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!