The Thrill of Pair Programming

I have a lot of different passions, which is lucky in a lot of ways, and unlucky in others. It’s lucky because it makes life incredibly fun. It’s unlucky, because life is finite, and I don’t have time to delve as deeply into things as I would like. It’s why I knew I would never become a professional programmer.    (JZB)

This past year, I spent most of my time doing field work and thinking about social processes. When I switched into technical mode, it was as an architect or a pundit, not as a programmer. And that’s the way it should be. It’s the right mode for me professionally and personally. Besides, the less time in front of a computer, the better.    (JZC)

However, that’s changed these past few months, as I’ve had to wear my coding hat for a variety of reasons. And I have to admit, it still gets me going. My skills have degraded a lot over the years, more from disuse than age, but I can still get it done. It makes me feel like one of those clean-cut, Midwestern types who comes home from his nine-to-five job, then plays poker all night at some seedy underground club. It’s liberating.    (JZD)

In particular, I had fun Pair Programming with Peter Kaminski a few weeks ago and with Brian Ingerson last night. Both of those efforts were toy one-offs, but they were great fun nevertheless, and it got me thinking. Coding with others, and pairing in particular, is one of the most intense, enjoyable collaborative experiences one can have. Read Evan Henshaw-Plath‘s account of his recent Ruby On Rails sprint with Blaine Cook and Kellan Elliott-McCrea, and you’ll see what I mean. It’s the sort of thing I never get to do anymore.    (JZE)

I know a lot of great coders, and I love talking shop. And, I still want to spend as little time as possible in front of a computer. But, I’m going to make a concerted effort to pair with folks at least once every few months. If you’re in the Bay Area and are in the mood to code up something that is small, cool, and will improve collaboration some way, somehow, let me know.    (JZF)

On Conversations and Collaboration

Seb Paquet and I were chatting on the phone last Friday, and the conversation turned to Old Boy Networks. In particular, Seb noted that it wasn’t enough to eliminate barriers to conversation or collaboration. You need to catalyze it. The oft-noted Echo Chamber nature of the blogosphere is Exhibit A in this regard. Despite the lack of technical barriers, people tend not to interact with people of different background and views.    (JJM)

This issue became the theme of the day for me. Later that afternoon, I met Nancy White for the first time, who was in town for Blogher. She was ecstatic about the expected turnout, explaining that the conference had attracted all sorts of new faces, traditionally invisible folks — mostly women, of course — on the ground doing great stuff and writing great things. Nancy, Mary Hodder, and others have been vocal about the sameness of attendees and speakers on the conference circuit, and Blogher was in many ways a reaction to that. I’m sorrry I missed it. What began as a casual conversation between Nancy, Beverly Trayner, and myself grew quite large and energetic, as random folks — Mary, Danah Boyd, Elana Centor, and several others — saw us at our table and joined the discussion. It killed me to break up that conversation, but we all had other meetings we had to go to.    (JJN)

I ended my day in Campbell for SocialWave‘s one-year anniversary celebration. Sheldon Chang, SocialWave‘s driving force, has evolved the business in much the same way that I’ve evolved Blue Oxen Associates — learning by doing and refining the strategy over time. What began as a general desire to counter the Bowling Alone effect in regional communities is now focused more on bringing community back to city downtowns. I really like this strategy, and I really like how effective SocialWave has been with its flagship community, Campbell. The party was a manifestation of that. Several local stores sponsored the party, which was held in Campbell‘s beautiful downtown in conjunction with the weekly summer outdoor movie series (which has its own wonderful grassroots origins). Of course, SocialWave members — who span the entire demographic — were out in force, both as volunteers and as party-goers.    (JJO)

I congratulated Sheldon on what he had accomplished so far, and — as it had throughout the day — the discussion turned to catalyzing conversations and collaboration. In a small downtown, the barriers to interaction are low in theory. People are physically near each other, and there seems to be big incentives to collaborate with each other, as all of these stores share goals and concerns. But in reality, it doesn’t always happen on its own. Campbell, like many of the downtowns here in the Bay Area, has had its share of economic troubles, and yet, most people have dealt with those in isolation. Sheldon noted that several store owners weren’t even aware of what stores were around the corner.    (JJP)

In reality, collaboration rarely just happens. Someone has to catalyze it. This can happen from both the top and the bottom, but it almost always happens. This holds triply true when it comes to collaboration between diverse groups. If we truly want to work with people different from ourselves, we have to work proactively to bring those people together. This doesn’t happen often enough. It’s hard, but the benefits are significant.    (JJQ)

Officially A City Guy

After nine wonderful years in the Silicon Valley, I recently moved 40 miles north to San Francisco. It’s a move I’ve thought about for many years, but a combination of circumstances finally made it reality.    (JII)

Some initial impressions:    (JIJ)

  • It’s foggy all the time. I’m enough of a Bay Area veteran to know to bring a jacket when visiting San Francisco in the summer, but I had seen enough glorious sunny summer days in the city — even in the Richmond District, where I now live — to decide that reports on the fog were greatly exaggerated. I was wrong. If two weeks is a valid sample size, then yes, it does get mighty foggy here. Makes days like today when the sky clears all the more wonderful.    (JIK)
  • Muni does not constitute legitimate public transportation. It takes an hour for me to get from my apartment in the Outer Richmond across town to SBC Park via Muni. CalTrain from Menlo Park to the ballpark also takes an hour, so there’s literally no gain there. San Francisco badly needs some form of public transportation with more comprehensive coverage than BART, but that doesn’t stop at every freakin’ block like Muni.    (JIL)
  • Of course, part of the city’s charm is sharing a bus ride with its scintillating characters. The other night, a crazy fellow sat across from me and started talking to himself. Usually, this is a sign to keep your eyes averted, which is what I did. Nevertheless, he somehow managed to engage me in a one-sided conversation where he explained that everything he had feared in life had come true, and it didn’t turn out as badly as he thought it would. You go, crazy guy!    (JIM)
  • I can see Sutro Tower from my apartment and thus get great television reception. Well, except for KNTV, the local NBC affiliate, which is based in San Jose. I don’t even get a flicker. I won’t recount the politics that led to KNTV acquiring the NBC affiliation, but I think it’s an absolute travesty that I can’t get a signal in San Francisco. The only way to get this broadcast station is via a paid service — cable or satellite.    (JIN)
  • My neighborhood is replete with tiny delis and markets of every ethnicity imaginable. Makes for great ambling and outstanding eating. I am going to have to befriend a Russian local to help me navigate some of these places.    (JIO)

It’ll take a few months before I fully acclimate to my surroundings, but sitting on my balcony on a day like this, gazing at the Golden Gate Bridge and the city skyline, I can’t help but be giddy about the move.    (JIP)

Quality Korean Barbecue in Los Angeles

I’m about to wax poetic about Korean barbecue, but first, I need to clear up a misconception. There is much, much more to Korean food than barbecue. The reason there are so many Korean barbecue restaurants in this country is that Americans, not Koreans, are obsessed with meat.    (IS0)

Those of you who have read my previous entries about food may be surprised to hear me complain about this, because I clearly love meat. True enough. But I love food in general, and I find this narrow view of this widely varied cuisine annoying. That said, I also know that Korean food is an acquired taste for most Americans — we eat lots of spicy, salty, fermented, fishy foods — and that when folks ask for restaurant recommendations, they usually want barbecue.    (IS1)

For the most part, I’m ambivalent about recommending Korean barbecue places. The meat quality at most places is about the same, so I tend to differentiate them by the marinade (which I find too sweet at most restaurants), the quality of the banchan (the small appetizer plates that come with the meal) and other items on the menu, and the service. I, like many others, enjoy Brother’s in San Francisco for its wood-fired grills and friendly service, but I’m not blown away by the food there.    (IS2)

When folks ask me to recommend good Korean restaurants in Los Angeles, my hometown, I’m usually stumped. Unlike the Bay Area, Korean restaurants abound down south. Nevertheless, the same thing holds true: The quality at most of these places is about the same.    (IS3)

Thankfully, I’m stumped no more. Last night, my parents took me to ChoSun Galbee, located in the heart of Korea Town in Los Angeles. The food there is good. Damn good.    (IS4)

I knew my experience there would be different as soon as they brought out the raw meat, which looked amazingly fresh and beautifully marbled. Most restaurants marinate their meat overnight, which is actually overkill, because the meat is sliced very thin. The chef at ChoSun Galbee marinates the meat immediately, which has the added benefit of showcasing the quality of the meat. This is only a good thing, of course, if the quality of the meat is worth showcasing, which is probably why most restaurants don’t do it.    (IS5)

The shorter marination time did nothing to decrease the melding of the flavors, which was less sweet and slightly more complex than most restaurants. I was especially impressed by the daeji bulgogi — spicy pork — where I detected strong hints of ginger and cinnamon, in addition to the usual garlic, soy sauce, and gochoo chang (hot pepper paste).    (IS6)

In addition to the daeji bulgogi, we had bulgogi (thinly sliced beef) and galbee (shortribs), both of which were excellent. I thought they skimped on the galbee portions, but “skimping” is relative. I was so full, I could barely walk out of the place.    (IS7)

We also had the mul naengmyun — chewy noodles in a cold broth — which was okay, but not overwhelmingly good. As with the meat, the quality of the ingredients tasted high, which is usually as much as I can ask for when ordering naengmyun. (I’m a naengmyun snob, so take my review with a grain of salt. If anyone knows of a good place to get bibim naengmyun in the Bay Area, let me know.) Same went for the banchan — good, obviously made with decent ingredients, but not extraordinary.    (IS8)

(One reason naengmyun tends to be mediocre at most places is that it’s actually a North Korean specialty. As you can imagine, the recipes and techniques for making it well have not been widely disseminated. That said, it’s not impossible to find a decent bowl in Los Angeles, which is more than I can say for the Bay Area. It’s an absolute travesty.)    (IS9)

Apparently, I’m not the first to sing ChoSun Galbee’s praises. It’s a big restaurant with a beautiful patio area, and the place was packed. If you find yourself in Los Angeles, and you’re looking for good Korean barbecue, ChoSun Galbee is the place to be. It’s slightly more expensive than your average Korean restaurant, but the quality makes it well worth it.    (ISA)