Yearly Archives: 2011

Two Bay Area Restaurants

This week I wanted to give a quick shout out to two local restaurants I’ve really taken a liking to.

A friend of mine has a sort of hobby — he likes to discover the restaurants his favorite chefs go to when they take a night off from their own kitchens. It’s an interesting way to find hidden gems, and they aren’t necessarily famous or expensive; it’s quality food that comes first.

A recent find here is Vedas Indian Restaurant, which is in Milpitas, not a town you normally think of for great restaurants. In fact, it’s a rather unpresuming place, in a strip mall on a secondary street and from the outside doesn’t look very distinctive. Inside? it’s beautiful, and it’s full of really awesome food.

We’ve eaten there twice now, and I’ve been blown away both times. They have their standard menu, but they always have specials as well, and on our last visit we found out they’d just brought on a new chef in from India, and he’s been using specials to experiment with some new dishes. We tried a couple of those experiments, a cooked chicken wing appetizer that we all loved (“this is how buffalo wings should be made!”) and a vegetarian dish that my friend raved on. They also shared a special bread that was cooked in no oil and had parsley added to the dough that was quite tasty.

Being a carnivore, I tend to eat from the tandoori and curries. This last visit I tried the Basil Murgh Makhmali Tikka, tender and moist, and the Daal, which was one of the best Daal soups I’ve ever had. They also do a mango and avocado salad that’s quite tasty. Laurie tends to eat the lamb or goat, and my friend is a fish vegetarian, so we tend to hit most of the menu over time. Everything we’ve ordered there has been astounding.

The restaurant has a very good wine list, and this last visit we had a rather nice Argentinian Malbec from Filus; that should be a hint that this isn’t a list full of generic Napa Chardonnay by the glass. Pricing on the wines is reasonable, and the servers are happy to talk over the list and help you find something you like.

The service has been fine on every visit; attentive without hovering or trying to be your best friend. We typically set our reservations for 7 or 7:30 and it’s not unusual for us to stay at the table for 90 minutes or two hours; typical for an Indian restaurant, when we arriver they’re almost empty, and when we leave, they’re packed.

Pricing is moderate; we’ve spent about $50 a head on our two visits there, including cocktails, wine and tip. Of the various indian restaurants we eat at (including Maudhuban in Sunnyvale and Mynt in San Jose) this one’s rapidly become my favorite.

If you’re looking for something more Italian and upscale, you might want to try Tigelleria Risorante in Campbell, right on the edge of downtown. This is a small place doing very well-prepared Italian dishes using organic and heritage ingredients. The dishes are generally not complicated, but they are cooked as well as the chefs can make them. Menus are changed quarterly. They do both pastas and meats here, plus they do a full charcuterie with cheese, meat and veggie boards that include both locally sourced artisan meats and cheeses and high quality, imported italian options as well. I strongly — very strongly — recommend that at some point you bring a couple of friends and you all agree to share a few boards off of the charcuterie. You won’t regret it. As someone who’s occasionally driven to speaking in tongues by a well done cheese board, their selection left me speechless and whimpering.

Our last visit, we tried their carpaccio and a gelato al peperoncino appetizer (chili pepper ice cream over arugula with aged vinegar and pine nuts); their soup was a carrot, potato and parmesan soup that was velvety and would have made a great entree, they’ll usually have a gnocchi on teh menu and it’s always been light and fluffy. Our last visit the menu included everything from squid ink noodles with shrimp and asparagus in a paprika and cream sauce to wild boar tenderloint to a seared duck breast that was cooked perfectly and was quite tasty in a wine and orange sauce. Their menu is appropriate for both vegetarians and carnivores, and as you can see, this is not your lasagna and pizza roadhouse.

desserts are just as innovative, and the wine list is extensive and they have a full bar including a selection of grappa.

Tigelleria isn’t inexpensive; we typically end up spending $100-125 a head. But for that price there’s usually two bottles of wine, cocktails before, grappa or cordials with dessert, and a full meal and a tip. The staff is well trained and attentive and it’ll be hard to avoid the owner, since she likes to wander the room and make sure everyone is happy.

It may be headed towards the “special event” price level for a restaurant, but it’s not a formal place like Manresa or Kuletos; it’s that nice combination of really great, serious food in a place that isn’t taking itself too seriously.

Because of the price, though, it’s a place we tend to visit about once a quarter to try out the menu when it changes. It is, however, a very good value for the price, and you can keep the cost more moderate by being a little less — enthusiastic — about the wines and cocktails. Still, it’s fun to once in a while just go and pamper yourself, and this is a good place to do some pampering.

(If you’re looking for more of family-style italian restaurant that you won’t mind going to on a regular basis, we really like Mama Mia’s, also in Campbell, where you can get in for a good meal and a bottle of Chianti without upsetting your bank account). I typically judge an italian restaurant by the lasagna, not just because I really like it, but because it’s a dish that suffers if the kitchen is just going through the motions, but if they really care about the food, it tends to shine. It’s quite good here, and this is a good place to come for a nice italian oriented seafood dish, because they always have one on special based on what’s good in the market).

 

 

Closing out the hockey season…

With the draft happening over the weekend, now’s a good time to close out last season and take a final look at hockey for a while. At least until free agency, which will happen at the end of this week.

To close out my playoff predictions, I picked the Canucks, so I missed on the final round. Still, I was 11-4 in picking the playoffs, which is pretty good if you ask me. I’ll take it.

I don’t talk much about the draft, because I don’t get a chance to see the prospects and I therefore think critiquing the choices is a silly thing to do. I’ll leave it to the experts.

The Sharks highlight during the draft wasn’t their drafting — a few days before the draft, Setoguchi signs a three year deal at about $3m a year, which I thought was a fair deal for both sides. And then suddenly finds himself a Minnesota Wild when Wilson trades him (and a prospect and a draft pick) for Brent Burns. At first glance this looks like a sign and trade, but Wilson has said that wasn’t true, and he’s typically a straight shooter. I believe him when he says the deal didn’t happen until after the signing — but that ignores the reality that the deal Setoguchi signed was an easy deal to build into a trade, and Wilson clearly was willing to trade him; once Seto was signed, I’m not surprised there were phone calls inquiring about him.

Without actually saying “I called it”, I did speculate on the Sharks deciding to shake up the forward lines, and that I felt Setoguchi was the player most likely not to be a Shark from the top six forwards come camp:

If there’s a top 6 shakeup on the sharks, I would be picking him as the player to shake up, if I could. I certainly would be trying to sign him for a shorter deal for not so much money with incentives.

And as it turns out, that’s what happened. Brent Burns? Very nice pickup. Physical, and he’s the kind of player Wilson finds that makes you go “how did he do that?” — in one transaction, he brings in depth to fill out our blueline, replaces Pavelski on the power play point to allow him to play forward, gets Pavelski off the third line and back in the top six forwards, and adds some nice physical play. And he does it with a player that has one year left on his contract, but seems very signable by the Sharks, not someone likely to jump to free agency.

When pavelski is a third liner, you have forward depth to spare, so using it makes sense. I really like this deal on all levels, even though we lose a good prospect n it. It’ll be good for Setoguchi as well, I think.

So, Wallin, Nichols, Mayers and Setoguchi out, and it’s not July 1. Burns in on the blueline. Desjardins filling in Nicholl’s role. Pavelski slipping into the top six forwards, so there are a couple of 3/4 line forward spots at grabs, and a lot of good talent that played part time last season taht can fill it in,  like Mike Moore. Still some work to do on blueline depth, but the team could open camp tomorrow and I think it’s a better team.

Elsewhere in the league?

It’s great to see Winnipeg back, and that they’re the Jets again. Now the hard part starts, which is making money in Winnipeg. I feel pretty good about that happening, though.

And while it won’t happen this season, Atlanta -> Winnipeg means realignment. The rumors have the league looking at a four division, two conference format, with Columbus and Detroit going east and divisions organized around timezones. I’ve been a strong critic of Detroit going back to the east (because it makes the west look even more like a poor cousin to the eastern conference), but I like this rumored realignment a lot, because th schedule gets re-aligned as well, and the plan is to have everyone play a home and home against every team outside their division. I’ve wanted that for a long time, and if they bring that in instead of the current schedule, they have my support.

The realignment rumors also indicate they’re looking at doing first round playoffs in-division, then reseed within the conference for later rounds. I like that as well, so here’s hoping it all comes through.

Drew Remenda gives his view of re-alignment on the Sharks blog. I like it with one exception. That is that he has two 8 team divisions in the east and two 7 team divisions in the west, and I’d prefer the conferences to be 15-15, which means one team needs to move west. And that means either detroit or columbus, but that admittedly screws that team a bit, so it probably shouldn’t happen. But I’d rather the conferences be balanced if possible (and if the league eventually does expand to 32 teams, which I don’t expect for at least five years, it reduces the probability of needing major realignment again. So maybe we go with drew’s idea, but I’d still like to find one team to move west… although I can see why neither of the logical suspects would like that idea much.

One last item I had flagged to mention: the league is tweaking rule 48, the hit to the head rule. I thought it was a good first try at controlling this problem, but also didn’t go far enough — but how to handle this without removing the physicality from the game is a complex dance and not easily resolved (blanket bans to hits to the head won’t work, not at the NHL level). The previous rule made it illegal to hit to the head on a lateral or blind side hit; that restriction is deleted, and so now any hit where the head is targetted and the principal point of contact is now going to be illegal. You NHL players that roll around the ice with your elbows up, get ready to sit.  At first thought, I think this is an appropriate change, but until we see how it’s enforced and whether the players pay attention, I need to reserve judgement.

Also changed for next year is rule 41, the boarding rule, making it clear that players need to protect a defenseless player and avoid or minimize a hit against one. That’s true both along the boards and in an icing situation, and makes illegal a few hits from last season that weren’t illegal (but should have been), so I like this cahnge as well.

So barring a major free agency surprise by the Sharks or a big trade, that’s probably about it until camp opens. The Sharks seem well down the path I wanted to see towards being a bit different and a bit better going into next season; the Jets are back in town (san jose arena music folks, haul out that dusty copy of West Side Story!), and the league is grappling with the hits to the head and pushing the rule forward since it clearly didn’t fully protect players last year. And we’ll see how that goes.

So, when does the puck drop? Can’t wait!

 

 

On filters and echo chambers

Do We Have Too Many Filters, Or Not Enough? Tech News and Analysis:

Will there be people who have such a uniform social graph that any form of social filtering will just allow them to live in an online echo chamber? Of course there will be — but then, those people already exist, and seem to have no trouble living in a cocoon with or without the Internet. Social filters aren’t going to make that phenomenon any worse (J.P. Rangaswami has a very thoughtful post about filtering, and business blogger Tim Kastelle also wrote a great post recently about the virtues of different kinds of filtering).

This has always happened online, going back to the days of USENET where kill files could virtually disappear someone out of the social circles of a group if they didn’t follow the party line well enough. One of the great struggles I’ve seen with mailing lists going back 15 years and more is for a tendency for a list to stagnate over time. I used to look for ways to break that stagnation and try to keep fresh blood entering the community, but one of the side effects of keeping a group of people together for years is they get really comfortable with each other, and whether they realize it or not, they don’t always make newcomers welcome. It may not even be a visible “we don’t want you here”, but a more subtle lack of being welcoming where people just don’t end up feeling comfortable so they don’t tend to stick.

In today’s environments it’s easy to set yourself up so that you only see what you want to see; I think that’s inherent in the unknown and uncomfortable causing stress and as humans, I think most of us unconsciously try to minimize our stress where we can — as such, whether we realize it or not, we filter for the known and comfortable because it’s, well, known and comfortable.

There’s no place where this is more overtly visible than what I like to call the Silicon Valley tech bubble; you know who they are, it’s the high profile A-lister bloggers who are a large part of the group that writes or influences what’s written in the tech and analyst press about high tech, especially here in the valley. This group all watches each other very closely, and stuff found by one tends to circle around to all quickly, and when they get it in their mind that something is (or should be) true, disagreeing opinions rarely get much visibility.

Worse, when they are wrong, the mistakes tend to get quietly buried. Look, for instance, about the hype and predictions leading up to the release of the Verizon iPhone. In the view of many, that was going to be the death of AT&T and that there would be mass riots of AT&T customers chasing Verizon iphones. Could this be influenced by the fact that AT&T networks are particularly bad in some areas of silicon valley and maybe that influenced their thinking? Well, maybe. But that thinking also clearly influences the tech and financial analysts, and the whole “Verizon iPhone diaspora” concept because kind of a running meme in the tech press, until finally, Apple and Verizon actually shipped the damned thing.

And it turns out, it was a nice, modest success on all accounts, but… Where was the massive shift of customers that everyone was predicting? And how many of these people actually stood up and said “well, heck. I guess I got that wrong?” — few. And how many actually analyzed why so much of the predictive coverage of this was wrong? Almost nobody, that I saw. And how many of you actually held them accountable for being wrong and demanded accountability, or stopped reading them because they proved themselves to be more about wishful thinking than real analysis? Hmm.

That’s one problem here. Analysts and writers with frankly pretty lousy track records aren’t held accountable, especially if they’re interesting/fun writers and because we as readers love the rumor/gossip aspect and don’t actually seem to care if any of that is actually correct. There’s a strong aspect of Entertainment Tonight to all of this, which is amusing because many of these folks would pluck out their eyes rather than admit they pay attention to that kind of stuff. Unless it’s in the geek press.

There are a couple of things in play here. One is the tendency over time to focus what you follow away from things that cause stress, meaning a quiet tendency towards narrowing to the comfortable and familiar. On the flip side is what I think is a subconscious worry that you’re going to miss something important, which leads to bringing in more sources and more feeds, which means you’re spending more time going through all that stuff (and skimming, so you’re actually seeing even less detail and capturing less info) — until ultimately, you hit information bankruptcy and blow everything away and start over. Do that two or three times and you probably find yourself and you find youself simultaneously stressed over adding new sources to the things you’re watching (because you’re already overloaded and struggling to keep up already) and also stressing because there’s stuff you wish you could follow if you weren’t already stressing over being overloaded. And once you hit that point, you’re firmly in the grip of your personal echo chamber.

I’ve fought those issues; we all have. I continue to, but I feel like right now, I have things set up in a way that I’m comfortable with and which seem to be working pretty well. And I figured some folks might find how I simultaineously fight the echo chamber while avoiding information bankruptcy useful as hints to adopt into your own information surfing workflows… So here are a few thoughts on what I’m doing today:

(1) If it’s important to me, it will be brought to my attention. This is a core concept to get your head around; it’s the core of all of these social networks we’re in, yet one of the hardest lessons I had to teach myself was that I didn’t actually have to find all this stuff myself, but to relax and leverage the networks I’ve built myself into. This is easier said than done, but I think it’s very true: if you touch the right points in the network, then stuff you should know will end up being within your attention space. And if it doesn’t, you probably didn’t need it. Those exceptions you will run into (because no network is perfect) are those places where you need to figure out how to tie into the right networks to get  that information the next time). Embrace this concept, and you will likely wave bye-bye to bankruptcy forever, because you are embracing leverage over sheer volume.

(2) Budget by time, not size or number. I finally got over the “how many feeds can I read?” mindset. It ignores things like how busy a feed is and how noisy a feed is; you can’t treat a feed that updates weekly but is full of gems the same as some of the sites that post 30 articles a day, 20 of which are crap. I finally realized what mattered was time, so I budget time: my goal, about 90 minutes of surfing for information a day. If you come up with a budget for how much time in a day this is worth to you, you can start adjusting what you do to maximize the value of that time investment. I don’t know about you, but time is the one commodity I can’t flex and the one I very much tend to need to be creative about. If time were available in packages at Lowe’s, my credit cards would be maxed permanently.  So decide how much time you are willing to invest in this, and then that gives you permission to explore (if you’re under) and makes you edit (if you’re over); and through the editing you’ll keep yourself pro-actively away from bankruptcy.

(3) At the end of the day, throw it all out and start over. How often do you find yourself around someone who fires up Google Reader and it shows they have 1,000 unread articles? 10,000? And they peck at a few things and then leave the rest of that mass there, and rpobably say something apologetic. They’re in bankruptcy and won’t admit it. The amount of time they’re willing to commit is clearly smaller than the wad of information they’re trying to process, and they’re choking on it. They are in reality editing (by picking stuff on the fly) without editing (by leaving the rest behind in this faux fantasy they may catch up soon). And they’re stressing themselves out by doing so. So my suggestion: at the end of the day, if it’s not read, mark it all read and move on. Start fresh tomorrow. Remember point 1; if it’s important, it’ll be brought to your attention. Of course, if you’re that far overloaded, you may be too overloaded to see that it was. Which is why you need point 4.

(4) Edit. Ruthlessly. Often. Whenever you start falling a bit behind, start dropping things out of your feeds. Find the things that are least useful, least interesting — the least value for your precious time commodity — and unsubscribe them. don’t just mark them read, mark them gone. How often do you look at at site you’re following and wonder why you subscribed? Or the last time you got a useful article from it? Or clicked through a link to  something? Or did you research how to write web apps in Dec/RSTS three months ago and are all of those feeds still in there even though you ended up adopting Node instead? Edit. Edit. Edit. Even if the feed you drop is mine, drop it. seriously, I won’t mind. Think of ever piece you’re committing to follow as needing an ROI, where there’s an investment of time and a return of information of value. Anything that doesn’t meet that ROI that isn’t a boss, co-worker, spouse or your mother’s blog, should go (there will always be a need for VIP sites, of course). Think about it this way: the act of editing what you read can be intimidating because the process of going through all of those feeds can be time-consuming, and time is what you’re most missing anyway. If you get in the habit of editing out low-value feeds on the fly, one here, a couple there, you won’t hit a time where it all overwhelms and becomes a big hairy monster. And you can build the habit such that as you’re going through things, you’ll find yourself mentally suddenly do a sanity check: “when was the last time this site gave me value?” and if you can’t answer it, you drop it. And by building that habit, you’ll find your feed management almost becoming automatic within the time you’ve budgeted; if you start spending too much time in the feeds, you’ll edit more seriously, if you’re well in your time budget, you won’t. but by building that habit, you may hit a point where you rarely even notice your time budget any more; it becomes almost automatically self-sustaining.

(5) Fresh Blood. Lots of it. Always be adding new things to the mix; don’t be afraid to audition a feed. About 80% of the feeds I add get removed again within a month, but that’s okay. Many times I’ll check something out because of a particularly interesting piece someone linked to, but I don’t see much else that keeps me interested. Rather than continuing to skim and hope, I know if something else really interesting pops up, I’ll get told about it, so that’s okay. Also, don’t forget that your interests and needs and skills change over time; as I’ve grown as a photographer, the list of sites I follow on photography has changed by about 80%.; that’s not because those sites stopped being good or interesting, it’s because I stopped being their demographic and I started wanting different kinds of information to feed on. That’s good, but adapt your feeds to it, don’t just keep stuff around because it was useful once….

That’s another aspect of the edit ruthlessly; it not only helps you avoid bankruptcy, it gives you permission to explore ruthlessly, too. That’s how you avoid echo chambering yourself. My typical pattern seems to be that I subscribe to a number of feeds roughly equal to 5% of my feed collection every month. Most of those don’t survive the month, but many do. Along the way, I drop out weak feeds that come to my notice, but not as many as I add. Eventually (it seems to happen about every two months) I decide I’m spending too much time on all of this stuff, and I go in and do some more enthusiastic editing that typically takes me back to about 80% of my time budget. Note that all of this is thought of in terms of time expended and the value received for that investment in time — but if you want a raw number, my Google Reader subscriptions tend to cycle around 400.

You can almost think of it as an agile process; lots of short iterative acquisition/editing cycles instead of massive binge/purge projects.

And the core determining value is a simple one, in theory: are you getting a good return on the investment of your time? If the answer is no, then you need to adjust and edit until you do.

Of course, that’s still easier said than done, but I’ve found it definitely worth doing…  And if this helps, great. If not, well, maybe this site isn’t a good investment of your time… (grin)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Diving Into the Wreck by Kristine Kathryn Rusch

This week I’m reviewing Kristine Kathryn Rusch‘s Diving into the Wreck, the first book in a new SF series. This is high energy space adventure about a wreck diver, someone who searched space for derelict spaceships and then explores them for usable material. The lead diver, Boss, is a loner who discovers an ancient ship in a location where it shouldn’t be and decides to bring in a team to explore it. The ship may hold great value and great secrets, but it carries risks beyond the obvious one of going inside amid the ruins of a dead ship. There are also other parties interested in the ship and contents, not all of them your friends, and along the way Boss finds herself dealing with various interpersonal conflicts among her team and some unexpected personal history from her past.

This is a high energy story, a fairly quick read, and very entertaining. What attracted me to this book — other than Kris being one heck of a writer — is that I while back I worked with a guy who was just getting involved with scuba wreck diving and it was something we talked around a lot; it is an extremely rigorous and risky hobby with a lot of care and detail put into a dive to explore safely and carefully (and get out alive), and Kris has translated this quite well into the even more dangerous vacuum of space.

I thought the characters fit the story well; they aren’t exceptionally deep or complex, but they aren’t really the focus on the story and I found them internally self-consistent and there were enough conflicts and complications in the relationships to make the story interesting without getting in the way of the action that’s the base of the story.

All in all, a very successful evening’s enjoyment.

2011 playoff predictions: it’s the finals!

And here we are in the finals. 28 teams are golfing, two are playing. And it’s June. At least four, any maybe as many as seven, games of hockey left. I’m already kind of missing the game since there are nights when I can’t stick a game into the background while I work.

Round 3, Boston vs. Vancouver. This should be a great series. Sedins vs. Chara. Thomas vs. Luongo. Some nice stories and challenges here. And the Cup has a chance to return to Canada for the first time in a while. I’m disappointed (but honestly, not surprised) that San Jose isn’t in the finals, but if any team was going to get past the Sharks, it was the Canucks. (side note: there were only two teams in the west that could really beat the Sharks, the Canucks and the Sharks.)

I’ve had a pretty good playoff run myself: Picked the east, missed the west, so I’m 11-3. I guessed wrong on Boston in the first round, Washington in the second round (who didn’t? Other than Yzerman) and San Jose in the third. One wrong, one implosion, and one flukey goal off a stanchion (but the Sharks shouldn’t have let themselves get to that point). I’ll take it.

If you think I’m NOT going to pick Vancouver, you’re crazy. the Bruins are going to have trouble controlling the Sedin twins. The big piece that worries me with Boston is Thomas, and whether he can out-duel Luongo. I think that’s a very distinct possibility. He could steal this series. If he does, that’ll be awesome.

But I expect that the Canucks will win out in six, and take the Cup back to Canada. And if they do, they’ll have well earned it and deserve it. And if Boston somehow takes it instead, just hand Thomas the Conn-Smyte and all of the Canadian press can go spend a couple of months writing articles blaming Bettman for it somehow….

I’m really looking forward to this series. There’s been a lot of great hockey in these playoffs (too bad some parts of the Canadian hockey press seems to be blacked out from those broadcasts and are instead writing about stuff they think sucks and the whole Winnipeg cluster. Guys, there’ll be plenty of time for that in the offseason, how about the hockey?) and I expect this series to be pretty epic.

Can’t wait. but honestly, I’m ready for a bit of a break, too. But camps open not too far away, right?

Go Canucks Go!