So many words, so little time....

Thursday, November 25, 2004

How to make a Proper Pumpkin Pie....

This recipe is not just a list of ingredients. The making of a proper pumpkin pie must follow the proper steps and take the proper time in order for it to be savored.

First, pumpkin pie must be made at oh-dark-hundred the night before the meal it accompanies. You do not do this at a time when normal humans (or the children) walk the earth. If werewolves aren't howling at the moon, give it another hour. This is for three reasons.
  1. If you make it, they will eat it. Now! Not after the dinner when you want it. The only way to foil them is to bake late and store securely. A decommissioned missile silo works well if available. I get by with a bank vault and a pirate's lair with lots of traps.

  2. You will never have time to do it earlier that same day due to the aforementioned children and all the other dreck you have to get together.

  3. Tomorrow you are going to have a velociraptor taking up the oven for nine hours, remember? I assure you, the only other thing that's going to fit is just enough of your hand to burn the heck out of it while basting.
Second, this activity cannot occur in a clean kitchen with counter space. I don't know why. It's a mystery. I just know that I've never had a bake turn out properly if I started out with a spotless kitchen. Besides, with the kids doing the dishes this is a mythological event.

Now you must assemble all your ingredients. This recipe makes four desert pies, and three breakfast tarts. Put the things you assemble into three stacks.

Stack 1
- four cups of sugar, plus an indeterminate scoop because that doesn't look like enough
- 10 grinds on the nutmeg grinder
- a palm of salt
- a palm of ginger
- a palm of allspice
- half a palm-full of cloves
- four palms of cinnamon
- several random shakes and grinds from the spice jars listed above because it doesn't look right
- eight eggs

Stack 2
- 2 large cans pumpkin (not that mix stuff)
- four 12 oz. cans evaporated milk

Stack 3
- four regular pie pans dressed with crust (Pillsbury only if minions have been particularly evil or kitchen in particularly advanced state of higgeldy-piggeldy)
- three of the holes in the mini-loaf pan dressed with crust
- 75 foot roll of Reynolds, of which you only need about a foot right now
- Three beers; two root and one stout
- half recipe worth of banana bread batter

Now it's time to start putting it all together. After you've washed the large mixing bowl from making the pie crust, open a rootbeer and put Stack 1 ingredients into the bowl, dry stuff first, then eggs. Beat sensless with rubber spatula. Add Stack 2. Beat senseless again with rubber spatula. Pour brown mess still left in bowl into the pie pans and the crusted mini-loaf pans. Cover edges of crust with strips of tinfoil, struggling manfully to not poke it into the mousse-part so it bakes in there like that. Fill un-clad mini-loaf pans with banana bread batter.

Remember you forgot to turn on oven, so read pumpkin can to see temp. Giggle at their dumb theatrics about preheating and that whole one-temp-for-15-minutes-and-then-turn-down gig. Set oven to happy medium and then remember it's witch-tit cold outside tonight so turn it up another five degrees. Put first two pies in immediately on the center rack with a baking sheet on the lower rack to diffuse heat and to make sure any spills are deflected directly onto the heating element while still baking into an evil black metallic object on the sheet. Consume rootbeer, read book, and shoo house-apes back into bed at random intervals for 55 minutes. Spend five minutes trying to find a safe spot to lay down book and figure out what kids did with hot-pads. Remove first two pies carefully from oven and place on cooling rack.

Put second two pies in their place in the oven. Open second rootbeer. Repeat last baking experience, only watch for smoke coming out of oven from baking sheet getting too hot to deal with the spills. Move cooled pies on rack to bank vault. Remove pies and baking sheet from oven. Pies go on rack, baking sheet goes across burners of stovetop where it can properly singe your eyebrows for next step.

Place mini-loaf pan in oven with the banana bread towards the front where the oven is cooler. Open stout. Continue to bake at exactly the same temp irregardless of the directions for half an hour. While this is baking, do dishes and clean up counters and do any other prepwork possible for tomorrow and consume the beer.

Remove cooled pies from rack and place them in pirate's cave (diversification is good in baking, too). Open oven and once you are done wincing away from the steam-burns on your corneas, poke banana bread with toothpick. If done, remove and shut off oven. Place rack across top of loaf-pan, and using a towel to hold it all together, turn as one unit and leave until the tarts fall out. You will be able to see this clearly because the pan is stilted up on the banana bread's tops.

By this time, beer will be done and so will you. Cover three loaves of banana bread and the three tarts with a kitchen towel to decoy the kids in the morning and hit the sack. Set alarm clock for six for humor's sake. Remember, tomorrow's the big day! ;)

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

If this server was a horse, I'd have to shoot it....

The servers at Blogger have their knickers knotted firmly around their ankles. Hopefully this gets through. I have several tomes of great signifigance to add, but I think we'll just try this first.

To keep you occupied, take a look at this piece of art. It's called "There Is Nothing Wrong In This Whole Wide World" by Chris Cobb. He re-arranged a bookstore's inventory by color. I don't know if it's art, but you can't help but feel something's going on here by looking at it. There's some pictures here so you can see for yourself.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

This sort of thing can't continue.....

On another board, someone sent in a link to this blog entry. Reading it ran a chill down my back. Not horror; sort of a "But for the grace of God..." kind of thing.

I wish I could tell this lady that her experience is unique, but I can't. Heck, I can't even say it's only limited to that particular type of business. I've seen this in all aspects of the software industry, not just games development. People I know tell me it's not even limited to computers - it's everywhere. There is a huge disconnect between the various layers of management, marketing, and development.

It used to be that when a guy got to a certain point in a business, it was because he either started the company, or started out as their entry level position and worked his way up the ladder. He managed the process of making chairs because he'd made a lot of chairs. He knew down to the itch of the sawdust on his nose what it took. With the rise of "management" as a profession, the process of doing the work became totally unhooked from most of the people who make the decisions. A guy in charge of the company may have never have held a saw in his life. Back in the day, there was no "marketing with a big M". Sales and advertising were handled mostly by the manager with a few flacks, but is now considered it's own animal and has absolutely no connection with how either of the other areas operate. This is causing major problems in all walks of business.

With software development, we can have several more festive variations on this basic theme. You'll often get a manager who has to ask his secretary how to paste a link into his email and has about as much of an idea of what you do all day as you do of what he does all day. You can get a former coder sitting in that corner office who is totally lacking in the skills to manage people or a project, which both sinks the schedule and you're now short his real expertise as well. Or, my personal favorite is when you get a guy who's so new or is completely out of his depth in just about every area and he doesn't have any technical or upper-level management skills (Can you say dot-bomb? I knew that you could).

Even without the open malice towards workers that is decribed in that blog entry, the whole situation still stinks. In far too many cases, marketing drives the schedule based on promises it makes to management. Management has no real way of assessing or handling either their requests or developments protests intelligently. They have no idea what it requires to actually do what marketing insists is necessary, so they throw it at a middle-guy along with an insane delivery date. In the worst case scenario, this person has absolutely no idea how any of the groups do what they do and who has the thankless task of trying to serve at least two masters and no authority, either. They then pass the savings on to the workers with sweat-shop grade working conditions.

Going with a small company is no garantee. I've seen this sort of BS in the biggest and smallest companies. I have stories you would not believe of some of the nonsense I've been through in the big houses. The small company I work for now used to be a nightmare until the CEO's face got so rubbed into the complete inability of the guy he had doing project management to deal with the machinations of the marketing guy that he took the reins back. They were literally driving the company into the ground, one customer at a time.

He's not a hardcore geek, but he built this company from a BBS back in 1987 to what it is today. He had delegated the project management jobs right before I started because they'd convinced him that the company had grown past that. He took back over and since then we've had a remarkable improvement in both our ability to deliver and our ability to add value to the product. It took nearly six months of 90+ hour weeks to get our feet under us after two years of Charlie Foxtrot, but we were glad to do it because we finally got to fix some stuff that had been making our jobs about a thousand times harder.

We've still got some loose tentacles on our octopus, but the body's been stapled firmly in place and that helps a lot. It's been a steady 50 hours a week or so for the last three months except for spikes caused by unexpected stuff (showstopper bugs found two days before ship, that sort of thing). That sort of thing is expected in any business, though.

It's no accident that most of the large and successful software firms are headed by former geeks who used to handle the code. They either had the management ability as well as the coding skills, or they were smart enough to realize where they were lacking and get their hands on someone they could work with who had them. There is where you get your Microsofts, your Oracles, your Pixars.

Bill Gates changed his role in his company very sharply several years go. In a highly publicized move, he announced that things needed to get back to brass tacks. He handed the reins off to Ballmer and got wrist-deep in the code again. Many industry people were pushing a standing eight on them and saw this as just a sort of highly paid retirement plan. It doesn't seem to be working out that way, though. The shifts in Microsoft's strategies are paying off, real progress in key areas have been made, and there's some amazing stuff on the way. I see this maneuver and it's success as an open acknowledgement that things can't go on the way they were. It makes a great case study of exactly why it's necessary. id Software's adventures with Doom, and Scaled Composites recent accomplishments are other examples of guys who know how to turn the nut jumping back in and driving the ship to success.

Companies must begin to realize that when actual product is involved, having experience generating that product is a considerably more important attribute than "management skills". Marketing needs to have all the calendars removed from their offices - they drive features, not the schedule. The attitude that "if you won't do it, there's a dozen just like you waiting in the wings" or even "just get some guys in Islamabad to do it" is just a shift, it doesn't actually fix anything and adds it's own set of problems. Besides, we're running out of other worlds to send work to get it done cheap. Wages in India are rising steadily in the high-tech fields, and a tide of gentrification is already starting to erode your new and magical profits.

I don't have a working crystal ball, and I don't want to make any gloom and doom prognostications. I do honestly believe that a shift has to be made though, before it's too late. We have got to get people who know how to do the work in charge of the work, and make some fundamental changes in the way we do business. At least if you ever want it done on time, to spec, or without killing your workers.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

All Dogs Go to Heaven...

My mother's dog died yesterday. It's quite a ways away and it isn't a dog I grew up with. I keep telling myself that, but it doesn't seem to be helping much. I'm left with a sadness of my own, and I have hers to help deal with as well.

Willhemina was her baby, now that all her real babies had grown up. She was teacup-sized miniature Dachshund; her name was bigger than she was. I never really did understand why the heck you would have a dog like that in Alaska, but she was Mom's and she loved her.

And the dog repaid her with unswerving devotion. Wherever Mom went, that was where she went, even if it really wasn't possible. Watching her go get the mail with Mom on a snowy winter morning was a Warner Bros cartoon come to life. She would jump from footprint to footprint, and when she fell out, she'd disappear into the snow until only her nose showed.

She was 12 years old, which for a pampered little dog isn't that old, but she had health problems. Three weeks ago, she was diagnosed with a form of leukemia. She had been responding well to the treatment, but the strain of it all on her heart was just too much. She died napping on my Mom's lap in her favorite chair.

In some very strange ways, that dog was sort of my proxy there. She gave Mom something to focus on besides her problems, she made her keep her schedule, and kept her company when she couldn't see enough to get around. When I called, she would "talk" on the phone to me. Mom called it "reporting in" and used to tease about what the dog had tattled on her about. She'd talk to the kids, too. We're so far away, and it's hard for both of us.

Now she's pretty lost, but at least her boyfriend is home from work for the winter so she's not alone. She's not quite sure what they're going to do. The local SPCA does have a miniature dachshund available, but they're not sure they're ready. I told her to take her time. Half the people she's talked to have pushed her to get another dog right away, the other half say she shouldn't. I say, whatever is right for you and the dog. I got the story on this other dog from the lady who's keeping her. She has already been through heck, and if Mom can't deal with it so soon, it's not going to help that dog any to get attached to her and then get sent back again.

I don't know. I just got off the phone with Mom for what feels like the twentieth time today. She's going to call me again later. Somehow we'll all know this out. But it just wasn't the same without that little high scruffy bark, and it isn't going to be for a while. When it comes down to it, all I can say is, "Thank you for all the help, Willie, and I hope we'll see you soon."