Archive for November, 2006

OK Apple, what’s going on?

It’s definitely hard to be an Apple fan these days. I’m writing this while waiting for some important data to be backed up before I hit the road to the nearest Apple reseller, hoping I can get a new power supply as mine is failing. Again. This time, I’m experiencing exactly what happened to Ugo one month ago, and I’m furiously tapping my Magsafe every five minutes or so to restore functionality.

Daniele’s machine just got serviced, while Andrea’s has always been somewhat misbehaving: Apple hasn’t been able to pinpoint the problem, notwithstanding a couple of weeks spent replacing hard drives and running hardware tests. The “it just works” mantra really needs a “well, mostly” to complete the phrase.

Today I’m going to get a 89€ insurance as a spare power supply which I plan to leave at the office, given that I know this stupid issue is going to hit someone else in the next few weeks. I’m getting increasingly pissed off, though.

The Sunday post: England meets Italy

Sometimes creativity needs a little help from the supermarket. I had a few ideas for this weekend, yet I wasn’t quite convinced: I decided to let the grocery store suggest what I should cook, given available ingredients and special offers. I was lucky enough to find a very nice and perfectly sized chunk of meat which screamed for some roast beef, looking like a great main course to marry with golden potatoes and grilled polenta.

Polenta should deserve a separate post: for brevity’s sake I’ll have Wikipedia tell you the whole story about it. Suffice to say that it takes so much time and effort to cook it that you really want to do big portions, and use the leftover as a side order for the next day (it will taste even better, by the way): it’s great with cheese, meat, fish and basically everything you can eat, as long as you can count on some sauce. Roast beef isn’t that great for sauce, so I decided to go for a small “fusion” experiment, marrying the best English practices with some Italian stuff that would end up with some nice smooth juice to glaze the meat and eat with polenta.

Everyone can cook roast beef: get a chunk of meat, whack it in the oven, hope for the best. If you really want to impress your friends with some nice juicy meat, a few hints might help you perform the hat trick. Ingredients first: what you’re looking for is a nice chunk of meat, properly sized (everything less than 1Kg is a a good steak, not something to roast), and with a decent amount of grease. Grease is what makes the difference, what we’re trying to avoid here is dry meat, so you want some good, white grease layer on top (feel free to shrink it to 1/2 cm, but keep in mind how that’s the absolute minimum). Your meat should also look like marble: an evenly red meat is OK but tends to be dry, whereas some nice and thin grease veins are your best bet towards a great roast.

Once you have the proper chunk of meat, get ready in advance: you really (and I mean really) want to take it out from the fridge no less than two-three hours before you start cooking. Your meat should be at room temperature, or a couple of hours later you’ll be going to slice something that’s much better for your shoes than for your stomach. Trust me, this is possibly the most important suggestion I can make when cooking beef, or any kind of meat or fish for that matter.

It’s now time to get all the ingredient for our “italian” sauce ready. Pre-heat the oven to 180°C. Finely chop (you bought that ceramic knife, didn’t you?) one carrot, some celery and a shallot. Carrot, celery and onion are the foundation of italian cooking: a lot of italian dish start with what we call soffritto (Wikipedia to the rescue, again): using shallot instead than onion is a very nice and dirty trick, as shallot have that special something you don’t want to miss. Ask any professional chef: it will take a few drinks, but eventually he might confess that his kitchen heavily depends on shallots and butter.

Grab now a garlic clove, unpeeled, and throw it with the chopped veggies, a spoon of olive oil, a glass of white wine, some rosemary leaves, salt and pepper into a roasting pan which is large enough to accommodate your chunk of meat yet small enough to leave roughly 1/2 cm of the sauce mix on the bottom. Grab a fairly sized potato, peel it and slice it into two or three long chunks no less than 1cm high (you’ll see why in a minute), add it to the sauce and whack everything in the oven.

Beef’s turn, now: first think we want to do is treat it with a massage, in order to soften the meat and add some flavour. What you need here is a good teaspoon of rock salt, some pepper and, possibly, some english mustard powder. If you can’t find it, a spoonful of french Dijon mustard, possibly whole-grain, is the closest thing you can get, but you’ll be missing something. Since we’re doing an Italian version of the British long-time fav, we’ll use some olive oil as well. Don’t be scared of getting your hands dirty: squash the mix through the meat, and massage it thoroughly. You’ll end up with a somewhat greasy chunk of beef, which is ready for the next step.

Grab a frying pan now (yeah, I know, I hate dish washing as well), and heat it over a strong flame. When it’s painfully hot, throw the meat in the pan (no need for extra grease, as we’ve been using olive oil for our previous massage), and let it seal for a couple of minutes per side. Some notes here: first of all, this is a crucial step, if you fail to seal the meat properly, the flavour will vanish in no time flat. As a consequence, try to remember that your chunk of meat vaguely resembles a cube, which means it has six sides, not just two. You want to seal each and everyone of them, which incidentally means you will have to hold your meat in some funky position over the pan: get ready for some blisters, unless you use long tongs to hold the beef over the pan. Don’t even try to use a fork or to pinch your meat in any way, unless you want to burn in hell for the capital sin of throwing flavour away.

We’re ready to hit the oven now. Take the roasting pan out and – quickly – arrange the potato strips you’ve been cutting before so that the meat gets to rest on them. You don’t want the meat to make direct contact with the sauce, as this is likely to cause sogginess: resting your beef chunk over two or three potato strip is the best compromise, as meat juices will flow anyway to the sauce, while your meat will happily absorb vapor from the sauce and roast evenly, even on the bottom side. Slap the pan back in the oven, and dedicate yourself to scraping the char bits from the frying pan. Pour half a glass of white wine in the pan to help you, and make sure you get all the tasty charred lumps, which you will then pour in the oven over the meat. Don’t wash the frying pan just yet, we’ll need it in a while.

Get a good watch, now, and consider you will need 35 to 45 minutes for 1Kg of meat to cook evenly: time is for rare to medium cooking, as I consider “well done meat” as the utmost example of oxymoron ever. Be warned: if I’ll ever be elected to any parliament chair, I promise I will propose to outlaw meat extermination via extreme cooking. If you can’t stand pink meat, consider a vegetarian diet. Good timing also requires a sheer amount of trust in your oven thermometer, which is like trusting women about their age: there is no substitute for direct knowledge, or trial and error, so just wait and see.

The next (and final!) step involves a food processor, a sieve and some tin foil. First of all, don’t be impatient: after 35 to 45 minutes, your meat is cooked but it’s not quite ready. During the cooking process, meat juices tend to move outwards from the center, concentrating on the outer edge of the meat which is hotter: what you want to do is let your beef cool down a bit, which will allow juices (and flavours) to return to their original position. If you cut your meat too early, the process will be incomplete, and you will see a clear separation between cooked meat on the edges and raw stuff on the center, with lots of juices getting lost on the carving board: you know you did your homework well when slices are coloured with an even gradient going from light brown to pink.

Take the meat out of the oven, grab a good chunk of tin foil, wrap it around the meat and wait for no less than 15 minutes, which is plenty of time to prepare the sauce with the juice lying at the bottom of your pan: throw the potato chunks away, pour the rest in a food processor and mix. Now grab the frying pan which should still be lying around, and use it to adjust thickness of the resulting sauce: if it’s too thick, let it simmer reduce a bit, if it’s too dry, add some white whine and let the alcohol evaporate. If you’re not on a perpetual and apparently useless diet as I do, add some butter and whisk. Since carrots and shallots will still be a bit uncooked (this is fully expected), you need to sieve the sauce through, which will result in a very smooth and silky liquid, great for your meat and vegetables. Open the tin foil now, and carve the meat in thick slices (around 1/2 cm): cold roast beef is great for sandwiches and salad, and should be as thin as possible, but hot stuff requires hefty portions. Use, if possible, hot plates for serving, add the side dish of choice, glaze with sauce and rejoice, as your efforts will be applauded by a cheering audience.

Wrapping up the OSBA roller coaster

Whoa. I’m slowly starting to recover to what has been my very own version of The Longest Day. Ever. Lots of fun, a great deal of gratification and a fantastic event overall, but I think I’m going to pay the price for the upcoming weeks. If a picture is worth a thousand word, a number is worth at least a hundred, so here we go with my own recap of the week leading to the first edition of the Open Source Business Academy:

  • 25 hours of sleep. Yes, in the whole week;
  • 184 OSBA-related phone calls;
  • 218 emails exchanged among the planning team;
  • 281 Subversion commits on the new Sourcesense site;
  • 104 minutes spent in traffic the day of the event (instead than the expected 35);
  • 31 slides for my opening introduction, written between 2 and 3am on Sunday night.
  • 1 broken microphone (mine, during the opening session of course);
  • 1.000 brand new Sourcesense pens (ask for one when you meet me!);
  • 400 Sourcesense caps gone MIA and still traveling around Italy;
  • 17 questions from the audience over the four morning sessions (first time the agency organizing the event sees that happening);
  • 3 professional camera operators filming the event, with 4 upcoming webcasts for those who missed the party;
  • 5 journalists interviewing (grilling, actually) yours truly over lunch;
  • 4 incredibly good speakers and sessions;
  • countless fantastic feedback, and a number of business opportunities and leads to keep up busy for the upcoming months.

Should you ever consider setting up an event, think again and wonder if you’re really up to forgetting about your life for no less than a week, and possibly more. When you’re almost ready to give up, think another time and decide to go for it: the experience has been extraordinary, and the reward is definitely worth the bumpy ride and roller coaster I’ve been through. So much that I can’t wait to start planning for the upcoming editions in the Netherlands and the UK. Keep an eye on the OSBA website, we are coming to a country near you!

The Sunday post, al pesto

Trenette al pestoOK, I’ll be cheating this week. Twice. First of all, this Sunday post is about something we had yesterday. This week has been horribly packed, and given Sourcesense is running its very first public venue in two days from now, the best way to think of me at the moment is a sleepless caffeine-filled body bag, rushing around as an hypnotized muppet in his quest to have everything (including our new website, but that will lead to many other posts) set up perfectly for tuesday. Knowing in advance I’d have little or no time on sunday, this post has been cooking (pun intented) throughout the week, the finishing touch being added this morning, before I delve into slides again. Read on for the next cheating.

Given I had little to no time for serious stuff, I decided to settle for an old time favourite: pesto. Some of you might remind that I was born and raised in a small town near Genova, which means pesto is to me the mother of all dishes, probably the first real food I ate after my mom’s milk, and close to being a religion. Pesto is faily easy, and it’s all about ingredients: grab the right stuff, put it in a mortar, start squashing and presto!, you have pesto. OK, the mortar bit isn’t quite a piece of cake, but it really makes a difference. You can use a food processor, but you have to be extremely careful, as we’ll see in a minute.

The whole deal with pesto is being able to preserve the flavour of its main ingredient. Ligurians consider basil a gift of God, pure green gold which needs to be carefully selected and processed. Selection is key: real pesto is done using basil coming from Prà, a very small piece of land near Genova which recently was awarded a food quality certification. There is actually a slim chance you will be able to find the real thing in your grocery store, if you have to settle for less keep in mind these few criteria:

  • you want young basil, with small leaves. This is not a grown-up game: if all you can get is something that closely resembles a banana leaf in size, do settle for something else such as a basil-flavoured tomato sauce: that stuff just won’t do for pesto, as it’s far too hard to squash, and most of the kick is gone;
  • you want to smell it, and it has to smell like – well – basil. Grab a leaf, shred it with your hands, and smell it: what you want to avoid is even the single distant memory of mint. Basil is a stupid guy, and as we like to say, easy to fall in love with mint. It’s enough to have a single mint leaf close to your basil plant to ruin everything. To be safe, I’d even avoid mint-flavoured chewing gum and candies while dealing with basil. This is the worst thing that might happen to your pesto, as you’d end up with a mint sauce instead than what you intended to eat;
  • stay away from variants such as red or black basil. Making pesto with that stuff is an abomination you don’t want to tell me about.

As if selecting the right stuff wasn’t hard enough, processing basil to make pesto can be a nightmare. You have to keep in mind is how young basil is afraid of two things: metal, and heat. Cut basil with a steel knife, and you’ll end up with hay. Heat basil up, and all you’ll get is a dark tasteless mash. Combine steel blades turning at high speed generating attrition and heat, and you end up with the perfect description of a food processor, and a perfect reason to stay away from it. Here goes something to remember: the darker the basil becomes when processed, the tasteless it gets. You really want to preserve bright green color, as that will mean your job was excellent.

All this said, we’re back to our kitchen table, which will have a few ingredients lined up. Basil, of course (just leaves, say 30-50 of them), 1-2 garlic cloves which have been cut in two and cleaned up from the inside gem, a handful of pine nuts gently toasted to enhance flavour, a generous handful each of pecorino and parmesan cheese, and olive oil. If you’re brave enough to use a marble mortar with a wooden pestel, start squashing the garlic, then start adding basil leaves with some grains of rock salt, which will help you during the shredding process.

As soon as basil enters the mortar, no squashing is allowed anymore: you need to gently roll the pestel against the mortar walls, shredding the leaves as you go. As soon as basil juice starts to form in the bottom of the mortar it’s time add and crush the pine nuts, then cheese goes in. By now, hopefully, the mortar will have a bright green paste circling around the walls, and this is when half a glass of olive oil (you want a ligurian one, gentle in flavour) enters the picture, drop by drop. Taste, adjust seasoning and rejoice: you have a great pesto, and an aching arm which will remind you for days of what pesto (whose literal translation is “smashed”) really means.

As most of you don’t have any religious commitment to pesto, you’re allowed to the food processor shortcut, which literally means “toss everything in the bowl at once and fire it up”. What I can do to spare your poor basil and pesto from a very unhappy ending is a word of advice: use the maximum speed your blender can handle, in order to minimise the time your leaves touch the blades, work fast and, if you can, chill the bowl beforehand, putting it in your freezer for a couple of hours (pesto then becomes a rush against time, but it can be fun).

Pesto can be used in a number of ways, but the most traditional (and, by far, preferred) way of consuming it is with pasta. You have two choices, really: either “trofie”, which is a typical fresh pasta nearly impossible to find outside Liguria, or “trenette”, which is a kind of flat long pasta, similar to linguine. I will forgive you for using linguine if you can’t find trenette, but eternal damnation is waiting for you if you give up to spaghetti. If you want the stick to tradition and get the extra kick (and believe me, you do), you should go for the “pesto avvantaggiato” (which I translate quite liberally and geeky as “pesto++”): all it takes is one medium-sized potato sliced in 0.5cm cubes, and a good handful of green beans, chopped in 4cm chunks. The vegetables have to cook in the same pan you’ll be cooking pasta in, and you have to be careful about timing. Just know potatoes and beans require 10 minutes of cooking, read the cooking time for pasta, taking no less than two minutes off, and adjust cooking times accordingly: if your pasta requires 12 minutes, you take two off and end up with 10, meaning you can throw everything together. If you need just 8 minutes for pasta, throw the veggies, wait for two minutes then add pasta in. Easy, huh?

Unfortunately, we have a problem now (and a general advice): the proper way of cooking pasta requires finishing it up in a sautée pan. Pasta, once drained, is still thirsty, and will happily keep on absorbing liquids: if you just add the sauce and dish the result out, by the time it gets to the table your precious pasta will be either soggy or dry. The finishing touch in the pan, which seals the pasta and provides an excellent way of mixing it with the sauce, usually involves a) saving a cup of water from the boiling pot, b) throwing sauce, pasta and some water in the sautée pan and c) “stir fry” for a couple of minutes over high heat, slowly adding cooking water should it dry out. This excellent and easy technique, unfortunately, cannot be applied to pesto for two reasons: basil, as we know by now, is scared of heat, pesto is a cold sauce and should be used in warm environments at most. Also, pesto contains a lot of cheese which can’t stand direct heat as well without getting bitter in taste and chewy in texture.

There are a few solutions here, and everyone fiercely defends his. You can just forget about the stir fry part and throw pesto and pasta in a bowl, but in my opinion this is a recipe for sogginess. You can forget about temperature and stir fry using a very vigorous approach to avoid cheese from sticking, but I think this is just plain pesto murder. My compromise: grab a cup of water from the boiling pasta, add a spoonful of olive oil and mix. Throw the liquid in the frying pan together with pasta and perform the sautée bit. That will seal the pasta using harmless stuff such as oil and water, finishing it up perfectly and giving it the nice, shiny, and glossy look you’d expect. Let the pan cool down a bit, then carefully add the sauce in, mixing it in until shiny and blended. If you want to preserve tradition, this recipe includes adding some fresh soft cheese to the sauce (the real thing is called “prescinsoeua”, but it’s as hard to find as it is to pronounce it correctly if you’re not a Ligurian native): I had some good results using “squacquerone” (soft cheese from Romagna) but I expect that won’t be an easy quest as well for anyone outside Italy. I’ve been told that cream cheese gets pretty close, and I should really try some cottage, assuming I can find some with a sourish taste. Your mileage may vary, of course, but do try adding some fresh cheese, as it really makes the difference, adding a nice fresh and slightly sour taste to the basil aroma, the sharpness of garlic and the nutty flavour of pine nuts and olive oil.

Back to cheating now: I have to confess that despite my origins, I use a few shortcuts. First of all, I have to deal with poor basil, but hey, living in Milano that’s not my fault. Also, while I do indeed use the mortar, I rarely have the hour or so required to shred the basil: I found a good compromise is roughly cutting the leaves with a ceramic knife (if you don’t have one, ask Santa, as it really makes a world of difference when cutting vegetables), which avoids oxidation and doesn’t have any peculiar chemical reactions, leaving the basil untouched in color while shaving a good twenty-thirty minutes on the pestel. You might want to try it, and I hope Fabrizio will forgive me.

Now, back to those slides…

SOAP: the “S” is for simple…

This is so hilarious I had to pass it on. Thanks Francesco!

A picture…

… is worth a thousand words. Read the whole post, then wonder who’s the bald guy in the lower left corner…
Venice, and it's new name

Yes, it was great being there. Bumpy ride, and all that, but a whole lot of fun. I will wait for dust to settle to post more comments, but being part of a team who’s literally changing the media world as we know it so far is, well, impressive to say the least.

Harmonizing Cocoon

And so the great guys from Harmony managed run Cocoon on top of the fantastic software they’re writing. I wanted to blog about it a few days ago, then the usual amount of stuff hit the fan, and the news is no real news anymore, yet I thought I’d drop a line as it seems to me a major milestone.

The Gump guys used to say that Cocoon, with its HUGE dependency tree, was the ultimate testbed for their software. Maven had to learn the hard way what it means dealing with the amount of external, cross-referenced and tangled libraries we are using over here. Knowing that Harmony is now able to run Cocoon (together with Tomcat, Eclipse, JEdit and a bunch of other apps) means a lot to me, as it really shows that the project is going at a very fast pace and really nearing completion. If I was a mentor, I would have set it as a target to exit incubation (“runs Cocoon? Mission accomplished!”).

Looks like we’ll soon see a new Open Source Java VM straight from the ASF, properly packaged with friendly licensing terms and able to compete with the other guys in the block: interesting times ahead!

End of story, a journey begins

Everyone and his dog is commenting the Java opensourcing news, so much that I decided to avoid linking as there are just too many opinions flying around. I’ll just jot some random notes down to remember this day when I will read about it in 30 years from now:

  • no one seemed to notice we will have to wait for Java 7 before we can actually work with an Open Source VM from Sun. I guess Harmony will be faster in providing the community with a viable Open Source alternative;
  • unchecked: looks like Java ME won’t have the “classpath exception”, which in theory means developers will have to drink the commercial license pill or drown in GPL waters. Not a big issue, given the expected dual licensing, but still…
  • the whole thing is a real marketing avalanche. Apart from being a potentially huge nail in the coffin of Mono and .Net, especially after the controversial MS/Novell deal, opensourcing Java is finally going to shut the FSF diehards up. Two birds with a stone!
  • I enjoyed a few priceless moments today (the “Ha! I told you so!” kind) with a few people from the italian FLOSS community, which has been highly resistant to Java insofar, treating the Italian java community as second-class citizens of the Open Source world, or Sun drones. Time to dust your OOP skills off, guys;
  • the future of Java, and Open Source in general, is brighter then ever, but of course you knew all that.

Other than that, I guess it’s business as usual. As I never bought the Java trap, I don’t feel like I have more freedom today. As a firm believer in Open Development, I don’t think that a license will change that much with no community around it. As a realistic guy, I’m not running around shouting “the sky is falling, and Java will fork!”, as it’s clear how defensive Sun will be about their trademarks, while forks have much less relevance than they used to. I’m going to bed with a smile on my face, and a whole lot of questions getting ready for next week, when Simon Phipps is going to tell us more about the whole deal.

The sunday post: back to basics

Quadrucci in brodoFrom time to time, in the cold winter days, we happen to enjoy a good plain soup made with just stock and some fillings such as tortellini or home made pasta. This is also the occasion to get some head start for the next day: I try to cook as much stock as my largest pan can hold, knowing that at a very least we are going to enjoy a great risotto with the leftover broth.

Good stock is the pillar over which proper cooking is done. As many cooking stars write in their books, one of the key differences between amateur and professional cooking is availability of large quantities of different stocks. Every kitchen worth its name will always have no less than three huge pans with simmering broth (meat, chicken and vegetable at a very least, but fish and crustacea are common findings in good places) which is daily made with the leftover of the kitchen stuff such as carcasses, bones, fat, second-choice meat cuts and the like. I read a story once about a Chinese restaurant whose stock pot was still simmering since the very fist opening day, constantly and daily filled up with stuff and fresh water, and constantly gaining in flavour (and bacteria, I guess, but that adds up to the flavour apparently).

Since having a huge pot constantly boiling in our home kitchen is pretty much out of question, whenever I devote myself to stock I try to cook as much as I can, but I was never able to get past the quantity I need for two or three meals. Still, the difference between proper stock and cubes stuff is huge, and I try to stick as much as I can to the real thing.

Making a good stock is simple enough, once you understand that the idea is to squeeze every single molecule of flavour from your ingredients. It took me quite a bit to stabilize on ingredients, quantities and cooking methods, but I think I have settled on something that looks, smells and tastes good. The idea is simple enough: boil some meat and vegetables, add salt and you’re done, but of course the devil is in the details, and I have a simple three-step schedule for your reading pleasure.

First step is ingredients, of course. I start with choosing the right cuts of meat: second or third choice will do, keep the fillet for your next steak as stock seems to enjoy the roughest cut of meat, with large chunks of fat, nerves and bones. I usually buy 1kg of mixed meat, that is roughly 700g of beef and 300g of hen (that’s hen, not chicken: the oldest the better, chicken is way too delicate for proper stock. 300g is roughly half a hen, and you want it with skin and bones). On top of all this, I usually buy a beef bone (kneecap is excellent) for added flavour. Add a large onion, two carrots and some celery and you will end up with 3-4 liters of stock.

The second step involves pre-heating the oven. Boiling the ingredients right away is fine, but lacks a bit of punch and color. Spending some time in a very heat oven is a great way for ingredients to char-up a bit and add a lot of colour and flavour to the finished product. While the oven gets hot, it’s time to cut the meat and vegetables in largish chunks, and accomodate everything in a medium sized oven pan, which is definitely smaller than the one I would use if I were to roast a similar quantity of meat. I want my stuff to be packed full in the pan, as my aim is not to cook it thoroughly (which would incidentally seal the meat and hide the precious juices behind an impenetrable crust): what I want is a bit of char and roasty flavour, and keeping the meat packed tight will allow every chunk to have a cooked side while still being raw on the other ones.

Now, here goes a trick: unless you want to spend (as I did) a painful lot of time in scraping the caramelized meat juices from the bottom of your pan, the best option is layering your vegetables first, then put the meat on top. The juices will flow from from the meat and will be absorbed by the veggies before hitting the pan, which means every nanogram of flavour will still be in your stock, instead than in the dishwasher. Having done so, I whack my stuff in the oven for roughly 30-40 minutes and take some time to clean up the mess (my kitchen is always messy).

Once the baking is done, it’s time for the third step: I pour the meat and vegetables in the largest pan I’ve got and start adding cold water. Temperature of water is key: adding boiling water will seal the meat, which is definitely not what I want. For good measure, and to grab every single bit of flavour, I pour water in the baking pan first, then move it to the cooking pot. Lid on, gas to minimal heat, and wait. When the stock starts simmering, sometimes I get some nasty foamish stuff floating on top: that’s the meat albumin, which needs to be skimmed out since it won’t add to flavour and would make the stock grey in colour. Once the skimming is done, it’s just a matter of leaving the pot to simmer for a couple of hours, then everything is done.

Well, almost. It’s now time to take the meat and vegetables out. Unless you’re a cardboard glutton, you really want to throw that stuff away, as every bit of taste will be in the pan by now. What I need now is a big strainer, covered with some tissue which has been soaked in cold water (to tighten up the clothing threads), which helps me in having some clear, golden, and precious liquid as a reward for my efforts. Once the whole thing has cooled up a bit, it can be bottled and frozen: it will last for weeks.

We never manage to freeze the stock, though, as we don’t have a pan large enough. What we tipically do is taking half of the stock, have him fiercely boil, then throw some home-made pasta which looks like small squares (we call them “quadrucci”), which will cook in two minutes or less. A sprinkle of parmesan cheese adds a finishing touch to the ultimate comfort food for a cold winter night. The day after, typically, is a working day, and we both get home late with little time for cooking. The leftover stock makes a great occasion for a proper risotto, made with good Carnaroli rice, half an onion, some oil and butter, a glass of white wine and a touch of saffron. Looking forward to it!

Oh quality, where art thou?

I’m increasingly puzzled at how the consumer society is becoming a place where quality really doesn’t matter anymore. My parents were used to life-lasting refrigerators, tv sets who weren’t supposed to be replaced for decades, and shirt you were supposed to wear for years. We are used to much lower expectations, such as “this thing will work as long as warranty lasts”, but those days are seemingly gone.

In no more than three days I was struck by defects on some brand new stuff I just bought, and we’re not talking about cheap gear from some unknown vendor:

  • My brand new Macbook Pro (not even two months old) has power supply issues. The otherwise wonderful MagSafe connector looks like a great idea with a poor implementation: it took it just a month to notice I was running on battery despite being connected to the power supply, and now the status LED is annoyingly flickering (all sing “twinkle twinkle little Mag”) which, in turn, means I don’t have a reliable cable anymore. Being a roadwarrior, I really need to get a hold of a new one, but then again I’m experiencing the same frustration all over again, which makes me want to cry.
  • My brand new BMW (almost two months old, barely 5.000KM on the road) is experiencing electronic issues. The control panel, or whatever they call it, keeps repeating me that the traction control is out of order, and that I’m likely to die in a car crash if I don’t slow down and exercise great care in taking turns. Also, the startup assistant is malfunctioning, which means the car might go backwards (?!).

What’s really making me mad is customer support, though. I think that cases like mine, where an expensive high-quality product screws up after a few days, in a somewhat dangerous manner (I kept my laptop unplugged tonight given the melting MagSafe news, and I don’t want to die while driving my car because of a poor component), you should get a wealth of excuses, prompt support and some free stuff. Most of all, you shouldn’t be left out in the cold, no matter what. Now, this is how it’s going to work:

  • thanks to my good friends at Mac@Work, I’m getting a new power supply today, then they will take care of handing my failed stuff to Apple and get a new one for themselves. I’m sure Apple would have asked me to ship the old one, wait a couple of weeks and then get a new one. This is assuming I would have been able to speak to anyone, of course.
  • BMW doesn’t give a damn. I went to three different BMW services, and they all told me that, yes, something is failing, yes, it’s my sole responsability if I decide to keep on driving, no, they won’t be able to service my car before three weeks, yes it will take a few days to perform the repair and, of course, no, they won’t give me a courtesy car neither for the time I have to wait to access service or the time while my car is being serviced. So much for high quality german cars.

I’m starting to think that the Amish aren’t wrong, after all.

Update: while I was able to solve promptly my power supply issues, the car woes are becoming either a nightmare or a joke (depends on how you look at it and wether you feel pessimistic or not). I called BMW Italy to find out if what the local dealers told me was their standard way of screwing updealing with customers, and I’ve got a nice reply stating that I was entitled to immediate and prioritized service, that I wasn’t supposed to keep on driving unless the service stated so on written matter and after diagnosing the problem, and that I was indeed entitled to a courtesy car. I was told to show up to the local service shop again, where I saw the now familiar picture of my smile turning to a grin as the guy had BMW Italy call me back and tell me that they were wrong and that actually the only option was leaving me out in the cold but, hey, they were so sorry about it. This sucks in so many ways as, for instance, I have been unable to attend the wonderful Java Day in Turin, which would have be a great occasion to meet with a few guys. And no, knowing we kicked a few German asses in World Cup isn’t making me feeling any better.

Update: I forgot to blog that in mid september I had my car fixed. Now let’s add insult to injury: I just received from BMW a recall for – guess what – exactly the component that has been replaced two months ago. I called the service shop to confirm that I was actually fine as I did have a new steering sensor. Guess what: my car will need to be serviced again as my replacement is two days older then the new, fixed, batches, and I will have to wait my turn which wil be in a month or so. So much for FIAT standing for “Fix It Again, Tony”. My new mantra will be BMW: “Bulls*it motors, Wolfgang!”