Jul 7, 2013

Blogging from a past life.

I don't seem to know anyone who blogs anymore.  All the blog links on the right have been dead for a couple of years now, and I haven't updated them.  If you happen to read this, please leave a comment!

I clearly don't know the difference between a CBCA Annual Return and a CRA Corporate Tax Return.  I didn't even know they were two different things.  Fortunately the CBCA Annual Return only takes 5 minutes to file, so I realized I have a whole bunch of more time to do things like update my blog with receipts I dug up from years ago.

I found a receipt from Benu from 8/18/2011.  I suspect I had it around because I wanted to write something about the food.  I probably should have back then, because I can't remember much of it now.  I can only list what was on the receipt.  I do remember that I would have liked to have tried the tasting menu.

Foie Gras
Tomato Salad
Acorn Pasta x 2
Lobster x 2
XO Chicken x 2
ALA Beef
Almond Brioche x 2
Chapoutier banyuls

I recall there being something fancy with the way the dessert was presented.

I'm pretty sure Benu was our last dinner in San Francisco, since next up in the receipt archive was Son of a Gun in L.A. on 8/19/2011.

Smoked Fish Dip
Tomato Salad
Lobster Roll
Lime Yogurt

That jogs my memory a bit.  I remember wanting to compare the $7 lobster roll to the $18 one we had at the Old Port Lobster Shack in Redwood City.  This one was much smaller, but seemed rather perfect given how buttery rich it was.

Next up was The Bar-B-Q Shop in Memphis, TN on 8/27/2011.  This was supposed to be awesome BBQ.

1 Tea
1 Water
1 BBQ Shop Special

I recall the ribs to be great, the chopped brisket to be surprisingly dry, and the BBQ spaghetti (as well as their sauce in general) to be incredibly salty.  A bit of a let down, given the rave reviews on Yelp.

The last receipt from 9/2/2011 isn't food related.  It was the the river cruise architecture tour from Shoreline Sightseeing in Chicago.  I think I kept the receipt because I thought it was a worthwhile tour.  Wear lots of sunscreen!

2 Architecture Adult $58.00

Last up in the walk down receipt memory lane, our old favourite, Cyrus on 8/19/2011.  My last meal there before they closed.  It also happened to be almost exactly a year since I had left.  Unfortunately, the receipt was not particularly descriptive.  I probably have the menu around somewhere.  While I'm busily procrastinating from purging all the excess junk in my room, I'm secretly hoping I had asked for the menu and have it hiding around somewhere.

Highlander x2
Rochefort 8
Elder Fairy
6 Course Menu
5 Course Menu
Tasting Menu x2

Nov 8, 2012

Momofuku Shoto

I've been working a lot, and not blogging much this year.  I started a coding blog late last year, but even that's being updated less recently as I'm hitting fewer "new discoveries", and doing more tweaking and bug fixing in the last couple of months.

This will be a photo-free restaurant review, mostly because I'm finding that the huge camera is in fact distracting to my fellow diners, and if the food is good, I usually forget about taking photos after the 2nd course.  And frankly, after a few years of eating out, the colourful dishes on big white plates are starting to look very similar.

The entire experience left me with a sense of confusion, the one I get when I overthink things.  My conclusion is that the focus is on the food, so I'll start there.

We had a ten course tasting menu with the titles: fluke, geoduck, goose wonton, egg, spaghetti, monkfish, sunchoke consomme, veal cheek, banana, hootenanny.  They were preceeded with at least 4 amuses (I may have forgotten one): bread, rice, uni, and a small taste of celery root soup.

There was a hint of humour in the little cube of sushi rice, mixed with salt and pork fat.  Rice with lard was the peasant food in China, and probably other parts of asia, in the early 20th century.  Now it's a little amuse at a $150 dinner.  My parents certainly found that funny.

Most of the dishes were consistently good.  While hints of modern technique were used, such as a fluffy whipped saffron yogurt served with the monkfish, overall the meal was fairly traditional.  There's nothing avant-garde or standout flashy.  Fortunately, this meant that there were no experimental flavour combinations gone awry.

Early on in the meal, horseradish flavors, which I enjoy, came out a lot.  Almost too much.  The fluke and egg both had horseradish, and the almost-raw brussels sprout shavings atop the goose wonton also had that flavor.  There was definitely a crescendo as the more substantial dishes towards the end.

The sunchoke consomme, served with a buttery smooth foie gras torchon stood out.  Serving the foie with a hot consomme worked wonderfully, with the rich flavour of the consomme combining with the fat of the foie. It's also a bit different than most restaurant presentations.

The 36 hour veal cheek was also impressive, with a wonderful texture combining both tenderness and substance.  The shishito peppers and sichuan pepper sauce had a strong kick, much more than I've seen at any other fine dining restaurant, where spiciness seems verboten.  I liked it a lot.

There were a few things that could have been better.  The slow cooked egg - which I had hoped would have a runny yolk, ended up being more of an unimpressive scramble.  The goose wonton and spaghetti, both rich with umami, would have been wonderful had they not been too heavily salted.

My main source of confusion is that I've always loved the concept behind shoto - fine food without the hubbub and decorum.  I know, very hipster of me.  Shoto takes place in a kitchen with a staff of 5, surrounded by a tall, 22 seat bar.  You watch the food being prepared, and the chefs serve and introduce your plates.  There's a casually dressed wait staff of 3 that do a great job of cleaning off your plates and filling your drinks unobtrusively.  The music is loud enough that you have to make an effort to talk over it.  The Beatles and Smog and the Shins are cool, if you're old like me.  The bar seating makes it difficult to converse if you have more than 2 people - and you will need to converse, since you'll be eating for 2 hours.  Back to the confusion - a $150 meal should be luxurious, and shoto feels like you're at an expensive ramen shop.  When we arrived we were initially told that we had to wait for our entire party to be present to be seated, which doesn't make any sense given that they only do one seating.  Eventually they relented, but it's still not the type of service I'd expect.

My only other experience sitting at a kitchen bar watching the chefs work was at Commis in Oakland.  Each plate there was a work of art, with microgreens being painstakenly positioned with tweezers.  Dinner there was half the price of shoto.  Other tasting menus in the same price range at shoto would put you in the lap of luxury, making every effort to cater to your tastes.  Shoto was nice enough to ask about food allergies, and went as far as telling me that they couldn't cater to my lactose intolerance.

Overall, while the food was good enough, I can't say it's worth it at the price range, given the service.  The only way I can see it working is if you can convince yourself you're getting French Laundry level food at half the price.  While the environment aspires to be young and hip (and affluent?), I get the sense that they'll be attracting the affluent reliving their young and hip days, or of course, the Bay Street expense accounts.

Apr 21, 2012

This is probably the most inspiring video I've seen in the last 5 years.

Bret Victor - Inventing on Principle from CUSEC on Vimeo.

After spending many years working on C code that pretty much directly manipulates hardware, I stepped into the world of Python and Javascript, which has definitely shown me a lot on the unexplored potential of programming languages.  I admit I had failed to see the potential of interpreted languages early on.  My experiences with Basic in the 80s left me with only the idea that they were slow and clunky, compared to compile code which ran orders of magnitudes faster.  Working with the Turing and Prolog interpreters didn't give me much insight either - I just felt like I would be more efficient working with a real editor than the stupid command line.

It wasn't until I started working with Python and Javascript, where it really struck me that I could put a breakpoint in my code, have it break on execution, and just run any new code from the interpreter console.  That's changed the way I write code entirely.  At that moment, it felt like the possibilities were endless... but after a little while, the new way of doing things also became business as usual.  Bret Victor obviously didn't stop there, but kept driving with "how can this be even more useful?".

I'm glad to see that this video has already spawned off a project to make it reality.

This is so cool!

Feb 24, 2012

Graphics on a Tesla C2070

By default, an Nvidia Tesla C20XX card is configured to run as a high performance multithreaded coprocessor.  You can use it to run CUDA and OpenCL programs, but it doesn't show up as an actual graphics card.  If you hook up a display to it, the display runs with Microsoft's vgasave driver, and does not show up as a DirectX device.

I spent pretty much an entire day trying to figure out how to get it to run as a graphics card.  In the back of my mind, I knew I had done it before, but just couldn't remember how.  I spent ages on live chat with Nvidia customer support.  I knew better than to trust first line support, and they were indeed a waste of time.  I eventually eked the memory back into existence.

In the driver install folder (typically C:\Program Files\NVIDIA Corporation\NVSMI" run the command "nvidia-smi -dm 0".  This sets the driver to run in graphics mode, treating your Tesla card as a graphics card.

There's a number of reasons NVIDIA has two separate driver modes.  Graphics processing tasks have a maximum time limit of 2 seconds, after which Windows thinks the GPU has hung, and resets it.  If you have some high performance task running, say a raytracing operation that takes a minute, this may fail.  Running in a pure compute mode avoids this problem, but also disables the card from appearing as a graphics device.

Feb 8, 2012


Big fan of this film.  Often non-techies seem to fear technology, because it's disruptive and changes the world.  Age old industries fall apart if when they don't embrace the change.  It should bring fear to those profiting from the old business, but for the everyman, it should be times for huge opportunity.

I suspect those who are afraid, aren't really looking hard enough for those opportunities.

PressPausePlay from House of Radon on Vimeo.

Jan 8, 2012

Mmmm Fat.

There's this dish everyone in my family loves.  I've always known it as "dee pong", because that's the Shanghainese name for it.  It's some part of a pig's leg - that I know because it's got two big bones in it, along with the meat, fat and skin.  It's braised in soy sauce and other spices, until the collagen rich skin is the texture of jello and the meat and fat melt off the bone.  It's as rich as any foie, but meatier tasting.  Unfortunately, there's probably only so much you can eat before keeling over from cardiac arrest.

I tried making it over the holidays.  The first challenge was finding a recipe.  Searching for combinations of "shanghai pork shoulder leg hock" let me to four similar recipes of varying complication (note: "ti pang" seems to be the most common spelling online).  I then decided to screw with the recipes by using my mom's new thermal vacuum pot using some fancy low-temperature cooking technique.  Or so I imagined.

I tried the recipe twice, the results were... not great.  Perfectly edible, but far from perfect.  The great thing about fatty, tough meats is that if you cook them long enough the flavorful fat will make up for all your errors, so even when it's bad, it's reasonably good.  The four recipes had varying cooking times, from 2-12 hours.  Most involved simmering/braising, though Albertitto's recipe called for an interesting immersed steaming technique.  Two of the recipes called for refrigerating overnight.

Instead of using 15lb pork shoulder, I used a 2lb pork hock.  That was probably my first mistake, but the pork hock was far more manageable, and I probably would have had leftovers like crazy with the 15lb piece.  Also, pork hock is inexpensive.  Instead of simmering for hours, I decided to give the vacuum pot a try.  The word vacuum sounds fancy, and evokes images of sous vide.  In reality, it's really just a giant thermos.  The contents of the pot are not under vacuum - the pot has a vacuum insulating wall.  You would cook something normally on the stove, and then stick it in the pot.  The retained heat will continue cooking the food for hours as it cools - very slowly.

On my first attempt, I followed typical thermal vacuum instructions, bring the water inside to a boil, then letting it cook in the vacuum pot for four hours.  At the end the meat was a light tea colour, hardly the rich colour I expected.  I refrigerated overnight.  The meat had gotten darker.  One big difference with vacuum pot cooking is that the fluid doesn't evaporate.  I ended up simmering for a couple of hours until the sauce reduced.  The meat darkened during the simmering process.  Overall the flavour was right, the meat fell off the bone, but was a bit on the dry side.  Although soft, the skin wasn't at the desired jelly-like consistency, but was chewier, though some people might like that.

I thought it might have been that the boiling temperature was too high.  On my second attempt, I tried lower temperatures.  I heated the pork/sauce to about 175F, but let it cool to 160F before I stuck it in the pot.  When I took it out 4 hours later, it had dropped to about 138F.  I heated it back up to 160F and gave it another 4 hours.  When I pulled the pork out, and shoved a meat thermometer in, it was still far stiffer than it should have been.  Again, I had to simmer the sauce down, which did enough to tenderize the meat to an edible state.  The result the second time wasn't much better than the first.

My suspicion is that I'd either need the low temperature going for much longer than 8 hours... perhaps 24 hours or more, which seems like a lot of work since I would need to reheat the pot every few hours, and make sure it doesn't drop in to the bacterial danger zone below 130F.  The simmering process seemed to do far more in tenderizing the meat than the slow cooking.  I'll have to try out the 24 hour version sometime... as well as the simple braise and the steaming method.  After I've worked off this year's calories.

They should make a movie out of this.

Stuxnet was probably the most intriguing virus to make news in the last few years.  It's pretty old news now, and if you've forgotten, it's a virus that was floating around the internet back in 2010.  It was intriguing in that that took advantage of 3 Windows zero-day exploits, which is a feat in itself.  Even though it infected plenty of Windows machines, it only targetted SCADA control systems - control software for industrial machinery, not your everyday desktop.  Further analysis concluded it was likely designed to infiltrate Iranian nuclear facilities and damage the centrifuges used for enriching weapons grade uranium.

This video isn't new, but it's probably the most interesting thing I've seen on YouTube in the past four months.  Almost makes me miss the old WinDbg days.  Almost.  Warning: there's some serious language in this video.

Jan 3, 2012

No Quadrantids.

Was hoping to see some shooting stars out tonight, but I didn't think about how bright it is with the city lights outside, and all I see is cloud cover at 2am.

Off to bed I guess.