Geek Smithology

February 28, 2006

The Miracle of Muscle Memory

Filed under: Craft of Dev by Nathan @ 9:52 pm

The Pragmatic Programmers suggest learning a powerful text editor inside and out (instead of, say, learning Emacs) and this is a story about where you end up after 10 years…

I was editing some text in VIM. Because it’s very good for that and not very good at anything else[1]. I wanted to start a new line below the one I was on and for some reason my mind had a short and thought “press i”, but before I could finish that thought, my fingers had already pressed the proper key (o) and were merrily typing their way across the screen. Of course, since it was before I thought, what I typed looked something like this:

And so then we see that the tangential nature of the trancendental aspects of the larch corresponds directly to Kierkegaard’s third principle of thermodynamics, namely that he was standing on the shoulders of Abe Vigoda.

That of course, makes no sense whatsoever, and is one of the dangers of typing without thinking. Luckily, VIM is prepared for this – simply press “Esc d ^ i” and you’re back on your merry way. The point of this post isn’t to start an editor war; it’s not a preference, it’s a religion.

In VIM’s case, that religion is Zen.

[1] Emacs is a wonderful operating system. The one thing it lacks is a decent text editor.

February 26, 2006

Most of what you need to know about salt (but didn’t know to ask)

Filed under: Taste by Nathan @ 8:32 pm

I remember saying somewhere that I would get cynical about food, so I’m going to start with our old friend salt. If you have a bowl of kosher on your counter, this will validate what your family no doubt regards as “that weird salt bowl”; if you have a half full shaker of whatever salt was on sale with some rice “so it doesn’t clump” then read this. For the love of good food, read this.

Q: How important is salt when cooking?

A: Let me put it this way: if a recipe calls for something to be “seasoned”, it means you should put salt and pepper on it. Every recipe calls for something to be seasoned. Even a great chocolate cake recipe will have a pinch of salt in it.

Q: Chocolate cake? Gross! Who wants a salty cake?

A: Nobody wants a salty cake. However, salt (in moderation) has an almost mystical propery to enhance the flavour of (a.k.a. season) a food in which it’s cooked. In a chocolate cake, it will enhance the “chocolate-ness” of the cake. To satisfy your inner Mr. Wizard, add a couple pinches of salt to some scrambled eggs and cook them as normal. Then scramble another batch without any added salt and sprinkle the exact same amount of salt over the top after cooking. Note how the first batch has a full egg taste, while the second just tastes like salt? Now you’re getting it.

Q: Okay, what’s with the bowl of salt?

A: That’s kosher salt. The most important thing about kosher salt is the ingredient list: salt. No nitrates, no iodine, no crap — just salt. The next important thing about kosher salt is that rather than tiny crystals, it has a coarse, flaky texture. This makes it much easier to pick up a pinch and sprinkle it on your food. Kosher salt also sticks to food better (excellent when grilling a steak) and tends to be absorbed better.

Q: Why the hell would you pick up salt, though? Why not a shaker?

A: Because it is much easier to get proper crystal distribution over the surface of a piece of food. If you’re using a shaker there’s a tendency to get a lot of salt in a couple spots, and almost no salt in others. That’s disgusting — good cooking[1] is art. By making seasoning tactile, you get a feel for how much is enough, and nothing connects you with a dish like feeling the ingredients go through your hands.

Q: Okay, if salt is so great, why do they sell unsalted butter?

A: Any good cook wants complete control over the level of seasoning in a dish. If your butter is salted then you have to compensate, rather than starting from a clean base.

Q: Won’t we get sick if there is no iodine in our salt?

A: If you are an organic vegan with no external source for iodine, then maybe. But even then, probably not.

Q: Why isn’t there a salt shaker on the table?

A: Because the food is seasoned perfectly, and doesn’t require any more salt. If you want your food to taste like salt instead of food, then go to McDonald’s and leave me alone.

Q: Is there anything else we should know about salt?

A: Maybe a quick look at some other salts.

First is table salt. I prefer sea salt, and use this in recipes like pancakes because it’s easy to sift and measure. If you do use kosher salt, you should increase the amount required by a third to compensate for the different physical structure.

Second is fleur-de-sel, a sea salt harvested by hand in Brittany. If you want to finish off a perfect tomato salad or a nice piece of lamb with a few crunchy pieces of coarse salt (note that sea salt has a very distinctive flavour and is not nearly as “salty” as table salt), this is what you want to use. At $20 a pound, save it for special dishes and cook with your kosher salt.

Rock salt consists of very large crystals, and often used for decoration. If you want to impress your friends at your next dinner party, a chilled plate of perfect oysters on the half shell riding a bed of rock salt is a good start.

Pickling salt is a very fine grained, very pure salt for creating brines (you know, for when you make your own saurkraut)

Seasoning Salt is a tool of the devil, and will often contain inferior salt, stale spices, and a good dose of MSG. If you like the flavour, mix some kosher salt, celery salt, garlic powder, onion powder, paprika and black pepper together and you’ll have something far superior to anything you can buy in a can.

And that wraps up our whirlwind tour of the salt world. If there’s only one thing you need to take away, it’s this: unless you’re eating canned soup[2], taste the food before you put salt on it. Your taste buds (and your blood pressure) will thank you.

[1] Note, cooking is NOT baking. Baking relies on precise formulas so that chemistry can do it’s magic. We’re not talking about baking. Yet.
[2] Canned soup is formulated in such a way as to offend the fewest people possible. The easiest way to accomplish this to make sure it has no taste.

February 17, 2006

The Matrix: A Confession

Filed under: Sight by Nathan @ 9:17 pm

Fear not, my confession is not that I liked Matrix Revolutions — the only words I could muster in the lobby after beholding that misguided cash grab were “bitter” and “disappointment.” The most entertaining thing about that movie was during Trinity’s two hour death scene when Timmeh leaned over and, quoting Starship Troopers, said

At least. I got. To have you.

Conversely, it is de rigeur to love the original Matrix[1]. There’s this unspoken rule that one’s geekhood is in jeopardy if one didn’t exit the theatre blown away[2]. Well, bless me father for I have sinned: I wasn’t blown away. In fact, I don’t recall much more than a forced “meh” in response to my fiance’s query as to my likage[3] while we exited the theatre.

As time went by, I searched for answers: what was I missing? What were other people seeing? I was informed that the DVD was best-of-breed when it came out, so dutifully I bought it. Trouble was, I didn’t have a DVD player so the disc sat on my shelf for a few weeks until I procured the necessary electronics in one of those back alley cash deals. Finally prepared, I made popcorn, I turned the lights down low, and whispered quietly to my cat, “let’s give ‘er.”

I came. I watched. I remained unmoved.

Was there cool shit? Yes, some of the shit was cool. Was it great sci-fi? I’m not touching that. Was it an entertaining action movie with some new ideas in the plot department? Bingo was his name-o.

To this day, I’m not blown away by the Matrix. What has blown me away? Kill Bill. Pi. American History X. Almost Famous. Spice World[4].

I feign the love while my fellow geeks wax poetic about how the only flaw in this cinematic drop of distilled rainbows and unicorn tears (of joy) is that they can’t watch it again for the first time. It’s time to admit that my heart just is not in it. Sorry Matrix – it isn’t you, it’s me. I think it would better for everyone if we just broke up.

But we can still be friends, right?

[1] And if you love it, why don’t you marry it? That’s right, I went there.
[2] If your first Matrix experience was on DVD and you’re over the age of 22 I’m sorry, you’re not a geek – no matter what your older sister’s boyfriend calls you. You may still qualify for nerd…
[3] Likage is a perfectly cromulent word.
[4] Shut up.

February 4, 2006

I have a Bacon Number of 4!

Filed under: Sight by Nathan @ 3:08 pm

Do you remember when rock was young? Neither do I, but you probably remember when the internet was young. Back when WIRED was considered edgy, Marc Andreesen managed to sneak the <blink> into Netscape, and suck.com was only a twinkle in someone’s eye.

Of the millions o’ memes that der interwinkle hath spawned o’er its troubled history, one of the most enduring is the Bacon Number. It was inspired by the play Six Degrees of Separation, which posited that everybody on earth is at most six degrees removed from any other person. For example, say there’s some random dude at my brother’s church. Well, he knows my brother, who knows me, and I know Eskimo Bill, so Joe Random would have an Eskimo Bill number of 3. And Eskimo Bill would have Joe Random number of 3 – it’s totally commutative.

Some wag extended this to the phenomenon known as Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, using films. If you’re wondering “Why Kevin Bacon”, you’ve obviously never watched Footloose. It occurred to me that since my sister-in-Law Ivana was in a movie[1] I should have a Bacon Number. Rather than attempt the calculation of her Bacon number alone, a feat that makes calculating pi feel like the mere approximation of a transcendental number based upon the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter, I proceeded posthaste to the Oracle of Bacon for the answer. And here it is, folks:

Nathan Smith was in Home Movie #16: Das Baby with Ivana Siska
Ivana Siska was in Operative, The (2000) with Jerry Wasserman
Jerry Wasserman was in Liberty Stands Still (2002) with Oliver Platt
Oliver Platt was in Loverboy (2005) with Kevin Bacon

Nathan Smith has a Bacon number of 4. Q.E.D.

On a side note, since Foo appeared with me in April Fools Day @ Service Intelligence: a Documentary, he would have a Bacon number of 5.

It’s a small world after all.

[1] she’s actually much more involved in making films than acting in them. I hate to name drop, but she was the second assistant director for Freddy vs. Jason

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