Saturday, June 30, 2007

Treo 755p Review

So, after all of the pain that I went through to get my Treo 755p, what do I think of it?

Well, it ain't no iPhone. And that's okay with me. Let's start with the physical features. It's slightly smaller than my boss's Treo 700p, and unlike the 700, it has no visible antenna. The chassis has a slightly rubberized blue coating, which makes me believe that it has a little extra durability. In fact, in jumping over a high step yesterday, my phone came flying out of my shirt pocket and went skidding across the pavement. I was worried that I had already killed it, but it showed no sign of wear or problems.

I like the Qwerty-style keyboard. It's less awkward to use than I expected it to be, and while I generally avoided text messages before, now it feels almost like sending a quick email. In fact, the software treats text messages almost like an email conversation, even including an inbox with messages sorted chronologically by contact person.

The buttons above the keyboard feel like a perfect marriage between the old Palm-style button layout and a traditional cell phone button layout. I have yet to open the manual, but using the extra functionality (shift keys, alt keys, etc) was obvious and intuitive. The number keys share buttons with letters, but in most cases, the phone can tell which you're trying to use and use it correctly without having to use the alt key.

I've always kind of liked Palm OS, but I've never liked only being able to use one program at once. I was afraid that when I was on a call, I wouldn't have access to anything else on the phone. This was not the case. The phone will background the call application seamlessly while you do whatever else you need to do, such as sure the web while waiting on hold for customer service. When you need to go back to the call, you hit the key with a phone icon on it and you're back, with access to all of your call-related options. On-screen options to hold, switch between call waiting calls, hang up, etc are easy to use.

Few of the Palm applications that I've gotten so used to on both of my Sony Clies are available. Of course, as with any cell phone these days, Bejewelled is installed. For those who are unfamiliar with this game, it's vaguely reminiscent of Tetris, and I imagine almost as fun if you're drunk. If you're sober, it is more likely to make you wish you had Tetris instead, or some other game that didn't suck nearly as much as Bejewelled.

There is no import/export application, other than the IR port (which I haven't gotten to work yet with other Palms, including a 700p) and the Blue Tooth application (which I also haven't gotten to work yet). My J-Pilot application in Linux refuses to talk to my phone as of yet, so I haven't been able to install anything or sync with my notebook. For a company that's so excited about Linux that they're dropping the old Palm OS altogether in favor of it, they sure did a lousy job so far with Linux support. The connection on the phone end for the USB cable is bulky and awkward. Would it have been so hard to just give me a standard mini-USB port and some built-in driver to make the phone act as a standard USB storage device?

The phone does have an MP3 player, and accepts mini-SD memory cards. Unfortunately, CostCo only sells SD and micro-SD cards right now, and not a whole lot of places carry the 4gb mini-SD, so it looks like I'll be buying a few 2gb cards from NewEgg. Fortunately, it also lets me listen to music while doing other things, plus I can turn the screen off and still listen to music, so it saves me from having to get a separate MP3 player. Unfortunately, I don't know how to manually turn the radio off on the phone, so I don't know if it's technically legal to use on airplanes. But I do know that the radio can be turned off without turning off the rest of the phone because the phone has actually asked me at least a couple of times if I would like to turn the phone radio back on. The earbuds/hands-free set included with the phone is a little hard on the ears, but I've gotten used to it.

The phone has a camera, but it's about as useful (or useless) as most phone cameras. Good for quick pictures of your friends, but not much else. You can send pictures to your friends other phones, but if you don't have a plan that includes that option, then the phone will prompt you to sign up for it with an additional monthly fee.

The phone's email client seems to support multiple email accounts, and I've already set it up to check my work email for me. If it finds new messages, a little light flashes on the front of the phone to let me know there's an alert, and then I can download and read the email.

The web browser is laughable, but a far cry from that of my old V-180. It does work really well for Gmail though, which is largely what I use it for. Google Maps comes pre-installed on the phone, and something about it seems really, really cool. Unfortunately, I have yet to use it for anything other than playing around. There is a plan available from Sprint that lets me use the phone as a GPS, and with the travel that I do now, I may sign up for it.

The phone comes with IM support for AIM, MSN and Yahoo. I get the feeling that extra charges are associated with using these, but since I refuse to have anything to do with Yahoo or MSN, and I'm trying to get away from AIM as well, this is likely a moot point. I have attempted to install a couple of Jabber clients, but web-based Palm OS installs are tricky and thanks to a lack of import/export applications, I have no other way to get files on there. This phone lacks a file manager, and the free one that I downloaded from Sprint only supports SD cards, not the Palm device itself.

The ringstones are a joke. There is not a single ringtone that I can actually stand, and I have yet to find any through the Sprint store that don't make me want to hurl. I have yet to load any MP3's on the phone, but I suspect I can use one of those when that time comes. With luck, I'll be back to Dead Man's Party, just like my old phone.

The phone has something on it called Sprint TV, and if you're not signed up for a plan that supports it, there still are some free movie trailers that you can watch. The first time I tried to watch one, I was dropped into a page on the Sprint Store in the web browser that told me that I had a $15 media player in my shopping cart, and would I like to check out now? I cancelled of course, and then out of curiosity tried to watch the trailer again. This time it just played it. If I find that it charged me when I declined the offer, then I'm going to be really unhappy. The trailer itself was for The Bourne Ultimatum, which looks to be a good show so long as it's not nearly as choppy as the trailer. In short, watching TV on your phone is still pretty much a worthless prospect.

After playing with my phone, the first application that I installed was TuSSH. For those Linux geeks out there, this (or a similar SSH client for Palm) is essential. Because my old Sony Clie did not support the ESC key (even when you had TuSSH enter it for you), it was entirely useless for any kind of remote system administration. With my Treo, I can log into a bash prompt on any of my servers anytime I have a signal. And yes, I've already used this more than a few times.

My phone hasn't crashed yet, but friends of mine tell me that the more that I use it, the more it will crash on me. I've been hearing reports of this for years, and makes me sad that the Treo has become known for its instability among even its most loyal of users. I hope they did a better job on this one.

All in all, it's not a bad phone. I'm still pretty excited about it. In fact, I think I was more excited about getting this than I was when I heard the first iPhone announcements. The majority of the default applications are pretty crummy, but since it runs Palm OS, there are thousands of others already out there to choose from. Good luck getting them loaded from your Linux desktop. This was one thing that I hated about the iPhone: no 3rd-party applications. Period. What a waste. The large, somewhat mature library of existing apps for Palm OS already puts this phone ahead of the iPhone, at least as far as I'm concerned. I'm still searching for the right ones to use, but I'm sure they're out there. Initial problems aside, I'm looking forward to using this phone a lot.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Top Chef Miami

I finally did it. I finally got around to watching Top Chef. And believe it or not, I actually kind of liked it. No wonder everybody and their cat has been asking me if I've seen it. To those who have asked: Yes, I finally saw it. To their cats: Meow.

Last night my wife was watching Kathy Griffin on Bravo. We both really like her show, but we just kind of leave it on in the background a lot. When Top Chef came on afterwards, I didn't really even notice for the first ten or fifteen minutes. Fortunately, that TiVo kind of thing hooked up to our TV already had the beginning of the show cached, so I hit record and started over from scratch.

There are a few things that I think we need to talk about, that some of the contestants seemed to know, and some didn't. First of all, let's talk about the amuse bouche. Roughly translated, it means "happy in the mouth". It is basically a plated hors d'oeuvre, meaning just one or two bites, which is served as sort of a pre-appetizer. A lot of really nice restaurants will have one already sitting at your place when you sit down, and some will wait until just after you sit down to serve them, occassionally presenting them as "a gift from the chef".

If you present your amuse on a fork, or on a spoon (I especially like the Oriental soup spoons for this), that's okay, so long as that fork or spoon is on a plate. If you just present it alone on a plate, that's okay too. It can be hot, it can be cold. It should be flavorful, but not too strongly so. If you would like to use bleu cheese, that's fine. But try and find a roquefort or a gorgonzola (both a little milder), rather than a stilton or a Maytag (both a little harsher). And go easy on it. If your amuse requires more flatware interaction than as a transportation device from your plate to your mouth, then you need to rethink it. Serving a salad inside an apple might be okay if you can pull it off with a crab apple. Guess who wasn't surprised when the guy trying to use a whole apple to make an amuse bouche was sent home at the end of the show.

I can't even tell you how sick I am of hearing the phrase "surf and turf". For the uninitiated, it means part seafood (surf) and part land animal (turf). Cute, huh? As the judge said, this dish is something that chefs use to show off. I strongly believe that this is true, because that is the only possible purpose that it could even remotely serve. It's a buzzword, used by chefs trying to prove themselves against who knows what. A good chef can easily pull off a proper surf and turf, but a good chef does not need to do so to prove himself.

That said, let's talk about the "surprise" judge. Everytime I hear the phrase "Top Chef", I think about all of my friends who have asked, "hey, did you see Anthony Bourdain on Top Chef last night?" I believe he's an obvious choice for such a position because he's famously rude, daring, opinionated and brutally honest. He's a good chef, but he would probably be the first to tell you that it was his writing, and his eventual television career that has been turning him into a household name, not necessarily his food.

If you're going to appear on a show such as Top Chef, you need to do your homework. Not just about the food, but about potential judges. If you've done your homework on the judges, you would know to expect somebody like Anthony Bourdain. And if you've done your homework on Bourdain, there are a few things that you would know, both from his books and from his shows.

If something has happened in the kitchen that would make you watch to call the health inspector, or even the police, then Bourdain has seen it happen. He has openly told stories of his young, criminal mind. That said, I don't know that you will ever meet a more honest chef. He will do the job that he has been hired to do, and he will do it well. He will tell his cooks if they need to shape up, possibly spending the entire night yelling at them, and at the end of the night will be sitting next to them at the bar. This is because he knows that it's just work, nothing to get your feelings hurt about, and he hasn't deluded himself into thinking otherwise.

Bourdain also likes good, honest food. If your mom makes a good meatloaf, he won't tell you it's crap just because you won't find it at the French Laundry. He would tell you that it's a good meatloaf, because he knows that it's a good meatloaf. But if you make crap and try to pass it off as anything else, he's like a shark that's just smelled blood in the water.

If you've read A Cook's Tour, then you know why Bourdain has become famous for eating questionable food. I don't think he wakes up in the morning and thinks, "I'm going to have an omelet with monkfish scales and ants." He started visiting all of those places and eating all of that weird food because he thought it would score him a book deal and make him a lot of money. Trying to make a dish to please Anthony Bourdain just by merit of being weird will not win him over. If you can make a dish taste good, he will pay attention. If you can make a weird ingredient taste good, he will be impressed. If you use a weird ingredient just because it's weird, you're dead.

As I suspected, Top Chef is just like Shear Genius. Or more correctly, Shear Genius is just like Top Chef. Unfortunately, this season of the Next Food Network Star is also exactly like Top Chef. This is disappointing to me on so many levels. Food Network is the authority on cooking shows. To see them abandon their previous format in favor of just copying anybody else is disappointing. It makes me wonder if they're losing the culinary authority that they have worked so hard to establish. I hope that The Network That Emeril Built (TM) doesn't turn into The Network That Bravo Destroyed.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

NFNS: Bye-bye, Colombe

Hey, guess who I'm not going to miss! For somebody who's gotta know her head is on the chopping block, and who is trying to present herself as some sort of foodie, and in fact a foodie that loves fresh, natural foods... why would anybody in such a position buy jarred cheese spread, and claim that her dish was fresh because she made a salsa to stir into it? Bye-bye, Colombe.

I'm a little bummed about Tommy. Yes, I was getting tired of him. If he had really applied himself, maybe he would have made it further both with me and with the competition. But the guy really missed his family, and that just made it rough. I think that going home was whathe really wanted and needed. The Japanese has a phrase that I think describes his going home, "shigata ga nai". In other words, there was really no avoiding it.

Did I or did I not tell you that Salmon was going to screw up? And fortunately, it wasn't really critical. He messed up one challenge and nailed the other. Rather than taking the glass-half-full view of things, the panel called him inconsistent. But the fact that the challenge that he nailed was the second one was a good thing. I suspect he'll make it to the top four.

Paul is out. Next episode, he's going home. If it wasn't for Tommy's growing homesickness, I think that Paul would have gone home this time. Not only was he serving undercooked burgers, he didn't know the exact minimum tempurature that they should have been. "160 or something" was not an answer that a caterer should have given. 165F, people. Anyone with a food handler's permit should have that number engraved into their brains.

Adrian is warming up. The way he talked to the crowd was exactly what I said he needed to do. His food was killer, and his personality was awesome. I'll be surprised if he's not one of the last two contestants.

Jag is getting friendlier, and his food is consistently awesome. It's going to take a while for him to make a comeback in my mind from his earlier behavior, but he is making progress. I'm going to guess he'll make it at least to the top three.

Amy and Rory are at about the same position in my book, with Rory moving up and Amy slipping. Rory seems more and more down to Earth, and her towel catching on fire reminds me of a couple of my own personal incidents in my first class in cooking school. Amy seems to know her stuff, but she needs to tone it down a bit. The only person that I know of on Food Network that can successfully cram that much information into that little time is Mario Batali. Other people, like Alton Brown, can cram a lot of information, but it takes a whole episode. If Rory can keep getting better, or if Amy can start improving again, I could see either of them making it to the top three, maybe even the top two.

Mark Shuttleworth on Microsoft Negotiations

Mark Shuttleworth, the founder of Canonical and Ubuntu Linux, made an interesting post yesterday concerning rumors about a potential MS/Ubuntu deal much like the one that Novell is catching so much flack for with SUSE. I've always liked reading thoughts by Mark. He seems genuine, more so that just about anybody that I've ever met. He states his goals clearly, and his goals always seem to be to make things better for people. What's more, his words are often elegant, and lead me to consider things in a light I hadn't yet considered. In particular, this quote caught my attention:

"A promise by Microsoft not to sue for infringement of unspecified patents has no value at all and is not worth paying for. It does not protect users from the real risk of a patent suit from a pure-IP-holder (Microsoft itself is regularly found to violate such patents and regularly settles such suits). People who pay protection money for that promise are likely living in a false sense of security."

I now know why Windows 95 was code-named "Chicago". Microsoft has placed itself in the protection racket business, much like the Chicago gansters of old. Aren't protection rackets illegal? Apparently not when lawyers write the terms. While Microsoft has become the bully who has found that the teachers who watch the kids at recess are a lot less likely to spot bullying by words rather than by physical actions, Ubuntu is turning into the kid who the bullies try to mess with, and then back off when they realize they can't do anything to them. Of course, bullies tend to be stupid enough to try more severities when they don't get their way, so maybe we'll see an Ubuntu vs. Microsoft fight in our future.

I think when it all comes down to it, this is why I still prefer Ubuntu. I could install Gnome on another distribution and have my notebook work pretty much the same way as before. Red Hat, SUSE, Debian and others are all fine distributions. But with Ubuntu, I feel like I finally have somebody looking out for me.

Just thoughts.


This year's PLUG BBQ has come and gone. It was a good chance to see a lot of people that I generally only see on IRC. Incidentally, I propose for next year's event we find someplace that sells "Hello, My IRC Name Is ________" stickers. Knowing somebody's real name wasn't always helpful.

Once again, I brought flank steak. I also brought pork tenderloin. And once again, I was asked for recipes. Everyone assumed that I was going to post them, but they wanted to make sure. So here goes:

Lime Flank Steak Marinade

8 limes, juiced
2 guajillo chiles, dried
1 tablespoon whole peppercorns
2 tablespoons pickling salt
2 bay leaves
2 tablespoons whole achiote
1 teaspoon whole cumin
1/2 cup Canola oil

Put your trimmed flank steak in a gallon zip-top bag and pour in the juice. Put the plastic bag inside another container, just in case something leaks. Marinate your flank steak for about 3 to 4 hours before grilling. Make sure you turn the flank steak at least once while it is marinating. I generally prefer to grill my flank steaks to medium rare, but just in case we had some squeemish guests, I took this one to medium. Make sure to cut very thinly, on a bias, against the grain.

Notes: Of all the marinades, this was easily my favorite. I may very well do another flank steak exactly like this in the near future. The flavor and the seaoning were both perfect.

Dr. Pepper Pork Marinade

12 oz Dr. Pepper
1/4 cup Canola oil
1 teaspoon whole peppercorns
2 tablespoons pickling salt
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon prepared yellow mustard

Pineapple Pork Marinade

6 oz pineapple juice
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons Canola oil
1/2 teaspoon whole peppercorns
1 tablespoon pickling salt
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon prepared yellow mustard

For both marinades: Pour it all into a bag, seal, shake to combine. The mustard will keep the oil and the liquids from seperating too much. Marinate for as much as an hour beforehand, but try not to go much more than that. The only reason my Dr. Pepper marinade us twice as big is because that's how big the can was. This should have enough salt to do a little brining while it marinates. To grill, your only goals need to be to cook the pork through, while still keeping it moise. The brine should help a lot with that.

Notes: Both tenderloins tasted good, but I couldn't tell them apart. Additionally, I would have liked to have had a little more saltiness. Perhaps I should have marinated longer.

Tequila Lime Death Sauce

50 ml tequila
2 limes (juice)
7 oz/wt canned chipotle in adobe
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tsp ground cumin
1 bay leaf

Combine half of the lime juice with everything else in a saucepan and bring to a low simmer until most of the liquid is evaporated. Remove the bay leaf and pour everything, plus the remaining lime juice, into a food processor or blender and puree. Chill before serving.

Notes: I think I may have wasted a tequila mini. I didn't taste it at all, nor did I taste the lime. I think my next batch needs to have more of both, perhaps reduced before adding the chipotle. I also think I should have sauteed the garlic in a wee bit of oil, perhaps with a diced shallot, before deglazing with the liquid. Still, the sauce was intense, and at about my level of heat. My wife could barely smell it, it was so hot.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

NFNS: Rory Makes a Comeback

A week in Austin left me with a TiVo full of shows to try and catch up on. Fortunately, I did have Food Network in my hotel room, and I was able to see this week's installment of The Next Food Network Star a couple of times before coming home.

This week's episode revealed a lot about the contestants. I still don't like Jag, but I can respect him as a cook, and possibly as a chef. The man has proven that he's got the skills in the kitchen, and he's used to working fast and well. His self-serving attitude that was so prevalent in the first episode has softened, but not enough.

Amy seems to be a decent cook, and the camera loves her. I think that she has a great deal of potential, but she really needs to apply herself. With a time and effort, I think that she could have an excellent shot at being the next Sara Moulton. She could use a class in plating presentation though, even more than me.

Paul is a spaz. He needs to learn to get it together and stop being so nervous. His cooking is so-so, and his personality gets old. I'm ready to see him go home. Speaking of going home, why hasn't Colombe been sent home yet? I'm trying really hard to be nice about people that are into yoga and all of that other new age crap, and she's giving me a lot of openings to be really mean. She's easily the ditziest person that I have ever seen on Food Network.

I'm kind of liking Adrian. He could seriously be the next Tyler Florence. All he needs to do is learn how to smile, or learn how to make you think he's smiling when he's really not. Also, a lesson in garde manger wouldn't be wasted on him. If he can figure out how to just be himself instead of pushing vegetarian dishes that really don't suit him or his personality, then I think he'll have a really good shot.

I'm kind of tired of Tommy. He still seems like a nice guy, but not so much as he did before. I don't think I would notice much difference if he decided to walk around the kitchen blindfolded. I think he would have just as much direction as usual.

Rory and Salmon rocked the show. Salmon still seems to have this kind of easy-going personality that makes me want to like him instantly. His food is excellent, and he learns from the reviews. Rory has proven herself. She does have personality, and she can cook a mean rib, from what I can tell. I wouldn't mind seeing her win.

I believe that Nikki is the only reason that Columbe didn't go home this episode. Nikki seems like a great person, when she's not the focus of the camera. She's so tightly wound, it's almost painful to watch. Apparently, she also needs to work on her jerk. Sweet is okay, but it ain't jerk if it ain't got kick. But now that Nikki is gone, I wouldn't be surprised if Columbe is the next out the door.

Unfortunately, Murphy's Law suggests that Salmon will screw up in an upcoming episode, but I hope it's not too critical. He's still my favorite. Runners up in my head: Adrian, Rory, Amy.

Teaching in Austin

This week marked my first visit to Austin, TX. Guru Labs flew me out to Austin to teach the Linux Fundamentals class. To be honest, I was pretty nervous. Not so much about the class itself, really. I was nervous about driving in Texas. The only thing I knew about it was that supposedly signalling a lane change was a sign to other drivers to make every effort to cut you off and keep you from actually moving over. As it turns out, this only happened once, and the guy that did it was some redneck that was erratically driving a rusty old pickup. Unfortunately for him, as soon as I saw what he was about to do, my mind dropped into Boston gear and I made my move. His failure seemed to phase him less than a fruitfly. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

My trip started with an hour delay while I waited for my plane to arrive from San Francisco. The plane was small and cramped, and I ended up sitting next to a guy who seemed as interested in talking to me as I was to talk to him. The extent of our conversation occurred when I had to ask him to move so that I could make my way to the cramped restroom. The in-flight meal consisted of drink service, and my "Grilled Cheese Crackers" were as disappointing as my spicy tomato juice. That's okay, it was about what I expected.

The flight itself was uneventful, as were my dealings with the car rental agency when I got there. My itinerary said I was relegated to a compact car, and my mind was already imagining the tiny mid-90's Geo Metro that my old roommate used to drive. Imagine my surprise when I found a Chevy Malibu in the parking space that matched my keychain. Almost as surprising was that it seemed to bear no resemblance to the car that I had always associated with Barbie. It had excellent handling and mileage, and I only had to fill it up once, on the way to return it.

Finding my hotel did not work so well. My Google Map directions were vague, and my familiarity with the Austin road system was non-existant. I was quickly lost, and when I found a hotel that I thought was the Austin Hotel Courtyard, I discovered it was actually the South Austin one. The training center was a good 20 minute drive from my intended hotel, so I thought I'd ask if they could call the NW Austin Courtyard and squeeze me in. They told me it shouldn't be a problem, as the NW location was currently only at 45% capacity. They printed me clear directions and I was on my way. When I arrived, I discovered that the NW location was indeed at 45% capacity for that night, but was overbooked for Tuesday and Wednesday nights. Worse, my first night at the airport location was already paid for and non-refundable. I drove over to the training center so that I would know how to find it, and then found my way back to the airport location.

During this adventure, the three locations called each other a few times. When I arrived at my intended hotel, I was warmly greeted by the woman at the desk. I told her I was checking in, and that my name was Hall, and she brightened with recognition and said, "ah, Mr. Hall!" I checked in, called the wife, called the boss, and walked over to the Waffle House which shared the parking lot.

The Waffle House is a chain which is not to be found in any place in Utah that I've ever been. It had a small-time diner feel, especially the waitresses. I doubt there were much more than a couple dozen seats in the whole place, many of which faced into the open kitchen. I ordered a nice southern-looking meal, adding a slice of pecan pie to my order. I looked on the credit card receipt for a tip line, which I always cross out when ordering takeout, and didn't see one. The waitress knew better, and when I handed the signed receipt back to her, she pointed out where it was and informed me that I should always write a big zero there and cross it through the middle (which I always do). She started talking about some report that she had seen on the news, where some waitress had filled in some unearthly amount in that space and made themselves a huge little tip. I thanked her for her advice and headed back to my hotel room to enjoy my meal and turn in for the night.

Monday found me in adrenaline mode. Things went wrong, as often happens on the beginning day of such events, and I had to keep on my toes in order to stay ahead. I left my hotel at six in the morning, in an effort to avoid morning rush hour. I skipped breakfast, partly because I was apparently staying at the one Courtyard by Marriott which charges for continental breakfast, and partly because they didn't even open until 6:30am. Nothing was open near the training center except for the vending machines, and my energy for the day came from a can of Dr. Pepper and a bag of BBQ chips. I was so worn out by the end of the day that for dinner, I just stopped by the gas station next to the hotel and picked up a couple of cheap taquitos, a couple of candy bars (one for emergencies) and a bottle of Gatorade.

The next day I finally discovered that the training center had their own continental breakfast, and that would become the source of my breakfasts and lunches for the remainder of the week. The training center, St. Edward's Learning Center, was awesome. They were nothing but helpful with my technical issues, even going so far as to bring in a second projector when they decided that the one in there wouldn't meet my needs. Of course, you could immediately tell that they were going to be good. All three of the guys that I worked with had beards.

One of these bearded men, whom we will call Ed, looked vaguely familiar to me. A lot of people do, so I ignored it. I found out later that week that I very well might have seen him before, launching rockets on the Discovery Channel. Apparently amateur rocketry is a huge hobby of his, and his collection of stand mixers that made me intensely jealous is used entirely for mixing rocket fuel.

I know I should have gotten out and sampled the local cuisine. I was going to, really! But then I discovered a place called World Market, which had gourmet foods in the back. I also discovered a Whole Foods store nearby, and between them and a local grocery store, I may very well have spent over $100 on different chocolates. I also bought some excellent olive oils which I had to ship back home, because the terrorists have successfully kept me from bringing them onto the plane. And to think one of the bottles was Morraccan too. Terrorists suck.

The class that I taught was a lot of fun. Due to certain errors (none of which, thankfully, were the fault of me or my company), I only had five students. Two of them sat right up front, and regular messed up their own and each other's computers, both intentionally and accidentally. They were a lot of fun. They were always the first ones there, and generally the last ones to leave. They seemed to like playing with Linux so much that they both went home and downloaded OpenSUSE and started installing it. I suspect they might download Ubuntu before too long and install it as well. On the last day, they managed to track down my Ubuntu cookies, without me ever mentioning them. One of them became fascinated with the concept of Ice Weasel, and took notes on where to download it and how to compile it, just so that he could tweak with his Linux friends who were still running Firefox.

On the first day, I told the class that not all Linux/Unix geeks were crusty old men with beards; just the more attractive ones. I'm still not really sure why they all laughed. Stuart thought that I must have had something funny behind me, and one of our salespeople told me that they were probably just jealous of my beard. Whatever the source, I think everybody involved had fun during the class, at least at some point. I certainly enjoyed teaching it.

There were two things that I came to realize while I was teaching the class. First of all, it can be really difficult sometimes helping a person understand a concept that can really be forein to them. A couple of students were extremely new to Linux, and our fundamentals class probably goes at least a little more in-depth than most. But, as I came to fully realize during the class, helping that person understand such a thing is very likely the most rewarding thing about teaching it. I always thought that spending all day in Linux would be a dream job. As it turns out, giving somebody else the knowledge and ability to do so is even better.

Now I'm sitting in the Austin Airport waiting for my flight. By the time I post this, I will probably have been home for several hours. I can't wait until the next class that I get to teach. I think I like being a trainer.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Next Food Network Star

Last night was the airing of the first episode of the third season of the Next Food Network Star. Wow, that's a lot of "of the". Anyway, Food Network seems to have decided upon a different method for finding this year's star. The first couple of seasons were based on training the candidates on how to host a cooking show, and those who didn't listen well enough to the training didn't make it.

Season One found us watching a few very competent personalities, and a few that would have needed some help had they made it. As luck would have it, a couple of caterers destined to serve their time demonstrating Sunday brunch would make the cut past a few far more talented cooks. Season Two introduced a variety of incompetents, led by the highly talented Guy Fieri. You could tell almost from Day 1 that this man had the perfect personality, and sure enough, he's already hosted a special on gadgets and in addtion to Guy's Big Bit (the show that he won), he is well into his second series, Diners, Drive-ins and Dives.

Season Three feels extremely familiar after watching Shear Genius with my wife. In Shear Genius, several hair stylists are made to live with each other, with almost no contact with the outside world, competing in a manner which causes scores of friction between the contestants. The two stylists which were obviously the most talented fell apart when teamed together, and were shunned from the show before they had a chance to win.

Food Network has decided to house eleven contestants together, divided into guys' and girls' quarters. The first episode was two hours long, rather than the one hour that we should expect for the remainder of the season. Rather than putting these cooks through televised training as before, they are given challenges with seemingly hidden objectives.

Okay, you and I know that the judges are watching their every move, so it should be no surprise that feedback is promptly provided. But several of the people have already expressed surprise the the first challenge, a potluck demonstrating the cook's personality, would result in such brutal reviews from the judges.

The second and third challenges were both wedding-related. They were brought into a room with The Great Duff Goldman, given some cake rounds, and asked to decorate them as wedding cakes. One whole person actually attempted something that actually looked like a wedding cake, while the others went at their cakes like kids with a new box of crayons. I can't say I'm the most talented wedding cake decorator in the world, but I would have at least tried to do something weddingish.

The winner of that challenge and the winner of the potluck challenge each became team captains, and were asked to pick teams. Amy (the wedding cake winner) headed up the green team, and made an effort to pick all of the caterers. Colombe (the potluck winner) headed up the orange team. Early on it was clear that the orange team had no chance, and while the green team ran like a well-oiled machine, the orange team was a broken down Ford barely held together by duct tape and false hope.

Two contestants were chosed to leave the show at the end of the episode. While I would like to have known Patrick better, Vivian was ditsy and seemed to expect to get by on her looks. The big surprise to everybody (including, it would seem, the rest of the challengers) was that Colombe was not sent home to her yoga studio, as a broken pile of poor team management.

I also would not have minded seeing Jag hit the road. Every time he opens his mouth or glares at the camera, my dislike of his grows like a field of weeds. He's out for blood, and it shows. I don't know about you, but that's not the type of person that I'm going to waste my evenings watching.

Tommy needs to show some backbone. His skills seem to be lacking, but he sticks in there anyway. I like him, if mostly for surviving Colombe. I'm really starting to like Salmon, he seems like a great guy. I'd invite him to my weekend BBQ in a heartbeat. Rory seems to have something that she wants to prove, and has yet to do so. It remains to be seen how much talent she has, but I can see the judges shutting her down early.

Nikki actually seemed to be pouting at certain points, and I doubt whether she'll be able to handle the pressure for long. I'm starting to like Paul, Adrien and Amy, but I haven't seen a whole lot of them yet. Time will tell how this competition shapes up. Hopefully we don't have another Sandra Lee or Barefoot Contessa on our hands.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Pizza Hut Review

I have a guilty pleasure. I don't feel all that bad about it, because I think we all have guilty pleasures. This one happens to be found at Pizza Hut. Every so often, nothing sounds better than a medium pepperoni pizza with pan crust. The closest location to my home is just down the street, but I always have them deliver anyway, for two reasons:
  • This location offers Internet ordering, minimizing personal contact with undesirables who might be working that night.
  • The street in question is University Parkway in Orem, UT, where my wife and I see an accident occur almost every day.
In nearly two years of having pizza delivered to this location, I think I can accurately list things that Pizza Hut does well, and things that "need improvement".

Things That Pizza Hut Does Well
  • Medium pepperoni pizza with pan crust
Things at Pizza Hut that "Need Improvement"
  • Pizza with any toppings other than pepperoni
  • Pizza that is not "medium size"
  • Pizza with crust other than pan crust
  • Anything that involves the word "buffalo"
  • Anything that involves blue cheese
  • Drink selection
  • Ability to delivery order within quoted estimated time
  • Ability to bring entire order on first delivery
  • Ability to follow delivery instructions
Every order that I have made with Pizza Hut in recent years has been experimental. I don't even bother ordering any pizza other than the aforementioned medium pan pepperoni, nor do I bother with sides. Pizza Hut and their kind have introduced a variety of disastrous offerings to their menu over the years, and I have given up hoping that any of them will ever result in anything that remotely resembles success.

Tonight's adventure involved my first successful attempt to sample their blue cheese dressing. In past orders, I erroneously believed that menu descriptors such as "boneless buffalo chicken with blue cheese" meant that blue cheese would be included as a dipping sauce. Tonight I ordered something labelled "blue cheese dipping sauce", hoping that it would be true to its name.

The delivery man showed up on time, an event that has also never before occurred. Our delivery instructions state "back door only", and past deliveries involved the delivery man knocking on the sliding door in the back of the house, rather than the back door. I didn't give this guy the chance, because my wife thought she heard knocking on the door, and when I went to investigate, he was just pulling up.

He was friendly and eager to please, also a rarity. Most of their drivers make me wonder whether old mushrooms are kept around the pizza kitchen for snacking, if you know what I mean. He handed me my pizza, had me sign the receipt, and was about to head back to his car when I asked about the dipping sauce. He told me that hey hadn't said anything about dipping sauce, but that it was probably in the pizza boxes. He even stuck around to make sure, and when it wasn't there, he promptly handed me a cash refund for the sauce (okay, it was a whole dollar), told me he would be right back with the dipping sauce, and took off without even waiting for the tip that I would have given him anyway.

Twenty minutes later, he showed back up, handed me the dipping sauce, and turned to leave without waiting for payment for it or a tip. I had already decided that if he did show up with the sauce that I would tip him well, because it was obviously not his fault that the sauce had been forgotten, so I called him back and handed him his tip. He asked if I needed change (for a tip?), and I told him no.

The blue cheese dipping sauce was atrocious. The pepperoni pizza was as good as ever. The sauce isn't really anything special, but it's not bad either. The cheese certainly isn't anything to write home about. But the crust is excellent, and I have always loved the way the pepperoni comes out on their medium pizzas.

It turns out Pizza Hut can do one thing really well, and occassionally they hire good people as well. Because of this, I do have some faith that one day they can get their act together on everything else. Let's just hope it happens sooner than later.