Monday, May 31, 2010

Alice, Please Send Help

Here in the Bay Area where the sky usually denies any existence of clouds, after weeks of rain  the sun has finally appeared.   I sit on my patio with the Sunday newspaper and a stack of magazines from the computer industry that have been piling up on the dining room table either to be read or recycled.  I decide to catch up on what I've been missing, not a programmer but a technology scribe who writes user manuals and maintains content on web sites.  

My cat sits at the screen door meowing to join me, but  I try to ignore her  even though she's doing a great job of being pitiful. I'm not moved, especially since she's started using a large planter as her litter box.  Instead, I point to the pet door  and explain how she can lounge outside on the concrete steps leading to my condo. I've started talking to myself, but it's not myself. Is it? I'm talking to my cat. In awhile, she gets the message and leaves.  All I hear is my iPod from the living room and turn back to  picking out articles.  

With so much information, it's important to be selective, focused. But despite my best efforts,  I'm verging off on my own internal hyperlinks, my mind skipping along, looking for a lifeline. Now  I'm back again.  The magazines are filled with articles about mobile devices, security issues, big companies merging with other companies to get an edge on an upstart, software floating on a cloud and settling on a network, databases that are no longer relational but elongational.

Once I stood at the threshold of computer development. I've watched the Internet grow from the bastard child of the defense industry into an international communications megalith. Technology is moving at an incredible speed.   I'm falling down a rabbit-hole with a trampoline bouncing me off the wall. An old professor  appears and requests shrimp.  My grandmother has suddenly zoomed into life and says I can ask her three questions before she disappears. I keep bouncing. It's a good thing I've been going to the gym, but still, this isn't fun.  

I promise myself that I'll stop insisting that my pattern pieces  for this Bronx doll  fit together. But which way is the way and is there a way?  Alice, please send help.

Right now, I need to bring a dish to my Women's Salon, a group of poets and writers who share inspiration and food. I look in my refrigerator and there's not much there. I dig behind an empty plastic bag, which I'm not sure why I'm trying to refrigerate.  But I do find a pound of string beans that are beginning to go wrinkly, a perfect foil for my next recipe.

Au Go-Go Green Beans
A pound of use-to-be fresh green beans
A bulb of garlic
Red chile flakes
2 Tablespoons of sesame oil
Parsley (handful as in  a 1/4 to 1/2 cup)
A cup of so of garbanzo beans
Soft cheese (optional)

Put up a pot of water to boil. In the meantime, trim the green beans.  No need to wash.  Once the water boils plunge the beans into the cauldron. They'll turn a bright beautiful green. Keep them boiling on medium for about four minutes until crunchy. Drain.

While the beans are cooking, heat sesame oil in a large frying pan on low. (Better to heat the pan first on low before pouring in the oil.) Take about 10 garlic gloves (less if you don't like a strong garlic taste) and smash them in salt on a cutting board.  Dice into small bits.  Saute the garlic on low, keep stirring.  Make sure the garlic doesn't burn.  In about 2 minutes pour the drained beans into the frying pan.  Stir with a wooden spoon, coating the beans with the oil and garlic.  Keep it up.

Get two or three pinches of red chile flakes and add to the mix.  Salt.  Chop parsley (can be wilted) and throw into the pan. Keep coating.  Now open a can of garbanzo beans.  Add about one cup to the fry pan.  Keep the mixing action going.

Find some soft gunky cheese that you've ignored for too long and slice into small bits.  Toss into the fry pan and keep mixing until melted.  

Serve either warm or at room temperature.  Goes well with white wine.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Recruiters and Dogs with Sticks

The fire trail behind my house is where I walk after staring  at job boards and postings on LinkedIn, a place where dog owners can let their pets roam off leash. Today after passing many packs of doggies, I wonder why they all seem to be partial to sticks--chewing, pawing, licking, and happily carrying them inside the vise of their teeth.

Sometimes dog owners pick up a second stick and throw it down the trail. Some dogs go for the chase, while others ignore the subterfuge. But this does not explain the basic stick fascination.  I polled dog owners along the fire trail about this phenomenon.  They reached a consensus:  dogs like sticks because of an instinct before doggie domestication to hunt and carry prey to the den. As someone growing up in the apartment buildings of New York City whose idea of a pet was a goldfish or a parakeet, I thank dog owners for their insight.

Now I'm almost up to the second bench along the trail, a marker that lets me know how far I've come before the path angles upward and climbs to the back of a local community college's parking lot.

I'm hitting my stride, relaxing into a new way of life called unemployment. In my particular line of work, I've discovered that there are a group of recruiters largely based East Coast who all seem to have the same job opportunity. I've been doing this long enough to know not to take them seriously. Any time they call they are in "round-up" mode, recruiters who need to submit a daily quota to their account managers who operate higher up on the frenzied chain.  Once my resume is submitted, they drop away from me like road kill along the Internet highway.

In a discussion today with a local recruiter, I didn't immediately jump at the job bait. I wanted to find out more, let her know that certain recruiting practices can give people like her a bad name.  She seemed to want to prove that she didn't run with that crowd.  All afternoon, she sent me email. By the end of the week, I still hadn't heard a thing.

Then there was that phone number on a yellow stickie, a note I had written to myself.  I called and it was the head of a well-known local agency; how I got the number I don't remember, except he put me in touch with one of the agency's recruiters who called 15 minutes after we had finishing talking and encouraged me to send along my resume and any attachments, which I did.  By the end of the week, I still hadn't heard a thing, called and found out the client wanted some specific experience that I lacked.

Silence means it's time to move on.

I hadn't dropped the ball, but I dropped my stick.  I got home hungry. It was time to make:

Very Poor Boy Sandwiches
Fish fillet (about 3/4 of a pound) from your cousin's fishing trip that have been at the back of the freezer for six months
Hot sauce
Lemon juice
Salt, Pepper
One Tablespoon of olive oil
Rolls (stale is okay)
Condiments to choose from (olives, pickled veggies, mustard, chutney, relish, ranch dressing, ketchup, etc.)

Defrost fish fillets.
Drip hot sauce on the fillets and squeeze out the juice of one lemon for a marinade. If the fish is a little on the stinky side, this will help. Season with salt and pepper. Let fish sit while you heat up a pan on a moderate setting. One the pan is hot, add oil. Once the oil is hot, add fish, and depending the thickness of the fillet, cook about 4 minutes on each side.
Heat up rolls. If they're stale, sprinkle with a little water to freshen and pop in the oven or microwave until toasty.
Spread rolls with your chosen condiment, or combination of thereof. (For traditionalists, add lettuce and tomato.)

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Unemployment and "Creating a Brand"

I listened to my job support group and began to network. Network? The idea of sidling up to a stranger and striking up a conversation was more than I could handle.  

As a young girl I sat at my mother's kitchen table listening to her converse with friends as they sipped pots of strong black coffee, wondering how they knew what to say to each other and when to switch from one subject to the next without hesitation. I looked for signs, gestures, changes in expression, but saw none.

I believe my life-long career as a listener began at this point, not because I was interested in what other people had to say, but because I didn't know what to say myself. But to talk to strangers! To network! To move toward inquiring about jobs was more than I could handle, which is why I initially became the Leftover Chef. It gave me something to do in between collecting unemployment checks.

My idea was to "create a brand" for myself, which is what my job club had advised. You see, I was listening!

I realized that I was someone on a fixed income who could demonstrate how to get by without buying anything. My elevator speech unfolded right before my very eyes. Night after night after I prepared dinner from the few fixings in my cupboard, an idea began to form.  TV's Food Network made altogether too many demands on the budget, requiring that the cook had actually gone grocery shopping earlier in the day to prepare for some themed repast. Stews, barbecue, Southern cooking, tiered desserts, French omelettes. Not in my condo, which was now seriously underwater; I carved my meals from the back of my refrigerator and from the very shadows of canned food shelves where I had never gone before, a kind of Star Trek of the stomach. I decided to share, collect recipes and market myself to a niche that as far as my preliminary research had indicated, was nicheless.  And so I offer these recipes.

All recipes are meant as guidelines for your own hands and tastes to annoint. They are not from a famous food author who has spent a lifetime researching the cuisine of a certain culture. No way. They come from daily life, from ingredients that the average household has forgotten. 

In time the innards of the refrigerator become exposed.  Ketchup, mustard, relish, chutney, horseradish, jams, not to menton the many food items a shopper may capture one weekend from the supermarket  thinking to experiment or try a new product only to be swept up in the demands of the week. However, in the world of the Leftover Chef, job routines in addition to a regular paycheck, have ceased to exist, which offers a new-found freedom. 

What now stands in full view is the reminder of a food budget poorly managed. This is where the Leftover Chef steps in to concoct all manner of new approaches to eating. See it as a challenge of having to do with less, or a part of the green movement to recycle leftovers.

Use the recipes to plummet through the shoals of your creativity, an invitation to discover your own potential in lean times. Here's the first step:

Cabbage Concoction
Half a head of cabbage
Any part of an onion
Tomatoes from the rejected produce section
Any other wilting veggies
Bits of leftover meat (optional)
Salsa molding at back of the refrigerator (dig to the bottom where the stuff is okay)
Liquid of any kind including chicken broth, white wine, or plein de water
Cooking oil
Seasonings like chile powder or hot sauce
Noodles of any kind

In a separate pan, boil water, cook noodles, drain and set aside.
Heat up a large frying pan on the stove.  Pour in about 2 tablespoons of oil.
Don't cry. Put on sunglasses and dice the onion.  Things will get better. If you have different onions wrapped up in plastic like a half of a red and yellow, both or either will work. Saute in the oil.
As the crow flies north, cut the cabbage into strips and place into the pan with the sauteed onions.  Mix around on a low flame until everything is soft about 5 to 10 minutes.
Slice your tomatoes and throw them into the pot  to create a nice mush.
Slice and add any other wilting veggies like celery or broccoli from the "crisper." Cook everything together for another 5 minutes, stirring during commercial break.
Dice any leftover meat like chicken, turkey, or tofu sausage.  If you don't have any, don't sweat it.
Just get the salsa from the side of your refrigerator and measure out about 2 Tablespoons into the mix.
Add a cup of some liquid.
Add seasonings to taste.
Mix in the cooked noodles and cook and stir some more.

Serve with a cool glass of water.  For a nice touch, add a lemon slice.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Plug Into Your Electric Vehicle (EV) Future

Surely you’ve heard about the May partnership announced between Toyota and Tesla to start building electric cars at the recently closed NUMMI (New United Motor Manufacturing Inc.) plant in Fremont, California. For the past 25 years General Motors and Toyota had worked to manufacture cars together, seeing it as an opportunity to learn about each other’s production methods.  The plant was closed earlier this year by Toyota as a cost-cutting measure; now it is being resurrected in the name of electric car development.

And who is Tesla? The only manufacturer of EVs in the United States at prices that none of us can afford.  But that may change with Toyota acquiring a $50-million stake in Tesla and the two companies poised to rumble on the assembly lines together…but don’t look now…the Tesla-Toyota partnership may have competition.

At a Commonwealth Club meeting in San Francisco this month, speakers representing different spectrums of EV car development including a representative from General Motors, discussed the possibility of these electrically powered cars becoming the future vehicle of choice.   

Tony Posawatz, Vehicle Line Director of General Motors’ New Chevy Volt and also Co-Chairman of the Electric Drive Transportation Association, announced that he had driven a Volt to the meeting, and offered that the car will be in retail development by the end of this year “with GM being the first to mass market electrically driven vehicles in the U.S. and around the world.” Currently, the Volt has a 40-mile range with an extending gas generator that produces enough energy to power the car along further on a single tank.  Posawatz spoke of that initial range being upped from 40 to 100 miles and that the Volt is not “a single play for GM.”

Look around the corner. Motorcycles also are being slated for electric development. Jit Bhattacharya, CEO of Mission Motors whose new Mission One Motorcycle (funded with help from Silicon Valley venture capitalists) claims to be the fastest production electric motorcycle in the world, said that the company is looking to “improve range, performance, and cost.” Current EV technology is based on lithium-ion batteries, commonly housed these days in laptops, PDAs, cellphones, and the Toyota Prius.

Mission Motors is exploring a partnership he said with China, which is using electric bikes and scooters to help address the issue of smog. This was an environmental problem that was highlighted during the Beijing Olympic 2008 games.  Apart from all other considerations, “The electric motorcycle is just more fun to ride.”

More fun, but what about practical, what about the massive infrastructure and development that needs to support the transition to EV? What about the growing demands on the power grid? Mark Duvall, Director of Electric Transportation at the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), an independent, nonprofit center for public interest energy and environmental research which receives most of its funding from member electric power companies, said “The industry has a responsibility to serve with a job to just deal with it.” He cited how power companies have stepped up to increase service as newer technologies like computers and plasma TVs draw more juice from the grid. 

Technology is improving here also with the development of what many refer to as the “smart grid” giving buildings, most immediately those owned by the government, the ability to monitor light and heat usage by wiring systems together and controlling them from a central software panel. Ultimately, we will be able to monitor energy usage in our homes.  All of this will require massive amounts of capital investment. The Feds have already kick-started the process, he said, with a 130 million dollar investment, but suggested that power usage may get more expensive with different pricing tiers, encouraging consumers to power up EVs during off-peak hours. There's even talk about being able to sell power from a EV car battery back to the power grid, much the way people today with installed solar sell electricity to local power companies.

Yeah, and what about plugging in those vehicles?  How is that going to happen? Richard Lowenthal, a former Mayor of Cupertino, California, and founder and CEO of Coulomb Technologies, Inc., acknowledged as a leader in electric vehicle charging station infrastructure worldwide, anticipates that this will happen differently depending on different situations. 

For example, in an urban area like San Francisco where the majority of people do not live in single-family houses, drivers may plug-in vehicles while they are shopping. “Most stations probably will not charge because businesses want people to shop in their areas.” He anticipates charging stations becoming “a normal piece of parking lot furniture." He also said that the home permitting system is changing to allow for these stations. “It’s just like installing an appliance.  It’s not a big deal,” although Lowenthal did acknowledge that older homes will have to do “a lot more work.”

More immediately, the future of EVs “will be blended,” said Posawatz, with an exploration of lithium-ion batteries augmented by biofuels and flex fuels. The EV “is not only for enthusiasts and early adopters. This is a car every one will love.”

Who knows? The American automobile industry, supported by power companies and infrastructure development, may have some life in it yet.

What do you think about our EV future?
Lenore Weiss

Posted via email from TechTableTalk: "It's Not Over Your Head"

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Every Weekend

I don't know where I live anymore. In a condo
by Leona Canyon or in your apartment
through the Webster Tube in Alameda?

Every weekend I climb past tomato sandwiches
tossed on your staircase, a high-tide apartment building
shoring up families with views of storm drains
weeping hot tears into the Pacific
then over to a part of town where drug lords
visit funeral parlors with loaded guns.

"Be Stupid," reads a t-shirt in San Francisco.
White letters on a black background, a call
to Fools everywhere.

Where do I belong? Tasting your cypress lips,
winding my fingers through your hand that anchors my love.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Choosing HTML5 Over Watching American Idol

Sure I wanted to see the last four contestants engage in their duet duels on national TV. But we’re talking HTML5, the next generation in hypertext markup language that the W3C (World Wide Web Consortium) international standards organization has been hard in work in developing. Plus, it was a total geek-out held at Microsoft’s San Francisco offices on the heels of the Web 2.0 conference at Moscone Center  and sponsored by three local user groups: PHP, Java, and HTML5. 

I stood my place in line waiting to grab a slice of pizza, and a cup of broccoli salad. (Mixed with currents and red onions, the stuff was tasty!) Many around me consorted with their cell phones while I grabbed a seat and gazed up at dual screens on either side of the room with the speaker podium placed <align=”center”>. Sponsors introduced themselves (Google, Guidewire, JetBrains, Kaazing, Marakana, Medallia, Oracle, O’Reilly, and Teksystems), and then it was on with the show.

So what is HTML5? Very roughly it’s a markup language for the Web that originally made its debut around 1990 and has been progressively upgraded since then to allow for the use of Cascading Style Sheets (CSS), and the implementation of AJAX with Javascripting to create in the eyes of the beholder, a more information-rich Web.

The lessons learned using HTML these past 20 years are being incorporated into tags and objects that may have previously existed as JavaScript work-arounds to satisfy growing user expectations, an approach one speaker called “paving the cow paths.” Browser support isn’t totally there, but Chrome, Opera, and Microsoft’s Internet 9.0, are all mapping the divide.  

The first speaker was Brad Neuberg from Google’s documentation team. Neuberg painted a wide HTML5 swath, demonstrating how the new standards matter to consumers and developers. This includes a new specification called “workers,” which allows developers to run code that won’t block the browser, meaning that it will remain responsive while it’s parsing lots of information. With the growing use of maps, there’s a geolocation object that will pass browser latitude and longitude coordinates to a browser for map display, handy for social networking sites. There are semantic tags to break content into more discrete sections, including the printed page’s “sidebars,” all allowing for better search engine indexing.There also are new link relations to define icons (think mood icons) and pingbacks. SVG (scalable vector graphics) will be available via new CSS selectors to offer the automatic definition of column number, text stroke, opacity, rounded corners, gradients, and controls to play audio and video (think YouTube on steroids and beyond). 

Microsoft’s Giorgio Sardo, took the stage, explaining how Explorer 9.0 is using the memory stored in GPUs (Graphic Processing Units), and in the double-core of “double-core” computer processors to allow for the display and resolution of HTML5 elements, pushing browser technology to a new level.

The last speaker was <a href=””>Peter Lubbers </a>from Kaazing and co-author of Pro HTML5 Programming (Apress 2010). He dove into a subject that was near and dear to the hearts of many developers who have been using household web development techniques such as “AJAX” and “Comet” to simulate real-time information on the Web. The truth of the matter is that information can only flow in “half-duplex,” or in one direction, which is the reason, Lubbers explained, that the recent “Times Square bomber” (Faisal Shahzad) was not immediately intercepted on his way out of the country because the “no-fly” list cannot be updated in real time. HTML5 brings a full-duplex solution to the table and it’s called “web sockets.”   

As all this settles, browser support will be spotty, but certain HTML5 elements are available in Chrome, Opera, and Explorer 8. You can inject a certain amount of browser HTML5 muscle into Internet Explorer by adding a meta tag, Google’s Chrome Frame.

Got to go.  Need to turn on the results show for American Idol.  

Lenore Weiss

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Shabbos Song

Together on the futon after a week 
of finding parking spaces in packed garages,

I watch your lips move toward my face,
smell the air as it tunnels inside your ear.

I am the lupine that grows behind our place,
a trellis of seed pods with a few purple blossoms

at the bottom of my stalk where 
you bend to pet them

my body dissolves 
in the wet wood covered with pine needles 

and my mind escapes through my mouth,
naked, a hole

you sniff for a den. 
I want you to find me.

I'm not anywhere to be found.
You ask, Can you feel me?