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  • Michael Krakovskiy 9:02 am on April 15, 2006 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Bill Rawn, , contractor, Convex Computer, Data General, Data General Eclipse MV/8000, , , HP, , , Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction, , , , While building   

    Perfect Workmanship 

    Perfect workmanship is expensive. Why? Because it means starting over or laboriously fixing tiny little imperfections. Joel Spolsky describes this very nicely in his article about craftsmanship:

    “The moral of the story is sometimes fixing a 1% defect takes 500% effort. This is not unique to software, no sirree, now that I’m managing all these construction projects I can tell you that. Last week, finally, our contractor finally put the finishing touches on the new Fog Creek offices. This consisted of installing shiny blue acrylic on the front doors, surrounded by aluminium trim with a screw every 20 cm. If you look closely at the picture, the aluminium trim goes all the way around each door. Where the doors meet, there are two pieces of vertical trim right next to each other. You can’t tell this from the picture, but the screws in the middle strips are almost but not exactly lined up. They are, maybe, 2 millimeters off. The carpenter working on this measured carefully, but he was installing the trim while the doors were on the ground, not mounted in place, and when the doors were mounted, “oops,” it became clear that the screws were not exactly lined up.”

    I was recently reading a book by Tracy Kidder called “House”. It’s a great book by the same Tracy Kidder who wrote “The Soul of a New Machine”. “The Soul” is a book about computer architects and builders. “House” is about their counterparts in the business of building houses. In one book Kidder describes the extremely stressful process of designing and building an Eclipse MV/8000 minicomputer. In the other he describes the similarly stressful process of designing and building a Greek Revival house.

    Both books read like a work of fiction, but they are absolutely factual, written about real people and real products. It’s very strange to be able to go and look up characters that became so familiar thanks to those two books. Steve Wallach from “The Soul” went on to form his own company, Convex Computer, sold it to HP in 1995 and is now a venture capitalist. You can even look up what he looks like now.

    Bill Rawn from “The House” heads a big architectural firm of his own. Going there and seeing the buildings that he’s built after the house in the book is somewhat strange: he feels like a literary character, yet there he is, many years later after the events of the book took place. Souweine House, Amherst, MA is listed in the awards section of the website, but unfortunately there is no photo of it.

    Interesting to note that while the Eclipse minicomputers are probably worthless now, the Souvweine House must be worth a tidy sum of money.

    While building the Souweine house, the builders made a mistake concerning the frieze, an important architectural element. They go on to fix it, but in order to do it perfectly, they’d have to rip everything out and start anew, which is just like in Joel’s door trim case is prohibitively expensive.

    “Jonathan feels sorry for the trouble the frieze caused, but not for the little imperfection it represents. No one else will see it, but Bill has said that even when repaired, the frieze won’t quite reproduce his intentions. Orthodox Jews have a tradition that until the Temple in Jerusalem is rebuilt, they will not erect a house or a building without giving it one deliberate imperfection. Though not a member of the Orhodox branch of Judaism, Johnathan believes in the inevitability of imperfection. So why not celebrate it? “There’s a flaw in the house …,” he says, and flashes a smile, a shooting star of a smile, “… which the pernicious part of me sort of likes.””

    By the way, I can’t pass up mentioning my favorite, but apparetly later edited out, quote about Kidder. “For a woman, Tracy really know her stuff and gets into a great amount of hardware detail”. What do you think the source for it is?

     
  • Michael Krakovskiy 3:52 am on March 22, 2006 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Bacon, Charcuterie, contractor, , , Garde manger, , little Surgeon General, , , Salo, , , Ukrainian cuisine, unhealthy treif food   

    Ukraininian Sushi 

    Spyware and construction contractors are very bad for my health. For instance, recently, the contractor who renovated my apartment asked for my help with cleaning out yet another spyware infestation. To express his gratitude he gave me a present that his sister brought with her from her trip to Ukraine. A piece of genuine Ukrainian salo.

    Salo is an Eastern European staple that for some strange reason is virtually unknown in the West. Wikipedia describes it as salted slabs of pork underskin fat. It’s not really bacon – salo mostly consist of unrendered fat (bacon has more meat) and can be eaten raw.

    If you’ve never had salo, it’s most similar to the taste and texture of little pieces of fat found in some harder kielbasas. In its fried form salo resembles bacon and pork rinds, except it’s much tastier. Also, you really can’t make exceptional borscht or fried sunflower seeds without high quality salo.

    Here’s a piece (Ukr. “shmatok”) of salo on my official Jamie Oliver cutting board. I used my sashimi knife to cut it into thin slices – the best way to eat, in my opinion.

    It’s kind of hard to describe the taste and texture of Ukrainian salo. The texture of it is hard, yet it melts on your tongue. It’s salty, fatty, garlicky. Your caveman instincts make your brain fire “wow, inhale this right now” messages, yet the little Surgeon General in your head tells you “wow, this will clog up your arteries good.” They don’t call salo “Ukrainian cocaine” for nothing.

    The little Surgeon General in your head is wrong, though. Having come into possession of this authentic salo for the first time in years, I just had to kick it up a notch and make the _ultimate_ in unhealthy treif food. I had to make the legendary confection – “salo in chocolate”.

    This confection started as a joke playing on Ukrainians’ fondness of salo. Then some Russian and Ukrainian restaurants started making it as an exotic delicacy. Then someone started to make a candy bar of that name. The Wikipedia article has more on that.

    I tempered some good semi-bitter chocolate and dipped thin slices of salo into it.

    The flavor is outstanding. Chocolate goes well with salty, fatty salo. It tastes as good as it is unhealthy. Overall, though, the quantity that I made is probably no worse than a movie theater popcorn or the bun of death from the vending machine at work. In fact, probably healthier.

    If you are curious, you can find salo in most Russian food stores in New York. It will probably be lower quality Canadian salo, but it will give you a pretty good idea.

    You can find more of my gastronomic adventures here.

     
  • Michael Krakovskiy 9:15 pm on June 21, 2005 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Bloomington, Carolinas, contractor, crane car, DNA Lounge, , Michele Oka Doner, , radio car,   

    On My Way To The Subway 

    The Joel writes:
    “New York is the kind of place where ten things happen to you every day on the way to the subway that would have qualified as interesting dinner conversation in Bloomington, Indiana, and you don’t pay them any notice.”

    The same exact day I realized just how true that is. Let’s take my illustrated walk to the subway that is pretty typical of what I do to clear my head :

    As I was taking this picture of people backlit by a sunset, a was shoved with a great deal of force. From the following stream of obscenity I understood that I inadvertently pushed (or more likely just simply got in the way of) an “apology enforcer”, and the shove that I got was my punishment for not apologizing.

    Apology enforcers are this tiny subset of New Yorkers who will berate you for any tiny little bump that you might give them in the most crowded streets, subway cars and platforms. They will demand an apology even if you didn’t feel the bump yourself or even if they bumped into you. The crazier ones will return the bump back, taking it almost to the level of assault and curse you in the process. The only way to deal with them is to apologize and not try to argue your case. This does not always work, as the craziest of them will follow you, delivering an obscenity laced sermon on the importance of saying “excuse me” and “sorry”. Try to get away as quick as possible from them.

    Walking down 8th I came into a White Castle to buy a diet soda. I prefer fountain soda to canned stuff. Most of the patrons took some time to study two wanted posters documenting the great White Castle rug capers of ’05.

    The guy on the right kind of looks like Monzy a little bit (it’s not him though).

    These thefts reminded me of all the stuff (including a webcam) that was stolen from DNA Lounge over the years. This also reminded me that the best way for hotels to stop towel theft is to use non-logoed towels. Stealing stuff without logos is just not as fun.

    A little further down 8th I saw an elderly guy sitting on the stairs leading down to the subway. The guy was breathing heavily and holding his chest. “I really, really hope so” is not a good answer to the standard “Are you Ok?” from a gray haired gentleman, with a forehead overflowing with sweat on a cool summer evening, staggering to get up and sitting down again and strangely not emitting any alcohol vapors. I called 911, described the situation to the dispatcher and waited for a “radio car” to show up (it took about two minutes). The cops talked to the old dude, who happened to be a tourist from one of the Carolinas, and quickly called him a “bus“.

    Meanwhile, I noticed another thing about NYPD uniforms – there is a little bar over the pocket that indicates in Roman numerals the previous round anniversary of the cop’s service. The guy responding to my call was a 10+ year veteran, the other cop was a rookie.

    When I made it to West 4th the old school clock on the top of a building was showing time in those alien characters from Predator.

    My good deed for the day done, I walked further. Guess what – there are fireflies on lawns in Manhattan too.

    I reached 34th street and once again stopped to appreciate “Radiant Site” – and art piece by Michele Oka Doner. I like it, the hand made gold tiles are all different and look very good. But then again, I can’t stop myself from thinking that this is not really art, but something that any contractor with a good tile supplier could accomplish.

    Down on the platform instead of a regular train I was met by the cool Mantis crane car.

    P.S. Dang, that Starbucks logo is everywhere. It’s in two photos in this post.

     
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