Archive for September, 2010

Would You Like Tortilla Chips with That?

Friday, September 24th, 2010

I’m a big fan of Mexican food. I generally describe it as my default meal; if I don’t know what I’m in the mood for, well, I can always eat Mexican. Now I grew up in Los Angeles, and L.A. is pretty well dominated by Mexican eateries, but I don’t think it was when I was a kid. When I was a kid, I ate hamburgers, and pizza, and sub sandwiches and all that other stuff, and while I know that I had Mexican from time to time, with one exception it doesn’t stand out in my mind.

That one exception is taco night. The nights, and they weren’t rare but they were far from common, when we’d have tacos for dinner. In my house, tacos meant frying up a corn tortilla, in hot oil, until it was just crisp enough to hold that important vee shape, then filling it with layers of ground beef, diced tomatoes, shredded lettuce, shredded cheese and some sort of hot sauce. It was a simple meal, but it was fun and engaging; it was a chance to not just eat dinner but to build it.

Now God and I went out for Mexican food yesterday and we got to talking about the variety of dishes that all come down to pretty much the same thing. Tortillas, beans, rice, meat, and some basic vegetables. Whether you’re having a taco, a burrito, an enchilada, tacquitos, or even nachos, those are the ingredients. I asked God if these people just had no imagination or if they were afraid to try something new. She told me I was looking at it all wrong. She said that given the few ingredients they had available, they had managed to come up with an amazing variety of dishes.

She also pointed out that there are plenty of Mexican dishes that I was ignoring. What about tamales? I said they were just what happened when you wanted an enchilada but your tortilla press was broken. What about chile rellenos? Again just falling back on the enchilada formula but this time when there was not just a lack of a tortilla press, or the lack of time to use one, but no corn from which to make the tortillas. But God was undaunted. She asked about molĂ©, she asked about albondigas, she asked about the venerated Caesar Salad. So finally I gave in. I admitted that my limited view of Mexican cuisine was no more valid than the foreigners who think that all we Americans know how to cook is hamburgers and hot dogs. But still I’ve had some awfully good hamburgers, some great hot dogs, and a hand-dipped corn dog can be sublime.

Of course, now that I think about it, dipping a hot dog in corn-meal batter has something vaguely Mexican about it.

What Floor?

Friday, September 17th, 2010

In the spirit of life having its ups and downs, God and I made yesterday into elevator adventure day. No, I didn’t get trapped in an elevator (there’s some advantage to having God along, after all). What I did do though, was to gain a little more appreciation for the variety of experiences that are out there in elevatorland.

I now work on the fifteenth floor. This means I spend a lot more time in elevators than I used to. The building where I work is pretty typical. There’s a bank of six elevators and buttons you press to tell the system that you want to go down or up. The one cool thing in my building is that there’s a video screen in every elevator that runs news and advertising, so I get some headlines when coming or going and I get to know what the temperature outside is going to be a minute or so before I get there. I get this “just slightly into the future” feel from it all.

Yesterday I needed to head out to the office of a Title company, to fill out some paperwork for the house I’m selling. I checked their web site for the address, and headed on over. A fairly short three or four block jaunt from my office. When I got there I discovered the usual bank of elevators, but not the usual buttons. There was a ten-key pad with instructions to put in your destination floor. So I punched in thirteen and the display lit up, telling me to get into elevator “C.” Inside the elevator there was no panel of buttons to press for the various floors. There was a display that showed we would be going to floor ten (for the woman who got in with me) and floor thirteen, where I was soon to learn the Title company was no longer located.

I figure this new system was probably invented by someone who got into an elevator after some juvenile delinquent had pressed all the buttons. In any event, it was pretty cool. I got to spend the short ride thinking of different ways that software could optimize the sorting of crowds into the different elevators. Then I got to call the Title company and ask them where they had moved to.

Luckily it was only a block away.

So I got to the new office building, all set to ride up to the twenty-first floor. I went to the bank of elevators, pushed the familiar up button (the only button on the ground floor), and waited for the usual ding. It dinged. I went through the open door. And there were only buttons for floors one through eight. But I’ve been in office buildings before, I know that they often have different banks for different ranges of floors. Not as cool a solution to the problem of grouping people as software directed elevators, but perfectly serviceable.

I got out of the elevator. I looked around. I saw… nothing, or at least nothing that looked like a bank of elevators. Thankfully, there was a concierge there who saw me looking around and asked what I needed. He then directed me around behind his station to another bank that really couldn’t be seen from where I was and also wasn’t particularly obvious from where I had come in. No really, I’m pretty observant and not usually fooled by elevators that are trying to hide. The now revealed elevators were swift and sure, which was good, because they didn’t have any video screens.

So I took care of my paperwork and headed back to my own office. I probably would have just forgotten all about my elevator adventure except that it wasn’t finished yet. It needed one more segment to really cement it in my mind.

The elevator back in my building was a long time coming. I don’t know exactly how long but it was long enough that I gave up just standing and started leaning against the wall, and then I leaned for about as long as I’d been standing. It was realistically probably about three or four minutes, but when you’re waiting for an elevator that’s a surprisingly long amount of time. On the ride up, I got to find out just why I had had to wait so long. Largely ignoring what buttons had been pressed, the elevator was stopping at almost every floor. At plenty of those floors there were people hoping to go down, so I’m pretty sure that the other cars were giving people just as much of the shaft as I was getting.

If the elevator had only chosen to go down a few floors and then back up again I would have felt like I was in a slow motion version of the Tower of Terror at the Disneyland Resort. As it was, it was just enough out of the ordinary to remind me that elevators shouldn’t be taken for granted. So while it wasn’t a particularly exciting finish to my days elevator adventure, it was exciting enough to spice up an otherwise dull day. I told God that the lesson for the day, is that there’s always an adventure waiting to happen if you don’t set your standards too high. She pointed out that with the help of elevators, we can set them a little higher than we used to.

Keeping Down the Pace

Friday, September 10th, 2010

So I started a new job a few weeks ago and it’s going somewhat differently than I’m used to. Basically I’ve been thrown into the water and am expected to learn to swim.

They seem reasonably happy with my dog paddling so far, but I can’t really say the same for me. I’m used to providing a certain level of output, and I’m not really getting there. The weird thing is that this seems to be normal. I talked with a friend of mine, another programmer, after I started my previous job and she was jealous that I was actually writing code, a lot of code, that was actually moving into production. The other programmers around me at that job were writing code, but they were doing smaller projects. God points out to me that the code I’ve been seeing checked in by other programmers at my new job hasn’t been all that extensive.

So maybe I just need to relax and go with the slower pace. I’ve been told that things will ramp up and I’ll be as busy as I want to be, soon enough. In the meantime, I’m enjoying working in San Francisco. I’ve gone to a new place for lunch every single day since I started; though I think I’m almost done with that. And the other day, after work, I walked down to Pier 39, a place I’ve previously only visited when on vacation. Now that’s pretty cool.

Have a Drink

Friday, September 3rd, 2010

God asked me the other day about what’s been happening with Mountain Dew Somehow over the last few years it’s gone from being a drink to being a franchise. I remember when it made what I think was its first really big promotional push. I was a kid and the advertising for it was all over television. There was an animated caricature of a hillbilly shouting out “Yahoo, Mountain Dew.”

Mountain dew, the original Mountain Dew, not Mountain Dew Lotus Fusion, or Mountain Dew Tropical Depression or whatever other variant is out there this week, is basically just another citrus soda. It’s different than the lemon-limes (like 7Up and Sprite) and the grapefruits (like Squirt and Fresca) in that it doesn’t strive for that “crisp” citrus drink quality, instead joining its more common pop brethren by being sweet and heavily caffeinated. I think the caffeine was there mainly to differentiate it from Cactus Cooler.

But it also has that yellow color. And the “dew” in the name is awfully close to one of the slang terms for excrement. Combine those with the unsophisticated plumbing that young boys in the sixties believed to be extant in the backwaters of Appalachia that featured in the advertising blitz and it didn’t take much to imagine that they were all but saying “Hey, come try our urine soda!” To a prepubescent tyke like myself this was even better than a good fart joke, and I was instantly enticed. To this day I still occasionally imagine I’m indulging in a bit of cleaned up bodily waste when I pop open a can. Thankfully, the illusion never makes it past the first taste.

So I think that maybe this ties in to the mass profusion of different variations on Mountain Dew that now adorn our convenience store shelves. Somebody at Pepsi woke up one day and thought, “You know, if we can sell a brand of soft drink by invoking piss, what couldn’t we sell under that brand?” Of course, thinking about it this way really does make me wonder what kind of medical condition drove someone to come up with Mountain Dew Code Red.