Let's talk about toolchains.

Monday, November 2. 2015
Software, like a car, is not made by a single person or in a single place. They are comprised of many pieces & brands you've probably heard of. Mysql, Michelin, php, Honda. What you may be less familiar with are the brands behind the building process. Abb Ltd., git, Adept Technology Inc., Heroku. I'd like to take a minute to introduce you to the "behind the scenes" and eventually get to a little intro challenge.

For the moment, let's focus on the web side of things. You go to a URL and get a page. There's a backing server, some protocols, and maybe a database in there. The user doesn't particularly care how that's set up, but as a (new) developer, you will. Choices must be made, trade-offs considered. First:

How do I publish to my slice of the web?
There are several providers in this space. While you could go out and buy a domain, get a server, etc, that's expensive and not what we need. We want a place to write some code and test. We want easy. I'm going to steer you to Heroku or OpenShift. Both provide free, basic/low scale services that are easy to get started with. Which one you pick may be influenced by the technologies you want to learn. Heroku lends itself to ruby & rails, OpenShift lens itself to a MEAN stack. But more on that later.

K, so... how do I post stuff?
I'm going to ask you to create a "Hello, World!" application in a bit. You're going to write a little code, and it's not going to work. Your going to modify it a bit, and be excited that it does work. You're going to try something cooler, break everything, and not be able to get back to where you were. Luckily, we have tools for this. Enter Git. Git is a (source management/source control) system to track your changes. In addition to saving your files like normal, git lets you create "snapshots" of a directory. Work a bit, snapshot, work some more. You'll have an accurate history of what you did. Even better, it allows for tangents (we'll call that a "branch" of work). If it works out, you can merge that back into your main line of work. If it doesn't, you can abandon it. And you can switch between these tangents freely.

Git is actually even more powerful than that. Not only does it let you keep snapshots on your computer, it lets you distribute them. Keep them on other computers, in the cloud, whatever. And you can tell it where your other copies are. If you don't have one, you're probably going to want to sign up for a github account now. Go ahead. I'll wait.

Okay, so remember what I said about multiple copies? That's actually how we're going to tell your provider (Heroku or OpenStack) what to deploy. Once you've created a project (probably on github, then on your machine by cloning it down), you're going to want to see it run. You can test locally (sometimes tough depending on your home setup), or push it to the cloud. Each provider has a guide on how to "add a git remote" to represent their server, then issue a "git push" command that connects, uploads, and starts your app. Hopefully those keywords are enough that you can google-fu your way to a successful app launch.

But what language do I pick?
It's going to turn out that it doesn't matter. I don't care. A lot of front-end development is going to a MEAN stack (MongoDB, Express JS, Angular JS, and NodeJS), though there are still some tried-and-true apps running on the LAMP (Linux, apache, Mysql, and PHP) stack. Pick your poison. Because the exposed bits will be accessed from HTTP, we can define our application to look the same on the outside, despite having different technologies backing it up.

The Challenge
At this point, it's time to try. Getting all of this tooling up and running is a significant hurdle in the project process. And you'll learn lots. Actually, I'd encourage you, after getting a successful "hello world" in one system, to do it on the other. You might be surprised at how much conceptual overlap there is. Again, at this point, it doesn't matter what stack you pick. And you definitely won't use all of the pieces (no database is required for a simple "hello world" to display on your page).

Thinking ahead
If we think a second on how we deployed to the web (via a git push command), it's obvious that we could push to other locations with a similar command. Once the app gets more complex, you may want to do that so that you can add new features in a "sandbox" while having your live system running. Those essentially "test" and "prod" environments. And if you start working with other people, those will become critical as a means to add new features & collaborate without risking production system stability. Yeah... I think we're on to something...

Software designed to learn

Tuesday, October 27. 2015
A theme at this year's open source conference was getting experience. Experience for seasoned developers and experience for newcomers to the industry. I've been asked how one should learn to program a few times, and I'm not sure that I have a good answer if it wasn't your 4 year degree. The 12-week courses just aren't enough, but even a 2 year associates is a lot of commitment without the promise of a job.

The proposal thrown out during the conference was contributing to open source. Learn & build your resume. So, in that spirit, I'm going to invite my buddies that have tried to learn to join up on a project. I propose a re-creation of a project I've already got (poorly) implemented. Or something along similar lines. Technologies and languages should be totally up to the team, as well as the scope. The idea is the guide what they want to know. And hopefully I can keep up.

The proposal:
Send a note every time a door is opened or closed. Perhaps to my phone. Perhaps to a computer. SMS or push notification. Using whatever external libraries you want. Or writing it all ourselves. Ideally, the system would support multiple households in a secure, separated way.

What I have now:
Hardware sensors are constantly monitored by a raspberry pi for changes. Upon a change, a REST call is made to PushBullet, which also runs as an app on my phone. It's very manual to set up which devices my rPi sends messages to. And I don't think I could send it to a secondary account.

Where I'd like to go:

  • Onboarding needs to be a lot easier. Something like, "plug in your hardware, sign in with your phone. Start getting notifications when you open/close the switch." Requiring pushbullet device id's is prohibitive (it'd be nice to have a phone app where you sign in, and it just shows your available house sensors).

  • So we probably need a different web-based service that handles message routing. PushBullet may still be the means to send notifications, but I could see notifications via email being desirable in some circumstances.

  • Heartbeats. Know when your system is offline.

  • The hardware needs to be reconsidered. Either switch to an particle for the easy battery backup & smaller footprint, or figure out how to make the rPi work on cell service (and possibly w/ a battery... maybe the orange pi or banana pi is better in that respect).

  • Maybe a web-UI to arm/disarm the system. Possibly a schedule. And maybe some other integrations.

So, next phase: Do you want in? How do you want to start? What piece interests you and what technologies do you want to learn?

Decoding those cheap multi-color LED flood lights

Thursday, December 26. 2013
The plethora of cheap LED lights has me thinking of how I can use them. They're really inexpensive (amazon has them for ~$15) and put out a ton of light. The drawback is the remote. I'm thinking of using them as up lights outside, but I don't want to go out, turn them on, dial in the color, and repeat for each one.

So here we go with how I reverse engineered the codes. Starting from the beginning: knowing practically nothing. I'm fumbled through this, but if you kinda know what you're doing and want to skip to the fruitful stuff, you should probably read/follow this arduino guide. It's more well written and direct than this is going to be.

Somewhere to start.. no kidding: howstuffworks.com. I can't remember where my initial research was done, but that gives you the gist. There's a signal over a carrier wave that's decoded. Pulse lengths and timing are important. Through another conversation and some research, I suspected that the protocol was some form of NEC IR code (something like DMX over IR, another thing I was looking at, seemed too complicated). It's interesting to read through the different protocols & how they handles addressing, errors, etc. But for our purposes, it's only important that a given code produces a given result: it's stateless (with the small exception of the "repeat" code, but let's not worry about that).

So the goal was to read the codes. I figured this could be done with an IR sensor (wrong... should have read more -- and "IR receiver module" is what I should have gotten) and radioshack sells those. It's pretty easy to hook up the receiver in series with a resistor and power supply to forward bias the receiver diode. That will make for good viewing on the oscilloscope.


Oh, you don't have an oscilloscope? I didn't either. But I was extremely lucky that a friend came into one that I could use. It turns out that an oscilloscope isn't really necessary (I'll go over how to read codes via the library later), but I still wanted to use it. I have other reasons I need to be familiar with their use. After hooking up the oscilloscope leads across the diode and zooming in a bit, I could see the remote was affecting the circuit. Connecting the lines and setting up auto-triggering helped bring the protocol into focus. And that's where it got a bit tricky.

Now time for careful counting. The message length is clearly visible, but it was a little difficult to determine the bit boundaries (hidden behind the oscilloscope lines). It's also important to know 0/1 is determined by pause length, not "on" or "off." So get counting. I ended up with anything from 27-33 bits, so I assumed it was probably 32 (a four byte message). Unfortunately, I could never get a consistent read from an IR photodiode. And the library couldn't either. Switching to an IR module (with 3 leads as opposed to 2), everything got better. I was consistently counting 31 or 32 bits. So with a pretty good guess for the "on" code, I figured I'd build the transmission circuit and verify it looked the same to the oscilloscope:


That's the circuit to drive the IR transmitter. Don't have a transistor? Fine. The guy who appears to have a major hand in the arduino IR library didn't use one in his blog post. I hooked up the oscilloscope back up at this point (after a few modifications to the IR library's "send" demo) and discovered I'd mistranslated a few bits. It was really easy to see/correct on the scope. Though it wouldn't have happened if I'd just captured through the library....

Build the detector circuit with the 3-pin IR receiver module. This tells you how. Run the IR library's IRDump example and open the serial monitor. Point your remote at your detector module and press a button. The code should pop out (try a few times to make sure you don't get an "unknown protocol" -- which seems to be from goofed detection). At this point, you can press buttons and write down what each key on the remote sends. I've had luck w/ 2 different systems at this point (and don't need the oscilloscope anymore).

Putting those codes back into the "send" demo resulted in my light turning on. Or red, or whatever it was supposed to do. I'm pretty happy with the result and I should be able to A) clip the module off and wire in an arduino (bonus: I should be able to get rid of the dependence on pin 3 for the PWM features) or B) wire a bunch of transmitters & use the other I/O pins to basically switch them. Unless by some fluke of awesomeness, when I get more lights, they have different addresses. Time to go order another to find out...

remote (labeled APA 1616) (like this):
brighter  dimmer   off            on
red          green     blue       white
.                  .             .         flash
.                teal      purple    strobe
orange        .           .            fade 
yellow      blue      fuchsia   smooth

F700FF F7807F F740BF F7C03F
F720DF F7A05F F7609F F7E01F
F710EF F7906F F750AF F7D02F
F730CF F7B04F F7708F F7F00F
F708F7 F78877 F748B7 F7C837
F728D7 F7A857 F76897 F7E817

Another remote (the one from http://www.amazon.com/LEDwholesalers-Controller-2034RGB-3315-3215/dp/B0040FJ27S/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1391310582&sr=8-3&keywords=rgb+led+strip -- which can be found cheaper):
FF38C7 FFB847 FF7887 FFF807
FF18E7 FF9867 FF58A7 FFD827
FF28D7 FFA857 FF6897 FFE817
FF08F7 FF8877 FF48B7 FFC837

And a remote for an RGB LED bulb (that I got from thinkgeek, but now the only link i can find is this:
2FD18E7 2FD30CF | 2FDA857 2FD38C7
2FD8877 2FDF00F 2FDC837 2FD08F7
2FD807F 2FD40BF 2FDC03F 2FD9867
2FD20DF 2FDA05F 2FD609F | 2FDF807
2FDE01F 2FD10EF 2FD906F | 2FDD827
2FD50AF 2FDD02F 2FDE817 | 2FD7887
2FDB04F 2FD708F 2FDB847 | 2FD58A7

Oh, and I'm not sure how I missed this, but read this

North Korea? Is it really like this thing I saw?

Tuesday, October 8. 2013
This is the 3rd most common question I'm getting. Right behind, "North Korea? You can go there?" and "Why would anyone want to go there?" So I suppose I'm going a bit out of order, but I feel like this is background for the other two questions. But it's a fair question, so let me state, emphatically, that:

No. It is not like that thing you saw at all.

I came away from the trip feeling that the view the west (and the US in particular) has of the DPRK is weird. Pretty much everything I've seen has been sensationalized. They are very thinly veiled attempts to lock your eyeballs for a while and get you to view the follow-up. To that end, the whole place is portrayed as a massively controlled crazy-town. And, if you just spent a few nights in the country, I couldn't blame you for that being your take-away.

But that wasn't my experience. I was there for a bit over 2 weeks. I was there during a very busy time with road closures, shifting bookings, and short-notice happenings. And from what the guides said (both Korean and Western guides -- including at the briefing before we even went into the country), this was all fairly typical. I was fortunate enough to see my Korean guides exhausted after long days and buy them a beer to unwind. It's worth pointing out here that, even while unwinding "after the day," that they are still very much on-duty. They're actually always on duty, which became very apparent during the night of what I'll refer to as the Majon Guesthouse villa mix-up (I've likely already told you the story in person). From the second you clear security in the Pyongyang airport to the second you go back through security at the end of your trip, they are responsible for you.

This, to me, is the clearest refutation of the perception that you're always being watched. The guides are people and as such, sleep. Alcohol is cheap and new friends imbibe late into the night. Once back at the hotel for the evening, you're on your own to drink, relax, or sleep as you see fit. Yes - you are told not to leave the hotel complex. But this seems as much in your interest as anything else. No good can come of you wandering around, late, speaking little if any of the language (or customs). The potential for you getting lost or bothering people is just too high.

So, with all that as context, here are my impressions as a reaction to a few of the more popular (mis)conceptions:

There are no tourists/everything is empty:
I'll admit I was in the country at peak time. It was a national holiday - the 65th anniversary of the founding of the country. There would be celebrations, that was known, and people came. There were 27 other people that booked the same 16-night tour that I did and a load more that chose either the first or second half. And that was from one company. I know there was at least 1 other western company running tours (I took a train with them), and there were loads of Chinese tourists. Not to mention the international weightlifting competition that happened to overlap our tour dates (which prompted the rare event of seeing south korean tourists in the Yanggakdo Hotel). That scene where Shane Smith sits in the banquet hall of the Yanggakdo Hotel with nobody else around? Not even close to my experience. Not that the place was packed (everything about the hotel seems to be built for a bit beyond actual capacity), but it certainly wasn't empty. I suspect he got the shot by talking his way in before breakfast was open (as the buffet was always set before I got to breakfast -- and I had the first breakfast timeslot a few times). But perhaps travel has opened up that much in the past few years.

They do, however, do an amazing job of scheduling tour groups so as to not overload a particular monument/spot with tourists. Our group of 28 was split into 2 groups of 14 and we rarely saw each other outside of mealtimes & post-day hotel lobby drinking. North Korea is the one place where you can get your picture of nothing but the monument. No tourists jumping in your shot. You can actually wait for people to clear. And because you're traveling with them, they're probably a little more considerate than ordinary tourists. They're also likely to be just generally great people (as I'm convinced that most people willing to go to the DPRK are already pretty interesting and open-minded).

The leaders are a really big deal:
Yes. I'd say this is the one thing I've not seen a documentary come close to capturing. The reverence for the leaders and the military ever-present. I saw women crying at the Kumsusan Memorial Palace of the Sun. Now, it's impossible for me to know how genuine any of it actually is. And there are inconsistencies in the narrative that hint that people really understand the presence of a myth. For instance, why do farm research at all when advances are made via on-the-spot guidance of the leaders? But, after a few days, it really all becomes quite normal. It all just becomes something you do. Going up to a monument to enjoy the views? Take off your sunglasses and bow first. No big deal.

Your routes are planned and you're not allowed to deviate from those routes:
False. Even though our impression is that the country is entirely centrally planned, it's clear that not all of the messages get around. On National Day, we wanted to be at the bowling alley at a certain time, as the bowling alley is conveniently located on the route participants in the parade use to leave the main square (effectively, a second little parade). Unfortunately, the traffic cops kept turning our bus back saying we couldn't cross the road. Furious texting ensued. Several calls were placed between the Korean guides to discuss closures and give suggestions to the bus drivers about which routes were still open. We ended up on a round-about tour of some back streets in Pyongyang. Sorry to kill your excitement here, but they look exactly the same as the normal roads we took (but slightly less wide and bus friendly -- our bus driver was awesome though). But on normal days, there's simply not enough traffic (or problems) to necessitate changing routes. They know the fastest route.. why would they take you a different way?

They hate Americans:
I came away with the impression that they lament the policies of the post WWII and pre-Korean war US government. But US policy at the time wasn't exactly set up our shining moment. But any notion that they hated me? None. Everywhere I've been, even when not being the best representative of my country, I've felt a bit of respect from my host for being willing to get out and see their country and experience their culture. This was especially true in the DPRK where they see that you're willing to hear their story of war crimes & sit through presentations on one of the worst period in your country's history. And there was even a feeling that they were cleaning up the language a bit in translation for us (I don't think I heard the word 'bastards' in english at all). Salted throughout all of that is definitely a small sense of blame of the US for current & past conditions -- a claim that through sanctions, the US is intentionally keeping their living conditions low (which I'd argue isn't all that inaccurate). But that blame is placed squarely on the abstract specter of US leadership. It's actually pretty amazing how completely they have internalized that struggle and made it part of the Korean identity. But hating me for the policies of my country? Absolutely not -- we're both just people. Subject to our government's leadership, right?

Let that last part sink in. That acknowledgement of a difference is significant because it is something they can't admit they posses themselves. I'll leave you with that for another second.

They walk in step:
Okay, so this really isn't pointed out a lot. But wow. I pointed it out to a few of my fellow tourists. And then they pointed it out to me. I saw it a LOT. And then I saw this post that said pretty much the same thing (btw.. I'm pretty sure we were in the country at the same time -- and viewed the schoolchildren's palace at the same time. But I do not know him/her and pretty sure he/she was not on my tour). I'm guessing it's a hold-over from military service which is a lot more pervasive than in the US. I still occasionally sync up somebody and I was just in marching band for a few seasons.

What did I miss? Leave your assumptions in the comments & I'll see if it's something I noticed. And add pictures. This post is too long for no pictures...

Call your doctor; say you're going to North Korea

Thursday, August 22. 2013
"I'm a bit at a loss...", he said. "I know. They don't keep statistics," seemed the only reasonable response.

For being a nuclear power, my impression of the DPRK is that parts are still very rural. And with the rains having washed out several roadways, I expect mosquitoes to be be in full force. So I'm getting anti-malarial drugs, a typhoid vaccine, and some other goodies. Did I mention a polio booster? Now, if I could only get a smallpox vaccine, I'd have my vaccine bingo card pretty much punched.

The phone call with my doctor did provide my first insight as to what people are going to say, though. His second reaction (beyond being mystified, because apparently he's not seen this this country on an immunization request form before) was, "is it safe?" Followed immediately by, "uh... why?"

The answer to the first, I believe, is emphatically yes. At least, no riskier than flying/driving can be.. and probably a good deal safer. Judging by the videos I've seen of the roads in the DPRK, our bus isn't exactly likely to get into a fender-bender. Or a real crash. And I suspect the internal flights will be damn near the only ones running that day. Having done the research, and being so familiar with the concept of minders, it seems obvious to me that we're not going to be led into a perilous situation. That would reflect poorly on our guides, which would be worse for them than for me. And then there is the actual company that does business solely on reputation (and seems to have quite a good one). I'm going to be watched like a hawk. Safety is not even on my radar as a concern.

As to the "why?" I guess that's a more difficult question. Those of you that know me know why. Logistically, it is the convergence of vacation days, finances, and being at a good time in the software release cycle to take a month away. But if it were just that, I could go anywhere. I'd like to go skiing in Argentina one day. But that will always be there. I'm not sure that the trips into the DPRK always will be (and will always be like they are now). There's something appealing of going to the last battle line of the cold war in the modern world. I can't imagine how I'll feel at the communist monuments. The Brandenburg Gate was emotionally evocative. An entire country dedicated to the cause will (hopefully) be perspective shifting.

And then there's just the cool factor. Seeing the largest show on earth? Yes please. Huge beautiful volcano crater lake? Sounds magical. An additional appreciation for my country and the living conditions it provides while helping to pave the way for future tourists and improved living conditions in that foreign land? I'll take that, too.

Oh, and then there's the travel trump card when talking to anyone but soldiers and foreign journalists. "Most interesting place I've traveled to? Well, there was that one time I spent two weeks in the DPRK..."

Korean family reunions

Sunday, August 18. 2013
So, I woke up to this today. http://www.cnn.com/2013/08/18/world/asia/north-korea-family-reunions/index.html?hpt=hp_t2. Apparently the Korean governments are working together a little more. Good for them & good for the families. The Kaesong Industrial Park might reopen. Wait, September 19? Is that within ... yeah. I'm likely to be in-country at the time, though significantly farther east than I expect any news to happen.

In other news, I need to get ridiculous amounts of small-denomination euro currency (and I need to figure out my denomination breakdown tonight). Still waiting to hear back on immunizations. And, due to rain, Mt Myohyang is inaccessible (so the International Friendship Exhibition seems off the table). On the upside, I do get to go to a city very few Westerners have been to. It's quite possible that I'm in the low teens of westerns (and probably americans) that will set foot in the brewery. Neat.

I'm actually really excited to see the breakdown of ages & nationalities. And how many people are doing the full trip vs a half-trip itinerary.

Red Tape

Friday, July 26. 2013
So, here's the thing about getting on a tour group in a foreign country: there's a lot of red tape. I just got off the phone with my bank because a form said, basically, "Call us for help filling out section 3." And the guy I called sees the form so seldom that he called in backup. If there's anything that travel has taught me, it's that you need lead-time. The mere act of sending money is going to take me a few days (I forgot this morning, banks don't function on the weekend, and I assume there will be a pile on monday ahead of me).

This in addition to the visa I need to get, which requires all of my travel documents (hotel bookings, flights, etc). And the visa I'm just trusting my tour provider will be able to procure. They need a month, and my visa will likely take 2-ish weeks. So, probably 20% of the cost into the trip, I'll finally get to see if the various governments will even let me travel.

But I gotta say, it already feels worth it.

The Garden Party dilemma

Saturday, June 15. 2013
First invite to a long running neighborhood garden party. The rule is that you have to bring a mixed drink inspired by a) something growing in your garden or b) something that reasonably approximates (a) for somebody else's garden around here. And this is happening in a week (so, rush to prep/vet a drink --- and it's going to be hot). I've got a few interesting things going on in the yard:

  • raspberries
  • rosemary
  • sage
  • mint

Unfortunately, the raspberries are a few weeks past their harvest. And rosemary and sage don't really build on one another. Mint is an odd-ball. I also have a bit of mead stored up I could use to make a "sparkling" something.. and a honey simple syrup would be a good adjunct to a good variety of drinks.

A honey simple syrup seems to be common (possibly with the sage added in... might have to make a tiny test batch). Then, there's the typical strong (gin) and weak (either orange or lime juice). And the garnish (again, orange and lime, respectively). What I'm not so sure of is if I should use a stronger, more juniper-intense gin or stick with a more subdued variety. Or if I should go the crazy route and try and alter another vodka to get a clean citrus/juniper infusion with the acidic bite I'm after. I'd ultimately prefer that, but I'm just not sure I have the time.


The house of projects

Wednesday, June 12. 2013
When I bought a condemned house, I realized there would be several projects. Some for the short term and more long term. But I didn't expect for it to be quite like this. And not nearly this interesting. Currently on the docket:

  • A driveway. Currently, I park on dirt/mud. This needs to be rectified, but is complicated by the fact that I believe my sewer hookup goes underneath the driveway. So nothing expensive/permanent.

  • Facade revamp. The house has no curb appeal. And the front is high-maintenance. The stairs need to be replaced, so I'm either going back to something similar (with prairie grass) or building a retaining wall ($$$). Leaning towards grass with awesome decking stairs.

  • The fencing was a wreck. Now it is half down. Another, more functional deck needs to be put in. Bonus if I can incorporate it into the gardening.

  • The back deck is a horrible concrete slab. And a mere 4' deep. It needs to be removed & something usable put in it's place

  • Misc landscaping to make the back yard more usable after the other structural adjustments

  • Lighting installation. Because houses with lights at night look awesome. Smart controls. LEDs for lower power consumption. Bonus for colors.

  • Automatic smart irrigation. I want happy plants without thinking too much. Soil moisture should be monitored & logged with water application so that I can graph it up later.

  • Highly available internet. A project to learn the ropes of high availability & routing (for work) with the added benefit of a more interesting security system.

  • Hang picture rails. Because I have art that needs to be on the walls.

Smarts to be provided by a mash-up of arduino, android, and linux. Hopefully sharable and low-power. Must be component-ized (or I'll never get an implementation). And this all needs to happen while I continue to work, garden, socialize, and get my bills in on time.

ETA: ongoing. "Before" pictures to be added soon.

I'm becoming disappointed in the Occupy Wall St. Movement

Wednesday, November 23. 2011
I had a discussion at work friday, and I realized I was actually a little disappointed in the OWS movement, especially at places like UC Davis. This artile (which basically highlights recent examples of excessive force and makes the argument that this is, at least, police-state-esque) is a perfect example. What started as a movement to protest wealth inequality is being transformed into a "right to protest" movement. Which completely misses the entire point.

When's the last time you've heard a news article about "the demands" of OWS or any ideas for economic reform (not that the media was ever really good at reporting that)? The fight now seems entirely concerned with staying in parks, which is a fight that can be won in the courts (but ultimately doesn't matter).

Further, I think they're damaging any good will they had by forcing police action (justified or not). You don't look like a hero to middle america me by getting maced and resisting arrest. You look like a hero to other protest douchebags, but I think other people like me just see those people as just "wanting to get arrested."

The police are definitely part of the 99%. The OWS movement should be doing everything it can to work within the local law enforcement systems (which I would argue are probably too small to be seriously corrupt in all places but the largest cities) in order to ingratiate themselves with people who actually CAN make a difference. To use an extreme example, look at how effective Egyptian protests were when they actively welcomed the military and made sure they were on the same side.

In short, this whole fight to occupy specific places seems entirely beside the point (and a PR mistake). The movement should be larger and less combative with "boots on the ground" folks.

And it needs to translate into a political movement before all goodwill and momentum is lost. I have to hand it to the Tea Party; they managed to take a cause and organize to steer an election. OWS could learn a thing something from them.


Wednesday, September 21. 2011
A burger is a tremendously bold item to put on a menu. There are few items cooked so often by so many people on so many occasions. We've all had years of practice making them and have probably put down more than we'd like to admit. And a restaurant, at least to me, is a place that serves food that I (for whatever reason) am not able to readily reproduce at home (due to a better/rare ingredient, special knowledge, or raw skill). Placing a burger on a menu is an assertion that the chef knows how to make that item better than I can, better than my friends can, and better than my father can. That's a bold statement.

I'm not saying it can't be done. Far from it. There is a burger at Brewmasters (cherry marmalade and blue cheese -- shocking, I know) that is out of this world. It features two items that I do not keep on hand in my kitchen. But an exotic ingredient alone isn't enough. I nearly left half of a burger on the table at a particular establishment in the Cary area. They lacked execution.

So when I heard Ashley Christensen was opening a restaurant featuring a menu solely comprised of burgers, I was excited. The few times I've been to Poole's, the menu was imaginative & execution was spot on. It is one of the only places I so trust the staff that I will order plates chock-full of items I wouldn't normally consider palatable. I was optimistic that this would also be one hell of a dining experience. Sadly, the whole thing seemed quite underwhelming.

To take a quick tangent towards a less food-centric topic, I absolutely love the layout of the place. There's plenty of open floorspace to move around in. More seating might have been crammed in, but the flow would have been broken (or worse, it would have started to look like a cafeteria). In particular, the mega table in the middle where groups of varying sizes can sit is appealing. Fragmentation is going to happen, and a few seats will be lost. But that's better than constantly joining & separating 4-tops. And there are plenty of tables on the sides where more standard group sizes can sit. The whole seating philosophy seems very flexible.

And I actually like the style of service. Walk in. Put in your order & grab a number. The food will come out shortly. I felt less demanding of the wait staff (who were quite attentive). There's a low-key vibe to that which just works for me. If I saw somebody I knew at another table, I wouldn't feel weird at all getting up & joining them for a short bit (which in a more standard model, seems to throw the wait staff off a bit). Raleigh (and in particular downtown) is still a small town, so this is going to happen (and in fact, did). It's nice to have a place set up for that.

Now back to the food. In particular, the $9 "The Big House" burger. It was good. Moist, cheesy (though I did have a bite of a "The High & The Valley" which was a bit dry... I'm hoping that was a fluke). The flavors combined well. Was it transcendent? Not really. I mostly got "good, greasy cheeseburger" as the cheddar happens to be pretty powerful stuff. I'm not saying that's a bad thing, I'm just saying that I wouldn't be surprised if this came off a buddy's griddle pan he'd been using most of labor day to cook up burgers. And $9 can get you a few "practice burgers" at home. Oh, and if you're at home, you can actually cook a burger to whatever temperature you like, rather than being bound by (I would argue) overzealous health code regulations. I can't fault any restaurant for not being able to serve a medium-rare burger... I'm just saddened a bit (and I like my burgers a bit farther on the doneness scale). But I digress...

The fries were good. Very good. I might opt for slightly more pepper. And my fault for not choosing the malt vinegar aioli. The sweet chili sauce (good as it was, and as much as I love it) did not compliment the fries. But the fries themselves were everything I could have wanted. They had a dark golden brown exterior, were somewhat crunchy, light, but still maintained a definite potato characteristic. $4/half pound. Wait, what?

As much as I'd like to not go off the deep end on price, I'm headed that way for a bit. I get that you're probably not going there alone. But I do not need a $4 side. Split with another person & we're in the realm of reasonable. But that just seems like a weird price point. And splitting meal pieces among friends is always a little tough (especially when that price is too low to be made up by the standard, "well, I'll buy you a beer"). And then there's the fact that they're potatoes, possibly one of the cheapest food items out there (that keep forever). However, this particular restauranteur seems to know what she's doing. And if she would be better served by lowering that price, it's in chalk. That should be easy enough to change.

As a final note, I'd like to finish with what I hope to see: a rotating menu. The constant change is what makes Poole's so exciting and a place I don't feel bad about frequenting multiple times. I know I'm going to get something different. Chalk board menus make me hope that's going to happen & we haven't hit a new season since the opening. It's also possible the menu hasn't changed to give more people a chance to try multiple items off of the "opening menu." But I hope to see some new burgers. I'd like to see burgers that will really get me excited or thinking, "now I have NEVER thought to put that in/on a burger." I'm holding out hope that Ms. Christensen has a few tricks up her sleeve (she's certainly got the talent). Reserved optimism is my current take on Chuck's. Let's see what happens a month or two down the road.

Beurre Noir

Monday, July 4. 2011

  • Shrimp lightly floured, sauted in EVOO

  • pasta

  • Berre noir with rice vinegar

  • possibly caramelized onions?

Home automation: Phase 1

Thursday, June 2. 2011
I'm cheap. Even if saving energy wasn't in vogue, I'd still be all about it. Excess energy use is just money out of my pocket. And since I'm one of those analytical types, I'm all about systematically reducing my monthly bills. And since we're all a bit strapped for cash & worried about our environmental impact, maybe I can help some other people save some green (money is green.. the planet is green.. GET IT?!?).

The ultimate goal is a completely wired house capable of making decisions for me. It should tell me, for instance, that weather is rolling in and I should close my windows. Or that I have my windows open and the a/c is on. But that's all a bit ambitious right now.

I like the kickstarter idea of well defined projects with end-goals. So my first goal is better a/c management. I hope to reduce my overall energy consumption (and utility bill) by making smarter decisions about my a/c usage without sacrificing comfort. And measure that change.

Programmable thermostats are good. And they're cheap. But they're not very smart. Wouldn't it be cool to know about how long it takes your house to cool off, based on past attempts? And wouldn't it be nice to tell your house what time you'll be coming home so that it can be at the right temperature right as you walk in the door? Programmable thermostats fall a bit short in those areas. Oh, and the programmable thermostats can't tell you the power consumption.

So how is this to be accomplished? A buddy of mine set up a computer-controlled thermostat. It's mostly there. It was basically a USB-controlled relay (using phidget boards). And that (or an arduino-controlled relay) is the first part. Fortunately, thermostat wiring is brain-dead easy. You basically connect a couple of leads and a 24 volt signal (on most systems) travels to a transformer, which controls the system. Now, it's a little more complicated than that, but since systems vary, that's about as specific as I'm getting.

The new hardware I'd like to incorporate is some means of measuring the power going to my a/c unit. I hate the idea that I 1) can't see a live power draw for my whole house and 2) I'm incapable of figuring out which circuits are responsible for most of my power consumption. Current transducers seem like the 2-birds-1-stone fix. Wrapping around current lines, they give a pretty good idea of how much AC current is flowing through a circuit at a given time WITHOUT having to cut the line & add a device. And because line voltages are pretty standard, calculating power is pretty easy. And while we're down there, I can probably throw a temperature/humidity sensor in the crawl space to make sure it'd proper for wine cellaring ;-)

So then there's the software. Which is really my thing. I see pretty much everything as data to be used. Logging power usage just seems natural to me when figuring out how to be cheap. And it'll let me finally settle that stupid "is it better to leave your a/c on all day or let it get really hot during the day" debate. I have my opinion, but I've never seen evidence either way. So by keeping that data, I can share it and put it to use.

My vision is to have a "my house" web application and android app. I'd even make an iOS app if somebody wants to give me a dev device and kit ;-). As a starting point, I'd like it to be able to turn on/off my a/c and heat. I'd like it to show current and historical power usage. And I'd like it to predict how long it will take to cool the house to a certain temperature (taking into consideration the outside temperature). I'd like to be able to say, "I'm coming home at 6; do what you need to so that the house is 78 degrees when I get home. Thanks." In the future, I'd like it to adjust according to weather predictions.

Sound cool? I think it's a good little project.

So you wanna buy a house?

Thursday, April 29. 2010
Why not make it a condemned house? Go for broke. Yea, I think I'll try that.

Note to self

Wednesday, September 9. 2009
Brew this.