Since reading Omnivore's Dilemma this fall, I've been more tuned in to the "local food" scene. I'm fortunate to live in a place where not only is that possible most of the year, but lots of other people are interested in it too.

Thus: Austin Eat Local Week. They've got a bevy of local joints participating, a local farms Bike Tour (that I'm actually missing right now, sadly) and several other events throughout the week.

JAM and I started off the week right with a basket from Farmhouse Delivery (sadly, without any bread from {name of amazing secret bread lady withheld})[1]. The produce was great:

Beets, Scallions, Peppers

Beet It

About To Become Soup

You Say Tomato

We hastily converted much of it to calories in the form of dinner, including the giant mutant radishes:

Crazy Radishes

It does not escape me that this bounty comes to us in freaking December. But as if to prove that, even here, we are not exempt from the seasons, we actually got freezing temperatures and a frost last night:


This morning, the dawg and I hit Boggy Creek Farm (about 6 minutes drive from our house) and collected some eggs, sweet potatoes, and other goodies. Boggy creek is beautiful, and especially nice to visit during a week when everyone has the local food chain on their minds.

Turnips ... ?

Boggy Creek Sweet Potatoes

Red Tractor

Hope we can make it to several other Austin farms and restaurants this week to enjoy the bounty of locally grown food.

By the way - all the proceeds from Eat Local Week events go to support Urban Roots, a non-profit that my friend Mike runs. They take inner city kids and put them on farms, where they are immediately eaten by wild boars, or something. Seriously, they're a totally awesome cause, so check them out as well.

Now then. Anyone have any idea how I can get local Pop Tarts?

[1] - The bread from the amazing secret bread lady is so amazing that I can't tell you about because if anyone else finds out how awesome it is, we'll never be able to get any. But you can find her goods at Dai Due and East Side Showroom.


Happy Birthday, House

It's the 1-year anniversary of moving into our new home at the Mueller redevelopment. It's been a wild year, and doesn't seem like that much time has passed. I love living here - the people are extraordinarily friendly, we love our house, and I spend time running the trails almost every day. Here are some pictures I took on my run this morning:

Lake Park

On Simond Avenue

Flowers In The Park

Lake Park Steps

Mueller Hangar

Running Trail

Sculpture Garden

The Two Towers

Flight Control

Just 29 more years until we pay it off! Hm.

More photos here.


Garbage Out

As further evidence of my late onset OCD (see Bubble Timing), I've recently picked up a new obsession: tracking nutrition. (At this point, anyone who knows me is probably assuming this blog has been hijacked.)

It started with a general feeling of out-of-shapeness. The long hours of graduate school (plus working full time, touring, etc ...) had taken their toll on my health, and I was looking a bit, er, round in the middle. I do exercise (I run regularly) but it wasn't noticeable. For a tall skinny kid who used to down entire pies without a blip on the scale, my early-30s were a shock of actually being, you know, human.

That's when I picked up a book called The End Of Overeating:

Written by David Kessler (former FDA commissioner), it explains why we learn, over a lifetime, to compulsively eat larger amounts of fat, sugar and salt than we need (hint: it's partly our biology, and partly "the man"). Long and short of it is, while we are conditioned to "hyper eat" as he calls it, you can do something about it.

About the same time, I found an iPhone app (with an associated web site) from Livestrong.com (Austin biking champ Lance Armstrong's company) called the Daily Plate. The idea is simple: you enter what foods you eat, and it automatically tracks the nutrition info: calories, fat, protein, carbs, vitamins, etc. They have a huge database of commercial and generic foods, so almost anything you might eat is already in there (and it's wiki-like enough that you can edit or add your own foods, too). It shows running totals and compares it to your goal:

This thought--that you could actually quantify the amount of energy you're taking in, versus what you're expending--was totally revelatory. My database-addled brain said, "I know how to do this."

So I started counting calories. My first revelation--I was on tour at the time--was that I was regularly eating upwards of 3500 calories a day. (The suggested diet for adults is between 2000 and 2500.) I also started to realize that I could actually predict my cravings and moods based on what I'd eaten in the previous 24 hours; for example, if I go without eating all day until dinner time, I desperately want to eat something fried and covered with cheese ("fat on salt on sugar on fat", as Kessler calls it).

So I changed how I eat. It was rough at first[1], but I'm actually really enjoying it now--I monitor and record everything I eat, and shoot for 1500 - 2000 calories a day. Drinking turns out to be the strongest predictor of going over my calorie limits (duh!) but now that I know that, I can at least plan for it a little better. In the month that I've been doing it, I've lost almost 15 pounds:

Next up: getting a body bugg! (Or a sub-dermal implant, whichever is cheaper.)

[1] - At one point, a band mate threatened to take away the solitary cheese stick I was allowing myself as a snack, and I almost cried. (I felt better after listening to some Indigo Girls and reading the Nanny Diaries.)


Damn It Feels Good To Be A Master

So, my 2-year long odyssey into the wilds of higher education has now come to an end. Behold!

You may now refer to me as "Master Varley", "Ian Varley, MSE", or just "Master" if you're tight on time. I graduated at the top of my class (or at least, I got a 4.0 average, which I don't think anybody else surpassed.)

My masters' thesis* was called "No Relation: The Mixed Blessings of Non-Relational Databases". Should you have a burning desire to ruin your day and a few hours to spare, you can read it here.

Next up: learning to play pedal steel guitar. Anybody got one I can borrow? I've been told it takes about 4 years of practice at 8 hours per day to really get the hang of it. No sweat.

* - Technically it was a "Masters Report", which I think in theory means it's supposed to be shorter. But mine was really long (115 pages) so I think it's OK to call it a thesis. :)


Call Me, If You Need A Friend

Check me out! No, seriously, check me out:

But, you know, don't actually call me. Just send me an email.


Pop The Stack

So how's 2009 treating you so far? If you're like me, it means you've got about two weeks of writing "2008", then crossing out the 8 and writing a 9.

What's new in my life? Not a whole lot; finished the fall semester in flying colors, and now I'm on to bigger and better things. At the moment, that means lots more studying, presently from a great book called the Algorithm Design Manual (full audio and video lectures from the author are here). Also been refreshing my C++ syntax trivia and playing with the Python Challenge (though doing both at once is a bit of a brain fry(1)). So much to learn, so little time.

Another recent obsession of mine is the web site Stack Overflow, a coding Q&A site / wiki. I just broke 1000 reputation points today (here's my page). This isn't quite as crazy as it sounds, since they give you 10 points for every up-vote you get (2).

The guys who created Stack Overflow are Joel Spolsky (whose writings I've been a big fan of for a long time) and Jeff Atwood (who I wasn't familiar with before). They host a weekly podcast that I've been really enjoying, and last week I submitted an audio question to the podcast that they included. More on that here.

The other major obsession recently is Bubble Timer. Did you know that I have slept 248 hours in the last month? Or 13 hours walking my dog? OK, so that's true, but I'm not quite so OCD that I really care about that level of detail (3). But the great thing about emergent task timing is that you start to see patterns in your time usage, and you can plan around them. Like, I know that if I spend 45 minutes a day on house cleaning, it'll stay in nice shape, and if I don't, it won't. There's no magic way around that, regardless of what I might want to believe. Over time, emergent timing lets you understand the realities of your life a little better, and then at that point, if you want to change something, you can do it consciously.

Anyway, guess I should get back to whatever it is that I do when I'm not blogging.

(1) - Which reminds me of the time I tried to learn regular expressions at the same time I was learning the Dvorak keyboard layout. I don't recommend that.

(2) - I like to call that "pinball scoring" - inflated scores to make you happier about what you're doing. Seems to work.

(3) - LIES.


Happy 2009

Happy New Year! Here's to a great 2009.