Rain, absorb, grow

Lately it’s been quite rainy, which is probably due to the fact that August in Alabama is crazy humid. The air is full of water, the heat increases the pressure and bam. One, two, sometimes three storms in one day. There’s so much water falling around that it’s hardly surprising how fast everything is growing.

Just a few days ago we had a lunch with some friends. It was a nice restaurant where I was mostly interested in their creative light fixtures, some of the most original I’ve seen in a while:

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After lunch we headed home and upon taking our dog out I noticed them. So. Many. Mushrooms. They were certainly not there a few days earlier, I would’ve noticed them. Huge mushrooms that showed up all of a sudden. So I took my gear and took a few stills, because soon there won’t be much growing going on once the “southern winter” (= mildly warm temperatures, not real cold per se) hits us.

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I even made a little grasshopper friend!

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I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t want to eat these… they’re growing on ground that is most likely full of chemicals just to look pretty. That said, seeing how alabamian humidity seems to help, I’m now intrigued to try to grow some food myself when we – hopefully – own a new house next year.

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On other news, after agonizing over whether to buy a full frame A7 or keep my current APSC camera, I finally sold my SEL1855 kit-lens on eBay and bought a nice Sigma 30mm f/2.8 prime. Sure, the results won’t be as nice as FF, but I’ve decided the negatives outweigh the benefits in my case and staying APSC will yield much better value/outcomes in both the short and long run. Hopefully that f/2.8 (or my vintage 1976 Nikkor 50mm f/2) will help in isolating subjects further with nice creamy bokeh (all the pictures in this post are from the Nikon lens).

Updating… 100%

It’s been a while! 5 months to be exact. A lot has been happening in this time, which is one of the reasons why I haven’t posted anything in so long. So, I figured I should do an update post to bring everything up to speed. First of all, it’s been now 5+ months since I ordered a try-on of these Warby Parker Felton glasses and I still haven’t decided if I want to buy them or not. I like them but I have a usable pair, so I’m kind of waiting until they break to get new ones. But mine are 5 years old already. Maybe it’s time to buy a pair of glasses even if the old ones aren’t broken yet. I’m easily the most indecisive person on the planet.

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EDUCATION – after 7 years of work, my PhD is finally, officially complete and since May 10th, I have the degree to prove it! It was a lot of hard work, studying, research and overall becoming an academic professional, but it feels good to have finally achieved this level. There’s also something to say about being the first Doctor in the family. Lots of sweat, tears, stress, joy, but mostly stress. Either way, it’s done, moving on. It’s now time to focus on enjoying teaching and working on my research articles whenever time allows. Obligatory degree shot:

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And bonus shot of the actual graduation day. Extra points for Bryan and I being able to graduate and walk together. Not many married couples get to do that.

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WORK – I’ve been working at the current institution for one year on a single-term contract. Graduating from the PhD certainly helped as it facilitated my getting a new position with a more stable 3-year renewable contract. That means Bryan and I get much more security laborally/financially and we can now start thinking about buying a house. Also, there’s extra cool points for being able to teach my courses but refer to myself as Dr. Xabier Granja in the syllabus!

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LIFE – May/June/July were busy months. First we went to San Francisco for a wedding. Then we embarked to Spain for a couple weeks, where we were joined by most of our Chicago friends for what I call Wedding Part 2. To clarify, Bryan and I got married last year but since it was too difficult to get all our families together (and it seemed fairer to do an everybody-or-nobody kind of deal) we just celebrated with our closest friends, which I refer to as Wedding Part 1. So, exactly 1 year and 1 day later, we did Part 2 in Spain: if Part 1 was the ceremony in Chicago, Part 2 was the after-party in a wonderful bar on the top of a cliff that oversees a northern Spanish beach. About 40 people attended between family and friends, most of which won’t be able to make it to the American reception with 90 friends/family this August 14 in Chicago, which we’ll call Wedding Part 3. None of it makes sense… but somehow it all makes sense. All I can tell you is that it would certainly be cheaper to do 1 event on 1 day and 1 set of people, but although we certainly don’t get 3 weddings for the price of one, we do get 3 times the memories. As a bonus, here’s a shot from El Peñón in Sopelana, Spain:

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TECHNOLOGY – finally, I’m abandoning WP. This surely comes as a surprise, but allow me to explain. 5 months ago I mentioned my purchase of a Nexus 4, my initial trial of Android 4.0. I loved the hardware, despised the software. Then, while I was too busy enjoying WP8.1 and dictating texts, reminders and calendar appointments to Cortana, this happened:

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Suddenly, and without warning, Google finally found its design chops with L/5.0/Lollipop. The difference is striking: Android went from horrible to beautiful, from bland to colorful. Google established an excellent design philosophy, actually thought about what they were doing and found inspiration in the material properties of layers and light. The videos at google.com/design are inspiring, but most of all this is thoughtful, elegant design just like I’ve always felt Windows Phone was. The problem is that WP had the design but not the platform; and now Google has the platform and the design. This, paired to the fact that Microsoft is scaling back on mobile hardware/software and that several apps that are important to me were actually eliminated from the store by their publishers, were the last nails on my WP obsession. Good design is worthless if it ceases to be functional. What’s more, just 2 years ago WP offered the best bang for buck with great phones for around $100. Nothing on Android could touch the fluidity, experience, design and affordability of a Lumia 620 or a 520.

In the following 24 months though, something happened: Microsoft stopped trying, probably too busy fixing the mess created with Windows 8 (not a bad decision considering how wonderful Windows 10 has turned out to be). The software ceased to have any new features since 8.1 and Cortana. There are many unacceptable stagnant, easy to fix software oversights: for example, the Battery Saver feature doesn’t auto-setup to kick in at 20%. Once you manually set it up, it won’t actually disable battery saver when you charge the phone next. What? This is a perfect example of how Microsoft has ignored software development on its own platform. Hardware doesn’t fare much better: low-end Lumia phones, once great bargains, started to be cheap. Not affordable, good deals. Just cheap. Cheap screen, cheap build, cheap CPU, inexcusable 512MB RAM in a 1GB world (justified by how well optimized the software was… which is true, but still not an excuse in 2014/2015). I had defended Windows Phones for years as better value when compared to Android, but now this is no longer the case and I’m glad to see Anandtech agrees with me:

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And this is, in a nutshell, what happened. Microsoft stalled when they could absolutely not afford to do so as the 3rd ecosystem, while Google saw what Microsoft had been doing excellently in 2012 with low end phones and struck back: thus the creation of the Moto G and later, more impressively, the Moto E. I’m mostly interested in the latter: I’m a firm believer that the 1st gen of anything should always be skipped, it’s never worth your money. 2nd gen usually shows you what something can become and may even be great, 3rd gen is where things start rocking the market. Indeed, the 1st Moto E was disruptive but could safely be ignored as it sacrificed too much (ergonomics, screen, camera, CPU). 2nd gen Moto E? An impressive second take, one that you can easily evaluate yourselves comparing the innards. After my – granted, wonderful – hardware experience with the Lumia 635, which is cheap as chips, I’ve had a revelation: I don’t need a $400 phone. I don’t need a $300 phone. I could benefit from but don’t necessarily need a $200 phone. The Moto E 2nd gen LTE sells for $99 on Amazon right now and has mostly the same hardware as the lower end Moto G that costs $80 more dollars (SD410, 1GB RAM, IPS screen). So I bought one, because the value in the 2nd gen Moto E is unbeatable. Here’s a proud shot for posterity:

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The value in this device is so great, actually, that I’m considering just buying Moto E’s every year, provided the upgraded models are worth the money and conserve the value. Think that sounds crazy? Now remember there’s millions of people that upgrade their iPhone every year: I can buy 6 Moto Es for the price of 1 iPhone. Annual upgrade cycle doesn’t sound so crazy in the context of the Moto E value (also it’s a great excuse to renew my mom and dad’s phones at a regular interval instead of the potatoes they’re using at the moment).

Finally, laptops. Earlier in the spring I sold my Surface 2. Why? Because Microsoft announced they were effectively abandoning the RT platform and moving onto Windows 10 on a full x86-64 architecture. Knowing this, I was lucky enough to sell it on eBay and recover %80 of the money I originally spent on it. Since then, I have been using Bryan’s old MacBook Air and the experience hasn’t been pretty. It’s not that getting used to the OS X ecosystem was challenging per se, instead… well, a picture is worth a thousand words:

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Nope, that’s not an artistic wallpaper. That’s a heavily crashed LCD, and yup. That’s what I’ve been using for the past half year. Why? Because 10nm Intel Skylake CPUs are coming in October and they’re a pretty big deal, so I didn’t want to waste $700 before better hardware came along (let’s face it: 14nm Broadwell are kind of a joke and not much better than the previous Ivy Bridge. There’s a reason Broadwell is only going to have a 6 month market life, artificially extended to 9 months so Intel doesn’t lose millions in already produced chips). It is perhaps surprising that it hasn’t really been that bad to use this MacBook, now on Windows 10, in such a state. I mostly use the laptop for work, where I just plug it in to a 24″ monitor in my office. When I bring it to classes to take attendance, there’s a nice 40% of the lower-left screen area that’s crack free, so I can fit an Excel window there momentarily. It’s only been a real annoyance when traveling, since this laptop and my phone are really the only mobile devices I have at my disposal. What’s more, upon starting the Fall semester I’ll be getting an iPad 2 for faculty through the University, so the main pain point of this MacBook is removed; so much so that I’m even considering not getting a new laptop and keep using this. But I know I shouldn’t. I should own a normal working laptop. So I’ll probably buy one. And the front runner in that race is:

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Asus UX305. Thinner and lighter than the MacBook Air. Same aluminum build. 9h of battery life. 1080p IPS screen (better than the current MacBook Air). 8GB RAM (what the what?) and 256GB SSD (again, w00t??). Free upgrade to Windows 10 (or by the time I buy it, it’ll probably ship with Windows 10 already). I admit it’s been really hard to not spend the miserly $699 that Asus asks for this machine, but I’m still waiting mostly because I hope/expect Asus will release a Skylake version of this laptop this fall. Maybe even cram in a biometric camera for Windows Hello. We’ll see, but this is the strongest contender by far.

And that’s it for now! Hopefully it won’t take me months to post something here again, but between teaching 5 courses, working on publishing an article and doing other research as a Faculty Fellow, it is likely my schedule will get complicated again. Even so, I should be pretty excited about that new laptop that I hope I won’t be able to avoid writing another post.

Until then.

HAL #43 – Crispy kale chips

Kale is one of my favorite veggies. It is leaf based – I’ve always liked leaves better than flowers – it is green (and dark green at that) which is a color I love and it is full of good stuff for you: beta-carotene, vitamins K & C, calcium and other elements that actually repair your DNA aiding to prevent cancer. It also lowers cholesterol! The only downfall is its strong taste when raw, which is not to everybody’s liking. Usually I use kale as part of a juice that I regularly make for dinner but there is a great easy way to make chips out of it that I learned from the amazing Mindfoodness:

First off – grab some nice looking kale!
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Second – chop the leafy parts with your hands or a knife to separate them from the stem. Whether you want bigger or smaller chips is up to you, I tend to cut them medium sized.
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Remember – don’t throw away the stems! Even without leaves they still have nutrients so you can still add these to a veggie/fruit juice.
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Third – mix the kale leaves with no more than 2 spoons of extra virgin olive oil: the goal is not to make them super oily but just lightly coat them so they’ll cook nicely in the oven. Sprinkle some salt too to improve the taste.
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Fourth – Have your oven pre-heated to 350F and leave the kale cooking for no more than 15 minutes (depending on your oven they could be done sooner, I’d check after 10min to be safe).
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Done! – Enjoy the healthy, crispy and tasty kale chips that come out of the oven!
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HAL #42 – Asparagus stir fry, guacamole and garlic pita bread!

Yesterday there was yet another event in our department. As usual, the food provided was too much – or people just keep not eating enough –  and there was all sorts of leftovers. I was teaching a class at the time so I did not attend, yet the organizers were kind enough to save a bunch of food for me since they know I hate wasting food. Luckily, the Tupperware where I brought my salad for lunch was now empty, so I was able to bring food home. A LOT of it. That made last night’s dinner – no picture, sorry – but the best part was that as I was leaving, I heard our administrative running towards me saying “WAIT! YOU FORGOT THE PITA BREAD! THERE’S SO MUCH OF IT! TAKE IT HOME!”.

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These people really know me. So I took the pita bread, and like last time… it’ll last for an eternity. SO MUCH. I made pita toasts for breakfast this morning and for HAL today I threw some pita in the mix too. Thus, today I prepared a delicious stir fry of asparagus, garlic and sunflower seeds, accompanied by some guacamole/chips and homemade garlic pita bread, oven roasted.

Ridiculously yummy food!

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HAL #41 – Toasted pita bread with Canary Isles sauces

Last night we had a very interesting presentation by writer Diamela Eltit in our department. One of my favorite parts of these gatherings – other than the intellectual aspect – is the reception that usually ensues, of course. I am human after all, and I had spent about 10h working at university by the time the speaker finished. Food was necessary. After the event, again as is starting to be a trend, there was so much food left, not because the department ordered too much, but because people didn’t eat in any meaningful amounts yet again. So, as is practically ritual, organizers and helpers divided the leftovers to take home as no healthy food should be thrown away, ever. I got a plate of chicken that I ate for dinner (I wasn’t about to start cooking at 11pm) and what seemed like a bottomless bag of pita bread.

Seriously. I have so much pita at home right now. Did anybody even touch the pita? SO. MUCH. In my home. Which makes life even better. So, busy as I am revising all my written thesis chapters time and time again, on this cloudy and gloomy day, I thought I’d put some color out in the universe. I recalled I still had some of the sauces my awesome Bryan brought from Canary Isles (mojo picón, mojo verde, almogrote & miel) and so I proceeded to use them on previously toasted pita, reserving a couple of the pieces for homemade garlic bread.

The result: HAL perfection. See for yourself below. If that doesn’t look like a happy, nutritious, colorful, healthy awesome lunch, I don’t know what does. I’m tempted to print it in a large canvas and hang it on the wall.

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HAL #40 – Tilapia burger

My previous salmon burger was so good I decided to make this a trend and start making fish burgers more often. Hence, the inception of today’s lunch: a fantastic tilapia burger made with minced fish, onion, pepper, garlic (I seriously love garlic) and some flax seed. I fried it just enough to cook it inside and with  a few pickles on top plus fried asparagus on the side (again with flax seed and maldon salt), lunch was ready.

AH-mazing.

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HAL #38 – The UN convention

Yes, this is a very international HAL – Spanish fried cabbage with flax seed and garlic, Mexican guacamole (that still surprises me because I cannot believe Jewel makes such mind-blowing high-quality guacamole and sells it for so cheap, this is really good stuff) and Indian pita chips! So many countries in just one plate. Healthy, flavorful and amazing.DSC08753