Friday, December 19, 2008

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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Pan-Roasted Lobster with Chervil and Chives

I really enjoy lobster cooked this way. It's based on a recipe that Jasper White popularized in his restaurants. (See e.g. Lobster at Home) It looks complicated, but isn't really so long as you have the right gear assembled. In fact, one of the nice things about this meal is that you can do a lot of the work a couple of hours in advance so this meal can actually involve less last minute mess and fuss than steamed/boiled lobster. (Less mess at the table too.)

The changes I've made mostly relate to some of the preparation details. In particular, I prefer to parboil the lobsters rather than cut them up alive which, in my experience, leads to pieces of lobster thrashing around the cutting board. It's just more drama than I consider absolutely necessary for this dish.

As for equipment, you'll want a large pot for the lobster of course. As for the pan-roasting part, if your oven is large enough to accommodate it, I find a 16-inch Lodge cast iron skillet that I picked up last summer just about perfect. That should handle about four to six lobsters in the chicken to two pound range. If you don't have a big enough skillet or a big enough oven, a workable alternative is to use a baking sheet for the oven part and one or two skillets, as required, on the stove. You will also want a long-necked lighter or some other suitable implement next to the stove to flame the bourbon.

Lobster is inexpensive right now, so go for it!

Ingredients for four people.

4 to 6 lobsters (1.25 to 2 lb.)

3 TBS peanut oil

1/3 cup bourbon (can also use Cognac)

1/2 cup white wine

8 TBS unsalted butter, cut into slices and chilled

1/4 cup of chopped parsley or chervil

1 TBS finely chopped chives

White pepper and salt

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Parboil the lobsters for about 4 minutes. If you don't have a pot large enough to accommodate all the lobsters, you can do this step in two batches. (You'll need one of those big steamer pots or equivalent.)

Cooking LobsterOnce the lobsters have cooled enough to handle, remove the tails, the claws, and the knuckles/arms. Cut the tails in half lengthwise. Thoroughly crack open the claws and the knuckles to minimize the amount of cracking and picking that needs to be done at the table. You'll now have six pieces per lobster plus the body, which you can discard or use to make stock. Weather permitting I prefer to do this operation outside to keep all the lobstery fluids out of the kitchen. If you like, you can prepare the lobster to this point a couple of hours in advance and put it in the refrigerator.

Preheat the broiler. Position an oven rack in the upper third of the oven. Assemble all you ingredients and equipment by the stove. The pan will be hot and you'll want to move quickly. The final preparation only takes about ten minutes so everything else should be more or less ready to go for dinner before beginning.

Place your sauté pan over the highest heat possible. Allow it to heat for a few minutes until it becomes extremely hot. Add the oil and heat it until it forms a film on the surface of the pan. Slide the lobster pieces, shell side down, into the hot oil. Using tongs, move the pieces in order to evenly sear all the shells.

When the shells have all turned bright red,which should take no more than two or three minutes, turn the pieces over. Cooking Lobster

Place the pan in the oven and cook for about three minutes until the shells are slightly browned. It's OK if they're a bit charred in places. Put it on the stove over high heat. It will be very hot! You can put the plates in the oven to warm at this point.

Add the bourbon and ignite. Add the wine and allow to reduce until it is almost dry; a few tablespoons or so will remain in the pan.

Remove the pan from the heat. Remove lobster pieces and arrange on the plates.

Return the pan to low heat. Add the butter and herbs. Season with some white pepper and maybe a little salt (the lobster will be somewhat salty already) and spoon over lobster pieces on plates.

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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

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Monday, December 08, 2008

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Friday, December 05, 2008

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Great Review of the Grinch Musical

I have not and, barring unusual circumstances, will not see the Grinch musical but I too love the original and hate the Jim Carry movie so this review by Louise Kennedy of the Boston Globe seems spot on:
Every Who down in Who-ville likes "Grinch" shows a lot. But the critic, who lives just north of Who-ville, does not.

The critic hates "Grinch" shows! The whole "Grinch" show season! Now, please don't ask why. No one quite knows the reason.

Oh, all right, I'll tell you.

First of all: I love, truly love, the original "Grinch" show, by which I mean the 1966 Chuck Jones cartoon based on Dr. Seuss' book "How the Grinch Stole Christmas." It is 26 minutes of animated bliss, hilarious and silly and sneakily profound. It is, in fact, even better than the book; it has more (and more baroquely absurd) rhymes, a more satisfying ending, some small but sweet songs along with one very funny one, and, of course, Boris Karloff. Boris Karloff in a Christmas special - sheer genius.

But then came the abominable Jim Carrey movie, a bloated, vulgar exercise in Hollywood excess. And now comes the stage musical, about which the best that can be said is: It's not the Jim Carrey movie. That is, believe me, about as faint as faint praise can get.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

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Tuesday, December 02, 2008

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Monday, December 01, 2008

Recipe: Lobster Stock

I'm getting my recipe files in order for the first time in ages. One of my objectives is to get them into digestible electronic form so that I can easily put them together into a book. (Not to publish for "real" but because it's a convenient format and so I can give a few copies away to friends and family.)

Anyway, I figured that as part of this process I'd start putting some of the contents online in the form of blog postings. Here's the first.

Lobster is dirt cheap right now so, on the way home from Thanksgiving up in Maine, I stopped at Simpson's Seafood in Wiscasset and picked up a whopping 11 lobsters. The next day, I parboiled the batch, made Pan-Fried Roast Lobster from a few of them, and removed the rest of the meat for lobster rolls or to freeze. This left me with lots of lobster shells and bodies. It seemed a pity to waste so I made some stock. 

(As with any stock making, quantities aren't critical but this is roughly what I used.)

Bodies and other leftover parts of 8-12 lobsters
2 roughly chopped carrots
2 roughly chopped celery ribs
2 chopped onions
6 minced garlic cloves
2 bay leaves
3 thyme sprigs
Water to mostly cover lobster (about 6 to 8 quarts)

Cut the head off the lobster bodies and split open.

Add all the ingredients to a large pot. Bring to a boil and simmer for about 2 hours, stirring occasionally.

Strain through a cheesecloth-lined fine sieve (It may be easier to do a first pass through a coarser sieve). Cool and refrigerate up to 4 days or freeze.

Different Worlds and the Lori Drew Case

As things currently stand with this cyberbullying case, the defendant has been acquitted of felony charges but found guilty of misdemeanors. What's a bit unusual is that the prosecution used a federal anti-hacking law. As Chris Soghoian writes on CNET:
The specifics of the Lori Drew case are messy and emotional. The important fact is that there is no federal cyberbullying statute, so the U.S. attorney in Los Angeles turned to a novel interpretation of existing computer hacking laws to try to punish the woman. The general idea is that in creating terms of service, a Web site owner specifies the rules of admission to the site. If someone violates any of those contractual terms, the "access" to the Web site is done without authorization, and is thus hacking.
As a result, we're seeing a huge divide between what I'll call the "silicon valley crowd" (even if lots of the plugged-in techies live elsewhere) and "everyone else" in their opinions about the case.

For their part, much of the commentary at places like CNET and Groklaw is apoplectic about the guilty verdict, even as a misdemeanor. The issue (which I'm sympathetic to myself) is that violating a Web site's term of service should not be a violation of the law. As a practical matter, we're not seeing the end of the Internet as we know it; no one is going to prosecute you for shaving a few pounds off your weight in an online profile. But it is a troubling precedent.

However, what's striking to me is the level of outrage of everyone else--even the "everyone else" that's actively engaged enough with online sites to leave comments. But this outrage is at the dismissal of the felony charges. What matters is punishing a person who behaved very badly with tragic consequences, not defending somewhat esoteric legal principles. In a lot of comments, I sense genuine puzzlement (and anger) directed at people who place the right to online anonymity higher than the morally "right" deciusion in this case.

If things remain as they are, this case provides an unfortunately good example of the legal saying that "hard cases make bad law."

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

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Fish market (Tsukiji), Tokyo

Fish market (Tsukiji), Tokyo
Originally uploaded by ghaff

I recently got back from a couple of weeks in Japan. It was a business trip but I also had about a week to scoot around the country a bit. All my tagged photos from this trip are here.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

eBay's Problems

eBay Traffic Plummeting (EBAY)

IMO, this comment sums it up pretty well:

"The root of these problems is that eBay is no longer a place where people can go to find inexpensive goods for sale.

It has transformed, through it's own strategy, to a marketplace of fixed price sellers. And these fixed price sellers charge as much or more than places like Amazon for the same goods. So, as a buyer, why should I wade through hundreds of amateurish listings, deal with massive gouging on shipping, and worry about getting the product from some fly-by-night seller when I can one-click it on Prime from Amazon, get guaranteed authentic goods, delivered in 2 days, with no hassle returns, from a vendor I completely trust, often for less money?"

Friday, October 31, 2008

Links for 10-31-2008

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Links for 10-30-2008

  • Netflix Lands on TiVo! - From the comments: "Big picture: this is the death of premium cable. Why pay an extra $5, $10 a month for HBO and Cinemax? Buy the one or two shows you want to watch (DVD, unbox, AppleTV), and get the crappy movies from Netflix." I've never felt that that premium cable was worth it. Certainly as options increase, become even less so.
  • October Surprise: TiVo to Stream Netflix « NewTeeVee - Very nice. I care less about either the TiVo or the Xbox partnership now that I also reattached a Shuttle PC to my TV. But streaming to a television, rather than just a computer, is a big win in any case.
  • Azure manages to avoid a Hailstorm of criticism | Beyond Binary - A blog by Ina Fried - CNET News - "But businesses now have to evaluate not just the theory of whether allowing others to hold their data is a good thing. The reality is that, in many cases, large third parties may be able to do more to protect a company's data than some mid-size firms can do on their own."Organizations have come to say, 'let's compare it to practical alternatives as opposed to some Utopian ideal," O'Kelly said."

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Head of the Charles 2008 Pics

Head of the Charles 2008Another nice year for photography at the Head of the Charles in Cambridge. Here's a link to my better photos from the event.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

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Thursday, October 16, 2008

How Not to Get a Briefing

I regularly receive emails along the lines of the following. (Redacted to protect the guilty.)

We were hoping to schedule some time with you later this month for a briefing with ACME. Your input and insight into the RANDOM TECHNOLOGY market space will provide a valuable forum for ACME's third generation product and technology offering.

Best Regards,

I usually just ignore such, but here's the response I would like to send.
Dear Buffy,

You seem to have mixed up my mailing address with some other ghaff who is in the “business” (not that it would be much of a business) of providing free consulting and market intelligence to anyone who drops me a line. I’m sure his input and insight will be commensurate with the high value that you appear to place on it. Good luck finding the other ghaff.
I'm more than happy, in the course of a conversation, to share my views on whatever. However, to brazenly request an hour of my time with the explicit expectation that I'm going to be briefing you for free is just not going to happen.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Links for 10-15-2008

  • Thank you for smoking - Roger Ebert's Journal - "This stamp honoring Bette Davis was issued by the U. S. Postal Service on Sept. 18. The portrait by Michael Deas was inspired by a still photo from "All About Eve." Notice anything missing? Before you even read this far, you were thinking, Where's her cigarette? Yes reader, the cigarette in the original photo has been eliminated. We are all familiar, I am sure, with the countless children and teenagers who have been lured into the clutches of tobacco by stamp collecting, which seems so innocent, yet can have such tragic outcomes. But isn't this is carrying the anti-smoking campaign one step over the line?"
  • Linux and marketing: a rant « Elias Q. Funtybunt’s Pisspoor Pseudonym - "Apple does branding to the same extent as RMS does zealotry and ESR does guns."
  • Technological comebacks | Not dead, just resting | The Economist - "American office workers’ use of paper has actually been in decline since 2001. What changed? The explanation seems to be sociological rather than technological. A new generation of workers, who have grown up with e-mail, word processing and the internet, feel less of a need to print documents out than their older colleagues did. Offices are still far from paperless, but the trend is clear."
  • Google: Raise Your Data Center Temperature « Data Center Knowledge - Nice overview of some of the opportunities and challenges associated with raising datacenter operating temperatures.
  • 451 CAOS Theory » Open source is not a business model - We've very much entered a pragmatic phase of open source.
  • Stuff Michael Meeks is doing - A rather bleak take on the state of OpenOffice development. Based on my (much more peripheral) knowledge of what's been happening there, seems like a realistic assessment.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Links for 10-10-2008

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Links for 10-01-2008

I got out of the link posting rhythm because of lots of travel and other things. Should be back on track now (at least until the end of October).

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Superb Maine Soups

Yumm. Good Soup book--something I appreciate as I work from home.

Monday, September 08, 2008

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Thursday, August 28, 2008

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Monday, August 25, 2008

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Friday, August 15, 2008

I don't understand wrt Netflix

Netflix is having some severe computer problems and is having trouble shipping DVDs.People are unhappy. A typical comment from the company's blog:
Patience? I've run out of patience and I would cancel and go to Blockbuster but they say I've already got an account with them, which isn't true. I'm sure it's my address.

This is unacceptable and as it's been a week, the credit better be at least 25% of my monthly fees.

"Around the clock" ~ yeah, and you've got a bridge in Brooklyn you'd like to sell me.
I really have to wonder about anyone for whom getting their DVDs delayed a few days is apparently some great existential crisis in their lives. If you can't or won't just go outside, there's lots of Olympic footage to watch.

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Friday, August 08, 2008

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Thursday, August 07, 2008

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Wednesday, August 06, 2008

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Tuesday, August 05, 2008

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Monday, August 04, 2008

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Friday, August 01, 2008

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The Value of Social Networks

I've been toying with this idea of how valuable social networks are for a while now. Not value in any quantitative sense, but how things work conceptually. Metcalfe's Law, which states that the value of a telecommunications network is proportional to the square of the number of users of the system (n²), is often invoked in this regard. However, I'm not sure it really captures the dynamics of social networks which place a relative premium on the right kind of connections.

(There's also been some debate about Metcalfe's Law in its original context as well. However, I've always taken the "law" to be a statement that increased network size predictably increases value rather than a precise mathematical description of that value--which is a somewhat vague concept in any case.)

Anyway, it strikes me that there are two critical points when it comes to the value of a social network--or, indeed, any communications network.

The first is the point of critical mass. Critical mass is the idea that we reach a point where there are enough people in one of our relevant social groups connected through a product or technology that it starts to have real value. This value, in turn, starts to provide a real incentive for others in that social group to get on the network, increasing its value still further.

Let me give you an example from past lives. I first had access to email in an MIT lab in 1978 or so. It was sort of neat. I occasionally traded emails with a friend who worked in the MIT AI Lab. I didn't know anyone else on email though so it wasn't really especially useful.

Flash forward to the late-1980s. I had email at work, but it was a closed system. My personal email was through Compuserve. I used it a bit--I used BBS message boards a lot more--but, for example, it wasn't all that useful for things like organizing hiking trips or board meetings because only a few people in those groups were on email. So I had to resort to snail mail and telephone anyway. The sea change came when enough people were on email that I could start treating it as the preferred and default communications medium. Over time, backup communications methods became more and more deprecated until everyone pretty much had to be on email.

Whether it's a true point or just some exponential growth relationship, the fact remains that network value is hard to grow at first but if it can get to a certain mass, things really take off. I think we're seeing this right now with analysts and analyst relations folks on twitter. Once enough people are using a given network, it puts pressure on the rest to join as well.

(Conversely, this is probably why I don't get a lot of value out of facebook. There I don't really have a critical mass of friends for whom facebook could provide a useful coordination point.)

At the other end of the scale, I see a given social network stopping to increase in value after a while--certainly at the same rate. Once my network is saturated--perhaps I'm already spending as much time on twitter as I care to, a larger network size doesn't increase the value of twitter to me; I'll cap the number of people I follow even if my number of followers rises. Other networks just tend to cap at a particular size and value because all the relevant people are on and using it.

Even more interesting is the idea that a social network's value can actually decrease past a certain point. (See Clay Shirky's thoughts on the subject.) Further thoughts deserve a separate post but, essentially, what I think of as "pollution" can set in. Think of the problems with email today. Or, historically, the "Eternal September."

In short, it's hard to get a network to the point where it has real value. This is another face of the familiar bootstrapping problem. At the same time, especially absent appropriate access and filtering controls, that same network can collapse under its own weight if it grows too large.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

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Wednesday, July 30, 2008

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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

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Monday, July 28, 2008

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Thursday, July 24, 2008

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Monday, July 21, 2008

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Friday, July 18, 2008

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Thursday, July 17, 2008

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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

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Tuesday, July 15, 2008

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Some thinking about twitter clients from RSS

Along with a variety of my analyst relations, public relations, and analyst colleagues (among others), I've gotten into the twitter "micro-blogging" service of late. Although it's still early days, my current assessment is that this service--or one of its competitors--is more likely to maintain a long-standing place in my toolbox than, say, Facebook--which I find I use pretty sporadically.

My current client of choice is twhirl, an Adobe AIR application that I generally keep open in a column running down the left-hand side of one of my monitors. I keep this monitor as sort of a communications center. Along with twhirl, it displays my email and instant messaging clients (Outlook and Trillian respectively).

I also took a look at TweetDeck, another AIR application, this morning. It can be set to display all your twitter traffic in a single column in a way that's pretty similar to twhirl. It can also display multiple columns with replies, direct messages, or a selected subset of the users you're following. Interesting idea but I'd like to see a somewhat different take on the groups concept (and more control of resizing windows and columns).

Let me explain in the context of how I handle RSS feeds in my client. I divide my RSS feeds into several categories. One I call "A-priority." This is basically the stuff that I really want to skim through even if I'm on the road or have a busy day. Doesn't always work that way, of course, but that's the goal. Then I have various other groups for general technology, miscellaneous, tips and tricks, and so forth. This is stuff that I like to flip through but often don't have time for. It also includes some sources that may have interesting stuff but pump out so much material that I don't want it all ending up in my "must read" pile.

I'd like to see a similar concept in twitter clients. Let me create a group A, B, and so forth. That would give me the option to follow some people, especially those who post a lot, on a sort of secondary basis as time permits without diluting my main list. (TweetDeck doesn't quite do this in that you can't turn off "All Tweets" and doesn't provide any way to make sure that a user is in only one group.)

My colleague Jonathan Eunice has also wished for a way to stop displaying read posts. I would envision this also working similarly to the way it does on my RSS client. Just hit a "Mark All Read" button and the display clears. This would be useful when you scroll back to read older tweets and avoids the mental energy with figuring out "Did I read this?"

Overall, a service that I'm finding most useful and fun. Twitter's own infrastructure has ongoing growing pains but some incremental work on the client side would help too.

Monday, July 14, 2008

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Friday, July 11, 2008

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Thursday, July 10, 2008

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Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Ship Harbor Trail, Acadia NP

Ship Harbor Trail, Acadia NP
Originally uploaded by ghaff
I spent the week of July 4th at my dad's near Acadia National park in Maine. My photos from the week are now online:

Links for 07-09-2008