Tuesday, November 27, 2007


Apparently I need to work on my blog's readability. Am I supposed to stop using words like "apparently" and "readability" I wonder? I can only hack the algorithm if I know the algorithm. :-(

alternative text here

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Scone Recipe

I had a request for my scone recipe. If I had a dollar for every time that I have been asked for this recipe, I would be rich. Well, OK, not rich, but I might have a nice watch or something. I am going to put it here so that I never have to answer the question again. :-)

Originally from The Breakfast Book by Marion Cunningham - one of the best and most used cookbooks that I own. This book is how I fell in love with steel cut oats (via the overnight double-boiler method) among other things.

The original recipe calls for dried fruit, but I omit that at least as often as I add it. These are the best scones that I have ever had. My only regret is that I have not been able to come up with a decent cinnamon chip adaptation (the Hershey's Cinnamon Chips are horrid - I don't want cinnamon flavored chocolate chips, I want something with more of a cinnamon-sugar lump consistency).

Cream Scones
  • 2C All purpose flour
  • 1T Baking powder
  • 1/4C Sugar
  • 1/2t Salt
  • 1 1/4C (i.e. 1.25) Heavy whipping cream
  • (Optional) 3/4C Dried fruit in small bits
  • ---------
  • 1-2T melted butter
  • Some extra sugar (I like sugar in the raw for the topping)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Mix all of the dry powdery ingredients together with a fork. Mix in the dried fruit if desired. Add the cream and mix with a fork until the dough starts to come together. Knead the dough 8 or 9 times.

Form the dough into a ball and flatten it out into a rough circle (on a floured board) 8 or 9 inches in diameter (hands are fine, you don't need a rolling pin). Brush some melted butter on the circle and sprinkle on some sugar.

Cut the dough like a pie into 12 slices (cut it in quarters, then each quarter into thirds).

Put the scones onto a baking sheet (separated by an inch) and bake for around 15 minutes. The edges are sensitive to burning, so watch them. I strongly recommend an air insulated baking sheet for this. Or double up on the sheets.

They are done when they are golden brown. Serve naked, or with butter and jam. And coffee of course. Lots of coffee.

These are amazing when fresh, but they don't keep for very long. Of course you won't be able to keep them for very long, so it doesn't really matter. Just don't plan on baking them a day ahead if you can avoid it.


Monday, September 24, 2007

Printer Economics

My venerable HP Deskjet 500 has finally died. I have had it since the early 90's I think. It was only the second printer I ever owned after my old Epson LX-80 dot matrix printer (which would probably still work just fine, actually, but whose output was no longer acceptable - even in the bad old days of the early 90's).

By died I don't mean that there is anything major wrong with it. The thing is a tank (like all things HP used to be). By died, I mean that little things have started to go wrong and it is most likely not worth the trouble and expense to fix it. The sheet lifter doesn't always work on the first try and for some reason the ink cartridges are clogging with depressing regularity.

I have two other printers. An Epson Stylus Photo R2400, which is completely brilliant for photography, but isn't really a general purpose printer, and some generic POS from Lexmark that I got for free when I bought my last computer, which is, umm, temperamental and very slow for basic printing.

The kind of stuff that I tend to print these days is very different from when I bought my old Deskjet. I want to print google maps and web content. Things that are mixed color and black and white. I want the color bits to look reasonable and the black print to be perfect. The only kind of printer that really meets this need is a color laser printer.

So I started looking at low end color laser printers to see if I could afford them yet, and lo and behold, I can. I settled on the HP Color Laserjet 2600n, which when I ordered it had a $100 instant rebate in effect, making the total 299.99. Less than half of what I paid for my Deskjet 500 way back when.

The cartridges that come with this printer are full new cartridges (not the crippled "teaser" cartridges that some manufacturers try to slip you) that should print around 2500 pages (mixed duty) before they need to be replaced.

Now here is where it gets funny. A set of replacement cartridges costs $323.96. That's right, more than the printer. So this printer is disposable. I can't believe that I live in a world where color laser printers are disposable.

The total cost for this printer works out to about 12 cents per page, which isn't bad.

I feel really sad for the environment, though. This kind of economic model is criminally stupid. Is there anything that isn't disposable anymore?


Monday, August 13, 2007

Staying On Track

This diagram says a lot. I started the year with South Beach and got discouraged when the losses flattened a bit. Then I switched to my current scheme of restricted caloric intake.

Are the losses starting to flatten again? How do I keep up the motivation for the last few pounds?

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Enterprise 2.0

I have worked in informatics for the same giant multi-national pharmaceutical company for the last 6 or 7 years. In that time I have come to take it for granted that the corporation is highly resistant to change, that experimenting with new technologies is not generally seen as a high value activity* (or at least there are enormous barriers), and that technologies and conveniences I have come to take for granted outside the firewall are simply not going to exist inside the firewall.

Web 2.0 is one of those things I take for granted doesn't exist. What blogs there are inside the corporation are announced via email (!), don't have advertised RSS feeds (!), aren't generally searchable (!), and if you can find the hidden RSS feed it is often out of sync with the blog (!) and the RSS alert comes long after the email alert (!). I don't even know where to start with how craptastic that is. As an application architect I have often thought of exposing useful alerts and information as RSS or Atom, but the masses have tightly controlled desktops with no RSS reader, so really, what's the point? One of the applications that I work on at the moment has a huge mashup of RSS feeds as one of its key features, but everything remotely "web 2.0ish" about it is carefully hidden from view, so as not to frighten the poor user.

Well, one aspect about working for a giant corporation is that there are always things going on that I would be interested in if only I knew about them.

It turns out there is a fairly large underground web 2.0 movement that I had no idea existed. Simon Revell and Jason Marshall are colleagues of mine from across the pond and they are leading the charge. Yay!

There are tons of challenges though. I don't think critical mass will ever be reached if we don't have RSS readers on LOTS of desktops, means of exploring the blogs that exist (by searching, by directories with page rank ability, whatever), important feeds that carry extremely useful or critical information (whether from applications or individuals doesn't matter), means of searching blogs, including the ability to search for blogs that LINK to my blog (Joel has a long discussion about why this is better than blog comments here and here), good blogging software that supports not only individual blogs, but group blogs (and that doesn't require reams of paperwork to get started), and good mashup software that works inside the firewall (e.g. yahoo pipes).


* I am talking about large scale experimentation. Individual experimentation is, in many circumstances including my own, encouraged. Very large scale experimentation is required, though, to try out any kind of social software.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Diet update - success so far

The diet has been going great. My last weigh in on 7/21 was 232 pounds, which is down 30 pounds for this latest diet (everything on the blog) and down 45 pounds since the beginning of the year. Yay!

The tools are:
  • The math and formulas already blogged
  • A Moleskine Cahier notebook for recording every calorie.
  • A Fisher Space Pen so that I always have a pen with me for said recording.
  • A digital balance, for calculating the caloric content of foods I prepare.
  • A copy of the Calorie King book for the caloric content of prepared and unlabelled foods.

Still a ways to go, but boy do I feel a lot better about myself. Seventeen more pounds and I am technically not even overweight anymore and I will be the lightest that I have been at any point in the last 10 years or more.


Monday, June 18, 2007

Phew! Back on the Bandwagon.

The birthday (and therefore the Buttercream Frosting) are over. Back to the diet. I did manage one day of simply remarkable calorie consumption - I need to keep that to a minimum. No measurable weight gain, fortunately.

That cake sure was tasty, though.

For reference, that frosting recipe spread on a 13X9 Duncan Hines yellow cake mix yields a cake with very close to 8000 calories total (7920). A 1/8th slice then is 990 calories. Yikes.


Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Buttercream Frosting

How ironic is it that I am posting about frosting immediately after posting about my weight loss? Every once in a while you have to indulge a tiny bit. This is the very best frosting that I have ever tasted and by far the best that I have ever made. I am putting it in the blog mostly so that I don't lose it. I almost had a heart attack when I couldn't find the recipe.

The diet is still going well. This is day 16 and I have lost 14 pounds.

6 cups powdered sugar
3/4 cup butter at room temperature
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup half-and-half
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons light corn syrup

Cream butter on medium in Kitchen aid. Gradually add powdered sugar, adding the salt after the first batch of sugar and alternating with the half-and-half and vanilla extract. Scrape the bowl often. At the end stir in the corn syrup (this keeps the frosting from crystallizing).

You can make this chocolate by adding 3 squares of melted cooled baking chocolate, but if you do, reduce the sugar a tad or it will be a bit dry. It would probably also work to add a dash more half-and-half, but I haven't tried that.

I know the chocoholics out there will hate me for saying this, but it is better without the chocolate. My wife vehemently disagrees with that, so your mileage may vary. :-)


Monday, June 11, 2007

On Weight Loss

I lost a lot of weight a couple of years ago using South Beach. The total including the pre-South Beach cutting back was around 60 pounds. That is a lot of pounds. I thought South Beach was a miracle.

Then just as I hit my target weight I found out Deb was pregnant. Then shortly after, we found out it was a highly problematic pregnancy. Then we had an infant undergoing lots of surgeries. And now we have a happy healthy toddler.

It all ultimately turned out great, but none of it did anything good for maintaining my weight, including the present happy healthy toddler situation. So now I am a fat pig again. As the weight was coming back on I made a couple of attempts to start South Beach again, but I found that phase I was never as effective as the first time and at some point I stopped believing that I could religiously follow the South Beach plan for the rest of my life.

So what to do? I needed a new strategy. I had tipped over the limit again from "overweight" to "obese" (i.e. my BMI was over 30) and something had to change.

I am a scientist, so in no way do I believe that there is anything ultimately magical about cutting back on carbs. It probably changes your biochemistry a little (OK, definitely), but ultimately what matters for weight loss is calorie reduction. Period. If you burn more calories than you eat, you will lose weight. If you burn fewer calories than you eat you will gain weight. Very simple.

So I have two choices, burn more calories (exercise more), or eat less. Did I mention that I have a toddler? Excercizing much more is out. I can try to keep myself in the "Active" column (defined as 4000-6000 steps by us pedometer wearing geeks), but there is no way I can rationally aspire to the "Very Active" column (>10,000 steps).

OK, so I need to eat less. How much less? I needed a rational no BS guide to optimal weight, calorie intake, and the like. I picked up the No-Fad Diet book as a resource.

Step 1. Validate the caloric intake estimates in the book. I am usually (OK, always, I am in the 99.99th percentile for height) off the chart and what applies to the little people doesn't always apply to me. The book said that to maintain my current weight I would have to be eating between 3300 and 3900 calories per day (or more as I was gaining). So I kept track for several days and sure enough, that was a pretty good estimate.

Step 2. Set a target weight. Did I mention that I am off the charts? Fortunately the charts are linear and I was able to do a linear regression to determine my ideal weight range. In case anyone else needs them, here are the formulas (height is in inches):
OWLow = 4.757895 * Height - 158.411
OWHigh = 5.733333 * Height - 192.66
Obese = 5.733333 * Height - 191.66
UW = 3.785714 * Height - 135.071

You are overweight in the OWLow to OWHigh range. You are obese at Obese and higher. And you are underweight below UW. So I am overweight when over 217 and the middle of my ideal range is 191. That seems low to me, but I'll go with it for now. 217 is definitely OK and if I start to look like a 6 foot 7 inch scarecrow as I move towards 191 I can always reevaluate.

Step 3. Set a target for daily caloric intake. Fortunately my weight isn't off the charts, so I could just look this up. At my ideal weight of 191, my caloric intake should be between 2483 (inactive) and 2865 (active) to maintain that weight indefinitely. I will most likely always eat more on weekends and I can more easily eat less during the week, so I set a target of 2400 calories (or less) on a seven day moving average, during the diet period. I will adjust this to 2800 or so after I lose the weight.

Step 4. Don't cheat. Hmmm, how to do this? I chose to be obsessive about writing down every calorie that I put in my mouth. So far that is working for me.

I have been doing this for 14 days now and I can report that I have dropped from a starting weight of 262 to 250. It is very exciting to lose 12 pounds, and very depressing to think that I have as much as 59 to go. Still, this is every bit as good as South Beach was the first time (so far) and I feel like I have control over the elements of success.


Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Hiring Resolution

I have been having so much fun reading the coding horror blog that I have decided it deserves a permanent link. Not that I always agree with what he says, or anything. But he manages to be thought provoking for sure.

He wrote a post a while back on the vast chasm between those who can program and those who cannot. That post, especially when you dig deep into some of the source material, really gets you thinking about who you should (or should not) hire. Now he has a very scary post up about how most programmers can't program that should be required reading for anyone who has to hire programmers.

"But wait!" I hear you cry. "That is just the opinion of a few jaded people, it isn't scary at all." Regrettably these observations dovetail very neatly with my real world experience. That is the scary bit.

So even though it is well after the beginning of the year, I have a new resolution. I hereby resolve to FIND OUT if people can actually program before I hire them or recommend them for hire.

Thursday, February 8, 2007

No. No. No. Do not even THINK of doing that.

Over on Coding Horror Jeff Atwood has a post up about a post that Raymond Chen had up. And I am going to comment on Jeff's post here, making this a meta meta blog, I guess.

The whole thing is talking about how dialog boxes confuse clueless users and they tend not to do the right things when they see them. OK, fine, I agree that that happens and that it is a very real problem with computer usability.

But then he (Jeff) makes this comment:

If you need to update, do so. if you need to download and apply security patches in the background, do so. If you need to send crash data, do so. Silently. And do it in the background, when the PC is idle-- without bothering the user.


I never want my computer to install anything unless I know that it is happening. I never want anything sent out of my computer unless I know that it is happening.

I run software to notify me when malicious software (and anything that does something on my computer that I am unaware of is malicious, even if Microsoft wrote it) tries to access the internet.

And I disable all automatic updates. Of course I want to have the latest security patches (and I do), but any install, no matter how innocent, can break my system and I at least want to be able to identify the culprit. If I install an IE patch and all of a sudden Firefox stops working or something, then at least I know what to blame and where to look for a fix.

That kind of automagical maintainance logic belongs in an appliance, not a general purpose computer. Only when all of the variables can be fully controlled does it make sense in my opinion. If it does exist in a general purpose computer, it should be something I can opt into, not opt out of.

The Lack of Consequences

OK, I admit it. I read Wil Wheaton's blog. Like many trekkies I absolutely hated Wesley Crusher, but I started reading Wil's poker blog when he started playing and, well, he doesn't seem like such a bad fellow.

Anyway, he has this wistful post up about the disapearance of video arcades, which I remember even better than he does being 7 years older. The whole thing makes for good reading, but he makes a point at the end that really clicked with me.
My kids' generation, with their online gaming and its associated sense of anonymity and unaccountability, aren't getting the same social workout that we all got when we were kids. When I played a two player game against another kid and I beat him, if I taunted him mercilessly and made explicit references to his mother's sex life and my role in it, he would have justifiably kicked the everliving shit out of me; so I learned that it was always a good idea to be gracious in victory and defeat. Contrast that with the foul and profane behavior exhibited in today's online gaming worlds, by players who are old enough to know better, or young enough not to care.

I have played a fair bit of MMORPGs and I have to say that while most of the people you meet online behave fairly well, there is a distinct trend for a significant fraction of the younger crowd to behave in ways that are more than two sigmas outside of the normal distribution of social behavior. Sometimes way more than two sigmas. It has made me a big fan of /ignore.

I wonder how I will overcome this with my own son? Will gaming and social interaction get more and more anonymous as he grows?

The little one.

Will is the driver.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Manager Tools

A friend of mine recently blogged about the Manager Tools podcast, so I decided to check it out. The topics looked interesting so I set up iTunes to download the entire history of podcasts (that were available in iTunes - only the last year or so) and went to bed. What can I say? I have a long commute and sometimes I am starved for things to occupy the time in a constructive way. I can't quite remember how I managed before iPods and podcasts and platinum subscriptions to audible.com, but I am sure it must have involved banging my head with blunt instruments or something.

Anyway, I have been listening to the 'casts all week and, well, they are awesome. I don't really have the experience to endorse the content, but it all seems on target. I DO have the experience to endorse the presentation style and the topics covered, though, and they are great. I actually listened to two guys talk about how to insinuate yourself into a conversation circle at a social gathering for 29 minutes and 40 seconds and enjoyed it. I learned something. And I am almost anxious to attempt to apply the lessons. Me. A bona fide introverted INTP computer geek and pocket protector wearing scientist. Well, OK, maybe I have broken myself of the pocket protector habit, but the rest is true. Ask anyone.

So if you are a manager, or you want to be a manager some day, or you have a manager, you should go check these guys out.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Fear of the Unknown

I am starting to worry about the big upcoming announcements.

Change has been a constant companion ever since I took this job, so on the one hand I should be used to it. And I am. But on the other hand knowing the exact day on which your life may change (or start to change, as it won't happen overnight) is a bit unnerving.

Even though I think that the most likely scenarios will have me only indirectly impacted (e.g. I will know people who get walking papers) it is draining my energy.

I hope that Kindler makes good on his promise to make it quick.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Careers and Business Quality

I am reading The Tao of Warren Buffett by Mary Buffett and David Clark. It is basically a book of very short pithy statements that Warren has made with about half a page of commentary and interpretation. It hasn't changed my life, or anything, but I am enjoying it.

Saying number 28 is, "Managing your career is like investing - the degree of difficulty does not count. So you can save yourself money and pain by getting on the right train."

The commentary is basically that if you work for a wonderful company (great economics, great management, consistently great return on capital) then good things will happen. If not, then not.

I have never ever thought of career planning in terms like that before, but it absolutely makes sense. The pharmaceutical industry used to have great economics. The question is, does it still? Lately I think we are keeping our great returns with acquisitions and write-offs and cost cutting and other things that don't really have much to do with effectively growing an invested dollar. I mean they aren't unrelated, but they aren't really long term strategies. Can the pharmaceutical economics recover? If big pharma manages to break the mold of the blockbuster small molecule, will the FDA change fast enough for it to matter?

In a company with poor economics, "...raises will be few and long between, and there is greater risk of losing your job because management will always be under pressure to cut costs." Does that sound familiar to anyone?

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Finding Investments

Rule #1 Investing by Phil Town is one of my favorite investment books. I am not completely sold on exactly how he uses the up and down arrows, but everything else seems pretty much spot on. The method and explanations are just so matter of fact. Clear. Simple. Plus he might be right about the arrows.

His matter of fact style is exemplified in this post on finding great companies in an industry (or in this case, failing to find any great companies).

Click here, click there, see this, see that. These companies are all crap, move along.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Times Change

My how times do change. I was thinking about the links I wanted to add on the right. I want to put links there that reflect what I look at and what I think about. What struck me, though, is the links that I decided not to put there.

I didn't put any links to the Pragmatic Programmer folk. The Pragmatic Programmer was one of the books that most strongly influenced how I think about the craft of programming and they continue to churn out excellent books (My Job Went To India, Pragmatic Ruby, etc.). They were some of the first blogs that I discovered and some that I read the most. But the guys have moved on to Ruby and Rails and I work in Corporate America where we are just barely starting to move to Java5. It just isn't relevant to me at the moment. Sigh.

Friday, January 12, 2007

A New Blog

So what does one talk about in the first post of a new blog? The post that no one will ever read?

I guess I'll just make it a short description of what I expect I'll cover in the blog. Since it is brand new I have no idea whether this will be the only post ever made, or whether I will catch the blogging bug full force and start blogging regularly.

Oh, and the name of course. I have to explain the name. Well, "Forty Two" and "42" were taken.

The bottom line is that this is a personal blog and I will ultimately write about whatever interests me. This will either interest other people or not, and other people will either read it or not.

So here is a list of some of the things you can expect to see me blog about. If I blog, that is.
  • Geek stuff. New toys, new technologies
  • Java stuff. I am a Java programmer and I love the whole idea of portable code running on a virtual machine.
  • Programming, code quality, methodologies.
  • Management/leadership stuff. Yes, I actually find this interesting.
  • Investing stuff. I am a value investor. I believe in the obvious goodnes of buying a dollar for 50 cents. But I have not had lots of money to invest in this life, so I am feeling my way along. I'm sure I'll have things to say about that.
  • Pharmaceutical industry stuff. I work for the largest pharmaceutical company in the world. I have opinions.
  • Poker
  • Personal stuff

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