Friday, March 27, 2009

Wine Tasting with Maynard James Keenan

This morning I went out early to grab a ticket for the Maynard Wine event at the local Whole Foods. They only had 500 tickets and I was able to get #291.

The set up was Whole foods would be selling Maynard's wines and offering signing in a private room for the first 500 people. Key points of interest leading up to the event:

#1 Maynard's wines are very hard to get a hold of. If you want to buy them you have to a) visit the vineyard in Arizona or b) catch him on a wine signing tour - this round only had 4 stops. Austin, Houston, San Antonio, and Dallas. c) get lucky enough that they have what you want on line and that they can ship it to you for reasonable cost - these wines are expensive and very limited.

#2 Maynard is known for being impersonal and rude. Not that I minded. It wasn't going to stop me from going. I was hoping this was just hype.

#3 The place was expecting 3,000-5,000 people to show up. I had no plans to be stuck in the crowd all day (people started lining up at 8am for a 5pm signing)

#4 The security was insane - no purses, no phones, no camera, nothing but your ID and $$ to make your purchase. Metal detectors, bodyguards and all...

So here's how I made the most of my Maynard experience:

I called ahead to the store and got a hold of a chef friend. I told him I would be buying at least a case and I wanted to avoid the idiots in the crowd. He told me to show up @8, get a ticket and it would be numbered. Park at the front of the store in a reserved space at 4:40/5pm and he'd get me back to the "curtained area". I told him he was awesome, and he told me I was owed from a referral I gave for a private party. (he has a catering business on the side) It pays to have foodie friends!

I showed up on time and like clockwork I had my #291 place in line, no waiting. By then I was maybe 20 ppl from the door. I found my friend and he let them know I was indeed purchasing a case. I opted for the Merkin Chupacabra - because what makes a better dinner party than hairy goat? Once I had my case, I had them carry it for me to the back. Wine is heavy! There was a small room where people were taking in their bottles to be signed by Maynard with a literal "curtains pulled back" reveal of Maynard and Eric for each customer.

They had sectioned out the line in 20 person segments, so once that current segment had finished up I got to go in with my case and have a seat. It was surreal. I introduced myself and Maynard and his partner Eric immediately asked in unison :what are you planing to do with a case of Chupacabra? I explained my "hairy goat" plan and they laughed. Maynard, in his black tshirt, board shorts and flip flops, asked me if I knew what a merkin was. I nodded and told him that was 1/2 the fun. I guess not too many people in SA know about pubic wigs? The only reason I knew was a BBC Graham Norton episode - which I admitted to them both. We all had a laugh and started talking goats and merkins, and would a goat merkin be for a goat? or made of goat for a human?. Maynard asked if I had tasted the wine. I told him no, and let him know I was fully aware that with only 500 cases made and not living in AZ it would be unlikely that anyone here had tasted it outside of the idiots who might have corked a bottle in the parking lot. He pulled out glasses and poured me a glass from the bottle at his side. This is when I first noticed how short he was. Shiny bald head, beautiful eyes, but really a small guy. Granted most people are short compared to me, but he was much shorter than I would have expected.
We sipped, the wine had a light body with a sweet blackberry tinge and a small citrus finish on the end. Great nose and would pair well with a bloody steak, which makes sense having named it after a blood thirsty goat. We talked about the central cost of CA, food and wine parings, more about goats and merkins, tasted 4 more of the wines from their vineyard and then the bodyguard told me it was time to go. Eric and Maynard told them "give her a few minutes, she bought a case" and they went about signing my 12 bottles.
I said my goodbyes and Maynard shook my hand and told me I sould come by the vineyard next time I am in AZ. I promised (quite honestly) that I would. I didn't quite get the "I'm never going to wash this hand again" feeling with him, but I was seriously in awe and star struck. He was a genuinely nice, well spoken, beautiful, and intelligent man.

I exited the store with my case, watching the thousands outside standing in line like cattle wondering how long it would take a Chupucabra to devour the herd. I think I am one of the luckiest people I know. What a great event!

I am now a proud owner of 1 of the only 500 cases of 2006 Merkin Vineyards Chupacabra. I couldn't resist that it's partly named after a mythical creature that drinks blood from livestock, and partly after a pubic wig that always reminds me of British humor. The bottle’s design is simple but appealing, with a sepia-toned, vintage-looking label decorated with a replica of Leonardo Da Vinci’s “Vetruvian Man” drawing with a bunch of deep purple, luscious grapes hanging over the loins. The back of the bottle has this mystic-cryptic inscription from Maynard himself:

“The Trickster. The Shape Shifter. The ever elusive shadow who mutates with the Sun and Moon. One year a Dragon, another a Snake. This is our Mystery Hand. Think forest, not trees. Think weather, not rain. Stare, and the CHUPACABRA, who dwells in your heart and not in your head, will vanish. Only a True Alchemist can draw holy blood from a stone, and the CHUPACABRA is his opus, his phoenix, his cherub, his child. Bravo, Mr. Glomski, Bravo! – M.J. Keenan, Owner & Novice Winemaker”

Glomski is Eric, his partner in AZ and also quite a nice guy.

I highly recommend checking out the site for Caduceus Cellars (, where Keenan maintains a journal and has an entry about the 06 SENSEI that explains the creation and evolution of the Chupacabra wine. You can order some of the other wines from the site (most of the Caduceus wines are limited quantity; and there were only 500 cases made of 2006 Merkin Vineyards Chupacabra). So, if you want to try the Chupacabra wine, wou'll have to come to dinner at my house :) Date TBD.

Xtine - I have an autographed bottle set aside just for you :) I had snuck in my iPhone, and I showed him your facebook post from earlier in the day. He said "that's cute" and then asked me how I snuck the phone in. I told him a smart girl never reveals her secrets.

I should have been sneaky and taken a picture, but the bodyguards were scowling at me with the iphone to begin with.

I am a happy foodie and Tool fan!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Ada Lovelace Day - Barbara Fraire

Augusta Ada King, Countess of Lovelace (10 December 1815 – 27 November 1852), born Augusta Ada Byron is widely known in modern times simply as Ada Lovelace. She is mainly known for having written a description of Charles Babbage's early mechanical general-purpose computer, the analytical engine. She is today appreciated as the "first programmer" since she was writing programs—that is, manipulating symbols according to rules—for a machine that Babbage had not yet built. She also foresaw the capability of computers to go beyond mere calculating or number-crunching while others, including Babbage himself, focused only on these capabilities. Babbage was impressed by Lovelace's intellect and writing skills. He called her "The Enchantress of Numbers". In 1843 he wrote of her:

Forget this world and all its troubles and if
possible its multitudinous Charlatans — every thing
in short but the Enchantress of Numbers.

Ada Lovelace died, at the age of 36, on 27 November 1852. This was due to uterine cancer and bloodletting by her physicians. (not the Concrete Blond album) She left two sons and a daughter.

Over one hundred years after her death, in 1953, Lovelace's notes on Babbage's Analytical Engine were republished after being forgotten. The engine has now been recognized as an early model for a computer and Lovelace's notes as a description of a computer and software.

If you are familiar with DOD computer languages, you'll know her by Ada - MIL-STD-1815.

In honor of Ada Lovelace Day, I want to recognize one of my early mentors, Barbara Fraire.

In 1997, I found myself embarking on a new career path, away from sewing, cakes, and catering, and into the world of programing. What started as a hobby of designing web pages and a heavy BBS habit, landed me a job at a local credit union. I was quickly recognized as "computer knowledgeable" which back in 1997/1998 meant you knew how to turn one on and create and retrieve data from the web . I quickly learned that the core processor was wide open to customization and decided I wanted to figure out ways to apply my creative skills. My CEO who was inspiring in her own right, told me that I was free to explore the system and see what I could make it do. These were the early days of vi editor and Symulate, but there were still some amazing concepts available to us. The CEO sent me to San Diego for a "rep gen" class. That's where I first met Barbara.

At the time, I had stereotyped programmers as pencil protector style men with gray hair and thick rimmed glasses. Even though I grew up knowing otherwise, I found it hard to believe that there were lots of great minds that broke that mold. Barbara did not have glasses, nor a pencil protector. She was young, pretty, and smart. I found myself amazed that it was possible to remain feminine and still work in this field. It was okay to be smart and creative at the same time. If you would have asked me back then where I would be today, and what I would be doing, I never would have predicted this outcome.

In that first class, Barbara taught advanced rep gen. I had skipped basic, so I was a little worried if I would be able to grasp the concepts. With no formal education on the subject and only years of "playing" under my belt, I will admit I didn't go in with a positive attitude. But starting with day one, Barbara showed us all how flexible and nimble the system was, and how with a few simple lines of code you could make it do just about anything you wanted. She set us up for success. I had always pictured programming as rigid and rules based and "not for me". She taught me that it was okay to put the logic to good use, and that there was room for both creativity and smarts in this line of work. I was thrilled and excited to head back to the office with my new found skills and put them to work. Then came SEC. The fall conference had this session which caught my eye and to this day remains my all time hands down favorite, "Creative Solutions/Unique Uses". The simple concept of presenting fresh and innovative ideas convinced me I had found my calling. As Barbara and the presenters called out each and every idea and example of what was being done out in the real world synapses started firing in my head. I had more inspiration than time to complete everything that sparked in my brain. The sessions she helped present over the years, the 10+ years of mentorship, and countless amounts of inspiration that have lead to my great success as a programmer are why I want to recognize Barbara Fraire as someone who I admire in my field of credit union technology.

To this day I admire her for her hard work and dedication to this system. From rep gen, to GL's and AP, to Indirect Lending, and everything in-between - she is an expert by all definitions, inspiring the rest of us to follow in her footsteps. (extra bonus points for the recent help with indirect lending, which if anything teaches us all just how much we need creative solutions to solve every day problems!)

I have a great memory of a conversation we had over a bowl of Pho at a local San Diego restaurant in the late nineties. I was down in San Diego for a class, and we had gone out for lunch that day. We were discussing some of the new enhancements to the system and how they could be used to do more for the credit unions. I remember asking her if she was happy coming to work each day working with this system and in the muck of the code. She told me that this was a line of work in which one would never be bored or at a loss for things to do and that that having purpose and being able to see results is a great reason to be happy. It's 10+ years later and I still love my job, and Pho :). Thanks Barbara!

Ada Lovelace Day is an international day of blogging to draw attention to women excelling in technology. Women's contributions often go unacknowledged, their innovations seldom mentioned, their faces rarely recognized. We need to tell the world about these unsung heroines. Whatever she does, whether she is a sysadmin or a tech entrepreneur, a programmer or a designer, developing software or hardware, a tech journalist or a tech consultant, make sure to celebrate her achievements today.

Monday, March 9, 2009

non-distracting alpha

After spending a week dedicating my brain to the efforts of release testing, I had a realization of just how distracted office life is. Prior to my arrival at my current employer, I was telecommuting and enjoying the associated super-productivity. When I made the job switch, I continued the super productivity, but it took much more effort and longer hours.
I enjoy being in the office, I am a social creature at heart, but my work often suffers from the little distractions here and there. When I am in my "zone" I get amazing things done in minimal amounts of time. I can multi-task like there's no tomorrow. But when you add in the chatty noises of people on the phone all day within earshot, the movement of 200 people in a high rise building, and the general distractions of working in this environment, productivity goes down hill.

Last week I was able to work up 13 defects (in the office this work normally takes me 3-4 weeks to research and complete). I even managed to learn the missing pieces of my IDL knowledge base (not that anyone wants to be a know it all on indirect lending, but it helps when debugging) I didn't have much free time (no shopping or beach trips) but I feel super accomplished and refreshed. I didn't even manage to get in my traditional CA sushi fix! I am still a little shocked about that one. I did find a break for fish tacos, a late night dinner trip to Asti (super yum Italian seafood in gaslamp), and was able to meet up with a few friends for late night meals/drinks. Just not my normal CA travel agenda, which was fine.

I also managed worked in a 3:20 am showing of Watchmen on the last night, banking on the long flight home to recoup some sleep time. I figured it was a good reward for working 12-14 hour days between alpha and keeping up with projects back home. My favorite line of that movie being "I am used to going out at 3 a.m. and doing something stupid." I think the lack of sleep and the timing made that way more hilarious than originally intended. I loathe the color yellow, but the film was made well enough for me to ignore my normal annoyances with color palates and allowed me to focus on the great storyline. (I think I would have liked giant CGI squids better for the ending, but that's just me)

Misc thoughts on the upcoming release:
*account number change - great idea, but can't use it with remote poster/failover D :(
*loan queue enhancement - bug free and looking forward to the screen and field additions
*masked hb param changes - again long time coming security feature that will be put to good use
*syc off/onhost - possibly my favorite list item
*ezwriter datafiles - I don't use ezw, but I know alot of people who will appreciate this addition
*created by fields - looking forward to this one and modifying the fmhist searches out of existing specfiles to speed up processing
* lots of good stuff in this release and nothing too crazy to warrant months of pre-load testing

It was a great week. I learned alot and was able to share my brain with a few other industry people in the process. I will have to get make-up sushi another time :)