# How to pronounce ‘Gorges’

I grew up in a town of about 5,000 in northeastern Wisconsin. Of those 5,000, probably 200 had the last name ‘Gorges’. People with the name had been in the immediate area since the 1850s, when my great-great-great grandfather Gorges migrated with his family from Pomerania. As a child, I took for granted that it was a “normal” name, and that everyone knew how to pronounce it.

When I was in ninth grade, my family moved. Our new home was just 25 miles from the old one. But few in our new town knew anyone with the name ‘Gorges’, and no one knew how to pronounce it. We quickly adopted a modified pronunciation of ‘Gorges’, one that was meant to better match the way it was spelled (GORE-guess). The improvement was marginal. Preemptive spelling became a coping technique. When asked for my family name, I would (and still do) often omit the pronunciation altogether and skip straight to G-O-R-G-E-S.

As an adult – living far from the epicenters of Gorgesdom – I started to think more critically about the whole situation. Years of experience had shown that any pronunciation, however modified, was going to require a follow-up spelling. That meant that, in exchange for a pronunciation that never felt natural, I wasn’t getting any practical benefit. As a teenager, I’d switched because my family had switched. But my family is far away now. And if there’s any one normative fact about the world that an individual ought to be able to dictate by fiat, surely it’s the “correct” way to pronounce his name.

So I went back to my native pronunciation, which my wife and son use as well. Which is different from the (modified) pronunciation still used by my father and (I’m pretty sure) by my younger siblings. It’s an odd state of affairs.

On balance, I’m actually a pretty big fan of having an unusual last name. The “gorgeous” pun is a dynamite icebreaker, especially for someone as good-looking as me. (See?) Some people are quite particular about the way others say their names (which is within their rights), but I long ago learned not to care very much, to the point that I’ve never offered corrections even to some fairly good friends. This nonchalance is like tossing off a burden I’ve carried since I was a kid. And – bonus – my usernames are never taken.

[For the record: two hard Gs. GRR-ghiss.]

# Who works for the NSA?

With every awful new revelation about the NSA, I ask myself: Who works there? It must take many thousands of very smart technicians to break the internet: mathematicians, computer scientists, hackers. Who are these people, and why do they decide to do what they do?

Are they in it for the money?

Is the work really that interesting?

Are they the kinds of people who’d be cracking illegally anyway, and the NSA gives them some legitimacy?

Do they imagine themselves engaged in some kind of noble pursuit, protecting the world from wrongdoers?

I’m continually perplexed that so many people, who presumably could be making much more money doing work that is more visible and less creepy, choose this path.

# No email, no cry

In the spirit of a recent post by my friend Evan Solomon, I thought I’d write briefly about a decision I made this summer: No more email on my mobile devices. A few months ago, I removed the Email shortcut from my home screen; today, I switched to a new phone, and I don’t plan to configure the email app at all.

The reasoning behind this decision is similar to Evan’s. Very rarely do I get an email whose subject is truly urgent, in the sense that it requires immediate action. Those few that I do receive are almost always related to work – someone’s production site has gone down, say. But, in nearly all cases, it’s a problem I can only solve if I’m at a regular computer. And if I’m using my phone, it’s likely that I’m not currently at a computer, and I probably can’t be at one immediately. So there’s little to be gained from getting the message while I’m on the go. Urgent messages that are not work-related – such as family emergencies – wouldn’t come through email anyway, so I’m not missing anything in that case either.

Like Evan, I find myself able to concentrate better on the people around me when I’m not thinking about the device in my pocket. This is doubly true because of the nature of the non-urgent email I usually get. Many emails are bug reports, and reading about bug reports when I’m not in a position to do anything about them is both highly distracting (mental debugging!) and usually frustrating. Some emails are requests: for favors, for work proposals, etc. This kind of email too is distracting in an unpleasant way, as I find myself silently drafting a response on the spot. Even the few emails I receive that are genuinely pleasant take me out of the moment, and again, don’t really admit of a proper response while I’m on the go (I refuse to write anything longer than a text or a tweet on a phone).

Weaning myself from the mother’s milk of mobile mail was a quick and painless process. A day or two in, and already I could see that I was more engaged with the things around me. When I’m at the playground with my kid, I’m paying attention to him. When I’m on the train, I’m reading a book. And when I’m standing in line or in some other kind of situation where email typically fills the void, I’m often just feeling bored. And feeling bored is a very welcome change from a head clouded by frustration and software bugs.

So, think about it. What value do you get from reading email on your phone? And what does it cost?

# Grilling pizza for fun and leftover disposal

This summer, my family and I rented a lake house for a few weeks. We were excited to have a grill, and at first, we took serious advantage: burgers, chicken, kebobs, barbecue, etc. But we soon ran up against two problems: meat fatigue and a fridge full of leftovers. Between the two of us, my wife and I have a number of standby techniques for disposing of miscellaneous leftovers, but most (like frittatas and stir fry) require making the house even hotter with a hot stove.

Pizza to the rescue! We got the idea early in our trip to try making pizza on the grill. It turned out so well that we ended up doing it a number of times. Not only was it a good way to get rid of just about any grilled leftovers, but it was legitimately good pizza in its own right – even when some of the ingredients we used were kinda cheap.

Arriving at the best technique was the biggest challenge. I’ve described the process below. We had a propane grill, which was helpful for heat control, but you could do it with charcoal and it’d probably taste better.

Get a dough – We got our doughs from the local pizza joint. You could make it yourself, but it’s a pain to make pizza dough, and so cheap to buy it. I’ve bought doughs from at least a half dozen pizzerias, and I’ve never paid more than $4 for a large one. As long as it’s a non-chain joint that does reasonable business, you know the dough will be fresh, and prepared with more expertise than if you’d done it yourself. (Some grocery stores sell pizza doughs. I’ve never bought one, so I can’t vouch – but I have noticed that they’re generally pretty small. Also, you can buy premade crusts, but is lame, as it takes away the biggest advantage of the grill, namely that it gets hot enough to cook a crust properly.) Get a large dough from a local pizzeria. Price:$2-4.

Get the rest of your ingredients – You’ll need:

• Sauce – We used cheap jarred sauce. Plain crushed tomatoes would probably be even better. Once we made a pie with leftover pulled pork, and I used a thin layer of barbecue sauce instead.
• Cheese – We had our best results with Polly-O mozzarella, either grated large or cut into very thin strips/slices. The pre-shredded stuff is a big question mark – could be fine, but could be pretty dry (that is, too dry – good pizza cheese should be a bit dried). You can use another cheese as an accent, like a bit of goat cheese.
• Toppings – Whatever you have laying around. Once we made something pretty fancy (some chi-chi salami), but usually it was whatever meat and veggies we’d grilled the day before. If it’s a bit limp after sitting in the fridge, give it a quick sauté before using. Fresh herbs are nice too.
• Oil – We used olive oil at a couple different points in the process, as described below.

Get your mise en place together – I’m typically cavalier about getting stuff in place before cooking, but with grilled pizza it’s crucial. The steps below can be fast and furious, and you won’t have time to stumble drunkenly to the fridge to get ingredients.

Get it together. High Life optional but recommended

Preheat, clean, and oil the grill – Turn it up as high as it goes. The reason why you’re able to make decent pizza on the grill, but not in your oven, is because the grill gets a few hundred degrees hotter. Give it at least 15 minutes to get blazing hot (or more, depending on how your grill works). Make sure it’s clean and well-oiled, or your crust will stick and break.

Stretch the dough – There are lots of ways to turn a ball of dough into something resembling a pizza. My preferred technique is to stretch it to a disc, then hold it vertically by the edge, letting the dough fall downward while stretching the cornicione a little bit. Keep turning and stretching, allowing gravity do most of the work but helping to keep a pretty uniform thickness. Basically, make the crust as big and thin as you can without breaking and without being too big for your grill.

First grilling – It’s time to give a quick sear to what will end up being the top of the pizza. Lay the stretched dough on the grill. (It’s flexible, so now’s the time to make that circularish dough into a rectangularish shape, if that’s how your grill is shaped.) Brush the exposed side of the dough with olive oil. Then close the lid. Let it cook for maybe a minute, then check the upskirt. Once it’s charred to your liking, turn the burners all the way down – this’ll be important in a second. Use a big long spatula to make sure the whole crust is loose from the grill, and then use that same spatula (along with some tongs, or your hands) to flip the crust over.

Upskirt (that’s a technical term)

Post-flip

Top the pizza – You’ve turned the burners way down, but the grates are still very hot. You’ll want to top the pizza as quickly as possible, so you can get the lid closed and the cheese melted before the bottom has a chance to burn. Brush the pie with oil. Then sauce and cheese – if you put the cheese down first, it melts a little better, but it’s harder to then spread the sauce, so experiment to your liking. Then the toppings. It’s helpful to have two people working here, one doing the oil, the other following right behind with sauce, and so on.

Topped and ready for the second cooking

Let it cook – Close the lid and crank the heat up all the way again. Because the grill cooled a lot while you had it open to flip and top (when the heat was turned down), this second cooking will take a bit longer than the first. Check the pizza after two or three minutes. You’re looking for two things: the cheese should be adequately melted, and the bottom of the crust should look adequately done. If it seems like the crust is cooking too fast, turn down the heat.

Voilà

Remove and dress – Get a platter, and use your big spatula to get the pizza off of the grill. Depending on size and thickness of crust, it should be pretty firm and easy to handle. This is when I like to dress with basil and a drizzling of oil. Some Parmasean or Romano cheese would also be good.

Here are a few of the pies we made over the course of our stay:

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Unless you’ve got a special oven made for cooking pizza in your kitchen, the technique described above is likely to get you the best home-cooked pizza you can make. It’s a cheap and delicious way to put leftovers to good use. Hop to it, before grilling season is over!

# 2012: Don’t let the door hit you

I told my wife that this blog post was going to consist of one sentence: “2012: good riddance to bad rubbish”.

For posterity’s sake, I’ll spell it out a little more. The last half of 2012 has been particularly trying. I traveled too much and worked too much. I moved to a new apartment in a new borough. I had too many deadlines on top of each other. And my amazing wife has somehow been even busier than I’ve been, which has made ours a hectic home. So, while there’ve been some really wonderful parts of 2012 (especially watching my son turn from a baby into a toddler), I’m happy to bid it farewell – and good riddance.

In lieu of a roundup in the style of the last few years, here are a couple of thoughts I’d like to keep in mind during the upcoming year.

• Don’t get too comfortable professionally. In 2012, I fine-tuned my professional work to be more highly focused and purpose-driven. (See this post for some related thoughts and strategy.) This process has been a success by just about every metric: I’m making better money, and I’m doing work that has a broader impact. But I’ve got to be careful not to fall too deeply into the niche I’ve chosen. As I become more and more of an expert, I find myself supervising others rather than building myself; and when I do find myself building, it’s rarely something really new and interesting. Expertise is good for your career, but, almost by definition, being an expert means being bored more of the time. I’ve got to remind myself to keep doing new things, even if (or especially if) it means leaving my comfort zone.
• I can’t do everything. 2012 was the first year where I really felt that I was reaching the limit of how much work I can realistically do. Another side effect of expertise is that you start to think that you have an infinite capacity for taking on new projects, but the truth is that everything suffers if you allow yourself to be overextended. I’ve got to start saying no more often, and being more realistic when I schedule myself.
• Turn it off sometimes. My schedule in 2012 has lulled me into thinking that it’s OK to check my email all the time, or to work every evening, or to work every weekend. For me, these things are decidedly not OK, and I should start acting accordingly. If it means that I’ve got to start taking on fewer professional projects, so be it.

Here’s to a bright and sane 2013!

It only took a few months of working full-time with computers for wrist fatigue to kick in. After a stretch of 10-12 hour days at the keyboard (at the time, it was the chiclet keyboard of a Macbook), my wrists would feel tight, and my fingers weak. I’d just quit my job working for the state to be a freelancer, and I began to panic that my body wouldn’t hold out!

So I made a couple of drastic adjustments to the way I work. The one that’s had the most general benefit has been my standing desk, which allows me to keep my eyes straight forward, and my forearms parallel to the ground. Aside from this, there are two other big changes I’ve made to my setup. These are directly related to the keyboard itself.

1. Dvorak – August Dvorak, inventor of the Dvorak keyboard layout, famously quipped that a text that would require 12-20 miles of finger travel on a QWERTY keyboard would take just one mile on Dvorak. This is probably an exaggeration.. Still, it’s hard to deny that Dvorak has a lot of intuitive appeal: vowels appear in the home row of the left hand, the most common consonants in the home row of the left hand, and typing English words generally requires fewer row jumps and other ugliness.

Switching to Dvorak was hard – far harder, in my experience, than switching to a standing desk, or to Linux, or even to Vim. For a few weeks, I spent an hour or two per day doing drills in Master Key. Then I switched to using Dvorak in the morning, until my brain would hurt so bad that I’d switch to QWERTY by around 10am. When I could finally make it until noon using Dvorak, I quit QWERTY altogether, as code switching between the layouts was proving more difficult than Dvorak itself.

During the transition, I was a slow typist (30-40 WPM for prose around the time of the final switch, down from 90-100 on QWERTY). This affected my work efficiency. Worse still, the stress of hesitating the slightest bit before each key press was actually making my wrist fatigue worse than it was with QWERTY. But I persisted. After about six weeks using Dvorak full-time, I was up to maybe 60-70 WPM. (I’m since up to at least my pre-Dvorak speeds.) And, most importantly, I finally started to reap the ergonomic benefits of Dvorak. I’m able to type with far less wrist movement than before, with the result that I have much, much more stamina – those 10-12 hour days tire my brain way before they tire my fingers. Totally worth it.

(Side note: A lot of people – people who are not touch-typists to begin with, I guess – put stickers on their keyboards to show the Dvorak layout, or even pop the keys off and rearrange them. I never did this. It forced me to learn the layout much more thoroughly. Plus, it is an order of magnitude more bad ass to type Dvorak on a QWERTY keyboard.)

2. Kinesis Freestyle keyboard – I’d been typing for a long time on chiclet-style keyboards: first the Macbook, then the Macbook Pro, then an Apple USB keyboard. These keyboards are beautiful and quiet. But they don’t give much feedback. And touch-typing on them requires you to crook your wrists outward, in order to get your fingers resting on the home row. On the recommendation of my main man Marshall Sorenson, I bought myself a Kinesis Freestyle. It’s got nice, clicky keys. And it takes the idea of ergonomic keyboards to an extreme: the two halves of the keyboard are actually separate pieces, separated by an 8″ cable (a 20″ version is also available). Now I can keep the two halves positioned in such a way that I don’t have to bring my wrists too close together, and I don’t have to bend them at a funky angle to touch type.

Kinesis Freestyle 2

I love this keyboard so much that, now that I’ve switched away from the Mac, I’ve bought myself a new, non-Mac version of the Freestyle. (I just got it in the mail yesterday, prompting me to write this post.)

It takes a bit of work – and some risk – to make radical changes for the sake of ergonomics. But it’s an investment in the future. And don’t we all want to Win The Future?

### Bonus! Buy my old keyboard

Needs a good home

[EDIT 2012-10-03 - The keyboard has found a good home. Take good care of her, Will!]

I won’t be needing my much-loved Freestyle for Mac anymore. Wanna buy it? It’s in perfect working order, and I’ll clean it up real nice before sending it out to you. These puppies are $100 new (and, actually, it looks like they’re discontinued at the moment, until the Freestyle 2 for Mac comes out). I’ll be happy to let it go to a faithful reader of this blog for$50, continental US shipping included. (If you’re outside the contintental US, contact me first to ask about shipping.) If I don’t get any bites, I’ll put it on eBay, but I’d rather see it go to a friend. Leave a comment or drop me an email: boone /at/ gorg \dot\ es.

# Ode on a supper club

Wood panels, fake bricks, dim lights, frosted glass
Padded horseshoe bar, cushy pleather stools
Cigarette vending machine

Brandy old fashioned sour, rocks glass, maraschino cherry
Pickle garnish, olive garnish, mushroom garnish
Blatz, Schlitz, Old Milwaukee

5pm rush
Order at the bar, shake of the day
Table numbers on table tents

Hot bacon dressing

Fried fish, fried mushrooms, fried frog legs, fried cheese
Prime rib king cut, prime rib queen cut
Twice-baked potatoes

Getting dressed up means
The Packers shirt without a grease stain

# Ten years

I realized today that, as of a few weeks ago, I’ve lived in New York City for ten years.

In 2002, I was a college senior in Mt Vernon, Iowa. I’d received a few different offers for graduate school fellowships. In the end, I ended up choosing CUNY more or less on a lark; NYC seemed like a cool place to live. So, I packed up a truck, and moved to a city two thousand times the size of Mt Vernon, and one hundred times the size of any city where I’d ever lived.

In everyone’s life there’s a handful of breakpoints: moments at which you make a decision that (intentionally or otherwise) forever and irreversibly changes everything. Ten years on, it’s dizzying to imagine the path not taken – the road that didn’t lead to this city, this job, this wife, this child, this me. I’m humbled, and somehow comforted, by the power that chance and caprice wield over the formation of the things that make up a life.

Here’s a picture I took of myself a few weeks after moving to my first place in NY, a shared apartment at 129th St and Lenox Ave:

Plus ça change….

# Blog, come forth!

This blog has gone unloved as of late. I’ve been working too much, and not taking the time to sit back and think about the work I’m doing, and I think that’s a bad thing. Reading Alan Levine’s call-out the other day reinforced the feeling that I should devote more attention to reflecting in this space, if only for my own sanity.

So, as a starting place, I made a new theme – my first revamp since I started this blog in late 2008. I ripped off Mark Jaquith’s idea and used Twenty Twelve – the new default theme that will ship with WordPress 3.5 – as my parent theme. It’s much easier on the eyes than my old theme, and its responsive nature allowed me to uninstall WP Touch. (WP Touch, you served valiantly lo these many years. RIP.) If you’re interested, I’ve made my (very modest) child theme available on Github.