We Live in a Culinary Wasteland

Jen and I started watching food-related reality programs about ten years ago. We saw amazing chefs from all over the country preparing spectacular meals in timed competitions. None of them had a restaurant in Cincinnati. The one and only local contestant to ever appear on BravoTV’s Top Chef was eliminated at the beginning of the first episode of the season. Local restaurants tend to be chain places like Olive Garden and Applebee’s, as well as every fast-food chain you can think of. I have taken to calling Cincinnati a culinary wasteland™.

In recent years, however, a four-block section across the northern border of downtown, known as Over-the-Rhine (OTR), has had a restaurant Renaissance, with several upscale eateries opening in close proximity to each other. Our perception of the drive-to and the parking in the neighborhood has kept us away—until last night.

It was dark and 23ºF when we began our adventure. After a 20-minute drive we looped around the district once then found a lone parking place a 1 1/2 blocks from our restaurant of choice for the evening, Zula. Without a reservation, we were seated at a community table that had space for 12 diners. That wasn’t bad for among other reasons, it allowed us to see what others were eating. The hallmark of the menu is that its Mediterranean cuisine consists of plates meant to be shared.

pot of musselsIt didn’t take long to decide we wanted the seared Scottish salmon with avocado, scallions, and egg, and a big pot of mussles in a marinière broth.

We loved every bite of everything.

Now that we’ve gotten our feet wet and found that it’s not so scary, there are 19 other establishments within that few block radius we’re anxious to try. At the rate of one or two per month I guess I’ll be writing restaurant reviews for awhile.

Cincinnati is still a culinary wasteland™ and will continue to be so until eateries that approach the level of Zula make their way outside of OTR. But it’s a start. When the natives realize Skyline Chili is not haute cuisine, maybe we’ll get more upscale dining options pushing out toward the ‘burbs. In the meantime, we’ll make our occasional trips to our new favorite neighborhood.

Oh, Hey… It’s Me Again

I turned 71 the other day. A year and a half ago I would have considered that an accomplishment. It turns out I have a thing called Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis (IPF), a relatively rare disease that’s characterised by alveoli scarring to the point they can’t oxygenate blood. It’s progressive, so things get worse over time, and there’s no cure. When I was first diagnosed in May 2016 my pulmonologist gave me a maximum of five years. That’s the bad stuff.

In reality I’m doing OK. My only issue occcurs when I exert myself a little, my muscles, particularly my legs, feel weak because they aren’t receiving oxygenated blood from alveoli in my lungs. Sitting in my chair writing this my oxygen saturation is at 99%, almost perfect. When I’m on the treadmill I drop to the low-80s, which for a variety of reasons, is not good. Supplemental oxygen is the solution. So now when I do treadmill I’m sucking on three-litres of continuous O2 per minute.

I have oxygen units that meet my current needs. I can go to the gym, play golf, exert myself at home, or get on an airplane. And while there is no cure, there are options. I’m currently involved with two separate hospitals that are very good at performing lung transplants, Indiana University (IU) in Indianapolis and the Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio. Both have sterling reputations. I’ve had initial evaluations at each and have appointments for continued testing and monitoring. My current status is I’m too healthy for transplant, but both are keeping a watchful eye. At this point I don’t need to make any choices. When the time comes, whichever hospital offers the first lung(s) is where I’ll go. I now know people who have had transplants at both and they are doing well.

So this is why I haven’t posted anything in a long time. IPF has been ever-present in my conscious thoughts. I’ve wanted to write but didn’t feel I was in a place where I could until now. In the future I’ll get back to posting whatever I happen to be thinking about and photographs, pretty much what I was doing before. I’ll try to only mention IPF when something happens that warrants reporting. Otherwise, I’ll try not to bore you.

An Apple Car?

Have you missed me? Winter wasn’t harsh, just miserable enough to keep me inside and depressed.

It’s a well-known fact, at least within my family, that I’m an Apple fangirl. Doing stuff with an iPod, iPhone, iPad, Apple TV, and two Macs is what keeps me marginally sane during the miserable months. I read media reports; listen to podcasts; keep track of my meager shares of Apple stock; and watch company events in real time.

The most recent item to incite the Mac Nerd media (some of whom are friends) is Motor Trend’s Apple Car Exclusive: Experts Look At What Could Be A Game-Changer. I’ve only heard of Motor Trend; does the publication usually focus solely on design?

Apple Car front three quarter render

The missing image icon above represents one view of the Motor Trend’s speculative Apple car that was previously here, but is no longer available to this site. If you wish to view their images, click on the link above.

From my perspective, with the car being at least a few years from realization, appearance is irrelevant. More important factors are: 1) Will each wheel have a separate electrical motor, or will the entire vehicle will be powered by a single driveshaft? 2) Will engineers find a way to efficiently translate wheel rotation into electricity that charges the batteries sufficiently that range is extended to a number worth reporting? (I admit to being a perpetual motion junkie) 3) Could solar cells be molded into an attractive exterior of the auto that would contribute to battery charge when not providing environmental control for the interior?

To that last point, the Solar Impulse 2 is a completely solar-powered aircraft in the midst of circumnavigating the planet. It zips along at about 28 MPH with a wingspan exceeding that of a Boeing 747, hardly worth mentioning, but it proves the concept that solar cells on a vehicle have the potential to contribute to overall electrical power.

When Apple released the iPhone, the size and shape resembled other smartphones of the day; the genius of the device was what it could do. In the same fashion, a vehicle made by Apple will resemble other cars. It will have a pointy-ish nose to minimize drag and a cabin that will accommodate however many people, and their stuff, Apple decides the car should carry. It will be stylish, as befits any design influenced by Jony Ive, not the rounded box Motor Trend proposed.

An issue not addressed by Motor Trend is self-driving cars. I agree, it’s a topic for another decade. Despite the extensive research currently being conducted, there’s no reason to believe implementation won’t require at least ten years. On the otherhand, there are cars currently in production with “autopilot” capabilities that will track within a lane and adjust speed to match the vehicle in front.

On one podcast, (The Accidental Tech Podcast, I think) the guys surmised Apple could budget a BILLION dollars, an amount that wouldn’t make a noticable dent to the company balance sheet, to study the feasibility of producing automobiles without breaking a sweat. I think an Apple developed car would be awesome. Whether it comes to fruition or not, an Apple engineering team will advance the science of automotive electrical propulsion. I hope I live long enough to see what they bring forth.

That’s Not What We’re Used To

Jen and I tend to watch a lot of reality television. Whether it’s Survivor or Tiny House Nation, we are all in. One of our favorite programs is HGTV’s House Hunters International. We especially like the episodes that take place in western Europe – we fantasize about moving there some day.

I’m especially fond of episodes that take place in southern Spain. The weather is always fabulous (at least it looks that way on television). Jen is more interested in being an ex-pat in the UK. There’s less risk when moving to a location without a language barrier.

Despite the fun we have watching and discussing possibilities, there is one thing that frustrates us — people who move to Europe expecting the same style accommodations they had in suburban Omaha, Houston, or Atlanta when they want to live in the city center of London, Paris, or Madrid. Apparently people think nothing of moving 5000 miles without doing research beforehand. If they did they’d know living spaces are smaller, and clothes washing machines could be in the kitchen.

Most irritating for us is when someone exclaims, “That’s not what we’re used to!”, or, “I didn’t think it would be this expensive here!” like they expected to be moving to a third-world country. Third-world countries aren’t all that cheap — you’d be surprised what housing costs in Namibia.

There’s one other possibility: These programs are heavily produced and edited. Despite what’s shown on television, there probably isn’t a lot of spontaneity. That could be why whenever a house only has one, small closet/armoire, one member of a couple will always claim ownership, smile wickedly, and say, “Where are you going to put your clothes?”

If we ever decide to take the plunge, we’ll pick a place that’s exciting for both of us. We’re doing our research, which includes sitting in front of the TV. We’ll know what we’re getting into, and won’t act like clueless Americans. Uh-huh, that’s what we say now…

War on Christmas

Sister Mary Agatha was an equal opportunity enforcer, so it came as no surprise when she rapped my knuckles for singing Frosty the Snowman more loudly than anyone else in my fifth grade class. I think I can trace my dislike of holiday music to that afternoon in 1956.

Christmas has become a parody of itself, and I don’t mean the fun kind. Stores have holiday decorations up before Halloween. That goddamned music plays incessantly in almost every commercial establishment as an inducement to buy more stuff; the economy depends on you going into debt even though you can’t afford to do so.

Then there’s the absurdity of the reason for the season. Historians, not blinded by religious ferver, have determined that even if the baby Jesus did exist, he was more likely born in July. Even more revolting are radical Christianists (just like radical Islamists only without the violence… yet) who demand that the employees of all of those commercial establishments say, “merry christmas!” to any and all, regardless of the personal preference of the speaker or recipient. Failure gets one labeled as an enemy combatant in the WAR ON CHRISTMAS

All that is to say even when I was the church lady, not too long ago, I didn’t like christmas very much. Christmas is boring, the same crap year-after-year. My birthday party as an eight-year-old was different than any party I would have been given when I turned sixty-eight. Yet christmas celebrations subject us to the same music, same advertising, same cultural expectations, and because time passes more quickly as we get older, it all happens more frequently, regardless what the calendar says. Adult Jesus must be weeping because we keep him in that fucking manger, and have been giving him myrh and frankincense each year for more than two millennia. What he really wants are the latest XBox and an iPad Pro.

Give Me A Little Air

I get most of my writing done at home in my dinky little office that was formerly a tiny breakfast nook. I have a near top-of-the-line, large-screened iMac, where all the apps I deem necessary have room to coexist. But there are days when I need to get out of my cramped, confining cubicle, to allow creativity to thrive.

At the bottom of my hill is an independent coffee shop independent coffee shop where the proprietor has been roasting a wide variety of beans forever. It’s more of a working class spot that doesn’t exude the pretentiousness of a certain Seattle-based chain, and the drink sizes aren’t written in Italian. Background music is sometimes Classic Rock, other times Classic Classical. I find either to be just right. When I’m feeling challenged, this is my writing spot.

I’ve been working on a lengthy piece about how the terrorists have won. It’s depressing. Today is the second time this week I’ve gotten out of the house with my little MacBook Air, which I still love. It’s extremely portable, and the four-year-old battery gets me through a few hours away from a plug without breaking a sweat. Screen real estate is at a premium, but I can write and grab links easily. As I suck on a Cincinnati Mocha I find myself inspired enough to crank out another few hundred words. This is as good as it gets on this kind of day.

I’m Not Black Pixel, Yet

All the speakers at the Release Notes conference were inspiring. The one that most met my need was Daniel Pasco from Black Pixel®.

Dan related how important a fully integrated Quality Assurance team is to his company’s success. Dan’s QA team is involved from defining the initial specifications through delivery of the final product. That means when the app gets to the testing stage, those doing QA know exactly what the app is expected to do and how it has evolved during the life-cycle of the project. They have a test plan capable of taking the app to its design limits because they know where those limits are.

As an independent beta tester I’m unlikely to have that kind of access to the design process. The greatest barrier for those in my situation is geography — I can’t run down the hall to sit with a developer. But there are ways to mitigate some of the disadvantages.

Dan has outlined how Black Pixel does Quality Assurance. It’s posted online. In a five-part series he writes about bad QA scenarios then discusses what his company has done to make great QA pay for itself.

I’m not Black Pixel, but I am incorporating as many of their processes as I can into my test plan. Good communication with the developer, early in the build, increases the probability of launching a best-in-class app right out of the box.


Business Plan 1.0

As I’ve mentioned on more than one occasion, for me being retired means every day is Saturday. I really like being retired, except in the winter. When the temperature gets below 20ºF (about 6ºC), and the wind is howling, I don’t want to leave the house. I need something to keep my brain occupied.

I have a passion for technology, particularly that which emanates from that fruit company in Cupertino. From 1999 through 2011 I was employed first for two years working with Oracle databases, then for eight years performing low-level programming (5-years in Unix, 3-years in a web app using Jscript). In addition to writing my own code, I was responsible for QAing what other programmers had written.

Now, I’m a little old lady with a great big Mac (and some iOS devices). I think I can parlay my experience into doing beta testing for developer’s applications. Upon my return home from the Release Notes conference I began sketching out a business plan; I’ll have more on that in another post. In the meantime, I’m ready to do some testing.


Untested Beta

“So, where are you from?” he said.

I looked up at the speaker — late–20s, curly dark hair, and a few days past his last encounter with a razor. “Cincinnati,” I said. “You?”


We’re nerds at October’s Release Notes conference in Indianapolis, each checking to see if the other was a potential customer. He develops apps and I’m looking for beta test work. It’s a match, maybe.

That scene played itself out multiple times over the course of a two-day conference, where eleven speakers shared experiences building applications and businesses with over 140 attendees, many of them my heroes. Here I am in the midst of an Upgrade sandwich.

Myke Hurley (l) and Jason Snell

Initially I registered for the conference to meet people I hold in high-esteem. But the conference was about building businesses, and lately I’ve had an itch I wanted to scratch. Sitting around with nothing to do in the winter is boring, and bad for my health.

After some soul-searching, the concept of beta testing exploded out of my brain. During my two years at a dot-com start-up, I’d done my share of testing. Then I spent eight years at a market research company where half my job was QAing the work of other programmers. I’m experienced!

I went to the conference with loosely formed ideas. When asked why I was attending I struggled to get through my “origin” story; I did not have an elevator pitch. Thankfully, by the end of the week I’d edited myself to, “I’m starting a beta test business.”

Now I’m thinking about business plans, marketing strategies, and the processes of doing best-in-class beta testing. Presenters and attendees shared their knowledge. Now it’s up to me to make this happen.

A Halloween Fantasy


I’ve never written fiction. Here’s a first attempt, prompted by the Web site mentioned in the story. I liked doing it and look forward to doing it again.

When I got home that night, I noticed the smiling jack-o-lantern in my front yard was crushed. I reckoned the neighborhood kids had used it for a football, again. No bother, I’ll just get another — carving pumpkins is an enjoyable, artistic diversion for me.

I went inside. After securing the door, I dropped my purse and jacket on the nearest chair, then bolted for the refrigerator. I was famished. After pulling a couple of eggs, a salvageable block of moldy cheddar, a scallion, and scraps of ham leftover from a recent sandwich, I whisked, shredded, and chopped. While the eggs were setting in a warming pan on the stove, I poured myself a glass of rather tart Rosé, then layered the remaining ingredients into the pan.

I plated the omelet, grabbed the wine glass and utensils, then planted myself at the dining table. While eating, I opened my MacBook; I had mail. The one from medium.com contained an invitation to submit to Coffeelicious’s “first-ever writing prompt.” Buoyed by the prospect of writing something outside my normal fare, I contemplated my relationship to Halloween and how it’s evolved over the years.

As a child, I could hardly wait to play adult-sanctioned dress-up while charging around the neighborhood, collecting as much candy as I could, then stashing a couple of handfulls where my parents wouldn’t find it, I thought. As a young adult, the holiday became another excuse for excessive alcohol consumption, whether costumed or not. When I had children, I fussed over their costumes and monitored their trick-or-treat goodies as much as my parents had. I can still picture the fairy princess and the pirate returning with brimming bags of loot.

Now that I’m older, with children and grandchildren half a continent away, my participation is much more subdued. Tomorrow I’ll shop for candy and pumpkins, then carve a fresh face into one. I’ll keep the other in reserve in case the new pumpkin becomes the victim of third-and-long. When All Hallows Eve arrives, I’ll distribute goodies to the new generation ghosts, goblins, and Super Girls. And for a brief moment, maybe I’ll experience the all-encompassing joy I had when I was a ballerina.