Thursday, January 30, 2003

The other night, my daughter was complaining because her mother had mixed butter in with her rice; she said, scowling, that she didn't want it. Seeking to defuse the situation, I asked her what she would have put in had we asked in advance, and she replied "NOTHING!" Well, then, I asked, what sort of Nothing would you have put in? The fine, powdered Nothing, or the chunky style? Or perhaps the liquid Nothing, always a pleasure? By now she was just looking at me with an expression of bemusement as I went on. And where would you get it? Personally, I like going to the better food stores for that sort of thing. I look for an aisle where the shelves appear empty, but just to be sure, I ask a clerk what's there, and when they say "Why, nothing!" (for some reason, they stare at me strangely as they say this), I smile and nod, because Nothing is exactly what I want. And I scoop up as much as I can. Of course, I pointed out to my daughter, you can go to the cheaper stores, and they have Nothing, too, but it isn't quite the same. She asked why, and I told her that if, for example, you went to a bulk foods store and asked 'What's on the loading dock?', and they said "Nothing's on the loading dock", you could go out and look, and certainly it looks as if Nothing is there, but if you get down on your hands and knees, you can see that in fact there is dirt and gravel and what-not -- so it isn't truly Nothing -- certainly not the fine Nothing you'd want. And then there's the question of storage. When you bring it home, the dirt and gravel get everywhere, whereas if you got Nothing from a better quality store, you can easily put it away, no problem with mess at all. Though you have to be careful when you do put it away, I warned her; if someone opens the cupboard quickly, then it might fall out. And if you ask "What fell out?", and they reply "Nothing fell out", then, of course, you have to go put it all away again.

By which time, she was smiling. And she'd finished the rice, without noticing.

Tuesday, January 28, 2003

Sometimes, when I think of one thing, it takes me off on a chain of thoughts about things that I don't understand, until I get to the point where I've wandered about so longI wonder how I ever get anything done. Here's an example: I am helping some people set up a new level of an operating system, and one of the metrics I'm watching is how busy the page packs are. (Page packs hold storage that's not currently in use by the system or applications, but could be at any point. ) I found myself thinking about what the gurus say the optimal utilization level is for a given storage device (hint: its a number that's so low, I frequently find myself wondering if the number was suggested by the people who want to sell some more). I knew that I had it written down someplace, along with an explanation of why it's considered to be an optimal number, and for about the ten thousandth time I thought that I need a system for writing down these notes in some kind of searchable format. Well, that of course reminded me of databases, but that means there has to be a way of searching the database. Brute force would be okay -- I'm not talking about archiving the full Encyclopaedia Brittanica or anything -- but still, it has to exist, so I thought about keywords, and how you can either pick the keywords that you think would best describe what you were writing down, or you could use some mechanical method of generating the keywords (I don't know much about linguistic tools, but I like to read about them, so I know a little about how a keyword generator might work, in very, very simple terms.) Well, that got me to thinking about an article I read the other day which was written by a very bright woman named Ellen Isaacs about a system she prototyped at Sun (along with other Sun colleagues); the system was called Piazza, and it was an tool to enhance collaborative computing. Anyway, her article had several keywords at the beginning, so I sort-of wondered how she came up with them. And that made me think, very briefly, about collaborative computing, about which my knowledge level is virtually nil... and there I stopped.

Like I said, sometimes I wonder how I get anything done.

Monday, January 27, 2003

Restaurants: I'm not a great person to ask about food. My wife likes to say that my idea of a great restaurant is an unstuffy place with quiet music, good china, sparkling crystal, solid-silver utensils, deferential waiters who don't pretend to be my pal -- and meatloaf. To which I which I can only add: But it has to be good meatloaf ! But there are one or two restaurants where I'd go out of my way to eat; if you're in the vicinity, they are definitely worth a visit. One is in Tucson, a city whose name I only learned to spell correctly by listening to a friend patiently repeat Tuc's Son, over and over. The restaurant is The Tack Room, and despite the opportunity for puns and bad jokes about the name (many of which I've made), its a great place to eat -- one of the few places I've eaten where the staff didn't seem anxious to hurry us out, once we'd paid the bill. Another is Fornou's Ovens, in San Francisco, just down the hill from the Mark Hopkins hotel. It's not as formal, but the food is great - a rustic French decor, and the blast furnace heat of the ovens (the tables closest to them seem to empty the fastest), couple with great food and wonderful service. I also enjoy any time I get to eat at a Schlotzsky's restaurant. No atmosphere to speak of, but when I would occasionally fly to Dallas on business, I used to make a point to pick up a Schlotzsky's original on the way back to the airport and carry it home, to be reheated and savored the next day. Excellent.

Sunday, January 26, 2003

Seventy percent of the way through the last century, a fellow by name of Roger Hall wrote a book with the odd title of '19' . That title is an enigma, and perhaps that’s a hint to the nature of the book, for 19 is the story of one episode in the operation of a league of gentlemen who have made it their life’s work to assist, and occasionally infiltrate, the intelligence agencies of the world, seeking to keep them honest and on track. I know -- in a world where trusted governmental agents are found to be traitors, this is hopelessly out of date stuff. Yet Hall wrote with style and grace, and this book (he wrote others, including You’re Stepping On My Cloak and Dagger, which the Washington Post referred to as "Wry Tales by WWII Spy Still A Gem Of The Genre") is a charming piece of work. Hard to find (it’s been out of print for years) but delightful. I reread it when I need to remember that once, at least, the world seemed sane.
This is the first entry. Not sure how many there will be, or how often, or how interesting. It's just a toy to see what thoughts look like when they're let free. My guess is, most will shiver and die in the cold blast of the air outside of my head, but maybe once in a while, one will survive.

I've been reading off and on about what's called 'retainer medicine'. That's where your doctor charges you a given amount per year -- say, US$1500 - so that you can see him or her. You get more time with the doc, and some provide extra services as well. Regular fees still apply. The idea is that the doctor gets to reduce his/her workload overall, and so that more time can be spent on each patient. Critics say it is a way of gouging the public, of taking medical services off the market; fans say its a way of improving the level of service, and keeping the doctor from getting burned out. It sounds like a good deal, unless you're one of the people who now has to shop for another doc, and I suppose I'm in favor of it -- but every article also mentions that the doctor in question also expects to make more money as a result. So, what's driving the change -- health or wealth? Or just a happy coincidence?