ah, the future in-laws

I’ve been thinking a bit about how I interact with my future in-laws. The relationship is generally good, but it does have its rough spots.

Before I continue further, I suppose I should provide the latest update regarding cousin A., the twelve year old junior bridesmaid in our wedding. A.’s mother K. wrote to say that A. has found some shoes to wear with her strapless dress… shoes with three inch heels. So, let us recap… we have a 12 year old who is not horribly used to wearing heels or full length strapless dresses wearing both who must traverse a very long marble church aisle and steps into the altar sanctuary while holding a bouquet. K’s comment about A.’s shoes: “they were what A. wanted”. Believe me, those were so very much not the words to say.

At least Fiancee S. and I are feeling some comfort because my parents immediately grasped why we might not like A.’s choices of attire for our wedding.

All that aside, I was made aware of another small wrinkle concerning my relationship with my future in-laws at the bridal shower about 10 days ago. K. passed me a message from her mother, B. — who is also Fiancee S.’s godmother. Evidently, B. doesn’t feel that I am somehow warm and welcoming enough to her (or something) and its making her uncomfortable. K. therefore asked me to make sure to be especially nice to B. while I visited at the bridal shower in order to promote peace and harmony in the family.

I won’t say that I’ve been deliberately stand-offish to B., and this request caught me by surprise. I think I have been a little reserved though. Two reasons come to mind when I think about why. First off, B. has been known to drive Fiancee S. more than a little crazy at times. It’s a basically loving, family kind of crazy… but I hesitate to seek the full embrace of someone who drives someone I love up the wall at times.

On another level, my immediate family doesn’t act like Fiancee S.’s family in a lot of ways. I suppose it stems from the fact that neither of my parents live in their home town and both their families live far away (one state away in the case of my Mom, several in the case of my Dad.) A lot of Fiancee S.’s family grew up here and live here, with all the familiarity and baggage that it can entail. So, Fiancee S.’s family often don’t hesitate to give their $0.02 about each other’s lives… and are clannish in a way that my family is not (at least most of the time…)

I’ve also been on my own for most of the last thirteen years. I’m just not used to having hordes of family around everywhere. Fiancee S.’s family therefore can be a little intimidating, I will admit.

I remember wondering to my Mom if I should ask my Dad about what it’s like to fit in with your wife’s family. She responded that she thought that my Dad never did completely fit in with them… That conversation has come more to mind again recently, and I understand more than ever what she meant. I’m marrying into their family, but, that doesn’t mean that they will ever completely be my family.

in which my phobia for weighing myself works against me…

I happened to catch VH1 All Access: Celebrity Diets last night. In it, we learn which actresses are using Atkins, or The Zone, or The South Beach Diet, or eating just raw food, or just salmon, fresh fruits and vegetables, and brown rice to maintain the svelte, fit look that Hollywood demands today. It was actually a rather interesting, balanced presentation… talking about who has lost how much weight, especially after having babies.Given that I’m trying to lose some weight myself, seeing it gave me a sense of confidence that I had a good grasp of the fundamentals of weight loss.

Fast forward to this morning. Knowing that I loaded on some pounds between November of last year and February of this year, I have been anxious about actually weighing myself. This, in spite of the fact that I’ve been going to the gym regularly during most of the last eight weeks. This morning, I overcame that fear and stepped on the scale.

The results shocked and depressed me.I weigh approximately 241 lbs…. or about 110kg… or just over 14 stone. That is the most I have ever weighed in my life.

I don’t know what to make of this information. Because of my phobia about stepping on the scale before I started back with my current fitness regimen, I don’t know if this number is better or worse than before. I also know that it’s not really the weight that is the factor, it is the percentage of my body weight that is fat. I have no idea where I am in that regard. All I do know is that the pants I’m wearing right now are little tight, and a few years ago they would have been very loose.

Yet I know that my fitness level has improved during the last few weeks. I’m using more weight when I weight train. I’m able to go longer for my cardio workouts. Hell, I can tell that my biceps are bigger than they’ve been in a while… and I’m starting to get a little definition in my triceps. I also find that I find it easier to push myself during my workouts. These are all good things.

All I ultimately want is to repeat some results I had back in 2001. In early December 2000, I weighed about 229 lbs. By April 2002, I weighed about 211 lbs. I’m using largely the same exercise and diet regimen now that I used then. It’s just that I am weigh more now… and I don’t know what all this activity has done for me. Has my weight gone up because I’ve grown more muscle? Or was I really just turning into a big, fat hippo over Christmas of last year and this is better where I started? Am I working out too much? Am I not working out enough? Should I pay more attention to my diet? I don’t know.

Well, actually I do know. I need to watch my portion sizes a little better. I need to cut down on my carbs a little bit… maybe eat more fruits and vegetables and less products containing refined sugar or starch. I need to eat more low fat foods… like lean meat and less salad dressings and fatty sauces. I definitely need to keep going to the gym and weigh myself more regularly to track how I’m doing.


Iron Chef American-style

Ok, I admit it. I’m a fan of the Japanese TV show Iron Chef. Living as I do near a metropolitan area with a large Asian population, I had the benefit of first seeing the show better part of ten years ago before it came to the Food Network on a local Asian-language TV station. I’ve always thought of it as high camp, and if I didn’t laugh at it, it was only because I perceived that there was obviously something culturally idiomatic about the presentation that was getting lost in tranlation.

My fascination with the format is easily summed up: it’s about the food. I don’t generally get to inhabit four to five star restaurants. So, the chance to see renowned professional chefs improvise cuisine on the spot based around a theme ingredient is usually rather interesting. Seeing some of the more unusual theme ingredients found in Japanese cuisine (such as, say, sea urchin roe) or the culturally different ways of using familar items (such as, say, milk or pork) was also endlessly intriguing. It was the chance to see how Asian food might be prepared without being Americanized, as well as how the Japanese look at other great international cuisines.

It was therefore with some interest and surprise that I discovered Iron Chef America: Battle of the Masters was on the Food Network over the weekend… and even more than that, it was good. A feeble attempt to translate the Iron Chef format to American television was made by UPN back in 2000 and they got it all wrong. They dumbed down the food. They hired William Shatner as the central figure of the show, called “The Chairman”. They dressed two guys in awful dull yellow jackets like it was 1975 and the viewer was was actually watching ABC’s Wide World of Sports all over again. It was awful… they took a show that was odd in a weirdly foreign way and just made it plain tacky.

The new version suffered from none of those flaws. The food was exquisite. Excellent foodie color commentary was provided by Alton Brown. The format of the show largely stuck to its Japanese roots, but also was slyly aware of some of its Japanese predecessors eccentricities. I loved it.

I suppose that the biggest surprise for me on Iron Chef America was watching celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck in action. He usually annoys me, a lot. His show on Food Network is long on chatter and celebrity name dropping and short on effort to teach cooking skills (the same could be said about Emeril, but, somehow he annoys me much less.) On Iron Chef America, he was quiet and all business… and I could finally see that, as they say, “they boy’s got skills”. He also made menu choices that blew his opponent, Masaharu Morimoto, out of the water.

Fiancee S. thinks that Iron Chef is stupid. She watched patiently with me for a while, but eventually busted out laughing. She says she’s tried to understand it, but she just doesn’t get it… and that’s ok. I’m the first to agree that Iron Chef isn’t for everyone. It’s the sort of show that you have to accept it for what it is and go to it, rather than it being accessible to everyone. That’s why it’s frequently referred to as a “cult” hit.

I think I’ll just have to make sure the VCR is set whenever future editions of Iron Chef America appear and watch them when Fiancee S. is not around or she is otherwise occupied. It’s all fine by me. It’s just another slightly guilty pleasure to add to the list.

not food for thought, food thoughts

Food is on my mind today.

I got to hear an interview this morning with Morgan Spurlock, the documentary filmaker behind the new movie Super Size Me. The premise of the film is that Mr. Spurlock would evaluate the claims by the McDonald’s Corporation that their food is healthy and nutritious by eating McDonald’s food and ONLY McDonald’s food for 30 days. Mr. Spurlock sounded like a rather humorous and upbeat individual, but, the effects of eating only fast food for 30 days on his body was rather appalling: he gained 24 lbs, his cholesterol shot up 65 points, and his doctors begged him to stop because his liver was turning into a ball of fat similar to a goose or duck being fattened up for foie gras. He also reported that he often felt hungry within 2-3 hours of eating a McDonald’s meal, which is something he hasn’t experienced when eating his regular diet, before or since.

Based on the interview, I think I’ll have to check this movie out… and thank my mother for her insistence during my childhood that we NOT eat fast food all that often.

I recently learned that an old friend, D., will be giving up her career as an administrative clerk/wage slave to attend the California Culinary Academy starting this fall to take their Cordon Bleu Hospitality & Restaurant Management Program. D. has been a serious foodie and wine fiend for a long time now, and I think moving to a good career in the food service industry is going to be a very good step for her.I hope she does very well.

On another level though, color me jealous all over. D. is going to be acquiring all sorts of formal cooking and wine tasting skills. I find myself wishing for some of those. I consider myself an interested amateur when it comes to food and wine, and that’s fine. Based all my prior education though, I understand the value of some formal training. I keep thinking that taking some cooking classes would be fun… it’s just that good ones are just so damn expensive. What with all the other expenses I’ve got coming up this year (e.g. I’m in the process of booking our honeymoon), I don’t have $300 to shell out for a cooking class.

Oh well. Hopefully, D. can be persuaded to give up some of her hard won secrets when we get the chance to hang out together again.

what a computer is made of these days

I was looking through this morning’s Wall Street Journal business section while doing my cardio workout before arriving at my desk today. In it, a technology writer was describing the new numbering scheme that Intel is using to describe their processors. He went on to discuss what the “average” consumer needs when buying a personal computer these days. The machine was configured like this:

Memory: 256MB (512MB preferred)
Display adapter memory: 32MB (64MB preferred)
Disk size: 40GB minimum (80-100GB common)
CPU: almost any new microprocessor will do (at least 1.5GHz)

I must be in the computer game for too long, because this configuration seems HUGE to my eyes. That disk drive size in particular seems enormous. I run multiple operating systems on my computer at home, and the main hard drive I use is only 20GB in size… and I only use that much because the operating systems gobble up most of that space.

Looking at my personal data needs for the last 10 years or so, I think I’ve only generated less than 2GB of e-mail, documents, and spreadsheets (including a Master’s thesis and Ph.D. dissertation.) True, I could take up 10GB of space and digitize around 200 CDs worth of music (less than half my collection) but that seems like overkill. Barring that kind of data-intensive application, I can only think that the average user could generously get by with much less than 40GB of disk.

I think the need for so much memory is the fault of Microsoft. Memory is like crack for Microsoft Windows; Windows can’t get enough of the stuff. I can’t decide if that is because of poor design or just based on the fact that Microsoft takes an “everything including the kitchen sink” approach to operating system design. I wish they would stop it, but they won’t. When the next version of Windows comes out (code-named Longhorn), the new searching and multimedia features of the operating system will bring the recommended amount of memory to 512MB.

In any case, my basic feeling is that we’ve moved beyond the “bread and butter” computing needs of a lot of the computer-buying public these days, and new technology is just providing enjoyable but not necessary improvements in speed and response time. (I do not speak of computer game players here, by the way… they now drive the market for high end personal computers. To play all the latest games well, you need the computing equivalent of a Formula One race car.) With that in mind, I have my own list of things I would like to see happen in the personal computer space:

  • Less complicated “productivity suites” — the big joke among business efficiency experts is that Microsoft Office is probably the biggest impediment to office productivity ever invented. Let’s face it: why bother working on a report when you can spend all your time making the fonts look pretty and insert clip art everywhere? Let’s not even bother to ask if home users need all those features. I want a more compact office suite that lets people handle day-to-day business (letters, memos, budget their time and money, check spelling and grammar, organize books/CDs/recipes) and skips over all the desktop publishing features that will only be needed by a tech writer at work.
  • A different design for the personal computer itself — Right now, changing hardware on a computer is akin to changing equipment on the engine of a car. To change anything, you have to be ready to pull the engine out of the car, take it apart, and then add what you want. I would much rather it be like buying stereo components — you have a stack of single function pieces of equipment. If you want to change one, you break a small number of connections, replace the unit, and redo the broken connections. In any case, there must be an easier way than the method used now.
  • Less environmental impact — I mean this in several senses. I read recently that every new computer made uses up 1.2-1.5 TONS of fossil fuels in its construction. I would like a more environmentally friendly computer to construct and dispose (you do NOT want to landfill a computer, trust me…) I would like a computer that doesn’t add $5 a month to my electric bill if I keep it on 24/7. Advances in processor speed come at the price of increased power consumption. Soon we won’t be able to buy the latest generation of computers because the utility providers won’t be able to meet the need. I also want a computer that is silent.
  • Better user interfaces for software — I think the Apple people always lead the way here, but, even they could do better. I honestly feel like a modern day mage when it comes to operating computers. It really is magic; you need to have a number of specific incantations memorized to use the damn thing. I think it’s no wonder that the cross section of people who work with computers and who also used to play Dungeons & Dragons and Magic The Gathering and who read Tolkien novels is pretty is pretty huge. If you have a jones for magic spells, a computer is an excellent way to get your fix. I read that women particularly find the interface for computers to be very “male” and “unintuitive”. I’m not positive about that, but, I work with computers enough to know that there is a certain mental stance required to interact with a computer, and it would great if the computer came more to you than you have to go to it to deal with it.

I wish I could say that all of this was going to happen tomorrow, but it won’t. There are good business and/or technical reasons why it can’t happen right away. In any case, it’s something to shoot for.

two hundred entries later

This missive places the number of entries in my diary at an even two hundred. Since I completely missed the one year anniversary of this diary, I thought I would take this opportunity to look back at some of my earlier entries and provide some updates.

Despite advice to Britney Spears from her sexy navel, Britney seems to mostly be interested in being a dancer rather than a singer. I happened to catch part of her latest concert special on Showtime and you could tell that just about everything was lip-synced. That’s really the only big objection I have about Ms. Spears. She doesn’t respect the music enough to perform it herself live. Instead, you go for this stage extravaganza that is mostly a dance and constume change experience. I think her sexy navel would also tell her to cut down on the cigarette smoking. Perhaps the reason that she can’t dance and sing live is her lungs can’t handle it?

I’ve modified my position somewhat about where all the music has gone. I’ve decided that my original observations are still true, but, I also now realize that I’m just not taking as active interest in finding new music as I once was. Artists I like have come out with new discs in the last year, but I’ve been spending more of my disposable income on DVD’s, wine, whiskey, gourmet food, and computer parts.

Despite my early opinions, Lisa Marie Presley’s first CD wasn’t actually all bad. Music critics who seemed ready to feast on roadkill were actually generally surprised.

Some statements by my future groomsmen have laid some of my fears about a bachelor party night of strippers and mayhem to rest, but the possibility worries me.

Fiancee S. still regards my description of St. Patrick’s Day dinner with her family as classic.

Though I can report recent progress, my struggle to condition my body continues and it proving to be slow going. There is very definitely some part of me that wants to get into the best shape of my life. I just hope that my love of good food and good wine doesn’t prevent that.

Some of my stress about what I am doing at Company O. has eased off during the last year. The fact that I finally got a bonus a few months back provided some much needed feedback that my work there is valued. The work itself also became more interesting during the last year. I still need to develop additional skills though.

Gigli did suck, pretty much as I and many others predicted. Personally, I’m glad that I don’t see J Lo on the screen every time I turn on the TV.

Easter Sunday dinner this year involved a number of jokes about how it would probably be a much less stressful day for me, seeing as how I wasn’t going to be asking my future father-in-law for a ring and all.

I am dismayed that despite a lukewarm economy at home and a rather chaotic situation in Iraq, the American public seems to still have faith in the vision for the world put forward by the fat, lazy bastards in office, drunk on power.

Living together with Fiancee S. has worked out well. It seems that we’re still fighting a guerilla war with boxes though. The current offenders: bridal shower gifts.

My mother’s health is good, nearly a year after kidney surgery.

As norther California is an important center of development and growth in my chosen profession, I have still been keeping an eye on political happenings there. Though Arnold “the Governator” Scharzenegger showed some early interest in innovation, he’s lately taken letting state services whither away due to financial neglect. It’s gotten so bad that San Francisco State University threatened to close down their entire School of Engineering. I still wonder if Anna Kournekova wouldn’t have made just as good a governor.

Newlyweds: Nick and Jessica has turned out to be a hit. I guess I wouldn’t make a very good director of programming for television.

I was pleased to learn that the Supreme Court agreed with me that “soft” political contributions are bad. This, of course, has stopped no one from raising hugely exorbitant sums to be elected.

Fiancee S. showed her friend I. my entry about beautiful weddings. I. now wants to say something to everyone at our wedding rehearsal.

My return to dental sanity was shaken recently when Dentist 2.0 announced that he was moving to Minnesota so his wife can be closer to her family. He has found Dentist 2.1 to take over his practice, but, I still had worries about shifting levels of dental care from my time with Dentist 0.9a and Dentist 1.0. All is well though. I had my teeth cleaned earlier this week and got to meet Dentist 2.1. She seems cool, and, more importantly, did not look in my mouth an immediately suggest a lot of corrective work.

I happened to catch the new MTV series I Want A Famous Face that follows the lives of wanting to get plastic surgery to look more like famous people. I saw the episode featuring a young woman named Sha, who wanted to get D-cup or bigger breast implants to look more like Pamela Anderson. It underlined my observation that living on your looks is hard.

I’ve temporarily given up on doing yoga in order to concentrate on other parts of my physical conditioning regimen. I’ll get back to it though. It gives me something I need.

The situation with Corvette Guy continues to fascinate and perplex us. We’ve seen him around the building with a wife or girlfriend, but, they seem to often fight. Likewise, more than one angry cell phone call has been observed. The Corvette has also periodically reappeared, though we now note that it is covered with white primer in places. His contractor truck and the Ford Escort also make regular appearances. The Cadillac has disappered.

I lament the fact that John Kerry appears to trail George W. “Shrub” Bush in the polls for the Presidential Fall Classic. I wonder if I could move to Canada for a couple years if there is a second Bush term?

I just heard from Fiancee S.’s friend C. about yesterday’s entry. She said: Go Dr. Geek! She’s also a bridesmaid in our wedding and evidently agrees that A. has no business in a strapless dress. Go C.! For this, and many, many more reasons, you rock!

The JonBenet Ramsey School of Beauty and Charm

The last few days have been rather dull, for the most part. I enjoyed a temporary return to my Bachelor existence last week because Fiancee S. went on a much-needed vacation to Disneyland with her cousin K. and family. Feeling under the weather on Monday of last week did indeed turn into a cold for me, and one that lingered until yesterday.

Fiancee S. returned on Friday and then spent the next two days with friends. She had another bridal shower on Saturday, this time with her bridesmaids and family and friends who are about our age. She also had her bachelorette party/hen night with her bridesmaids on Saturday night. Me, I just did what perspective grooms do in this situation: I show up to say hello so anyone who hasn’t met me can meet me, leave, and then return to load gifts into the car. I used the remainder of the time to rest and recover from my cold.

The bridal shower on Saturday aggravated one of the potentially touchy political issues about our wedding, however. Cousin K’s daughter A. is a junior bridesmaid in our wedding party. I emphasize the word junior because A. is twelve years old. A. and her mother K. seem to be enjoying selective dyslexia when it comes to the term junior bridesmaid; they are leaving off the word junior.

Why does this bother us? It comes down to how Fiancee S. and I were both raised when it comes to girls, makeup, jewelry, and being twelve years old. K. is letting A. go the whole 9 yards for our wedding: full length strapless dress, high heels, professionally applied make-up, professionally created “up” hair style, professionally applied hair highlights, and large earrings that hang from her ears almost to her shoulders. In short, A. is dressing like all the other bridesmaids (even though most of them aren’t wearing strapless dresses — see below), who are almost three times her age. We think that will look tacky on a twelve year old.

This tends to irk Fiancee S. and myself for a few reasons. First, Fiancee S. and I were both brought up to think that twelve year olds do not wear full makeup; my mother only let my sister wear lipgloss or maybe a little lipstick at that age. Anything more smacks of JonBenet Ramsey and junior beauty pageants. As a practical matter, A. has also not yet developed to the point that she can fill the bust of a strapless dress. Fiancee S. dreads the idea that A. will be sitting in the choir stalls in the Sanctuary of a Catholic Church during our Nuptial Mass tugging at the top of her dress because she lacks the curves to hold it up. Finally, there are courtesies involved. Fiancee S. has gone to great effort to NOT be Bridezilla about our wedding. Bridesmaids are being allowed a variety of dress styles to choose from in periwinkle blue (thank you David’s Bridal) based on what they like and makes them look the best. In return for not forcing everyone to wear the same sea foam green or Pepto Bismol pink taffeta dress (as some brides have done in the past), Fiancee S. would at least like to have some part in the final approval process. So far, A.’s appearance and attire on the day has been all about A., and, K. only seems interested in catering to A.’s every whim despite any hints we’ve given about our disapproval.

I appreciate where A. is coming from. Just by looking at her you can tell that she wants to be thought of as “older”. She refers to herself as “twelve and a half” rather than “twelve”, and A. and K. both say that A. “will almost be thirteen at the time of the wedding.” When I saw her at the bridal shower on Saturday, I almost didn’t recognize her at first because she’s wearing her hair down and affecting shoes with an inch heel — making her taller in photos of the day than nearly all of the other bridesmaids.

Does anyone else see why this might be a little bit of a problem for us? Does this not smack of the JonBenet Ramsey School of Beauty and Charm? Or have we just become old grumps in our 30’s in this age of Christina Aguilera, Pink, and Britney Spears? Is being twelve years old these days just about trying to flaunt your budding sexuality like all the older girls?

In any case, this issue has agitated Fiancee S. and she has gotten me agitated by it in turn. I offered to “fall on my sword” and play the bad cop on this one by writing K. to more or less say “I am very concerned about how your daughter is presuming to dress and appear in our wedding… I feel that certain proprieties must be maintained for a 12 year old junior bridesmaid… I also feel that the wishes and tastes of the bride and groom have not been sufficiently consulted on a day which is ultimately ours, not hers.”

Alas, while saying that might express the truth for us, it can do absolutely no good for anyone. It would be an opening skirmish in a family conflict that could rage for years to come. I try to live by the maxim “don’t make war”. As with so many other things about our wedding, it is a day for others just as much about us — and we must keep the peace by keeping our mouths shut.

We only have one comforting thought. If, by chance, we one day have a daughter who will be a junior bridesmaid in A.’s wedding and who wants to wear something over the disapproval of the bride, who will we be to say no to our daughter? Especially since that will be the only day she gets to wear a strapless dress before she’s at least 16.