Friday, December 29, 2006

More anagrams

See if you can guess who is who without using an anagramming tool.
  • Aha Mist
  • A Maple, or Ale Map
  • I Rap
  • A Crier, or Racier
  • Orb Head, or Ah Bored or Do Rehab
  • A Tense Hip, Pains Thee, Apish Teen or Hate Penis

Hmm, that last one might be too crude to actually use much.

On hoboes

Did you know that a hobo once ran the US treasury? That, and more, may be learned by reading the excellent book by John Hodgman, The Areas Of My Expertise.

Even though he can't read, Army Don* seemed quite happy when Yum Lass** and I gave him a copy of this very book for Xmas. When he got to the list of 700 Hobo Names, he couldn't help reading the first few out aloud, and we all agreed that the best one (at least on the first page of the list) is All-but-dissertation Tucker Dummychuck. You can see the full list online here, along with pictures of the hoboes submitted by real people.

And as an extra treat for those that can't read or like listening to things, KUOW's The Beat featured a repeat of an interview with John Hodgman. It's fun.

* An anagram of his real name, to protect the innocent.
** Another anagram.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Christmas comes early for tech support

It seems our company tech support guys are on vacation already. My main computer's power supply seems to have thrown a wobbly (technical term) after the winter storm last week knocked out power in Seattle.

I managed to call tch support a few days ago and get a real live person to open a case for my issue, but since then no-ones been over to fix the machine. Calls to tech support over the two days are met with 30+ minutes of the most God-awful musak ever. Every few minutes a lady's calm voice tells me all analysts are busy, and my call is very important to them, but I know the truth: They're all drinking eggnog at home!

In the meantime I managed to use my computer kung-fu to get 50% of my drives online in a temporary machine. Stay tuned for the next exciting installment!

Update: As luck would have it, I made it through to a real person after another long wait, and this time gave my cell number to the tech. I got a call over lunch, and came back to find my machine ready to go with a new power supply. Woohoo! Thanks Mr. Tech Guy, and happy Chrismahannukwanzaa!

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Retro games

I recently came across Retrospec, a group of hobbyists dedicated to recreating classic Spectrum and Commodore 64 games.

They have several completes games available on their website, including one of my all-time-favourites, Head Over Heels. I'm happy to report that Head Over Heels works well on Vista! :)

Then of course, there are emulators that let you run the original C64 and Speccy games on your PC. Some quick links: Gamebase64, Lemon64,, VICE

Somehow I'm more inclined to play remakes of the classic games that use the improved graphics and sound capabilities of modern PC's, but every now and then it's fun to fire up the originals and bask in their SID-tuney glory!

Wine Atlas

I've been enjoying one of my birthday gifts a lot recently. A bought me a copy of The Wine Atlas, and it has a lot of great general information on wine and grapes, as well as detailed maps of the great wine-producing regions of the world.

The southern hemisphere gets a bit of a short shrift (as usual), especially South Africa, which gets very few pages and only a map of the Paarl region. (What, no Stellenbosch, Franschoek, not to mention the other up-and-coming regions in the Western Cape, like Durbanville?)

Possibly one reason that the book spends less time and paper on the southern hemisphere (and even the USA) is that "new world" wines are much easier to understand simply by looking at the label. You'll usually be able to tell (unambiguously) the winery, grape type, vintage, and area the wine comes from. The back label will usually tell you even more (like climate conditions in the year of harvest, wine-making technique used, type and length of barrel conditioning, etc.)

Old-world wines are much more confusing. Most label have no grape type listed. Instead you'll get the chateau/winery name (sometimes), sometimes with a whimsical name, the vintage, and appellation/regional origin. The appellation, if you have an encyclopedic knowledge, will tell you what grape type(s) are used, and usually the style of wine.

Having the atlas means I've actually been able to begin to understand where the various French AOC/Vin de Pays and Italian DOC/DOCG regions actually are, what wineries are part of them, and what rules regulate the wine made there.

For example, take a recent French wine I drank: 2003 Domaine des Baumard Anjou Clos de la Folie. It's quite fun being able to look up the Anjou region in the atlas, read about the history and traditional wines made there, and see maps of the towns and vineyards/chateaux. I also found out that Anjou is mainly known for its rose and white wines, but that more wineries are experimenting with red wines nowadays.

For Italian wine, the atlas helps to seperate wines with similar-sounding names, like Montepulciano d'Abruzzo versus Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. It was also fun to look up Asti and see the familiar winery names (like La Serra, which belongs to Marchesi di Gresy).

It would be cool if there was an online wine atlas. (Google Maps or Virtual Earth maps overlaid with winery and vineyard info? Region names and borders, AOC/DOC/DOCG info. Maybe a nice mash-up to try to implement in the future?)

The Pinotage Club

(From Spittoon): Wine writer Peter May recently launched a blog dedicated to Pinotage (the uniquely South African grape variety).

I was pleased to see that Pinotage is being grown outside SA (in New Zealand and the US, based on the articles on the blog). Horton Vineyards, a US winery, plan to launch their first Pinotage next year.

Updated: 1/9/2007. Fixed Peter's name - thanks for the correction!

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Credit-card fraud

Last night a friend was telling me about a recent surprise call she got from the Visa Fraud department. One Friday she had donated some money to four charities online, using her credit card. At 5AM the next morning, Visa were calling her to inquire about suspicious charges on her credit card.

That's a pretty quick turn-around and seems to implicate one of the charities she donated to. Either the charity was hacked, or a 3rd-party they contract with to process credit cards was hacked, or an employee somewhere along the line leaked the information.

All of this reminded me of how stupid and weak the current credit-card system is (and online shopping in general). Online merchants should not be able to store information in their systems that can later by used to charge you
A few years ago I was also the victim of credit-card fraud after vising South Africa. (The most likely point that my card information was "stolen" was when I bought some CDs in a store at JHB airport - I'm guessing my card info was copied down there or the card was cloned).

Online credit-card fraud seems to be the most rampant - and there's a large underground market in stolen card numbers and customer information. So why is it that Visa, Mastercard et al haven't come up with a more secure solution?

One-time use cards (1, 2, 3)have been around for a while now, and sound like a good stop-gap solution, since the underlying credit-card processing system can remain unchanged. Some card issuers (MBNA, Discover, CitiBank) offer this to their customers, and some banks that issue Visa cards offer it, but not all. (Not mine).

"Verified by Visa" is another solution, but doesn't seem to be being used by many people.

PS: If you're using a debit card for online purchases, be aware that the bank will not cover you for fraudulent charges (beyond a tiny amount, I believe). You're much better off using a credit card online - if fraudulent charges are made, you will not be held liable.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Blood Diamonds

Anil Dash has a post today about diamonds, following up to a post he did four years ago. I'm not sure how I feel about buying diamonds myself - I oscillate between not-so-bad-if-you-know-they-are-conflict-free to industrial-diamonds-only to none-at-all.
I definitely think it's worth knowing where they come from if you are intending buying them, though.

I was looking forward to seeing the movie, but after reading the first comment on Anil's blog, I'm less inclined. If Warner really did promise artificial limbs to amputees they hired as extras, and has reneged on that promise, they can whistle for my $9.


Cooksister has a great entry on snoek, a fish commonly eaten in the Western Cape in South Africa. In a way, snoek is to the W.Cape what salmon is to the Pacific Northwest. Cooksister was lucky enough to find some in the UK (despite most Brits not liking the stuff - it was imported in canned form during WWII, and probably didn't taste great. Plus it's associated with deprivation and hard times - a bit like SPAM). I haven't seen any for sale in the USA (not that I've asked around too much).

I really like snoek and have fond memories of snoek braais when I was growing up. There's nothing quite like a half snoek, basted with butter and garlic, grilled on a charcoal fire. My aunt's mom used to make a mean snoek pate too... And then there was the frequent outing to Hout Bay to buy snoek in all shapes and sizes at Snoekies (a large seafood processor that had a "factory shop" open to the public).

It was also common to see people selling fresh snoek from the back of their bakkies (USA: trucks) during the summer, but my mom could never bring herself to buy fresh snoek. She had a really bad experience once with a snoek my dad brought home from the harbour, the rule being she had to clean and cook the fish and he would take care of the fishing or buying. this particular snoek turned out to be full of worm-like intestinal parasites, the sight of which was permanently engraved on my mom's brain. Luckily my uncle and his friend Michelle provided fresh braaid snoek on several occasions after the gruesome event, or I would probably never have had any!

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Bjarne Stroustrup interview

Something for the geeks out there: an interview with Bjarne. As Ali G might say "He's the geezer wot gave us C-plusity-plus".
Why's this article interesting? From the subtitle: "the inventor of the C++ programming language, defends his legacy and examines what's wrong with most software code."

Every few weeks there'll be a flare up of the old C/C++-vs-Managed-Code argument on the programming lists at work. It's certainly true that C and C++ both let you shoot yourself in the foot easily (and have nice exploitable security bugs in your code, such as buffer-overflows), but C++ also has the added tendency to introduce really nasty, hard-to-track-down bugs when you don't really understand what's happening under the covers. As long as you know exactly what you and the compiler, and the standard libraries (if you use them) are doing, you'll be fine.

C#/managed code generally isolate you from the nasty details of what's happening under the covers (at least, if you just use managed code and don't need to interoperate with native code). You don't need to worry about the difference between a container of objects and a container of pointers. No smart pointers to use or not use. And generally great built-in standard libraries.

Although I am not a C# and managed code expert, my take (and most other peoples) is that they're definitely a move in the right direction in terms of preventing stupid bugs from having security impacts. No more BO's and memory-management woes. Managed code is not automatically free from security bugs though...

Just 'coz it's green, doesn't make it guacamole

This is not exactly earth-shattering, I know, but it struck me as amusing anyway. From R: Kraft guacamole is essentially a whipped paste made from partially hydrogenated soybean and coconut oils, corn syrup, whey, and food starch. Yellow and blue dyes give it the guacamole green color.

Shocked! Shocked, I am!
If you've ever tasted Kraft guacamole and real guacamole (or even just real avocado), you'd know it has barely a passing resemblance to the real thing. More like green cream-cheesey-type-stuff. The lawsuit is silly, but hopefully this will encourage more people to RTFIL (Read The Flaming Ingredients List).

For better pre-made guac, I heart Trader Joe's. As usual, they had some fun naming their's and called it Avocado's Number. From this article:
This dip pays homage to you mathe-magicians out there; the name is a play on Avogadro's number. As the label says, "Admittedly, there aren't 6.0221367 x 10^23 avocados in here, but 5 plus avo's isn't bad!" At $2.99 apiece, this godsend of modern grocery goodness costs less than if you bought the five avocados fresh.

My favourite guac from TJ's, though, is the one with fire-roasted tomatoes on top.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Darn, Steph got the easy test!

Steph became a US citizen a few months back. Now it looks like they're about to make the test a bit harder (probably to keep twits like me from becoming citizens, heh...)

See how well you do on questions from the current test here. (Uh-oh... I only got 35%)

Disposable email addresses

I noticed this on /. : 10-Minute Mail, a new service that lets you create a "throw-away" email address to use when signing up with a new online service. Most services require you to "verify" your email address by clicking on a link they send you, and usually once this is done, you don't want to ever get email from them again. (If you do, you would consider it spam).

As the name indicates, your 10-Minute-Mail account is only valid for 10 minutes (you can extend this if needed). That is normally plenty time to validate the address. There are two big disadvantages with this system, though:

  1. Sometimes you may actually want to get email from the online service, for example if you forget your password and they email you a new one. I don't know if 10-Minute-Mail lets you re-activate an email address when you know it is about to receive email you want to read?

  2. The email address generated is not very easy to remember (e.g. If your email address is your sign-in/account name, you're stuck remembering a seperate, cryptic email for each service.

An alternative is, which provides free, receive-only email accounts. You can choose the address (good), and subscribe to a RSS feed to get notified when new mail arrives (nice). A slight downside is that since everyone shares the domain, you probably won't be able to get or

A solution that myself and a few friends use requires having your own domain (quite cheap), and having the domain set up to allow "catch-all" email forwarding. The way this works is that any email received by you domain that doesn't match a real account is forwarded to a real email address you specify (and that no-one can see publicly).

So, if you are signing up with, you could use an email address of Then, the few initial emails you get from would be sent to your real address. If at some point you start getting spam sent to this email address, you can filter it out easily.

Why not just use a single fake email address for all your online services? So that you can figure out who to blame if your account starts getting spam (usually this means the company sold your information, is spamming themselves, or has been hacked).

Winter is here!

Wow! November has been quite a month in the Pacific NW.
First we had record rainfalls and flooding, now an arctic storm has dumped several inches of snow around the Puget Sound and left the streets treacherously icy. I worked from home today and took a stroll at lunch-time to enjoy the sunshine. Despite being clear and sunny, the peak temperature today was in the low 20's F.

Here are some pics:

A patch of thick ice that had been broken up into chunks by a car

A snow-covered tree

The outside of our house

It looks like it we're in one or two more nights of below-freezing temperatures (which should make the morning commutes interesting), and maybe even more snow tomorrow night.

In the meantime, my mostly-snow-capable car (a Subaru) is stuck in the garage with a smashed rear windshield*, so I've been taking the bus to work for the past few days. With a bit of luck the windshield will be replaced on Thursday and I will be more mobile come rain, sleet or snow.

(* I parked outside a house near Cafe Flora and got a rock thrown through the window by a lawnmower... Lucky me!)

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Lillet, Kina Lillet...

From this article on IOL, it looks like the new James Bond film has caused increased interest in Lillet.

On-screen Bonds have usually ordered a "vodka martini - shaken, not stirred". But in Casino Royale, which premiered earlier this month, actor Daniel Craig lists Bordeaux aperitif Lillet as an ingredient of the spy's favourite tipple."Three measures of Gordon's (gin), one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet, shake it over ice then add a thin slice of lemon peel," Bond asks a waiter as he duels with his adversary in a high-stakes game of poker.

That repeat of the recipe from Ian Fleming's first Bond novel has prompted viewers to contact the firm, which has just seven staff and has dropped the word Kina from its name.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

More on Allegro

A few days ago I wrote about Scrabble and mentioned the Allegro graphics library.
It turns out that the creator of Allegro, Shawn Hargreaves, is now at Microsoft and has a blog.

He works on XNA Game Studio Express which looks quite interesting. Read his introductory blog post here, and there's lots more info on XNA on his blog.

Bits and bobs

Here are a few random bits and bobs, hand-culled from the Internets for you my faithful readers.

From the girls-you-ought-to-know-about department:
  • CNet has published a list of the top 10 girl geeks throughout history. Someone must have been sitting on their brains when they compiled the list, since Paris Hilton is included. I was also surprised to see Daryl Hannah, but she actually sounds far geekier than I gave her creditfor. (Liebrary, a game she co-created, sounds like fun). Who would you like to see on this list?

From the I-can't-believe-I-missed-this department:

  • The Decemberists played at the Paramount on the 17th of November. The Seattle Times has a glowing review. I need to hear/purchase their new album, The Crane Wife. Got that, Santa?
  • Prime Suspect 7 was recently aired on PBS. Now I need to wait for the DVD to be released (or pray for a repeat broadcast).

From the funny-stuff-that-will-offend-someone department:

  • Wolverine_nun had a link to this Harry Enfield video on YouTube: "Women, Know Your Limits". There's a lot of other good stuff from him on YouTube - all of it new to me. I'd heard of Spitting Image (which he did voices for), but otherwise not seen him before. Other triva from his Wikipedia entry: He was the first guest on BBC's Top Gear in 2002.

From the penny-stocks-and-sexy-pills department:

  • EWeek has a good article describing the link between botnets and the recent surge in spam. It's sobering to see that almost 50% of the infected hosts are running XP SP2 - despite all the security improvements Microsoft made. Vista will fare much better, I'm sure, but it will take a good many years to get those SP2 machines retired/upgraded.

Monday, November 20, 2006

New RSS feed

I noticed that FeedBurner (and/or Outlook12) wasn't too happy with the new feed from the beta Blogger, so I've switched to this instead:

If you notice bogus dates (1/1/2006) for all new posts, then please switch to the above feed.

Best use of a "Tears for Fears" song in advertising

... has to be the advert for the XBO 360 game, "Gears of War". (YouTube version)
PS: The game's website is pretty cool - scary, though.

The song is "Mad World", Tears for Fears' debut single. The version used in the advert is a cover by Gary Jules. It originally appeared at the end of the movie Donnie Darko. (Which I still need to see).

I was a huge Tears for Fears fan growing up - the first album of theirs I bought was "The Seeds of Love" and I loved listening to the "set" of 4 songs that flow together. After their breakup, they disappeared until "Tears Roll Down" came out in '92 (Orzabal was basically a solo artist using the Tears for Fears name still).

The next two albums ("Elemental" and "Raoul and the Kings of Spain") didn't make much of an impression on me. Orzabal and Smith finally reunited and released a new album in 2004 ("Everybody Loves a Happy Ending") which I've listened to a few times but didn't really love. Perhaps I've just outgrown my earlier tastes?

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Scrabble: Man vs. Machine

The Seattle Times today has a story about recent man-machine match in Seattle. Jim Kramer is the 2006 U.S. Scrabble Open champion, and played a best-of-3 match against RealNetwork's new Scrabble game. Jim managed to beat the computer 2-1, and walked away with the $10,000 prize.

Jim said: was a victory that he wouldn't expect five years from now. The computer programs will be much more sophisticated, he said. "They'll just have much more brute force."

I'm not sure how much stronger Scrabble games will be in 5 years - Scrabble is a fairly simple game for computers to play (unlike, say, Go). The mechanics of the game have documented algorithms that can be used (Appel & Jacobson's "The world's fastest Scrabble program", for example). The tricky bit is the strategy - often playing the highest-scoring move will not ensure a win against a strong human opponent.

This is the algorithm I implemented for fun many years back when I was in university (as a hobby). The project was really fun and had some interesting challenges, the first of which was filling in the few gaps in the above paper so that the algorithm was clear. Other fun things (at least they seemed fun to me at the time):

  • Where to get words from? The most essential part of a Scrabble game is having a good list of words - they should be legal Scrabble words of course. I found a few free word lists online and used them, but had to try to prune out invalid words (proper nouns, acronyms). Eventually I found a nice OWL/OSW word list (I think it was 2-8 letter words) and augmented that with some longer words from my other source. I think in the end I had 130,000+ words.

  • Storing the dictionary in a file. The naive solution is to use a big text file. The program would then read this in and build a DAWG ("directed acyclic word graph" incase you care) for use when searching for words. However this was slow, and the file was huge. So, I started playing with ways to build the DAWG once, and save it as a binary file that was smaller and could be loaded quickly.

  • Compressing the dictionary. It turns out that there is a lot of redundancy in English words, and the DAWG has lots of sub-graphs that are redundant. This means wasted space on the disk (not such a big deal) and wasted memory (more of a big deal). I was coding all this in C/C++ and DJGPP (a free 32-bit compiler and port of the GNU C libraries). This meant I could use more than 640kb in DOS/Windows, but my home machine was not that beefy. (It was a 486SX with 4MB of RAM if I remember right). So, the huge dictionary I was using actually had problems fitting into memory unless I reduced it's size somehow. The solution was to look for the redundant parts of the DAWG and "fold them" onto themselves. Finding matches for sub-graphs was fun, and I had many iterations of my "dictionary builder and packer" tool. Initially it would take an overnight run for it to produce the final output file, but in the end it did its job in an hour or so! :)

  • Graphics. Since the DJGPP compiler and libraries I was using were pretty basic, I didn't have fancy Windows-style graphics I could use (no menus, windows, etc.) I used the fantastic free graphics library Allegro instead. This still meant I had to cobble together my own menus and code to handle the placement of Scrabble tiles. I also had a feature that would let you ask the computer for "hints". It would basically figure out all the possible moves you could make, and sort them in descending score. You could then drag a scrollbar and flip through all the possible words - really quickly.

  • Strategy. I left this to last and never really did anything wonderful (by this stage I was ready to move on to something else...) My game simply chose the highest-scoring move it could find and played that... It was still pretty hard to beat.

Sadly, the code to my Scrabble game disappeared when I upgraded to a new machine (stupid me for not having enough backups)!

Thursday, November 16, 2006

New York trip

So, some more about our trip to New York last weekend. We stayed in a nice hotel (for the price) in Manhattan on W 57th Ave - the Holiday Inn Midtown. It's within easy walking distance of Carnegie Hall and the Columbus Circle metro station, so it worked for us. Nothing too fancy in terms of the room, but everything was clean and the beds were comfortable.

We managed to fit in most of the big touristy attractions - Times Square, a ferry ride to Staten Island to see the Statue of Liberty, Grand Central Station, Central Park, Wall Street, Chinatown, Little Italy, SOHO, and even a bit of Harlem. We did a LOT of walking, which was actually great (I'm always amazed at how good I feel after a "walking vacation" - like when we visited San Francisco). This is probably more a sad testament to the lack of exercise I get normally, but my legs feel noticeably stronger and fitter after a few days walking around a new city.

We rode the metro a fair deal - the $7 day use passes are great if you know you'll be doing a few trips on the subway, and the stations are sprinkled around pretty regularly so that you can easily pop around and see the whole Island easily. The subways itself is defintely a little old and funky - bad smells, vagrants and the odd loonie are not out of place. It's also HOT - even in November. (We were were blessed with mostly good weather during our trip and only had rain for one day). I wonder what the subway will look like in 50 year's time - it will probably need a major overhaul at some point.

Sadly we didn't get to do some things I would have liked (plenty to do next time we visit). Some items still on the to-do list are: Visit Ellis Island's museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Bronx Zoo, Brooklyn, go up the Empire State building, see a taping of The Daily Show (hey - it would be cool!), see a show or two, go inside the public library, do more window shopping in the insanely expensive fashion, jewellery, etc. stores, eat out in some of veg*n restaurants in the city (and maybe try Nobu or some of the other famous fancy restaurants).

Phew, that's a long list. So, what sticks out as a the best bit of our past trip?

  • The Staten Island ferry ride. The view of the Statue of Liberty (SoL) is great, the ferry moves like a NY taxi cab (ZOOM out of the ferry terminal). The SoL actually looked smaller than I imagined it would - it's not terribly tall, and its fame and reputation as an icon of freedom make you think it will on the scale of Mt Rainier :)

  • A great food find. After roaming around, we ended up in NOHO outside the Corner Shop (Citysearch). This is funky little bistro/cafe with a modern flair. They serve brunch, lunch and dinner, and the service was great. Their food is also very nice - nothing too fancy and pretentious, but all interesting, often organic, and nicely prepared. I had steamed mussels with crusty bread, Belgian beer, and a tuna burger with "provençal fries" (Mmm... Garlic!) They had lots of veg*n options for A and the rest of the group. They advertise the "best cookies in NYC" on their menu - something to try next time - we'll defintely be back!

  • Yummy cannoli. Billed as the best on Little Italy, I'd believe it! (Sadly I don't remember the name of the place, with some sleuthing I might be able to figure it out...)


  • Diva (Citysearch) missed the mark with their crappy service and by trying to rip us off. (See A's review on Citysearch for details). Avoid!

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Coco La Ti Da

So, Raymond Chen's blog has an entry about Sue McCown's new dessert-only restaurant which opened recently. I haven't been yet, but completely agree with his comments - her desserts are amazing, and used to be a perfect post-Symphony treat when she was at Earth & Ocean.

I heard a teaser for the local radio show The Works which aired last night, and features a segment on Sue's new restaurant. You can listen to it here, skip to around 14:45 to hear the bit about Coco La Ti Da.

Harvey Manning

I was sad to hear that Harvey Manning died on Sunday, aged 81. He was the Seattle hiking and nature conservation hero. He wrote loads of hiking books along with Ira Spring, and I quickly discovered their books after coming here seven years ago. I've relied on these books so often I can't imagine life here without them, and am deeply grateful for the forests and trails that have been preserved as a result of his hard work.

From his Wikipedia entry I see that he did a 2-year hike around the shoreline of the Puget Sound and wrote an autobiography detailing the trip. Something to get out of the library for sure...

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Back from NY

A and I got back from New York just after midnight (our flight was delayed) and I am looking forward to blogging about our trip. Sadly we didn't get to do some of the things we hoped to (such as visit the Met), so we have an excellent excuse to go back. We had a lot of fun walking around Manhattan, exploring the various neighborhoods, and trying to figure out the Metro system.

In other news, I am tickled pink to see that CookSister linked to me! Woohoo! Now I feel pressured to write more often (and write more creatively, as she has done so often).

I've also moved to the new Blogger Beta, which (finally!) includes tag support - hopefuuly from now on you can search for food, wine, beer or other topics that interest you. (I used Technorati tags for a while, but got tired of manually entering them).

Friday, November 03, 2006

Is your moustache or beard stealing your beer?

From Spittoon:
Are stout drinkers more inclined to grow a moustache than non-stout drinkers? What about beards? Are long-bearded predisposed to drink stout than others? I ask as apparently 162,719 pints of Guinness are lost in stout drinker's moustaches and beards every year. Seems an awfully exact number

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Sê "tata" vir die Groot Krokodil

(= The Big Crocodile, one of PW Botha's nicknames).

The Independant Online has an excellent article detailing PW Botha's life:
A leader who was ruled by his fearsome temper

People in SA are divided over his legacy and whether to give him a state funeral.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Happy Hallowe'en!

Tonight is All Hallow's Eve, which means roaming bands of kiddie-winks in cute outfits, and loads of candy*. In the run-up to today, we've been doing various Halowe'en things:

Headless Horseman

Pumpkin carving - I decided to do a "complicated" pattern that came with the carving tools. (Yes, you can buy special carving tools - luckily they are cheap!) So, we now have a headless horseman outside our door (see the picture) - it turned out really well, I think.

The House

We had a really fun Halowe'en party at our place on Saturday and have some pics up on Flickr (sorry, friends and family only - ping me if you haven't been invited and I'll do so).

At work today many people brought their young kids around for trick or treating. It must be quite surreal for the tiny 2 to 4 year-olds to walk down a hallway with large mounds of candy* outside each door. Most kids do the obligatory sing-song-screech "Twikawtweet", grab a handful of the good stuff, and move on in quick succession. The adult equivalent would probably be something like walking past a row of ATM machines that have $20 bills sticking out. Ka-ching! Move on...

* candy == sweets

And finally, a cool poem with a suitably spooky tone:

The Listeners by Walter De La Mare

'Is there anybody there?' said the Traveller,
Knocking on the moonlit door;
And his horse in the silence champed the grasses
Of the forest's ferny floor:
And a bird flew up out of the turret,
Above the Traveller's head
And he smote upon the door again a second time;
'Is there anybody there?' he said.
But no one descended to the Traveller;
No head from the leaf-fringed sill
Leaned over and looked into his grey eyes,
Where he stood perplexed and still.
But only a host of phantom listeners
That dwelt in the lone house then
Stood listening in the quiet of the moonlight
To that voice from the world of men:
Stood thronging the faint moonbeams on the dark stair,
That goes down to the empty hall,
Hearkening in an air stirred and shaken
By the lonely Traveller's call.
And he felt in his heart their strangeness,
Their stillness answering his cry,
While his horse moved, cropping the dark turf,
'Neath the starred and leafy sky;
For he suddenly smote on the door, even
Louder, and lifted his head:-
'Tell them I came, and no one answered,
That I kept my word,' he said.
Never the least stir made the listeners,
Though every word he spake
Fell echoing through the shadowiness of the still house
From the one man left awake:
Ay, they heard his foot upon the stirrup,
And the sound of iron on stone,
And how the silence surged softly backward,
When the plunging hoofs were gone.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

New Yaaark

Wow, I'm on a roll here tonight!
Anyway, A and I are heading off to New York for a long weekend in November. (It's a big family outing - A's brothers are coming too). I had no idea how hard it is to find a hotel in NY over a holiday weekend - and they're expensive! We eventually found a place in Manhattan that isn't too expensive and should allow us to all share a room to cut costs. (Sniff! No hanky-panky...)

I was toying with the idea of trying to see a show by Mikanic while we're there - one of the band members went to university with me at UCT, and was part of the popular SA band, Sons of Trout. We'll have to see how things work out, but I think we'll be too busy and too pinned down in Manhattan to make it out to a show.

I'm really excited about visiting NY - we'll defintely do a museum ot maybe two. (The Met is top of our list). Hopefully we'll get some good food. And a peek at some of the famous landmarks (Ellis Island has been mentioned a few times, so that I can get the full immigrant experience)...

Some random links

1. - An advertising site for Microsoft's Zune. Worth looking at for the quirky design and interesting music videos / graphics. "The Second Coming of the Monkey God" is weirdly good.

2. - A web search engine with a human face.

3. IE7 was released a few days ago! If you don't have it installed yet, I recommend installing it. (You want to be one of the cool kids, right?)

4. is an amusing mockumentary/videoblog by a teenage girl. Feel the angst...

5. The Decemberists have a new CD out (The Crane Wife). We saw them perform this summer at ZooTunes, and they were awesome live. A safe purchase even though I've not heard the album.

6. DJ Shadow has a new CD out too. This requires listening-to before I decide if I like it.

Meat labels

The NYT has an article on Whole Foods' new meat labeling strategy. The initiative was started by Whole Foods’ chief executive, John P. Mackey, a vegan who has been increasingly outspoken on animal-rights issues.

I think if you're going to eat meat, you should know where it came from and how the animal was raised, so I'm in favour of this.
Now, when will we have glass-sided slaughterhouses open to the public? :)

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Oregon mushrooms

While in Oregon, we went on a great walk through the woods near Susan's house. I was on the lookout for mushrooms, but as usual A saw all of them before me! :)

We found three "interesting" ones that I took back home to identify.

The first was Coprinus Comatus (Shaggy Mane) - there were dozens of the tall, white, unopened mushrooms along the path we were hiking on, and many older mushrooms that had started disintegrating. At first I thought these were two different mushrooms, but it was soon clear that the black, inky ones were the "grown-up" versions of the white ones. Identification once I got home was quite easy, and now I think I'll be able to spot these without any problems.
Apparently they're good eating too, used in soups and stews.

The next was a bolete with a viscid (slimy) cap and yellow-green pores. At home I set it up to get spore prints overnight, and found brown spores. Identifying this one was a bit more tricky, and I'm still not 100% sure, but it seems to be a Suillus caerulescens.

The last was a gilled mushroom, slightly viscid when wet, with a tan-brown cap and white stipe, and yellow-brown gills. Small dark-brown hairs on the cap, which was darker in the center and became tan on towards the edge. Spore print was creamy-white. The stip was hollow and filled with a fluffy white material. There were the remnants of a partial veil present, but not a large, frilly annulus. This seems to be a Armillariella mellea (Honey Mushroom), although the annulus and cap in pictures look a little different.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Potgooi and other language stuff

I was looking around for "Afrikaans news for dummies" as podcasts. (One of Raymond's tips for learning a new language is to listen to the daily news read for foreigners - there are e.g. Swedish and German ones available).

No luck finding Afrikaans news podcasts - I came across the SABC's Afrikaans radio station that streams their content (RSG), and have a few downloads, but not the daily news. (There's a big list of SA streaming radio here - I'll check out some of the other likely Afrikaans candidates in the future - )

I did manage to find several Afrikaans podcasts (called "potgoois" in Afrikaans), just do a web search for potgooi and you'll find them. Most are pretty lame (music, lame interviews, chit-chat).

Now to look for French news for dummies... Oh wait, Raymond found that already!

Guy's Guide to Wine

Oh frabjous day! The good folks over at Dancing Bull Wines have finally released their guide to wine for guys. (I wrote about it earlier)

Some gems from a quick look through it:

  • Guys eat pizza (with meat, pepperoni, or veggies), burgers/grilled food, Asian food, BBQ, Italian subs, spaghetti, mac & cheese, wings, burritos and salad.
    Salad has the caveat "She's going to order it, so you may as well know what wine to pair with salad". Apparently pepperoni is not meat. And BBQ is not grilled. (OK, maybe it's smoked).

  • The "You understand beer, wine will follow" section is an amusing guide to wine styles using beer styles as the key.
    Most Americans outside microbrew-land seem to like Coors, Miller, Bud, etc. So, I guess, using the key, that means they like Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling and Pinot Grigio. (AKA "girly wines", according to another wine-for-men marketing campaign)

Seen in Oregon

Body piercing
saved my life
Thank you Jesus!

That was the slogan on a sign outside a church in Eugene. A and I would chuckle every time we saw it, but I only really got it once we were back in Seattle.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Mushroom dinner

I cooked a fun mushroom-themed dinner last night, and was very pleased with the results!
This was all a prelude to watching the season premier of Battlestar Galactica - which totally rocked!

Here's a quick run-down of the meal and quick recipes for the bits I cooked*


  • Crostini with parmigiano reggiano and sauteed chanterelles in a marsala cream sauce

Main course:

  • Fusilli with creamy chicken of the woods and thyme sauce


Crostini with parmigiano reggiano and sauteed chanterelles in a marsala cream sauce

1 tsp olive oil
1 tsp unsalted butter
1/4 lb of chanterelles, cleaned and broken into pieces
2 small shallots, minced
1 tbsp heavy cream
1-2 tbsp marsala wine (I used dry)
Salt and pepper

I bought my chanterelles at Whole Foods (PCC in Issaquah had them for less, but was too far away to make it there between work and dinner). The ones at Whole Foods were a little sad, but picking through them I got a few decent ones - probably about 1/4 lb.

Clean the chanterelles, preferably with a brush or moist cloth. Cut off the dried-out ends and any other sad bits. Pull them apart and break them into small pieces with your fingers (this is fun, they have a great stringy texture!) Heat the butter and oil in a saucepan over med-high heat and add the shallots. Sautee until they are translucent and start going brown. Add the chanterelles and toss to coat. Add a pinch of salt and cook the mushrooms for 5-10 minutes, until they have stopped giving off liquid. Add the marsala and simmer for a minute or two - the mixture should be slightly wet, but not soupy. Add the cream and remove from the heat. Stir and season to taste.

Server on toasted rounds of baguette topped with a thin slice of parmigiano.

Fusilli with creamy chicken of the woods and thyme sauce

1 bag fusilli pasta (450g or so)
2 small shallots
2 tsp olive oil
2 tsp unsalted butter
1 lb chicken of the woods mushrooms, cleaned and broken in bite-sized chunks
100 ml cream (about 6 tbsp)
1 cup vegetable stock or broth
a few sprigs of fresh thyme
salt and pepper

Chicken of the woods is an interesting-looking mushroom - large flat "shelves" that are bright yellow or orange. You want onesthat are young and not too large or woody. I washed mine well in running water and cut off the dried outer edge and base. You might also need to re-wash bits as you break it apart - I found some folds with pine needles and dirt as I was going. Again, the easiest way to get this into bite-sized chunks is using your fingers. The flesh is very much like cooked chicken.

Heat the oil and butter over med-high heat and sautee the shallots until clear and starting to turn brown. Add the mushrooms and toss, frying for a few minutes. They'll soak up the oil quickly, and some of them will get a nice brown "char" marks. Add the stock and thyme and simmer for 10 mins until the mushrooms are fully-cooked. (A splash of wine never hurts either - I had some dry marsala open so I added some) Add the cream and season to taste (Note: this dish needed quite a bit of salt).

Cook the pasta in salted water and toss in the sauce once cooked.

* Yes, I cheated and got some mushroom phyllo thingies and dessert from Trader Joe's.

Monday, October 09, 2006

PSMS Exhibit

Just a quick shout-out for the annual Puget Sound Mycological Society exhibit, which is being held next weekend. For more info, see

Sadly, I'll be away in Oregon, but if you're curious about mushrooms it looks well-worth attending. (Plus you get to taste some mushrooms prepared by "some of Seattle's finest chefs").

Mushrooms vs. Whole Foods

Mushrooms 1 : Whole Foods 0
(*See below)

So, I went to my last mushroom identification class last night. It was great fun! Instead of the regular instructor, we had a more informal class led by a young lady (err.. I'm really great with names, as usual), who went through some slides of the common mushrooms people collect around Seattle. This was interspersed with anectdotes of past foraging trips, interesting questions and suggestions from the class, and lots or ardent scribbling of notes. (Everyone wanted to know where to find mushrooms easily around suburbia, and good places for chanterelles...)

The class then moved into high gear when a German guy arrived - he was to be the cooking expert and do some cooking demos and tastings. He was obviously knowledgable and very entertaining to listen to - picture a cross between Sammy Hagar and Wolfgang Puck and that's him. He's travelled extensively and obviously knows his 'shrooms, but is far more laid-back about identification - you can tell he's more into eating them, instead of finding and identifying rare inedible varieties.

Coversation inevitably drifted towards the more gourmet, expensive and famous mushrooms that grow around here: chanterelles [2] and matsutakes.

Chanterelles are pretty tasty, and their texture is amazing - crunchy, chewy, almost rubbery. We had a delicious dish of sauteed chanterelles with shallots, garlic and cream during the class. Apparently it is very easy to find them around here, so I will have to try and forage some now that I have a decent idea of where to look, and how to spot the imposters.

I must admit I'm not familiar with matsutakes at all, beyond faint recognition of the name. You don't often see them on the menu outside high-end Japanese restaurants, but they're apparently *really* popular in Japan around fall. Since a nematode has sharply reduced the Japanese red pine population in the last 50 years, most matsutakes eaten in Japan are imported. Many come from the Pacific NW. Others come from China, Tibet, Korea, and recently they were discovered in Sweden.

Apparently the best way to learn how to identify matsutakes is to smell one. The smell is unique (Wikipedia describes it as "magnificently spicy, similar to cinnamon") and combined with their look is a good way to seperate them from non-edible and poisonouse look-alikes. Some of the more high-end food stores sell matsutakes, so keep an eye out for them and give them a sniff next time you see them.

Armed with this bit of advice, I stopped at the new Whole Foods in Sammamish on the way home (hey, it's right there!). I went in and luckily they had matsutakes! (I think they were labelled "common matsutake" - all medium-large and fully opened). I gave some a sniff, and found them milder and more perfumed than the Wikipedia description implies. More like a spicy nail varnish, maybe... I could probably do with a second sniffing opinion to be sure I got an accurate impression of the smell... (Interestingly, these matsutakes were reasonably cheap at $30/lb).

* Now on to some bitching about this new Whole Foods:

  • No paper bags for the gourmet mushrooms??! I'm not paying $30/lb for matsutakes and then putting them in a plastic bag! Even QFC and Safeway generally know to have paper bags available for the loose mushrooms.
  • Mis-labeled 'shrooms: There was a sign for chicken of the woods that seemed to be referring to white straw-like mushrooms. While I wasn't sure what the white ones were, I knew they weren't chicken of the woods... Next to these were the actual chicken of the woods, which were signed as lobster mushrooms. Hmm...

Is it just me, or is this the "Whole Foods that foodies forgot"?

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Where'd my socks go?!

The answer: they got metaphorically blown off at the symphony last night.

Stefan Jackiw was the visiting soloist and played Mendelssohn 's Violin Concerto. All I can is "Wow!" - this ranks as my favourite performance so far. Technically dazzling, fluid and energetic, mesmerizing to watch. I felt invigorated and deeply moved at the end of the piece. He fully deserved the standing ovation (the whole audience was on its feet), and he came out for six bows.

Interestingly, his parents are both physicists. His father is the noted physicist Roman W. Jackiw.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Mushrooom ID class

I signed up for an introductory course on mushroom identification at PSMS, and went for the second class on Sunday night. The first class covered some of the basics terminology and groups of mushrooms, and walked us through the use of a key to identify a mushroom. The second class mainly focused on keying mushrooms people had brought in. Almost everyone had been out over the weekend hunting for mushrooms, and there were some really impressive specimens!

A and I went out to Tiger Mountain earlier on Sunday and managed to find quite a few along the Bus Loop trail and Tradition Lake loop. Here are some of the mushrooms I found.

  • Boletus Chrysenteron. I had a fairly old specimen which made identification tricky. The stipe had started blackening and the normal reddish colour was almost impossible to see. Not good to eat - I tasted a little bit to see if it was peppery (to decide one keying question) and it had practically no flavour.
  • Conocybe Filaris. This turns out to be one of the most poisonous mushrooms in the Pacific NW! (Go me!) Luckily it's small and not likely to be something you'd pick accidentally to eat. Still, good to know... It commonly grows on compost, mulch and wood chips.
  • Pholiota Aurivella (Golden Pholiota). These were growing all over a dead tree right next to the path. I initially missed and luckily A spotted them. Mine were small and most still had the partial veil still intact which made them look like puffballs.

The class also keyed this one that someone brought in: also has a decent hyper-linked mushroom key, which looks quite nifty. (Not all Pacific NW mushrooms are there though). We use Mushrooms Demystified in the class. A hyper-linked version of that would be cool!

Matcha powder

I wrote about Koots and Starbuck's green tea a while back. My regular morning drink (when I indulge myself) is now usually a green tea latte. I really like the taste, and it seems to give you a more mellow lift than coffee. (At Starbucks I cut the sugar by asking for only one pump of Midori Melon syrup, instead of the three they usually put in).

I decided I'd try ordering some matcha powder online a few weeks ago, and looked around for a good retailer. I settled on Essencha more or less at random - I've never heard of them before, but their prices were decent and their website looked good.

I can heartily recommend them! Their service is incredibly fast and very personal. I got an email from them a few hours after placing my order (they noticed that I used essencha@domain as my email address - something I do with new online accounts to catch whether people sell or leak my info to spammers). They took the time to look at my personal website and said some nice things about my pictures. (On a side topic, I should really get my India, Nepal and Tibet pics back online properly - a lot are missing).

Anyway, after the nice email, I was already quite impressed with them. The tea arrived a few days later, nicely packed and with some free goodies thrown in: an extra 1oz of tea (kukicha) and a chashaku. The Matcha Sawa and Matcha Jade Bliss are excellent - I haven't tried the kukicha yet.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Borat tastes wine

I stumbled on this YouTube video - it's really funny.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

On statisics and Google's RSS feed reader

My hosting company doesn't provide any visitor tracking/web stats solution, so I've been blissfully unaware of how many people read this blog, or where they come from.
A few days ago, {A} was asking how she could add some sort of tracking to her Blogger blog, which made me think there had to be free hit counters she could use. A uick web search found , which is actually quite impressive in terms of features.
The free version has a limit of tracking only the last 100 visitors, but that's fine for me.
In the coming weeks I'll post some interesting info, like Wendy has done in the past.

Looking at the info Statcounter had for my blog, I noticed someone had come to me via Google's RSS reader. I must be living under a rock, because this is new to me. I tried it out and in 3 minutes had set up all the feeds I currently track in Newsgator. If you're not using a RSS feed tracker/aggregator already, check out the Google reader. I think it rocks!

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Patch time

Normally I wouldn't post about this sort of this, but MS released an out-of-band patch today for an issue that is being actively exploited. So, I recommend grabbing the fix and installing it ASAP:

Note: If you're using IE7 on XP, or using Vista, you're OK. (It doesn't hurt to check Microsoft Update though)

[Updated 9/27/2006 2:07pm - IE7 and Vista info]

Palace Kitchen mid-week

So, as I mentioned in a previous post, I found myself in Seattle last Wednesday night feeling rather hungry and only one block from Palace Kitchen. I'd been once before for late-night drinks and snacks (if you're looking for a place to get food, they serve their full menu until 1am, and have great appetizers or full meals).

I went in and sat at the bar since I was on my own. I was immediately struck by how busy the place was - for a Wednesday night, that's pretty unusual. The place was buzzing, with a mixture of businessmen and couples at the bar, tables of young hipsters, and a lively crew of staff keeping everything running smoothly.

One of the great things about this place is that the kitchen is really part of the show - especially at the bar. The kitchen is completely open, with not even much of a counter seperating it from the main eating area. The bar makes an island in the middle of the restaurant and serves to hide some of the kitchen bustle if you sit on the far side of it, but seated at the bar itself, you can watch the chefs cook, the barmen mixing drinks, runners filling pitchers, waiter punch in orders... I had a great time watching all of this - it reminded me a little of Hell's Kitchen but without the 4-letter words! :)

I had a great glass of white wine from France. (Sorry, I don't remember exactly what it was)
I started out with the goat-cheese fondue. This is a yummy appetizer to share, but was a little off the mark this time. The grilled bread was a little charred in places, and I thought the sliced apple really didn't work too well with the goat cheese. 3/5 for this dish.

I then tried a dish best described as an ode to late summer: Sweet corn custard and white corn cake, chanterelle mushrooms and cherry tomatoes. The corn cake was sweet and crispy, topped with some fresh corn kernels. The corn custard was amazing - soft, smooth and silky and deeply infused with the flavour of corn. Overall this dish rated 4.5/5 in my book.

An added bonus: The barman (who served me) realized I had waited a long time (not that I mineded - I was having such a good time watching the show all around me). He decided to give me my appetizer for free, so the evening was really good value.

I hope to back again in the not-too-distant future!

Friday, September 22, 2006

More Pandora fun

Drool: over this
Hooking up one of these to my stereo* would allow listening to Pandora, podcasts (like NPR), and music on my computer upstairs. Mmmm....

Listen: to this
My most successful Pandora station to date. The secret? Just add one band. Can you guess which one?

* And, as luck would have it, my old mini-stereo ( a 7-year-old JVC box) now is unable to play CDs, so the universe is prodding me in the direction of a new A/V receiver and CD/DVD player thingy... (Maybe all-in-one, like this one, although that seems a tad expensive?)

Wine: Covey Run 2003 Lemberger

Just a quick note on this wine. Covey Run's website has a nice tasting guide.
I found it at the WA state liquor store in Bellevue (got the last one there), and bought it since I had never heard of Lemberger before, and it was around $5. (Plus Covey Run is usually decent). See my tasting note here for my (amateur) thoughts.

I'm pleasantly surprised and will keep an eye out for other Lemberger's in the future.

WSA Dinner outing

On Wednesday this week, I headed out to Seattle for a dinner and panel discussion organised by the WSA (formerly the Washington Software Alliance - now I guess WSA just stands for WSA, kind of like the AARP).
The topic for the evening was "Information Security: Is It Time to Fight Back?". For those that are impatient, the short answer (at least in the USA) is "No".

Here's my quick summary and ratign of the panelists:

  • Karen Worstell (Moderator): She did an OK job of running the discussion. I would have liked to have more time for questions from the audience, and found some of her comments sloppy and alarmist. ("100% of organizations have been compromised" - really? 100%? That doesn't leave much wiggle-room). She also tended to let the discussion drift into general security topics (patch management, current exploit environment, what motivates attackers, etc.) which was sometimes a little boring. (But might have been good for people in the audience that had no security background).
  • Kirk Bailey & David Dittrich (both from UW): Both were smart and had good anectdotes from the UW's experiences. David's is a name I'm somewhat familiar with (probably from his prior work on DDoS attacks). David mentioned a cool tool named Nepenthes that is used to collect malware for analysis. David's also got a more aggressive attitude in terms of going on the offensive, mainly to collect data that can be used to prosecute folks. (Too many people "pull the plug" after a compromise and just want to get their system back into operation, often losing data needed to investigate and identify the perpetrators).
  • Albert Gidari Jr. : The lawyer on the panel - a great speaker and amusing too - which is something for a lawyer! :) His best quote (paraphrased from memory) when asked about attacking back:

    Some people call them vigilantes, I prefer the term "felon"...

    Essentially, under current law, doing anything that enters/affects someone else's PC without their consent would make you a criminal - even if acting in "self defence" or solely to gather information to aid prosecution. The FBI/state can do these activities, so reporting incidents to the local authorities is currently the only legal way to respond. The problem raised is that for large-scale, egregious, or very easy to investigate and prosecute incidents, this works fine, but for smaller or harder incidents, there aren't enough resources. The FBI et al have the resources and expertise to track down the perpetrator and make arrests (witness ZOTOB and the NW Hospital cases), but for small businesses or individuals, the approach of contacting local police/law enforcement usually won't end up going anywhere.
  • Kristin Johnson (Microsoft): Sadly arrived late (due to traffic on the 520 which also delayed me...), but made a good impression during the time she was there.

Now, some rants about the venue (Westin Hotel in Seattle)...

  • I got there about 75 mins late, which meant that I missed dinner. That's a bummer considering I paid $55 (I should be able to get re-imbursed, but still...) There was salad waiting at each un-occupied seat, and some dessert, but no other food.
  • I guess the moral of the story is get there on time. However, for people coming over from the East Side, the start time of 5pm is ridiculously early. WSA: How about a cheaper price that excludes dinner for folks that know they'll be late?
  • I got some wine on the way, initially thinking at least one drink would be included in said $55 fee. Wrong! $8.50 for a glass of incredibly ordinary merlot. :(

On the positive side, once the event was over, I found myself hungry and within one block of the Palace Kitchen. So, I treated myself to dinner there, which was amazing! More on that later...

So you think you're a geek? #1

This will probably be the first of a series, given how many fun ways there are to test yoru geekiness...
Today, a double dose:

  1. How many geek references can you identify in Weird Al's new video for "White & Nerdy" ?
  2. Programming language inventor or serial killer? What's your score ?

Don't cheat, m'kay ?

When you're done, you may find this interesting for #1 above.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Guy's Guide to Wine

I had to laugh when I saw the Guy's Guide to Wine insert in a past issue of Stuff magazine*. This is wine marketing for the typical college goofball that likes beer, football and scantily-clad women. Wine marketing for Stuff readers.

The copy was, of course, utter piffle, but worth a laugh.
Sadly, the online version is still not available. I've checked for the past few weeks and still get the "Coming very soon" page. Come on Dancing Bull, we _needs_ it! :)

Maybe like Raymond I should do a "Days without Guy's Guide to Wine" page? (He did a "Days without a pony" page...)

* Disclaimer:
Lest you worry about my poor taste in periodicals, rest assured I have never payed for a copy of Stuff. They started sending it to me for free a few years ago in my condo - I guess I matched their demographic in terms of age? It also probably helps boost their ABC-audited circulation numbers. And the thing is 80% advertising, so it doesn't cost them anything to print free copies.
If you are paying for Stuff magazine, perhaps you should give them a call?

Foraged food and Puget Sound seafood

There was a nice hour-long segment of KUOW's Weekday today devoted to foraged food. ("The Omnivore's Dilemma" piqued my interest in this topic recently).

One of the guests, Jeremy Faber, is a Seattleite and co-owner of Found Edibles which sell at various farmer's markets. (I need to check them out). "Wildman" Steve Brill was the other guest (he's from New York) and both were really interesting.
Near the end of the show they talk about mushroom foraging - something I hope to do this fall. It sounds like there are tons of varieties that can easily be found around Seattle, most notably chanterelles. Now I just need to find time to go to a basic mushroom-identification class at PSMS.

On a semi-related note (Weekday is involved again), an email discussion at work centered on where to take a visiting friend for good seafood near the U-District. Various suggestions followed: Ivar's Salmon House, Agua Verde, and Ray's Boathouse (which won). One sentence in the email exchange caught someone's eye:

"I’m thinking nice and simple where he can appreciate what happens when the fish doesn’t need to fly 2000 miles"
This came in response:

I hate to break it to you, but go here, and fast-forward to 1:59 into the
program. Specifically pay attention at 3:18 when they talk about Ray’s

We think of Seattle as being a great place for fresh seafood; it's eye-opening to hear how little of the seafood we eat comes from local waters.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

South African winners at the IWSC

I stumbled upon the 2006 International Wine and Spirits Competition product trophy award winners for this year, and was pleased to see so many South African winners:

On a slightly-related note, my favourite Scotch won the best 15+ year-old Single Malt category: Talisker 18 Year Old

Sunday, September 10, 2006

What do you get...

... when you cast a movie with David Beckham, Gérard Depardieu, Alain Delon, Michael Schumacher, Jean-Claude van Damme, and Zinédine Zidane?

You get this! :)

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

The Yum Files

Over the Labour Day weekend, A and I decided to try our hands at pizzas made on the charcoal barbecue. We'd seen an episode of America's Test Kichen where they show you how to make them, and have the cookbook from the series out from the library, so we felt adequately prepared.

If you're interested in trying this, check out the recipe online. (Log in with if you don't want to sign up)

Our dough came out a little wet and soft, but the pizzas still worked well and tasted amazing. We also experimented with fresh roma tomatoes versus canned plum tomatoes. The fresh tomatoes are definitely the way to go!

The grill gives the bases a nice smoky flavour, and they came out incredibly crispy and light... I'm tempted to make all our home-made pizzas this way from now on! :)

The king is dead, long live the king.

Today's a sad day in Windows-land.
BrianV took over the Windows project shortly before I joined the company, and has been an energetic, charismatic and often goofy figurehead for Windows since then. He can motivate a team without coming across as a raving lunatic (ahem), and comes across as a regular person.
He shares part of the responsibility for Vista's delayed release, no doubt, but I'll miss him.

Bye-bye Brian.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Oscar Peterson at the Jazz Alley

A and I had the amazing opportunity to see Oscar Peterson last night at Jazz Alley (the last night of his Seattle engagement).

He was truly amazing! He performed as part of a quartet, and each member was an incredibly accomplished player. Together, they were perfectly in-step with each other, effortlessly picking up the tune after an extensive round of improvisaion. Speaking of improvisation, this show was unusual in that most of the songs were 70-80% improvised. The group are obviously very comfortable with each other and visibly had fun challenging each other with call-and-answer type improv. The guitarist and Oscar, especially, excelled at this.

The players:

Using the ReplayTV remote with a Vizio L37 HDTV

So, this is perhaps a sad topic for a blog post, but I thought I'd share some potentially-useful info with folks.

I just got a new LCD TV, the Vizio L37HDTV, and wanted to re-program my ReplayTV 5xxx remote to work with it. I couldn't find the device code on ReplayTV's support site or elsewhere, but after trying a few codes, I found one that works: 0030
Incase you've not programmed your remote for a while, here's the info from ReplayTV's support site:
  • Press and hold the Mute + TV buttons for 2 seconds.
  • The remote LED will flash twice
  • Enter 0030
  • That's it! You should be able to use the Power and Volume buttons to control the L37HDTV...

Friday, September 01, 2006

The Ballad of El Conquistador

Update: 3/15/07: Here's the radio spoof that inspired this exchange.

A colleague at work had a fun run-in with a Google headhunter. He decided to play the 419-scam baiting game with them...

(Names have been changed to protect the innocent)

From: Guido
Sent: Friday, August 25, 2006 6:17 PM
To: Joe
Subject: XXXX Conference Follow Up

Hello Joe,
I am contacting you because you attended the XXXX conference. I hope you enjoyed the conference and you were able to get your desired results from the event. Google is always looking for smart and talented individuals. I would like to help any of your friends or family that may be interested in Google opportunities. Please feel free to pass on my contact information to them if they are interested in having an internal ambassador for their job search with Google.
Please let me know a good time and phone number to reach you.
I look forward to hearing from you at your earliest convenience.

Thank you,


I would like to thank you for taking the time to send me this follow-up e-mail.
I did indeed enjoy the conference and I would like to thank Google for sponsoring the event - it was a very selfless and thoughtful act which I believe demonstrates Google's commitment to security and privacy.
I am very interested in chatting with you about opportunities and my job requirements but before we get started, I have one very important request.
It is very important that in all future correspondence with me, that you refer to me as 'El Conquistador'. I understand that you could not have possibly known this in advance and I understand, no apology is necessary this time. I am very much looking forward to hearing back from you Guido, and please do not forget to address me as 'El Conquistador' in your reply as a sign of respect for my families distinguished lineage.

- El Conquistador


Hello Joe
Sorry about the delay in my response. I was actually out of the office yesterday.
We actually have a variety of positions that you may find of interest (from the East coast to the West coast).
You can view our Google opportunities (including all of our locations) at the following link:
Please let me know if you find a position of interest.
I look forward to speaking with you.


I'm sorry - whom are you addressing in your response below?
My given name is "Joe" but I am to be addressed as "El Conquistador". I sincerely apologize for not making that clear in my initial reply to your email (I was tired, it was late).
I am very interested in exploring career opportunities at Google!
I know that you only seek out and hire the very best and brightest individuals and I believe that my title speaks volumes about my accomplishments and capabilities so it was no surprise to me when you reached out to me.
I hope that it will not be a problem to be addressed by my future colleagues at Google as "El Conquistador". I'm sure Google has an open and respectful environment and that such talented individuals will understand and accept my title (which I realize does seem a bit strange at first). I'm presume is available? Here at SomeCompany I login to our domain as somecom\elconquistador, I presume I would be offered the same privilege at Google?


Hello El Conquistador,

I was actually responding to the first of your two email responses (where you did not ask to be called "El Conquistador").

If you would like to speak, you can call me at your convenience.

You can call me El Tigre;)

Why everyone wants to hire South African mercenaries

That's the advert I spied last night while reading Slate... It certainly caught my eye!
Slate has this article that starts with another eye-catching quote:
"You know you've been in Baghdad too long when hearing Afrikaans at the pool is normal."
The article goes on to discuss the large numbers of South African mercenaries working in Iraq, and how the SA government is pressing ahead with legislation to tighten oversight of SA citizens working in war zones.
Remember the story a year or so ago about South Africans being involved in an attempted coup in Equatorial Guinea? Mark Thatcher (Maggie's son) was also implicated, and fled South Africa. The book "The Wonga Coup: Guns, Thugs and a Ruthless Determination To Create Mayhem in an Oil-Rich Corner of Africa" covers this and sounds like it might be a good read...

Monday, August 28, 2006

The Omnivore's Dilemma

This is a great book! I'm not quite finished (I have about 1/5 left to read), but already know this is a book I'll be recommending to everyone I talk to... The book is a highly readible, interesting and thought-provoking look at food and why we eat what we do.

I heard the author interviewed on KUOW's Weekday a few months ago and got my interest piqued then. (You can listen to the audio here). That was followed by a Steph's positive comments (and decision to seek out grass-fed and grass-finished meat instead of eating regular feedlot meat). I thought "Anything that could convince Steph change her meat eating habits must be good".

Do take a look at the review on Amazon by Erik Marcus - he raises some good points and criticisms of Pollan's book. The main thing I wondered about while reading the chapters on Polyface Farms was "Where's the accounting for how much water it takes to run this place?" Pollans makes it sound as if the farm is a completely self-sufficient system: grass grows and converts sunlight to food, is eaten by cows, chickens move in to the pasture a few days later, break open the cowpats and eats bugs and parasites, fertilize the grass with their droppings, lay great eggs which get sold, finally get slaughtered, and their byproducts re-fertilize the soil. Pigs break up other waste and make manure from woodchips, etc... This idyllic composting circle-of-life sounds great, but I don't see it working as a role-model for farming throughout the country or the world.

The philosphy of Polyface is something to at least think about and maybe strive for, taking local conditions and limitations into account. Other ideas from Polyface make sense to me, such as opening up abbatoirs and slaughter houses to the public so they can see what goes on and how well the animals are treated as they are killed and processed. (Apparently there is one slaughter-house in the US with glass walls precisely to facilitate this...) How many people would bother to go look though?

I've already queued up a related book: "The way we eat: why our food choices matter"

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Stomhoek tasting party pics

So, I've finally put some pictures of the tasting party up online:

Stormhoek Tasting Party Group Photo

Stormhoek Wine

The Spread


Focusing more on the wines than I did in this previous post, I was pleasantly surprised with the Stormhoek wines. Being free, it's hard to know how they did in terms of bang for the buck, but in terms of taste, they were all very pleasant, easy-drinking, and tasy.

My favourite white was the Sauvignon Blanc - light, crisp and slightly grassy with a hint of melon. Others preferred the Pinot Grigio, which was had hints of citus and minerals. The Pinot Grigio seemed a little "thin" to me...
The Pinotage was really nice - smooth, fine tannins and very fruit-forward. Usually Pinotage is a little harsh (I've only drunk it young), spicy and can be a little "green", although usually in a good way! (Yes, I think it's possible for red wine to be "green" in a good way). The pinotage was almost too fruit-forward for my liking - it became less regognizable as pinotage and tended towards the fruity merlots that abound. Still, I'd happily drink this over most cheap merlots and shirazes.

Overall, I'd give the Stormhoek wines scores in the upper-80's, and definitely buy them if they're in the $10-15 price range. Now to see how much they actually do retail for!

City Cellars wine store

Last Friday I had some time to kill between dropping my mom off at the airport and meeting friends for dinner. I headed into Seattle, and had the fun experience of being passed on the I-5 by one of the Blue Angels taking off from Boeing Field, right next to the highway!

I headed up to Wallingford to explore Bottleworks (a great beer store specializing in Belgian beer), but realized that I'd never been to the wine shop next door. So, I popped in to City Cellars instead, and had a great time. They have regular wine-tastings on Friday (for a small fee), so I was able to try three wines and chat to the owners. They're really friendly and the place had a nice vibe... They also have a "sale" section with 100 wines $10 and under. This selection in general is amazing - they had some South African wines I've not seen elsewhere, and some interesting NZ and Ausie wines, as well as the expected selection of American, French and Italian wines. Defintely worth checking out!

Of course, I picked up some wine:
  • 2004 Markowitsch Pinot Noir. This is the first Pinot Noir I've come across from Austria, and is supposedly more like cooler climate (NZ) Pinot Noir which I love.
  • 2004 Fairvalley Pinotage, from South Africa. A really cheap ($9) Pinotage. I'm interested to see how this compares to the Stormhoek Pinotage I had recently.
  • 2001 Vidal Estate Pinot Noir, from New Zealand's South Island. Another NZ Pinot Noir to try...

I'll let you know how these are after I've tried them :)

Friday, August 04, 2006

An interesting article on French wine and consumers, and international tastings over the years

I found this article today: French Wine Producers and Consumers (
While I haven't had time to read it and digest it fully, it looked interesting enough to post. I was talking about the 1976 Paris Wine Tasting with friends last weekend during our tasting party, and the article covers that event (plus others):

But some may say this is natural. Isn't French wine the best in the world? Knowledgeable people haven't believed this myth since the Paris Wine Tasting in 1976, at which time French wines were pitted against California wines, in that tasting, a California red took first place and California Chardonnays won first, third and fourth place in the white wine category. And many other countries around the world similarly produce award-winning wines as well. (Details of the Paris Wine Tasting in 1976 are found below.)
Automaker Henry Ford is reputed to have said that customers could buy any color Ford car they wanted so long as it was black. The attitude of French wine producers similarly seems to be "if we don't produce it, you don't need it." Unfortunately, it's the innocent French consumer who is deprived of choice.

Wikipedia has entries on the '76 and 30th anniverary tasting this year.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Tasting party

I threw a "tasting party" this past Sunday with some friends. Each couple or person bring a few varieties of a certain food for us all to taste and compare. (For example, 3 blue cheeses, or 3 kinds of cherries)

It looked like everyone had a good time, aided in no small part by the yummy wines from Stormhoek. I'll be heading off to Pete's Wines in Bellevue to see if I can buy some more!

Here's the final list of goodies:

  • Me: Stormhoek wines from South Africa (Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, Pinotage, Shiraz). The wines were all excellent, and I especially liked the Pinot Grigio and Pinotage. The Pinotage is smooth, fruity and juicy - no hint of greenness.
  • Raymond: Beverages:
    • Water (Evian, Dasani, municipal tap). Raymond did a blind tasting for these, and most people were able to pick out the Evian as being the most fancy/epensive. Most people found it hard to distinguish between the tap water and Dasani. Interestingly, several people preferred the tap water or Dasani to the Evian!
    • Tea (Froufy tea [from a tea shop], Bigelow, and Lipton).
      Again, these were served blind. The froufy tea was easy to spot. Bigelow and Lipton are pretty much the same...
  • Hilary: Cheeses: Stilton (blue), Cranberry Wensleydale, French camembert-type cheese. Onion jelly from South Carolina. We ate the cheese with a nice selection of crackers and breads (ProVita crackers from South Africa, Carr's water crackers, pumpernickel and caraway toast from Ikea). Yum! The onion jelly is slightly sweet and savoury and went well with the Wensleydale.
  • Dorothy: Alsation-style fruit tarts (one apple, one apricot). Sweet olives to go with the cheeses (from the Riebeek Valley in South Africa). Sweet olives? Yes, and they're delicious - a bit like candied figs. The tarts were amazing - Washington Braeburn apples worked really well.
  • Ben & Becky: Three salads. Sorry, I'll need to get the specific of each salad and update this... They were all amazing!
  • Carrie & Keshav: Dipping oils (basil-infused olive oil, roasted garlic olive oil, artichoke and garlic dipping oil), with Pugliese bread from Trader Joe's. The artichoke one was my favourite!
  • Mathias & Stephanie: Tapenades from DeLaurenti in Pike Place Market: Green olive, black olive, sun-dried tomato and also hummus.
  • Eric: Three chocolates (randing from 35%-53% cacao). Callebaut chocolate from Whole Foods.
  • Ari: Double chocolate chocolate-chip cookies. Sadly I didn't try these, but they looked very rich and decadent!

I'll post some pictures later this week...

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Wine Info

I've been meaning to put together a list of some of the wine retailers, importers, storage, etc. in Seattle. So here goes...

Importers/Online Stores:
Garagiste (link). (Seattle). Mailing list offers new wines daily, you choose what you want to purchase. Mainly rare and unusual or limited production wine.
Mad Wine (link). (Bellevue). Online store with some a great selection of US and imprted wine. Nice Italian, New Zealand and South African wines.

Wine Stores:
Esquin (link). (Seattle) "Seattle's oldest and largest retail wine merchant". I haven't been here yet...
McCarthy & Schiering (link). (Queen Anne/Seattle). Very friendly staff, good selection and free wine tastings on Saturday.
Vino 100 (link). (Downtown Bellevue). Wine store franchise offerign 100 wines $25 and under. Interesting wine layout (by body/sweetness) so you can pick wine according to your taste, not region or cultivar. Friendly staff, and tastings offered.
Larry's Market (link). (Multiple locations). The Redmond store has a good selection of wine. Service can be iffy, though - it's sometimes hard to find someone to answer questions...
Trader Joe's (link). (Multiple locations). The place to go for cheap, easy-drinking wine, although they do have some decent imports too. No real service/help in choosing, though.
Pete's (link). (Seattle/Bellevue). I've heard good things about this place, but never been. Supposedly a good place to order Stormhoek wines in Seattle.
Pike & Western Wine Shop (link). Local (Seattle). I've been in a few times but been unimpressed with the service.
DeLaurenti (link). (Pike Place Market/Seattle). Great selection of Italian wine. They have a wine club you can join too (red/white Italian mostly).
City Cellars (link). (Wallingford/Seattle). Great selection, very laid-back, friendly staff. Wine tastings on Friday evenings for a small fee. 100 wines for $10 and under.

Seattle Wine Storage (link). Seattle. Friendly, not pushy, reasonably priced and good access hours.
Elliott Avenue Wine Storage (link).
Eastside Wine Storage (link).