Saturday, September 29, 2007

Review: Meadow Village Restaurant, Meadow, NC

The Meadow Village Restaurant in Meadow, NC near Benson, NC has very good food. It has normal people working there who seem friendly. It has old folks eating who remind me of my Mom's mom.

It's very close to the intersection of I-40 and I-95, in North Carolina. Take I-40 east from I-95 to the "Meadow" exit; turn right, then drive about half a mile, then it's at the intersection on your left across from the Volunteer Fire Department.

Layer Cake This is a southern-food buffet, meaning they always have fried chicken and seasoned vegetables. They always have cornbread and hushpuppies. And they always have dessert -- genuine layer cakes, chocolate meringue pies with meringue two inches tall. They don't cut tiny slices of dessert for you, either -- you're treated like an adult, and expected to cut a slice that's the right size for you. Or maybe two slices.

Buffet Bars at the Meadow Restaurant There are five buffet bars; one has salad, one has vegetables, one has meats, one has ice cream (at our last visit), and one has desserts. The vegetables are well seasoned (not just dumped from a can). We last went on a Friday night, and thus got lots of access to fried fish, shrimp, and stuffed crab.

With tax, the dinner (i.e., meaning supper) buffet is $9.50. Expect to wait in line to get in on Sunday after church.


Dessert Buffet Fish and Corn Logs Dessert Buffet Fish on Buffet Fried Chicken and Boiled Shrimp Fatback, barbecue, and sausage Cole Slaw, Potato Salad, and Stewed Apples

Review of the Brenthaven Pro 15/17 Backpack

In 1999 or so, I bought a Brenthaven Executive backpack for my IBM ThinkPad 390x. At the time, a laptop with a 15" display was huge! 15" is still the same size, but they've increased hugeness. Currently, my laptop is a MacBook Pro 17 -- significantly longer than the ThinkPad 390x. I could still fit the MBPro 17 in the old Brenthaven bag, but to do so I had to remove the internal laptop sleeve, reducing the protection for the laptop.

After spotting a dent in my Macbook Pro, I decided to give in and get a new bag.

Every Ounce Counts (but Lacking Stuff is Tough)

I travel a reasonable amount for my job -- once or twice a month. And I tend to travel pretty heavy. I typically have the following items in my backpack on work trips:

Laptop, extra laptop battery, Laptop AC power supply, Laptop AC power supply extension cable, Office-supply pouch (stapler, stables, scotch tape, name tags, paper clips, pens, pencils, sharpie marker, post-it notes), Medicine pouch (band-aids, tylenol, wet-ones, kleenex tissues, etc.), SD-USB adapter, Voice recorder, Digital Camera, Spare digital camera battery, Digital camera battery charger, Gorillapod, Keyspan DB9/RS232-USB adapter, Cisco DB9/RJ45 console adapter, Cisco flat rollover cable, USB cable, USB-Treo sync/charger cable, USB flash storage key (4GB), Bluetooth headset, Extra AAA Batteries, Sony Noise-Cancelling Headphones, USB-EVDO modem for Sprint-Nextel, USB-Ethernet adapter (sometimes one wired Ethernet interface just isn't enough), Composition book (my work notebook), Spare tee shirt, shorts, and socks (in case I'm stuck overnight without my checked baggage), and a magazine or book.

Why give this list? Well, for one thing, it's fun to inventory my bag. But also, I need to convey an idea of what I carry, so you can have perspective for what it means when I say that these things fit.

My old bag

My point of reference is the Brenthaven Executive Computer Backpack that I bought in 1999 or 2000. Brenthaven has introduced a newer model since mine. It's still in great shape after 7 years of use, including two jobs and grad school. At first, I had trouble with this older bag, because it wasn't clear where to put books. The obvious place just couldn't hold many. But with some experimentation, I found that the unlikely place -- an apparently-smaller pouch -- could hold numerous large books.

Less carrying space

These things fit in the backpack, though it's tighter than in the old 1999-era Executive backpack. In my old backpack, I could carry all this, plus a copy of the 1,616-page doorstopper, The TCP/IP Guide with no problems. But in the new bag, I'd have trouble zipping the zipper with all these things.

Thinner

This new bag is thinner -- meaning that it protrudes off my back less. This seems good; my old bag was rotund, even if I didn't have it very full.

Wider

Probably to accommodate the larger laptop, the new backpack is wider. One amazon.com reviewer said that it's like carrying a small suitcase on your back. I've never seen a suitcase that small, but it is a relatively wide backpack.

No waist strap

My old bag had a waist strap; it is a 2"-wide nylon strap with a large buckle that went around your waist like a belt. It helps distribute the load, and was excellent when running to chase the 7pm J-bus leaving campus. This new bag lacks the waist strap, though a removable chest strap is provided. To be honest, I only rarely used the waist strap; most of the time, I had to wrap it around backwards and clip it around the bag, just to have a place to keep it.

Good features in common

This new bag still has excellent wide shoulder straps that seem sturdy and have lots of padding. There's a key hook, and a place for pencils.

There's still an interior pocket with a clear plastic front, which I use for my business cards.

Nice new features

As shown in the photos, the interior nylon fabric is grey; this helps finding items inside the bag by brightening it up.

There are two small exterior pockets with zippers; one is good for the A/C adapter and cords.

There are several nice interior pouchesa and pockets; most of them are mesh bags with elastic straps on top. Others have nylon covers. One has a heavy padded nylon cover, which may be useful for iPods or other items with a fragile case.

My modular packing

Perhaps it's because I'm in networking where encapsulation within encapsulation is normal, but I'm not using the new bag exactly as intended. Many of my items are very small -- for example, the USB flash drive, and the bluetooth headset. I could find pouches and pockets for each of these items in the backpack, but then I'd have to memorize their locations or hunt through the pockets to find an item.

In addition, sometimes I want to lighten the bag by removing cables during the flight, or removing the gadgets I'm not using. It's nice to just pull out most of the stuff I'm not using for the next day and put it in my checked bag.

So to make things easier to find, I organize most of my stuff into several pencil pouches:

  • Green pouch -- office supplies
  • Red pouch -- electronics (any gadget that takes power or has a transistor)
  • Blue pouch with clear cover -- cables
  • Blue folding Nike pouch -- first aid


Then I just put the pouches into the backpack. The problem is that my pouches are bigger than the pockets, so they live in the larger zippered areas.

Brenthaven Pro 15/17 Backpack 12 Brenthaven Pro 15/17 Backpack 7 Brenthaven Pro 15/17 Backpack 10 Brenthaven Pro 15/17 Backpack 6 Brenthaven Pro 15/17 Backpack 3 Brenthaven Pro 15/17 Backpack 5 Brenthaven Pro 15/17 Backpack 13 Brenthaven Pro 15/17 Backpack 4 Brenthaven Pro 15/17 Backpack 2 Brenthaven Pro 15/17 Backpack 8 Brenthaven Pro 15/17 Backpack 11 Brenthaven Pro 15/17 Backpack 9 Brenthaven Pro 15/17 Backpack 1

Monday, September 03, 2007

What are "Hacks" or "Kludges", and why do we hate them so much?

That's just a kludge! I learned this element of design aesthetic when I was in college from my friend Chris, Dr. Boyd, and others. We applied the term kludge or hack to a system component or design decision that would fix a specific, local problem at the cost of a more general, "elegant" solution. A hack makes the system work, but it ain't pretty.

The Wikipedia article on Kludge, as of the date of this writing, seems pretty good.

Nevertheless, users of the system are often pleased as punch when the hack is implemented, because it makes the system do what they actually wanted it to do.

But why do we hate kludges so much? A kludge doesn't solve the general problem; or, as the wikipedia author put it, "the corner cases...not expected to come up in typical usage". As such, there's a supposed "general problem" that we want to solve, but this kludge only solves a part of it -- and possibly an important part of it. In this case, is a kludge really that bad? Or are we just less satisfied because the kludge doesn't solve "the whole problem", and the problem-solving designer in us wants to provide the complete solution, not just a partial solution.

Perhaps I've spent too much time around telecommunications, where the best solution achievable via Electrical Engineering appears kludgy to an ivory-tower-ensconced Computer Scientist like myself. I get the feeling from some telecom systems that there's too much satisfaction with kludges. For example, there's the software-based telephone switch that can only only do SS7 signaling on the T1 plugged into port 1 on a particular card. What's wrong with the other ports? Shouldn't any port that can carry synchronous data at 56kbps or better be able to terminate an SS7 link? And there's Java-on-Linux VoIP call-control server that does database synchronization, but periodically the databases get out of sync, and you have to dump the replica and rebuild it from the primary -- and that's considered normal. Why aren't these databases perfectly in sync all the time?

Or maybe I've gotten too comfortable with the we-weren't-hired-to-solve-that-part-of-the-problem approach required by consulting/contracting, as in my current situation. We're only usually asked to solve a problem, even using software, in a limited case -- specific to what the customer wants today. We're not asked to solve all such possible problems that are easily envisioned.

I've chosen not to crusade against these cases, or let them torture me. I think I'm getting OK with kludges of this sort; solving the actual problem would take far too long, and be far too expensive.

Am I wrong, though? The practice of design is about matching a solution to its environment -- it's about making something that fits. If a kludgy, partial design fits, then is that bad?