obligatory obscure reference

self-deprecating yet still self-promotional witty comment


Winter Check of Bees in Pittsburgh

Filed under: Beekeeping,Pittsburgh — jet @ 23:53

Surprise 64F day today so we checked the hives. The nuc with the $$$ queen has bees, but I’m not sure enough to survive the rest of the winter. We rearranged all the fondant in the hives so they could continue to “eat up” in the fondant over the next few freezing days; we’ll check them again this Saturday.

Last year we got blindsided by the strange Winter and early Spring and the hives swarmed before we expected. We think our frames were honey bound, they had enough fondant that they didn’t eat the honey then the
queen had no place to lay. This year we’ll check weekly (if possible) and switch from fondant to syrup as soon as possible.

Another thing we’ll try is flipping the top and bottom deeps and frames. We can pull any honey leftover and extract it then replace those frames with built frames so the queen has plenty of room to lay. If they’re getting syrup until the first pollen hits we should have lots more eggs and fresh bees at the start then Spring honey.

Fingers crossed, thumbs held.


Public Notice: William Backfisch is using my business phone #

Filed under: Pittsburgh,Rants — jet @ 11:39

For several years now, I’ve been receiving calls from debt collectors and lease agencies on my business line for William Backfisch who lives in greater Pittsburgh. When I started searching online for “Backfisch” instead of “Backfish” I discovered that 412.243.0938 is a number being associated with his name on a variety of web sites.

That’s not his number, it’s been my office line for seven years. So please, really, stop calling me and ignoring the message on the answering machine and asking for William Backfisch.


Engineering Lesson 101

Filed under: Arduino,Hacking,MakerBot,Rants — jet @ 09:46

I think it’s been 10, maybe 15 years since I’ve actually worked on open source software as an author. I’ve helped fix bugs in things like Arduino and ReplicatorG, but I haven’t done anything major on my own.

Until Friday, when my frustration with a certain class of software got the perspective and skill of my being a professional engineer. Instead of complaining, instead of getting frustrated with how someone else managers their project, instead of not being able to pull rank and make them do it my way, I can just go write my own and hand it out.

It’s a nice feeling. I don’t think I’d have gotten here without writing it-cannot-fail code for security and privacy projects as a day job. That sort of rigor is like daily exercise for the brain, like daily exercise or workouts only for the brain.


always compute your hourly wage

Filed under: Rants — jet @ 21:46

When a business asks you to do something, compute your actual hourly before deciding if it’s worth it. It’s amazing how many times a month I get asked to work for less than minimum wage.

Today, for example, I got a request to do a tech review in trade for a copy of the book. Here’s my response:

Sorry, but I’m not interested in doing tech reviews for a copy of the book on a subject where I’m already an expert. Back in the 90s I got paid decent bank per-section to do tech reviews, I see no reason to work for less than minimum wage at this point in my career.


maker hell

Filed under: Hacking,MakerBot,Rants — jet @ 08:39

Well, that didn’t go so well. After a couple of weeks of fussing and fighting with Gen 4 electronics it appears I have a bad motherboard. Countless hours of diags down the drain because of a bad board.

Something we in the open source hardware need to adopt is the idea of standardized tests / QE. If I were at work, the first thing we’d have done was toss the mobo in the “to be re-tested” pile and grabbed a fresh one to see if we could replicate the problem.

On the up side, while researching the problems I was having, I stumbled across a great blog that every Makerbot owner should read.


Some Words About Salt of the Earth

Filed under: Pittsburgh,Restaurants — jet @ 20:02

After a lot of work by Kevin Sousa and his gang, Salt of the Earth is finally open. They’re an unusual restaurant so I’m not going to do the usual sort of review.

First off, I’m not going to tell you much about what we had for dinner other than we really liked it, the service was great, and the price was right.

What I am going to tell you about is Salt’s process and the dining experience.

Several years ago I met local chef Bill Fuller at a party and he said something that really got me to thinking, that he considered cooking a process. I was in design school at the time so it sounded good to me because design is all about process, but our first dinner at Salt really made the case for cooking as a process.

At its foundation, Salt is not your typical Pittsburgh restaurant. Their menu is seasonal, regionally sourced, and is so subject to last minute change it’s not even printed on paper it’s just written on a huge chalkboard on one side of the restaurant. (Bring your glasses, I should have…) What’s on their website is a good example of the sort of thing that they are serving, but it’s probably not exactly the same as what’s written on the wall.

It’s also a different sort of menu in that it’s effectively a very large chef’s tasting menu. There’s a selection of cocktails, wine, beer, starters, large plates, and last plates that are designed to work together and support one another. There’s the typical tasting menu rule of “no substitutions” and while they have a bar, they only have the ingredients for the drinks that are on the menu.

Normally I find this sort of thing a bit, well, stuffy to be honest. I grew up with the dinner rule at home of “this isn’t a restaurant, you eat what’s in front of you” and to some degree tasting menus strike me that way. “I don’t care if you hate tomatoes, I’m going to serve them to you anyway!”. I go to a restaurant to be waited on and have a choice bigger than “what leftovers do we have in the fridge?” and “What strange thing did someone come up with based on the overstock in the restaurant freezer?”. I don’t want to be told what to eat, I want to pick and choose from a vast range of choices.

This is where Kevin and his crew have really nailed the menu. It’s a tasting menu but with enough variety and creativity that you don’t feel like you’re choosing from only a handful of dishes. The dishes are simply listed by primary ingredients and flavors so it’s easy for pretty much anyone to find something that they will like. It’s also in plain english, so you don’t need to speak a foreign language or have a huge foodie vocabulary to understand items like “Hanger Steak: potato, shiitake, cherry barley”. Should you have a question — “cherry barley?” — the servers know the menu cold and can explain exactly what it is you are ordering.

When our cocktails and first plates arrived I discovered that my spicy (chili!) cocktail matched the spiciness of my first plate, but a sip of my partner’s very sweet cocktail matched my first plate in a completely different way. For my large plate I ordered a more “earthy” that also complemented the dish just as well, but differently, than my partner’s drink. Obviously I can’t try every combination of cocktail and dish, but thinking back on the menu it’s hard to see where I could screw up without trying. Each drink and dish had nice complementary flavors both within the dish itself and when combined with other things on the table.

Ok, so where’s the process that I think Bill Fuller was talking about?

I say it’s in the continual evolution of dishes based on feedback from customers, availability of ingredients, and the Salt team’s creative energy.

Normally I order a cocktail without much thought of how well it will go with my first course, often before I even look at the menu. Salt’s menu is well designed so your choices are limited to things that work well together. Many places have a list of “signature drinks” without much regard to the food menu, but at Salt each of the base spirits is represented with a cocktail tailored to match the ingredients of the dishes.

The same is true for first plates and large plates. I didn’t realize until later that even with a number of first and large plates that it was hard for me to pick dishes that would conflict with one another. The spiciness of my first plate did not overwhelm the earthiness of my large plate, and my last plate wasn’t a sugar flavor carbo bomb that made me forget what I was eating 10 minutes earlier.

Without going into the specifics of my meal, I feel good saying that if you go in with an open mind, talk to the water, and trust that Kevin and his staff have put together an excellent menu, you will not be disappointed. Yes, we really enjoyed our dinners, but it’s ok that what we ordered might never be on the menu again. Whatever replaces it will be as well thought out and planned as what we had on our first visit.

As for the physical space at Salt, it also benefits from well-thought design and architectural work. The first floor is a communal eating area with an open kitchen, the second floor is a reservation only-mezzanine. In the communal area you can sit at the kitchen “bar” or at one of the huge tables shared by different parties. Instead of feeling like a dorm cafeteria it feels like a large family get together where you just don’t recognize all of your relatives.

Too many times I’ve been to a restaurant with great food but diner-unfriendly atmosphere: harsh lighting, not enough lighting, too much noise, tables too close together, not enough room for the waitstaff to move, you get the idea. The architects behind Salt’s new building have done a truly amazing job of putting together a friendly, homey, comfortable space.

Salt is the result of a lot of creativity, imagination, design work, and hard labor. In my opinion, the effort has paid off and Salt is going to become a major player in the Pittsburgh restaurant scene.


HackPGH trip report

Filed under: Hacking,Pittsburgh — jet @ 23:44

FINALLY made it to a HackPGH member’s meeting. It’s a nice little space, not in the best part of town, but at least there’s parking and the like. Many members have donated time and equipment to help set up the space, now they’re needing help with things like putting in A/C wiring and continuing to build out the space.

So what sort of things to people do at hacker spaces? Well, whatever the members think would be a fun project. Say, for example, building and launching a high-altitude balloon or learning about fizzy drinks.

If you’re in Pittsburgh, and you’re looking for a studio space to hack on technology or take classes, haul yourself out to the next Hack PGH open house night or take a class, you won’t be sorry.


Some tips for new cyclists in Pittsburgh

Filed under: Cycling,Pittsburgh — jet @ 10:30

Some notes from today’s ride

  1. Before you start cycling here, and especially before you move here or look for a place to live, go over to BikePGH and read up on the city. Get their fine cycling map and your riding will go much more smoothly.
  2. There’s a popular belief that Pittsburgh drivers are some of the most polite in the US. While this may be true, they also get into dangerous, passive-aggressive games of “no, you first” that block traffic and cause other people to do stupid things.
  3. The Pittsburgh Left is as real and as dangerous as it seems.
  4. If you see a motorist doing something rude or dangerous don’t assume they’re a jerk. It’s quite likely that they’re probably just incompetent, elderly, or both. The state driver’s exam is a joke — you just drive a bit in a parking lot — and there’s also no mandatory retest as you get older.
  5. If elderly, incompetent drivers annoy you then avoid Squirrel Hill.
  6. There’s a reason there are sharrows on one side and a bike lane on the other. Trust me.
  7. If you’re in Oakland and almost collide with an oblivious college student, thank Pitt.
  8. If you’re in the South Side and almost collide with an oblivious hipster, thank PBR.
  9. Negley is not nearly as fun as you think it will be.
  10. Yes, you broke 35mph without trying. We all have.
  11. Cycling here has improved several orders of magnitude in the four years I’ve lived here. There are bike lanes, sharrows, a pro-bike org, and city support for cycling.
  12. Tuesday night is Bacon Night at the Harris Grill.


another day, another facebook privacy policy screwup

Filed under: Rants — jet @ 10:00

I do privacy and security stuff for a living, so I can honestly say that Facebook doesn’t have to make everything opt-in by default. They could just as easily do opt-neutral or even opt-out by default, but they’ve decided to err in favor of stalkers and data miners.

Facebook has added a new privacy setting called “Instant Personalization” that shares data with non-Facebook websites BY DEFAULT. You have to manually go and turn it off you don’t want Facebook to share your data with non-Facebook websites.

On top of that, Facebook will still let your friends share information about you on other sites unless you block the individual applications.

You can turn off the data sharing by Facebook within Facebook settings: Account > Privacy Settings > Applications and Websites -> Instant Personalization -> Edit Setting

To block the Applications, you have to go to each and every Application within Facebook and individually block it:

Pandora: http://www.facebook.com/apps/application.php?id=139475280761

Yelp: http://www.facebook.com/apps/application.php?id=97534753161

docs.com: I haven’t found the app yet.


What Pittsburgh can learn from Japan

Filed under: , The Future Of,Pittsburgh — jet @ 15:56

I’m just now back from spending two weeks in Japan, almost exclusively in Tokyo. While the two cities are obviously very different culturally, I noticed some similarities between the two and was intrigued by how Tokyo’s residents benefit from things that Pittsburghers see as problems.

First question: How big do you think Tokyo is? Huge, right? 12 million people?

Wrong. Tokyo is (was) actually pretty small. It was a single town in the middle of the Tokyo Prefecture, which covers what we would call the greater Tokyo metropolitan area. There are actually 23 wards (think boroughs) in Tokyo, each that collects its own taxes and has its own local government. If you live in Shibuya you pay different taxes than if you live in Roppongi, but for those of us who don’t live there, we’d never know (or care) about such details. We see a huge city with consistent signage, the Tokyo Metro Police helping tourists, Tokyo Fire Department trucks being washed/polished, and the wonderful collection of decorated sewer and storm drain covers of the public services.

So how big is Pittsburgh? Is it a little town or is it a region? I live two towns away from Pittsburgh, yet my mailing address is still “Pittsburgh, PA”. A friend of mine in California told me he was from Pittsburgh, it turns out he’s from Murraysville.   

Now, how many police departments do we have in “Pittsburgh”? How many fire departments? How many road maintenance organizations?

Could the Borough of Forest Hills, Swissvale, and WIlkinsburg continue to retain what identity they have while sharing a police force with Pittsburgh and one another? Would “Pittsburgh” benefit from having unified police and fire departments that shared frequencies, training, and equipment?

I’m not talking about consolidating cities, I’m talking about sharing resources that are common across adjoining towns and communities. Pittsburgh already has several “zones” for its police department, would adding another zone (or few) be cheaper than operating multiple, tiny police departments with duplicated services?

[tags]pittsburgh, tokyo[/tags]

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