Photos from C & B’s wedding

Posted in equipment, personal, photos at 12:49 pm by wingerz


Spent some time last night working on pictures from Caroline and Brandon’s wedding. More pictures from: Jake Holt, the official wedding photographer, Grant, Jess & Cy.

Wedding photography looks like very stressful work. I’m pretty pleased with the way some of these pictures turned out but having to get a spectacular picture of every wedding “scene” is tough. I’m sure the extra flashes and L lenses make it a little bit easier, but probably not that much. I enjoyed chatting with Jake towards the end of the evening; at the time his biggest complaint was his back, from lugging around two big camera bodies.

Very early in the evening I switched to my cheap 50mm f/1.8 because of the low light. Lee generously gave me his flash diffuser, which was very helpful for reducing the harshness of the light from the flash.


Bring on the Final Four

Posted in basketball, personal, sports at 5:54 pm by wingerz


Last weekend’s basketball-watching wasn’t satisfactory (I think there was a wedding going on or something). Didn’t catch any full games, only caught glimpses of the end of the Georgetown-UNC game while walking through the Dallas-Fort Worth airport. This weekend I plan on planting myself on Nick and Ceida’s couch for six hours to watch the games in HD glory.

My bracket is actually doing quite well. I picked the Final Four and will win if Florida beats Georgetown in the final. I’d like to thank my friends over at Big East Hoops for their advice, and I’d like to call out the Sports Guy for having too much faith in Kevin Durant. A few weeks ago when things weren’t looking so good I sold Lee a stake in my bracket. In retrospect it doesn’t seem like it was such a good move but I don’t mind it so much since he lobbied pretty hard to get me to join in the first place.

Anyhow, I’m looking forward to some quality basketball. I don’t really hate any of the teams. Teams in order of preference: UCLA (would love to see them avenge their horrendous loss last season), Florida (winning the pool would be nice), Georgetown (Grant’s love for them is contagious), and OSU (would like to see Oden have a monster game instead of getting into foul trouble).


Pasta from Capone’s

Posted in food, home cooking at 8:46 pm by wingerz


One of Jen’s classmates recommended that we check out Capone Foods, a food store specializing in fresh pasta right in our neighborhood (near Union Square, Somerville). While I was out running errands a few weeks ago I stopped by. As I stepped in through the door, I was greeted by a large glass-doored refrigerator full of pastas and sauces. A handy chart posted on the wall presented sauces and types of pasta in a matrix marked with the recommended combinations. After poring over the chart and soliciting a recommendation from the young lady behind the counter, I decided on chicken-prosciutto ravioli with tomato-porcini sauce. Somehow I was able to contain the temptation to pick up a freshly baked loaf of bread or some cheese.

We had the ravioli for dinner the following evening. Preparation was quick and easy. While I was expecting a little more flavor out of the ravioli, the texture was good and the sauce was robust and flavorful. Will definitely be heading back to sample the fresh pasta; the store may become a weekly stop on the way back from the farmer’s market this summer.


C & B’s Wedding

Posted in personal, wedding at 8:06 pm by wingerz


Surrounded by fierce dinosaurs, tie-wearing bears, and loving friends and relatives, Caroline and Brandon were married this past weekend at the Houston Museum of Natural Science. Erin did a fantastic job of officiating the ceremony.

The wedding and weekend were incredibly fun. Made some new friends and caught up with some old ones. Jess, Cy, Grant, Kent, and I shared a room.

Food-wise, we did pretty well. Enjoyed succulent ribs, tender brisket, and tasty sides at the rehearsal dinner (Goode Company), Cajun-style boiled crawfish ($4/lb) at lunch the next day (Bayou City), and five slices of pie during a post-wedding dessert-run (House of Pies). All of the above are highly recommended. We also stopped at the expectedly underwhelming Yao Restaurant & Bar for drinks. Other than the really tall doorways and case full of basketball memorabilia, it doesn’t have a whole lot going for it.

I am a bit sad that we all had to go our separate ways afterwards. Congratulations once again to Caroline and Brandon and their families!


Citizen Schools, Week 4

Posted in community, technology at 8:56 am by wingerz


At this point we look forward to the surprises that every Monday brings. This past week, we got two brand new students, and a student who had supposedly been dismissed from the program for behavior issues was back in class. We shuffled our pre-arranged seating to accommodate the changes as students were finding their seats. The new students were great – they picked up the material quickly and worked well together.

The class went reasonably well – we covered boolean functions (AND and OR). Students are still struggling with writing functions; it’s a pretty big leap in abstraction that they haven’t quite mastered yet. Fortunately, disruptions were kept to a minimum so that we could focus on teaching the content.

I think that I’ve become more comfortable with the idea of not trying to befriend all of the students. I gave out my first strike of the year, and I’ve definitely tried to not humor students who are obviously trying to push the behavior envelope.


Spaghetti and Meatballs

Posted in food, home cooking at 11:34 pm by wingerz


This was a special request from Jen. The meatballs ended up a little flattened; some time in the fridge might have helped them to maintain their shape. The sauce is simple, but good. Also, I skipped the last step of tossing the pasta with the sauce (because I didn’t read carefully enough).

Spaghetti and Meatballs
From America’s Test Kitchen‘s The New Best Recipe

2 slices good-quality white sandwich bread, crusts removed and slices torn into small pieces
1/2 cup buttermilk or 6 tablespoons plain yogurt thinned with 2 tablespoons whole milk
1 pound ground meat, preferably 3/4 pound ground chuck and 1/4 pound ground pork
1/4 freshly grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley leaves
1 large egg yolk
1 small garlic clove, minced fine or pressed through a garlic press
3/4 teaspoon salt
Ground black pepper
1-1 1/2 cups vegetable oil for pan-frying

Smooth tomato sauce
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 small garlic clove, minced fine or pressed through a garlic press
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
1 tablespoon minced fresh basil leaves
Salt and ground black pepper
1 pound spaghetti
freshly grated Parmesan cheese for serving

1. For the meatballs: Combine the bread and buttermilk in a small bowl. Let sit for 10 minutes, mashing occasionally with a fork, until a smooth paste forms.
2. Place the ground meat, cheese, parsley, egg yolk, garlic, salt, and pepper to taste in a medium bowl. Add the bread-milk mixture and combine until evenly mixed. Shape 3 tablespoons of the mixture into a 1 1/2-inch round meatball. (When forming meatballs, use a light touch. If you compact the meatballs too much, they can become dense and hard.) You should be able to form about 14 meatballs.
3. Pour the vegetable oil into a 10- or 11-inch saute pan to a depth of 1/4 inch. Turn the heat to medium-high. After several minutes, test the oil with the edge of a meatball. When the oil sizzles, add the meatballs in a single layer. Fry, turning several times, until nicely browned on all sides, about 10 minutes. Regulate the heat as needed to keep the oil sizzling but not smoking. Transfer the browned meatballs to a plate lined with paper towels and set aside.
4. Meanwhile, bring 4 quarts water to a rolling boil in a large pot.
5. For the sauce: Discard the oil in the pan, but leave behind any browned bits. Add the olive oil and garlic and saute, scraping up the browned bits, just until the garlic is golden, about 30 seconds. Add the tomatoes, bring to a simmer, and cook until the sauce thickens, about 10 minutes. Stir in the basil and salt and pepper to taste. Add the meatballs and simmer, turning them occasionally, until heated through, about 5 minutes. Keep warm over low heat.
6. Add 1 tablespoon salt and the pasta to the boiling water and stir to separate the noodles. Cook until al dente, drain, and return to the pot. Ladle several large spoonfuls of the sauce (without meatballs) over the spaghetti and toss until the noodles are well coated. Divide the pasta among individual bowls and top each with a little more tomato sauce and 2 or 3 meatballs. Serve immediately, passing the cheese separately.


TiVo March Madness suggestion

Posted in amusing, basketball, personal, sports at 11:11 pm by wingerz


During the Maryland-Butler game, the TiVo thought that maybe I’d like to switch over to watch some high school basketball. Nice try, but not a chance. Computers can be so silly sometimes. Today’s games were spectacular, even though some of them were marred by horrificly un-clutch free throw shooting. Fortunately my bracket is in shambles so I can cheer wholeheartedly for upsets, the Pac-10, and the Big East (Big East Hoops has converted me).


Healthier Cobb Salad

Posted in food, home cooking at 10:13 pm by wingerz


I’m always looking for good salads to make. This one’s got tons of good stuff (avocados, chicken, eggs, tomatoes) and an excellent dressing. All that dicing is pretty labor-intensive, so my pieces didn’t end up being that cube-like. I left out the bacon and bleu cheese since I was trying to keep it healthy.

Classic Cobb Salad
From America’s Test Kitchen‘s The New Best Recipe

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 medium garlic clove, minced or pressed through a garlic press (about 1 teaspoon)
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons juice from 1 lemon
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

3 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves (about 6 ounces each), trimmed of excess fat
Salt and ground black pepper
1 large head romaine lettuce, washed, dried, and torn into bite-size pieces (about 8 cups)
1 bunch watercress (about 4 ounces), washed, dried, and stemmed (about 4 cups)
1 pint cherry tomatoes, preferably grape tomatoes (about 10 ounces), each tomato halved
3 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 medium, ripe avocados, preferably Haas (about 8 ounces each) pitted and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
8 slices bacon (about 8 ounces), cut crosswise into 1/4-inch pieces, fried in a medium skillet over medium heat until crisp, about 7 minutes, and drained on a paper towel-lined plate
2 ounces bleu cheese, crumbled (about 1/2 cup)
3 tablespoon minced fresh chives

1 For the vinaigrette: Whisk all the ingredients together in a medium bowl until well combined, set aside. (The dressing may be refrigerated in an airtight container for 1 day; bring to room temperature and shake well before using.)
2. For the salad: Meanwhile, season the chicken with salt and pepper. Adjust an oven rack to 6 inches from the broiler element; heat the broiler. Spray the broiler pan top with vegetable cooking spray; place the chicken breasts on top and broil until lightly browned, 4 to 8 minutes. Using tongs, flip the chicken over and continue to broil until the thickest part is no longer pink when cut into and registers about 160 degrees on an instant-read thermometer, 6 to 8 minutes. When cool enough to handle, cut the chicken into 1/2-inch cube and set aside.
3. To finish the salad: Toss the romaine and watercress with 5 tablespoons of the vinaigrette in a large bowl until coated; arrange on a very large, flat serving platter. Place the chicken in the now-empty bowl, add 1/4 cup of the vinaigrette and toss to coat; arrange in a row along one edge of the greens. Place the tomatoes in the now-empty bowl, add 1 tablespoon of the vinaigrette, and toss gently to combine; arrange on the opposite edge of the greens. Arrange the reserved eggs and avocados in separate rows near the center of the greens and drizzle with the remaining vinaigrette. Sprinkle the bacon, cheese, and chives evenly over the salad and serve immediately.


Slowly (but surely) getting to WOW

Posted in community, technology at 11:23 pm by wingerz


I’ve always had a lot of respect for teachers, but the last three weeks have boosted that respect to stratospheric heights. We’ve done the first three lessons of our Citizen Schools Scheme curriculum, covering numbers, strings, graphics, and booleans. The students on the whole are very bright and eager to learn, but challenges are posed by the non-ideal classroom setup (it’s the school’s “library”/computer lab), frequently disruptive students (hitting each other and calling each other names), and a challenging curriculum full of abstract concepts.

We try to address challenges from week to week. For example, our seating strategy has changed (and hopefully improved). During week 1, we left the chairs more or less as they were in the room, so of course students came in and sat as far apart as possible from each other. Before week 2 started, we laid out the chairs beforehand, two chairs to a computer for partner work, but we made the mistake of letting students choose their seats and partners (leading to a lot of “Well I don’t want to work with X!”). Today we put students’ notebooks where we wanted them to sit but created a bad pairing, leading to day-long trouble. Now we’ve figured out a few rules about how to best arrange the students to maximize cooperation and learning while minimizing disruptions and are eager to try them in Week 4.

Behavior problems aside, it’s hard to keep students engaged, especially when it isn’t clear how (+ 1 2) is related to the video games they play at home. In trying to make the link between simple code and games more tangible, today’s lesson included a screenshot from StarFox to introduce simple graphics and a monster from Doom 2 to introduce booleans. After all, who cares about booleans – unless they’re the only thing saving you from this wretched beast. The images definitely captured everyone’s attention, so it’s something that we’ll be including with every lesson. I was surprised that one of the students recognized both games since they were way before his time.

While it has been frustrating at times, we’re always eager to get back into the classroom to try out new techniques.The Citizen Schools staff (including Emmanuel, who co-taught with me while Lee was away this week) have been amazing, spending a lot of time exchanging ideas over the phone and in emails. We’ve learned to roll with the punches and have been embracing both the successes and failures (opportunities) in the classroom.

And to think, we have it so easy compared to full-time teachers – we only teach 90 minutes a week from a great curriculum prepared by someone else and an in-class Team Leader to help with discipline.


Flowers at Whole Foods

Posted in photos at 8:55 pm by wingerz


Whole Foods is a pretty amazing grocery store. Their food is expensive, but just about everything in the store looks fresh and well-arranged. A few weeks ago I found myself there with my camera. I snapped a few pictures before I was told to ask the manager for permission. I sheepishly went about my shopping.

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