Friday, January 16, 2009

My Family's Public Face

This weekend, I think I'm going to start working on a new system project. I really just decided to start working on it, and I haven't really solidified the idea yet in my mind, but it's basically a public face for my family. My family consists of myself, my wife, and two daughters who are surprisingly computer literate given their young ages (7 & 3).

I am a technology consultant and in addition to keeping my resume online, I typically communicate with my customers, friends, and family through e-mail, iChat, Skype, twitter, facebook, flickr, and a handful of blogs. My wife is a housewife, who communicates with family and friends using e-mail, iChat, MSN Messenger, Skype, and Facebook. My oldest daughter keeps a blog and communicates with family members through e-mail and iChat. My youngest isn't quite ready for written communication, but could probably figure out something like Skype if she had her own computer (which she will once she graduates to Kindergarden).

So we have a variety of systems that we use to communicate with friends, family, and, in my case, business contacts. My wife hasn't complained about it, but I personally hate having to use 8+ different systems to communicate. I want something a little more consolidated, and something my whole family can use.

I've decided that the system I want to build should be a social networking system that builds a community around my family, and allows myself and my family members to communicate with that community. I want this system to be reproducible so that I can give it to my extended family, so my parents can have their own social network, so my brother can have one for himself and eventually for his family when he starts one. I want to give it to my wife's family as well, and eventually, to families around the world. I could also see this system making the jump to companies, schools, and other "families" of all sorts.

Why would I want to do this (besides consolidating all of my social networking tools into one)? I want to do this primarily because all of the existing social networking systems out there are geared towards the individual. I have a personal facebook account, and so does my wife. But we can't really have a family facebook account, even though sometimes that's what we really need. I can't count the number of times my wife has been frustrated that she doesn't have ownership of the images that I upload through my facebook account, even though she's just as much an owner of them. So I want to develop a system that takes more than just individual ownership into account.

So what are the basic features that the system needs? I want to include at least the following functionality:


Each member of my family should be able to keep a personal blog. Blog posts should be taggable, support comments, and, since this is a consolidation of all my blogs into one, have the ability to set distribution channels. When I create a blog post on this system, I should be able to indicate that I want the post to be distributed not only through my personal blog, but also show up on my work blog, or the family blog, or any of the other blogs to which I contribute. Comments on any of those blogs should make their way back up to the parent post, and from there back down to all the other distribution channels, keeping the comments from all systems in sync.


I also want to build in a micro-blogging system, similar to twitter. I don't necessarily want to write a full blog post every time I feel like saying something to my network. I haven't fleshed out the functionality that I'd like to see here, but I'm thinking it should at the very least be able to integrate with twitter and facebook. Posts to my personal micro-blog would be sent out as tweets or facebook status updates.


The wall is a way for my community to communicate back with me. It would need to aggregate @replies sent to me through my twitter account, posts to my facebook wall, comments to my blog posts, and allow my community to post directly through my page.

Direct Messages

In addition to my wall, I want a more private way of communicating. So I should be able to send and receive direct messages. This needs to tie into twitter's DM feature, Facebook's private messaging feature, e-mail, and instant messaging.

It should be real time, or as close to real-time as possible. It should support text, voice, and video. It should be able to inter-operate with Jabber, MSN, e-mail, facebook, twitter, skype, and SMS.


I should be able to upload photos from my computer (or phone) and distribute those photos through multiple "photo streams", including on my flickr account, mine and my wife's facebook accounts, and of course multiple streams directly on the system. I should be able to tag and geo-tag photos.


I should be able to upload videos from my computer (or phone) and distribute those videos through multiple streams, including youtube, flickr, facebook, and within the system itself. Videos should also be taggable and geo-taggable.


Several features, such as blog, micro-blog, photo and video streams, and the wall, all lend themselves quite readily to being syndicated through RSS, so everything should have RSS capabilities.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Veggie Diet Update #2

I thought when I started that I might try to keep this blog updated after every meal with recipes and all, but it turns out I'm just not a dedicated enough blogger to post that often. I haven't even tweeted about every meal, although I should mention you can follow me on twitter at So I'll just post as often as I can and keep you updated that way.

My second day as a vegetarian, didn't go quite as smoothly as the first. We went over to my folks' house for dinner. They knew I had started the diet, but apparently didn't plan around it. We had Chicken Plops, potatoes, and salad. Naturally, the latter two were fine, but I was hungry after not having eaten breakfast or lunch, so I sacrificed the diet in favor of a plop.

2097_enlarged.gifDay three.. Well, I didn't eat much at all on day three. I worked from home, skipped breakfast, skipped lunch, and skipped dinner.. I periodically ate some nuts or crackers throughout the day to prevent myself from getting too hungry. I had a Cup-o-Noodles a little while before bed.

I almost repeated the same thing today. Skipped breakfast as I'm wont to do when I go to the office. Almost skipped lunch, but got a hunger pang while I was out at the bank, and popped into Sweet Tomatoes. Some of you readers may be more familiar with Sweet Tomatoes by the franchise's other name: Souplantation. I guess that's the left coast name. Had a salad (of course), which was almost completely vegetarian (I think one of the pre-mixxed salads had a little bit of bacon in it) and Veggie Chili. I didn't expect much from the Chili, but it was actually pretty good. Almost as tasty as the real thing.

Of course, that was nearly 10 hours ago, and I haven't eaten dinner yet. I'm hungry enough to eat a horse, but that's obviously not on the diet, so I'll probably heat up another Cup-o-Noodles. Question though.. Does "Chicken Flavor" count as vegetarian even if there's no actual meat in there?

Monday, January 05, 2009

Veggie Diet Meal #1

According to Wikipedia, "Vegetarianism is the practice of a diet that excludes meat (including game and slaughter by-products), fish (including shellfish and other sea animals) and poultry."  So strictly speaking, I just finished my first vegetarian meal.  Wikipedia then goes on to indicate that eggs and dairy products are excluded in certain variations of vegetarianism, so my first meal fails that test.

I had leftover Broccoli Casserole, and leftover Sweet Potato Casserole.  Both recipes involve eggs and butter, and the latter included milk.  I'll post the recipes in a moment, but I wanted to comment on the humanitarian aspect of the meal.  If I were a hippy wack-job only interested in being a vegetarian so that no animals get hurt, I would have to say that including eggs and dairy products in my diet was a necessity.  Not only are no animals harmed in the process of harvesting eggs and milk, but it's actually beneficial to the animals which produce these items.

The chickens which produce the eggs we eat do so at least once a day.  If we didn't eat these eggs, they would rot since there is no rooster to fertilize them.  If there were a rooster, the sheer numbers of chicks that would consequently hatch would result in overpopulation, and eventually starvation, sickness, and possibly extinction.

Similarly, dairy cows produce a lot of milk.  In nature, this milk would go to feed nurturing calves.  However, if that milk is not taken from the mother, it will eventually lead to mastisis, which as I understand it can be very painful to the cow.  So just as we have a symbiotic relationship with the chickens which produce our eggs, the cows which provide us milk benefit from the process.

So from a purely humanitarian point of view, I don't see an issue with including eggs and dairy in my diet.  I have yet to determine whether this would affect weight loss.  I want to believe that in small enough portions (let's say for example, 2 eggs in a casserole that serves 12), the nutritional value of the vitamins and proteins would outweigh the negative effects.

Ok, so here's my recipes:

2 packages frozen chopped broccoli
1 cup mayonnaise
1 can Cream of Mushroom soup
2 beaten eggs
1 medium chopped onion
1 cup grated cheese
Peppridge Farm herbed breadcrumbs

Cook broccoli and drain. Mix all ingredients together and put in casserole. Top with buttered bread crumbs. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Serves 8-10.

3 cups mashed cooked sweet potatoes
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 stick of butter
1 teaspoon vanilla


1 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup flour
1 cup chopped pecans
1/3 stick butter

Mix all ingredients but topping and pour into greased casserole. Mix all the topping ingredients and sprinkle on top. Bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes.

I think I'm turning Vegetarian I really think so!

I haven't blogged in a very long time, it's true.  It's not that I haven't had anything to blog about, but rather that I haven't had the time (or rather haven't wanted to spend the time) to maintain my blog since I left CNN nearly two years ago.  I'm not even sure I'll be able to continue to maintain it after this post, but I'm going to try.

Today is the last day I'm going to eat meat.  I actually just got back from lunch.  I had one of Burger King's new Angry Whoppers.  I can't say that it was very angry.  Had a little bit of kick to it, but at least for me, wasn't nearly as spicy as I'd hoped.  But it was meat and I enjoyed every last bite.  I even licked my fingers when I was done to make sure I savored the grease that it left behind.

To be clear, I'm not going vegetarian for humanitarian reasons.  I love meat.  I love eating dead animals.  I don't want animals treated in an inhumane way while they're alive, but if they are going to die anyway, I'm more than happy to be among those who will devour the meat they leave behind.  The very fact that I'm going vegetarian probably means that the animals I would normally eat will continue to live unhappy lives in cages or boxes or wherever it is that they live their lives -- at least until someone else eats them.  Cows living longer lives means more methane gas in the atmosphere, which will cause more global warming, so not only am I extending the suffering of an innocent animal, I'm hurting the planet as well.  I'm a terrible, terrible person.

But I'm fat.  I'm not morbidly obese.  I don't weigh 400 lbs.  I'm terribly out of shape as compared to my college and military days, but I can get out of bed in the morning, pull on my pants, and tie my own shoes.  I can even still see what I'm holding when I use the restroom.  The last time I checked, I weighed about 235 lbs.  Not terrible, but not great.  I went skiing recently, and the one time I fell and had to hike a little way back up the mountain to fetch my skis I wore myself out to the point that I had to take a break once I got to the bottom.  Of course, the fact that I was able to go skiing at all is a tribute to the fact that I'm not beyond hope.

I'd like to lose about 45 - 50 pounds.  I'm hoping to get down to 180 lbs.  I tried Atkins.  It worked 8 years ago when I was single and could afford to eat a steak every day for dinner, an Arby's Big Montana (sans-bun) each day for lunch, and snack on Slim Jim's and beef jerky throughout the day.  I lost 40 pounds in 6 months.  But this time, I'm married.  My wife cooks our dinners, and I have to share my grocery budget with her and two children.  All that meat is just too expensive, and since my wife is cooking for the whole family, it was just too hard to stick to a low carb diet.  So Atkins just isn't a viable option anymore.

That's why I'm taking the opposite approach.  I've never met a fat vegetarian, and most vegans look downright anorexic.  I'm pretty sure vegetarianism is bad for your health long term, but as long as long as I eventually resume eating meat, I don't think it's going to kill me before I lose the weight I want to lose.  Also, a vegetarian diet is much easier to budget for.  Celery, broccoli, and lettuce are significantly cheaper than Slim Jims and Angus.  Also, my wife makes many dishes that are vegetarian friendly, and when she cooks meat, she can easily leave it off my plate.  I don't know too much about vegetarianism.  I don't know if it's better for me to go vegan, or if I can still eat products with eggs and milk as ingredients.  I'm going to start researching this and learning about it and blogging about what I learn.  And I'm going to keep my readers (all none of them) updated about my progress.

So wish me luck folks.  I hope I don't die of malnutrition in my quest for a smaller waistline.  If I do, you'll know by the lack of blog posts.. :)  Of course, that could also be the result of me getting lazy about the blog and not posting...