Monday, February 25, 2008

Sushi Review of Nippon Japanese Restaurant in Houston, TX

Ever have one of those dreams where you go to work and you're not wearing any clothes only you really are wearing clothes and instead of being at work, you're sitting in one of Houston's best Japanese restaurants without any cash or credit cards? Yeah, not just a dream for me last year. So now that the emotional scars from that little episode have been tattooed over with little drawings of heart-shaped mountain bikes, my team of stalwart sushi comrades and I went back to Nippon. This time with money. Hooray!

The paper lanterns of Nippon in Houston

Holy out eating out of order Batman! One of my friends attained ultra-mega-regular customer status earlier this year, so the owner helped wait on us personally. Great, except that I angered the sushi gods (and felt that I maybe irritated her) by ordering the sukiyaki before the sashimi and the maki. Not traditional Japanese food eating order apparently.

Let's collectively gush over the sukiyaki. Split three ways, our mistake of not sitting at the sushi bar paid a dividend here by setting the pan in the middle of our table. Sweet, tender beef with tofu, spinach, onion, and noodles, it was all I could do not to plant my head in the pan and start slurping uncontrollably. Next!

Sukiyaki at Nippon in Houston

The sashimi unorthodoxically served after the sukiyaki came as squid, octopus, red snapper, tuna, sweet shrimp, yellow tail, and little red fish eggs. Wonderfully tender octopus, perfectly fresh red snapper, and excellent tuna cut in the shape of aspen leaves. Ahhhh. The yellow tail crowned the experience with a flavor and freshness that trancended the Osteichthyes class of vertebrates into pure edible angel... fish. But yellowtail. Mmmm.

Sashimi plate at Nippon in Houston

The maki included a futomaki (picnic roll) and a house special role containing tuna, spicy mayo, avocado covered in eel sauce, more spicy mayo, and those little deep fried flakes I can't remember the name of covering everything. Futo maki also translates as "let's all chuckle at our friend while he tries to only bite a piece off instead of sticking the whole thing in his mouth and letting the rest of it fall to pieces on his sushi plate". I know someone who has a friend that's neighbors with someone who speaks fluent Japanese. My first futomaki and I loved it. The house special role was also quite yummy.

Futomaki at Nippon in Houston

House special roll at Nippon in Houston

A perfect night in reverse. Be prepared for challenging parking and a warm comfortable dinning room as well as excellent service and a distinguished sake menu. I currentlty believe Nippon to be the best sushi restaurant in Houston. Contrary to what these proles believe.

Nighttime at Nippon in Houston

The sushi bar at Nippon in Houston

Friday, February 22, 2008

2005 Horse Play Rollicking Red

The smell didn't pull me in or get me excited about writing rest of the review - muskier than sweet, it made me think of all those strong French cheeses my comrade Steve was constantly encouraging me to eat. A Blade Runner cork color matched to the label seemed a bit gimmicky.

Woody. Alcohol came across balanced. Mild start, gusty middle, and somewhat bitter finish. A little spice to it, but too astringent tasting for me. It might budge my way a bit more after being open for a day. More woody and musky than sweet and fruity, but not spicy enough to make the musky or woody part work for me. It's not wimpy, but it seems to be coming on strong in the wrong ways. I'm not sure this wine is ready for the glass just yet, but I generally expect red table wine to be more approachable after 3 years in the bottle.

Jackson Family Wines (as in Kendall-Jackson) created the White Rocket Wine Company and this wine appeared as one of their first offerings. I picked it up at Krogers for $9.99 with a Super Saver card. I rarely have good luck with offerings from the mega vineyards, but I only saw this and one other red blend on the shelves.

Anyway, Melissa Bates crafted this blend for the KJ Empire and I apologize to her for not liking it more. I give it one chainring. Not that that really means anything.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Restaurant Review of Hide Sushi in Santa Monica, CA

We were quite literally blown into Santa Monica's Hide Sushi restaurant for a treat unlike the sushi I'm used to in Houston. I've never had a gourd roll or gotten this ecstatic over giant clam. Mmm... giant clams and gourds. Remember the Gourd's cover of Snoop Dog's Gin and Juice?


Sawtelle Blvd certainly doesn't lack for sushi restaurants or giant robot stores. This particular sushi restaurant came chosen by Zak for their superior fish. Oh the fish. So fresh. So tasty. So perfect. I swear there was a little hello kitty pulling salmon out of the water with its cute little paw, filleting the poor thing with a little pink hello kitty knife, and tossing the perfectly cut chunk of sweet pink fish flesh into my mouth. So good.

The sushi bar at Hide Sushi

An interesting place: cash only and not a really trendy or interesting interior. Smallish - tough to seat a lot of people. But WHO CARES? I loved the fish. On a Sunday no less.

I also loved the gourd roll (Kampyo-Maki). My first time with the gourd. Except for the marriage gourd my mother in law brought me back from Peru. But that was painted with a little love story on the outside instead of little brown marinated strips of yummy goodness wrapped in perfect rice and seaweed. Of course I got a soft shell crab roll - seemed pretty standard - then followed up by a B+ salmon skin roll. Don't worry, things ramp up with a giant clam roll. Shelled, cooked, and cut personally by the giant robot into a awesome roll.

Expect a traditional menu - not newbie friendly. Go for the fish, especially the salmon, and wave to the kitty.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Oversteer in Management Decision Making

About a year ago, I enrolled in a Modelnetics course. At the time, I also started reading a book by Scott Berkun titled "The Art of Project Management". Berkun alluded to a concept referred to as 'oversteer'. To me, Berkun's idea of oversteer in project management looked like a Modelnetics model. I'll do my best here to describe what that model might look like.

With a car, oversteer occurs when a small amount of steering input by the driver produces a larger than expected degree of turn. In the case of management practice, oversteer describes decisions made to take corrective action concerning a problem that in turn produces problems requiring additional corrective action. I think both the law of unintended consequences and misplaced confidence in our own assumptions come into play here.

I think management oversteer can take many forms. Overly harsh disciplinary action, creating spontaneous short term goals that distract from or conflict with long term goals, and faulty prioritization can all be manifestations of oversteer. Another interesting example might be an apology out of scale with a fault, thus making the mistake seem larger than it is. While recently trying to resolve a service affecting network issue in a VIP area of our campus, I directed steps based on bad data that completely failed to address the problem. The oversteer came from the fact that these steps, again based on bad data, would ultimately catalyze a new issue just two weeks later.

Where might oversteer come from? No doubt hundreds of things both conscious and unconscious play into our decision making. I'll guess, however, that common causes include faulty or insufficient data concerning the problem, inadequate focus on long term goals, panic or a desire to create drama, or the desire for the appearance of strong corrective action.

How do we avoid oversteer? Any of the best practice literature on good decision making should help prevent oversteer. I think staying focused on long term goals and vision and thinking about the real impact on those goals can help. The right perspective on a problem is a good insulator from all kinds of bad decisions. We need to make sure we're getting all the input from our team. The team input that will keep us from oversteer will sometimes only come from asking the right questions.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Race Recap for the 2008 Mas o Menos in Terlingua, TX

A lot can go wrong between starting the drive from Houston and crossing the finish line for Mas o Menos. As our semi-pro friend / race site tent neighbor John Seckinger wisely pointed out, that's all part of the sport and there's no sense getting worked up over all the things that can go wrong. Another racer we met at a gas station heading west said, "It all makes for a better story, right?".

Actually, not much went wrong, so I'll hit the highlights:

* Despite dire weather forecasts, the worst the weather handed us was a cold and super-windy night before the race. Tents blew over and the flapping from the tent material thundered for most of the night. So no fires, but hey no snow! I finally get RVs - some people (me) aren't natural 'tenters'. Thanks for lending the gear Coleman family!

* The food was fantastic. I bloated myself wonderfully on cheese tortellini at dinner and then huevos rancheros the next morning.

* The turnout seemed huge to me, but I'm a first timer to this particular race. A big bunch of super friendly folks. Wow, MTB racing needs more women.

* Ultra-friendly race workers delivered a pretty well-marked and organized race. The finish area felt a little chaotic and the volume on the music needed to be turned down all weekend. Cool trophies and awards ceremony. Did I mention how good the food tasted? I'll get to the course details in my rundown later. Here's the links for folks who would like to read coverage of the race other than mine (which is pretty much about how I did).

Here we go...

After a short lead out, the pack went into stupid sprint mode and I found myself already gasping and riding about fourth from last position after only a half-mile. The first (roughly) third of the 30k usually stayed flat through jeep roads, twisty single-track, and creek beds. The deep loose pea gravel in the creek beds drove me nuts, but the single-track was nice and passing required some strategy. Riders got all crammed together on a short rise called 'Shiddy Hill' and then a long jeep road led to the base of Tres Cuevas - the big climb of the course.

I managed to do one of those really stupid moves where when I get within twenty feet of the top and get distracted by patting myself on the back for cleaning the climb, I space out, hit a rock, and fall over.

Between the flats and the climb I had moved my place up a fair amount - but I wasn't sure exactly where I stood. Now it's usually this point in a race where I can't keep my head right, I kinda psych out, and let the pack go by. This time I pushed pretty hard figuring I had done enough of the total climbing to not hold anything in reserve.

Now I kinda understand full-suspension. The top ridge ride and descent had the Yeti bouncing everywhere. The fast, loose, narrow, twisty jeep trail was fun, but I couldn't get any power to the real wheel. I had the air pressure on the tires high for fear of pinch flats on the sharp rocks and they just couldn't hook up. The course didn't test slow, steep technical descending skills, but rather high speed bike handling skills through rough twisties. I think full-suspension would have sped me up for this section. This pic shows me about to turn into the last bit of downhill single-track before the finish.

I had caught sight of a rider in front of me at the top of the big climb, but he quickly left me in the dust and I didn't see another wheel for the rest of the race in front of or behind me. The descent ended crash free and I crossed the line in third place out of sixteen for the 30k - my first time on a podium.

My wife's race support went above and beyond with driving, tenting, feeding, and organizing. Kevin at Bike Barn got the Yeti running perfect.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Sushi Review of Bamboo in Bedford, Massachusetts

The blog is clearly due for a sushi review, but since we're in west Texas for Mas-O-Menos and little sushi is too be had here (but a lot of other great food), I'll have to fall back on my recollection of a great place I sampled back in the fall in Bedford, MA. I found a placed named Bamboo purely due to the fact that roads in eastern Massachusetts make no sense to me whatsoever (despite my having been born in MA).

Don't let the outside fool you. Bamboo has a nice polished atmosphere inside and the sushi bar met most of my criteria. The tall chairs felt comfortable, and I had a place to rest my feet while sitting on them. They displayed the fish nicely, but unfortunately I could not see the preparation area very well. The sushi chefs were not super forthcoming vis-a-vis fish recommendations.

I went with seaweed salad, miso soup, two pieces each of yellowtail, salmon, and regular tuna, and a maki special for that night containing asparagus, avocado, cucumber and salmon(?). I'm guessing on the fish in the maki - this was a while ago. The soup and sushi were fine - not outstanding, but no complaints. The seaweed salad was the major highlight, combining three different types of seaweed instead of single green stringy kind (although that was in there). Some of the seaweed was an excellent leafy kind. I must also note the maki for its unusual tempura treatment after assembly. I enjoyed the texture, but I felt the outside tempura batter diluted the flavor of the other ingredients too much. An excellent roll for training first time sushi eaters, but not a great item for the sea urchin and raw quail egg crowd.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The Miles of Discomfort Race in Comfort, TX on January 26th

Two days before the race, Texas skies were bringing only rain, mud, and cold air. The idea of racing 26 miles in those conditions led me to almost skip the event. It's one thing to be muddy and cold - but to be muddy, cold and wet for 26 miles... no thanks.

Well, we went.

That turned out to be a good thing because...

Lance Armstrong also entered the race. He didn't finish though. Bummer. Weirdly, his entering the race led to professional photographers all over the course. That was new for me. This first pic of Lance in his yellow and black Livestrong jersey was taken while he entered the feed zone.

This was the best organized race I've ever been to. Excellent trail markings, lots of course marshals, great concessions, and super organized registration.

The course was spectacular. I had amazing views of the Texas hill country and the trail had a lot of variety: steep technical descents, fast winding descents, steep technical climbs, and lots of rocky narrow single track.

The bike ran really well. Damn, the Yeti was a trooper. It didn't complain the whole time. I must have passed ten guys on the side of the trail dealing with technical breakdowns. BTW, what's with all the full-suspension rigs? Come on, Texas isn't British Columbia.

I didn't finish last. This was my first race of the year and the thing about marathon events is that there are no rider category distinctions - just age categories (I was 19-34). Beginner, sport, and expert riders all race in their one category. This was also the longest race I will have this year.

So here's the blow-by-blow:

I had a good start with an up-front position. I clipped in pretty fast - unusual for me.

Five minutes into the race, I realized that I had overdressed. A short sleeve jersey would have been fine. The full fingered gloves I was wearing were starting to feel hot, so I took them off. Remember this point, it's important later.

The pace was high at the beginning and the pack split into thirds. My lungs were already burning from the climb out of the start area so I drifted to somewhere in between the middle pack and back third pack.

Over the next twelve miles, I slowly moved up to catch the middle pack and was able to overtake them. After a good decent back into the camp area, I was running about 8th with the last half of the race still to go. The pic at right shows me at this point in the race.

Next came a very long steep rocky ascent that took everything I had to get to the top. Things went completely to crap at this point. Not wearing gloves had produced huge blisters on my hands that became... uncomfortable. I also ran out of water around this time. My legs began to badly cramp and every small climb became a chore. Because of my hands, going downhill wasn't fun either. Within the last two miles of the race, that middle third of the pack caught and passed me. Somewhere on the trail, one of the gloves I had taken off fell out of my jersey pocket.

Then it was over. I changed into civvies, the wife and I had lunch, we loaded up the car, I dropped by the medical tent, and then we headed home.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Becker Vineyards 2004 Cabernet-Syrah

Ironically, my first wine post is not a review of a California red blend, but a Texas red blend. I rarely buy Texas wines, but I grabbed this one just for something new at the local super. Plus, ya know, it was already open. Let's start with the basics:
Be prepared for me to get all gushy about this one. I bought out the store after I tried my first bottle. The wine feels really balanced, not too sweet and not too fruity. I get great dark berry flavors without a lot of alcohol or grape-viney taste. I think the bouquet predicts a meatier flavor than the medium hit you get. Also it's not quite as spicy as I go for. I paired it with stove top popcorn and the first episode of Starblazers for a full faceted sensory extravaganza. I give it five chainrings!

The next post will head to California below the $10 latitude. Drink and be well.

Monday, February 11, 2008

The Importance of Meeting Agendas

It probably seems obvious to most that meeting agendas are important for timing purposes. An agenda keeps a meeting from going too long and keeps a meeting on topic. At its most basic, an agenda lists the timetable for topics, activities and speakers within the pre-established time frame of the meeting. But lately I suspect there is more to meeting agendas than I first thought.

The importance of an agenda starts even before the meeting takes place. When we schedule a meeting, we should also send the agenda. This accomplishes the following:
  • Everyone attending the meeting is able to prepare appropriately. Supplying attendees with just a time, place, and meeting topic gives no one a chance to bring or review relevant documents, prepare status reports on action items, or suggest agenda changes to the one calling the meeting.
  • Writing the agenda helps focus our thoughts and strategy regarding the meeting before the meeting takes place. Leaving out this step can create meetings with unfocused goals, meandering topics, and stream of consciousness like communication from us, the meeting facilitator.
A brief verbal review of the agenda at the start of the meeting reinforces the meeting's goals to everyone attending. This review also gives the us a base on which to fall back on when the meeting drifts off topic and a way to bookend the meeting along with a recap of the meetings goals at the end. This brief review of the agenda at the start of the meeting also helps focus us when we start our meetings.

For meetings that are following a presentation format, instead of a discussion format, the importance of an agenda is lessened. However, in that case, sending out a short description of the presentation can help people make a more educated choice regarding their attendance when a scheduling conflict might exist.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Issue Zero - The Origin Story

I hoping this blog will make an excellent resource for anyone interested in mountain bike racing, California blended red wines, best-practice management techniques, and sushi. I know there are a lot of you out there.

The topics are not wholly unrelated. Mountain bike racing positively impacts my work life by greatly strengthening my focus and productivity. Difficult situations at work generally pale in comparison to the pressures of racing. Perspective counts for a lot in this world.

The phrase 'write memory' originates from the information technology world. Network engineers working on Cisco gear use the write memory command to save changes to the router's running configuration. While Cisco replaced this command with 'copy run start', the vast majority of us still use 'write memory'. This is partly to be retro cool, partly due to the new command's longer length, and partly due to the better reliability of the old command. The command felt appropriate to me for my blog title - blogging in way saves my own running configuration. While I'm neither retro nor cool, I am a bit outdated.