Sunday, August 27, 2006

My Fascination with Computers

I was just sitting here watching the Science Channel and reading the news on the Internet at the same time (Computer users quickly learn how to multitask without even thinking about it), when I began to wax nostalgic over the old computers I grew up with, so to speak.

Actually, when I was growing up, computers were owned by governments and big corporations. They were often the butt of jokes on sitcoms of the 1960s and ‘70s.

But in 1969, Americans were awed by the spectacle of a human-built spacecraft landing on the surface of the moon. Many were also struck by the fact that an onboard computer did much of the work during that descent.

The computer on board the Eagle was nowhere near as powerful as even a handheld scientific calculator of today. But it didn’t have to be. It had one basic job to do and it did it well.

It wasn’t until a decade later that computers were small and cheap enough for me to be able to afford one. It was my fourth year out of college. I was teaching upstate in Goshen and I decided to take out a small loan and purchase the first TRS-80 computer from Radio Shack. It cost $699 including a black-and-white monitor and a portable cassette recorder for storing the data.

It had no disk drives and the computer itself was built into the keyboard unit. And it had a whopping four kilobytes of memory. For those who are not that familiar with computer terminology, that’s enough memory to store about 4,000 keystrokes. The memory card in my digital camera has the capacity to store the equivalent of half a billion keystrokes. And most modern desktop computers can store about two billion keystrokes in their onboard memory.

In the early 1980s, Timex-Sinclair came out with a tiny computer that was somewhat smaller than most of today’s laptops. It had a membrane keyboard but you had to connect it to a television set to view its output. A cassette recorder was needed to store programs.

It was tiny, but it was also fairly useless, as was the TRS-80. The radio shack computer could play some games. And I liked to program it in the BASIC language that I picked up in college. But the Timex-Sinclair with its one kilobyte of memory could do very little.

Those early computers were primarily for hobbyists. There was really not much practical reason to own one. Some of them had productivity software that could, say, calculate your taxes, but very few people actually trusted them at the time.

In the mid-1980s a format war erupted between those who liked Apple computers and those who liked the IBM-compatible PCs. IBM allowed other companies to clone their PCs, but Apple strictly protected their proprietary system. The result was that PCs flourished and Apple’s sales sagged.

There is still a dichotomy of preference today over which is better, the Macintosh, a descendent of the early Apples, or the PC. Most businesses and household users prefer PCs because they are cheaper and will run more software. But Macs are more prevalent in schools, with graphic designers, and among those who can afford to pay extra for styling and simplicity.

To me, it’s still fascinating that I can sit here in my easy chair, typing on my laptop, and knowing that I have far more computing capability in my lap than was on board the early space shuttles.

That fascination seems to be lost to the younger generation who grew up with computers and think nothing of them except as just another tool or game machine. Yes, that’s what they are designed for, but I am still fascinated by them and how far they’ve come since that first TRS-80 I tinkered with.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

It's Deja Vu with Bush and Iran

Iran has been a thorn in America’s side ever since it became a theocracy back in the late 1970s. Before that, it was an ally under the Shaw. The Shaw of Iran was an evil dictator, but at least he was pragmatic enough to embrace the West.

When the Shaw was deposed and Islamic fundamentalists took over control of the country, student militants quickly took 66 American diplomats and citizens hostage at the U.S. embassy. The crisis lasted 14 months, with a symbolic ending when they were released after Pres. Ronald Reagan was sworn in.

Although there was a period of time when U.S.-Iranian relations seemed to be relaxing, those days are over. With a president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who is firmly in the camp of Islamic fundamentalists and who has a plan to bring his country into the nuclear age, Iran and Washington have done nothing but engage in inflammatory rhetoric.

Iran wants to build nuclear power plants. I don’t know why since it is the world’s third largest producer of oil, but that’s what Ahmadinejad says he wants to do. He claims his uranium enrichment program is not meant to create fuel for use in nuclear weapons.

But that is exactly what the U.S. fears Iran’s nuclear program will spawn, weapons of mass destruction that can be aimed at America’s buddy, Israel.

So with Iran staunchly refusing to give up its uranium enrichment program and the U.S. firmly dedicated to stopping it from proceeding, the matter ended up where most such impasses get a hearing, the U.N. Security Council.

The Security Council comprises 15 members, including five permanent members and 10 elected members that serve two-year terms. Any one of the five permanent members, including the U.S., Russia, France, the United Kingdom, and China, can veto any resolution simply by voting no to it.

And, by virtue of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the five permanent members are the only country’s allowed to possess nuclear weapons. Of course, other countries do, but that’s because they either pulled out of the treaty or because they haven’t admitted to possessing nuclear weapons.

So when a country, especially a third-world country like Iran, makes nuclear overtures, the Security Council invariably must get involved.

Iran is a signatory to the treaty. However, the treaty itself is weakened by a clause that allows nations to leave the treaty if it is in their national interest to do so. Iran has not petitioned to leave.

In fact, Ayatolla Ali Khamene’i has issued a fatwa that prohibits his country from producing, stockpiling, or using nuclear weapons. And the treaty does allow signatory nations to develop nuclear technology for peaceful uses.

U.N. inspectors have not turned up any evidence that refutes Iran’s claim that their nuclear enrichment program is for anything other than clean energy. But the Bush administration isn’t buying it, just as it didn’t accept the U.N.’s contention that showed Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction.

So Bush is now pushing for sanctions against Iran and for the freezing of its assets, a move that could trigger a retaliatory cutback in oil output by Iran. And that would send gasoline prices even higher.

The Security Council members are not in agreement over sanctions. The U.S. wants them; Britain and France are not quite sold on the idea, and Russia and China are firmly against sanctions at this time.

The fact is, however chilling a nuclear-armed Iran would be, there is no more evidence that Iran is making nuclear weapons than that Iraq was making them prior to the ongoing war we now have with that country.

Now Bush wants to form yet another coalition of the willing to enact sanctions against Iran for doing nothing more than what it has the right to do as a sovereign nation under Security Council rules.

Not only is Bush an obstinate, unyielding leader who believes that he has a better grasp on reality than all the rest of the nations of the U.N. and who would like nothing better than to turn this country into a Christian theocracy, he also seems not to be able to learn even the simplest lessons of history. So here we go again.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Sweet Mother of God?

Remember when we were kids we liked to stare at the clouds and see what kinds of shapes our imaginations could make out of them. The puffy white cumulous clouds, ever changing with the high-altitude breezes, could keep a kid busy for a long time in the days before video games.

Before that, back in ancient times, astrologers looked to the night sky and thought they saw images of animals, people, or gods that were familiar to them. What they saw as the tail of a great bear, we typically see as the Big Dipper. The identity of the image mainly depends on who’s doing the looking.

In California last week a candy maker, Martucci Angiano, who runs Bodega Chocolates, thought she saw a figure in the chocolate drippings underneath a vat of chocolate. She believed it bore a resemblance to the Virgin Mary.

Melted chocolate sometimes drips onto wax paper beneath the vats. Typically, they do not produce anything but random patterns. Last week, though, Martucci noticed the figure produced by the drippings and thought it resembled the image of Mary as depicted on her prayer card.

She said she always had believed in the Holy Virgin, but this image was striking to her. It quickly caught the attention of her workers.

One of the kitchen workers said it was a sign. Another claimed it renewed his faith in God that had been waning due to hardships in his life recently.

Martucci’s chocolate boutique is a gourmet shop that features booths at star-studded events, such as the Emmys and the Golden Globes. She is used to meeting famous people. But she said she felt especially struck by this two-inch mound of chocolate.

My question is, are people really so starved for faith in the supernatural that they can see images of saints and deities in everything? Over the past several years, the mother of God has appeared as a road salt stain on a bridge abutment, as a film on the outside of a Florida office building, and on a piece of toast that was sold on eBay for hundreds of dollars.

Workers at the boutique spent most of the day praying to the little chunk of chocolate, placing rose petals around it, and lighting candles next to it. The owner delicately wrapped it and preserved it under refrigeration, and shows it to those who request to see it.

To me, the tiny confectionary statue is clearly the image of a sleeping owl. Maybe it’s a sign we should be spending more time trying to save the spotted owl. It makes as much sense as whatever alternative sign the randomly-produced drippings might evoke.

For one thing, nobody knows what the real Mary looked like. We don’t even know what her son, Jesus, looked like. Yet everybody can recognize the Europeanized version of his likeness wherever it is displayed.

Both Mary and her son were Middle Eastern Jews. They would have looked like any other Middle Eastern Jew of the era, rather short, dark skinned, black hair, prominent proboscis.

The images we recognize were created by early European Catholics, so they look like handsome Europeans. And so, when we happen to see one of the random images in the clouds, the stars, on a building, or in a chocolate dripping, what we’re really worshipping is the image produced by some European artist who was simply trying to please his pope and his ruling dictator, Constantine.

And if another image of a holy figure appears in a piece of candy, someone should simply shrug, eat it, and say that godly figure was delicious. It’s not blasphemy; it’s simply common sense.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Planet Pluto to be Downgraded

Quickly now: How many planets are there in our solar system?

If you were awake during any science class from the second grade on, you know the answer to that question is nine. More people are probably aware of the number of planets in our solar system than are aware of the number of continents on Earth. That number is seven.

But by Friday of this week, there is a very good chance that the number of officially-recognized planets will have changed. No, none of them are going to fly off into interplanetary space nor fall into the sun. And new ones are not going to be created via some Velikovskyan collision of worlds.

Rather, the International Astronomical Union has proposed a new definition for planet. The proposal will not really change the official definition, since there has never actually been an official astronomical definition of the word, only a popular one.

It seems rather unusual for scientists of any discipline to have never officially defined a term they have used for hundreds of years, but so it is with planet. But a committee of the IAU has now proposed a definition, one which the American Astronomical Society fully supports. Their recommendation will be debated this week at the IAU general assembly in Prague, with a vote expected on Thursday.

If the full body accepts the recommendation, as expected, then every new science textbook will need to be updated with a new count for the number of planets in the solar system. And every school child from now on will have to learn that there are eight planets: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune.

That’s right; Pluto will likely be downgraded by the new planetary definition. It will, instead, become a pluton, a new term that defines an object that is larger than a comet or an asteroid, but not big enough to be a full-fledged planet.

Most students now learn that Pluto has a single moon, called Charon. But that will also change. Since Charon and Pluto are so similar in size and they both orbit a common center of gravity that is in space between the two bodies, the correct term for the pair will be a double pluton.

The asteroid Ceres will also be a pluton, as will the newly discovered planetary object orbiting far beyond Pluto, unofficially named Xena. At least a couple dozen other very large asteroids may be reclassified as plutons as well.

So what is the newly-proposed official definition of a planet? If the proposal is accepted, a planet will be defined as “a celestial body that has sufficient mass for its self-gravity to overcome rigid body forces so that it assumes a hydrostatic equilibrium shape and is in orbit around a star and is neither a star, nor a satellite of a planet.” In other words, it has to be big enough to have enough gravity to hold itself together as a sphere.

It certainly is esoteric-sounding enough to be a scientific definition. I’m not sure most lexicographers would accept it as being in standard form, though, since it actually uses the word planet in the definition of the word planet. Otherwise, it seems accurate enough. It is the definition that I have supported for years even before I knew anyone was trying to define a planet, although I would have used fewer words.

So, with the crack of a gavel or the show of hands, or however they do votes at the IAU general assembly, the world view of the solar system will be all new. Our solar system will now be taught as the sun, around which orbit eight planets, four plutons, and hundreds of thousands of comets and asteroids.

It’s striking to contemplate that we Earthlings may be the only beings in the entire universe to know about the drastic change in the solar system, or to care.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Researchers Hunt Down Ghosts for Fun

Do you believe your house or business is haunted? If so, who ya gonna call?

Well, not the Ghost Busters. But you might consider calling on a group of paranormal investigators from the Edinburgh and Columbus area to do a workup of your property in order to rule out or confirm your suspicions of paranormal activity.

Three brothers and a friend of theirs, all of whom are interested in the paranormal based on personal experience and interest, formed Hoosier Paranormal Research in 2005. Since then, they have traveled to many destinations with their modern electronic ghost-hunting equipment to verify the existence of spirits or apparitions.

On their Web site,, they claim their mission is to, “…investigate allegations of ghostly or paranormal activity and to help people better understand it.”

The three brothers are also brothers of mine, and they have invited me along on their ghost-hunting adventures. Being an unwavering skeptic, I’ve always declined their invitations, so I do not know by first-hand experience what ghost hunting is like. But to the Hoosier Paranormal researchers, it is both fascinating and, occasionally, mystifying.

Robert and Ken Wilson from Edinburgh along with their brother Greg from Columbus and friend Shanon from Columbus make up the Hoosier Paranormal Research group. Shanon doesn’t wan’t to reveal his last name because he is involved in a church group that might not understand his paranormal research hobby.

Ken became interested in the paranormal after seeing what he describes as a well-dressed old man sitting in a chair in the living room where he had been asleep on the couch. He claims to have been wide awake when he saw the image. It was very unnerving for him.

Greg’s interest in the paranormal began in the mid-1990s at his former residence. He kept hearing strange noises in the other room. Although he never really felt in danger, it did kindle an interest in ghostly phenomena.

Robert had never experienced a paranormal event prior to his association with the research team, but he has always taken an interest in the paranormal, reading all he could find about the subject.

Shanon’s interest in the paranormal began in his first home back in the early 1990s. He tells of how items would continually come up missing; clocks would start and stop without explanation, and pets would exhibit strange behavior. He even occasionally saw a shadow of a small child out of the corner of his eye.

Since the four men teamed up to start ghost hunting, they have performed research at several private residences, the Crump Theater in Columbus, the Story Inn in Brown County, and the Gettysburg battlefield in Gettysburg, Pa. They have visited several cemeteries in the state.

They will make a presentation to the public at the Bartholomew County Public Library in October. And they are scheduled to do an investigation of the Willard Library in Evansville next year. So the group keeps rather busy chasing down spirits and such.

During their investigations, they have captured images of lights and orbs that they can’t explain. They also have several recordings of EVPs, or electronic voice phenomena, which they offer for download on their Web site.

The team’s members are quick to point out that, although each of them believes in paranormal phenomena, they first seek to discover natural causes for anything unusual they find. They do not try to prove that an unidentified phenomenon is of paranormal origin until they can first rule out all natural explanations.

The group does not charge a fee for their services and they do not perform exorcisms or try to rid the property of ghosts. But they claim they can put people in contact with those who can help in that area.

They get satisfaction out of helping their clients understand what is going on in their house or business. And ultimately, they claim what they do is a great amount of fun.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Homegrown Energy is Best Value

You know the best way to make people happy about paying three dollars a gallon for gasoline? Just raise the price to $3.25 for a few weeks then drop it back down. They curse, whine, and complain about the incredibly high price of gas, but then when the price comes back down to what they were paying a month ago, they feel some relief.

That’s the plot being perpetrated by the oil industry. We all know the oil industry’s profits have soared over the past couple of years. And we all know the oil exporting companies have reaped a giant windfall because of the inflated prices. And yet, when the price seems to drop a few pennies and stabilize for a couple of weeks, we still feel relief.

And that’s what the industry wants the consumers to feel. Gasoline has been roughly stable at just under three dollars a gallon for the past month or so. It’s far too high a price to pay, but when it spikes at $3.19 and then comes back down a few days later, we smile and pay it.

Now that British Petroleum has decided to close down the Alaskan pipeline due to corrosion, even though a small minority of our oil comes from that source, it will surely be the next excuse the oil industry will use to hike prices yet again.

If motorists are reluctantly willing to pay three dollars a gallon for fuel, it’s high time that fuel was switched to something other than imported petroleum. Indiana produces a great deal of coal. Although coal cannot be used to power internal combustion engines per se, it can be converted into a petroleum-like product through a process known as coal gasification. This can then be refined to produce gasoline that can power our vehicles.

Then there is ethanol. Indiana produces a lot of corn, and corn is one crop that can be used to produce ethanol, a type of alcohol that can be mixed with gasoline to power a so-called flex fuel vehicle. Flex fuel vehicles are becoming more common.

Gov. Mitch Daniels wants state vehicles to be flex fuel vehicles. He wants more ethanol plants to be built in the state. There have already been 11 built in the last year, with the twelfth and largest being built in Mount Vernon.

In the mean time, Wal-Mart is considering selling E85, the fuel mixture containing 85 percent ethanol, at its out-lot gas stations. If that happens, drivers will have ready access to the new fuel mixture nationwide.

Ethanol is not the perfect fuel. It is non-polluting and it burns efficiently enough. But some energy analysts claim it takes as much or more energy to produce a gallon of ethanol as we ultimately get from it. However, once mass production truly starts, and we begin using switch grass and corn stems to make ethanol instead of the grain itself, the energy balance should swing to the positive side.

Daniel’s energy plan, which also includes using more clean-burning coal from Indiana, will not only mean more abundant energy, but it will result in the creation of more Hoosier jobs. Indiana now gets only half its coal from within the state.

Of course, his plan has its critics, mainly from the Democrats. They say it’s a plan for the future, but that consumers need help now. They want the governor to eliminate the gasoline sales tax.

The problem with a sales tax on gasoline is that it is taken as a direct percent of total sales. That means the state gets more money when the price of gas is three dollars per gallon than when it was two dollars. In other words, as the price of gas goes up, the state reaps a windfall from its own consumers.

If the governor believes the state needs to maintain a sales tax, he should introduce a plan to the General Assembly that would charge sales tax based on the gallons consumed, not the price per gallon. In that way, the up-and-down vacillation in gasoline prices would not cause an equal swing in the amount of sales tax paid.

But at least the state is planning for its energy future. So are the country’s automakers, who have said they plan to produce more flex fuel vehicles in the coming years. And if giant national chains like Wal-Mart agree to start selling E85, it will eventually mean we will have relatively abundant fuel that won’t pollute the environment.

It will still cost three dollars a gallon or more. But we seem to be used to that price by now.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Talladega Nights Hits a Nerve

My daughter and I went to see Will Farrell’s new movie, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, this week. I thought it was laugh-out-loud funny and appreciated the satire of this NASCAR parody. My daughter thought it was just silly.

One of my favorite parts of the movie was when Farrell’s character said grace at the table. It was an in-your-face satire of the Bible Belt, and one that is well overdue.

Ted Baehr reviewed the film on, which claims it is a, “… ministry dedicated to redeeming the values of the mass media according to biblical principles, by influencing entertainment industry executives and helping families make wise media choices.”

Baehr took no prisoners. He hated the film and called for a boycott of it, saying, “A satire of the NASCAR racing scene, the movie is a racist, bigoted work that ridicules the Bible Belt, Southern white men, Christianity, Jesus Christ, the family, and American masculinity.”

But it was drop-dead funny. And if the southern conservatives can’t take a little ribbing, then let them make a film making fun of mainstream intelligent Americans.

Baehr also had this to say of Farrell. “Apparently, Will Farrell, who co-wrote the movie, is saying that anyone who believes in such moral absolutes, such as the biblical admonitions against fornication and homosexuality, or the moral superiority of Christianity, is an idiot.”

I don’t know what Mr. Farrell has to say about that, but I’ll come right out and say it myself. Anyone who does believe in the moral superiority of Christianity and in the concept of absolute morality is either exceptionally ignorant or an incredibly self-righteous pompous ass, like Baehr.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

A World of Happiness?

Not everyone is happy all the time, but it is apparent that some people are happier than others, on average. And it isn’t too surprising to find out that people in certain countries tend to be happier on the average than people in other countries.

A study by researchers at the University of Leicester in England compared 174 countries, using 100 different social and economic indexes, to come up with a happiness index. The researchers then listed the countries in order of happiness based on this index.

The happiest country in the world is Denmark. The least happy is Burundi in Africa. The United States came in fairly happy at number 23. The United Kingdom was only moderately happy with a ranking of 41.

The study found a correlation between how happy a person rated his or her life and three main variables. What affected happiness most was a country’s health care system, the gross domestic product per capita, and the educational system.

“There is a belief that capitalism leads to unhappy people. However, when people are asked if they are happy with their lives, people in countries with good healthcare, a higher GDP per capita, and access to education were much more likely to report being happy,” said study author Adrian White.

Of course, the researchers also concluded that there is a connection among these three variables as well. “The three predictor variables of health, wealth and education were also very closely associated with each other, illustrating the interdependence of these factors,” White said.

In general, happier countries tended to be more capitalistic. But the countries of the former Soviet Union are quite unhappy. Perhaps they are pining for the old dicatorship, or maybe they just haven’t gotten their new-found capitalism fine tuned enough yet.

Among the happiest 50 percent of the countries, there also seemed to be some correlation with religion. The top 10 happiest countries generally had a higher percentage of people who did not belong to any particular religion. Only about 25 percent of Denmark’s population believe in God, for example. Switzerland, Austria, and Iceland, which are among the top five happiest countries, also have a low rate of religousity.

The Scandinavian Countries, all in the top 10, are decidedly non-religious. And Canada, which ranked number 10 in happiness, has a far greater percentage of people who claim no religion than the U.S.

But it certainly isn’t a single factor that determines happiness. Japan, for example, ranked fairly high in the three leading factors with an average life expectancy of 82, a high degree of education and a relatively high GDP per capita. Yet the Japanese tend to be very unhappy. Japan ranked 90 in the study.

Communist countries tended to have fairly unhappy people, as would be expected. But it would be interesting to compare the happiness level of the former Soviet Union with what it used to be when it was a communist country.

The most unhappy people in the world, by far, are the African nations. The happiest country in the whole of Africa is Nambia, which ranked 74. The five most unhappy nations are in Africa.

Most Islamic countries in the Middle East are not happy at all. The exceptions are Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Qatar, and Kuwait. Of those, only the UAE is happier on average than the U.S. with a ranking of 22.

The Leicester study was the first comprehensive study of its type. So it cannot be compared with any historical accounts of happiness.

It would also be fascinating to see how the happiness level of the U.S. changed as different presidents came into office. For example, were we as a nation happier when Clinton was in office or are we happier now with Bush?

I think I know how most Americans would answer that question.

Friday, August 04, 2006

If You're Going to Cook Veggies, Cook 'em Right

How do you like your broccoli? That’s not a rhetorical question; I really want to know.

I dine out a lot, typically at least once a day. And, although I have my favorite restaurants, I do like to mix it up now and then. But there is one thing I’ve learned about restaurant-prepared broccoli and other fresh vegetables; restaurants tend to undercook them.

It’s not just broccoli, although broccoli tends to be undercooked more often than most other side dishes. Sometimes cooked green beans come back a little on the crisp side. And carrots are seldom prepared to perfection. Even cooking spinach is problematic.

No I don’t have a broccoli fetish, nor do I have an obsession with it. It’s just one of those little things in life that can become annoying when it happens over and over again. And I have been served undercooked broccoli often enough that I have decided to do something about it.

First let me say that I do like raw broccoli, in salads or as a dipping veggie. I don’t eat much of it because it tends to be a little too hard for my personal taste. But I have nothing against it, per se.

But when cooked, I want my veggies, including broccoli, to be soft. I don’t want even the slightest hint of crispness. I don’t want to hear it crunch in my mouth. I even want the stems to be so tender that I can easily squish them in my mouth with my tongue.

To me, that’s how broccoli should be prepared. But in restaurants, it seldom is. Restaurants almost always undercook their broccoli and overcook their fish. It must be some unspoken restaurant rule.

I believe people from different parts of the country have varying expectations for their cooked vegetables. I used to watch a PBS cooking show called the Frugal Gourmet (back before cable gave me more options) whose host insisted that vegetables and most meats, should not really be cooked at all, but merely threatened with heat.

He was from Washington State. Yet he related a story of how his mother used to cook vegetables in a pot until they would literally fall apart. He scoffed at her cooking methods, but I would have rather eaten one of her vegetable dishes than his.

Especially in soups, broccoli and other vegetables should be completely tender. I went to a restaurant in downtown Indy the other day and ordered their broccoli cheese soup. The stock was delicious. But the broccoli seemed to have been added after the soup was cooked.

At a famous spaghetti restaurant they offer a side dish of broccoli. Every time I order it, I tell them to steam it well done. And so far, I’ve had to send it back every time. Once I had to send it back twice. The second time the waiter told me, “This is as well done as the cook says he can make it.” It was barely cooked within acceptable parameters, so I didn’t have to ask him what he meant by that remark. No matter how well done it is, you can always cook it longer.

In fact, from now on, when I order a side dish of broccoli, I usually just tell the server to inform the chef that when he thinks the broccoli is perfect, steam it at least another minute.

Maybe I’m the only one who likes his veggies cooked to a very tender condition, but I don’t think so. I think most people just go ahead and crunch away, though they would prefer not to have to.

If you agree, or even if you don’t, post a reply to this entry. Maybe I’m in the minority.

Sam Gugino, a cook and author agrees with me. On his Web site, he says, regarding cooking broccoli, “And don't undercook it because, well, because raw or undercooked broccoli just doesn't taste very good.” And its mouth feel just doesn’t go with the rest of the meal.

So if there are any restaurateurs reading this column, please, for my sake, cook your veggies. Otherwise, to me, it’s just like eating a hot salad.