Silver Spring Lunch Calculations

Lunch Time!

Lunch Time!

If there are two things software engineers like to discuss and optimize the most during their work day, they are the commute and where to go for lunch. The latter is the topic of discussion today.

A few weeks ago I decided to put a makeshift lunch-chart on my whiteboard. I listed all the lunch places along one axis and all the people I generally go to lunch with on the other and had everyone rate their choices from 0 to 10. Later on I back-ported a meaning onto this 0-10 scale: multiply by ten to get the percentage chance I could get you to go to this place if I proposed we go there.

Eventually everyone got annoyed that we couldn’t fiddle with the numbers to generate cool statistics. One person even proposed doing an “affinity” chart to see who generally likes the same places as others. All this was too tough to do on a whiteboard, so I ported the numbers over to a Google Spreadsheet (in my spare time, of course). The image above is a slightly dated version of that Spreadsheet.

I think Google Spreadsheet is really awesome and I hope that maybe if you live or work in Silver Spring, this chart will be somewhat beneficial to you, too. And if not, maybe you can make your own chart for the places near you!

View the whole spreadsheet here!


The Final Score

This afternoon I accompanied some fine friends including my brother to prove our meddle at bar trivia. This was not just any trivia, though. Oh, no. This was a battle of wits against the fiercest competitors we had ever seen for the largest prize we had ever played for. It was our chance to grab the golden bull by the horns.no_baseball1

A little bit of background: for a few years I’ve been a big fan of Final Score Trivia Maryland. Most of their games are played in the Baltimore area so I don’t get out to them much, but when I heard they were doing a location a little closer by, I was up for it. To sweeten the pot, they were doing a $100 grand prize for the winner since it was the first time at the new location. I e-mailed the crew and they responded. Fiercely.

The location: Buffalo Wings & Beer off of Randolph Road in Rockville. I had never been there before but the service was very excellent and the food was good. The owner was there to greet us and to wish us farewell.

When we started at 7:30, little did we know what we were in for. We went in with the team name “Do you like fish sticks?” Question after question came at us like a starving polar bear stalking its prey, but we held our own. The half-time question: Name the top four countries by population that start with the letter “P.” We got three. Damn Portugal. At half-time we were in third place.

We swept the next two rounds and nearly swept the third. We were on fire. For the final round, you can bet up to 20 points. The scores were announced: we were in FIRST PLACE by 13! We had 69 points, the only teams that could catch us had 57, 54, and 53. YES!

The category was announced: baseball. We hooted and hollered and hung our heads dejectedly. Baseball?!!

Now, let me tell you this: if the game is played how it used to be played, there is only one sports final question per season (a season is 12 games). And this was it. Our first game and the game we have done the best ever in and this is the category we get. We had no idea and bet 0. With $100 on the line, we were so clueless we couldn’t do anything else. We counted on our substantial lead to carry us through.

It came down to the wire. They were about to announce the winner. The tension was palpable. It was either going to be us or “Mission Accomplished,” the team who had just won last seasons “trivia bowl.” They had had 54 points to our 69. Would we take it? Would our team reign supreme?

No!!!!!!!!!!!! They bet 20 and got it right! Baseball!! So frustrating!! EXCLAMATION POINTS! We got second place, ending up 69 to 74. So frustrating and sad. We left our $20 booby prize as a tip for the waitress and skulked away.


…but maybe, just maybe. Next week? We shall see. We. Shall. See.

Variations on Crab and Wasabi

I promised to post recipes for some of the dishes from the Fel Iron Chef competition, so here they are! You may be able to tell the difference in styles of the two Chefs by looking them over.

The recipe for the most innovative dish by Chef Poob:

Creamy Wasabi Mustard (Camo Sauce)

2 tablespoon cup sour cream
1 1/2 tablespoon wasabi
2 tablespoon mayo
3 tablespoon mustard dijon
dash of onion powder
dash of sugar

Crab Poppers

1 large can Poblano peppers

1 lb crab
2 tbs fine chopped bell pepper
2 tbs fine chopped onion
1/4 cup cracker meal
1 beaten egg
1 clove garlic
1/4 cup milk
salt, pepper, and cayenne to taste

2 cups cracker meal
1 cup milk
2 eggs
salt and pepper

cut peppers in half and stuff with filling
bread and dump in boiling hot oil until kitchen bursts into flame

The recipe for the most innovative dish by Chef Orlo:

Crab and Cauliflower Soup (serves 2-4):

Key notions:
We are mixing textures as well as flavors in this dish. The broth is not poured until the very last minute in order to keep the nutty flavour of the cauliflower and the crispy, sweet crab meat distinct and separate. What brings them together is the acidity of the tomato and leek, all under the umbrella of lemongrass and wasabi.

1 head Cauliflower, flourettes chopped into small bits
Fresh Crab meat : 1/2 to 3/4 of however much cauliflower you have
1 glug Olive/Canola Oil
1 glug oil, olive or Canola
1-2 liters vegetable stock or filtered water
1 cup chopped leeks
1 tomato, very thinly sliced (alternatively, you could chop them to cubes half the size of the cauliflower chunks)
3 cloves garlic, roughly crushed
1-2 strands lemongrass, smashed
1 tbsp wasabi paste
1 whole crab (the redder the better, for color and taste. Frozen is OK)

finely chopped chives
1/2 tsp Salt
1/2 tsp Pepper

1. Preheat oven to 375

2. Begin to boil water or stock in an appropriately-sized pot

3. In a bowl, dress the cauliflower with pepper and salt, and rub in oil until all pieces are covered and salt and pepper are distributed evenly.

4. Spread cauliflower out on a thin baking sheet and place in the pre-heated oven near the top

This is the fun part:
Smash, Bash and Crush the crab and garlic and optional lemongrass into bits. We won’t be eating these directly; they’ll be flavouring our broth for our soup ( But save the crab claws to snack on while cleaning up)

5. place leeks, crab, smashed garlic, wasabi paste and lemongrass into the water/stock.

6. Let stew for as long as you can. The longer the crab stays in there, the redder (and prettier) the stock gets. Taste periodically to make sure you have the desired amount of salt and wasabi . Start with light salt… you can always add more, but you cant take any away!

7. While the soup is stewing, check on your cauliflower. After about 7-10 minutes, or when your cauliflower is just turning golden brown, spread some of the fresh crab meat onto the same pan, next to the cauliflower. By roasting the cauliflower and crab, we are allowing the more complex carbohydrates to un-tangle, making them more receptive (and sweeter) to our tastebuds. Roasting the crab will also give us some bite for when we put it in the soup.

8. While the cauliflower and crab finish, start preparing your soup bowls. Place one or two of the very thin tomato slices in the bowl and dress it with some of the chopped chives.

9. When the cauliflower and crab look ‘toasted’, pull them out and let them sit for a minute, then place them on top of the tomato in the soup bowls. Notice that we have not added any of our crab stock at this point.

10. When it comes time to eat, serve the bowls of tomato, crab and cauliflower, then gently pour in some of the broth around the edges of the bowl, making an effort not to drown our beautifully toasted crab and cauliflower. Garnish with more chives, if you wish, a stalk of lemongrass or a leftover crab claw climbing out of the bowl would look awesome too.

Possible variations:

Try adding some Thai basil or cilantro at the end, to make more of a pho-flavoured dish. Add some broiled or crispy pan-fried white fish just before you pour the broth for a more seafood-y soup.

I Have Way Too Much Leftover Crab

I’ve been meaning to do the wrap-up post for the Iron Chef-style battle we held back in February, but I hadn’t gotten around to it until today. So here it is: the results of the showdown in the Kitchen Arena:

The contenders with their game faces on.

The contenders with their game faces on.


The Weirdo Chairman


Cool Programs: thanks Mom!

The battle was not nearly as intensely fought as it is on television, the competitors were more cordial and atmosphere was a bit more relaxed. As the chairman, I wore a maroon bathrobe along with the longest formal black tie I could find. I tried to follow the program as closely as possible: The introduction, the coin toss, the biting of the pepper (actually very yummy), the unveiling of the special ingredients and the battle itself.

We had three cameras going during the battle. Mine died fairly early due to lack of battery life, but the other two stayed on. The hope is that a video will eventually be produced but that takes a lot more effort and will than a blog post, which has taken me 2 months!

Each contender prepared three dishes.  First up was Chef Poob:

n722117939_1355104_7163 Crab Dip with Pita Wedges A rich and creamy crab dip with cheese on top served with fried pita wedges for dipping and garnished with wasabi mustard sauce.
vlcsnap-6062289 Poblano Poppers Poblano Peppers stuffed with crab and cracker meal, breaded and fried to perfection.
tradpoob Crab Quesadilla A traditional quesadilla stuffed with cheese and crab and cut into strips served with dipping cups filled with wasabi mustard.

His dishes were very well received.

Chef Orlo responded with:

caulsoup Roasted Crab and Cauliflower Soup Roasted cauliflower and roasted crab along with fresh herbs and vegetables with the broth poured tableside to preserve the texture and taste.
cakes Asian-style Crab Cakes with Soy Sauce Lightly fried crab cakes with Asian spices served with wasabi and soy sauce.
crunch Open-faced Crab Quesadilla with Orange Pepper An open face quesadilla on a half-tostada heavy on the crab and light on the cheese with fresh orange pepper and wasabi on top.

His dishes were also well received and analyzed thoroughly by the judges.

The final adjudication was really tough because I didn’t want anyone to lose!  Someone has to in a competition, I guess, though.  Both culinary masters did well but only one came out the winner and the first “Iron Chef.”

Here are the final scores:

Poob Orlo
Judge Taste Plating Originality Taste Plating Originality
Judge 1 9 4 4 8 5 4
Judge 2 7 4 5 9 4 5
Judge 3 7 3 3 8 5 4
Total 23 11 12 25 14 13
46 52

Here’s a video of me announcing the winner:

As I said, a little too low key.  And I got the score wrong, also.

Many thanks to competitors, judges, attendees, and everyone who was involved for making it totally awesome!  On Friday I will post the recipes that the competitors sent me for their dishes.

Some lessons learned for the next battle:

  • It is important to hold the tournament in a neutral location.  If one competitor has cooked or practiced in the location, they have a definitive advantage.
  • Have a better plan for how to do the math.  We used clipboards and score sheets that were a little confusing and I added them up wrong.  We had two accountants at the battle but neither checked my numbers!
  • Buy less ingredients.  I went kind of crazy with the ingredients but since both contenders already sort of had a plan in mind, they didn’t need many of them.  Almost none of the vegetables got used and very little of the cheese.
  • Be more flamboyant.  A flamboyant chairman makes for a more exciting battle.

We already have two possible contenders lined up for the next battle. Chef Orlo is planning the next event (so as to find an adequate challenger) and has already picked a secret ingredient to challenge the competitors.  He is only biding his time before the ingredient is fully in season. You have not seen the last of this culinary tournament!

Code Jamming: Backronyms

jamExcuse me if I reference my first post ever on this blog but it’s right: I am very bad at following through with projects. I am, however, very good at following through with commitments and promises I have made.

Luckily I have friends with good ideas, and one of them came up with this one: every few weeks hold a “code jam” that gets all of us both excited and motivated about projects we could do. If we make it a commitment to each other to work on the projects and just feed ideas off one another, it will mean projects are more likely to get started and to get completed.

We decided to start with something easy. The organizer of the group, Kevin, recently posted about the problem of generating backronyms. There is an internet site out there does this, but it doesn’t do a very good job.

Well, let’s back up: what are backronyms? Sometimes you have a clever acronym you want to create for a project but you don’t know what the letters should stand for. So you invent the words that the letters stand for out of whole cloth! This is a backronym. This is used all the time in government: an example would be the USAPATRIOT act.

Well, the group has met three times and we have come up with three different algorithms for how to do this. I’m the first one to get my algorithm ready to run so it’s up now! On the internet! You can find it at pheared labs. It’s written in Python using django.

At first, it was only able to make sensible things out of 3 letter acronyms (try your initials). I’ve recently improved the algorithm so that it does fairly well with up to 5 letters and I hope to make it better. I also hope my friends will come up with their alternative algorithms so we can have more options.

If you live in or around Silver Spring and would be interesting in attending a Jam, let us know! Exciting!

10 Books in 11 Months

booksLast month, I signed up for The Guardian’s 1000 Novels Challenge, which is to read 10 books off of this list before February 1, 2010 and then blog reviews of the books.

I was supposed to start doing this last month, but I have been catching up on some reading that had been lent to me. I’m hoping to be able to start very soon. I know that many of my 5 readers are book people, so I was going to let you all in on the secret too. I’ve already gotten one friend participating. Maybe I can borrow a book or two from one of you (she offered me “Lolita.”)

Anyway, you should check out the list. I compiled a list of the ones that I have read so far; I tweeted about them already but I thought I would share the list with you. If there’s something on the list that you think I absolutely have to read that isn’t listed here, give me a shout! If you’re my Mom, tell me which of the ones on the list you have and I can borrow!

The ones I’ve read:

Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes
Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut

The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle
Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton
Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

Family and Self
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey
Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison
The Color Purple by Alice Walker

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
My Antonia by Willa Cather
The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald

Science Fiction and Fantasy
The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
Foundation by Isaac Asimov
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
Kindred by Octavia Butler
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K Dick
Foucault’s Pendulum by Umberto Eco
American Gods by Neil Gaiman
Neuromancer by William Gibson
Lord of the Flies by William Golding
Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A Heinlein
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
The Shining by Stephen King
The Chronicles of Narnia by CS Lewis
Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell
The Years of Rice and Salt by Kim Stanley Robinson
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by JK Rowling
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson
The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain
The Time Machine by HG Wells

State of the Nation
Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
Animal Farm by George Orwell
One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovtich by Alexandr Solzhenitsyn
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain

War and Travel
Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
The Call of the Wild by Jack London
All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque
Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson
Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
Slaughter-House Five by Kurt Vonnegut

I guess we see where my loyalties lie!

I better get reading.

The Balloonist (a stolen joke)

I stole this joke from Plans; stop me if you’ve heard it.

The Balloonist

A man in a hot air balloon realized he was lost. He reduced altitude and spotted a man below. He descended a bit more and shouted, “Excuse me, can you help me? I promised a friend I would meet him half an hour ago, but I don’t know where I am.”

The man below replied, “You are in a hot air balloon hovering approximately 30 feet above the ground. You are between 40 and 42 degrees north latitude and between 58 and 60 degrees west longitude.”

“You must be an engineer,” said the balloonist.

“I am,” replied the man, “but how did you know?”

“Well,” answered the balloonist, “everything you told me is technically correct, but I have no idea what to make of your information, and the fact is I am still lost.”

The man below responded, “You must be a manager.”

“I am,” replied the balloonist, “how did you know?”

“Well,” said the man, “you don’t know where you are or where you are going. You made a promise which you have no idea how to keep, and you expect me to solve your problem. The fact is you are exactly in the same position you were in before we met, but now, somehow, it’s my fault.”