Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Browser Out-Geeking

I am a Mozilla Firefox convert. I admit it.

I do all my web development for an Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE)-mandated company, so the only real criterion that I have to meet for browser compliance is that it works in IE. And I'm a Firefox convert.

Tripp has opined on this discovery recently himself. Preach on brotha.

Moving away from IE for my main browser is a big deal: IE won the browser wars; it owns over 97% of the market share; it's the de facto standard. But Firefox is invulnerable to all the myriad nuggets of spyware, script viruses, adware, and other 'malware' nasties that are out there, simply because it's not IE.

I've tried a number of IE extensions and shells, of which my favorite is Avant Browser. It has the benefit of actually using the IE renderer, and it's got most of the goodies Firefox does, including popup blocking, ad blocking and many other niceties. I've never infected a box, never served as a vector for malware.

I'm low-risk, and I practice safe browsing. Why have I switched?

Because Firefox just works. Avant Browser is a smooth, smooth product, but it doesn't catch everything the Net throws at it, and it doesn't quite offer the customization ability that Firefox does, or the granularity of ad-blocking. After a day or so of serious tuning, I almost never see an ad, and for the most part Firefox flows the text around neatly rather than leaving gaping "ad holes." That means no 'oops, I blocked it and it showed anyway' like Avant occasionally throws, no 'oops, the window popped up anyway,' and no locking into an all-browsers-open-in-one-window MDI thing like Avant does, despite offering the tabbed browsing I refuse to do without.

I'm seriously impressed. There are Firefox plugins out there for all the little interface things from Avant Browser that I missed at first, and in a week of heavy use Firefox has yet to crash, which is sadly more than I can say for Avant. It's Open Source at its best, and damned if I'm not going to get the benefit of it.

From now on I browse with Firefox. I still use IE for sites that require it by using proprietary coding, but those sites are fewer and farther between than I've ever seen. My bank's site works great in Firefox. So does Blogger. I'm ashamed that the more complex sites I've written for work don't, but I'm hoping I can make any new ones comply from now on.

I'm going to put a Firefox icon in my sidebar from now on, in hopes some additional people download it and move away from IE, at least until browsing with it is no longer hazardous to the health of the average user's machine. Don't call it zealotry; call it a public service.

Get Firefox!
Get it here.


Monday, December 06, 2004

Of Late

So what's on my plate lately, what's pending, and what's been on my mind?

Well, as the post below mentions, Leslie and I are doing well, and having fun shopping and otherwise enjoying one another's company.

I do have a batch of beer (a hazelnut porter) that I'm trying to get made... I've had the ingredients since May or so, but I recently grabbed a fresh batch of yeast and will be getting it into the fermenter sometime this week. I also still have the kit for a Pinot Noir I'm going to get into a fermenter within a small while.

I'll be visiting the Philadelphia contingent of my family for the last week of the month (12/24/2004 through 1/2/2005, to be precise), and I'm definitely looking forward to the time off, as well as the loved-ones time.

As for what's been on my mind...

As you might imagine, my buddy Dubya cleaned up in the election, and I'm very much looking forward to the advancement of the Evil Republican Agenda.

Wikis (see below) have been on my mind a fair amount, as has the using of Java servlets and JSP (Java Server Pages) for things I used to use ASP and Visual Basic for. I have a friend at work who's been doing lots of research into these subjects in his spare time, and I have to keep up, or I'll start to look bad. ;-)

The Incredibles was... well... incredible! I loved it, and would heartily recommend it to pretty much anyone who likes comics, movies, graphics, or in fact has a heartbeat and eyes to see a movie. Just loved it.

Since I do a fair amount of driving each day (on the order of 90 miles), I've begun listening to a lot (a lot) of audiobooks lately, and odd ones, at that: ones by Nora Roberts, Linda Howard; mainly romantic suspense novels. Why? I'm trying to get an ear for the writing of character, and I discovered that most of the "leisure" books I've read (and have in my library) tend to be idea- or action-based in nature: science fiction, historical fiction, political or military thrillers. Very seldom do the characters take center stage, and I hoped this would serve as a way to help with my "character ear." So far it seems to be helping. Yes, the plots can be formulaic (though Nora Roberts has surprised me), but I find that a predictable plot helps me "get" the characterization more easily.

Anyway, must dash!


Ah Well

[Ed: this post was started at the end of October; I have several draft posts like this one, but I feel like pitching them and starting fresh. Stay tuned!]

Not doing too well with the whole "restarting the blog" thing, it seems. I'm going to keep trying, though. Leslie is still nudging me to blog, so I shall do so.

So, what's been going on?

That Relationship Thing
Well, for one, Leslie and I are still doing well; she's visiting her parents at what I will term an Undisclosed Location in the midwest this week, though I do occasionally bother her with cell phone calls.

I did some gift shopping yesterday; probably my major vice these days is exercising insufficient restraint when it comes to the lavishing of goodies on Leslie. This Christmas season should be no exception.

Some friends around the office are holding a progressive dinner later this month, and I'm looking forward to that. Going out with a person of considerable fabulosity has definitely increased my level of social activity. I like it. :-)

What can I say? I am really, truly happy.

That Wiki Thing
I've known in the abstract about wikis for a fair while. For the uninitiated, a wiki is a website (not entirely unlike a blog) whose pages can be edited by anybody who can read them. That's it, and it's surprisingly powerful. While it would seem like the wiki recipe would be one for chaos and unmanageability, in practice it's surprisingly effective at assembling a central location of well-maintained information.

Anyway, we in the Books-A-Million IT department have been looking around for some sort of tool to help us with our intradepartmental communication, and I put together a quick wiki (using the JSPWiki engine, since we already had Tomcat running on a test server) as a test, and so far it's been useful to me for maintaining my to-do lists and as a place to keep notes of How I Do Stuff.

One of the things I like most about wikis is the relatively simple syntax that they use (mostly) for their page editing. It's much simpler (and more legible) than HTML, and offers most of the important text-formatting and interlinking flexibility that HTML does. I really wish that Blogger would allow wiki syntax for its post editing, but I suppose everyone but me is moving to the WYSIWYG editor these days anyway.

That Blog Thing
I suppose I'm trying to figure out exactly what I want to do with Brain Squeezings lately. On the one hand, I'm struggling with the motivation to post (life is good, and I'm not quite so motivated to opine, or complain), but on the other, I have lots of friends and family members out there who would love to go back to keeping track of my doings here, so it's a real service to them when I do condescend to post.

I shall make the attempt to do better. :-)


Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Photos from the Washington Wine Trip

I have at long last developed the pictures from the trip, and arranged them into an online photo album.

Here's a link to the pix in "Browse and Click for Big Version" mode: [Album].

Alternately you can move through the photos (starting with the first) here: [First Pic].


Friday, October 15, 2004

Weekly Update, 10/15/2004

A sterile headline, perhaps, but it does have the benefit of being germane.

I have been in heavy "maintenance mode" since deploying my big project this past April, and have only recently begun digging myself free by rolling out some do-it-yourself enhancements for the system's users. The more they can get done themselves, the less they have to ring my phone, which means I can get more done both for these users, and for other projects as they come down the pike.

Sebastian (my lab-Greyhound mix) came down with a stomach problem of some variety last week (he and Reese tore up some of my wall-to-wall Berber carpet and swallowed some of the long strings), and I accrued an impressive vet bill as a result. Sebastian is doing very well, now, though smoke is still clearing from the vicinity of my wallet. Oh yes, and this came to a head the same night as I blew a tire. Injury added to insult.

Work continues apace on the "Tripp's Wedding" entry, but I'm trying to post a trifle more frequently in the interim. I do love the ability to save draft versions of Blogger posts, though it does enable never-quite-posted evils like Vacation Part 2 below to take forever.

Yes, this is the name of the inimitable "L," my lovely and gracious girlfriend. It occurred to me that most everyone who's likely to read here already knows her name, as they met her at the T&T wedding, or have heard her mentioned in my occasional phone call to family and/or friends. Also, I've already agreed not to get into terribly precise detail about anything we do, so a double layer of secrecy wasn't particularly necessary, and "L" just sounds too clinical.

Besides, Leslie said I could. :-) She's also a reader here, now, and though she may or may not wind up commenting much, she is one of the reasons I'm posting slightly more often.

Have a great weekend, everyone!


Friday, October 08, 2004

Washington Vacation, Part 2

This is mostly compiled from memory and the notes I took while in the Pacific Northwest, but rest assured, I had a good enough time that the events are seared --seared-- into my memory. ;-)

Before we get started, beware: this is a mammoth entry.

The Post-Seattle Week
It seems to make sense to begin with the drive from Seattle to Prosser, WA. The drive was fairly uneventful, but the transitions from Seattle's buildings, to the fir-carpeted Cascade mountains, through the wrinkled and brown foothills, to the gold-and-green patchwork beginnings of the northwestern Plains, were all heartbreakingly beautiful. Because I had to meet the Hinzerling Winery's (And Vintner's Inn's) proprietor before 4 PM, however, I had to hustle and couldn't stop for pictures.

One of the Washington State features I wasn't expecting was how lush and beautiful the countryside was around the river valleys that I encountered. Mile followed mile of yellow and brown, only to be interrupted by hedges, trees, then manors surrounded by a few acres of staked vines: in short, wine country. I'm told that Napa Valley looks similar, but it was my first experience with that sort of country. :-)

Hinzerling Winery
I did reach Hinzerling just after 4, but thanks to a little cell phone work, all was well anyway. The winery's owner is named Mike Wallace, but he assured me that there was no relative of the newsman. :-) Mike showed me around briefly after getting me settled in, but not before bringing me into the winery's tasting room for some sips of his current and "library" vintages.

Mike's been taking Hinzerling's production more toward fortified-wine (port and sherry) territory than toward standard Chardonnay-Merlot-Cabernet fare, and as such most of the bottles I sampled were sweet and strong. One of the perks of staying at the Vintner's Inn, by the way, is an everfull small carafe of port and covered plate of biscotti by the bedside. Nothing says luxury to me like a comfortable couch, nothing to do, and a glass of his Three Muses Ruby Port and a good book to do it with. I will definitely have to get a bottle or two of some sort of port out here.

Most of the time I spent at Hinzerling/The Vintner's Inn was plain and simple relaxation time--heavy on the sleeping late and the reading in bed. I brought along a number of wine-related books (The Wrath of Grapes and The Wine Avenger, among others) and blazed through them, and also burned off the last 40% or so of Atlas Shrugged, and a copy of Dune that I picked up used in town.

To speak briefly of the town: Prosser is a sleepy place, crisscrossed with streets named Merlot and Chardonnay; there seems to be a steady trickle of wine-tourism traffic (if not brisk while I was there [it wasn't harvest season, and I imagine it gets a lot busier that time of year]), but not a large amount. The town seemed to be just a shade small for its purpose (there was a fair bit of construction on Prosser's main drag, Wine Country/Paterson Road), but not really growing with any rapidity. All in all, a nice, low-key place to spend a vacation.

Columbia Crest Winery
I did make some time in my overfull loafing schedule to get out to some of the wineries in the western part of the state. Columbia Crest is one of the Washington State labels that can be found in Birmingham, and I'd found it through one of its Riesling offerings. Columbia Crest didn't offer any guided tours the day I dropped by, but they did offer a small pamphlet that would let a person find their own way around the place. For the most part this didn't offer anything more than a behind-windows look at the place, but thankfully the path that overlooked the barrel-aging room from a caged-in catwalk still allowed proper enjoyment of that wondrous oak-wine-and-yeast scent I will forever associate with wineries.

Columbia Crest was unlike all the other wineries I visited on the trip (other than Blackwood Canyon, below) in that it was right next to one of its vineyards. I had a chance to grab a few snapshots of the vines and walk a larger portion of the grounds, and very much enjoyed myself.

Tasting Notes:
[I have yet to get this blog entry and my Columbia Crest tasting notes in the same place; when I do I'll either update this entry or post another.]

Yakima River Winery
Yakima River is a small winery, local to Prosser, and it wasn't on my original visitation plan. I saw several signs for it around Prosser, though, and decided to drop by and sample some of Hinzerling's competition. I had a brief discussion with the proprietor and tried a few bottles, but the one I brought home was the "Rendezvous" Lemberger. Lemberger is a spicy, mild red grape I'd never bumped into before, but the Yakima River treatment of it was interesting enough to merit transport of a bottle.

Blackwood Canyon Winery
Ah, Blackwood Canyon. I saved it for the end of the week and the end of the trip because the information out there on it was sketchy, and when I mentioned that Mike Moore (no relation) and his operation were on my agenda, the response was usually somewhere between derisive and embarrassed. Whatever Blackwood Canyon was, its proprietor wasn't particularly popular among the local vintners.

When I drove out to the winery, the directions were good, but when I turned off the main drag onto a long, dusty gravel road I began to wonder what I was getting into. Finally I began to see acre upon acre of grapevines on either side of the road, and felt better about things (does anyone else out there find rows of grapevines a peaceful sight?). Anyway, I saw a sign confirming my route, and eventually crested the final hill and saw the winery: effectively a Quonset hut, with a gravel parking area and signage.

I hopped out of the car, walked inside the dark building, and was greeted by a tattooed twentysomething guy in T-shirt, van Dyke and shorts who asked me (with a distinct surfeit of attitude) whether I was there to taste some wine. I told him I was indeed, but as I began looking around, I was taken aback by the state of the place. The floors were uneven bare ground, with the occasional wide puddle. Fifteen-foot (apparently homebuilt, or at least home-maintained) tanks of chilled and fermenting and/or aging wine stood everywhere; I seem to recall two dozen or more tanks, arranged in little order that I could discern. The place was dark, moist, thankfully cool, but shabby-looking and, well, dirty.

Little did I know that I was beginning the most life-changing wine experience of my trip.

Van Dyke and I chatted for a few minutes as I paid my five dollars for tasting privileges, and he began preparing me for my tasting. Evidently the philosophy at Blackwood Canyon is to make wines the way they were made a hundred or two hundred years ago in France and Germany: extreme amounts of aging "on the lees" (yeast detritus), lots of exposure to oxygen through extended barrel aging. There was also some defensiveness in van Dyke's voice; obviously this was apostasy of a high order. Okaaay then, I thought, unsure what to expect.

"You don't really get it yet. Our whites have the character of most reds you've probably tasted, and our reds, well..."

...Most mysterious. Well, whatever; fill me up. I trusted the alcohol content of the wine to keep me safe from whatever microorganisms might have been floating around, and so swirled & sniffed the "young" Chardonnay van Dyke poured me. It was deep; musty; pungent, but offered little clue what to expect. So I tasted it.

This was a wine bottled when the Twin Towers still stood, when Clinton was president, when Y2K was still an onrushing bogeyman in the process of being declawed. It was a real bar-owning, been-round-the-block, glint-still-in-the-eye fortysomething matron of a Chardonnay. I wasn't sure I liked it; wasn't even sure I recognized it as a Chardonnay. But I knew it was wine done, if nothing else, differently.

I went on to try Chenin Blancs, Cabernet Blancs, and Semillons of varying ages, characters and intensities. They all had that similar mustiness and pungent bite, and I learned to recognize old, familiar grapes among those unfamiliar qualities, and how the grapes' characters expressed themselves amid the new medium. Like paint on stretched burlap instead of finer canvas: the color is still there, but you learn something different about the paint when it has terrain to explore.

By this point, Mike Moore had stopped by and taken over the tasting, and he bears mention in his own right. He's short and stocky--he obviously enjoys his material pleasures. He had a bushy mustache and frizzy gray-brown hair that poked thatchily out from under his baseball cap. He wore shorts and sandals, and like van Dyke, sported a natty T-shirt. He had that glint to the eyes that bespeaks either crank or prophet, and in my estimation, he's both, if much less former than latter.

Mike is a fierce guy, with strong opinions. He's been studying wine for over 30 years, and is of the mind that nearly everything made today in the wine world (on both sides of the Atlantic) is joyless, underexecuted and alcohol-focused, devoid of personality or artistry. Over the course of the afternoon (I spent the better part of three hours there, tasting, talking and tasting some more), he expounded on taxation, wine craft, cooking, politics and technology. He possessed the absolute certainty that defends itself with gusto from all comers, and it wasn't much of a leap to understand that his standing among his fellow vintners mattered to him not a bit. Perhaps he thrived on perceived persecution. But wine and its making are always foremost in his mind (or at least were while I was there), and as we shall see, in that area he knows his stuff.

We tasted some dessert wines next: Eisweins of Riesling and Gewurztraminer, sometimes blended with Chenin Blanc and/or (I think) Semillon, and all aged between seven and nine years. Suddenly the benefits of his long, lees-rich process made themselves clear. Worldwide, wines are most frequently judged by their ability to pair well with food. The most important quality of a wine when it comes to "pairability" is acidity: that tangy bite that stimulates saliva production and allows the tongue to taste its contents better. Rieslings, Gewurzes, Chenin Blancs and the like excel here, and the lees aging that the Blackwood Canyon wines had undergone simply transfigured these sweeter wines. I had (and have) never tasted anything more complicatedly delicious, whether wine or otherwise.

But the afternoon was young. We progressed to reds next, though I use the term loosely: most of them had deepened in color to a near chocolate darkness, and expressed depths and character that, simply, I wasn't aware that wines could offer. Syrah (not the fruity Australian-process variation called Shiraz), Cabernet Sauvignon, Gamay, Pinot, Merlot: all become late-forties, well-groomed-and-sauced gentlemen with stories to tell.

(If I recall correctly, the youngest wine I tried at Blackwood Canyon was five years old. Most were in the seven-to-nine year range, and I actually tried a fifteen-year vintage or two. All marvelous.)

By this time Mike had finished the standard winetasting tour, but he was on a roll, and walked myself and the other taster (one Richard Miller, believe it or not, but one driving a fire-engine-red Porsche Boxster) over to some of his more exclusive aging vessels: some were barrels, some large tanks. We tried a '93 dessert Gewurz (exquisite, even compared to those from earlier) that Mike figured still had another ten years to go before it was "all grown up." The other five or so wines we tasted then were all intensely, symphonically, astonishingly good, and I can barely remember them due to the overload of pleasure my palate underwent that afternoon.

By the time we finished (with a "simple" Chenin Blanc that had the body and character to stand up to an intense, heavily-spiced gumbo, of all things), Mike had inadvertently given us the twenty-five dollar tour instead of the five-dollar one, but I was enraptured.

Sadly, I had completely exhausted my vacation budget. I still taste the irony that the best wine experience of the trip had to be crammed into that final day, and that I couldn't afford a single bottle to take back with me.

Rest assured, however, I will call upon Mike Moore again.

Chukar Cherries
Cherries? Yes, cherries. Chukar (pronounced "chucker") Cherries is sort of a natural food store and confectionary dealer. Their specialty is the chocolate-covered cherry, and they have honed it to perfection. The Vintner's Inn offered small packets of their "Cabernet Chocolate Cherries" as samples, and they were so good that I had to snag a few boxes (Black Forest and Bing, for those interested) for L on my way home. Highly, highly (highly) recommended.

The Drive Back to Seattle
I remedied the 'no-time-for-pictures' problem during the leisurely drive back to Seattle, and when I get them all developed I will post the best-of-breed pix here (whether through my scanner or through a CD from the developer I have yet to determine).

Other Bits & Pieces
One of the things I tried to do whenever I was visiting a winery was to grab a bottle opener or two with the winery's logo on it. I've also been collecting corks from my bottles for the past several months. I figure this will eventually become some sort of display: a assembled-collected-cork board with all the bottle openers pinned to it. Cool, huh?

In any event, I had an absolute blast in Washington State, and will definitely be going back, if only to revisit Blackwood Canyon again, and pick up a few bottles for aging.


Thursday, October 07, 2004

I Picked a Hell of a Month to Restart Blogging

Places to go and people to see after work; lots to do at work; no time on weekends coming until 10/16-ish. I anticipate a free evening or two (due to L being out of town) in the neighborhood of this coming Tuesday night.

I have something like 1000 words of winespeak awaiting finishing fact-checking; I haven't even had time to begin a piece on Tripp's wedding.

So, patience; in other news, I recently received an award for performance at work, and L and I are going to a very nice dinner this evening with some of the spoils.


Monday, September 27, 2004

When Life Keeps You Busy, Make Busyade

...or something to that effect. :-)

Wow, what an agreeable few months it's been. Just thought I'd post a message here to let everyone know that I do in fact intend to post Part 2 of the Wine Vacation story. I also (along with the lovely L) attended Tripp and Trish's wedding this past weekend, and shall opine about that as well.

The dominant greeting I received at the wedding went along the lines of "so when will you be finishing your wine reviews/telling us more about life in Birmingham/telling everyone L's real name?" Never let it be said that I failed to knuckle under to well-intentioned peer pressure. ;-)


Monday, July 12, 2004

Brain Squeezings, 7-11-2004

Living Large, Loving Life

I have left Seattle, and am now in a small town in Yakima Valley called Prosser, Washington, safely ensconced in the Vintner's Inn Bed & Breakfast, which is part of the Hinzerling Winery. But more on this in a moment.

Yesterday was a whirlwind of booty-kicking wine-tasting activity. I visited and toured the Chateau Ste. Michelle and Columbia Wineries, and while at the latter's tasting bar, received a tip that I should try a wine or two from an establishment down the street, the Silver Lake Winery. All told, I tasted approximately eighteen wines in the space of five hours. Thank God for the ability politely to dump the remainder of a glass in a container when you're done tasting! I would have been toasted beyond all redemption, and unsafe to drive until, say, Tuesday.

Winery Notes
Chateau Ste. Michelle has so far been my favorite winery, by a long shot. The tasting bar had all sorts of lovelies on display. Their Cold Creek Chardonnay (any year) has been a favorite of mine for a while now, and the 2003 was a welcome old friend. The 2002 Meritage was a fascinating blend of something like 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, with the remainder split between Merlot and Malbec, and was wonderfully understated, but smoky and fruity, without being boring at all. The 2002 Semillon, which I'd never tried before, was unbelievably sharp and nearly metallic, but interesting and a real challenge. I fell in love with the Cold Creek 2003 Riesling, and am in fact bringing a bottle of it back with me, as well as the partnership venture wine Eroica, another Riesling (see a trend?), which comes from the winemaking expertise of both the minds at the Chateau and a well-known German winemaker, Ernst Loosen.

Columbia Winery wound up having a better and more detailed tour of their winemaking facility, but I wound up being less impressed with the wines up for tasting at the tasting bar, though there were some good ones: the 2003 Cellarmaster's Riesling was every bit as good as advertised (as well as appropriately low in alcohol, unlike the Chateau Ste. Michelle examples), and was even very reasonably priced (it's following me home). The 2001 Syrah was very nice, if not as fruity as I've come to expect. The 2001 Chardonnay Otis, Block 6 was an unexpected surprise as well: spicier and with more non-oak interest than I've come to expect from an American Chardonnay. Their 1996 Peninsula, though, struck me as excessively low-key, and didn't make nearly the impression on me that, for example, their 2002 Red Willow Sangiovese did: I do love a good Sangiovese.

Silver Lake Winery was, as I mentioned above, recommended by a couple I met while tasting at the Columbia Winery. There was a Chenin Blanc on the Columbia list that was all right, but the couple let me know that Silver Lake (which was just down the road, of course) had a better one. As it turns out, they were right! The 2003 Chenin was outstanding. Considering I can only find Beringer's version around me, the bottle coming home with me will be a welcome change. I also happened across their Roza Riesling, which was sadly a bit too sweet and cloying, but their 2003 Syrah was a very young, very acidic whipcracker that I expect will age like a beast. I may well recommend that a certain brother of mine order a case of this stuff: right now it's not very kind to the drinker, but with 5, 10 or 15 years to mellow out it could be a real case to remember.

All this from one day! More tomorrow, sometime. I have sleep to get!


Saturday, July 10, 2004

Greetings from the Pacific Northwest

It's 7 AM, here in Seattle. I arrived in town last night after around seven hours spent in airplanes. I'm in a hotel very close to the SEA-TAC airport called the Clarion, which is inexpensive, but has so far been clean, efficient, roomy and proffering of free wireless Internet connectivity. 'Hog heaven' might be a trifle strong, but I am definitely enjoying myself. I will be heading downstairs to enjoy some breakfast in a little while, but I wanted to hop on and fill everyone in on my itinerary.

There are two wineries I plan to visit today, before heading toward the interior of the state: Chateau Ste. Michelle (which I have mentioned before) and the Columbia Winery. Both facilities are within 15 minutes of Seattle, and promise to be educational and a lot of fun.

On Sunday (tomorrow) I will be heading to a Bed & Breakfast in Prosser, Washington called the Vintner's Inn at the Hinzerling Winery. This will be my base of operations as I hop around the Columbia Crest and Blackwood Canyon wineries, as well as some of the vineyards (Cold Creek and Horse Heaven, so far) whose grapes go to the four wineries I've mentioned.

This morning I need to do a little shopping for things like film for the camera I brought along (borrowed from L [and thanks again!]), but this afternoon the winery fun begins.

Hinzerling may be a pleasant surprise. It's about 3 hours' drive from Seattle to the Yakima Valley region where I'll be doing most of my stomping around this week; the Hinzerling Winery is in just the right place, and their room rates are superb. They also tend to produce Riesling and Gewurztraminer wines, for which I've recently discovered a real love. Nothing like making an unexpected find... More notes to follow!


Friday, June 25, 2004


Finishing a week apart from L, while she's been on vacation and incommunicado, as she's been out of the country. Has been a boring, listless several days, despite being pretty busy around the office.

She will be back in town tomorrow late, but I imagine we're not going to have any time to get reacquainted until Sunday afternoon. Bah.

Revenge is Bittersweet
Still, I have decided upon plans for my own upcoming vacation: from the ninth (or possibly eleventh) of July through the sixteenth, I will be heading to Seattle for a week of Northwest weather, driving among several Washington wineries that have come to prominence (Chateau Ste. Michelle, here I come!), and generally Not Doing Anything Work-Related.

I will be taking along several good books, my iBook for writing purposes, and an iPod full of tuneage. I plan to spend lots of time within earshot of crashing surf, sniffing and quaffing great Riesling, lightly oaked Chardonnay and hardcore Cabernet Sauvignon, and pointedly not answering my cellphone or indeed doing much of anything that might require structured or disciplined thought.

Oh, and if I manage to tire the old palate of wine, there appear to be a few breweries in the area.

Sadly, as L will have used the lion's share of her vacation for this year, I don't get to bring her along. I do plan to torment her with frequent status reports, though.


Monday, June 21, 2004


I've been very remiss in mentioning that Matt, illustrious brother of mine, has started his own blog: Dimensionless Numbers.

Head on over and say hello!


Sunday, June 20, 2004

Time Does Fly...

...When you're having fun, which I am. L and I are becoming closer all the time, and spending increasing amounts of time together as a result, so I've had little time to myself (outside of driving to and from Alabaster for pet care and that whole sleeping thing) to get the little things like laundry, lawn care and other sundry chores done. L has just embarked on a week's tropical vacation, however, so I'll be catching up on some of that stuff over the next few days. Laundry is already in a much better state; vacuuming and other cleaning will be today's mountains to climb.

In addition to housework and work work, I have a hazelnut porter and a Pinot Noir ready for their respective fermenters, and if all goes well I'll get the porter brewed and bubbling today.

So what about this 'L' woman?
Conventional wisdom holds that we should always try to be a complete person by ourselves, and never need anyone else. I have tried this to the best of my ability, and it's been a bitter and lonesome existence. I'm not a garrulous person (as longtime readers will note), but I do tend to make a very few very close friends, and keep them around for a while.

In this vein, I'm still quite the social loner, but having L around to lavish affection upon, to chat with during and after the day, and to engage in the occasional mental sparring match with has made me the happiest, the most confidently male, the most content I've felt since sometime in the late 1990s.

So are we talking love, or rings, or marriage? God, after only six weeks, I hope not! But it's indescribably nice to feel wanted and appreciated this way. I'm hoping this little association lasts a while.


Friday, May 28, 2004

Yeah, Still Here

Sorry for the lack of updates.

It has been only slightly less busy than before, but the good news is that weekends are mine again. The bad news is that my mental stamina and energy level aren't what they ought to be, and I imagine the solution for this will eventually be a nice week's vacation somewhere away from all the folderol at the office.

This post has it all, by the way...

This weekend will see me visiting Matt in Atlanta for a Memorial Day Party (honest, Megan, one of these days I'll call first so we can meet for lunch or something) and to get away from everything that has come to be normal in my life: the daily work grind, cleaning the house, feeding the dogs, listening to the multifarious hums and whirs that surround me in my house.

The lady I mentioned in my previous post, whom I shall henceforth call L, is still untired of my company, so we're meeting frequently for dinners, conversing over e-mail and the like. In contrast to my treatment of former dating adventures, I shall keep my commentary here to a minimum, as she is quite desirous of privacy. So, sorry, no descriptions of hair, manner, height, eye color or other distinguishing features. Suffice to say she revs my engine, and evidently I do hers, despite a rather breathtaking chasm between us in political terms. 'S a start. :-D

There's been an illness in my family since I was posting anything close to frequently. I won't get into any real detail (privacy again, you know), but one of the upshots of the situation is that I have recently made all the computers, idle and otherwise, that I have sitting around my home into contributing machines to the Folding@Home distributed computing project.

A distributed computing initiative is what happens when someone has a problem or set of problems that require truly massive amounts of computing power, like cracking an encryption key, or parsing possible signals from the vast corpus of SETI data (SETI == Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence) that has been collected by radio telescopes, or even modeling the complicated folding that protein molecules do as they assume their final forms. The person with the problem figures out a way to split it into manageable chunks, then he/she sends those chunks of problem to hundreds, or thousands, or hundreds of thousands of people who agree to run special "client" programs that will work on those chunks.

SETI@Home is definitely the most famous of the DC initiatives, but also (very arguably) the least immediately useful. Folding@Home is the group with whom I've chosen to throw in my hat (and an approximate six aggregate gigahertz of computing power that was otherwise sitting idle around my house). Understanding protein folding is one of the important frontiers which medicine faces today; specifically understanding why the folding process occasionally goes awry, which can lead to all sorts of diseases, among which are such lovelies as Alzheimer's, several cancers, "Mad Cow" and Parkinson's disease.

Folding@Home's Science page is better equipped to furnish the particulars, but modeling protein folding is an incredibly computationally intensive endeavor, which would tax a modern high-end supercomputer for years on end. But if you can split the problem up and let tens or hundreds of thousands of volunteers work on problems (and you manifestly can), then you can cut that modeling time from years to months or even days. In other words, you can begin to tackle problems that are completely untackleable through any other available method.

F@H has had its preliminary do-the-numbers-add-up results published in several scientific papers, and the huge distributed supercomputer that produced them (which is really what we volunteers are providing) is now being put to work on the nontrivial problems.

It's an exciting thing to be associated with, and it's certainly nice to know I can put my computer-building skills to a use that truly benefits mankind.


Friday, May 07, 2004

Putting Life Back Together

Life, at long last, is good.

It's been a wild and wacky two weeks of rollout fun. Between panicky last-minute fixes, nursemaiding tricky network connections, chasing down truant data and otherwise birthing this project, I and the people for whom our team have developed this application are a few hours away from the successful conclusion of its major rollout.

I have officially lost 31 pounds since the 20th of January. Last night I mowed my lawn for the first time since the middle of April. Tonight I'm having dinner with a truly beautiful woman I met in the course of my adventures, and this weekend I plan to take radical steps along the lines of vacuuming the house, restocking it with various sundries, and taking out its trash.

Tae Kwon Do classes restart for me sometime early next week. It'll be nice to be physically tired for once. :-)


Saturday, April 24, 2004

Pounding Out the Code

Here at work on a Saturday, still working. Ah, the delivery of a product.

So sorry to have neglected Brain Squeezings these past few weeks. If it's any consolation, I'm ignoring everyone else too.


Thursday, April 15, 2004

Good Freakin' Grief

Boy, am I tired of putting in the time. I've been fighting the creeping crud all week, and mostly winning, but the Project is continuing to demand time, and will continue to do so over the weekend. I've had to nix Tae Kwon Do attendance for the week, too; I'm sure the school sees me as an absolute flake by now.

Anyway, enough griping. This, too, shall pass. I have sleep to get to, and the good news is that the money is still very nice. If the world keeps being good to me and I can keep costs down, I can be entirely out of non-mortgage debt by the fall.

Something to look forward to, anyway.



Thursday, April 08, 2004

Crazy Week; Getting Some Exercise

Oy, only back for a week or two and I'm already going for days and days without posting. Ah well, remedying this tonight.

The week has been a full one, with multitudinous support calls to answer, development to do, bugs to stomp, and meetings to suffer. But one survives, of course. And this weekend I'll be flying to Philadelphia to visit the family over Easter. I'm mentally exhausted, but riding that fulfilled feeling that accompanies the knowledge that no one can in good conscience say I'm not doing my utmost. :-D

Mentally I've been tired, but physically I've been feeling the need to get the blood moving a little. My weight loss from maintaining a simple caloric deficit has slowed over the past weeks, and while it'd continue if I just kept up with the diet plan, feeling so much lighter on my feet has motivated me to undertake an exercise program.

Since I never seem to do anything without making a physical and/or spiritual production out of it, I shopped around a bit and have settled on and enrolled in a Tae Kwon Do class. As Tripp can attest, I dabbled a bit in Tae Kwon Do and Cuong Nhu back when we attended the University of Richmond together, but since then he's done lots more than I have (I never actually took a test; just learned a form or two and some fundamentals about strikes and maintaining my balance while doing absurd things like roundhouse kicks); he may even have attained some real belt levels along the way--care to fill in the gaps, Tripp?

But since I've been thriving on the structures I've imposed on myself over the past few months, I came to the conclusion (watching some martial arts film or documentary a few nights ago) that it was time to revisit the old discipline. The DoJang (dojo) I've joined is Karen Mitchell's American Taekwondo. The people are very friendly there, and Karen herself is a good, patient teacher, which will be a real help to me. There are lots of kids there, but a good number of teens, twentysomethings, and thirty- and fortysomethings too. Two husband-and-wife pairs that I know of, and several of the instructors have their children attending too. A very cool group.

I had my first class tonight; my knees are complete rubber from maintaining the different stances after several uninterrupted years of desk driving, and I may be in some pain tomorrow, but I have the weekend plus Monday to heal up. :-) I was pleased; the balance and some of the techniques came back quickly, to the point that Karen figured out that I'd had instruction before. I've still got the old flexibility, too: the wide, lean-down-to-your-leg stretches beforehand, and above-your-head kicks were no big deal, though my kick control leaves a lot to be desired. As I mentioned, though, maintaining stances, and indeed any sort of exotic weight shifting or holding was tricky. They finished the lesson with push-ups, crunches and leg-lifts too, which were excruciating to my out-of-shape muscles, but exactly the sort of exercise I want.

There was even a big good-natured production around my trying on the uniforms, because I'm taller and broader than their typical students, but in the end one was ordered, and I'll be properly attired in a few days or weeks.

It felt really good to start doing something. A new circle of potential friends, a good look at my svelter self in the DoJang's mirrors; I'm definitely feeling good tonight.


Friday, April 02, 2004

A Recuperative Friday

Back in the office today, after a week full of teaching, handholding and question-answering. It's been a long while since I've presented anything to a group of people, and it was good to get back in the swing of it.

Every one of them has my work e-mail address, now, too. I expect my work Inbox to melt down at about 9:15 Monday morning, but in the meantime I will be enjoying my weekend. I'll only have to put in a few hours to get some last-minute cosmetic changes in; as a result I think I will relax by doing some mundane things like mowing the lawn and cleaning the house up a bit. There's a contingent that will be golfing tomorrow, but I won't be joining them; after all the face time I've had over the past few days I need a few days alone to stoke the fires again.

I'll be presenting this material another ten times the week of 4/19 through 4/23, so a recharge is pretty much mandatory.

Yeah. I definitely need to get away sometime May-ish. I'll have to see what sort of vacation time I have available this year.


Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Rode Hard, Put Away Wet

Two days of class-teaching down, and I'm tired. It's been a satisfying pair of days, with feedback from the students almost one hundred percent positive. It's nice to receive a little appreciation for the fruits of one's good old-fashioned hard work.

There was even one sweet young thing in this afternoon's session who seemed quite taken with me. She lives in New York, if memory serves, so most likely nothing will come of it, but she has my e-mail address, so if she's inclined to whisper sweet nothings in my Inbox, she's got my coordinates. ;-)

It feels good to get in front of people and brag on my program. There's a portion of the lesson where I invite them to use it themselves, and that's easily the most powerful part. Then it moves from 'demo' to 'product' in their minds, and that's been fun to watch. People have been flying in from all over the country to see the app, so it's doubly good to know they're feeling as though their time and money have been well spent.

Well, I'm off to sleep the sleep of the just.


PS. Stop over by Acidman's and wish him well. He sent beaucoup hits over here today, and looks as though he's done taking boots in the face from his ex-wife. This may mean a hiatus for him, so if you've got wellwishing to do, go do it.

Monday, March 29, 2004

Procrastinating :-)

Tonight I'm working on a training document for a series of classes I'm giving, starting tomorrow, on how to use a portion of the web application I've been developing for the past four months. The good news is that the base instructions (put together by former boss) are pretty good as they are, and require only cosmetic updating to be useful. I've got Disturbed's The Sickness playing on iTunes, freshly ripped, and am feeling saucy.

Naturally, I'm thinking of the ocean. ;-) This is the summer I'm going to make a point to get my posterior south to the Gulf coast. It's been a trying bit of time, and I think I can make a good case for a trip sometime in May or June. Of course there are some weddings I need to attend in the fall, so I need to be conservative regarding my vacation time, but since the coast's only four hours away I think I can do a couple of three-day or four-day weekends without doing too much violence to future commitments.

There's that about the ocean that always brings about a deep peace in me. I'm sure it's very nearly ancestral: humanity has depended on water for the basics since before it was humanity. Still, I like the sorts of thoughts that bubble to the surface when I remember the crash of surf, the smell of salt air, the balance-cadence of walking in sand.

Strange that we, beings whose place on the planet is attributable to our brainpower, are still sufficiently animal that rhythms like that of surf, of tide, of heartbeats can stir our deepest preverbal, preconscious selves.

It's time for me to leave CPU fans, satellite dishes, web pages and databases behind for a while and (heh) recharge. Rediscovering the things in life that nourish is important; I've been remiss in not allowing myself this sort of time. Funny how it's taken a measure of dietary success to teach me that man cannot live by bread alone.


The Wettening

This afternoon has been one of sporadic heavy rainstorms, and we do need the water. Alabama has been dealing with a higher-than-usual number of fires around the state lately, and a number of friends and coworkers have complained of high pollen count. So a good gully-washer is welcome.

As it happens, the timing of this storm is good for me in a few ways. My lawn has been slow to awaken; I'm told the grass is most likely a variety called Bermuda, which goes dormant and brown during winter, and 'regreens' in spring. Well, spring is in full flower, and the lawns in my subdivision have yet to take on much color, except for weeds, and there's certainly no shortage of them.

This weekend I finally grabbed a push-mower (a black Briggs and Stratton with oversize rear wheels for those who simply have to know) for the part of my front yard that Mulch the Robomower can't reach due to slope, and hove to with it on Sunday morning. So instead of a shaggy looking brown-with-green-spots lawn, I had a close-cropped brown-with-green-spots lawn. With any luck this rainfall will push the grass into its proper chlorophyllic frenzy.


Saturday, March 27, 2004

The Ruthlessness of Real Compassion

[This is the first of a few essayish pieces regarding some stuff I've been mentally chewing upon. Feedback welcome.]

I've mentioned on several occasions that one of the bigger favors Jennifer did me in our divorce was to make our parting as final and unambiguous as possible.

I have come to realize that this is uncommon virtue indeed in today's world. Much of the modern American ethos asserts that discomfort is a priori evil; indeed, preventable suffering for no good purpose can be an evil, but there's much to be said for a healthy appreciation for pain.

Discomfort is a powerful and easily heeded instructor. The proverbial hand on the hot stove symbolizes much in a world simply rife with lessons for learning. We've gotten so good at stifling those lessons that the very act of teaching has become a difficult one. There are few middle-aged or younger Americans, for example, that have known (or will ever know) true hunger. It is difficult to inculcate an appreciation for waste in such a person.

Pain is not by itself gain, but true gain is seldom had without it.

Anyone who has participated in full-contact American football (or any suitably physical sport like lacrosse, rugby, or--when played correctly--soccer) has an appreciation for the sort of coach who has little patience for discomfort-based whining. I have finished wind sprints on badly sprained ankles, and practiced for weeks on end with knuckles relacerated regularly, weekday evenings between three-thirty and five p.m. These things made me a better football player, as pain and the mastery of it are parts of the game, but they also taught me the value of pain mastery as an end in itself. They also taught faith in the healing process: my knuckles and ankles healed, eventually. Perhaps not to all the soundness they might have enjoyed undamaged, but in retrospect I find I don't begrudge the price.

The past four years have been a similar series of lessons in pain, dealing with pain, healing and price-paying. I am a stronger, more whole, more multiply dimensioned person for having weathered them.

But this essay isn't titled Pain and Healing; it's about ruthlessness and its compassionate application.

A certain clarity of purpose is needed when hurting with the intent to heal. The defensive varsity coach at Archmere Academy was called "Satan" behind his back, though he was a conspicuously bighearted man. He had no difficulty banging adolescent teens off one another, play after play until the blood flowed: he knew his business, and part of it was fashioning that certain sort of play-soldier called a football player out of every one of us. (We finished the season of my high school senior year with a record of eleven and one, so he didn't do too bad of a job. It's worth mentioning that mental quickness was far more his goal than any ability to weather pain, but in football those components of a player can't be developed in isolation.)

I imagine that the dentist and the surgeon both need a similar ruthlessness, both toward themselves and toward their charges, to accomplish their jobs. The physical therapist, the veterinarian, the sensei, the drill sergeant all must function, to a certain degree, from a place of unyieldingness and certainty. I find myself envious of such purpose and clarity.

Jennifer's part in my story is years past, now: she may have thrown the machinery into operation, but she had only small involvement in its crafting.

So, the realization dawns: someone has been teaching me. Whether or not I've wanted to learn, I've been shaped by the process. I find myself, at last, eager to see the outcome.

Not to mention meet the teacher.


Relaxing at the Desk; Triumph of the Little Things; Writing to Think

Taking some time out from doing work today to write a little. Listening to ripped Mozart via iTunes in a very nearly empty office.

I like Blogger's new ability to save posts as undated drafts. I have a few serious pieces I'm working on, composing and revising, but in the process I can post daily thoughts without having to worry about what I've got stored where and whether I'm going to have to cut-and-paste 'unready post A' somewhere temporarily because 'post B' is ready. A simple thing, but hey, whatever enables me. :-)

The importance of a good fit
Went shopping last night to grab some new pants. I'm down to a 46-inch waist, after going as high as 52 a few years ago. I've been hovering around more-or-less (but usually more) 48 for a good while, so it's nice to get some new duds into the mix. I also grabbed some Levi's - the first pair of jeans I've worn since moving here, both for reasons of unpacking vagaries and because I just haven't had the opportunity much.

I thought it would happen, and it has: wearing clothes that actually fit (rather than ones that have been cinched tight enough to stay on the bod) looks pretty darned good. Feels good, too.

Writing as an exercise in thought
Tripp may well take this as his cue to despair (as he's maintained that I've thought too much for a very long while), but one of the things with which I've come to terms recently is that the purpose writing serves at this point in my life is that of allowing me to think. More precisely, to think using the systems in my head that work together to produce written material, which I feel sure are better structured and developed than those I use in, say, spoken conversation.

Written thought can benefit from the editorial process, for one: it's receptive to simple iterative refinement.

This next bit is less obvious: written thought benefits from interaction with the spacial perception of the writer. Human beings read in all sorts of directions, and not just left-to-right (or right to left, or up and down, if that's your cultural deal). We backtrack; we perceive patterns (and the synaesthetics among us may even perceive smells or colors) in the jumble of words and letters; we can even read backwards if we work at it (try it a page or paragraph at a time--it's a real mindbender, but odd in how little adjustment it takes: the brain just sorts it out). Having a thought in your head, and a paragraph that mostly gets it across, looks more like the dilemma of sculptor and block than of mere scribe and narrative.

In this vein, I'm finding increasingly that being able to get a gestalt feel for a piece I'm writing (whether it be an English prose piece or a Java class) can help immensely when gauging flow and "song," and precisely where it needs tuning. Thus my welcome for Blogger's draft-keeping feature.

What? He's reading too?
Right now I'm working through a few books by C.S. Lewis and Ayn Rand (A Grief Observed, and Atlas Shrugged, respectively), and very much enjoying the coherence of their ways of thinking. Most of the authors whom I admire produce work that's well thought in addition to being well expressed. There's also a severity of voice and a ruthlessness of pursuit to each of them that I find fascinating.

Oh, well. Hope this conveys a little of my state of mind at present.


Friday, March 26, 2004

Gorgeous Birmingham Day

Just got back from a nice lazy lunch at the local Hooters with some guys from work. Ten hot drumsticks and a side salad fit beautifully into my lunchtime calorie count.

It's 79° out according to Weatherbug, breezy and sunny: just on the edge of too warm, but the breeze blunts that edge nicely. Of late I have begun to enjoy a round of golf, and today would have been ideal to walk around and peer under trees. (Never said I was any good.)

This weekend I plan to shop for some new pairs of pants: evidently twenty pounds is about a size, and that's bearing out. Were I more pigmentally advantaged, I might be mistaken for M.C. Hammer these days.

It will, sadly, be a working weekend; the big project is close to a delivery date, and I'm the only guy who can work on it productively at the moment. Still, I'm thinking tomorrow may have a very protracted lunch at its center.


Thursday, March 25, 2004


(Blows dust off things, picks cobwebs out of corners) hmm. Looks like Blogger is still running, Blogspot is still free, things are still working, and for some reason hits continue to accumulate. Not bad. :-)

Heaven only knows what people have been poking around in my absence. is by far the big referrer according to Site Meter, followed distantly by and, with one or two others contributing the occasional trickle.

Been an eventful eight months. Started and abandoned the writing of two very different novels, worked at the job 60-hours-plus for four of those months, watched a friend and both of my siblings get engaged, lost twenty pounds, and, in the end, managed to think a bit.

The thinking bit's pretty good, actually; the more one tries to write something coherent and compelling, the more one has to take inventory of how one's mind works. As a result, I'm thinking (and reading) about thinking. I'm a pretty decent expressor, you see, but in order to write the sorts of things I want to write (and say what think I want to say) I'll need to get better at point-making. Argument constructing. Logic. Theme. The progression from one idea to another.

You know. Clarity. :-)

In any event, I've also come back to the point where I feel like opining, openly. Expect some tidying up around here, and more thoughts as they come.

It's good to be back.