March 26, 2007

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Tea time should be for everyone

I was thinking about whether to organize my Sunday tea parties along
conversational themes, carefully scheduling guests to ensure an
amicable mix. But something doesn’t feel quite right about that, not
for my Sunday tea parties. I want my Sunday teas to be an open
kind of thing. No need to call. No need to check the Internet to see
what my schedule is or think about who the other guests are. Just come
and enjoy assorted teas, juices, chocolates, light snacks, and

I haven’t quite figured out what I want that tea time to be, but I
think that I’m getting closer to it. This openness presents certain
challenges. I don’t know how many people will show up, which makes it
a good exercise in learning how to scale up or down as needed. A far
larger challenge, however, is conversation. Maybe we can treat it as
practice in social graces. ;)

I am a geek, and as a geek, I meet mostly other geeks as well. Many
geeks—myself included—often have a hard time with small talk,
starting conversations with people whom they know little about or with
whom they don’t have an immediately obvious common interest. This is a
pity, and this is something I’d like to work on and help other people

As a host, I get uncomfortable when even one person is feeling left
out, or when there are no pauses or questions in the conversation to
invite shyer people to contribute.

We might not necessarily connect and become friends with everyone we
meet, but we should certainly be able to draw out people who want to
converse, and to share a bit of ourselves as well. I feel strongly
that the adept conversationalist should be able to relate to both
2-year-olds and 92-year-olds. Diversity reveals deficiencies. If you
find yourself unable to talk about anything but computers, you’ll know
that you need to experience more!

Deep talk is not taboo. You’re certainly welcome to enter into a side
conversation about the meaning of life. I’d love it if you ended up
continuing the conversation over dinner (which I might even join after
I wash up) or another get-together. If I can figure out how to set up
other focal points, that would be even cooler.

Dropping out of the conversations and playing Scrabble or Boggle would
also be fine by me. If I can find a nice set of shadowbox-type
shelves, then I might even start collecting geek puzzles. We sometimes
need time to recharge socially, after all.

What about a time for deeper conversation or a carefully-chosen mix of
guests? If you want a specialized conversation salon where we can
discuss, say, really really geeky jokes, then we can organize one –
but not during Sunday tea time. Sunday tea is for everyone.

I can improve a few things, though. The layout of a room affects the
conversations in it. Right now, the white coffee table is my only
focal point, which naturally results in one major conversation. When
the weather warms up a bit more, people will be able to stay on the
balcony. I need to make more use of the corners of my room, though.
Maybe small mats and a few more cushions will give people permission
to multithread conversations…

I am so glad I didn’t go with chairs, which would have been harder to

Hmm. What about a small drop-leaf table mounted on the wall? That
would be a fixed focal point. A low table or tray with cushions placed
invitingly around it? I might have space for another cluster of four
if I move things around and get rid of all the stuff near my walls.
Maybe a corner mat would be a flexible way to do it.

I like thinking about how structure affects flow. The structure of the
room, the structure of the event… Ah!

Random Emacs symbol: view-hello-file – Command: Display the HELLO file which list up many languages and characters.

Ethics approval!

Yay, got ethics approval for my usability study! Now I just have to
work on polishing up the prototype and making sure that it’s testable…

Random Emacs symbol: tenth – Function: Return the tenth element of the list X.

Tea Party 2: Attack of the Eclairs


  • James Iveniuk
  • W- Young
  • Jessica Young
  • Simon Rowland


  • Eclairs (happy! ;) )
  • Ambrosia apples
  • Clementines
  • A marvelous assortment of tea, from which Simon chose Mountain Spring Jasmine

W- and Jessica helped me make eclair shells the night before, which
proved to be quite an adventure. We followed the recipe from the older
edition of Joy of Cooking. I have the new version, so I can’t include
the recipe for the choux pastry until I copy it from him sometime.
Here’s the one I used for the frosting, though.

Joy of Cooking p1003

1. Boil 3/4 cup cream in a small saucepan. Well, I had a little less than
3/4 cup of table cream left over from tea last Sunday (no one took
cream), so I topped it up with a bit of whole milk.

2. Add 8 ounces of chocolate, finely chopped. I wasn’t sure if the
baker’s chocolate squares were 1 ounce each, so I tested it using the
displacement method of measuring that W- taught me. I put in eight
squares, which seemed just about right.

3. Stir until most of the chocolate is melted.

4. Cover and let stand for 10 minutes.

5. Stir very gently until completely smooth. Well, taste it, and then panic as you realize that unsweetened chocolate really is unsweetened. Dig out brown sugar container left over from cookies from before the move (yay cookie ingredients!). Add sugar to taste.

The resulting dessert was yummy, although a little too soft and rich.
Also, I need to learn how to make it look prettier. Maybe a light
glaze next time instead of a thick chocolate filling?

I also bought a box of six varieties of tea bags. I’m thinking of
using the neatly-divided box to present other teas when I’m done,
although it’ll take a while to get through 120 tea bags. (Had one
today!) I picked up Mountain Spring Jasmine organic green tea from an
upscale grocery. Yup, definitely starting a tea collection. Maybe I
should reduce the proportion of chocolate desserts so that people can
savor the tastes of the tea instead…

Bought jam and fancy white bread, too. (Fancy? White bread? Eh?)
Fighting the urge to break out into song from the Sound of Music.

Oh, and bought easter lilies! They smell wonderful. I hope they last
longer than tulips. Note to self: find a low-care, pretty, fragrant perennial…

I had a lot of fun catching up with James. We talked about
interpersonal relations and communication skills, a topic naturally
proceeding from his mention of “Keys to the VIP”, the idea of which
appalls me. James left at around 5:15, which gave me some time to sort
things out before W-, Jess and Simon arrived at around 5:30. They
stayed until 6:30 and chatted with each other while I packed up.

Oh, and I have a pretty new teapot – glass with a built-in tea ball
that you can raise and suspend using a jointed rod in the lid. Clever
design. Got it from Winners.

Great things this time: Kicking people out at just the right time. =)
Also, having time before the party to prepare in a relaxed manner.
Next time – less food? Or maybe a focus on fruits and jams. I should
take a look at the weather forecast. If it’s cold weather, I’ll bring
out the chocolates. If it’s warm weather, I’ll announce a fruit- and
jam-oriented tea party…

Random Emacs symbol: ispell-kill-ispell – Command: Kill current Ispell process (so that you may start a fresh one).

My own place

Another paean to the joys of having my own place! I’m coming to *like*
not having other people around, at least once in a while. To sing at
the top of my voice, to do my chores in a state somewhat less than
presentable (it’s a little too warm here—I should look into getting
two stand fans), to simply relax… Ahhh.

I’m treating myself to a face mask. Green, of course, and with a towel
wrapped around my head—just like in the movies. The tea tree oil
smells fascinating and stings just a little bit. (It’s said to be good
for pimples.) But there! Girl.

Still, this picture would not be complete without my reading lamp, a
delicately curved tea cup with Earl Grey tea (there’s a story behind
that, too), and Jon Bentley’s excellent and not at all dated
compilation of columns: “More Programming Pearls: Confessions of a
Coder.” I loved the essays on algorithm analysis. Two made me think
and go hmm – Floyd’s algorithm for randomly sampling M integers from
the range 1..N, and Hoare’s algorithm for efficiently finding the
median of a set. Geek.

I think I’ll do more hand-laundry today. I like doing that. I’m also
considering getting more cushion covers so that I can change them, if
I can find non-Ikea ones that are also 72x72cm. Then I have lots of
e-mail and blogging to catch up with… Life is good!

Random Emacs symbol: gnus-emphasis-strikethru – Face: Face used for displaying strike-through text (-word-).