Review: "The Social Network"

Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook founder and CEO, dur...Image via WikipediaI saw the movie "The Social Network" last night at the Hollywood theater. It was surprisingly good. Between Aaron Sorkin's script and David Fincher's direction they did a good job of making lawsuit depositions, programming, and starting an internet company look interesting.

The music, by Trent "Nine Inch Nails" Reznor, was at times a bit annoying, other times pretty well integrated & sparse. I'm still deciding whether the long scene full of jump cuts between "The Facebook" website creation story and the lawsuit depositions works, but I know the music was distracting.

I didn't read "The Accidental Billionaires," which is the book the movie is based on, but the film is really about the broken friendship between Zuckerberg and his CFO/roommate Eduardo Saverin. It is also, at heart, about the girl who inspired The Facebook when she broke up with Zuckerberg at the beginning of the film.

The movie ends with Zuckerberg sending her a friend request through Facebook and then obsessively refreshing the browser waiting for her response. In a way it reminded me of the end of Psycho which, given David Fincher's previous movies, isn't surprising.
Enhanced by Zemanta


New Year's Resolution Generator

A kitten opens its eyes for the first time.

Ho there! With New Year fast approaching, it's time to make your annual resolutions to better yourself. Since resolutions are often frivolous, and sometimes random, I've decided to bring this habit into the 21st century by automating the process. Use this handy widget to generate a New Year's resolution (it's up to you to keep it).

Enhanced by Zemanta


Linking to a time in a YouTube video

Here's a hot tip I got from @Hanselman: How to link to a specific time in a YouTube video. If you've ever received a link from a friend and sat through the "boring" part of a video waiting to get to the meat of the matter, this is for you.

For example, here's a video I made of downtown Portland before the Pearl District phenomenon kicked into high gear.

If I want to point out the old ad for Wrigley's gum painted on a building wall, I can get the normal YouTube URL:

But then add "&feature=youtu.be#t=XmYs" which links directly to the segment of the video with the ad.
Substitute the minutes and seconds for X and Y:

Enhanced by Zemanta


I've heard of blank checks, but blank $100 bills?

Reproduction of a Charles Mills painting by th...Image via WikipediaAccording to this news article, even the government printers are having trouble reproducing the new high-tech $100 bills.

At the time, officials announced the new bills would incorporate sophisticated high-tech security features, including a 3-D security strip and a color-shifting image of a bell designed to foil counterfeiters.
But the production process is so complex, it has instead foiled the government printers tasked with producing billions of the new notes. 
The main problem is evidently that the paper folds during the printing process, leaving a blank space on the bill's face.

But here's the amazing fact: "The total face value of the unusable bills, $110 billion, represents more than ten percent of the entire supply of US currency on the planet, which a government source said is $930 billion in banknotes."

Also, because the problem is random, they can't definitely say how many of the 1.1 billion bills have the problem. They either have to sort them by hand, or develop a brand new mechanized sorting process.  To sort them by hand "could take between 20 and 30 years. Using a mechanized system, they think they could sort the massive pile of bills, each of which features the familiar image of Benjamin Franklin on the face, in about one year."

Enhanced by Zemanta


Blurring the Line Between QA & Dev Session 3: The Bugs We Don't Fix

The typical bug history (GNU Classpath project...I recently attended an OpenSpace event organized by the Software Association of Oregon (SAO). The event talked about a variety of topics teams encounter while developing in an Agile environment. Here are my notes from the third session, The Bugs We Don't Fix, hosted by Merlyn Albert-Speyer.
Initially I thought this discussion was going to be an enumeration of those annoying types of bugs that slip through testing, are reported by customers, and are eventually stored in the huge Indian Jones-like bug warehouse. We started with a short list of bugs that are reported, but ignored:
  • Management says the bug is too low priority, and so the development team should ignore it
  • The team simply has no time allocated to fix it, so it’s left un-done.
  • Bugs that aren’t reported to development. (It’s another discussion to talk about why this happens)
  • Someone said “one man's bug is another man's feature.”
  • There was a case given where fixing the bug in a graphics engine caused the surrounding system to blow up. The system developers had built the system to accommodate the bug – fixing it caused more problems than leaving it.
  • One person cited Joe Yoder’s anti-pattern “the big ball of mud.” Software that’s such a mess it’s too risky to tinker with it.
So, ultimately the bugs not fixed are a business value proposition, right? If there’s a bug then deal with it during refactoring, or other maintenance work.
Then Andrea Callison and Tom Pearson of phTech announced that they don’t have a bug database.
They work off a system that is honest with the users. If the development team simply can’t get the bug fix into the product, or won’t be able to release a patch to fix the bug, they return that bug to the user with an explanation why. They claim that users accept the explanation, appreciate it even. At least the development team has been honest in explaining why the bug won’t be addressed. After the bug is returned to the user (or user representative?) it’s the responsibility of the user to submit the new story to the development team for the next version of the software. As they say "anything that matters will come back" into the new product.
They also have some other interesting ideas
  • MMF - minimal marketable feature
  • Stories have a warranty period. They'll fix it for free if it's still in warranty (which I’m assuming means within the past couple of sprints)
Andrea said that James Shore, who was attending the SAO event, was the Agile coach for PHTech and helped with their implementation of Agile.
So, they are in effect saying that once the product has been released, it’s a blank slate. Any new changes will be submitted as new user stories to the development team. They only mentioned in passing that James Shore also has a method for reducing bugs during the sprint – a “no bugs” mentality.
This topic inspired some ScrumMasters who are hoping to get out from under the dead weight of the bug database. Still, while it’s not 100% Agile, my feeling is that the bug database is a useful reference. Additionally some people wondered whether multiple ongoing small projects handled in this manner will eventually lead to a degradation of the product? No one had clear data on this question.
In any case, dropping the bug database is a mind-blowing idea which I’ll have to investigate further.
Enhanced by Zemanta

Blurring the Line Between QA & Dev Session1: History of Blur

Look! It's paired programming!Image via Wikipedia

I recently attended an OpenSpace event organized by the Software Association of Oregon (SAO).  The event talked about a variety of topics teams encounter while developing in an Agile environment. Here are my notes from the first session, History of Blur, hosted by Jon Bach & Ward Cunningham

Inspired by the theme of the event, the discussion talked about how to blur the divisions between QA and development.  Jon raised a question why are companies hiring developers as testers, when his opinion is that the key QA skill is how to think.  He also compared Dev and QA to someone writing email. When you’re writing you’re a developer, but the QA person wants to edit. Sometimes there’s not enough time for QA, and you hit ‘Reply All’ a little too quickly…

Jon’s background is from journalism and he likens QA (Quality Assistance – since he can’t assure quality, only help with it) to a reporter seeking the truth – interviewing, questioning, organizing & reporting.

Ward wondered whether Agile has done “damage” to QA?  He explained that Agile has “lifted” development making them more effective, but hasn’t done much for QA.  Still, by helping the developers become more effective, that means the “dumb bugs” are mostly out of the system, freeing QA for a higher level of testing.

The discussion was sort of rambling, but a basic topic was that developers have one set of mental attributes:  creating, introspective, a desire to solve problems while working to a plan.  QA have another: breaking (or, more accurately, finding the existing defects), extroverted, announcing problems right and left.  The antagonism occurs as the tester scores points by finding bugs in the developers’ code.  A key QA people skill is how to relate this info to the developer tactfully?  Also, pair programming is one way that developers can temporarily step into the QA shoes.

In my opinion, the antagonism between developers (creating) and QA (breaking) is fundamental and useful sometimes, but there needs to be a way to turn it off and on. When it’s “off” the team is pushing in the same direction, when it’s “on” they will be testing the software to its fullest.  It’s also important to note that team roles <> job titles <> individuals.  One person mentioned that "Working together is a matter of professional (pride)."

Sidebars included:
  • Useful mnemonic for test strategy: SFDPOT (Structure, Function, Data, Platform, Operations, Time)
  • An idea of the checks & balances of scrum – the triangle of scrum – Product Owner, Dev, QA
  • A discussion of how everyone in the team thinks they’re the user’s champion. As Ward put it, it’s a competition to own the role of the customer.”
  • A particular antipattern – the lack of Slack in an Agile environment.

The discussion concluded with a question: What’s the future of blur?  Ward posited that all roles (QA, Dev, Tech Writers, Support, Sales, etc) will have to work more closely together. “Each important problem is on someone's boundary.”

Enhanced by Zemanta


Only in MS Windows...

Only Microsoft could misconstrue "extended" to mean "show me less information than standard."
Enhanced by Zemanta


The trouble with simplicity...

Self-portrait of Leonardo da Vinci. Red chalk....Image via WikipediaThe trouble with simplicity is… it conceals so much difficulty.
Take for example, Leonardo da Vinci, he’s a complex guy. But how do you look him up? Under “D” for “Da Vinci,” or is it “V” because the “da” is lower case? Turns out, neither. You look under “L” because he’s only got one name, like Cher or Prince, and that’s Leonardo. He was the bastard son of a guy named Piero, who also came from the town of Vinci in the region of Florence. I guess the town was so small everyone only had one name, so you could say “Yeah, that’s Leonardo from Vinci,” just like one might be called “Alexander from Mosier.”

Another tricky thing about Leonardo is that he died almost 500 years ago, and was born just about the time Gutenberg invented the movable type printing press. That’s a blink of an eye in geologic time, and only twenty five generations of humans, but it's the dawn of history's mass-produced written records. Considering that only single copies of the notebooks existed for a while, it’s a wonder Leonardo's words have survived through history at all.

So when I was reading this review of a book by Christine Romans called "Smart Is the New Rich," and she wrote “I think it was Leonardo da Vinci who said, ‘The ultimate luxury is simplicity,’” it felt incongruous to me. Something about the quote didn’t ring true – I couldn’t picture Leonardo da Vinci equating luxury with simplicity. Here’s the guy who painted the Mona Lisa ("la Gioconda") and “The Last Supper.” Both of those paintings have a hidden complexity executed in a simple style, but I don’t detect any luxury in either of the works.

At that point I wondered two things: did Leonardo da Vinci really write this, and if not then who? So, I did the obvious thing for the 21st century: I googled the quote. Interestingly enough, the internet came back with an immediate clear and obvious answer: the quote attributed to Leonardo da Vinci should actually be "simplicity is the ultimate sophistication." So the answer is that Romans had incorrectly quoted the original Renaissance man. Case closed, right?

Wrong. Although the quote “simplicity is the ultimate sophistication” was consistently attributed to Leonardo da Vinci, none of the web pages listed a source. Google returned 96,400 results for the phrase while Bing found 560,000 hits. I have to admit I didn’t check each and every web site, but the first 60 sites I visited failed to mention which of Leonardo da Vinci’s works contained this aesthetic opinion. If I wanted to answer my two questions I realized I was going to have to investigate in more depth.

Since Leonardo was Italian, I figured the original text was probably in Italian. I used the google language tools to translate the words ‘simple’, ‘simplicity’, ‘luxury’, and ‘sophistication’ into ‘semplice’, ‘semplicità’, ‘lusso’ and ‘raffinatezza’. I plugged these words into the search engines along with Leonardo da Vinci’s name to see if I could uncover an untranslated version of the text. To my surprise all the results were simply translated Italian versions of the English phrase “simplicity is the ultimate sophistication,” (“La semplicità è l'ultima sofisticazione”). It was almost as if the Internet was trying to obscure its tracks, producing translations and retranslations of the same phrase, consistently absent any original source.

By the way, the internet is great machine for providing tangents. I can tell you this from experience. One path I had to follow was this odd link, an Italian shotgun called the Vinci, named after Leonardo in honor of his purported aesthetic.
The gun is named for the great Italian Renaissance artist and inventor Leonardo Da Vinci, who once said, “Simplicity is the highest form of sophistication.” Benelli has taken their shared Italian heritage with Da Vinci and sought to create a high performing gun built on a platform that is efficient, reliable and simple. Most notable is the modular design of the Vinci, which makes it a snap to assemble and reassemble for cleaning, maintenance, storage and transportation.
I was just about to give up on the Internet when I thought of Project Gutenberg. Like Gutenberg’s moveable type printing press Project Gutenberg is attempting to disseminate books far and wide using the latest technology – in this case it’s the Internet. The Project library consists mostly of royalty-free books digitized by volunteers, but I figured Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks would be found there. Seconds later I was skimming through both volumes of the notebooks, using the browser to search for my key phrases either in Italian or English. Unfortunately, no luck. Zip.

I found, however, Leonardo wrote on a wide range of topics. Here’s what he has to say about “continence” from a section titled “Humorous Writings”: “The camel is the most lustful animal there is, and will follow the female for a thousand miles. But if you keep it constantly with its mother or sister it will leave them alone, so temperate is its nature.” And this from the section discussing chiaroscuro: “First I will treat of light falling through windows which I will call Restricted [Light] and then I will treat of light in the open country, to which I will give the name of diffused Light. Then I will treat of the light of luminous bodies.” I liked this comment in the section on sculpture: “Sculptured figures which appear in motion, will, in their standing position, actually look as if they were falling forward.”

So, I was left with a puzzler. The way the phrase “simplicity is the ultimate sophistication” is written, it’s possible that Leonardo wrote it, it's likely to have had a different translator than the person who did the version of the notebooks that I read. It’s also impossible to tell whether the sentence is about sculpture, painting, architecture, or even advice on how to tell a joke. At this point I felt I’d reached the limit of the internet.

So, I got drastic and walked to the branch library. You know the great thing about the library? It’s all the books. They’ve got walls of ‘em, and most of books have been edited and checked for accuracy. I made a beeline for the reference desk and found Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations as well as the Encarta Book of Quotations. I also grabbed two biographies of Leonardo da Vinci and found a table to do some reading. Bartlett’s is arranged by author and also has an index by subject. I scanned through but there weren’t any quotes from Leonardo da Vinci on simplicity or luxury in either book. In fact, of all the quotes on simplicity this one by Richard Austin Freeman from the book “The Eye of Osiris” is the closest to the original quote: "simplicity is the soul of efficiency." I also flipped through the biographies of Leonardo da Vinci, but most of the quotes they contained were from other people talking about him.

So, what did I learn? For one, I got to review my facts on Leonardo and he’s much more interesting than people give him credit for. If all you know of him are the codex (the naked guy in the circle), the Mona Lisa and the Last Supper, then scroll up and click on the links to his notebooks. He’s like a 16th century Stephen Hawking crossed with Pablo Picasso and Frank Lloyd Wright. Secondly, I wonder if this is the limit of the Internet: a collection of misinformation and ill-informed comments, pointing in on itself time and again, slowly collapsing into mush unless people get out into the real world and explore new ideas. And finally, the number one takeaway from my little exercise is that simplicity can often hide complexity. When it’s put to good use, such as in a computer program or a skyscraper, this information hiding can create small wonders, almost like magic. But when it becomes sloppy or completely wrong the simplicity turns into the fog of ignorance, obscuring the quality of light for everyone.

I leave you this quote, which may or may not have been written by H.L.Mencken: “Explanations exist; they have existed for all time; there is always a well-known solution to every human problem — neat, plausible, and wrong.”

Related articles
Enhanced by Zemanta


"Marvin K. Mooney Will You Please Go Now?"

Any number of Ted Geisel, aka Dr. Seuss, books can be read as allegories. The Lorax has an obvious environmental theme, as does Bartholomew and the Oobleck. The Butter Battle Book echoes the arms race of the 1960s, while Yertle the Turtle deals with anti-fascism and anti-authoritarianism. Ask any schoolkid about "How the Grinch Stole Christmas!" and although they won't express it as an anti-materialism polemic, they'll tell you "It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags."
More recently anti-abortion proponents have locked on to "Horton Hears a Who" as a clear argument for their side, although Wikipedia says Geisel wrote it as "an allegory for the American post-war occupation of Japan."
But what about some of Dr. Seuss' Early Reader books, do they have hidden meanings? For years I've believed that "The Cat In The Hat Comes Back" is an allegory for oil spills. This book has a theme similar to "Oobleck," but the Cat seems to rejoice in the technology used to clean up the pink bathtub ring. The fact that Geisel used to work for Standard Insurance, and probably had a twinge of conscience about that, adds to my opinion.
Which brings me to "Marvin K Mooney Will You Please Go Now?"
When my kids were young we'd read this story together, exploring all the ways for Marvin to go, as long as he did it "now." The text is simple and repetitive with only 78 unique words. A giant hand appears and repeatedly asks Marvin to go, and he finally does. On the ultimate pages, when Marvin goes, the question my kids always asked was "where did he go?"

After years of reading the book, I've had an epiphany: This book is a metaphor for death and dying.
Not suicide, mind you. Because Marvin decides to go in the end, this raises the question of whether Marvin decided to end it all, but I say it's simply that Marvin has acknowledged his mortality and come to the acceptance of death. Acceptance since at the end of the book, when his time has come, he has a smile on his face.
Framing the story this way explains many things. Why do we never see that face of the hands? Why do the hands decree "The time has come, and the time is now!" Because these are the hands of god, little 'g'. God wears the wristwatch to both symbolize the time that will come to all mortals, and also to portray the impersonality of the universe... a tick-tock god.
When I read the ways Marvin can go, by skis, in a crunk car, or in a bureau drawer, I hear in my head Leonard Cohen's "Who by fire?" Even the title of the book "...will you please go now?" evokes Robert Frost's "Do not go gentle into that good night."
What I like most about this book is the simplicity of the text, which can be a truism for any art: The simpler the story the more the reader must fill in the gaps with his or her own history. Admittedly, Dr. Seuss dealt with big issues in his later books, and his estate produced a handful of "teachable moment" stories posthumously, but those were only poorly edited half-ideas. It's only when you get down to a 240 word text that the gaps shine through. Take for example the opening line: "The time has come..." This could have been written by Dickens or Poe, or even Hemingway.
When I first had my insight I didn't realize "Marvin K Mooney" had already been used for another allegory: the downfall of Richard M Nixon via the Watergate scandal. After some research on the book I found that Art Buchwald had published a tweaked version of "Marvin K Mooney" in 1974 for the Washington Post. He substituted "Richard M Nixon" for "Marvin K Mooney."
The time has come.
The time has come.
The time is now.
Just go.
I don't care how.
You can go by foot.
You can go by cow.
Richard M. Nixon will you please go now!
and so on.
Is that the test of great art, that it reflects peoples lives and times without aging? In this case Richard M met the same fate as Marvin K, and they both went. Regardless, I'll also bring the personal memories of hours of time spent together with my kids reading this and other books. Maybe tonight we'll take a second look at Eric Carle's "The Very Hungry Caterpillar."
Enhanced by Zemanta


How Do!

How Do...a found poem

how do magnets work
how do i find my ip address
how do i get a passport
how do i love thee
how do i look
how do you get pregnant
how do you get pink eye
how do you delete friends on facebook
how do bees make honey
how do you get mono


Are Your Pants Lying to You? An Investigation

This article at Esquire is funny. What other industries could benefit by lying to you?
As the author says...
This isn't the subjective business of mediums, larges and extra-larges — nor is it the murky business of women's sizes, what with its black-hole size zero. This is science, damnit. Numbers! Should inches be different than miles per hour? Do highway signs make us feel better by informing us that Chicago is but 45 miles away when it's really 72? Multiplication tables don't yield to make us feel better about badness at math; why should pants make us feel better about badness at health? Are we all so many emperors with no clothes?
You can read the full article here : Are Your Pants Lying to You? An Investigation
Enhanced by Zemanta


Beck and Palin

With all the brouhaha about Beck and Palin, I feel obligated to blog about them. So, here are their photos & some pertinent quotes:
Forces of evil on a bozo nightmare
Ban all the music with a phony gas chamber
'Cause one's got a weasel and the other's got a flag
One's on the pole, shove the other in a bag
  • "I am very cautious of people who are absolutely right, especially when they are vehemently so."


August is National Sandwich Month!

Hamburger is a very common food in the United ...Image via WikipediaSandwiches became part of the national cuisine in 1840 when Elizabeth Leslie Cook included a sandwich recipe in her cookbook that it appeared in the local cuisine of the United States.

Since then it has become a fact that "the average U.S. citizen eats about 200 sandwiches a year and the average child will consume an estimated 1,500 peanut butter-and-jelly sandwiches before graduating high school."

I suppose August is as good a time as any to eat a sandwich, maybe at the beach, or in the car while taking a road trip.  Speaking of road trips, you might want to bring along Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma. The first fourth of the book focuses on a petroleum-based sandwich, ordered at a drive-in and eaten in the car.

Meanwhile, some toothy quotes:
  • "I have made it a rule never to eat more than one sandwich at a time." -- Mark Twain
  • "A sandwich eaten is a sandwich earned." -- Ben Franklin
  • "No man ever consumes the same sandwich twice, for it's not the same sandwich and he's not the same man." -- Heraclitus
  • "Two pieces of bread, or not two pieces of bread: that is the question" - Shakespeare

Here's a recap of my sandwich reviews for restaurants in Portland, Oregon:
Enhanced by Zemanta

Mean Pinball

Pete Townshend doing his tradermark "wind...Image via Wikipedia"Ever since I was a young boy
I've played the silver ball" -- Pete Townshend

When Pete wrote those lines he was probably in his late 20's, but pinball had been around for years before that. But, in the 21st century it's been overtaken by video games so much that actual pinball parlors have become odd fusions of museums and nostalgia pits.

So, when I saw a news article talking about a New York city who banned pinball, I had to check the date -- was this some sort of weird retro posting from the 50's? As the news article quotes: "it's like 'Footloose' -- except we actually care about what's being banned."

Turns out, yes, the ban has been on the books for years, but not enforced until just recently. The CNN video doesn't explain why the city decided to apply the law, but the owner faces a fine of up to $1000 a day if he stays in business.

Boing-boing, however, explains that the reason for the shutdown is due to noise complaints. "The issue is noise and only noise," says Steve Gold, the mayor of Beacon. You can read his comments here.

Here's the Facebook page to Save the Beacon Retro Arcade.
Meanwhile, even the Beacon Retro Arcade's website shows it's shut down:
Enhanced by Zemanta


Problems with Bottled Water

An interesting graphic. One good point I hadn't thought of: drinking bottled water is selfish. Focus on bottled water takes away support from public systems.


Crime and Condiments

Victor Hugo"Brie on baguette, s'il vous plait"
At the beginning of Victor Hugo's Les Misérables the lead character Jean Valjean has just been released from prison after nineteen years in jail for stealing a loaf of bread.  During the course of the novel Valjean, who attempts to escape his past and rise above his peasant status is pursued by Inspector Javert.  Javert has ten times the intensity of Tommy Lee Jones chasing the fugitive Harrison Ford, and although Hugo expertly weaves the novel, stepping back I sometimes wonder whether a loaf of bread can really spur such a story.

Until I read the daily headlines.

For example, if you google "subway restaurant robbery" you'll find that sandwich-related crimes happen so often they've become almost mundane.  I'm sure the robbery victims, however, found it extremely traumatic, and pulling that single narrative thread is what makes Victor Hugo's masterpiece so compelling.

What, for example, was this thief thinking when he robbed a sandwich shop using a Gatorade bottle full of gasoline?  He later locked himself in his hotel room and set it on fire.  When they arrested him he was booked with arson, as well as an outstanding warrant for Fraud.  The whole story seems confusing: he also had a gun, so why did he use the gasoline?  Does the Fraud case play into this -- did he really want to commit suicide in a "blaze" of glory? Why a sandwich shop?

Other times, when life gives you cold cuts, you make sandwiches. In this case the robber broke in, couldn't find the case, so he grabbed the sandwich makings, as well as the cookies. I hope he gives them to someone who will appreciate stolen treats.

Sometimes sandwiches are used to dish out justice.  There's the case of the ongoing food fights at an Atlantic City high school.  After several food fights the cafeteria workers decided to punish the entire lunch crowd by serving only bread and cheese.
"Superintendent Fredrick Nickles confirmed that one lunch period was subjected to the simple serving, consisting of two slices of bread and a slab of cheese, after five students were suspended for starting a food fight. He again insisted that the meal meets the state requirements and is served to send a message to the rest of the student body."
This punishment sounds eerily like the old "bread and water" of prisoners, and I can see how an "us vs them" mentality might have been formed.  I see a movie script brewing: a rag-tag group of lunch ladies confront and mentor tough inner-city  students, ultimately bringing victory to their school on the reality show "Cafeteria Chef."  Tag line: "Don't mess with the lunch ladies."

Which brings me to the Blago Sandwich.  Sometimes there's justice, and sometimes there's injustice, and sometimes there's Rod Blagojevich.  The former Governor of Illinois, who was arrested for trying to sell his state's Senate seat, is in the news for a sandwich named in his honor: "The Innocent aka Blago."  Made with turkey, Swiss cheese, pesto, mayo, avocado and spinach, I notice it has four ingredients which are essentially fats, so it could also be called the "Big Fat Turkey" sandwich.  Blagojevich called it "an accurate and truthful" sandwich.

Which gave me the idea that maybe we should name more sandwiches after public figures. For example "The Tom Cruise" could be Swiss, Cheddar and Provolone with sprouts, Chantrelle mushrooms, toasted on white bread.  Pretty cheesy, a little healthy, a hint of crazy, and the occasional flops.

Speaking of crazy, that leads me to the oddest of sandwich-related crimes.  A woman 74-year-old Boise woman was arrested after pouring mayonnaise in the Ada County library's book drop box.  They say she's a "person of interest in at least 10 other condiment-related crimes."  The article says "library employees have reported finding books in the drop box covered in corn syrup and ketchup,"  but I wondered how she chose her condiments? Did she plan on pouring chutney into the Red Box if the movie was a turkey?  Tossing bags of aoli at used car dealerships to protest smarmy salesmen?  What book had she read that prompted her to use mayo on the library drop box? I'll bet it wasn't Les Miserables, but it would be an interesting story that describes her motivation.
Enhanced by Zemanta


Internet Serendipity

I love the weird things "the internet" suggests to me. Two examples are the Captcha validation phrases and Google Typeahead.

I was trying to remember the exact phrase on packaging warning that the contents may have nuts ("may contain traces of nuts") and found out that "cigarettes may contain traces of pig's blood."


Sandwich Review: Michael's Italian Beef

There are some things you can't get everywhere. Take for example: pizza.

I know "pizza" is available everywhere, hawked on corners, sold at food courts, carts and middle school dances. For the most part the melted cheese, crust and grease run together like so much melted cheese, but a few distinctive specimens, such as Bell's Pizza in East Lansing, Michigan and Woodstock's Pizza in Corvallis, Oregon,  hold special places in my heart.

When I was growing up in Michigan my family raved over Bell's Pizza. It's a Greek style pizza with a bready, slightly fluffy crust and a mix of white and orange cheeses. Aside from the cheese, the defining characteristic was a fruity olive oil which permeated the the pie. In my memory Bell's Pizza fluctuates between pizza and an open-faced toasted cheese sandwich brushed with olive oil.

When I returned to my hometown for my 20th high school reunion I had to visit Bell's to see if it was still the same, and I was devastated to find the restaurant and the entire city block in the midst of demolition for urban renewal. Luckily I discovered they'd moved to a new location a mile East on Grand River Avenue, and I quickly ordered a medium pie, half cheese, half pepperoni. Twenty years later, a mile apart, Bell's Pizza was still the same.

During my college years at Oregon State University, Woodstock's Pizza was known for the crust. Specifically: as a poor college student I often felt cheated by Woodstock's pizza because of the crust.  Part of the pizza signature was to roll the outer crust back onto the pizza, forming a crusty tube of sauce, but also reducing the surface area that could be devoted to toppings. I resented the lack of topping space, and would usually order a single topping with extra sauce ("free!") to make up for the deficiency.  In retrospect, however, the sauce was far better than Dominos, my only other pizza option, and the sauce-filled rolled crust made a tasty appetizer.

Once or twice a year I pass through Corvallis and have stopped at Woodstock's for lunch. I wonder at the odd reflections in life because just like Bell's, the building that housed Woodstock's has been razed, only this time the replacement building is less than 50 feet from the original. Also, although decades have passed since I first tasted Woodstock's, the pizza is essentially the same in crust, sauce and spirit.


I don't throw these places into the spotlight because they're outstanding, but because they are distinctive. They're both locally owned and operated, and the food is only available if you're in the neighborhood at the right time. In the Internet era, when entertainment is "on demand" and franchises dot the country like pimples on a burger-flipping teen, there's something comforting about meals you can't get just anywhere. It's almost like going home again, finding the special lunch mom made just for you. And, although I can't return to the actual restaurants, it's not the location I'm missing but some bit of nostalgia. Eating the food approximates a certain place and time found only in my mind.

In Portland there are some sandwich places that try to evoke a similar sense of place. Philadelphia's is a cheese steak restaurant said to serve to serve food just like the famous sandwiches from Philly. I've never had the originals, but I've tried Philadelphia's several times without discovering what people like about them.  This reinforces my belief that it's not always the food, but the people and surroundings that make it a memorable meal.

And there's Michael's Italian Beef sandwiches.

My knowledge of Chicago food isn't deep. I know they have deep-dish pizza, hot dogs, and a little Italy.  So, to get some more detail I asked my cousin and her husband, who live there, what they consider "Chicago style" food.  The answer included  "pierogies...Chicago-style hot dog (onions, relish, pickle, sliced tomato, whole peppers, and celery salt), [and] Italian beef sandwiches." Which confirmed that Italian beef sandwiches are indeed part of the Chicago food profile.  I cross referenced this with some other recent immigrants to Portland from Chicago and they said that Michael's was "pretty close" to what one would find in the Windy City.

I'm not surprised that I've lived in Portland for nearly twenty years and have never visited Michael's. The location on SE Sandy is completely evident, but parking is not. I left my car a block away and approached on foot only to realize there's a parking lot immediately behind the restaurant, but you have to approach it from Burnside, around the corner from Hippo Hardware. Inside the location was homey, filled with regulars who knew the each other by name. One geezer asked for Michael, but the cashier said he was out "enjoying the sunshine." They have a pretty efficient system for ordering, making it fast service without being fast food. To maintain the order among the customers they have a quirky counter decoration of bloody knives and cleavers, warning customers not to grab for the mustard or ketchup -- or else! Despite this tongue-in-cheek threat the place has a menu that's friendly to kids, and also promises a few vegetarian options.

I wanted to try a couple examples of their sandwiches, so I got both the meatball and a Chicago-style Italian beef sandwich. I asked for the meatball "pizza style," which meant adding tomato sauce and provolone to it, which was pretty tasty but I had a problem with the structure. Instead of layering the peppers and condiments into the sandwich, the meatballs were nestled deep into the bread, while the veggies sat on top. First the veggies kept escaping over the top, then the sauce weakened the bread and the meatballs got out the other side.

I was surprised by the namesake sandwich, which was described as "top round, sliced thin & marinated in its own gravy." I pictured the thick kind of gravy that goes over mashed potatoes, but discovered it really meant a meat sauce, slightly thicker than au jus. The sliced beef was OK, mild but with a distinctive flavor that must be what nostalgia tastes like to some West Coast Chicagoans. I liked the hot peppers, which weren't very hot, and I was pleasantly surprised by the pickled celery. If anything draws you to this place, ask for extra pickled celery.  It seems to me that the celery and the gravy are like Bell's Pizza's olive oil, Woodstock's rolled crust, the signature of the sandwich.

Overall I was impressed by the sandwiches, but not enamored.  Maybe someday I'll visit Chicago, or maybe Philadelphia and have a sandwich, and then return to Portland.  Years from now they might widen SE Sandy, and have to demolish the keystone building holding Michael's.  Perhaps it will be a sunny day, and I'll walk down the street to Michael's II a couple blocks away and I'll order a Chicago style Italian beef sandwich, or maybe a Polish sausage with celery.   But for now, I have to admit my own personal quest doesn't head toward Chicago, but for East Lansing, or Corvallis.  Give Michael's a try, but it's probably more apt for someone who is looking for a certain nostalgic taste.

Michael's Italian Beef
1111 Southeast Sandy Boulevard
Portland, OR 97214-1333
(503) 230-1899


Fantasy & Science Fiction

I got an issue of Fantasy and Science Fiction in the mail the other day. In this Internet era it's nice to get something more than junk mail in your home mailbox, especially when it's unexpected. Ok, wasn't entirely unexpected: I asked for a review copy, but I'd forgotten about it. So, like a friend whom you've invited over for dinner, but forgot to write down the date, I was happy but surprised to see the manila envelope waiting for me on the front porch.

The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction and I have a long history. In high school my friend Stuart Pope introduced me to it via Robert Silverberg's "Lord Valentine's Castle," which was being serialized in F&SF before it was released as a book. By my Junior year I'd already read the Lord of the Rings trilogy and also the Lord Foul's Bane trilogy, which was was popular at the time and also ran in the vein of dwarves, elves and rings. But I didn't consider myself a "fantasy" fan, siding more with sci-fi writers like Philip Dick, Arthur Clarke, and John Brunner. Likewise, most of the short stories I'd read came in single-author collections. In F&SF I found a magazine that successfully merged fantasy, horror, and a certain style of science fiction into a single volume. I had to have more.

The same summer I discovered F&SF we spent several weeks at my family's rustic cabin in the woods near Port Orford on the Oregon coast. Since then I've made it a habit of picking up new and old issues of the magazine for reading by the lantern as the night fog rolls in from the beach, or in the mornings as the sun chases away the dew. Periodicals Paradise in NE Portland has a near critical mass of reading material, and so I'm performing a public service buying my back issues there, reducing the chance of a pulp explosion. I get about five issues from various decades. They all have a similar format: two or three novellas or "novelets", four or five short stories, some book reviews, a film review, maybe a serialization of a novel, and a couple cartoons. For years (30 years?) the cartoons were 100% Gahan Wilson, but more recently other contributors have squeezed in. In addition to the stories the magazine also ran the occasional contest organized around sci-fi books. I remember one contest asked people to contribute a book title with one letter added to make it funny. The winning entry was either "The Motel In God's Eye" or "Dog Androids Dream of Electric Sheep."

On the masthead it proclaims "61st Year of Publication." In that span of time quite a few writers have had amazing careers grow and flourish. I have an issue from December, 1958 that shows stories by P.G. Wodehouse, Algis Budrys, Isaac Asimov, Fritz Lieber, and Anthony Boucher on the cover. Not until you read the table of contents do you see that Ron Goulart and Walter Tevis are also contributors! By 1968 the "19th Anniversary All-Star Issue" mentions Goulart on the cover, along with Larry Niven, Arthur C. Clarke, Robert Silverberg, Harlan Ellison, and the ever prolific Asimov. F&SF continues to showcase both well-known and up-and-coming authors. I have an issue from 2004 with stories by Joyce Carol Oates, Robert Sheckley and Paul Di Filippo (without F&SF I wouldn't have discovered what an inventive writer Di Filippo is).

A couple of years ago, as an experiment, I wanted to explore how science fiction has been affected by the events of September 11th, 2001 and the World Trade Centerdestruction. I decided to focus on short stories I found in F&SF, picking some issues from the late 90's, and then some post-2001. Although the sci-fi and fantasy realms deal with the end of the world nearly every day, I could tell some authors were deeply influenced by the shocking events of 9/11/01. One story by Joyce Carol Oates, set in a post-apocalyptic world where everything is just running down echoed the way I felt for most of the rest of that year. Likewise Robert Reed's story "The Majesty of Angels" from September, 2002 tells the story of a massive catastrophe on Earth, and the angels have come as flight attendants on a surreal jumbo jet to guide the victims on their trip. And, although I'm unable to find the issue, I'm sure I read the short story that the movie "Knowing" is based on it the pages of F&SF (trust me, the story was better than the movie).

F&SF isn't all heavy material, however. The current issue has a good mix of stories: a fantasy tale of a woman who put her life into her painting, a tongue in cheek story of the "real" Martian chronicles, a twisted vision of a toy train set gone bad, an alternative WWII story where the Nazis planned to release zombies as their ultimate weapon, and more. As I read through the issue I got wrapped up in the stories, each one a little vacation from daily life. A vacation, maybe in a cabin, in the woods at the coast, reading by lantern light as the night rolls in.

You can read more about The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction or subscribe at their web site www.sfsite.com/fsf/. Here's what other people are saying on the internet about the May-June 2010 issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction.

This site has an index of all the past stories and authors, while this site has a nice archive of F&SF cover art.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]