Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Merger update

I started this blog with a minor rant about mergers. It's time for a vague update!

Frankly, it's a delight to see a merger that doesn't suck. So far, our new overlords have been doing things mostly right. There's some minor confusion here and there on some specific issues, like the details of some new benefits programs, but the HR folks tend to get things sorted out fairly quickly. It's almost like someone read that first post here. Actually, some of the issues raised in that post stem from another merger/acquisition by the same company, so it's nice to see that they've learned a few lessons after the better part of a decade.

Personally, I'm pretty happy. There's a bit more to solve for my own personal situation, but all of the management and HR folks I deal with have been helpful and supportive.

It'll be good to get the deal closed, which should be in another week or two. That should allow all of us involved to get back to concentrating on actual work. There's certainly plenty of that!

How to fix the traffic problem

Polls of people living in Silicon Valley show that the top two problems are the cost of housing and traffic. The former is a simple problem of supply and demand - too many people want to live here and mountains and water hem in the available space.

Traffic, on the other hand, is a messier problem. In part, it's simple: too many cars in not enough road. Here's the crux of my hypothesis - too many cars isn't the's too little decent public transportation. If anything, the California car culture makes it harder to fix this. This will anger a bunch of people that I know, but I think we're just propping up a failed freeway system with the network of carpool lanes and metering lights. If I had my way, we'd remove the carpool lanes and turn off the metering lights. I used to be a big fan of them, but I've come to the conclusion that they simply prolong the agony of our traffic issues. Perhaps removing them will force the issue a bit sooner.

One of the problems we have is the state of public transportation in silicon valley. Frankly, it stinks. There's not enough of it, and it runs along less than useful routes. My favorite example is Caltrain. I like taking Caltrain, but it's not a substantial time saver for me. In particular, the Tamien station may be the stupidest place for a train station on the planet. It's the southern terminus for most trains in the system, so most riders would be coming from farther south. The way Highway 87 is setup, on the other hand, makes it trivial to get to the station from the north, but it's a real pain from the south. On most days, it takes me about five minutes less to get to the Caltrain station than it does for me to get to work in Mountain View. That's crazy.

To be fair, Caltrain follows a historic route along the old Camino Real that originally connected the California missions together 200 years ago. That route has nothing to do with the modern freeway system.

The station placement problem could be alleviated by making other public transportation work with Caltrain. Indeed, the Tamien station is located alongside a VTA light-rail station, and I live within walking distance of a light-rail station. Of course, it takes even longer for the light-rail to deliver me to the train station than it does for me to drive all the way to work.

What we really need is a more coordinated transportation system. Frankly, that's going to be expensive. Of course, it's no more than the cost of all of the wasted gas from people idling in traffic everyday. It's mostly a matter of political and popular will, which, alas, means it isn't going to get solved anytime soon.

I'll make another unpopular suggestion. The gas tax in California should get raised $0.50 per gallon. There is a caveat on that - the income derived from that tax should get pumped directly into public transportation issues. (At present, it just goes into the general fund, which is just crazy, in my opinion.) I'm a huge fan of usage taxes. If you chose to drive a low-mileage vehicle, you would end up paying a larger proportion of the cost to support the road network. Perhaps that would be an encouragement to get on a bus or train instead.

In any case, I've blathered on for long enough on this topic. I hate the traffic here. It's the one thing that makes me want to leave...and I don't think anything we're presently doing is going to help the situation at all!

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Sunday feasting!

My wife had a request today - she really wanted some tuna for dinner. So, what to do?

I opted for grilled ahi with soba noodles and arugula. For the tuna, I simply brushed a pair of large steaks with oil, and added a generous amount of salt and pepper, and then seered the outside of both steaks over a very hot grill. (I also grilled some baby bok choy to go with the rest of the dish.) I then plated a pile of freshly cooked soba noodles and some washed arugula, and added the tuna after thinly slicing it. Over the whole thing I added a scallion and ginger dressing. That dressing was also a quick and easy preparation: I heated some canola oil until very hot, and added a generous portion of minced scallion and fresh ginger root. Once the scallion had softened, I took it off the heat, and added soy sauce and rice vinegar. Once that was all cool, it went over the rest of the dish. The results are below!

I could have paired a crisp white wine with this, but I opted for something a bit more appropriate, given the general flavorings. I just happened to have a nice junmai sake available and chilled, so we had that with dinner. It was clean and delicious! The bottle is pictured to the right.

Finally, there's dessert. That was very much not a Pacific Rim dish, but was a nice hearty New England style Indian Maple Pudding. it's a recipe from Food&Wine magazine, but I can't find an online link to it, so I've provided it below.

This is an incredibly yummy dessert. It's very rich...this recipe makes at least 8 servings.


  • 1 cup stone-ground yellow cornmeal
  • 1 quart whole milk
  • 1/2 cup maple sugar granules or light-brown sugar
  • 1 cup heavy cream, not ultrapasteurized, if you can find it
  • 1/2 cup pure maple syrup (don't's worth the price)
  • 1/8 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg

1) Heat the oven to 275 degrees. Lightly butter a 1-1/2 quart souffle dish. In a heavy bottomed medium saucepan, whisk the cornmeal into the milk over moderately high heat until thickened slightly, about 5 minutes.

2) Remove from the heat and stir in the maple sugar granules. Stir in the cream, syrup, and nutmeg. Pour into the prepared dish. Bake in the middle of the oven until bubbling and brown on top, about 4 hours. Let rest 30 minutes before serving.

(Source: Food & Wine magazine's Favorite Desserts)

Plan ahead for this one, but it's well worth it. My wife insists it's even better the next day!

Monday, April 9, 2007

Prime Rib is yummy!

We had a delicious dinner yesterday, courtesy of my wife. She makes what may be the world's best prime rib. (I may be biased.) There was enough for sandwiches tonight, too!

The other yummy part of dinner was the wine. We chose a bottle of 1998 St. Supéry Meritage. The wine was everything you might expect for a "big" red from Napa Valley after some aging. Lots of fruit flavors with a nice edge of oak. Due to the age, tannins were minimal. We decanted it, but found little sedimentation. The color was a lovely inky crimson. The heavy fruit went well with the roasted meat. The label is at right.

All in all a very successful meal!

Monday, April 2, 2007

Cool site of the RTI*

(That's Random Time don't expect this to be periodic, do you?)

Today's very cool site is wikisky.

This is a great way to organize information. There's a whole universe out there, so why not organize what we know about it visually? wikisky lets you browse around the night sky and see what's out there. In selected portions, you can even get real images based on the SDSS survey in progress. In addition to that, you can click on any object (stars, galaxies, clusters, nebulae, whatever) and get a pile of reference material for that object. Okay, so most of this is most suited to professional astronomers, but some of the basics are still very interesting for normal folks, too.

I also think professional astronomers need to get out into the night more often, and this is a virtual way for them to see what else is near their study objects. I've met too many professionals who don't know the night sky as well as newbie amateurs, and I think that's a shame. But that's another rant for another time.

For a sample of what's in wikisky, try this link. That should take you to a view of a very small chunk of sky. The very bright star at the bottom is Regulus (aka Alpha Leonis or Cor Leonis, as in "lion heart"). It's a relatively nearby star that is prominent in the springtime sky. The faint patch of stars is one of the nearest and faintest galaxies known. It's a member of our local group of galaxies, and is named "Leo I". (Astronomers aren't always very creative with names.) Click on either for much more information and a list of abstracts relevant to the object.

I can see that I'm going to be wasting a lot of time on this site!

Sunday, April 1, 2007

A modest proposal

Those of you who live in the Bay Area are certainly familiar with the major issues that seem to trouble people around here. Polls consistently say that the worst problem is the cost of living. Second to that is traffic. I know my commute sucks. It's not that far by local standards (about 23 miles), and I usually get to work in about 30 minutes, but the drive home takes about an hour. public transportation is a disaster, but that's another rant for another day.

For today, I simply want to provide a modest proposal for curing our traffic ills. I need to acknowledge the source of this idea - my wife's uncle was a source of inspiration for this. He once came to visit and expressed his thought that women simply shouldn't be allowed to drive. He's got a point...that would take half the traffic off the road, more or less. Clearly, this isn't a workable idea. I don't think such a law would pass constitutional review!

Instead, I propose something simple: men cannot drive on odd numbered days, and women cannot drive on even numbered days. That's still a bit unfair, due to the quirks of our calendar system, so we'll even it out by forbidding anyone to drive on the 31st of any month with that many days. (Feb. 29th would be another qualifying day for the complete ban.)

In order for this to be workable, we'll need exceptions for a few critical folks that provide key services: policeman, fireman, doctors, trash collectors, and taxi drivers. The DMV will need to provide special license plates for people who are in these professions to allow them to drive on any day that they are on duty.

Even with that, I estimate that we'd take 35-40% of the traffic off of our roads on a given day. Think of the financial implications, too: we'd be much less dependent on foreign oil, our roads would take a lot less abuse, and productivity would skyrocket from people not sitting around in traffic. We'd have some interesting tax troubles due to the loss of sales and gas tax revenues. We'd also have to increase spending for public transportation, although the sudden surge in bus/train/ferry/trolley ridership should counter that significantly. The oil companies would take a serious hit, although I don't think anyone is really going to shed a tear for them.

I don't really see a downside here. Do your part - send this post to your local government officials, and tell them that Jonathon Swift sent you.

(Anyone not getting this needs to go read this page. Oh, and look at a calendar.)