Veg Box Blues (and Blacks)

Marina and I are experimenting with what the Brits call a “veg box scheme”. Everything here is a scheme, but that’s a post for another day.

One of the benefits/problems with veg boxes is that you never know what you are going to get. And you get stuff you might not have bought yourself. If you didn’t want it because you hate it, that’s a problem. But if you didn’t want it because you didn’t know what to do with it, that’s an opportunity!

Our first veg box, from a provider who shall not be named (because we’re not completely satisfied yet but still giving them another chance), came with a mysterious dark rough leafy thing. It reminded me of the kale we used to use to decorate the salad bar at Wendy’s when I had my first ever job. I went to where all answers to mysterious vegetables come from (the Internet, duh) and found Veg Box Recipes which explained that what I had in my hand was Cavolo Nero. I’m going to sauté it in olive oil and garlic and we’ll eat it with rewarmed homemade bread. You can also use it in a soup, but I made potato-carrot-turnip soup on Monday, so no more soup for a few days.

Marina is working hard studying, but at least I know she’s eating well!

Update: I thought it turned out OK, but Marina said she felt like a cow, chewing on grass. I promised to make soup next time, which should make it softer.

A “Told You So” Moment

One of the risks of being a person who is constantly processing information, forming opinions, and trying to predict the future is that when you get it right-ish, you tend to say, “I told you so”. Or if you are polite, you just think, “I told you so”.

I’m not so polite so I blog it instead.

Right this moment, the top two stories on Slashdot make me say I told you so. I don’t have the time to dig into them right now, but the headlines lead me to believe my gut instinct has been on the right track for a while:

Why do these count as “I told you so” moments? Because they fit the patterns I’ve noticed and have written about. The global warming one is a bit interesting. I still think man-made carbon dioxide is a scapegoat. I’ve thought for a long time that climate change is unavoidable and the sooner we accept it as a reality and make decisions around it the better. I knew this in 2004, and it is related to why I live and work where I do now.

Since neither of them are really very good news, I don’t feel too good about being so in tune with the zeitgeist, but I’d still rather be a member of the “reality based community”, instead of a “faith based” one anyway.

Speaking of faith, this weekend, Marina and I went to a class on the life of Jesus. The Catholic priest was super-liberal, which was a mind-blowing event for Marina, who last reviewed the life of Jesus via the Catechism, and thus had a narrow view of some historical facts that are inconvenient to the Church. I had a liberal religious education, so nothing the priest said was really new to me. I was actually a little disappointed he didn’t mention the possibility that Jesus was a Black Man. Anyway, a good time was had by all, and now we are allowed to get married. (The Catholics are a little funny like that. Even the super-liberal priest is forced to require a class before you get married, so he uses his class to give a liberal view of Jesus. Whatever.)


I am reading Anathem by Neal Stephenson, and it’s pretty darn good. I can’t shake the feeling that it’s basically “Hogwarts with Math”, but that’s not Stephenson’s fault… he’s telling a perfectly good story, it just happens that Rowling was also telling a perfectly good story and the two seem a bit the same.

There are some really excellent one-liners, and some great “no one understands my audience like I do” things in the book. This is something Stephenson is really good at, and though it is pandering, it is pandering to me, and that’s OK, of course.

If you’ve liked any of his other books, you’ll like this one too. Have no fear, buy it and read it!

Back to school

I was sick last week, and in my drug- and virus-induced haze of incoherence, the idea that I should write a Scheme interpreter in assembly language came to mind. I cannot explain from where, but there it was. So I started looking into it, wondering if I still had it in me to dig into a computer problem and get it done. I’ve been feeling a bit burned out on different aspects of the IT world, and I was thinking maybe that getting back to the basics of computer science might help. The course that I remember mostly vividly (not fondly: vividly, like in nightmares) was my Programming Languages class, where I wrote a Scheme interpreter in (wait for it, wait for it…) Scheme. It was hard, really hard. But I was also young and stupid. I don’t think it would be so hard now.

I suspect another idea was floating in my mind, which came from this article. Functional Programming is part of the solution to the multi-core problem, which is the most pressing problem facing computer science to ensure continued growth in computer capabilities. Things written the functional way self-decompose into parallelizable threads of execution, which is good in a future where lots of small processors are available instead of a few huge ones.  It’s an open question if “continued growth in computer capabilities” is really a useful thing. My work with Entuura argues, “no, smaller embedded devices will deliver more social good”. But better to plant mango stones in all types of soil anyway.

So I started looking into what it would take write a Scheme interpreter in assembly and ran across An Incremental Approach to Compiler Construction [PDF]. Which is something else entirely, a guided tour into the world of compilers, where you write a compiler for Scheme in Scheme, resulting in native x86 code that evaluates Scheme expressions. Since I never actually did a compiler class, this was even better. It would scratch my itch to get back into functional programming, as well as taking me on a guided dip into the waters of assembly, but letting me program my assembly in Scheme, which I prefer anyway.

I’ve completed chapters 1 and 2 of the tutorial. This is my way of publically stating that I’ll make it through the rest of the chapters. Feel free to poke me later and ask how it went!

Landlords РLes Propri̩taires

This posting on Boing Boing reminded me of something I wanted to mention about Switzerland. Though I sometimes makes it sound like heaven, with beautiful Swiss girls begging to marry you, cows that give chocolate milk when you milk them, and every man with an assault rifle, that’s not the whole truth.

Swiss landlords are crazy. And Swiss people, who have a certain zeal for social harmony, indulge them. Here are some examples:

  • In my second apartment in Lausanne, the landlord took me to the color coded chart and explained in detail which days of which weeks (morning or afternoon) we had access to the laundry room. Perhaps it was my weak French, but it seemed awfully complex to me — certainly not “1st floor, Thursday”, 2nd floor Wednesday”. So then she took me into the laundry room and showed me the electrical meter I was supposed to read before and after my laundry, and the logbook I was supposed to write the readings into.  I asked, “because we have to pay for the electricity?” She said, “no, just to know”.
  • In our friend’s apartment, there was a recurring “problem” with handmade signs on the mailboxes. A note popped up next to them: “Dear tenants, We would like to remind you that it is strictly prohibited to affix notes on your own box. Please address yourself to the building superintendent, who has the proper materials should you desire to put a note on your box.” The notes in question were “Pas de publicité, svp”, which is the Swiss solution to Direct Mail. Since every post box in the country has that note, the direct marketers print 20% what they once did, then they recycle 100% of what they do print (as it is returned by the post office because all the boxes have the little notes). Problem solved.
  • At another friend’s apartment, there’s another colorful and excessively complicated diagram showing which of the three flats cleans the stairway and entrance hallway on which week. There’s a little note at the bottom that suggests that Saturday morning would be the best time to do it.

There are a lot of people who hate Switzerland after a few weeks (due to the pervasive, quiet, constructive but a little creepy pressure to conform). It always makes me happy when I contemplate those people and know that I’m not one of them, and that no matter where Marina and I travel, Switzerland will always be home.


Un article sur BoingBoing m’a rappelé quelque chose que j’ai voulu dire au sujet de la Suisse. Bien que des fois je la décrire comme quelque type de paradis, avec des femmes suisses qui veulent vous épouser, les vaches qui donnent du lait chocolat, et chaque homme avec sa fusil de assaut… mais c’est pas la vérité entier.

Les propriétaires suisses sont fous. Et les suisses, qui ont un certain zèle pour l’harmonie sociale, leur cèdent. Voici, certains des exemples:

  1. Chez mon second appartement à Lausanne, la propriétaire m’a montré un tableau coloré et m’a expliqué (en détail) pendant quels matins ou après-midis des quels jours des quels semaines nous avons eu accès à la laverie. Peut être il était au cause de ma français faible, mais cela me semblait terriblement complexe — certainement pas si simple que “premier étage: jeudi”, “second étage: mercredi”. Puis, elle m’a montré le compteur électrique ou je devait relever le chiffre avant et après de faire la lessive, et le registre ou je devait écrire les mesure. J’ai demander, “parce que nous devons payer pour l’électricité?” Elle m’a dit, “Non, c’est juste pour savoir…”
  2. Chez une amie, il y avait “une problème” récurrente avec des affiches fait à main sur les boites à postes. Un annonce est apparue à coté d’eux: « Cher locataires: Nous vous voulons rappeler que c’est strictement interdit de attacher des affiches sur votre boites à lettres vous-même. S’il vous plaît, vous adressez chez le superviseur du bâtiment où vous trouverez des matériaux convenables. Â» Ces affiches disaient « Pas de publicité, svp. Â», la solution suisse pour éviter le publicité par poste. Parce que presque chaque boite à lettres dans le pays a cette affiche, les publicitaires impriment 20% de ce qu’ils faisaient jadis. Puis ils recyclent 100% de ce que ils impriment – tous sont retournés par la poste parce que toutes les boites ont les affiches. Problème résolu!
  3. Chez un autre ami, il y a un autre tableau aux couleurs vives et excessivement compliqué qui explique quel des trois appartements doit nettoyer les escaliers et le foyer chaque semaine. Il y a un petit note au fond qui suggère que les matins des samedis seront les meilleures temps de la faire.

Il y a pas mal de gens qui détestent la Suisse après quelques semaines là-bas (au cause de le omniprésente, tranquille, constructive, mais légèrement sinistre pression de conformer). Chaque fois que je pense à eux, ça me fait sourire parce que je sais que je ne suis pas une des ces personnes. Peu importante où Marina et moi allons voyager, la Suisse sera toujours chez nous.

Welcome to the USA

The new ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorizations) that the US has instituted is really, really lame. Everything about the system screams, “Stop! Don’t come here! You are a suspicious foreigner and we don’t want you.”

Check out this insane message that pops up on the website before you can even start:

You are about to access a Department of Homeland Security computer system. This computer system and data therein are property of the U.S. Government and provided for official U.S. Government information and use.  There is no expectation of privacy when you use this computer system. The use of a password or any other security measure does not establish an expectation of privacy.  By using this system, you consent to the terms set forth in this notice. You may not process classified national security information on this computer system.  Access to this system is restricted to authorized users only.  Unauthorized access, use, or modification of this system or of data contained herein, or in transit to/from this system, may constitute a violation of section 1030 of title 18 of the U.S. Code and other criminal laws.  Anyone who accesses a Federal computer system without authorization or exceeds access authority, or obtains, alters, damages, destroys, or discloses information, or prevents authorized use of information on the computer system, may be subject to penalties, fines or imprisonment. This computer system and any related equipment is subject to monitoring for administrative oversight, law enforcement, criminal investigative purposes, inquiries into alleged wrongdoing or misuse, and to ensure proper performance of applicable security features and procedures. DHS may conduct monitoring activities without further notice.

That’s boilerplate, of course. I’ve seen it on other US government sites. But it’s stupid, and those somewhat legitimate disclosures should be handled some other way.

Then once you clear that screen, you are met with this stern notice:

International travelers who are seeking to travel to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program are now subject to enhanced security requirements. All eligible travelers who wish to travel under the Visa Waiver Program must apply for authorization using the following process… (emphasis mine)

Note the unnecessarily militant and suspicious tone. Why is it there? Who wrote that? What kind of person had final editorial control on this, a key touch point in the brand of USA?

For a comparison, take a look at the equivalent site for visas to the UK.

I feel bad for my country. How did this happen? How did we lose our sense? How did we lose our connection to our neighbors? How can we stop being the grouchy-old-man neighbor and once again be a respected leader among our peers? When will our hideous attitiude towards foreigners finally reveal the American dream as broken and corrupt? When will we lose the incredible gifts of the immigrants who built the USA?

By my employment, my residence, and my marriage, it seems I’ve given up and turned my back on the USA. I know some people who have in fact done so. But I haven’t. Each time I see the US through the eyes of those outside the country, I am sad and embarassed for my country. I just know of no other way to take action than to live my life the most honestly and respectfully as I can, as an expat who’s proud to be American, and proud to show what it means to be American even far from home.

Update: I happened to be enjoying a fine piece of American culture today, and came across this quote:

You don’t have to believe in your government to be a good American. You just have to believe in your country.

Think about it.