It's a small box about 2/3rds the size of a shoe box with a hose and mask.
  4. USB TV Tuner and antenna -- My parents and I have been talking about this and I want to show them what it is.
  5. Daily medicine -- A prescription to address a chronic condition
Here are the lessons I learned during my trip to the TSA's web site:
  1. You can bring knitting needles on the airplane, scissors with sharp points and blades shorter than 4 inches, corkscrews, and a screwdriver 7 inches or less. An antenna for a USB TV tuner? Who knows? Probably not.
  2. In carry-on luggage: Two fueled common lighters, but not a tube of toothpaste if it is more than 3 oz..
  3. I'm supposed to keep all my valuables in carry-on baggage, but trying to bring a CPAP, laptop, camera, etc. with me in carry-on baggage would prevent me from boarding (too large).
  4. I can take a spare laptop battery on board the airplane (as long as it's capacity is 100 WH or less), but I cannot put it in my checked baggage.
  5. What liquids I can take on-board (like my nasal spray - it is less than 3 oz.), I must be able to fit in a single 1 quart zip-top bag. Not a gallon bag. Not a sandwich bag. A 1 quart bag...and only one 1 quart bag. I suspect that they will, indeed, allow a zip-top sandwich bag (hopefully, anyway) because I simply don't have more than that much liquid stuff to bring on board and can't see buying a box of 1 quart bags for the single bag for this trip.
  6. If I refuse to take off my shoes during the required interrogation and search process, I will be denied boarding on the airplane. Also, it seems that shoes with laces cause undue delay at the security checkpoint. Why not just require us to walk around the airport in our socks and pack our shoes?
  7. I'm not even sure what they'll do with the pseudoephedrine-based decongestant, given the panic about it being used to create meth.
I struggle with taking an airplane every time I decide to travel. On the one hand, air travel is far faster and generally more convenient than trying to drive everywhere. On the other hand, trying to make my relatively simple belongings acceptable to the fascist government inspectors and hoping my stuff will get there and in one piece is nerve-wracking. I know there are a lot of people who fly every day, and who have accepted this as normal. There are also people who accept prison life as normal. This isn't normal.

If there's any positive spin I can put on this experience it's this: To put up with the crap necessary to fly on an airplane to visit my parents (and for them to visit me) it does mean that my parents and I get along pretty darn well, and we do care about each other. I know far too many adults who dread any contact with their parents.

To the federal agencies who are responsible for our safety: I understand you are trying to protect me and make air travel safe. I not only know because you tell me on the airport loudspeaker every 10 minutes, but I know because you are people who probably do care about other people. Please, though, realize that like everything in life, getting on an airplane to travel is not without risks. There are simple things that can be done to reasonably reduce risk, but going to extremes isn't the answer to make it even less risky. At one point you need to just trust that everything will be OK. I'm sure you can think of ways of making the most innocent of items that are currently allowed on an airplane into a deadly weapon. Do you really think that our adversaries haven't thought of the same thing? How far do we need to go -- how many freedoms do we need to surrender -- to feel safe when going to visit our parents?

Friday, August 8, 2008

Eight Eight Eight

At least for a few more hours, it's August 8, 2008, or 8/8/8. I'm not sure why, but I always find these dates to be interesting, and we only have a few more left to experience in my lifetime. I also find it neat to see my car's odometer when it reaches 12345 and 123456.

I realize that I've been quiet for a while. Part of the reason for the silence is that I'm finding that all my entries here are just complaints and rants. This is not an entirely accurate reflection of who I am, but it seems that when I'm sitting here ready to type it's because I'm too pissed off to do anything else. So while I have had several things that have, indeed, been annoying, I thought better than to dump that upon everyone else. Speaking of being pissed off, I was told by a coworker about 22 years ago that it is better to be pissed off than to be pissed on.

@Work

I have been in the middle of several interesting projects at work.

The first has been to implement an improved VPN (virtual private network) system. A VPN is essentially a way to allow someone to establish an encrypted network link to somewhere through an insecure medium, such as the Internet. In the case of work, the VPN allows someone at home or on travel to securely have their computer connected to the network at work as though they were at the office. We had been using an older version of Cisco's VPN hardware and software (for the last 7 years or so). The new VPN hardware is able to support the existing software plus new VPN software that is faster (especially over satellite Internet links) and more compatible with firewalls and hotel networks. Over the past couple of weeks I have been installing and testing everything, and last week I put the new hardware in place with only a few minor (and easily fixed) issues. Most people don't even know anything happened...but the groundwork is in place for the upgrade to happen. During the testing phase, someone found a bug in the new VPN client software for the Mac. So this project is kind of on temporary hold now until I can get Cisco to provide us with a software fix.

The other project has been improvements to the phone system software to allow a real management interface to be written. Over the past 3 years, I basically took the Asterisk Open Source PBX, did some major customization, and deployed it to our facility (over 800 phones). To do things as simple as add and remove phones, or manage the overall system, it is necessary to know enough about a database language called SQL and modify a database directly, as well as change certain system files and run esoteric commands on the Asterisk phone system software. Doing something like a web-based interface has been delayed because fiddling with system files and running esoteric commands is problematic at best when you're working in a web-based interface. I wanted to remove that kind of activity from any management software and contain all the weird stuff invisibly behind the scenes. I have been trying to come up with an elegant way of doing this and just thinking about it made me frustrated and I'd usually fall asleep. So while talking to a coworker, I realized that one of the simplest, seemingly inefficient ways to do this was the best and most reliable way. In short, what will happen now is that everything will be controlled using the SQL language by the management applications. A feature of the database software (MySQL) called "triggers" will be coded to identify when the weird operations need to happen, and place these events in a list (a table in database parlance). A little program will sit watching this list (table) of weird operations once every second, and if something appears it will go ahead and do it. In effect it's a to-do list of weird things that gets created automatically when someone does something that isn't weird that has a weird side-effect. The little program watching the table every second is the inefficient part, but in retrospect database servers are designed to handle thousands of transactions per second. Certainly one more transaction per second won't hurt anything. So I have the framework for this done, and am starting to work on converting all the weird stuff I did manually to a computer program. Stay tuned.

I think it's neat that I basically got to design a phone system rather than just go out and buy one. We've already reaped the benefits of this several times. My only regret is that there are parts I would like to release to the public and get peer-reviewed, but the management at work is dragging their feet on approving the release (even though we're a University research laboratory). What I've done is pretty unique for an open source project.

Romance

There have been a couple of ups and downs in this department. I have to exercise discretion on the details to avoid some potential embarrassments.

One person I have known for about a year, and there seemed to be some interest. As I got to know her better as a friend, I realized that my original assessment that she and I would be better stopping at being friends was correct. I have a very high opinion of this person yet, she's a great gal. I just feel that while we get along great and have some unique things in common, her goals and mine are somewhat in conflict and getting too close will end up with a pair of hurt feelings down the road.

There's another person who I've known for over 10 years at work and she and I, for lack of a better description, keep bumping into each other occasionally. I have this completely irrational euphoria every time she laughs or says something when I'm in earshot. We get along fine, but haven't done much else recently than get together for lunch. Her schedule is kind of full, with lots of travel at odd times, and I don't know if we really have lots of compatible interests. We met for lunch the other day (one of those bumping into each other situations) and it was a great lunch. I'm not sure that anything will happen here that hasn't already happened in the last 10 years.

Finally, you all may recall that I mentioned being on okcupid.com. Seriously my interest in okcupid is really just for the cool tests and stuff. Out of the blue someone looked at my profile, and when I looked at her's, I practically fell on the floor. While we had some different interests and some the same, our writing styles and personalities were amazingly similar. So I wrote, and she wrote back with a quite lengthy and humorous response. I don't if this will go anywhere at all, but this situation came right out of nowhere. If nothing else, I'd like to meet her in person at one point if things keep going like this.

With all this said I'm going to say that I'm still taking a more pragmatic approach to this whole romance thing. While I'd like a romantic partner I don't like what it looks like one needs to do to get there. As I've said too many times recently, "I'm getting too old for this."

Music

I discovered a small loophole in a popular Internet "radio station" type site that allows the songs to be kept after they're done being played. Since I like a lot of old music there are a lot of songs that are played that would be difficult to get (or I have on vinyl already), my guilty feelings about this are offset by the fact that this music has long since earned its royalties. So I discovered a few really great songs from the 1960s that I just can't get out of my head...and are quickly becoming the "theme songs" for this time period. They are:
  • "He Did It" - The Ronettes
  • "Will You Be My Love" - The Four J's
  • "Kingdom of Love" - Pam & The Cliftonaires
  • "It's Going To Be Alright" - The Decoys
  • "Look Out Here Comes Tomorrow" - The Monkees
Just for the record (no pun intended) for the RIAA folks: Before you decide to sue my ass off, understand that there is a very good chance that these downloads will result in me actually buying CDs. It pisses me off that I have to even say this -- remember the days when we'd sit listening to the radio with a cassette recorder next to us and there was never any fear of someone coming and suing our asses into oblivion. Geez.

Fun & Games

A couple of weeks ago Mary suggested getting together to play Rummikub which I haven't played in at least 15 years (probably more like 20). I thought that was a heck of a coincidence because I had been trying to find people to play that game with me for about a year now. We had a great time and I remember now why I enjoyed it way back when. I got Mike, Annette, and Tristin to play a few days later and I believe we've accepted it into our repertoire of games now.

I also got to play this Mexican Dominoes game as well, which was fun, and a card game with words and the object is to arrange the words into a silly but grammatically-correct headline.

Nothing much has been on TV lately. Worthy of note is the new Gong Show with Dave Attell. It's the same silly and sometimes tasteless humor that was the trademark of the show when Chuck Barris created it in the '70s. I hope it stays around this time - even with the YouTube generation, I think there is still a place for shows like The Gong Show.

...and with that, I conclude this evening's blog entry just short of midnight, 8/8/8.