isn't quite ashamed enough to present

jr conlin's ink stained banana

:: Meat Burger

There's a restaurant called "Umami Burger" that bills itself as having crafted the ultimate umami flavor, delivered in hamburger form. i kinda held off going there for a while, not because i don't appreciate the fine umami flavor, but mostly because it was sorta trendy and i'm not a fan of that. Time passes, as do crowds, and finally we decided to visit (this may have been spurred on by Anne Marie's hangover, but that's a different story).

Suffice to say, i wasn't really impressed. It was a pretty good burger, presented stylishly and i will take away one good idea. Still, i'm a fan of my own.

First off, what the heck is "Umami"? In short, it's what makes meat taste good. It's also found in things like soy, tuna, Parmesan cheese, mushrooms, and a few other sources. It's hard to define, much like trying to explain what "sweet" or "salty" tastes like, other than your tongue is hardwired to taste it, and some are more wired than others. (i'm one of those types.) Umami can be brought out generally by dry cooking methods that also reduce the fat content. Generally, the leaner something is, the more Umami it has. This kinda goes against a large portion of humanity which wants butter and fat, but hey, they can have their addiction if they'll let me have mine.

Reasonably long time readers probably know my recipe. i've actually tweaked it a tad over the years, so here's a much more detailed take:

JR's Burger (Kyūkyoku no umami style)


(makes 4 burgers)

  • 1 lb(.5kg) 80+/20- course ground chuck
    You want a grind where you can distinguish bits of meat. Honestly the courser the better. You can also use leaner 90/10, but you'll definitely need to blend in mushrooms.
  • 1/4 lb(.1kg) brown crimini mushrooms (4 large or 6 small)
    These are the baby versions of portobellos. While it's possible to use whites, you won't get quite the same hit. You can also use something fancier, but you're putting it on a burger so you're kinda wasting the taste of the mushroom. Crimini are a good balance between flavor and not going broke.
  • 1 yellow onion
    i find that yellows have more sugar in them when they cook down. Look for one about the size of a baseball. You won't need a ton of onion here, and are using it mostly to flavor the mushrooms (although they go very, very well with the finished burger)
  • soy sauce
    Yeah, don't use Kikoman here, unless it's all you can find. i prefer going to the Asian markets and trying various types and have found a few that are fantastic. You want to look at the ingredients and go more for the ones that don't have wheat in them. If you can find one that's also flavored with mushrooms, get that.
  • tumeric (optional)
    You'll only need a pinch for this. Tumeric can be a very powerful flavor, and can taste "chalky" if you add too much, in smaller portions, though, it's pure umami.
  • sourdough rolls
    Feel free to use rye if that's better, or pumpernickle if you can find it, or really anything other than a sweet, potato roll. (Really, you're building something to hit the umami button, why are you trying to dilute it?)


Now that you've got your ingredients, start by getting a large bowl and washing your hands. You're going to be getting wrist deep in beef, no reason to bring anything unsavory to the party. Now take the ground beef out of the fridge and putting it on the counter (wrapped).

You want it to warm up.

No, it's not going to suddenly go bad if it reaches 50°F (10°C). (i mean, it would if you left it there over a warm summer night, but you'll get to it in an hour or so. For now, just let it loosen up.)

Right, so where were we? Oh, right… slice up your onion, then brown it in a skillet over low to medium heat. i'd recommend sauteing them in olive oil, until they are light brown and practically falling apart. This Will Take Time! Do Not Rush Things! Feel free to use the time to wash and slice the Mushrooms.

Once the mushrooms are done, put them in a small bowl and cover with foil so they stay warm.

In the same pan, add the mushrooms and saute them over the same low to mid-heat. You should cover them at first, and listen to when the sizzle becomes less pronounced. Lift the lid and see how much liquid they produced. Feel free to deglaze the pan using that liquid if you like. In any case, you're looking to give the mushrooms a golden brown sides to them.

Once they're done, set them into their own bowl as well. Fire the grill up and now you can turn to the meat.

Mix in the soy (start with 1tsp, adjust later if desired) and optional tumeric (1/4 tsp at most), and mushrooms. You can layer the mushrooms on top later if you'd prefer, but i like them in the meat instead of squirting out of the bun. Mix well, then form into equally sized balls. Flatten into patties (with the center thinner than the edges).

Once the grill hits about 350°F (175°C), cook the burgers. (5 minutes, turn, 5 minutes, flip, 5 minutes turn, 5 minutes serve) i'm also a fan of using a cast iron fajita pan to griddle the burgers. Note that no oil, butter or other bits of grease are required (although if you're using a brand new grill, you may want to add a bit of spray cooking oil).

i serve on lightly toasted rolls with dill pickle and topped with some of the cooked onions and brown mustard. Your tastes are different, so feel free to use whatever, but i will not look kindly upon your use of ketchup.

i'll also note that there's a lot of room for experimentation here. That's a good thing. Make yours better.

And with that, i've just saved you $40 (191,534 Dogecoin).

You're welcome.

:: Latest Trip Learnings

i've learned a few things from the latest trip:

  1. If i'm not 100% positive i'll need the laptop, don't bring it. Just bring the 7" tablet and phone and you'll do just fine.
  2. When most relatives are asking for "A Beer", they want lightly carbonated, slightly alcoholic seltzer water.
  3. While the fancy work bag looks nice and is nice for the daily commute, get a bag that can also hold a sandwich when traveling.
  4. GSM is FAR more battery friendly than CDMA.
  5. A pair of high quality earbuds on a plane are things of wonder and delight.
  6. 6-10 year olds are like non-routable continuous connection protocols. They will find one thing and flock to it en mass regardless of however many other things are present. This includes machines, uncles, balls, etc.
  7. While most modern rentals have USB ports and AUX plugs (finally), none will have a spot you can stuff a phone without it sliding all over the dash. Get a jelly pad, stuff it in a zip-lock bag and swear about all the weird curves car makers insist dashboards be nowadays. (NOTE: DO NOT LEAVE THIS COOK INTO DASH ON HOT DAYS.)
  8. Just buy toiletries when you get there.
  9. Tie your shoes with a TSA Hitch, and you'll get through show time with the least amount of swearing.

:: Easy Enough for a Senator to Use

i was wrong. i'll admit it. In the past, in order to illustrate the need to make something simpler or more "friendly", i would occasionally use the "Is it easy enough for my Mom to use?" argument. It's a familiar trope that many folks with family members who struggle to keep up with technology can readily identify with. My Mom is a very talented negotiator and manager, but is not a fan of Apple's constant need to "improve" things without giving her any idea what those "improvements" are.

And that's why i'm sorry for using the Mom trope. See, as occasionally frustrated with technology as my Mom is, she uses it. She is, in spite of her protests, actually capable of leaning and understanding technology sufficiently to use it as an effective appliance. She can exchange email with her grandkids, navigate her HMO and other tasks. More importantly, if she makes a mistake, she understands that she can either fix it or ask for help from someone who has more knowledge.

No, the "Is it easy enough for Mom?" is no longer a good metaphor. i'm going to go with a far better one. "Could my Senator understand this?"

You see, my Mom understands that computers are part of the modern technical communications system and is taking an active role in understanding them. She takes the time to experiment, ask questions and learn. This is something that our elected representatives don't seem to have any desire in doing. i'm not talking about writing code, (although i laughed pretty hard at the "Hour of Code" initiative. Hack days are pretty intense, and at least they have 24 hours. One hour and i could probably teach you if statements and a few kinds of loops. How's about you learn modern democratic processes in an hour?)

No, we need to revamp our terms to focus on the lowest, least willing participants in the technological architecture, the folks making rules about how tech should work and be used. The folks that assume their phones are magic and can do things like "block porn" or "only allow permissible use of content".

If we can make something easy enough for Congress to understand, use and value, then we've got something.

And at that point, Mom will probably complain about it being dumbed down.

:: /dev/LEGO

People love LEGO. It's fun, simple to use and fairly intuitive to build some amazing things with it. After all, Google used it to build servers, and i heard that they built a house with it, so it's got to be fantastic to build cars or airplanes out of it, right?

Well, no. No it's not.

Turns out that LEGO does have some rather significant issues once you start really going up in scale and complexity. You see, PVC plastic is not really that good at containing high pressure, high temperature reactions or maintaining structural integrity across the friction joins.

So, that kinda brings us to Node. Don't get me wrong. Node is a fun system to work in, and folks can build some fairly impressive things with it, but i can easily predict that building an operating system out of Node will pretty quickly end in tears.

Heck, building an operating system out of nearly any single language is damn hard; C being about the only one and even there, a fair bit of code skirts awfully close to assembly. Go dig into a device driver or two and you'll see what i mean.

i'll even note that Node isn't written completely in Node, and that the underpinnings are more a mix of C and C++ than Javascript.

But i suppose this gets back into the whole "What is an Operating System?" discussion again. i tend to take a fairly large view of an Operating System. i believe includes everything that makes a computer able to run, From the device drivers (which provide standardized calls that allow interaction and control of things like memory, keyboards, disk drives, et al) to the Kernel (which provides communication and management for device drivers, multitask management and monitoring), and i'll even go so far as to include a shell app (which provides a means for users to direct the Operating System to conduct tasks). Even with those broad catagories, i'm damn sure i've missed some elements (e.g. signalling and common error logging). It's possible to create a toy operating system that does much of this, but it's going to be just that, a toy.

i've got a RaspberryPI happily humming along on my network. It's more powerful than the first few computers i bought, but i'm not going to be doing media rendering on it. (Frankly, compiling vim on it was pushing the CPU a lot harder than i thought it would.) i've got other, better tools for the job.

And that's kind my point. When you find something that's fun, it's very seductive to keep wanting to use it. Why not? It makes you happy, after all. The important thing to remember, though, is to always take a step back and consider if it's actually appropriate. Hammers are fun tools as well, but really shouldn't be used for brain surgery.

That said, i don't see why you couldn't build a shell app using Node (or some other JS library) that calls into the actual operating system and remotely calls apps. i wouldn't want to do the security review for that, but that's just me getting ahead of myself.

Then, maybe work on things like multi-thread support and isolated memory support.

:: Measure Twice, Code Once

Occasionally, i'll see things i sort of disagree with. It's a familiar enough experience that you might have also seen such things.

Blinding flash of insights aside, there's a general philosophy among my peers in the tech community that it's important to rush out and prototype ideas early, so that they can be rapidly iterated upon and a great application rolled out. That's absolutely fine, provided there's one thing that's well known: You know what the hell you're building.

i mean, sure, if you're building a calculator or a photo editor, it's pretty simple to figure out what you're going to need at a basic level, then iterate and improve to get something that works well enough. There's a clear endpoint, even if it's only implied by your "SpiffyPhotos" app name.

If you're building a service, however, that may not quite be the same thing. Take, for instance, the idea of "Notifications". Sure, you might have an idea of what those are, but is it the same idea that other folks on the team might have? You might mean messages delivered to an end user, but how soon? What format? Is there an archiving or offline feature? How would discovery and association be done? Would this replace existing systems or supplement them? What sort of security issues would need to be addressed? And those are only the start of the questions, there's also the "who's going to pay for this?" and "How will this system be upgraded after it's deployed?" type questions that hang out there.

Yeah, a service isn't quite the same as a program, and there are a lot of things that it's far too easy to wave your hands at.

That's not to say that once you have the idea of what you're building, you shouldn't do the same rapid prototype, iterate, and improve model that's popular with kids these days. Just that it's far more important to actually understand what the hell you're building.

Personally, i kinda blame word problems for this. See, word problems, the bane of most kids math experience, often phrase problems in crappy ways. "If Bobby has two apples per hectare, and Jimmy has three apples per acre, what is the mean of their production over a ten year cycle?" or some crap. Those tend to be frustrating because you're spending an inordinate amount of time trying to decipher the variables rather than solve a problem. Real problems usually have far simpler descriptions: "Jimmy needs to build a bridge across a 10' wide chasm. The bridge must be able to support a load of up to 12 tons, and access to the heavily forested area is limited."

Same's true with a lot of other problems. Including the one at hand.

i think that folks need to be taught how to solve problems better. They need to understand how to look back, scale what the actual issues are, determine the variables, ask the right questions, and determine which are the better courses of action to take. (Note the plural, because as anyone who's dealt with problems will tell you, always have a backup plan.) This is remarkably hard and even some of the best, brightest programmers will tell you that they suck at it. (i'm hardly best or brightest, so i know full well i suck at it.)

In the case of "Notifications", what is really needed? Do you need to have something shove itself in front of the user, or do you just need a way to remotely wake an app so it can do what it needs to? Does the world need another chat app with yet more segmentation of a users association lists, or is there some other approach that might be more useful? i'll note that Flickr came about because the company that created it wanted an easy way to share photos inside of the game they were building.

Heck, are you teaching people to code just so that they understand javascript or python or are you teaching them how to analyze data and reduce large problems into easily managed tasks? Either approach is fine, but i'd bet you'd be hard pressed to do both well in a reasonable amount of time.

In programming, there's a joke that trying to program is like teaching kids how to tie their shoes, only the first question you ask is: Do you have feet?

Sadly, i think there are a bunch of folks who are confused why their brand new virtual Keds aren't quite fitting onto their metaphorical tires quite right.

Blogs of note
personal Christopher Conlin USMC memoirs of hydrogen guy Henriette's Herbal Blog
geek ultramookie

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