Friday, December 21, 2007

Merry, uh, Holidays

Or Season's Greetings! Or Happy Hannukah! Or Happy Eid ul-Adah!

In celebration of the holidays, I bring you "The Spirit of Christmas" (and in Russian for those that prefer).

Good info on veg*n diets

We have a vegan/vegetarian (hence veg*n) distribution list at work, and one of the regular topics that comes up is good sources of protein. The next-most popular topics are iron and vitamin B-12, since many meat-eaters think that veg*ns can't possible get enough of these nutrients.

It turns out that with a little research/education, and a varied diet, you can meet all of your dietary needs with a veg*n diet.

In terms of education, the Internet has lots of good information... So much that it's hard to know where to start or who to trust. I'd recommend starting with the pages on the Vegan Society website.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Brown really was a dumb idea

I rememebr when the first Zunes came out and everyone looked at the brown colour and went "Whaaaat?!"
Some folks said brown was an "in" colour (lots of fashion designers were using brown that year), and that Microsoft was riding the crest of the coolness wave and differentiating the Zune from the white iPod.

Cue 2007... The new Zunes are out, and brown is nowhere to be seen...
The old Zunes are on deep clearance (e.g. $109 on What colour is left?
You guessed it : Brown!

When all life on earth is extinct, there will be "mint in box" brown Zunes left as a testament to Man's ingenuity.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Woodinville St. Nick's wine-tasting

Last weekend, a few friends and I sent to Woodinville for their annual St. Nicholas Open House. The event ran over both Saturday and Sunday, but we only did one day - next weekend I think I'll try to make it to both days, since there are far too many wineries to fit into one day. As it was, we did pretty well, visiting around 10 wineries in about 5 hours.

I had only basic knowledge of the area's wineries, having been to Chateau Ste. Michelle and Columbia Winery a few times, and having heard about a few of the bigger wineries like Januik.

We skipped most of these big names, but did stop in at the Januik / Novelty Hill winery, which is very impressive and modern. This was in contrast to our first stop of the day at DeLille Winery (which was one of the venues we looked at for our wedding). DeLille was very cozy and had lots of wood and country ambience (kudos for the huge roaring fire on a wet snowy day!). They also had passed hors d'ouevres and a cheese selection to die for... I didn't think their wines were that amazing, though (they have lots of awards, so I guess I'm not smart enough to appreciate their wines?)

A slight peeve at DeLille was that they stamped your St. Nicks booklet for every glass of wine you tasted, which was rather tedious and seemed cheap. (How many people would have abused their hospitality and drunk too much wine? No other winery felt the need to be this fastidious.)

Back to Januik / Novelty Hill: Their tasting was held in the actual winery, with loads of stainless steel fermentation tanks and oak barrels stacked to the ceiling. Their wines were clean, fruity and generally very good, but I thought they lacked some "character" and tasted a bit generic. (We were tasting their more everyday wines, which no doubt are made in a more approachable style). I did like their Cab Sauv and they had a very good Rose wine that we all liked. There was also a guy selling amazing savoury shortbread that came in several flavours, and each went very well with a particular kind of wine. A nice idea, and his stuff worked very well with wine (unlike some savoury biscotti we tried in Oregon this summer).

Other wineries we tried were:
  • SilverLake (their adjoining tasting room also had incredible fruit wines from the Hoodsport Winery, and yummy chocolate truffles). We bought some blackberry and raspberry wine, which have already been had and enjoyed :)
  • Facelli Winery, which is a small family-run winery tucked away in an industrial park. Their tasting room was small and a little cramped, but the family was on hand pouring their wines and very friendly.
  • Northwest Totem Cellars were pouring their wines at the old Hollywood School House. They were defintely the most laid-back and inviting of all the wineries, not even looking at our St. Nick's booklet. They had an awesome folk band playing, and their wines were quite good. (I think I liked their Low Man Red the best, but the Cab Sauv was very nice too). Their first reds are being released this month, so keep an eye out for them!
  • DiStefano Winery had some good wines and great food - their pumpkin soup was very welcome as the rain poured down outside.

The highlight of the day for me was the discovery of Pomum Cellars. The setup was basic but inviting and the wine-maker was on hand pouring his creation. Apparently they had some amazing cheese, but I missed it completely as I tasted the one wine they had out - they 2004 Shya Red. This was the only wine I tasted all day that made me go "Wow!". It's a Bordeaux-style blend with more of an old-world style and lots of character. I had a great time talking to the winemaker about how he got into the wine business, and his plans for the future. Since he's from Spain, he is working on some Spanish varietals and will have a Tempranillo coming out soon (next year?). I'm really excited to see what their future wines are like and would recommend trying their wines if you have the chance.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Columbia Winery moving

I just noticed this story on the Seattle Times website about the Columbia Winery in Woodinville. They are moving from their current iconic location, and will be looking for a new retail/sales location in or around Woodinville. The production facilities will move to Eastern Washington.

I also didn't realize that Columbia are owned by Constellation Brands. I've just finished reading The House of Mondavi about the Mondavi family and the collapse of the Robert Mondavi's wine empire. It was eventually bought by Constellation...

The book is great, by the way. Very readable and full of interesting anectdotes and facts about the wine industry. If you're interested in wine or rags-to-riches-to-rags* biographies, check out this book.

* OK, not rags in the end exactly, but you get the idea.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Costco spam

Sigh... I love the marketing spam many companies feel inclined to send their customers. Costco is one of the more persistent ones, sending a weekly email advertising their latest Chinese imports. As is legally required, they include an "unsubscribe" link in the email, and I tried (in vain) to unsubscribe today.

  1. You can't unsubscribe by replying to their email. You must click on a link they provide in the email...

  2. The unsubscribe link is invalid and clicking on it does nothing. (The URL starts with "../" which is not a good sign :) )

  3. Their email includes a customer service email address, so I sent them a request to send me working unsbscribe link...

  4. This is the reply I got from the customer service "robot" :

  5. Thank you for contacting note your e-mail has not been submitted to customer service as we have upgraded our e-mail system.Simply click here and follow 3 easy steps to submit your question. Our goal is to provide immediate assistance and continue to add features to improve the customer service experience.If the above link does not work, paste the following link into your browser:

    This is an automated response and any replies sent will not receive assistance.


    Costco Wholesale

  6. Clicking on the link they provide eventually leads to nice error message:

Frack me, but they've managed to make this way more complicated than needed. I guess they really don't want you to unsubscribe!!!??

Friday, December 07, 2007

Office make-over

On Wednesday morning, after the ice-hockey game, I came in to work to find my office door looked a bit different:

Christmas Office Door 1

The entire door was wrapped in gift wrap and had a nice bow around it. Inside, I found almost every object in my office wrapped in gift wrap! My chair, notice boards, monitors, keyboard and mouse, even my (empty) water cup and pen! This picture doesn't really do it justice (and I had unwrapped a few things by the time it was taken), but you get a rough idea:

Christmas Office 3   Christmas Office 6Christmas Office 5

I had no idea who had done this (yes, I'm slow) - initially thinking my boss or colleagues were pranking me. Then I recognized a few holiday decorations from our house (the reindeer), and a note on one monitor finally solved the mystery: My fiancee and friends had pranked me while I was out watching the ice-hockey! (It turns out they were not all watching the Sound of Music as they had said....)

Thanks to all the "naughty people" that did this! It was a huge surprise and made my day!

In closing, here's the light-up snowman head:

Christmas Office 4

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Picnik chuckle

I used the Picnik photo-editing application for the first time last night (it's the one that Flickr partners with, so it's the easiest way to tweak your Flickr pictures).

I must say I was mightily impressed. For a web app, it was slick, intuitive and worked nicely. (Granted I only cropped an image, but still, compared to the Windows picture editor it's a step or two ahead).

The loading screen is worth seeing - they've definitely followed the light-hearted tone used by Flickr for their website. So, in keeping with the name "Picnik", the loading screen informs you that the program is:
  • Laying the blanket
  • Buttering the bread
  • Planting trees
  • Warming the breeze
  • etc.

Luckily ants and yellow-jackets are not mentioned...

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Ice Hockey

I went to my first ice hockey game last night, and had a fun time. Luckily my friends K & R wer there to explain the intricacies of the game to me, otherwise I would have been pretty lost.

It turns out ice hockey is blindingly fast and quite exciting to watch. I spent most of the evening trying to follow the puck around the court and figure out what random event had caused players to be sent to cool off. There was only one real fight during the game, no teeth went flying and there was no blood on the ice. The crowd was pretty bloodthirsty, and would rise and cheer whenever a player from the visiting team, the Tri-City Americans, got checked hard into the "glass" surrounding the ice.

Despite starting out well, the Seattle Thunderbirds slipped from the initial lead to a 2-2 draw and the game went into a 4-on-4 sudden death period, with the Tri-City Americans finally scoring a goal and winning 3-2. I have to say, the visitors outplayed the home team and deserved to win.

I suggested we drive out to the Tri-Cities for the next game, and keep supporting the winning team...

Some other random observations:
  1. It's amusing to see the make-up of the teams, though. Take the Tri-City Americans, for example. Only 2 of the 23-strong team are from the USA, most being from Canada. I guess Canada was annexed and I missed the news ? Only 1 of the 23 Seattle Thunderbird players are from the USA, and none call Washington State home. It's kind of weird to see the fans get so, well, fanatical in support of the "local" team versus the visitors, considering they are basically two Canadian teams :)
  2. The visiting team had the coolest player names: T.J Fast and Colton Yellow Horn. They also had the funniest name: Brett Plouffe.
  3. Ice hockey fans like to shout "You suck!" a lot. The smart ones add a name to end, so everyone knows who the suckee is. A few people seemed to think everyone sucked, which was a bit severe, I thought.
  4. Food and beer cost and arm and a leg. I guess that helps to keep the crowd from getting totally hammered?
  5. The game is interrupted every two minutes to plug some sponsor or other, usually thinly masked as a give-away or competition for the fans. The "half-time" shows were quite cute, though: 5-9 year-olds playing "bunch-puck", and the crowd throwing pucks onto the ice, trying to get them through the sun-roof of a car.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Favourite mustard?

What's your favourite mustard?

I'll freely admit that I'm a mustard snob. French's doesn't cut it, and I often make the trip to our local German deli to buy some good German mustard instead. Luckily, A shares my passion, and we've gradually been exploring and discovering new mustards that meet our high standards :)
For me, good mustard should be quite hot, but flavourful and not overpowering, not vinegary, and only a little sweet (if it's sweet at all).

I grew up really liking the Gundelsheim mustard in a glass mug. (You get a free coffee mug once the mustard is gone, how cool is that!?)
Colman's English mustard was also a regular condiment - great with cheddar cheese or roast beef. (This stuff is very hot though, and clears your sinuses out like hot horseradish).

In the USA, A and I discovered the Dijon mustard at Trader Joe's. It's really yummy and packs much more flavour than the ubiquitous Grey Poupon. (Some people call it "super hot", but they must not have had Chinese mustard or Colman's... hehe)

The German deli I mentioned earlier (Liebschen, in Bellevue) has some good mustards, including several varieties made by Thomy that come in metal tubes. The Tomy Scharfer Senf is great and became our new favourite a few months back. It's a bit too pricey to put in/on everything, though.

I am now eagerly awaiting some French "Tubissime" mustard that I ordered. (Made with Orleans vinegar and Guerande salt, and hand-made in small batches, probably by cute little french maids in flouncy skirts).

Mind 'ow you search...

My colleague Robert Hensing linked to an interesting and scary article about "evil" results in search engine queries being used to infect people's machines.

Ways to stay safe(r):
  • Use Vista on a 64-bit machine with hardware DEP enabled, and UAC enabled
  • Run as a normal user (not an admin)
  • Don't install anything when a website prompts you, unless you know and trust the website, are really are sure it's something you need, and it's signed by a trusted publisher.
  • Uninstall Quicktime :)

Tuesday, November 27, 2007


A and I saw Beowulf this past weekend, and really enjoyed it. The animation is astounding, and the script while mostly faithful to the poem also has some nice twists and additions.

This review by Henry Gee covers the movie perfectly.

Not so much fun were the four teenagers in front of us in the cinema. They seemed to be terminally addicted to text-messagign on their cell phones, and would pull them out every minute or two to machine-gun a new message. I have no idea why they felt the need to send messages during a movie they paid to see! Eventually a cinema usher cam over and asked them to not use their phones, but this led to much nattering and the girls leaving and making a noise in the hallway outside the theatre.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Housing in South Africa

The PRI (public radio) program The World recently had two segments on housing in South Africa. You can listen to the segments here:

Monday, November 19, 2007

Acquiring a taste for wine

I stumbled on this article from the Seattle Times' Pacific Northwest Magazine: Acquiring a Taste.

It features a nice beginner's guide to wine tasting, ten tips to improve, and a list of wine clubs and events if you want to be part of some organized tastings.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Blind tastings

Slate has a new article by Mike Stenberger which talks about blind wine tastings. This bit was amusing:

Blind tastings can serve both as rites of passage—the exams for both the Master of Wine and the Master Sommelier degrees include blind tastings—and as ritual hazings. Within wine circles, nothing cements a reputation quite like acing a blind tasting. Years ago, British wine writer Oz Clarke was served a mystery red. After much sniffing and sipping, he said he couldn't decide whether it was the 1982 Paul Jaboulet Hermitage La Chapelle or the 1983. There was a reason he couldn't make up his mind: The glass contained a blend of both. But such triumphs are rare; more often than not, blind tastings yield embarrassment.

The article is worth reading - Mike makes some good points about the pros and cons of blind wine tastings.

Speaking of wine, Happy Birthday to Gary! (A day late...)

New Zune

Microsoft released the new models of the Zune media players yesterday, and the reviews seem generally positive. One thing that has kep me from buying a Zune (apart from the bulky hardware and crappy PC software, ahem) was the lack of a subscription service.

I've been very happy with Napster's subscription service and my old Creative Zen Micro. For around $15 a month I can download and listen to pretty much any album, and then purchase ones I really like if I want them on CD. The Napster software works well, and the Zen Micro is a decent music player.

I'm happy to see that the new Zune software now includes a subscription service, called Zune Pass. For some lame reason, Microsoft decided to "hide" the monthly price for Zune Pass. You won't find it here or in the FAQ. Instead, you need to go to this Microsoft Support article. Weird... Perhaps we show you the price once you've created a Zune account, but personally I'd like to know the cost before going through the rigmarole of setting up an account (and handing over my personal info).

Now, if there's a way to get TV shows off of my Comcast DVR and onto the Zune, that would be nice. Anyone got that working yet? :)

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Rodrigo y Gabriella

Yum Lass and I saw Rodrigo y Gabriella live last night at the Paramount. A truly incredible show! I'd seen them earlier this year at Bumbershoot, but last night left their earlier show behind in the dust.

If you like guitar music and haven't heard of them, check them out - They play what you might call acoustic heavy-metal flamenco music.

My only criticism is that some of their songs sound too much alike, are a bit rambling and "bitty", and basically just vehicles to show off their amazing technical skills. (I was spoilt growing up listening to Tananas and Tony Cox in South Africa).

The flamenco guitarwork and driving rhythms are very catchy though, and the sheer energy they put into their performances is breathtaking. They are also capable of playing with a lot of sensitivity, and I found myself liking their slower songs best (like their take on Take Five, and Floyd's Wish you were here). The solo stints they did as the other took a well-deserved break were incedible (especially Gabriella's solo).

Speaking of Tony Cox, I just noticed he has a new album out (with Benguela), so I'll ask South African Santa to send me a copy...

Friday, October 26, 2007

Monkey's Wedding

One of the interesting bits of South African English is the term "monkey's wedding" for a sunshower (rain falling when the sun is shining). It turns out there is a common theme in the folkloric names for a sunshower - many cultures talk about weddings between animals. (See this Wikipedia page).

Whenever I see a sunshower I still automatically think of "monkey's wedding" - it's amazing how phrases like this from your childhood get cemented in your head. Anyway, now some of my American friends will have a clue what I mean when I say this...

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Time to eat out a lot in Seattle (again)!

25 for $25 is back - except it's now called Dine Around Seattle. NWSource has a nice overview of the new restaurants on the list.

I'll definitely be going to a few of my favourites (like Barking Frog, Zoë and Yarrow Bay Grill), and maybe try a new place or two as well. (It's a fairly low-risk way to try a fancy new restaurant).

Speaking of Zoë, Yum Lass and I had a great meal their last Friday. It's been a while (2 years?) since we were last there, and they didn't disappoint. The chef's focus seems to have moved from seafood to meat, and his menu reminded me a lot of Mario Batali's Babbo (which is fresh in my mind after having just read "Heat"). I decided to be daring and try meat for the first time in ages (I've been pescatarian for a few years), and I ordered the wild boar pasta. (What made me cave in and eat meat? I think a mixture of the cold weather and a desire for something really hearty, descriptions of artisinal meat and boar pastas from "Heat", and a certain moral flexibility...)

The pasta was delicious, but seemed to stick around in my system for a day or two in an odd way, so I don't feel a need to eat meat again. Who knows, perhaps it'll be a 7-year-itch thing?

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Queue up the Queen song

'coz We are the Champions of the World! :)

South Africa won the Rugby World Cup final! Woohoo!

Normally I'm not much of a sports fan, but the 1995 Rugby World Cup was truly memorable, and managed to convert me somewhat to being a patriotic rugby fan.

I had a few friends around today to watch the match almost-live* and had a great time. Much beer was drunk during the match, and a celebratory dram of scotch followed in honour of their victory, so I had a nicely fuzzy Saturday afternoon.

* I ordered on pay-per-view and recorded it on the DVR so we started watching 30 mins after the game started.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Deep thoughts about the American "Kitchen Nightmares"

I confess to really enjoying the UK "Kitchen Nightmares" series. I generally enjoy Gordon Ramsay in whatever show he does - even the American "Hell's Kitchen" was not too bad (although the most recent series was pretty lame).

For those unfamiliar with "Kitchen Nightmares", the premise is a simple "reality TV" format where Gordon is brought in to rescue a failing restaurant. He spends one week working with the owner, chef, servers, etc. sorting things out, and usually manages to turn things around by the time he leaves. He then pops back a few months later (seemingly unannounced) to check on how things have progressed. This is the cherry on the pudding for me - I like to see what advice has stuck, and what has been forgotten; who has stuck to their promises, and who has been forced out (or quit).

The UK show is quite simple, with what feels like no scripting, minimal editing or "saucing up" and often some really good drama as relationships are forged under intense pressure in a short time. Chefs that are resistant and hate Ramsay at first often get won over and become his best friends by the end of the week. Lowly kitchen helpers are recognized as having great potential and given their chance to move ahead in their career. Really inspiring stuff.

So, back to the American version. It's pretty bad - not a huge surprise given it's on FOX and seems to be done by the Hell's Kitchen bunch. What do we get?
  1. Almost continuous background music that tries to manipulate your emotions and whip up the tension but just gets on your nerves,
  2. Tedious re-hashing of footage, especially after the frequent ad breaks. Episode 2 was particularly bad, with a 5min+ sequence of "re-runs" in the middle of the episode. Trust me, guys, I can remember what happened 5 minutes ago and how we got there...
  3. A scripted feel. Some of the scenes seem contrived and designed to inject arguing and swearing into the show. One of the refreshing things about the UK version is how nice Gordon is. Sure, he drops the f-bomb and s-bomb quite often, but he's not as shouty, and seems to use anger on when it's really needed. The US version seems to be trying to get everyone - Gordon and the restaurant staff - to the point of exploding.
  4. No return visit. The episodes end with Gordon's trade-mark "summing up" monologue, expressing hope that things will continue to go well now that he's righted the ship. We get no check-up to see if things actually have continued to do well.
  5. Loads of money thrown at the problem. I guess I should be happy that there is no overt sponsorship/advertising in the show, but each episode (there have been two so far), has featured Gordon bringing in experts and/or large sums of money to fix things. That doesn't feel right, and is in contrast to the UK show, where the restaurants are pretty much on their own. (In one episode of the UK show, Gordon asked the vain chef to sell his car's vanity plate to get more funds to put into the renovation of the restaurant). In the US series so far we've had: a complete new kitchen provided for free, a total redoration, professional steam-cleaning of the kitchen, and a "consulting chef" to do the actual cooking.

In closing, here's an interesting thing I noticed after the 2nd episode, which featured Dillon's Indian restaurant in New York (now called Purnima). From the start of the show it's clear the restaurant is atrocious before Gordon arrives. So, I looked around for some old reviews (pre-Gordon and Vikas Khanna) on the web. Nada. The closest I could find (and the address matches Purnima) is Dillon's, but the menu doesn't have anything remotely Indian. (Perhaps only the American menu made it online? They had what looked like two menus, one with Indian items). Here's the official website for Dillon's - the page came up blank for me for a while, but the Google cache still a copy.

It also looks like Dillon's is a theatre venue of sorts None of the stage/theatre stuff was mentioned in the show which is odd... This NY Magazine review also doesn't mention Indian food (or flies or cockroaches).

Which makes me wonder - was the Indian Dillon's a very recent start-up that took over the Dillon's Bar location (likely)? Did Purnima manage to get the old reviews taken offline (not likely)? Or did "Kitchen Nightmares" create the place and it never really existed? :)

Thursday, September 27, 2007

DAWG algorithms and Scrabble source code

I've noticed that quite a few people reach this blog looking for information on DAWG and Scrabble algorithms - I wrote about this topic here.

What I didn't mention in that old post, and have only just re-discovered on the net, is Graham Toal's amazing archive of resources for wordgame programmers. You'll find the original Appel & Jacobson paper, source code for building DAWG of various flavours, and even full Scrabble game source code. There's also a wordgame programmer's newsgroup if you want to bounce questions or ideas off of people that have similar interests.

Now the incentive to write the game again myself is a little less compelling! :)

Gary does South African red wines

Gary Vaynerchuck (of Wine Library TV fame) tastes three South African reds in this episode.

I'm not familiar with any of the wines he tasted, and haven't seen them available here in Seattle. I also wonder how he picked them- randomly, or based on what he's heard?

The only "established" winery in the bunch is Rustenberg. He does taste a Pinotage :)

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The oyster's revenge

For some reason I keep ordering fresh oysters and paying for it. Not always, but a large percentage of the time.

The worst offender was the Rogue-owned pub in downtown Issaquah. A and I used to live around the corner and loved going there, and one evening I decided to try their "oyster shooters". I didn't quite understand what I was getting into until it arived - a tall shot glass filled with tomato cocktail and oysters. The oysters were hidden - no way to check they were fresh - so I took a swallow. As soon as the oyster hit my mouth I knew something was off, but for some reason I swallowed anyway. I left the remaining few and tried to ignore the taste of old kitchen cloths that was lingering in my mouth. Needless to say, I didn't feel too good that night.

Cut to this past weekend when A and I spent the night on Orcas Island at the Rosario Resort. We were there to take a look at their wedding facilities, which looked very nice on their website, but sadly didn't live up to expectations once we were there in person. ("Faded glory" was my quick summary of the whole place, and their service was bad).

But back to the oysters. We decided to grab a bite to eat in the bar (since the restaurant was about to close and made it clear we were not welcome). The bar was loud, mostly filled with people watching football on the incongruous large TV screen above one fireplace (way to kill the atmoshpere!) I noticed fresh local oysters on the menu and decided to try them (how often do you get to have local oysters from the Orcase or San Juan islands?) They arrived on a bed of ice cubes (okaaay) and looked good. In fact, they were almost all delicious and I was feeling quite pleased with myself. Then I got to #6 - the last one, and noticed some "stuff" left in the water and juices in the oyster shell. Nothing too alarming, I thought, so down it went. It didn't taste bad, but wasn't quite right somehow, and sure enough, later that night I was making repeat visits to, umm, powder my nose.

Based on my past experience, it seems 50% of raw-oyster-eating outings are likely to go badly. If you're going to take the plunge, I'd say stick to a really good restaurant (which sadly seems to also imply expensive), or do them yourself.

If my readers know of any good local (Seattle) places for fresh oysters, let me know! E&O in the W hotel has the top spot in my experience, but I think they lost their chef a while back, so who knows how hey are now...

Tuesday, September 18, 2007


Originally uploaded by Mr Snootyhamper
I got a nice little phishing email today. I don't get too many, and luckily the mail had been filtered by Outlook automatically - the offending item was in my Junk Mail folder.

The message was also forced into plain-text mode, so the fake URL for PayPal was clear, but I decided to paste it into IE7 anyway, just to see how the Phishing Filter handled it. Sadly the website was not automatically recognized as a phishing site (I submitted it, so hopefully it will be recognized soon)

To recognize that this is a phishing page, notice the server address (the stuff after http://) is a weird domain name ending in The :81 is a port number - almost all normal websites won't have this in their URLs. Ignore anything after the '/' following the port - that looks like PayPal, but in fact it can be whatever the bad guy wants.
Incidentally, some phishing sites use server addresses that look more valid, such as

The phishing page is pretty brazen. First you have to "log in" with your email and password (anything you enter will be accepted). Then you are prompted to hand over all your private information: name, address, DOB, phone, credit card number + CVV2 and ATM pin. Why anyone would give their ATM PIN to a website purporting to be PayPal I don't know - perhaps the phishing folks just though they might get lucky?

They also ask for the last six digits of your SSN - I guess they don't ask for the whole thing since people are used to entering the last few digits only, and think this is safe. No-one apart from your employer and the IRS should ever need your SSN - even the last four digits! (And I think with the last six digits, the bad guys can figure out the remainder based on your ZIP code/State of residence).

I hope people now know to never enter this sort of personal information on a website - especially one linked to in an email.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

2007 Cannes Lions winners

The 2007 Cannes Lions International Advertising Awards for film/TV are worth taking a look at. For starters, there's the Dove Evolution ad which won the grand prix, but don't ignore the Gold, Silver and Bronze winners.

Here are some good ones (with my favourite first):
  1. The saddest picture in the world.
  2. Weirdest use of reincarnation in an advert.
  3. Even geckos fall in love.
  4. Changing clothes never looked this cool.
  5. It's A-R-T, and it's still good.
  6. Twist in the tale #1.
  7. Twist in the tale #2.
(Quicktime is required to view the clips)

Friday, September 07, 2007

South African auto ads

I recently was browsing around on YouTube looking for South African TV snippets, and found two distinctly different but memorable advertisements.

This one is for Ford, and has some fun with the "new" South Africa:

This one for VW is more sentimental and almost avoids being an auto ad until the last few seconds. VW ads in South Africa have a long track record of excellence, what with the David Kramer "volksie bus" ads. I might have to blog about that in them future :)

(Shockwave required to view the movies)

I must say these seem more interesting and memorable than the auto ads I've seen in America.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Gem squash

Gem squash
Originally uploaded by Mr Snootyhamper
Here's a shot of a nice gem squash (ignore the weed on the left).
This one is about the size of a large orange, and is ready to be eaten, but we left it on the plant to ripen fully so we have some fresh seeds for next year.

It's interestingly that Wikipedia says gem squashes are a domesticated form of two wild squashes found in the souther USA and Mexico. For some reason I've never seen seeds for sale up here in Seattle - perhaps they are only sold in the south?

Monday, September 03, 2007

Crowded House at Bumbershoot

The first concert on Saturday at Bumbershoot was Crowded House, and they were great! The new drummer, Matt Sherrod, was incredible - subtle and unobtrusive when he needed to be, and with lots of nice inventive touches when he stood out from the band.

The band seemed to be in good spirits and joked with the audience playfully, especially Nick Seymour's interaction with the fans in the front of audience.

I had hoped Edde Vedder would joined them for a few songs, and was not disappointed.

It was interesting seeing the audience make-up. There were lots of younger folks there that didn't know who Crowded House were, and of course plenty of older folks like me that were huge fans. (I smiled as I overheard one lady telling her friend about the Finn Brothers albums). Hopefully they have made some new fans, although their current album is not the energetic, hook-laden gem that their earlier albums were, so I doubt they'll be getting major airtime on popular radio stations.

Space Needle at dusk

Space Needle at dusk
Originally uploaded by Mr Snootyhamper
Taken on Saturday evening at Bumbershoot.

More green tomatoes

Green tomatoes
Originally uploaded by Mr Snootyhamper
Here's another photo with some fat green tomatoes. Some of these are now going yellow and should turn red soon.

Green tomatoes

Green tomatoes
Originally uploaded by Mr Snootyhamper
Here's a photo from about a week ago showing the tomatoes in our garden box. As you can see they're still quite green, due mainly to the strangely cool summer we had.

Since the picture was taken they have grown a little and we have one or two showing some signs of colour, but it's not clear whether we'll have vine-ripened tomatoes before the weather turns cold.

Luckily, they do driped if you pick them at this stage (as long as they're bug enough) - they just don't taste as good.

Friday, August 31, 2007

The balloon ride that wasn't

Yesterday, A and I were meant to go on a hot-air balloon ride in the evening. Sadly, the weather changed at the last minute, the winds became unfavourable, and the company running the outing had to cancel it. Hopefully we'll have better luck some time next week!

Since we were in the area, we decided to have dinner at the Purple Cafe in Woodinville. All I can say is yum! I've always like the Purple in Kirkland, and this one is no different. Great food, service, and yummy wine. The clientele was fun to watch too - lots of middle-aged folks trying to look cool and impress. I was often reminded of the phrase "mutton dressed as lamb" :)

I had the tasting flight of old-world wines and saved some quick tasting notes on CT : 2005 Renato Ratti Docetto d'Alba Colombe, 2005 Bodegas Fontana La Mancha Mesta, 2005 Abel Clément Vacqueyras, 2003 Heron Merlot.

Monday, August 27, 2007

God-awful Pinotage: 2005 Zarafa

Hopefully this won't become a new series on my blog...

Trader Joe's had a new South African wine that caught my eye this past weekend: 2005 Zarafa Pinotage for $3.99. The price was eye-catching, and I vaguely remembered hearing about this wine somewhere, so I though "What the heck!", and bought a bottle.

Sadly, it was the worst Pinotage I've yet tasted, and one of the worst wines I've had. Here's what the good folks on Cellatracker think of it, and you'll find a few reviews on blogs, like this one. As the one commenter mentioned on that blog, the terrible smell is indicative of "Brett", so I guess you could view this wine as an interesting case-study to train your nose and palate to recognize it.

The sad thing is that for many people this was their first Pinotage ever. (OK, judging by the 3 blogs I checked out). I wonder if they will now be turned off towards Pinotage forever? I hope not! Check out Peter May's great Pinotage blog for some decent ones to try, and don't be put off .

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Camping trip: mushrooms aplenty

I went camping this past weekend with A, her mom and nieces, and Mr. D.
The cmapsite we settled on was Old Fort Townsend State Park, just outside Port Townsend on the Olympic Pensinsula. Lots of nice rocky beaches to explore, old forests to hike though, and an old military fort with lots of interesting history.

Summer 2007 036
We stumbled on several interesting mushrooms during out hikes - including a group of what looked like agaricus augustus.

There was also an interesting orange fungus growing on the side of a tree:
Summer 2007 061

The full set of public pictures is here (mostly mushrooms for now).

Pits of Despair and the weather

I got a chuckle out of Eric Lippert's recent blog post titled "C++ and the Pit of Despair". Any blog post about programming that manages to work in a referenc to the movie The Princess Bride is OK by me!

Eric also posted some interesting entries on weather. Thanks to him I now have a much better understanding of how clouds form and why the common thought that "cold air can hold less water than warm air" is misleading. Check out Talking About The Weater, Part One and Part Two.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Tomato gradient

tomato gradient
Originally uploaded by youngna
I'm back from a weekend camping trip (a little wet, but fun!) I was doodling around on Flickr instead of uploading pictures, and stumbled upon this picture, which made me smile.

Our own tomoatoes are growing like crazy, but not yet ripening - I wonder if we will have enough sunshine and heat in the remaining few weeks of summer to get them fully ripe?

In other gardening news, our gem squash is doing very well, and we should have enough to let some produce seeds for next year... Thanks to my mom for bringing seeds with her from South Africa! :)

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Looking for a place to eat in Seattle?

(Or elsewhere, really...)

I stumbled on a great website today: Urbanspoon (this link goes to their page for Seattle, but they have other US cities too).

Their idea is simple: list restaurants in a city, with links to the website and menu (if available). Include linked excerpts from professional reviews, reviews from blogs, and allow visitors to vote on whether they like a place.

The website includes a map view (so you can quickly see where stuff is and what's close to you), groups restaurants by neighborhoud and type of cuisine, and is just generally fuzzy and friendly to use.

Definitely a nice tool for visitors to a city, and even for someone like me that is sometimes looking for a new place to try.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Micro-loans in South Africa

Marketplace on NPR this week had an interesting segment about micro-loans in South Africa, and an American nonprofit firm that provides collateral to enable the loans.

Check out the Shared Interest webpage for more info, and to donate some $$$ :)

PS: It's also fun to listen to this segment to hear the journalist trying to pronounce "Grabouw" (which is mis-spelled "Gerbouw" on the webpage).

Huge statue of Shaka Zulu on the way

A huge statue of King Shaka is planned for the coast in Kwa-Zulu Natal in South Africa.
It'll be bigger than the the Statue of Liberty and the statue of Jesus in Rio de Janiero. The plan is to have it finished in time for the 2010 Soccer World Cup - we'll see how things go, though.

I wonder if this will make it the largest statue of a person in the world? At 106m tall, it looks like it will be 2nd tallest, with this statue of the Buddha in Japan taking the #1 slot.

30-second skip works!

Woohoo! The nicest thing about the updated Comcast DVR software is that 30-second skip works!

I had "hacked" my remote a while back and reprogrammed one button we never use to send the command to jump ahead 30 seconds . (If you're looking for info on how to do this yourself, go here.)

With the old DVR software, hitting the button would just bring up a "not supported" message - but the new software happily jumps ahead. Not quite up to the level of my old ReplayTV unit (which would skip adverts automatically), but I'm quit happy.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Comcast DVR updated

Yay! Our Comcast HD DVR finally got the software update (see my previous post here).
I had a quick look at the new UI this morning, and it looks pretty slick. The response time is definitely better, and the interface is much mroe intuitive.

I'll have to see whether the box still reboots randomly (some discussion at work indicates that you can swap out the DVR box for a newer model for free, and the new models are a lot more robust). Hopefully that won't be needed though (I'd lose all my recorded shows! sob!)

My only niggle so far is the new Search functionality under the main menu. The way you enter program titles is a bit odd, and it's harder to find results. (I tried searching for "Hell's Kitchen" and it took ages to find it...)

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Strange word of the day: Bowser

Today I was talking to some colleagues from the UK that have been effected by the recent flooding. They mentioned getting water from something called a bowser. Hmm... That's an odd word - the only thing I could think of was Bowzer from Sha Na Na.

It turns out it's a large water tank (e.g. 250 gallons), usually towed behind a truck and able to be left and re-filled if needed. (See Wikipedia too). It seems to originate from Australia and New Zealand, and originally applied to gasoline tanks.

So there you have it.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

You've got mail!

From a friend's iPhone:

I hope he can "mark all unread", otherwise he's going to be busy for a while!

Monday, August 06, 2007

Training your palate for wine, the Vaynerchuk way

Gary Vaynerchuk is always interesting to watch - his Wine Libary TV video podcasts are fresh, funny, and informative.

For something a little different though, take a look at this segment from his recent appearance on the Conan O'Brien show (a late-night talk/comedy show in the US). Nuts! :)

Slate have an interesting article on The 'Chukker too.

Best coffee in Oregon?

Every time A and I visit central Oregon, one of the things I look forward to most is coffee.
Not just any coffe, mind you: Allan Brothers Coffee.

They have stores in Albanym Eugene, Corvallis, Ashland and Salem. There stores are called Beaneries, e.g. The Ashland St. Beanery. If you hear someone from one of these towns saying "I'm going to the Beanery", or "Let's meet at the Beanery", now you'll know what they mean.

Coming from Seattle, and being descended from a coffee-holic, I'm a bit of a coffee snob. Allan Bros are definitely up there with the best coffee I've ever had - they are maybe not quite as good as Vivace Espresso in seattle if you want a plain espresso, but there espresso is still really good: smooth, mellow, not acidic, and really flavourful. Their flavoured drinks are where they really shine, though. Their mexican mocha's are incredible, and the Borgia is my all-time favourite drink. (It has chocolate and orange - including real orange rind). Their food is also yummy (and affordable).

Another nice thing about Allan Bros. Beaneries is that their stores are laid-back and inviting. They are usually close to universities, and full of students and people hanging out, reading, surfing the web (they have free wireless). There's no pressure to scram once you're done drinking your coffee, and they have an open mic with music, poetry, etc. on the weekends.

Starbucks, and even my favourite big chain Tully's, both fail miserably at creating a true coffee-shop atmosphere. Luckily there are some independant coffee stores in Seattle that do get it (but mostly around the University District, Downtown and Capitol Hill). The Eastside sadly needs a good coffe-shop.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Don't chuck this chardonnay!

I was amazed to see that the 2005 Charles Shaw Chardonnay recently won double gold and Best Chardonnay at the California State Fair. That's not bad for a wine that sells for $1.99 is California and $2.99 up here in Washington (hence the nickname "2-buck Chuck").

The wine is only sold at Trader Joe's - a small grocery chain we love going to. I'd expect most customer's won't start buying more Chuck

The article on Avenue Vine goes into some depth, and say that the State Fair judging panel is slightly different to most wine competitions, which might explain why Charles Shaw did so well:

Since the state fair uses wine professionals as judges and the wines are tasted blind, the results stand on their own. Some 270 2005 Chardonnays were evaluated, so Two-Buck had plenty of competition. Still, I’m wondering if this bottling of Two-Buck is really that good. Or whether, more likely, that this is a result of a clean, fruity, non-oaked Chardonnay that has enough appeal to win the approval of a panel of judges? [...]

The California State Fair competition is dismissed by some critics as representing broad-based consumer tastes rather than the palates of true wine connoisseurs. But Pucilowski, who has organized the competition for more than two decades, said he draws judges from a number of professions, including winemakers and restaurant owners.

There’s no question that for many critics, too many Chardonnays are too oaky and there are questions about whether the wines are true to their appellations. Or whether, in the extreme, all Chardonnays taste alike, in which case it’s not only conceivable that Two-Buck could emerge a winner. It did.

If you’re wondering why this matters, well, here’s why. Think what you may about a $1.99 wine, but Two-Buck is impacting the market. It has sold 300 million bottles in five years and it continues to put downward pressure on wine prices, and at the end of the day, that’s great news for wine drinkers.

It's also interesting to note that the Bronco Wine Company (which makes Charles Shaw wines and a lot of others) is based, not in Napa, but in Calfornia's Central Valley. Apparently most of California's grapes are grown here, and there are many wineries - perhaps it's worth planning a wine tour to contrast with Napa :)

Friday, August 03, 2007

Flight of the Conchords on All Songs Considered

I just saw that today's edition of NPR's All Songs Considered podcast features Flight of the Conchords. Take a listen here.

How walkable is your house?

K introduced me to a cool Google Maps mashup yesterday:

The idea is that you enter your home's address (or a prospective future home's address) and it figures out how many shops, libraries, parks, cafes, etc. are within walking distance. The end result is a score out of 100, and a nice map showing all the local amenities.

For example, my house gets a paltry 8/100 (not surprising since it's in the middle of a suburb on the east side of Seattle). Work gets a more respectable 34/100, and a friend's house in downtown Kirkland got an amaxing 97/100!

It's also useful just to find "interesting" places around an address - something Google Maps doesn't do very well on it's own.

"I'm delighted you have survived another night..."

I've been meaning to plug the Jeeves alarm clock for a while now. What could be better than waking up to the dulcet tones of Stephen Fry's voice every morning?

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Cute snail

Originally uploaded by Mr Snootyhamper
This could have waited until I blogged about our trip to the Oregon Caves, but I liked the picture so much I thought I'd jump the gun and post it now.

We met this little guy coming down the path from the cave exit, and for once my camera's macro mode worked well! Click though to the larger picture to see nice texture on the snail's body and shell...

If you're wondering about the picture's title, that's the name I came up with for lolcat-style pictures featuring snails.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Wine bottle shortages

Jason over at Stormhoek has an interesting blog post about the sharp rise in the cost of glass wine bottles around the world, the current shortage in South Africa, and how this is affecting Stormhoek. (The brief version: they have wine in tanks that they can't get out to their customers...)

As Jason says, this is something you never think about - after all, glass should be cheap to make, and not something you'd think would be hard to get your hands on. It's only when the supply is cut off (or price-fixing starts happening) that you realize how limited your options are.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

New Crowded House album

As a quick follow-up to this post, I received the new Crowded House album a while back, and have finally gotten to listen to it this week. So far, I can say that I definitely like it, but it is one of those albums that doesn't blow you away on the first listen. It's will be a bit too restrained and introverted for some CH fans: It's mostly full of quiet ballads and fairly low-tempo songs, and feels like a Neil Finn solo album more than an old Crowded House one.

So far my favourite track is Silent House, but others will no doubt grow on me :)

For a more in-depth look at the album, see this review which gives the history of the album, and hits the nail on the head in describing how this album relates to the previous solo work by Neil.

Holiday highlights: Brookings, OR

Wispy clouds

After spending a few days in Ashland, we headed off to the Oregon Caves and Redwood National Park (more on those later), and stopped for the night in Brookings, OR. This is a cute little coastal town just north of the California border on highway 101. The weather is so good here that the area has been dubbed the Banana Belt. Brookings even has an eponymous weather effect.

We stayed in a great B&B, the South Coast Inn. We stayed in the Sea View apartment, which was totally private and really comfy - it included a kitchen and small lounge leading onto a great balcony with view of the bay. We didn't use the kitchen this time, but if you want a place with the option of cooking in, I recommend this place. The hosts were really friendly too, which is good!

Beach outside Brookings

A lowlight of our stay was dinner at the local Italian restaurant, Bella Italia. Our hosts at the B&B recommended it, but the food was very disappointing, and the staff seemed to not care much about us. We had heard from our B&B hosts that the owners of Bella Italia had just opened a new steak/seafood restaurant in town, so I thought that perhaps they were stretched too thin, and their old place had slid... Now with some Googling, I see Bella Italia is for sale, so perhaps that explains things :)

After dinner, we headed out to a nearby beach park to watch the sun set. As you can see from the pics, the light and sky were amazing, and we also got to enjoy some weird jumpy shrimp pinging across our feet!

Jumpy shrimp

We definitely need to come back again!

Friday, July 27, 2007

Holiday higlights: Oregon Wines on Broadway

No visit to Portland, Oregon feels complete without a visit to our favourite wine bar: Oregon Wines on Broadway. It's just a block from the hotel we usually stay in (recently renamed to Hotel Monaco), and is cozy and laid-back. The ladies behind the bar preside over an impressive collection of wines available for tasting (upwards of 40 bottles, I think - see their current inventory here). The selection focuses on wines from Oregon, but there are a few Washington wines too.

All the wines behind the bar are availabe to taste (1oz pours) or by the glass, and there are bottles for sale if you find something you like (all at very good prices). If you're overwhelmed by the choice, I recommend going for one of the tasting flights. Light snacks are also available (bread, cheese, cured meats, olives).

I decided to make my own flight, with these three wines:
  1. 2005 St. Innocent Pinot Noir, Shea Vineyard
  2. 2005 St. Innocent Pinot Noir, White Rose Vineyard
  3. 2004 Dominio IV Syrah

The St. Innocent's were interesting - at first they had a noticeable baked-beans aroma, maybe due to brettanomyces. This blew off within a few minutes though. While both of these were not a patch on an older bottle I tried a few years ago, they were decent. the White Rose Vineyard was especially good, but at $45 a bottle, I think I'll stick to the New Zealand Pinot Noirs I've been enjoying over the past year.

The Dominio Syrah was very nice - aromatic, well-rounded, oaky and fruity without bend over-extracted and jammy. At $30 it's a good wine, not an amazing value. (You can get nice Washington Syrahs for around $20)

After tasting these three wines, I needed a few more sips of something to go with the last of our brie and baguette, so I tried the Abacela Vintner's Blend #7. This was a real find: full bodied, rich, port-like wine with a lovel finish and great complexity, and a great deal at $15!

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Holiday highlights: Ashland, Oregon

I just got back from a fantastic trip through Oregon and the California Redwoods. The rough rought was: Eugene (OR) - Oregon Country Fair, Ashland (OR), Redwood National Park (CA), Brookings (OR), Newport (OR), and Portland (OR).

While it's really hard to pick a favourite, my stay in Ashland was probably the winner: we stayed for 4 nights in a great bed & breakfast, got to unwind and relax on Monday (since there we had no plays that day), saw amazine Shakespeare productions later in the week, and had fun doing wine-tasting and eating out.

Obviously the main draw in Ashland is the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. We saw three shows: Tracy's Tiger, The Taming of the Shrew and Romeo and Juliet. The last two were in the open-air Elizabethan Theatre - a really stunning venue! (Watching the plays here reminded me of the open-air Shakespeare productions I saw when I was growing up in Cape Town - see these links if you're interested)

Be aware that it can rain in Ashland - even in summer. We were lucky and were far enough back to be under cover, but you'll want a rain shell, something warm, and maybe even a poncho or somethign for your legs in case of a thundersorm. Wednesday's performance of Romeo and Juliet was almost cancelled due to rain, but luckily was only delayed - we got to see the performers come out in rain-wear (mostly period-appropriate cloaks, except for the youngsters who were wearing modern school uniforms initially, and sported modern parkas).

In terms of accomodation, I can heartily recommend the B&B we stayed in: Ashland's Tudor House. The host, Raliegh, was very friendly and cooks incredible gourmet breakfasts. Our room was spacious and comfortable - the best bed of all the places we stayed! A communal lounge with a PC to use for email was a nice touch. The B&B is also within easy walking distance of central Ashland and the festival, but is set back from the main road, so it's nice and quiet.

Ashland had some nice surprises in terms of food - for such a small town (population of 20,000), there are tons of restaurants, and most are good. (100,000 visitors per year helps!)

Our favourites were Pasta Piatti (delicious salads, pasta and crusty, thin-base pizza) and Pangea (very veg*n-friendly, informal lunch and dinner spot featuring inventive wraps, soups and sandwiches).

The local Thai restaurant, Thai Pepper, was decent in terms of food, but great in terms of setting - it has an outside patio right on the creek, which is beautiful on a warm evening. Greenleaf also has creek-side seating (although we sat inside when we visitged). The food here is more like standard diner fare, but with a healthy twist and several veg*n options.

For "fine dining" we tried Monet, and enjoyed very good French food, although the style of food and restaurant decor felt a little dated - especially the very pink, grandparent-friendly interior. The food was traditional French fare (snails in garlic butter, roast duck, ris de veau, grilled fish) - the ris de veau reminded me a lot of my gran's cooking.

Raliegh's breakfasts at the Ashland's Tudor House B&B warrant their own accolades here: we had delicious eggs Benedict (with smoked salmon) one day with a really good light Hollandaise sauce, freshly-made walnut pancakes with maple syrup another, a baked pudding (calfoutis?) with fresh peaches on top another, and potato latkes with apple sauce and sour cream. As you can see, the food is not the normal toast-and-jam, or eggs-and-bacon type stuff...

In terms of wine, Ashland was also a great place to visit. The area is in Oregon's Rogue Valley wine region, and while it's not as high-profile as the regions to the north, there are several wineries to explore. We stuck to the ones closer to town, visiting Eden Vale and Weisinger's.

Both were really pretty and staffed with friendly, knowledgeable people, but if I had to pick a favourite, it would be Weisinger's: relaxed, unpretentious service, a nice lively vibe in their tasting room, a working beehive behind glass (with honey for sale), and good wines. I really liked the Weisinger's red blends (the Mescolare has some nebbiolo, and the Petite Pompadour is a Bordeaux-style blend with lots of cab franc). I wasn't a huge fan of their single-varietal reds, though... Their whites are not bad either - the Petite Blanc is a nice light white wine for summer picnics.

Eden Vale had a delicious white desert wine (a late harvest Viognier), but most of their reds were overpowered and alcoholic. (Probably great candidates for ageing, but I want some wine I can drink now!) My favourite red was the 2003 Syrah (it's won some awards), so I picked up a bottle to try again in the next year.

And finally, I have to mention the Rogue Creamery - makers of some of the best blue cheese in the world. They're a bot of a drive from Ashland (back up the I-5 towards Medford), and the cheesery is a bit underwhelming (no tours of the "cheese caves" where they age the blue cheeses, due to contamination worries. The creamery was also not making cheese due to technical problems). This is more of a tasting room and shop: We were able to taste several of their blue cheeses (including some I've not had before, like the Crater Lake Blue), and several cheeses from other producers in Oregon and California. They have a nice selection of imported food (lots of stuff from Ritrovo in Seattle!) and it's worth a visit if you like food, but I would have liked a more hands-on, "authentic" creamery visit.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Perfect wine magazine?

I recently was looking for some magazines to take on my impending road-trip/vacation, and spotted the current issue of Wine Spectator. They managed to hit the trifecta, right on the cover!

  1. An in-depth look at Brunello di Montalcino. I fell in love with this wine recently at our local Italian restaurant, Firenze. (I heart Castello Banfi Brunello di Montalcino)
  2. A look at red wines from Washington state. Yay! Go us! (I get to be an American/Washingtonian when it suits me...)
  3. A look at new winemakers/wineries in South Africa, including winemaker Eben Sadie who I've mentioned before (and discovered via Garagiste in Seattle). Ironically, Sadie is based a few miles from the town my mom lives in.

I'll let you know what interesting things I learn from these articles once I get back from vacation :)

Happy summer!

Feeling hot, hot, hot!

Phew! Seattle is just about to head into a 2/3-day heat-wave, with temperatures in the 90's to low 100's. And to make matters worse, I'm heading down to central Oregon on Wednesday evening, to attend the Oregon Country Fair. Temperatures there should be 5-10 degrees higher than in Seattle!

I'm looking forward to the fair, though - loads of yummy food, interesting shows and free-spirited people. Then it's off to Ashland for a few days of plays and exploring (2 Shakespeares, 1 modern play), the Oregon Caves, and Redwood forests in northern California, and back up the Oregon coast via Newport, with a night in Portland to wrap things up. I can't wait!

While in Portland, I hope to check out this new cacao shop, specializing in european-style drinkning chocolate. I've heard good things - too bad the weather is warm, but I think I'll still be brave and try some hot chocolate.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Soupy stuff

Last year at work, the introduction of Starbucks iCup machines in the kitchenettes was a big deal. While the machines are a definite improvement over the previous filter-coffee machines we had, I've often thought I'd be happier with something else...

Maybe some Tully's coffee instead of the rather sad Starbucks roasts? It looks like another software company in the Seattle area is poised to get Tully's coffee - I'm jealous!

But no, I think the best solution is a solidly South African solution to the problem: a cup-a-soup machine. It looks like soup improves productivity no end, so the big-wigs at work should be pleased.

I wonder how many readers grew up with cup-a-soup? Did yours come with croutons, noodles and other chunky goodies? (Note: Ramen / instant noodle bowls do not count)

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

SIFF wrap-up

The 2nd week-and-a-bit of SIFF has come and gone, so here is my festival summary (see part 1 here)

The Ferryman: 3/5
A decent horror/thriller from New Zealand that starts strong and gets a little tedious near the end of the second half. Warning: There's lots of blood and violence, and a scene involving a dog that I really disliked - this film is not for the squeamish.
The introduction to the characters is nicely done, and the tension and slow unraveling if the relationships onboard the yacht is brilliant. The tight, claustrophobic setting below decks works very well, and the pervasive fog works to further ratchet up the tension. There's also a great performance by John Rhys-Davies as a Greek fisherman. The finale where the evil spirit gets its come-uppance was a let-down, and the titular ferryman was a bit lame, but the twist at the very end is nice.

2 Days in Paris: 4/5
Julie Delpy is amazing in this film, and does more than just act (she wrote, directed and composed the music!) An amusing look at what happens when Marion brings her American boyfriend to Paris to visit her family. Encounters with her numerous ex-boyfriends, crazy family, and American-in-France culture clash leads to some really funny stuff, all done in a natural, light style. The movie feels very much like a slice of real life, and the exploration of love, commitment and joie-de-vivre make this a rewarding and charming film.

Mushishi: 3/5
Based on a Japanese manga, this film was visually beautiful but too long and disjointed to hold my interest. The film stitches a few "episodes" from the magna together using one story as the backbone. Unfortunately the backing story is not that interesting, and the whole movie takes itself far too seriously. I kept expecting the reverent, hushed narration to explain things more sensibly than they did, and for the movie to somehow make sense, but in the end the film leaves the viewer confused and frustrated. Some nice visuals and interesting characters lift this from being a total waste of time, but go in expecting a slow, confusing, few hours.

Retribution (Sakebi): 2/5
Another Japanese film, this one billed itself as a "supreme psycho-thriller" from Japan's horror master Kiyoshi Kurosawa. (I've not seen his previous films). This one started out promisingly, with the lead character, detective Yoshioka, investigating the murder of a woman. He quickly finds that he's implicated, even though he has no memory of the girl or her death. Other deaths indicate a serial killer is on the prowl, and as our sympathy for Yoshioka develops slowly we also start to doubt his own innocence more and more.

This is the movies strongest point, I think: the slow, careful development of the detective character and the way the audience is both attracted and repulsed from him. I did like the way the mini-earthquakes hitting Tokyo are used throughout the film, and the way ripples in puddles or bowls of water hint at the veil between this world and the sprit world. Towards the end, though, the movie devolves into a ghost-revenge movie, and at times becomes so campy/cheesy that the earlier atmosphere is squandered. The ending is really unsatisfying and leaves you feeling duped.

Broken English: 5/5
Featuring an amazing performance from Parker Posey, this film looks at the life of a single thirty-something woman in New York as she struggles to find a rewarding relationship and get out of a rut of one-night stands and loneliness. This film manages to balance the humour and pathos of her life beautifully and while it might be billed as a romantic comedy, the comedy is really just the icing on an uncontrived, refreshing dramatic look inside the main character's life. The ending is maybe a bit too fairy-tale-ish and the basic storyline has been told many times before, but as a whole this film stood out as being an interesting take on an old theme.

Lady Chatterley: 4/5
A French film based on the 2nd version of D.H. Lawrence's novel, with all the English names and places preserved. If you know the story, you know it looks at the class barrier, human relationships and sexuality. Those expecting a steamy, sexy movie will probably be disappointed (although prudes will also not be happy) - there's plenty of nudity and sex, but it's all done in a very natural, tasteful way. The two leading actors are brilliant, and pefectly cast. I've heard some people say that the gamekeeper, Parkin, is not attractive enough to justify Lady Chatterley falling for him, but I think he's perfect. Initially appearing gruff and not likeable at all, we slowly get to see him thaw and open up as the relationship develops, and the gradual maturation of the relationship is stunningly well done. By the end I truly was rooting for the two lovers, who develop much more than a physical bond, and the film ends on a much happier note than the final 3rd novel would lead you to expect.

Highly recommended to fans of patient, natural storytelling.

Cthulhu: 4/5
If David Lynch made a movie based on H.P. Lovecraft's works, this would be it. Filmed in Seattle, WA and Astoria, OR, this movie takes the Cthulu mythos as a basis and adds lots of small-town weirdness, family tension, and end-of-days gloom. Everything is mixed together in interesting, refreshing ways. I had a bit of a problem believing that the leading character's father was actually his father - somehow both men looked about the same age. Apart from that, though, the first 2/3 of the movie are great - full of interesting characters, including Tori Spelling as the local bimbo with a desperate need to have a child. The lead character, who is gay, finds himself the object or her desire, with some funny and macabre results.

The film makes careful use of actual monsters, going for the approach that what is imagined or half-seen is more scary than what is fully seen. The tension and level of unease build nicely as the hero learns more about the town's secrets. Things started falling apart for me towards then end though, and the final scene seemed to have been tacked on without any thought as to how the "hero" got there - either a big chunk of the film got cut for time, or I'm too dense to appreciate the final twist of the movie.

Read an interview with the film-makers here.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Bayete Nkosi!

I just realised that the excellent South African TV series depicting King Shaka's life is available in the USA on DVD (Netflix have it).

This was produced in the mid-80's when I was a young teen, and made a huge impression on me. It was a huge hit in South Africa, and the theme tune found its way into many people heads, so that you'd find walking around singing "Bum-bum-bum BA-bum BA-bum BA-bum... Bayete Nkosi!"

There was an urban legend that the actor that played Shaka, Henry Cele, was a garbage collector prior to being discovered, but I see from the Wiki entry that's not true (he was a goalie for several pro soccer clubs)

Some advice: The "sequel" (Shaka Zulu: The Last Great Warrior) is really bad. But then you probably knew that already since is starts The Hoff.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Flight of the Conchords on HBO

I saw a teaser for the new HBO series "Flight of the Conchords". I've wrtten about these guys before (see this post). This is a new series following "the trials and tribulations of a two man, digi-folk band from New Zealand as they try to make a name for themselves in their adopted home of New York City."

Update: I just noticed Slate have a story on the show.

Hopefully it will make its way to DVD so I can watch it :)

Monday, June 11, 2007

Olympic Sculpture Park

A month or two ago, A and I went to the newly-opened Olympic Sculpture Park and took a few pictures. The one you see here is called "Eagle", and I'm quite pleased with the way the Space Needle is framed.

There are a few other pics in the set on flickr.

Cooking home-made pasta

Cooking home-made pasta
Originally uploaded by Mr Snootyhamper
... and finally cooking! Yum! (Of course we didn't eat it plain like this - A made a great tomato sauce with some red wine, but the picture of the sauced pasta looks a bit like bloody guts, so I'll save you from the horror of seeing it...)

Drying home-made pasta

Drying home-made pasta
Originally uploaded by Mr Snootyhamper
Here is the pasta drying...

Rolling pasta

Rolling pasta
Originally uploaded by Mr Snootyhamper

This past weekend A and I finally got around to using the pasta machine my mom gave us for Christmas. We used 100% semolina (durum wheat flour) from Bob's Red Mill and it turned out very nicely.

As you can see in this picture, A is quite deft at rolling out the dough!

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Amazing video from Kruger Park

I stumbled on this incredible video footage shot in Kruger Park. It's long, but definitely worth watching...

Update: 6/11/2007

Apparently at the Webby Awards this past weekend, one of the founders of YouTube mentioned this video as one his favourites!

New Iain Banks sci-fi in the pipeline

I've been a huge fan of Iain Banks' work since my friend Craig introduced me to them a little over a decade ago. I think I started with his first Culture book, Consider Phlebas.

While in Canada recently, I noticed a new novel by Iain Banks on sale, titled The Steep Approach to Gabardale. I balked a bit at the price (it seems books in Canada are more expensive than in the US), but as a result I have to wait for the book to be published in America in October...-

While looking around on Wikipedia today I saw there's a new science fiction novel due in 2008, apparently titled Matter.

I can't wait!

Monday, June 04, 2007

SIFF week one

I saw my first handlful of SIFF movies last week, most of which were great!
Here's my quick review of them:

Outsourced: 5/5
A great movie by local writer/director John Jeffcoat. A Seattle-based online marketing execute finds out his division (and his job) have been outsourced to India, and he has to go train his replacement. The usual culure shocks and misunderstandings occur as West meets East, but the film is saved from being too sappy or cliched by the excellent cast, especially the lead Josh Hamilton. The film is funny, warm and uplifting without being saccharine.
Check out the movie's blog here.

Black Sheep: 3/5
A film from New Zealand that tells the terrible tale of what might happen if bio-engineering goes too far. This is a comedy/horror movie in the vein of Shawn of the Dead, with lots of over-the-top gore, gross humour, and some nice send-ups of the green/hippie movement. At time it drags a bit, though, and some of the fart jokes wore a bit thin.

Cashback: 5/5
A wonderfully quirky film about time, relationships and the beauty of the female form, seen through the eyes of a guy who develops insomnia after a painful break-up, and decided to work the night shift at Sainsbury's. He imagines he can slow and even stop time, and uses this power to capture moments of beauty (as well as have some fun with his boss). Filled with hilarious vignettes involving his zany co-workers and egotistical boss, as well as some very clever visual tricks. The movie makes you realize the value of every instant and the beauty that surrounds us, if we only take the time to notice it.

Death at a Funeral: 3/5
A British movie by director Frank Oz. This is a solidly-made comedy filled with dark humour (you need to be able to laugh at the misfortune and discomfort of others to enjoy this movie). Solid performances from the entire cast, and some hilarious scenes made me almost give this a 4/5, but the over-abundance of toilet-humour and people-on-acid-trips-are-funny scenes made me lower this to a 3.

Friday, June 01, 2007

I heard the news today, oh boy...

NPR's All Songs Considered has a rememberance from host Bob Boilen.

BBC Radio 2 will broadcast a two-part documentary on June 2nd and June 16th (Part 1 should be available for viewing online after 21h00 tomorrow)

Thursday, May 31, 2007

lolcats, lolcode and lolluscs?

So, the lolcat Internet meme is in full swing.

Slate had a nice slideshow on lolcats a while ago, Anil Dash posted on lolcat grammar, and there's now the lolcode programming language.

While browsing through ICANHASCHEEZBURGER, I found what is probably my favourite lolcat picture - the only weird thing it features a snail... Hence, lollusc.