- To hell with the pig... I'm going to Switzerland.

Farewell to 2016 (Wednesday, December 28, 2016)

Well, 2016 has not been a good year. I've just finished the Star Wars VII and most of a bottle of tequila in an effort to commemorate Carrie Fisher's untimely passing. Many people seem to be anxious to see the end of a year filled with loss and tragedy. Personally, I don't see any hope for a brighter 2017. After all, everyone that died this year will still be dead next year, and on top of that, we'll have to suffer through the consequences of the November election.

Well shit, I just learned that Richard Adams, the author of Watership Down, has ALSO died. At least he was really old.

So anyway, all these great people will still be dead in 2017. And we have only more war and poverty to look forward to. I must say I'm a little concerned - bread and circuses can only last so long. In any case, I'm not looking forward to 2017.

—Brian (12/28/2016 12:10 AM)

Caviar Tasting (Saturday, January 2, 2016)

So Elaine and I had caviar as part of our New Years feast, the other night. I had picked up some "Caviar Russe" brand caviar at Whole Foods that was labeled "Siberian Osetra". Turns out that this isn't actually Osetra, but rather a different species of Sturgeon, Acipenser baerii. They get away with calling it "Osetra", because apparently, that's the generic word for Sturgeon in Russian. We really liked it, but I had rather hoped for actual Osetra - A. gueldenstaedtii.

So today, hoping to take advantage of any post-holiday discounts, I went back to Whole Foods and picked up several other varieties of caviar, along with a bottle of Moet et Chandon Champagne. (There were no discounts to be had, however.)

They were actually out of the "Siberian Osetra" that we had the other night, but they ended up having actual Osetra, which was labeled "Caspian Osetra", even though it was sustainably farmed in Germany, rather than wild caught in the Caspian. I suppose that's good, because A. gueldenstaedtii is critically endangered in the wild.

I also picked up what was labeled "American Caviar", also called Pacific or White Sturgeon, A. transmontanus, which was also sustainably farmed in Germany.

Those were both Caviar Russe brand caviar. They seem sort of cavalier with their branding, since their Russian Osetra isn't actually Osetra, and their Caspian Osetra and American Caviar are both from Germany!

To round out the comparison, I also picked up some American Paddlefish roe, Polyodon spathula, which is not sturgeon, but closely related, and often times passed for cheaper "caviar". Though at Whole Foods, it was just as expensive as the real stuff.

As a caviar expert might predict, we didn't really enjoy the Paddlefish roe. It just wasn't as good as the others in texture or flavor (and I did a blind test for Elaine, asking her what she thought of each, presented identically, before sharing which was which).

Of the more expensive caviar, we actually preferred the American Caviar to the similarly priced "Siberian Osetra", and while the actual Osetra was very good, we preferred both the American and Siberian to the A. gueldenstaedtii, which was considerably more expensive than the two we preferred.

So I guess the conclusion is that we prefer real caviar to fake, and that the more expensive caviar is not necessarily the caviar that we like the best.

We also agree that we prefer a sweeter bubbly to a fine brut Champagne, no matter what the experts think you should serve with caviar.

Happy new year.

—Brian (1/2/2016 7:08 PM)

The Downside of Facebook (Tuesday, November 3, 2015)

I haven't posted here in forever. I fear that it is because most of my trivial thoughts go up on Facebook, where it can be mined for advertising dollars, and deleted on the whim of a soulless west coast organization.

On the one hand, I could add all the features I want to, but on the other hand, I know no one actually reads this... unless I write something useful that people will find in web search results. This is not one of those posts.

I think the trivial event that prompted this post is that I wanted to brag about a hike I did in Boulder yesterday afternoon - from Broadway up to Ridge Drive... about two miles walking, and up about a thousand feet in elevation. The trail started by Foothills Community Park, and connected to Old Kiln Spur. It was really pretty, until it got dark. I sort of forgot that the time change would lead to it being significantly darker there than it was when I was looking at the hike on Friday. Lesson learned.

—Brian (11/3/2015 1:46 PM)

swisspig.splat (Saturday, February 28, 2015)

Well, that explains the recent lack of traffic... a change I made to my blogging engine a few days ago caused a fairly catastrophic failure of most of my site, which I somehow failed to notice, until Google's Webmaster Tools sent me an e-mail, explaining to me that I'm an idiot.

Recently, I made a chance that parsed some data as PHP, instead of just as plain text, so I could use some variables set in that PHP, without having to parse it manually. Unfortunately, I forgot that there were a bunch of other places that were still parsing it manually. So I fixed this, which will definitely improve performance. But for some reason, the include was still failing for certain pages... turns out that this code is executed before another necessary include file was included. It took quite a lot of tracing, but I tracked it down, and it is now corrected.

This morning's pain and suffering is a strong indicator that my first casual attempt at PHP — also known as the complete blogging engine for, may be due for a rewrite. I may keep it in PHP, but it will definitely need to be completely object oriented going forward, and I may need to bite the bullet and actually store a bit more data in the database, rather than as flat text. It will be ages before the rewrite happens — it'll probably coincide with my abandoning of Rackspace Cloud (who REALLY suck), which has been planned for years now, and still hasn't happened.

—Brian (2/28/2015 1:21 PM)

Another 4th of July (Saturday, July 5, 2014)

As I sit here watching the Capitol Fourth on PBS, I find myself reflecting on the same things I reflect on each Independence Day. This show has a tendency to remind me of all of the ways that my country and fellow citizens disappoint me. I know it is reasonable for the propaganda machine to go full force on the one national holiday, and that doesn't so much bother me - after all, many of the claims in your average patriotic song were at least nominally true at one point. But the patriotic music and the reminders of our nation's history just bring to mind our current shortcomings.

We talk about our soldiers "fighting for freedom", but the reality is our soldiers fighting overseas are fighting for corporate profits for companies like Lockheed, Boeing, and Raytheon. The people fighting against us in the Middle East are fighting for their own freedom against a foreign imperial government, every bit as much as George Washington fought against the British over two hundred years ago. We may not agree with their ideals, but it's disingenuous to claim we're fighting for "freedom", since they pose no threat to us, and if one group is subjugating another, when we're done with them, it'll be the same, just the other way around. The only benefit is in the military contractors who profit from all the war and destruction.

They did a nice little montage of "This Land is Your Land", and another included Miss Piggy dressed as the Statue of Liberty. You may recall the inscription on the statue: "Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses, yearning to breath free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore, Send these, the homeless, tempest tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door." I'm embarrassed at the way Americans treat immigrants and all people who want to come here to make a better life for themselves - you sneer at fifteen people living in a small townhouse, who work as day laborers for three dollars an hour, but you have no idea what they came from - huts made of scrap metal and no indoor plumbing. They aren't parasites looking for a handout. They are willing to work hard, to do things that are "beneath" your average self-entitled American, and do it for next to no pay... and then send half of that pay back to their families who couldn't escape the squalor that they were lucky enough to be able to. Americans waste enough food to feed every hungry person on the planet. But Americans scream about "illegals" taking their jobs and lowering wages. They want to build fences, and have mass deportations. The reality is that having people treated as "illegal" opens them up to victimization, since they can't go to the police for protection without fear of deportations - but they certainly pay taxes and allow you to enjoy the low prices you pay for many services. But they don't get any of the basic protections that any human should enjoy. Where would you be, if your family hadn't been welcomed here, or at least tolerated long enough to become safely established?

I love my country - there's no place on Earth that is founded on the liberties that America was founded on. It's just sad that so many people have forgotten where we came from. Peace, equality, tolerance, and opportunities for everyone. Not warmongering, corruption, and hatred. Happy Independence Day.

—Brian (7/5/2014 12:14 AM)

One Year Google Anniversary (Tuesday, February 11, 2014)

Yesterday was my 52-week anniversary at Google, and today is my calendar year anniversary. I still can't quite believe that I managed to get hired by Google and relocate to Colorado, and I'm even more amazed that after a year at Google, they actually still seem to want me around. It's pretty much everything that the rumors say, and everything that I expected, and pretty much everything that I wanted. About the only down-side is that I'm having a bear of a time getting my friends recruited — come on, guys! How hard is it to program your way through an interview? The one person I successfully recruited actually managed to start before me, so of course, I don't get a referral bonus for that one!

Really, the only disappointment has been that I'm on a team of grown-ups with families who don't party as much as Googlers have a reputation for. I've been told that Boulder Googlers are a bit more restrained than their Mountain View counterparts, and that my group is particularly mature. And while I'd love to party more, it's probably for the best that I don't have as many excuses to be irresponsible.

Here's hoping that Google and I continue to work happily together for many years to come.

—Brian (2/11/2014 4:50 PM)

The Relationship Between Testers and Developers (Thursday, October 24, 2013)

My good friend, former colleague, and expert software tester, Lena Houser, recently compiled her take on the relationship between testers and developers, drawing from interviews with developers, including me, on traits they'd like to see in software testers.

Personally, I love testers, and as a developer, it is my mission in life to make their job as easy as possible. I never understood how developers could become defensive when a tester finds a problem. If it doesn't work the way the tester expects, then it probably won't work the way the end user expects, either! The biggest challenge is probably poorly specified requirements - the developer had one way of thinking about it and implemented it that way, while the tester had a different interpretation and wanted it to work another way. As all developers and testers know, getting good requirements is a luxury that few actually get. So it is important that developers and testers work together as a team, rather than as adversaries. It's the only way to produce good software, and it goes a long way to preserving sanity, too.

Lena's post goes over some of the other key qualities in the tester/developer relationship, with ideas from a variety of industry veterans.

—Brian (10/24/2013 10:05 AM)

Buying a Car With Help From Big Brother (Friday, October 18, 2013)

I've been trying to buy an SUV for years, since the Mustang doesn't drive in the snow real well - or if it even looks like it might snow at some point in the near future. But I've always managed to put it off. Of course, now that we're in Colorado, and being reminded that I've already got the Mustang stuck a couple times, I figured it was finally time to actually do it.

We test drove a bunch of cars, and I don't need to go into that drama. But finally, today, we found a used SUV that we both liked, that was fairly cheap, and in great condition, and decided to buy it. So, I went to the bank, withdrew cash to cover the purchase price of the car, and went back to the dealer to do the paperwork.

Imagine my shock when they asked for my social security number. I explained to them that since I was paying cash, there was no need for them to run a credit check. After going through increasing levels of management, a gentleman came out and was able to explain to me (and provide documentation) that the credit check wasn't actually about credit, but rather to verify my identity, and make sure that I'm not on any government watch lists, and that this requirement came about as part of the "Patriot" Act.

That really pissed me off. Of course, it wasn't the dealer's fault. But I pointed out that it was unlikely that the watch lists are archived by social security number, and we all realized this was a two step process - use the credit check to make sure you are who you say you are, and then make sure that the you that you are isn't on the government lists. So I said, how about we verify my identity without checking me credit. So he smugly asked for three forms of government issue picture ID (that'll get him, he thought). Well, I just happened to have three forms of government issue picture ID on me, to his surprise, and he accepted it.

So as usual, when someone insists that you have to give them your social security number, usually that means they just haven't thought about why they need it, and if you waste enough of their time, they'll figure out a (slightly) less intrusive method of doing whatever it is they have to do.

They were also really nice and patient about it all. The truck is great, and we got a great deal. I suppose I should give credit where it's due and recommend Frontier Honda in Longmont. Good guys, particularly Chris Loan (yes that's really his name).

—Brian (10/18/2013 10:34 PM)

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