Monthly Archives: November 2011

Tea Time: white tea, chamomile, and harvesting garden mint

As the weather gets colder and I wrap myself up in warm sweaters and soft blankets, my tea obsession comes out. It starts with simple drinks of steaming hot water. Then I crave something more and from there I quickly amass jars of herbs, spices, and teas.

My three favorites are chamomile, white tea, and mint.

It’s always a little hard to procure these items “loose-leaf” and fresh. Every store sells them in large teabags of super low quality, which is lot like bringing a hammer to a knitting party.

I prefer to control my flavor with just a few leaves and this means I often go herb hunting. This year I’ve been to three stores and none match the apothecary quality I’m looking for.

It’s sad that these stores are absent from our commercial scene. Their new residence is the dusty upper shelf of crappy supermarkets.

I hope to eventually acquire some decent white tea and chamomile, but the mint will be coming from the garden. Since this is my first time harvesting mint I looked up some mint-harvesting guidelines:

  • The better tasting leaves are the younger ones, near the growing tips. The bigger, and much darker leaves near the middle or bottom of the stalk are bitter and tasteless.
  • I always remove all the stem and just use the leaves in my teas.
  • I wait until my mint is 8-10 inches tall and cut it back to 2-3 inches tall to help it branch and regrow shrubbier.

The biggest question here is: what variety of mint are you growing?

When herb gardening really took off back in the ’70′s, everybody & his brother started growing & hybridizing them. One of the easiest was the mint family. Thus, there are so many “mutt” mints out there today that it’s hard to throw a stick without hitting one. In fact, for the past 11 years I’ve been marginally successfully rooting out some sort of “mutt” mint that the original homeowner planted around the house. What a nightmare!!

Although I harvest and dry small amounts of mint throughout the summer, I do my main harvest when the first blossom bud appears. At that point, I cut the whole bed, leaving an inch or two on most stalks. It grows back quickly, and I get a second crop by the end of summer.

 

Chamomile Flowers

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Apple Genius Tip: Never restore your iPhone from a back-up

The other day I was at the Apple Store with my mom to help her get the iPhone 4S. She asked the clerk-geek if she should restore her phone from her backup and he said “no.”

We were shocked. Isn’t that the standard procedure. According to him, not anymore. With iCloud and iTunes syncing it is actually an inferior method.

His reasoning was that if you restore your phone then anything corrupt will be loaded back onto the phone. Instead, you should sync all of your apps and data with your Mac laptop and then restore your phone from that data. Or, in the new version with iCloud you can restore from that data (with no syncing needed).

Of course, this only works if you have a Mac laptop.

It took me a while to figure this out. Apple likes to make everything simple and effective and in this case that would be cutting out the annoying and time sucking process of backing up. If you follow that then you see that all the latest iOS developments were leading up to this.

Which is great because syncing and backing-up an iPhone was a miserable process. The only problem is that current users have long established habits we need to break. For example, I actually had to open my Mac Mail App and set-up the notes feature. This allows you to back-up your notes and over iCloud it’s automatic.

The same is true for the other apps I rarely use: Calendar, Address Book, iPhoto, iVideo, Bookmarks, and Apps.

All together this is a brilliant move by Apple. It makes their closed system extremely useful when in the past it was simply too time consuming to use. I’m in the process of setting all this up and I’m loving it!

Why does Mark Zuckerberg hate “beta” development?

You know how everything Google does is launched in a “beta” mode. They know that their products are most likely going to break, fail, or simply invade your privacy. Google is so obsessed with beta releases that they often leave them in perpetual beta.

So why is Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg so against beta?

This massive company with more than 800 million users just rolls out new features to the entire group. One day you know how to use Facebook and the next day everything is different.

Then, as has happened 17 times before, they roll back and change many of those features because they weren’t tested properly with a large enough user group (i.e. beta testers).

A description of beta from Wikipedia:

It generally begins when the software is feature complete. The focus of beta testing is reducing impacts to users, often incorporating usability testing. The process of delivering a beta version to the users is called beta release and this is typically the first time that the software is available outside of the organization that developed it.

The users of a beta version are called beta testers. They are usually customers or prospective customers of the organization that develops the software, willing to test the software without charge, often receiving the final software free of charge or for a reduced price.

This practice is so common in the tech industry that it shocking that Facebook hasn’t had it from the start. I guarantee everyone at that company has experience with beta releases of products. Well maybe not everyone…

Perhaps, Mark Zuckerberg started so young at Facebook that he never learned the value of beta testing. A lot of people want to compare him to Steve Jobs and so maybe this is his own reality distortion field, “it should be so good we don’t need beta!”

Still, that doesn’t explain the stubbornness after having new updates to Facebook continually blow-up in his face. I’m sure that after each blow-up someone has said, “Hey Mark, this is what beta releases are for”.

Yet, here we are with the new auto-sharing feature instantly pushed live and everyone is complaining about it. The feature is brilliant but incomplete. Their are simple mistakes in the usability, like the problem with the “cancel” button that Marshall Kirkpatrick found.

This is such a simple fix, i.e. change the wording of the button so it’s not “pushy, manipulative and user-hostile.”

If found and fixed during beta it would have been a non-issue. Instead the flailing public is in hysteria and that crucial “first-impression” is of ruining sharing (Molly Wood) or gaslighting the web (Anil Dash).

It boggles the mind why Mark wants to avoid beta releases so bad that he enrages his user base.

There is hope. The new feature, Facebook Timeline, is in a semi-beta release in that it was open to developers early for testing. The tech journalists quickly hacked this and reported it to average users. Who then signed up as developers, created a fake app, and clicked several buttons that they had no idea what they were doing.

A surprising amount actually did all that, myself included, which means there definitely is an appetite for Facebook beta testers. Plus, Facebook has delayed releasing Timeline allowing all those users to test out the features. The situation looks an awful lot like a beta release…

Maybe Mark is realizing the value of beta testing? Or, at least the value of releasing a finished product as opposed to a brilliant but incomplete idea?

Why does Mark Zuckerberg hate "beta" development?

You know how everything Google does is launched in a “beta” mode. They know that their products are most likely going to break, fail, or simply invade your privacy. Google is so obsessed with beta releases that they often leave them in perpetual beta.

So why is Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg so against beta?

This massive company with more than 800 million users just rolls out new features to the entire group. One day you know how to use Facebook and the next day everything is different.

Then, as has happened 17 times before, they roll back and change many of those features because they weren’t tested properly with a large enough user group (i.e. beta testers).

A description of beta from Wikipedia:

It generally begins when the software is feature complete. The focus of beta testing is reducing impacts to users, often incorporating usability testing. The process of delivering a beta version to the users is called beta release and this is typically the first time that the software is available outside of the organization that developed it.

The users of a beta version are called beta testers. They are usually customers or prospective customers of the organization that develops the software, willing to test the software without charge, often receiving the final software free of charge or for a reduced price.

This practice is so common in the tech industry that it shocking that Facebook hasn’t had it from the start. I guarantee everyone at that company has experience with beta releases of products. Well maybe not everyone…

Perhaps, Mark Zuckerberg started so young at Facebook that he never learned the value of beta testing. A lot of people want to compare him to Steve Jobs and so maybe this is his own reality distortion field, “it should be so good we don’t need beta!”

Still, that doesn’t explain the stubbornness after having new updates to Facebook continually blow-up in his face. I’m sure that after each blow-up someone has said, “Hey Mark, this is what beta releases are for”.

Yet, here we are with the new auto-sharing feature instantly pushed live and everyone is complaining about it. The feature is brilliant but incomplete. Their are simple mistakes in the usability, like the problem with the “cancel” button that Marshall Kirkpatrick found.

This is such a simple fix, i.e. change the wording of the button so it’s not “pushy, manipulative and user-hostile.”

If found and fixed during beta it would have been a non-issue. Instead the flailing public is in hysteria and that crucial “first-impression” is of ruining sharing (Molly Wood) or gaslighting the web (Anil Dash).

It boggles the mind why Mark wants to avoid beta releases so bad that he enrages his user base.

There is hope. The new feature, Facebook Timeline, is in a semi-beta release in that it was open to developers early for testing. The tech journalists quickly hacked this and reported it to average users. Who then signed up as developers, created a fake app, and clicked several buttons that they had no idea what they were doing.

A surprising amount actually did all that, myself included, which means there definitely is an appetite for Facebook beta testers. Plus, Facebook has delayed releasing Timeline allowing all those users to test out the features. The situation looks an awful lot like a beta release…

Maybe Mark is realizing the value of beta testing? Or, at least the value of releasing a finished product as opposed to a brilliant but incomplete idea?

The DNA of Happiness

Disclaimer: I don’t subscribe to creationism. I’m an ardent believer of evolution and a long-time student of biology. 

Much like DNA, I believe happiness is embedded in each us. I don’t believe it’s some mystical, mercurial, ephemeral phenomenon. I believe it’s the product of an alignment with our true self and the more we try to appease and conform to standards dictated by others, the more happiness will evade us.

Yesterday I had a fairly explosive fight with my mom. I’m not living my life the way she would like. I’m writing and surfing and living in sin with my boyfriend in California. But the truth is, I’ve tried to make her happy. I tried to make a lot of people happy and inevitably the one person that’s never happy in this equation is me. So I took everyone else out of the equation and found that my happiness was there all along. It’s that simple.

There’s a great quote by Christopher Morley: There is only one success – to spend your life in your own way. 

This is the DNA of happiness.

Another Happy Day: A Lesson on Family Pain

There are some pieces of art that just hit you in all the right places. That’s how I felt when I saw “Another Happy Day” at Sundance last year.

The film, set in Annapolis, MD and loaded with an A-list cast including Ellen Burstyn, Ellen Barkin, Demi Moore, Kate Bosworth and Thomas Haden Church, tackles one family’s terrain of emotional landmines that have given rise to a “primal web of resentments and recriminations.”  

The tone of the film is anything but happy, and yet there are so many moments of indelible humor, I couldn’t help but find myself smiling and laughing throughout it. Like the scene when the mother (played by Ellen Barkin) is duking it out with her son (played by the mesmerizing Ezra Miller):

Mother: “Get out, you son of a bitch!”
Son: “You just insulted yourself, Mom.”

The film serves a painfully honest example of what happens to a family unit when conflicts, feelings and memories are repressed and buried, and judgment is couched in every smile. The result is anything but resolved and healthy.

During the holidays, if you find your family driving you a little bit nuts, I highly recommend checking it out:)

The definition of investment banking and its lines of business

An investment bank is a financial institution that:

  • Assists individuals, corporations and governments in raising capital by underwriting and/or acting as the client’s agent in the issuance of securities.
  • Assists companies involved in mergers and acquisitions.
  • Provides ancillary services such as market making, trading of derivatives, fixed income instruments, foreign exchange, commodities, and equity securities.

Unlike commercial banks and retail banks, investment banks do not take deposits. From 1933 (Glass–Steagall Act) until 1999 (Gramm–Leach–Bliley Act), the United States maintained a separation between investment banking and commercial banks. Other industrialized countries, including G8 countries, have historically not maintained such a separation.

There are two main lines of business in investment banking.

- The sell side which involves trading securities for cash or for other securities (i.e., facilitating transactions, market-making), or the promotion of securities (i.e., underwriting, research, etc.).

- The buy side which involves dealing with pension funds, mutual funds, hedge funds, and the investing public (who consume the products and services of the sell-side in order to maximize their return on investment) constitutes the “buy side”.

Many firms have buy and sell side components.

An investment bank can also be split into private and public functions with a Chinese wall which separates the two to prevent information from crossing. The private areas of the bank deal with private insider information that may not be publicly disclosed, while the public areas such as stock analysis deal with public information.

An advisor who provides investment banking services in the United States must be a licensed broker-dealer and subject to Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC) and Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) regulation.

via Wikipedia