What is an Engineer?

Via Monday Thru Friday

Sep 12th, 2009

Book-A-Month - August 2009 #2

It caught my eye as I walked past my basement bookshelf last week. My favorite Stephenson novel, Zodiac, sitting squarely between The Big U and Snow Crash, looking particularly tempting, was too hard to resist. So, over the course of 3 or 4 shockingly long baby naps, I breezed through the 308 pages that make up this entertaining, thought-provoking and possibly overly informative eco-thriller.

It helps that I've read it before. The first-person narrator, Sangamon Taylor, is an asshole, and he's hilarious. Every one of Stephenson's focal characters is just a little bit of an ass, just a little too smart for their own good, and just precocious enough that the story almost happens to them solely because of who they are. (I suppose that's the point, right?) This is a formula for fiction that I find incredibly entertaining, hence the repeat read.

I mentioned the first time I read the book on my old blog back in November of 2004:

I started reading Zodiac by Neal Stephenson at the airport, and was about 2/3 of the way through it by the time we landed at Midway. I gotta say, there isn’t a thing that I’ve read by him that I don’t like. I need to pick up The Diamond Age before reading his current trilogy set in the 17th century called The Baroque Cycle.

The book is set in Boston, which means that when the narrator says “We took the green line to Kenmore Square and took a bus to Watertown Square...” I know exactly what he’s talking about, and happen to know he probably took the 70 or 70A bus.

One of the things I like most about Stephenson’s books is that he throws in all of this semi-random, yet utterly useful background information about his characters and the science behind whatever it is they’re dealing with. This means that I learned a lot about Chlorine last night, which I don’t much care about, but was nonetheless entertained.

I highly recommend this book, based only on the first 250 of 308 pages. I’ll re-endorse it later, I’m sure... and on that note, I think I’ll go finish it.

This is actually the third time I've blasted through this book, I enjoy it so much. It's still holding place as my favorite Stephenson novel of all time, just ahead of Cryptonomicon, with Snow Crash in at a close third.

Aug 25th, 2009

Book-A-Month - August 2009

Mona Lisa Overdrive is the third book in the Sprawl Trilogy, along with Neuromancer and Count Zero. I read the first two almost back to back a year or so ago, and only happened upon the trilogy's conclusion this month. It took almost a third of the way through to remember some of the more pertinent details from the first two volumes — the Tessier-Ashpools, and their reclusive orbital spire for instance.

The book was a very easy read, much like Spook Country and the rest of Gibson's books I've had the pleasure of reading. Again, however, I was struck with the single-person-on-drugs thematic element which I have yet to see anyone else take and interest in. Maybe it's so minor that no one else cares, but every one of his books that I have read to date shares it. It is as if Gibson is a closet fan of substance abuse, or that he's never experimented and wants to live its effects vicariously through one of his characters. Nevertheless, it was just as entertaining this time around. There is, again, an element of control loss when the addiction is in play.

I'm still psyching myself up to get started on The System of the World later this year. I think I'm going to cram in another book before the end of the month, and try to do another two in September so that I can spend October through December on the third tome of The Baroque Cycle and hit my "one book a month" goal, in number anyway.

Aug 22nd, 2009

HA! - Newton and Leibniz

via XKCD: Newton and Leibniz.

Aug 21st, 2009

Nescafe Taster's Choice Instant Coffee

Via Sweet Free Stuff, my wife found me a sampler of Nescafe's Taster's Choice Instant Coffee. I love coffee, and I complain regularly about what we have around the office so she's been looking for alternatives that might keep me from being crabby. Coffee is very important! No, I don't have a problem! sip Variety being the spice of life, here's how each of the five samples faired, in my only-kinda-sort-humble opinion:

Hazelnut

A fair cup of coffee. The flavor is good, and not overwhelming or sweet. I'm neither impressed (Hazelnut is my favorite coffee flavor) nor disappointed.

Original

Fair. Certainly not Dunky's or Starbucks, but it's pretty decent. I'd drink this on a daily basis and not nearly be as crabby as I am when I have to drink the swill free stuff we have in our break room.

Vanilla

The best of the bunch. The vanilla flavor is stronger in proportion than the Hazelnut. I don't know if I could drink it every day1, but it's certainly enjoyable.

Gourmet Roast

I expected this to be a tad better than the Original, seeing as it's "Gourmet". In this case, Gourmet must mean "tastes like your normal office kitchen coffee". Blech.

100% Colombian

Pretty strong for instant coffee! I liked it more than I was expecting. It's better than the Original, and easily the best non-flavored of the group.

Decaffeinated

I... don't drink decaf. Ok, fine, I'll try it... meh. Overall, I'd have to say I'm pleased how well I enjoyed the instant coffee. I had my doubts, though my experiences with Starbucks' Via line were also positive. Maybe I'm not cut out to be a coffee snob.

More? Yes, please!


  1. I’d get sick of the flavoring after a while.

Aug 15th, 2009

Book-A-Month - July 2009

Home Game was a gift for my first Father's Day last month. Immediately noticing its cuteness, my wife picked it up and read it before I did. She assured me I'd enjoy it and like with everything else, she was 100% right.

This book is loaded with hilarious anecdotes about Lewis' experiences with his three young children. He has some interesting theories on fatherly love, mostly that it comes from wanting to toss your children from high balconies and not doing so. I can't attest to personally scaling any tall objects with my son in tow, but I can relate to the surprise that is the level of stress an infant brings. It's incredible, and the level of openness in this book is refreshing and easily relate-able1.

I highly recommend this book for any new or soon-to-be new father. You'll laugh. You'll groan. You'll think "yeah, me too!". You'll wonder why he's storing his cheese outside.

Well, you would too.


  1. Yes, I know “relate-able” is not a word, but my inner thesaurus is failing me. Identifiable sounded wrong.

Aug 9th, 2009

From The Coffers

For six years (1999-2005), I maintained a blog that was, for a portion of its existence, highly personal and unfiltered. A bit too long after this became inappropriate for both my personal and professional lives, I archived the site and stopped blogging for a couple of years.

Every so often I flip through the thousand-ish old entries and find a few that are still relevant now. In that vein and that vein only, I am going to sprinkle a few of them in here and there, whenever it makes sense.

For instance:

On blogging

Originally posted to the old blog: August 12th, 2005

God, no. What I do is far worse. Trust me, preserve your innocence.

Aug 8th, 2009

Twitter Status - Site is down

Twitter Status - Site is down

/me is a sad doobie.

Aug 6th, 2009

Those WERE The Droids...

Via rose from the dead

Jul 31st, 2009

Verizon Customer Service Win

On average, I get a “courtesy call” from one Verizon service or another almost every day. As both a VZW and FIOS customer, each professional service organization tries regularly to up-sell me. So far I have not received a call from both on a single day, but I won’t be shocked when/if I do. My wife and I have the lowest possible family plan for wireless, and the 20/5 FIOS plan with home phone service. Slap that all together with their combined billing, and we’re shelling out ~$180 per month for media-related utilities. This is a much better deal than when we were paying almost $300 monthly for 3G network access on our phones.

About six weeks ago, I received a notice that my introductory FIOS rate was about to expire, giving me no price protection, and increasing my cost by about $10 per month. I called and the best they could offer me was another $10 per month for a lower data rate than I currently had, or another $20 per month for a slightly better one. My wife and I agreed that there was no sense in paying to get less, so it made better sense to pay to get more, and spend the $240 annually for slightly faster network service. I didn’t act, however, because I thought I’d call back later and see if I could haggle for a better rate.

So tonight when I got a call from “UNKOWN, CALLER” at 6pm I was generally nonplussed. They were right on time.

Tonight, however, was different. I was in an odd mood, and when the woman asked if I had a few minutes to talk about how she could analyze my calling plan to make sure we had the best possible deal, I told her she had up until my 11-month-old started crying (this doesn’t take long), and that we already had the cheapest family plan.

Or so I thought.

She looks at my account, sees that we use fewer than 100 minutes between us, and offers me a “loyalty” plan. This saves us $10 a month, with no contract extension. I double-check that we’re not losing our SMS options, and she notices that my wife’s line has a more expensive plan than mine (and she only sends a dozen or so messages a month). Fixing this saves us another $5. She also asks if I want to use my New-Every-Two and upgrade my phone. I do, but since I can’t settle on a phone I like, I have to pass for now.

Then she asks if either of us send picture messages, and I take the opportunity to note that my old phone now won’t send them — I get an error message that I had chalked up to it being old. She discover that when we turned off our internet service, it put a “network access lock” on the phones, so pictures couldn’t upload to their hosting service. She fixes it, and the call is now +3 awesomeness in Verizon’s favor, and $15 in mine.

This was the best five minutes I’ve ever spent with Verizon’s customer service. Maybe luck will strike twice and the FIOS folks will give me a break as well. One can dream, right?

(Photo Credit: Verizon Ad)

Jul 24th, 2009