Garlic Chili Recipe

Earlier today I mentioned on twitter that I was making chili and
several people asked for the recipe. I make a variation of “Gilroy
Chili” from The Garlic Lovers’ Cookbook, put together by the
organizers of the Gilroy Garlic Festival in Gilroy, CA. My wife and I
picked up copies of volumes I and II not long after we were married and
have several favorite recipes from each.

The original recipe is from David B. Swope, although what I make is a
slightly modified version, as follows:

4 cloves of garlic (at least), minced
1 sweet onion, diced
1 can stewed tomatoes
1 can Campbell’s condensed beef broth, undiluted
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 tablespoon cumin1 teaspoon salt
1 lb. ground beef

You can cook the whole thing in a single large skillet, which makes
clean-up a breeze.

  1. Brown the garlic and onions in olive oil until tender.
  2. Add the meat, heat up the skillet and cook until done.
  3. Add everything else.
  4. Cover the skillet and reduce the heat to simmer.
  5. Cook about 45 minutes to reduce, stirring occasionally.

Serve by itself with good bread for sopping, or over rice. We usually
get about 4 servings if we’re not stretching it with rice. It reheats
well, so occasionally I’ll double the recipe and put some up in the
freezer.

pictures of the new cichlids

After several years of tame fish like tetras, we’ve restarted the tank
with cichlids. I had both Africans and South Americans many years ago,
but we decided to go with Africans this time because we liked the colors
and I had the most fun with my Africans before.

It took us a while to settle on a theme for their names, but we’ve
finally chosen to go with middle names of past United States Presidents.
The red and blue fellow on the left side of this picture is Fitzgerald
(Fitz for short). His friend is Delano, who is not only physically
larger than most of the others but also provides something of a calming
influence on the tank.

We have two of these speckled ones, Arnold and Forbes. I’m not sure
which this is, and I can’t really tell them apart.

This blue one is S, the smallest of the bunch and a fairly aggressive
character.

And last is Knox. He was the most aggressive of the first three we
added, but since Delano came along Knox has calmed down a bit. He hid
out for a few days under the spider root, but after I rearranged a bit
he has started coming out more regularly.

We’ve had them for a few weeks now, and they are no longer scared of
me when I approach the tank. They’ve learned that an open lid means
feeding time (2-3 times a day). And they’re starting to splash a bit
when they’re hungry. Someone (I think Delano) is able to reach the lid
when with their tail. The last time I had cichlids they would woke me up
in the mornings this way if I slept past feeding time, so it’s
interesting to see similar behavior in the new batch.

The tank is a 55 gallon with 2 standard backpack filters and sand
substrate. The plants are some sort of generic sword left over from the
community setup we had before. The cichlids are slowly nibbling away at
the stalks, but we have a nice thick undergrowth still. We’ll see if
they are just thinning it to make moving around easier or if they’ll
leave anything at all. They don’t seem to be consuming what they chop
off, as it finds its way into the filter intake and stays there until I
clean it up with a net.

Telecommuting

I recently came across a few articles by Esther Schindler on
telecommuting which struck a chord with me.

The first, “Getting Clueful: Seven Things the CIO Should Know About
Telecommuting
”, is directed at managers of telecommuters. It covers
the benefits to the company of having telecommuters (cost savings,
productivity, etc.), potential pitfalls (not everyone can manage
themselves well enough to work remotely, ), and how to cope with them.
She places a heavy emphasis on building trust in the manager/employee
relationship, especially through communication.

The second article is directed at the telecommuting employee. In
Telecommuters Need to Develop Special Skills”, Schindler goes a
bit beyond the basic advice normally found in articles like this.
Unsurprisingly, most of that advice centers around communication issues
such as status reporting and “visibility”. One key item regards
conference calls and telling people sitting around a speaker phone to
speak up – we have that problem frequently at my company.

Both articles include specific advice from experienced managers and
telecommuters. I’m happy to say that my company gets most of this right.
We are based in Atlanta, and unless you live in the same building as
your company there is no easy commute in Atlanta. From the very
beginning, my manager told all of us he would rather have us working
than sitting in traffic and we have been expected to figure out how to
do as much of our work from home as possible. This went beyond the
grudging acceptance of telecommuting at my previous employer to active
encouragement. He saw the immediate cost benefit in office space and
productivity benefit in gaining as much as 2 hours per day of extra
work.

As far as remote communication goes, we follow the technology chart
laid out by Schindler pretty closely. We don’t have formalized rules; it
just seemed to work out that way naturally. One category of tools she
does not mention for status/discussion are online collaboration tools
such as wikis and issue tracking systems. We rely on both, with the
ticket tracking system used for asynchronous design discussions and the
wiki for historical documentation, how-tos, etc.

After an initial settling in period (2-3 months) where I got to know
my new co-workers and learned about the development environment, I have
been working at home as much as possible. These days that usually means
4 of 5 days in a week, sometimes 9 of 10 over 2 weeks. There have been
stretches where I didn’t go to the office for a few months at a time,
but those are rare. One day in the office per week works out well, since
most of the developers seem to talk better with a whiteboard in front of
us. I’ve looked into online whiteboard tools in the past, but haven’t
found anything to replace the nuance of the in-person meeting. Perhaps
if we installed some web cams…

We’re a small group, so we try to keep everyone informed of all design
issues. The code is usually implemented by just one or two developers,
but everyone has an opportunity to be involved in signing off on design
and implementation before anything goes into the svn trunk. We’ve been
doing this for 5-6 years now, so we’ve settled into a pattern. For small
designs, an individual developer may do the work and write up the
“approach”, explaining the design and tricky implementation details. The
approach (a wiki page in trac) is then submitted for review along with
the completed changeset. This works well for small changes or bug fixes,
but for larger projects we usually have some sort of conversation before
development begins. It might be a simple sanity check by one other
developer via IM, phone, or email. If a more formal review is needed, we
typically write a preliminary approach, without any code, and submit it
for comments. If we can’t agree on the approach it is time to schedule a
meeting, either as a conference call or in person.

Of course, we also make heavy use of instant messaging on our own
Jabber server. Most of our quick communication has moved off of email to
IM, and we use IM for “presence” notification. If I step away from my
desk to take care of something around the house, run an errand, or get
lunch, I use the IM status message to tell people when I expect to come
back. Email tends to be reserved for progress updates, issues that don’t
need immediate resolution, and sometimes scheduling times for more
direct means of communication.

A drawback to working remotely so often is that I frequently end up
the last to know about things like schedule or priority changes. If an
informal discussion in the hall results in a major decision, an email
still might not go out right away or the eventual message might assume
more knowledge of details than I have. This is a group communication
problem, and we’re working on it, but it can be frustrating at times.

Schindler does not offer tips for handling physical space for
telecommuters in the office. She mentions the opportunity to save office
space, but doesn’t get into what to do when all of those remote workers
do show up at the office. For a couple of years I had my own cube,
even though I was hardly ever there. We’ve recently grown big enough
that my desk was needed by someone who is in the office more frequently
than I am, so I gave it up. When I cleaned out the drawers, the only
things I kept were a handful of business cards and a couple of pocket
reference books. There wasn’t anything else in the drawers that belonged
to me!

Now I sit in the “hotel” room when I’m in the office for meetings;
that’s typically the only reason I go in, any more. Even if I don’t plan
specific meetings, I usually end up spending the day in informal
discussions rather than writing code. We converted a small conference
room by replacing the central table with folding tables along the walls
to serve as desks and by adding a few chairs. There are internet
connections (or wireless), a phone, and the old whiteboard from when the
room was actually a conference room. I used to spend most of my time at
the office in a conference room anyway, so this works out fine. :-)

And of course when I’m at home, I work at my desk here most of the
time. I do try to mix it up a bit, though. On nice days, I start on the
patio after breakfast. I catch up on email, read news, listen to
podcasts, etc. If it is cold or wet, I usually start out at the dining
room table, or on the sofa with a cat in my lap. When I am ready to do
some coding, I move to my home office, where I have a door to close and
space on the desk to spread out notes or reference manuals. I also have
a second monitor for my laptop there, which turns out to be a lot more
useful than I ever expected. Occasionally I take some reading or
documentation work to a local coffee shop, but their chairs tend to be
less comfortable and the people traffic can be distracting, so I don’t
usually do any coding while I’m there.

Our application runs on Linux, and my desktop is a PowerBook, so I
rely heavily on remote access tools such as ssh and VNC. I have a
development box at home, because the lag time to the office is
intolerable sometimes. Most of the collaboration tools we, such as trac
and Jabber, use can be tunneled, so my ssh configuration includes a lot
of port-forwarding. The end result is that I can access any of my work
systems or tools remotely, even from the coffee shop if need be.

I’ve been working remotely for several years now, and I have a hard
time imagining going back to the office every day. I do like being in
the office, but the commute is killer. If the job were closer, or we
lived somewhere else, it might not be as big of a concern. But this is a
good situation for me now, and I’ve had no trouble getting used to it.

Spam Irony

In my spam research today, I came across this link to a blog post
discussing POPFile, a POP3 spam filtering tool. I’ve seen the tool
before, and I’m not even sure why I bothered to read the post, but I’m
glad I did. This bit from the end caught my eye:

Steve Shaw is the developer of PopUpMaster Pro, which allows you to
add unblockable popups to your web site quickly and easily,
specifically designed to sign up subscribers to your list, and fast.

It’s good to see that the marketers are not immune to the problem.

Entrepreneurial Debt Waivers

The company I work for came out of the Advanced Technology
Development Center
at Georgia Tech, which is an incubator for small
companies run by the university. Among other resources, ATDC provides
nice facilities with shared conference and break rooms but private
office and lab space. There were a lot of companies in the incubator, at
various levels of maturity. There were regular get-togethers and plenty
of opportunity to exchange ideas with people down the hall. Our company
has since graduated, but the time we spent there meant we didn’t have to
worry about a lot of little details that come up with a business.

Ed Kohler writes about an idea for VC firms over at Technology
Evangalist
. The basic idea is to grab students as they graduate
(probably before) and set them up so they have no loan debt and a
reasonable salary in exchange for a stake in whatever idea they happen
to be working on. Kohler’s idea takes the normal incubator like ATDC one
(or more) step farther by suggesting paying off student loans and and
the housing rent as well as the office space.

It seems natural to extend this even further and combine the 2
systems. Why not buy an office/apartment building? Offer a variety of
apartment sizes to accommodate married and single people, etc. Provide
office space, a food court, the works. Some of the space could even be
rented to companies that are not part of the VC fund. The point is to
pull all of it together into one place to keep the energy level high and
make it an attractive place to be in addition to sharing whatever
resources can be shared between companies.

Maybe the whole thing is done by renting out floors of a multi-use
building that someone else owns under a single lease, then subletting
the space (instead of buying the building out-right). I tend to think in
terms of high-rises because I work in Atlanta. In other areas, you might
want a campus or office park. I’m sure there are a lot of ways to
structure it.

In the end what you get is a startup “factory” that churns out ideas
on a (hopefully) regular basis. You bring a new crop of people in each
semester when they graduate. Start small with each new company. Each
“startup” is owned by a holding company in the beginning. If it starts
to look promising, spin it off to its own company as needed. If an idea
isn’t panning out, kill it and either move the people to another project
or cut them loose and let them try it on their own.

Maybe multiple VC firms would work together to fund the thing – I
don’t know how well the politics of that would work, but I’m not a VC.

Hmm. This all sounds a lot like the old research labs from before
everyone wanted to be out on their own…

del.icio.us down?

I’ve never worked anywhere that could take a reasonable change window
like del.icio.us apparently can.

We’re in the midst of a scheduled upgrade which will take no more
than a couple of hours. Come back after 2 pm (Pacific) today and you
will see the del.icio.us you’ve come to know and love. For live
updates, please see our `blog`_.

Bravo to their operations team for doing the work during the day instead
of the middle of the night. Of course, they are still working on the
weekend, but this is a start.

Gmail learning to recognize spam better?

I didn’t see this story in the New York Times when it came out. The
title is a little misleading, though. The excitement is in the reduction
of false positives, rather than false negatives:

From the first quarter to the second this year, Gmail got nearly 15
times better at distinguishing legitimate commercial e-mail messages
from spam…