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.