Saturday, December 28, 2013

Dreaming in Code book review

It amazes me how seldom the death struggles and victories of programmers are ever sung. Behind every program and script there are intractable problems that had to be solved,  impossible deadlines, kludges and clever elegant solutions, wild goose chases, tears and triumphs; some of these worthy of epic poetry or of Agatha Christie. Few of these stories ever surface into public consciousness.

After a fashion, Dreaming in Code opens this world to the larger audiences.

Starts fine, comparing software coding to bridge building and pointing out the ways in which wholesome projects break down. Somewhere around here the author refers Britcher's The Limits of Software  as " a disjointed, but impassioned book". Ironically, the same description applies to Dreaming more and more as it progresses: it jumps from here to there making the reader only catch glimpses of what the author tries to show, but not in an ordered fashion. This is not an altogether a bad thing: this is one of those books where you can open it at any page, begin reading and find something interesting to be delighted with.

There is central thread though, Mitch Kapor's Chandler project. We get the inside scoop of its development, decisions and travails. This is where in one way or another the anecdotes sprout and return to. There are also about half a dozen previous books on programming projects that the author frequently refers to, being The Mythical Man-Month the most cited. These mentions in a way feel quite similar to how the characters of the Hitchhiker's Guide to The Galaxy refer to the Guide as a beacon. With these books Rosenberg also shows that despite the better tools there is nothing new under the sun.

Tribulations are one thing. There is also a large component of programming philosophy which waxes towards the end. Programming, not being an exact science, has several schools of thought on how it should be done. Dreaming presents some of these, many relating to the work at hand, others, historical.

Notwithstanding its externally disordered nature, an overall nice book that warrants a reread here and there. Recommended if you have any interest in programming.

(If you want more on team projects try Code Name Ginger for a story on hardware. For a biology one, try the Billion Dollar Molecule) 

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Lapsang Souchong tea review

pinetreeside; source:www.adigitaldreamer.comWe have seen now different kinds of teas, some pure, some flavored. The pure ones derive their taste from their very own qualities plus some processing while the flavored ones generally get theirs from added elements such as fruits, petals or essential oils. One can still find a midway category between these two and here are those teas whose flavors are brought up by a moderate alteration of their nature. One example is the hoji-cha which was born when someone, either by insight or accident, roasted green tea leaves. Another, arguably, is the Puerh which is left to ferment. And another yet is the Lapsang Souchong of which will be talking today.

The Lapsang Souchong is a black tea from China that has the peculiarity of being smoked. It's discovery, no less, has been a boon to many.

This tea is probably the oldest member of my tea shelf and I inherited it, so to speak, from my dad who had tasted it once and bought some in London. The original batch was a Fortnum & Mason tin of whole leaf. It had stood there for over 20 years and when I finally began brewing some of it, I found that it had weathered the intervening years very well. When this ran out, we bought some more from the same company, these time in tea bags, and found that, well sure, the flavor was more pronounced, but it still was essentially the same.

The Lapsang Souchong teas are smoked by drying the larger Lapsang tea leaves over pinewood fire. The resulting smoky flavor is not quite like those found in hams or salmon. It rather has its own distinctive taste. Nowadays, having run out of all Fortnum leaf, I brew from that of my local provider and with this even the taste of sap is clearly present.

The Lapsang flavor is intense and can even be too powerful for some. Thus, brewing time is an important aspect to watch for.  Unless you really, really love smokiness, an overbrewed Lapsang can be unpleasant, even undrinkable. I'd say experimenting with shorter infusion times is the right way start for newcomers. It can also be an interesting ingredient for those who prepare their own household blends as a relatively small amount of leaf can lend a touch of smokiness to a base mix or even add piquancy to otherwise flat brews.

On a few occasions I've prepared some as iced tea and, though good, it generates some  dissonance as one's mind tries to harmonize the flavor with the drink's temperature.

I also think that it can be a very agreeable companion to those who have or like to stay up late. For the way ahead preparing a cup or pot in early evening can provide a warm feeling for a prolonged time. In regards to food, it pairs well with spicy cuisines, sausages, meats and more, and can even be accompanied with regular meals, but it will very likely overpower blander dishes.

In closing, Lapsang may not be for everyone, but for a great many it can bring joy and comfort and it is a fine example of what of what can be achieved tastewise with tea with just one step.