Monday, January 30, 2006

How to get rich, quick!

The other day while browsing in a bookstore, I noticed a new book by Dave Barry: "Dave Barry's Money $ecrets". I found myself laughing out loud and eagerly flipping through the book reading his pithy take on various financial topics.

You can imagine my pleasure when I heard him on KUOW's Weekday yesterday morning, talking about his new book and being generally irreverent. You can listen to a podcast of the show by going here. (He kindly summarises Donald Trump's "How to Get Rich" so you don't need to read it.)

Speaking of financial books, I have "The Undercover Economist" waiting for me at the library. It sounds like it's in the same vein as "Freakonomics", so it should be good.

Making Scents of Wine

If you have a few hundred $$ laying around, and want to train your nose to pick up wine smells, is for you! The list of aromas is impressive...
Or, if you just want to learn how to pick out spoilt wine, they have a 12-pack of "wine fault" aromas, including one called "horse", and another called "glue". (Next time you're caught huffing glue, just say you're developing your sommelier skills!)

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Parody of "The DaVinci Code"

I just noticed that a South African author (Tom Eaton) has written a parody of Dan Brown's wildly popular book:
Here's an excerpt. It sounds like fun, but I'll have to read Brown's book first to truly appreciate it. (Or I could maybe cheat and just watch the movie.)

I wonder if he's any relation to my old English teacher?

Monday, January 23, 2006

I'm hung up!

Aargh!! It's stuck in my head! From a review on Amazon:
"Hung Up" starts off with samples from ABBA's "Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!" to jump full fledge into a track that you simply will not be able to sit still through.

God damn, that sample is waaay too catchy! And it's disco! Someone help me!

On an unrelated musical note, I placed an advance order for the new William Orbit CD (first new one in 5 years!), and noticed the new Beth Orton CD is coming out around the same time, so I took a (small) risk and ordered it too. Plus, the new Lemon Jelly (which I've already enjoyed on Hayoo! Music) The final track on Lemon Jelly's new CD features William Shatner, so you know it's good. (Check out Shatner's album "Has Been")

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Blind wine tasting

(updated 1/23 9:42pm - Added the Firesteed Pinot Noir I forgot!)

We had a really fun blind wine tasting on Saturday. Alyssum chose 4 red wines from around the world, and with Raymond's help, wrapped them and re-branded them Mars, Venus, Neptune, Mercury and Pluto.

It was really interesting trying to detect such basic things as grape variety without any extra information to go on. Most of the time I was wrong - guessing that a Cabernet Sauvignon was in fact a merlot, or that a Shiraz was a Cabernet Sauvignon. Next time, I'll review this nice guide to wine varieties and wine tasting how-to. Also see this more complete guide to varieties.

Surprisingly, the tastiest wines were not always from the most lauded winery. The wines and some brief notes:

2004 Rosemount Shiraz Diamond Label, S. Australia:
The best wine of the night for me. I thought this was a California or Washington Merlot - it's definitely more fruity than most Cab Sauv's from the northern hemishpere. A great nose with fruit and spice mixing with some alcohol - you know this is a powerful wine before tasting it. It has a nice full-bodied, velvety feel in your mouth, with red fruit and spice (pepper), a good middle attack of tannins that are very soft and linger for great 30 second or so long finish. A great wine to savour on its own, or to drink with a robust meal of grilled meat or with bread & cheese.

Reading up on this wine on their great website, it sounds like the growing condition in 2004 were not as good as 2002/3, so if you find one of those vintages, definitely try them instead. (it sounds like they usually get more raspberry and fruit in a good year).
Mark's score: 92%

2002 Charles Shaw Cabernet Sauvignon, California:
A surprise for me - I thought I'd be able to recognize "3 Buck Chuck" pretty easily. This one was quite impressive - maybe not as nuanced and powerful as a "great" wine, but at the price it was damn nice. A nice fruity nose with berries and oak, medium-full-bodied, sweet cherry/cassis and soft tannins mixed with some spice. A nice lingering finish.
Mark's score: 89%

2002? Goats Do Roam, W. Cape, South Africa:
Wooho! A South African wine! OK... so maybe that's not so exciting to you! :)
I've actually been to the winery - Fairview - where this comes from. The name is a fun reference to the goats that are raised on the farm to make cheese :

One afternoon, at harvest time, my mischievous son Jason and his friend Justin let the goats out of thier tower and sent them for a walkabout amongst the vines. As in the legend of the Yemeni goat herder, whose roaming flock firs discovered the joys of coffee beands, our goats picked out th best and tastiest fruit. Their choice which includes Pinotage, Shiraz, Cinsault, Grenache and Carignan, serves as our inspritation for this wine.

The "goat towers" are really cute: picture a narrow tall white tower with a spiral staircase on the outside. Great for giving the goats a chance to practice their mountaineering skills, and they have little rooms inside to hang out in when it's nasty outside.

Anyway, back to the wine: This is definitely more funk than the others - the smell is a little musty and reminds me of sweaty feet a little. The taste is medium bodied, fruity and quite spicy (green pepper) with a finish that fades in a few seconds. Not much oak, this is a straightforward expression of the grapes (a blend of many red varieties including South Africa's own Pinotage). The taste is quite unusual, so this stands out a bit from the cheap red blends that try to be smooth and innocuous. It's probably best with food like pasta or pizza.
Mark's score: 80%

2003 Christian Moueix Merlot, Bordeaux:
This is the 2nd label wine from the famous Chateau Petrus estate, and is highly reviewed online. e.g.:

Christian Moueix makes the most expensive red Bordeaux on the planet, Chateau Petrus, which sells for $1000 a bottle in great vintages (1989, 1990 and 1995) and just slightly less in ordinary years. He also makes Christian Mouiex Merlot for about $9 a bottle, and it's great every year. During the tremendous vintages, it's an even better bargain. The price disparity is so great, that it must be a 50th label instead of a second or third. Mouiex's talent and experience making the $1000 wine spill over into the $9 wine, to everyone's delight. It's available literally everywhere around town. [link]
I found it disappointing: not much on the nose, and a thin, unexciting taste with rather harsh tannins. Very dry and atringent. This is definitely not like the fruit-forward merlots from the southern hemisphere, or even the USA. Perhaps this is what "old world" merlot is meant to taste like, but I didn't enjoy it. FYI - Christian Moueix also owns Dominus in California. More info here.
Mark's score: 75%

2003 Firesteed Pinot Noir, Oregon:
This was the final wine, and my notes are a bit sparse. The colour was light red, translucent. The nose showed oak, smoke and light red fruit (raspberries), with a "funky" edge. On the tongue it felt light and the acids and tannins emerged quickly, leaving a harsh, hard short finish. Not much fruit on the palate. Light and fresh, but a little too acidic and harsh for my liking.
Mark's score: 72%

PS: Cabernet and Cabernet Sauvignon are not regions in France. Cabernet is not a grape variety either - it's just a populare shortening of Cabernet Sauvignon (the most widely-planted red grape). Cabernet Franc is another famous .Correct me if I'm wrong :)

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Tweaked layout

As you may have noticed, I've tweaked the layout of my blog a little. I noticed that Internet Explorer was having problems rendering the front page at certain widths, which caused the entries to be shoved down to below the right-hand "menu". So, I've switched back to the default fixed-width template, and tweaked some old posts to fit.

I should really play with CSS some more and try to understand how to get a variable-width layout that works, but that will have to wait a while...

Friday, January 13, 2006

Oregon's bewpubs

The NYT has a story on Oregon's bewpubs, focusing on Portland. I've been through Portland a few times on my way to central Oregon, and also visited "properly" once. I really enjoyed my visit - the city feel more "European" than Seattle, and the downtown area is fun to explore on foot. Plus, you have an Powell's Books - worth a visit in itself.

Oregon has an interesting beer rule: You can bring a covered container to the pub, get some beer, and enjoy it at home... The law says:

471.253. (1) A brewery-public house license shall allow thelicensee:
(a) To manufacture annually on the licensed premises, store,transport, sell to wholesale malt beverage and wine licensees ofthe commission and export { - no more than 200,000 barrelsof - } malt beverages, as defined in ORS 473.010;
(b) To sell malt beverages manufactured on or off the licensedpremises at retail for consumption on or off the premises;
(c) To sell malt beverages in brewery-sealed packages at retaildirectly to the consumer for consumption off the premises;
(d) To sell on the licensed premises at retail malt beveragesmanufactured on or off the licensed premises in unpasteurized orpasteurized form directly to the consumer for consumption off thepremises, delivery of which may be made in a securely covered container supplied by the consumer;

Macaroni and Cheese

Slate has a fun article titled "Crusty Macaroni and Cheese" - What's wrong with the New York Times' weirdly popular recipe.

The Slate story is a follow-on to this story in the NYT, which includes a recipe for macaroni and cheese that doesn't use any bechamel. It sounds pretty disgusting - just pasta and cheese, with a little milk. It reminds me a bit of the overly-oily dish I had at Purple Cafe a while back...

My mom's recipe was pretty traditional: a cheese sauce made using bechame, some nutmeg, cayenne pepper and strong mustard powder (I think?), with good aged cheddar. I haven't made any myself for ages, perhaps this weekend I'll be evil... (Snowshoeing on Saturday will be a good way to burn off the calories!)

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Blind Eating

From Morning Edition:

Dining by candlelight may be romantic, but it's tastier when there's no light at all. That's what one one French restaurateur, Edouard de Broglie, belives. He will open Dans Le Noir, or "In the Dark," in London, similar to his other light-free restaurant in Paris. His theory is that food is best savored in a kind of blind tasting, using the taste buds only. But food is not always recognized; customers are known to confuse, say, veal with tuna.

Hmm... I could see how removing the visual stimulus would encourage your brain to focus more on the taste, smell and texture of what you're eating, but is the benfit worth the risks? Imaging eating your napkin, or forking yourself in the eye. How do you know when you're done eating? (Do you shove your fingers in the plate and rummage around?)

Besides, I think a large part of the joy of good food is visual, somehow the best meal tastes even better and is more memorable if it beautifully presented. I'll be sticking with normal levels of ambient lighting for now, thank you.

For now, I'll stick withto romantic candle-lit dinners instead of pitch darkness.

Stormhoek Wine

I always like reading about South African wines doing well abroad, so I was pleased to recently stumble upon a new South African winery's blog : Stormhoek Wine
(Their name can be translated as "Storm Corner". They seem to be near Wellington, which is very close to where my mom lives in the Western Cape...)

What makes them interesting is:
  • They're all about freshness. Unoaked, fresh, crisp whites are their focus. (They also make a Sangiovese Merlot though). I like this snippet from their website:
new zealand has the best tech for making white wine. but south africa has better
grapes. so obviously the "hacker" thing to do was to move the tech over to south
africa and see what happens. voila! stormhoek. "freshness matters."

  • This blog entry describes their freshness philosphy and the science behind it. Now I know what "reductively made wine" is...
  • They use screwcaps (exclusively it seems). This is part of their focus on freshness - reducing the oxidation and risk of wine spoiling from contaminants in the cork.
    Speaking of screwtops, the nicest one I've seen yet is from Aussie: The Zork. You get the satisfying "pop" of a cork, and can easily re-seal your bottle.
  • They blog actively. They have tried to use the "blogosphere" to do some disruptive marketing of their wines. A nice example: they sent a few hundred bottles of wine as free gifts to bloggers around the world, without any strings attached. Many of the bloggers posted reviews of the wine, which ended up doubling their sales in less than a year! I say kudos to them!
  • So far, they seem to be doing very well in the UK.

I haven't seen their stuff on sale in the US, but maybe Garagiste or Esquin will find a US importer?

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Steerpike: Then and now

Here is a picture of Steerpike as a kitten, shortly after I got him in 2002. He had just had his first bath, and was feeling a little the worse for wear. (Hence the hiding in a wastepaper basket...)

And one from a few weeks ago. He's definitely grown, but he still is damned cute and behaves like a hooligan! :)

Friday, January 06, 2006

Less is more: The short cappuccino

Raymond forwarded me a link to this excellent article in Slate about Starbuck's elusive "short" cappuccino. It reminds me of this other story I read a few days ago in Slate, which also mentioned the sensitive pricing scheme needed to keep customers happy: make a lot of profit from most by selling them larger drinks, but offer cheaper and smaller drinks to people that are "cost conscious".

What about taste conscious customers? I guess you would skip Starbucks altogether then, and go to one of the better alternatives for coffee in Seattle: Tully's, Vivace, Caffe Apassionato, Caffe Ladro, ...

First MS patch of the year is out

Make sure you install MS06-001 on your Windows machines. (Go to Microsoft Update or Windows Update and install the recommended patches, or get it directly here.) More regularly-sheduled patches come out on Tuesday.

It's always hectic when a 0-day exploit is released (that means there is a public exploit out there without a fix from Microsoft). Lots of interesting stuff happened with this one, but what struck me was the release of an "unofficial" patch for the issue. (I just used the recommeded mitigation and unregistered shdocvw.dll on my machines. That blocks the web and image-in-email attack vectors). I was surprised to see how many security companies and media outlets pushed the unofficial patch, despite the low level of testing and risk that many systems or applications could be broken.

I wonder if we'll start seeing unofficial patches for all 0-day critical exploits? Maybe Microsoft could release "alpha" (untested) patches for people to use at their own risk? At least then they would be signed and you could validate that you're not installing malware hidden as a patch.

Mr Eaton's Poem

It's weird how luck or fate work sometimes. In this case, someone from my distant past in another country popped up in a Half-Price Books store in Redmond, WA a year or so ago.

I had a really great English teacher in high school, by the name of Mr. Eaton. (He didn't have a first name then, all teachers were simple Mr. or Mrs. So-and-so). I had Mr. Eaton from my first day in standard 6 (grade 8), and if I remember correctly, I had him all the way through Matric (grade 12). If I remember right, he was the head of the English department, and taught the "advanced" higher-grade English class for most grades. (A bit of shameless bragging there...)

Mr. Eaton was a real character - the sort of teacher that Molesworth would have vilified and drawn rather unflattering pictures of. (The irony is that Mr. Eaton introduced me to Molesworth!) Mr. Eaton would probably have come out as a micture of him and him. In real life he was an imposing 6 1/2 foot-plus tall man, with a beak-like nose and fierce eyes. He could look at the most cocky, troublesome kid and they'd instantly shut up and behave. (At least, in the 8th grade that was true... By the 10th grade he would resort to more vocal measures, and could strip the paint off a wall at 50 paces.) He would add to his severe countenance by shaving his head with a numer-1 or number-2 clipper once a year, so he looked like an escaped criminal or mental patient for a few weeks of each year. I think I heard that he lost a bet at some point, and the head-shaving were the terms he kept to from then on...

All this makes him sound like a terrible demon that you lived in fear of. While it's true he was intimidating and demanded respect and the best behaviour, he really loved English and the literature we studied. He was one of the few teachers in my school that was so passionate about their subject that you became infected by their passion. He was excited by the poems we studied. His booming bass made anything he read aloud come alive. He was also quirky and had wide-ranging tastes: as reward for good behaviour he would read us excerpts from the Molesworth books, or read short-stories outside our normal setwork. (He read us The Ruum by Arthur Porges, and I still remember it vividly.)

All told, he was one of the best teachers I've ever had. Thanks to him I enjoy Shakespeare. (OK, Maybe Will has something to do with that too...)

Anyway, that was then. How does the story come back to Redmond, WA in 2004?
Well, I was browsing the used poetry books in Half-Price Books when I stumbled upon a Penguin collection of South African poetry. The book was old, published in 1968, and such a rare find that I bought it without much thought. Leafing through the book later, I noticed a poem by an Anthony Eaton. "Hmm.... I wonder if that's the same Anthony Eaton that taught me?", I thought. (Yes, I had finally discovered his first name after a few years at school!)
Sure enough, the brief biography at the back of the book described him as having studied at U.C.T. and working as an educator in Cape Town.

It was amazing to think that of the many people it could have landed up with, this book somehow made its way to me, and rekindled all these memories!

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

The joys of posting

So, a quick note on why I've been quiet for so long (and why suddenly there are posts a-flowing).
The posting woes were not over, it seems. For some reason, Blogger is still unable to re-publish my entire blog - I can post new entries, but changing the template requires you to re-publish everything, and this then dies after 20-30% is copied up to my server.

The problem seems to be my web host, since normal FTP operations from IE, ftp.exe or other client, get dropped after a few operations. So...
Short-term solution: manually re-post all entries, and don't muck with the temlate for now.
Long-term solution: move my domain to a new hosting company. (It looks like Yahoo! may win - they're cheap, offer lots o' storage and bandwidth, and now have Moveable Type (blogging software) as an option.

Does anyone have any tips on how to export my Blogger postings and upload them easily to Movable Type if I choose to go that route?

Listening to...

Jonathan reminded me about the group The Postal Service - they have some really good songs on their album Give Up. You can download a free mp3 copy of the song Such Great Heights from their website.

They will see us waving from such great heights
"Come down now," they'll say
But everything looks perfect from far away
"Come down now," but we'll stay

Ironically, I heard this song a while back on the Garden State soundtrack, but it was a cover performed by Iron and Wine. I mistakenly though that Iron and Wine wrote the song, and that Postal Service later covered it - it's the other way around. I recommend hearing both versions - the lyrics are more evident in the Iron and Wine version, but the beat on the original is infectious.

So, Postal Service are currently on rotation in my Yahoo! Music playlist. I also discovered a similar band that I've been enjoying today: Grandaddy.

PS: The Google music search thingy rocks! It reminds me of the good days of, when you get artist discographies and bios easily. After Amazon bought CDNow, the info was hidden in the ads and clutter of Amazon's pages...

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Viking Marching Band

At Keshav & Carrie's New Year's Eve party, Ramsey suggested we check out this video (alternate link and more info here)
Warning: weird music and animation, SFW though...

In honour of the movie, we came up with this cocktail that evening:

The Viking Marching Band
1 Mandarin orange, juiced (in South Africa, you'd use a naartjie)
1 shot of vodka (you know you want the good stuff...)
1/2 shot rum (spiced dark rum is best)
splash of grenadine syrup (less really is more in this case)
Pomegranate juice (4 oz / 125 ml or so)

Mix everything in a shaker with ice, and shake well. Pour into a martini glass.

These were really popular... hic!