Saturday, May 23, 2009

Review: Forty Six, Kannapolis, NC

Next door to the historic Gem Theatre in Kannapolis, NC is a restaurant that I've been dying to try out. There, on West 1st Street, nestled between the old-school Cannon Village retail strip and the quite new North Carolina Research Campus, lies Forty Six (, an upscale establishment focused on promoting a "culture of healthy food". Thanks to Amy's parents offering their childsitting services tonight, we were finally able to try this place out. For you impatient readers who interpret "healthy food" to mean "nasty food" — as might our four-year-old son — let me simply summarize our experience by saying that your interpretation would be completely wrong.

Forty Six presents a visual theme consistent with the research angle of the NCRC. As the first of what will hopefully be many new restaurants there near the campus, the establishment — which takes its name from the number of chromosomes in the human genome — is decorated with science-y things: beakers serve as vases on the tables; molecular diagrams of edible atoms (caffeine, chocolate, etc.) line the walls; the ceiling is crowned by famous quotes about knowledge and its pursuit; and (my personal favorite) the bathrooms are labeled "XY" and "XX". This is all done tastefully, of course. The first impression of a trendy big-city restaurant gives way only gradually and never completely to the geeky stuff, the theme providing fodder for discussion without distracting from the all-too-rare experience (for us, anyway) of feeling like you're at least a thousand miles away from fast food.

Amy and I had reservations for the first time slot (Forty Six opens at 5:30pm on Saturdays), and were promptly greeted and seated upon our arrival. This was just the beginning of over an hour of quality service from the staff of this restaurant. Our server, Mallory, maintained the ideal distance: we never had to wait for her to visit, and we never found ourselves waiting for her to go away. Keeping my water glass filled without my even noticing? That's the target, folks, and Mallory nailed it.

We began by ordering a "safe" glass of red wine — a Mondavi Cabernet — and the Duck Quesadilla appetizer. We enjoyed prompt delivery of both, plus a basket of bread with accompanying bean-and-tomato-based dipping sauce. The quesadilla — which was served with a black bean tapenade and a salsa featuring cucumbers and pineapple — was tasty, but unfortunately didn't last long between the two of us.

Salads were next. Amy ordered a half portion of the Warm Walnut Encrusted Goat Cheese Salad. She's a huge fan of apples in salads, and was not disappointed by the Granny Smith slivers in her selection. We hadn't really studied the menu with an intent to memorize it, so it was cute to watch her uncover tasteful surprises as she navigated the Balsamic-dressed greens. ("Ooh! Is that bacon?!") Only a chunk of goat cheese survived her appetite. I had a half portion of the considerably simpler Forty Six Salad: mixed greens, mandarin oranges, and chickpeas with a green goddess dressing. There was no exciting progression through my salad, but its taste and presentation made it worthwhile.

Forty Six offers several seafood dishes, but that's not really Amy's thing. She was eying the lamb, instead. Upon consultation regarding entree portion sizes, Mallory reminded us of Forty Six's healthy dining focus. However, she was confident that we could happily split an entree if we so desired. As it turns out, we so desired. Now, in our marriage, the proper cooking temperature of meat is always a point of contention. Amy's a "medium-to-medium-well" kinda girl; I'm a "rare-to-medium-rare" kinda guy; and there's not much overlap there. But this presented no problems for us tonight: the chef was cool enough to divide the chop prior to preparation and cook each half to order. Our bone-in New Zealand lamb chops arrived cooked to perfection, wading in a pool of Balsamic Demi Glaze, with roasted red potatoes, zucchini, and yellow squash cheering from the sidelines. The lamb was simply divine. Amy is a sucker for a good potato, and was thoroughly pleased by hers. I was looking forward to those squash sides, which I found good but perhaps a little more al dente than preferred. As we wrapped up the entree course, we were glad we had decided to share one. Apparently, the term "moderate portion sizes" as employed by Forty Six is open to some varying interpretations.

As any decent, God-fearing woman will attest, a delicious meal such as we were enjoying cannot be considered complete without dessert. Mallory presented the options: triple-layer chocolate cake; red velvet cake; banana pudding; and some others, all of which had much more interesting descriptions than what I can recall now. Amy rightly noted that "we always go for the chocolate-y stuff", and encouraged a different tack tonight: the red velvet cake (and a pair of cappuccinos). Mallory delivered all of this promptly (she was aware that we were trying to make the 7:00pm movie next door at the Gem). This cake was the absolute reddest red velvet cake I've ever seen; multi-layered, with a cream cheese icing between the layers, and a dollop of whipped cream on the top. Unfortunately, it was also considerably less moist than I'd hoped. The cake's components were all good, but those components shouldn't require me to hit my cappuccino as often as they did. (Alas, the cappuccino itself was unremarkable.) Overall, not the best finish to the meal.

Despite not being wowed by the dessert, Amy and I both left Restaurant Forty Six tonight feeling comfortably full yet immeasurably happier having shared this experience. I sincerely hope we have the opportunity to return there in the future.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Green church growth

In my previous post, I ranted a little bit about today's raging green hype. But as implied there, Christians are not without some responsibility in all this business. So I'll turn this around on those of us who do claim to understand the purpose of Creation.

Green thoughts were fresh in my mind yesterday when a pastor friend of mine (Paul Batson) and I were driving toward a meeting in Charlotte. (We were off to meet with a couple of area pastors about church real estate.) So I found it interesting that Paul brought up the topic of how church properties tend to be some of the foremost examples of underutilization around. It's a reasonable claim, actually: a building big enough to hold hundreds of people in one giant space, plus additional classroom space, but actually used for, what, maybe six hours a week? Church, how do we deal with this monumental waste of resources?

I'll go further, and personalize this. My church has just entered into a building program because we're having trouble fitting people into the temporary accommodations currently in use after outgrowing the previous worship and educational space. (Did you follow that?) Was this the right decision? I mean, I understand the desire to avoid multiple worship services and multiple small group periods in the name of keeping all the membership together with that comfy feeling of unity. But might better use of existing space — and money — demand the opposite approach?

I'm no social scientist, but I've noticed that almost every time I check the number of friends that someone I know has on the social networking site Facebook, the number tends to hover between 200 and 300. This caused me to recall something I'd heard long ago about some theoretical maximum number of social connections that a person could maintain stably. I did some Googling around, and I think Dunbar's Number was that figure. British anthropologist Robin Dunbar theoretized (based on the physical size of a region of the brain) that folks could keep about 150 such connections. (A more recent and more directly derived estimate of about 250 came out of research by anthropologists H. Russell Bernard and Peter Killworth.)

What does Dunbar's (or Bernard-Killworth's) Number mean for large churches? Does it explain why many people start to get antsy when their congregrations grow too large — why they start to feel disconnected? Does it allow an interpretation that having more moderately-attended church services benefits the sense of Christian community better than holding fewer gatherings of humongous crowds? And how does this all play into better use of church resources?


Everywhere I look I see the green. It's Spring, so my green lawn needs a bi-weekly whacking with my John Deere green lawn tractor (which is complicated by the low-hanging green-leafed limbs of some of the trees on our property). But if that was the only green I was seeing, that'd be okay. Unfortunately, it isn't.

"Going green" or "being green" or "living green" almost wholly consumes the mass media and the consumer marketplace. Right now, over half of the top results from a simple Google search for a word as common as "green" are about environmentalism, eco-friendliness, and so on. Green is the new black, or something like that.

Climate change (née global warming), carbon offsets, renewable energy, reduce/reuse/recycle, are worthy topics all. And as a Christian who believes that mankind was entrusted with wise stewardship of God-created, God-provided resources, I don't think I or anybody else holds a get-out-of-responsibility-free card. But I detect two big, green problems with much of the hype:

Man sees green — in financial opportunity. I honestly do not know who to turn to for trustworthy information about the state of the world; its climate and related trends; which problems are real, predicted, or flatly imagined; which solutions are viable; and so on. Part of the problem is that there's too much money in the eco-this-that-or-the-other trend right now. Do I really believe that every producer of goods is concerned about the world when they release some fascinating new eco-conscious version of their product? Hardly. Seems sex is getting a run for its money in the "marketing tools" arena these days.

God sees green — with envy. We have a jealous God who demands that all things be done for His glory. Not mine, not yours, and not Earth's, but God's glory. I think far too many people have traded being caretakers of creation (as a form of worshiping the Creator) for worship of the creation (Earth, humanity, Self, money, ...). That's busted.

There must be a better, more divinely-inspired way of exploring this problem space and its solutions, because being green — that is, naïve — enough to worship this rock or anything or anyone on it is a horrific non-starter.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

ViewVC 1.1.0 (finally) released.

Today, I finally got around to releasing ViewVC 1.1.0.

I know. And you're right — that's not the most uplifting lead-off line ever written for a technical blog. Sounds mostly positive (new release?!), with a hint of exasperation, and all shrouded in a mysterious cloud of why-should-i-care. Sorry about that. But allow me to explain.

ViewVC 1.1.0 represents — maybe misrepresents — three years of development on features introduced since 1.0.0 came out. I'm pretty pleased with the features, many of which were contributed by and/or willingly tested by volunteers. Here's an overview, taken from the official release announcement:

  • Extensible path-based authorization w/ Subversion authz support
  • Subversion versioned properties display
  • Unified markup and annotation views
  • Unified, hassle-free Pygments-based syntax highlighting
  • Subversion svn:mime-type property value honoring
  • Support for full content diffs
  • Standalone server improvements
  • Commits database management and query enhancements
  • Support for per-root configuration overrides
  • Optional email address obfuscation/mangling
  • Pagination improvements
  • ... plus many bug fixes and additional enhancements!

"That's it? After three years' time, that's all we get?!"

It's okay. I've asked myself that a hundred times, too. It's a bummer, but I think I'm learning another hard lesson about open source projects: when a piece of software reaches a certain level of maturity, the developers-to-users ratio tends toward nil.

Before I ever started working on ViewCVS (which was what ViewVC was called at the time), it was already a well-established, widely used piece of software. CollabNet used it to display version control repositories in its CollabNet Enterprise Edition software suite. was doing the same. It seemed that everybody had a copy of ViewCVS. The software was ubiquitous, worked well, and CVS wasn't changing significantly. And ViewCVS's developer participation reflected this plateau of innovation, too — I think there might have been two or three folks active at the time, mostly just fixing the occasional bug.

Seven years ago, I was tasked by CollabNet to add support for Subversion to ViewCVS. Subversion hadn't even released its 1.0 version at the time. Subversion was still this young, exciting, rapidly developing new entry into the version control world. I (with the help of others) did get Subversion support added to ViewCVS, and along the way I inherited primary maintainer-ship of the project. The project was renamed to ViewVC later to reflect the fact that it was no longer CVS-only, and I began focusing on fixing outstanding bugs and tracking changes in Subversion's new releases.

Fast-forward a few years. Now Subversion's rate of change — at least, in terms of what's of interest to a repository browser tool — is starting to plateau, too. And ViewVC's contribution rate is again reflecting that. Fewer active committers (< 2), investing less time (< 1 day/month), and with fewer volunteer contributions.

It's lonely here.

But it doesn't have to be. There still remain opportunities for improvement in ViewVC. Off the top of my head, I'd say adding support for other version control systems — Mercurial, Git, etc. — is a place where your expertise and effort would be not only appreciated, but required, if only because I don't use those systems myself. Scalability and performance improvements are always welcome. And I'd love to see ViewVC's MySQL integration expanded — why not use the database as a glorious cache of information that takes too long to harvest at runtime from the VC system?

So, while I might casually kick myself in the backside for finally and barely eeking out a new release of ViewVC, I do so understanding now that this may just be the way things go for mature software, thankful for ViewVC's many users, and happy to be working on free code.

Take ViewVC 1.1.0 for a spin. Kick the tires. Send feedback — positive and negative — to the mailing lists. I might be slow to respond, but "I'm not dead!", and neither is ViewVC.

.o O ( "I think I'll go for a walk … I feel happy." )