A Bump in the Road    Posted:

Back in July, I was excited about all the plans I had come up with during my sabbatical. A meaningful, part-time role at Rackspace, a return to graduate studies, control of my time and the ability to write, learn and explore. It was a perfect setup and I was excited. A couple of weeks later, I hit a bump in the road -- literally. I was out for a bike ride, following a 10 mile route I had done dozens of times. Suddenly, while starting down a hill at about 17 mph, the bike slipped out from under me and I went sliding down the asphalt. It was a terrible place for a wreck, a narrow road with high walls on both sides. I quickly assessed the damage - lots of road rash and torn clothes. But, the bike had only scratches and there were no broken bones on me. I hopped back on the bike and finished riding home.

After a trip to the urgent care clinic (Dr. Magoon at Alamo Heights Minor Emergency is awesome!), I was cleaned up and enduring the really fun kind of pain that only scraping off a few layers of skin could provide. Thankfully, xrays confirmed there were no broken bones and it looked like my injuries were just superficial.

When I was still unable to sleep a few weeks later due to regular night pain, I realized I might not have been so lucky. After more xrays and an MRI, it turns out my fall had also resulted in a torn rotator cuff and bicep tendon. I would require surgery after all. Finally, I am at that point and my surgery is scheduled for Friday. I'll be in a sling without the use of my arm for about six weeks and then have several months of physicial therapy. Hopefully, I'll be better than ever when my annual ski trip to Lake Tahoe comes in March.

Adjusting to the Bump in the Road

These kinds of health incidents really force an understanding about the need to adapt to changing conditions. While the pain from the shoulder is mostly muted during normal daytime activites, I can't sleep for much longer than 2-3 hours without waking up with my shoulder on fire. It has totally disrupted my sleep cycle and robbed me of much of my productivity. I've had no choice but to change course. Perhaps I could have chosen to just buckle down, stay on course and fight through it. But, it never seemed like a realistic choice.

So, I have withdrawn from graduate school - again. I've paused my participation on Texas A&M's Computer Science advisory council. I've learned to enjoy walking as my primary form of exercise. I've pulled back on my plans to write and blog more (as evidenced by the long distance between posts!). I've narrowed focus at Rackspace to concentrate on OpenStack and how we change some things at Rackspace to become an even better community participant. I've remained involved in the OpenStack Foundation Board of Directors although not been as proactive as I had planned.

So, that's where I am. The good news is that none of this is permananent. I'm already starting to get the energy and drive to blog more (as evidenced by this post!). Recent OpenStack issues and conversations have me ramping up engagement on that front. Despite having only two weeks between my surgery and the Hong Kong Summit - I have every intention of being there and being highly engaged (watch this space for more on that). I am putting the finishing touches on some plans to revamp some of our OpenStack and open source involvement and contribution efforts at Rackspace. So, hopefully, I am moving into the recovery and healing phase and will put this little bump behind me soon.


One book that changed how I think about food    Posted:

One of my favorite places to spend time is in the kitchen. It is partially driven by my love of food and wine. It has also served as an escape from my "work" world. When I am in the kitchen, I can make whatever I want. I can do it on my own. Projects can take a few minutes but rarely more than a few hours. It is a real joy. I also love to discover new things to do in the kitchen and new ways to think about cooking. So, it was with great interest that I picked up a copy of Michael Pollan's latest book, Cooked. I've loved Michael Pollan's writing on food and what we've done with our food supply. I was interested to see how he approached cooking. The short version: it taught me a lot about food and how to cook it the right way; it has inspired me to do more and has given me a reason to have great patience and embrace "slow food."


I was initially suprised to learn that despite Pollan's prolific writing on food, he was not much of a cooki. It never occurred to me that someone so knowledgeable about food as subject wouldn't have already been pulled into cooking. But, that was the case here. To remedy this situation, the author decided to dive deep into four basic types of cooking by attaching himself to experts in each area. He organizes his discovery by tying these basic cooking techniques to the ancient essential elements of fire (BBQ), water (braising), air (baking) and earth (fermentation). His journey and great writing make for some great reading and deep insights into the history of these techniques, how our food preparation has been "corrupted" and what we can do to return to the essence of good food.


My only real 'beef' with this book is Pollan's choice of North Carolina pork barbeque as the basis for his look at fire-based cooking. Don't get me wrong, there are some great insights here about how to approach slow, smoke-cooked meats. He covers everything from how the discovery of fire to how it allowed humans to evolve into a more intelligent species. He discusses how feed lot processed meats have robbed us of flavor and nutrients. There is more than I could ever cover here. But, the nearly trivial mention of good Texas brisket in the scope of important barbeque was an issue for me. It's a worthy read - but beware fellow Texans.


I really enjoyed this section. It tied together a lot of diverse cooking styles for me in a way I hadn't considered. The similarity between pot-based dishes from so many cultures had never been made so clear. I also gained respect for why it is important to cook long and slow. There is some serious chemistry going on with braises and understanding these things can make the difference between a quick, sloppy sauce and a classic ragu. This chapter inspired me to dive back into pot dishes and caused me to spin up a series of gumbos, creoles and a massive pot of jambalaya. Each dish took the better part of a day and I loved it. Next up will be a spree of French and Italian inspired braises.


The beginning of this section dives deep in the process of making a classic, naturually fermented sourdough bread. Again, slow is the rule. Prep starts the night before, bulk fermentation all morning, proofing and shaping and then baking - pretty much a 24 hour process. It's not time intensive as there are few actions in between lots of waiting. But, you learn the chemistry involved in making a great loaf of bread and how we've completely destroyed what used to be healty by condensing it down to something quick and easy. I was fascinated to try all of this but had these nagging issues that kept popping into my head: isn't white flour bad for you? isn't gluten evil? how can you talk so glowingly about bread!

Thankfully, this is thoughtfully and deeply addressed and explored in the latter part of the 'Air' section. Pollan gives provides and illuminating look at the difference between naturally fermented (sourdough) bread vs. those from commercial yeasts. He shows how this effects the chemicals that cause gluten reactions and slow digestion of the grain. He traces the history of how we've come to discard all of the healty parts of a wheat kernel and what you can do to get it back. It left me feeling like bread wasn't evil - it's just the way we've mass produced it. So, I've embarked on my own sourdough, whole grain journey. Judging by my initial efforts - I've still go some learning to do. But, I think I'm on a good track.


This is probably the area I knew the least about. Pollan focuses on vegetable fermentation (mostly sauerkraut and kimchi), cheese and mead/beer/wine. The biology in this section was fascinating and really opened my eyes to how important the broader ecosystem of our bodies are. It is fascinating what our obsession with eliminating germs has done to the pro-biotics we need to survive and get a glimpse of the possible hostile effects it has on our health. It's amazing see what can be done with some cabbage, salt and time. And, the walk through the evolution of a "stinking cheese" was all new to me. It was really fantastic. I've already made my first crock of 'kraut and can't wait to start the kimchi next!


Two Books That Helped Me Understand the World Around Me    Posted:

With a three month break from work, I've been able to get some good reading done. Here are some of the books that have stood out for me this summer. Interestingly, much of what I've read recently ends up having a heavy emphasis on behavioral psychology. I didn't start out with that plan in mind. But, I'm glad I ended up there. It has given me some perspective on the world around me that is more nuanced. Combine this with my class on complex systems and it stirred up a lot of thoughts about how our world works - and sometime fantastically fails these days.

Thinking Fast and Slow

Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman is a book I actually began reading in late 2012. But, I finally managed the time to finish it off during my break.

This is a very dense book. Filled with much of what Kahneman has learned during his 40 years of psychology (which includes a Nobel prize in 2002.) It is built around an base idea that we have two dominant "systems" in our thinking. System 1 is akin to an automated pattern matching system that is fast and intuitive. System 2 is a slower more thoughtful and logical process. These two systems interact in a way that creates some unusual but very common outcomes and ultimately leads to "irrational" behaviors. He provides great detail and examples that dive into cognitive biases, overconfidence in decision making and and why we have so much trouble predicting what will make us happy. The insights are fascinating and a bit discomforting. I'm not certain I'll trust what I 'think' I know again or not. But, I ended with a healthy awareness of what causes people to make so many irrational decisions. It turns out that deep logical thinking is a small subset of how we use our brian. I doubt I'll be able to change that in myself (which the author basically confirms through a number of examples.) It will be helpful to at least understand what's happening around me.

Liars and Outliers

Liars and Outliers is the latest book by Bruce Schneier. I started following Schneier as I worked to understand the Patriot Act, NSA disclosures and what is happening with privacy on the Internet these days. I found him to be a thoughtful and rational voice that stays focused on the real issues and not on the sideshow stories. When I came across this book while wondering through a Denver Bookstore, I eagerly picked it up.

This wasn't exactly what I was expecting from the "internationally renowned security technologist." There was no detail on how to use technology to secure systems or analysis of where we've left exposures. Instead, it was a deep and thoughtful look at how trust is created and maintained in societies. It looks at the pressures that drive societies to follow certain norms of behaviors and limits defectors who work against those norms. Theses societal pressures come in the form of morals, reputations, institutional rules and security measures. It is a great model to understand how we are driven to align in society, where conflicts exist as we belong to multiple societies with competing objectives, how institutions/corporations/groups act as members of society and how the growth of societies from village-sized to global has changed the dynamics of trust. It was a great read and wonderful model to leverage as we start engaging on some of the new trust and security issues in front today's societies.


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