Thursday, December 24, 2009

Congratulations Jamie Oliver!

I saw yesterday that Jamie Oliver won the 2010 TED Prize. W00t!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Aged Eggnog

I noticed an article in the current Seattle Magazine that mentioned ageing eggnog. I'd never heard of this before, being a somewhat recent transplant to the Northern reaches of the world. For some reason, in South Africa, we never really got into eggnog, what with the 36+ degree C summer weather over Christmas!

The basic idea presented in the article was to put the eggnog (with alcohol) in a cool location - the author used her unheated garage. Now, my garage seems to stay around 45 degrees F in winter (at the coolest), so this seems like a dangerous thing to do. Surely the eggs will grow some funky bacteria?

Not so, according to this article on Chow.com: Old but not lethal
They do recommend using the fridge, not the garage, though!

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Doing what Heifer.org says they do...

(Originally posted 1/18/2007)
I spotted this story on Metafilter, the video here is worth checking out.

It turns out Heifer.org (recent darlings of the media for some reason) have fine print on this page on their website that says the money donated to them is "symbolic" and will not actually go to buying a water buffalo for a needy family. Some of it will, but the way the website is worded you'd think all (or amlost all) would go towards the buffalo, and that you might get some feedback (a picture or info of the recipient family):



Nothing's more satisfying than finding exactly the right solution to a problem. That's the good feeling you get when you give an Asian subsistence farmer a water buffalo.

It looks like the small print may have been changed since this post . It now reads:



The prices in this catalog represent the complete livestock gift of a quality animal, technical assistance and training. Each purchase is symbolic and represents a contribution to the entire mission of Heifer International. Donations will be used where needed most to help struggling people.

What does Chariy Navigator say about Heifer? They give them a 3-star rating, and only 75% of the funds they raise go towards the program costs. The president's salary of $183,000 doesn't help much...

Update: 04/24/2008:
This post still gets a lot of views... To clarify a bit - I have not volunteered with or donated to Heifer.org. (Some readers seem to think I have).

Checking the Charity Navigator page a little of a year after I originally posted this, it's interesting to see the increase in the president's salary. From $183,000 to $213,490. That's a 16% increase!


Update: 12/01/2009:
I am amazed to see that this post still gets a lot of hits and generates a lot of comments - I had no idea it would be such a lightning rod when I posted it! Kimberline recently commented and I think it's worth responding to some of the points raised.

Firstly, the title of the blog post is in reference to the short film by Robert Thompson titled "4 Generations" (linked to at the top of the blog post). This is the person that "is doing what Heifer.org says they do".

I should be clear that I don't hate Heifer.org. Originally I was motivated to post something because I enjoyed the short film, found it opened my eyes, and provided some food for thought. Before seeing the film and reading the story, the only information I had seen about Heifer.org was what they showed in their advertising - turns out that was a bit misleading. (Shocking!)

At the time I posted this blog, Heifer.org had what I think was misleading advertising, which they since corrected to make it clear the donations they receive may not result in actual animals being purchased for the poor. So, while the title of the blog post is a little outdated nowadays, I presume folks can read beyond the title of the blog post and form their own opinion of how applicable (or not) it is today.

Kimberline says that he/she doesn't see any mention of donations to charity on my blog, and therefore I am not qualified to criticize a charitable organization. I've never felt the need to blog about my donations to charity, but I will say that I do give each year and have volunteered my time as well.

Kimberline makes it sound like we should be happy with any charity that gives money to the needy, and not worry too much about the efficiency. I disagree - while 75% may seem like a good ratio, it is not that great. If you want to make a difference, you should want to make the biggest difference you can per dollar, so efficiency is vital.

If you are really interested in addressing world hunger as efficiently as possible, I would recommend looking at the Friends of the World Food Program. They spend 94.5% of their income on program expenses and have a four-star rating on Charity Navigator (see here). The CEO does earn a large salary ($300,000 in 2007), which some may take issue with, but given that so little money is "wasted" by this organisation, the CEO must be worth the money! :)

In closing, I don't expect people to read my blog post and make a decision based solely on the information here. Hopefully people take the time to do a bit more research and reading, go to Charity Navigator or even ask the charities they like for more information on their overhead.

I'm not going to pull this post down simple because some people think Heifer.org should not have a spotlight shone on them.

* Photo from CharlesFred (Flickr)

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Can tap beer make you sick?

The Seattle Weekly had an interesting column a few weeks ago, talking about beer on tap, and how it's really important for the beer lines to be changed regularly.
See http://blogs.seattleweekly.com/voracious/2008/10/ask_the_bartender_can_tap_beer.php

This is not something I've thought about much before, but it makes perfect sense. Perhaps it's worth finding out how often your favourite pub or restaurant change their lines? Or if you get some "off" beer, this may be the reason why... (Previously I used to think it was all to do with the age of the keg...)

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Syrah versus Shiraz

The Splendid Table (a food and wine show on NPR) had an interesting segment featuring Randall Graham (of Bonny Doon Vineyards). He talks about Syrah versus Shiraz, and the difference in style between French (or Old World) syrah and Australian (or New World) Shiraz.

He certainly has some valid points. I did find that I got bored with the very ripe, over-extract, Australian Shiraz that I was buying a few years ago, and tend to prefer the more complex stuff now. However, I think there is a place for both Old World and New World wine, and I have had some truly memorable Shiraz from Aussie (2002 Larrikin, 2004 Losy Highway Stella's Garden, 2005 Mitolo G.A.M. for example). South Africa also makes some great Shiraz wines, somewhat in-between old and new world in style...

So, for me, it's less about the country the wine comes from, or whether it says Syrah or Shiraz on the label - it's about what is inside the bottle.

You can listen to the audio segment here and find more info on the show's webpage here.
You can also read an excerpt from Randall Graham's book.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

A fix for the Win7 / ReadyNAS Duo problem

A while back I posted about an error I was hitting when copying files from Windows 7 to my new ReadyNAS Duo (see here).

Thanks to commenter Bill Kirchhoff I found a way to get things working:

Under the settings for Streaming Services/ReadyDLNA, uncheck the "Automatically Update" option:


The downside to this is you need to manually rescan your media files.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Invictus

In September I blogged the 1995 Rugby World Cup match and the book "Playing The Enemy" (see here). I missed that they are making a film based on the book - "Invictus" directed by Clint Eastwood and starring Morgan Freeman as Nelson Mandela and Matt Damon as Francois Pienaar.

It looks like it will released in the USA around December 11. Looking forward to it!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Thursday, October 22, 2009

R.E.M. Live at the Olympic

R.E.M. are one of my all-time favourite bands, and their concert in Seattle a few years ago was one of the best concerts I've ever seen.

So, I'm really happy to see they have a new live album coming out. You can read about it and listen to the whole 2-disc album on NPR's website here!

Great spam subject lines

"Stimulate her grotto better".

I guess I will need to go spelunking!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Netgear ReadyNAS Duo + Win7 = Fail

I recently bought a ReadyNAS Duo for use at home, and am also running Windows 7.

Unfortunately, the two don't seem to be very happy with each other. Copying files from my Windows 7 machine, over the wireless LAN, to the ReadyNAS Duo throws up this error:


These errors happen randomly, often after a few files have been copied. Looking at a network capture, it looked like the ReadyNAS was sending an error in response to one of the SMB commands that Windows 7 sent...
SMB SMB:C; Transact2, Query FS Info, Query FS Size Info (NT)
SMB SMB:R; Transact2, Query FS Info, Query FS Size Info (NT)
SMB SMB:C; Transact2, Query File Info, Query File Standard Info, FID = 0x2B31
SMB SMB:R; Transact2, Query File Info, FID = 0x2B31 - NT Status: System - Error, Code = (8) STATUS_INVALID_HANDLE


I tried switching to Robocopy, but the same thing happens (at least Robocopy can be made to automatically retry...) One problem with using Robocopy is that the timestamps on the ReadyNAS seem to be FAT-based, so Robocopy will always think the files on the Windows 7 machine are newer than those on the ReadyNAS.


To get the timestamps to work as ecpected (and have Robocopy skip files that already exist on the ReadyNAS), you need to use the /FFT option. This is odd, since the ReadyNAS seems to be reporting it supports the NTFS filesysten, looking at the SMB responses it sends to Windows:
SMB SMB:C; Transact2, Query FS Info, Query FS Attribute Info (NT)
SMB SMB:R; Transact2, Query FS Info, Query FS Attribute Info (NT), FS = NTFS

I hope there is an update to support Windows 7 properly... Time to try Netgear's tech support (steeling myself...)

Friday, October 16, 2009

Fair treatment under the law

NPR recently aired a story on Hispanic farmers' fight against the USDA, and it really made an impact on me. I was shocked and dismayed to hear that they are being denied the same treatment that African American farmers received:

Soon after President Reagan took office in the early 1980s, the USDA's civil rights division was quietly dismantled. Nevertheless, the agency continued to
tell farmers that if they felt they weren't getting loans because of their color
or gender, they should file a complaint.

But for the next 14 years, those complaints were put into an empty government office and never investigated. By the 1990s, black farmers filed a lawsuit — Pigford v. Glickman. Because the USDA failed to investigate years of discrimination complaints, U.S. District Judge Paul Friedman certified the black farmers' case as a class action. And with that ruling, rather than risk a trial, the federal government Settled with 15,000 black farmers for $1 billion.

It looks to me as if Hispanics are still being treated as second-class citizens, despite this being 2009 and the civil rights movement having triumphed to a large extent in the area of discrimiation against non-whites in the USA.

You can read more and listen to the story here.

Is This Your Brain on God?

I've been interested in meditation, mysticism and Eastern religion/philosophy for a while. It's exciting to see how modern science is beginning to have the tools to see what happens inside the brain as people dream, medititate and have "spiritual" experiences. Is "god" really just chemistry or a side effect of how our brains are wired?

This article from NPR offers a fun way to dig into the various NPR segments, books, etc. that touch on this topic.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Peter Cook and Dudley Moore again

A while back I posted a link to a classic comedy sketch from Peter Cook and Dudley Moore. Well, it's time for another one! Here is the classic "facts of life" sketch on Youtube.

Watch out for warm chairs!

Monday, October 12, 2009

What people think about your Seattle school

The Stranger (a free weekly newspaper in Seattle), recently had a special "back to school" issue.
For my foreign readers, I should clarify that in the USA "school" is a synonym for college and university, so the issue focused on the issues 18+ year-olds face when going to college/uni.

The funniest section was the guide to "what people think about your school" - perhaps useful information for people like my brother-in-law that are trying to pick good teaching jobs :) I've had a few conversations recently with family, trying to clear up the difference between Seattle Pacific University and Seattle University... So here is an extract from the article that makes it clear:
If you're attending Seattle Pacific University, people will assume you're either celibate or a closet case or both. If you're attending Seattle University, people will think you're relatively intelligent and maybe Catholic but nothing special.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Jamie Oliver in the USA

The New York Times Magazine has an interesting article about British celebrity chef Jamie Oliver. He has a new project/TV show focusing on obesity in the USA and trying to get people to cook healthy, home-made food. (He did a similar show in the UK which I've not yet seen, and before that did a project to improve school lunches in the UK).

The article is worth reading - and there's this timeline of his career to check out too.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Seattle Homebrew Competition

Next Saturday, October 17th, is the Seattle Homebrew Competition awards show at Brouwers in Fremont. See more info here.

Berlin Reunion

To quote Boston.com's write-up:

"Earlier this week, 1.5 million people filled the streets of Berlin, Germany to watch a several-day performance by France's Royal de Luxe street theatre company titled "The Berlin Reunion". Part of the celebrations of the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Reunion show featured two massive marionettes, the Big Giant, a deep-sea diver, and his niece, the Little Giantess. The storyline of the performance has the two separated by a wall, thrown up by "land and sea monsters". The Big Giant has just returned from a long and difficult - but successful - expedition to destroy the wall, and now the two are walking the streets of Berlin, seeking each other after many years apart."

See the pictures here, and a video on Youtube here. Trust me, it's worth a look! :)

Friday, October 09, 2009

New Trader Joe's open!

Yay! The new Trader Joe's in "downtown" Redmond officially opens today!

Failure to THRIVE

A friend posted a link to this shocking advert on Costco's website. Ah yes, a 1-year supply of freeze-dried and dehydrated food, just what I was looking for! (If only the characters in The Road had been smart enough to order some of these before Armageddon).

Something in me just cries "No!" when I see this. And it doesn't get any better when you watch the videothat goes along with this product. It starts off sounding like a testimonial from someone you've never seen before. It turns out she works for the company that makes the stuff, but don't worry, she's not biased.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Signs you are getting old

When I was a kid, we didn't have fancy things like cut-and-paste on computers. (I am young enough that I did have my own computer as a kid, so that means I'm less than 40, right?)

I remember when programs like WordStar and WordPerfect arived and let you copy and cut text from one place in a document and paste it somewhere else. It's amazing to think this was actually a new thing!

Then came Windows 3.x, with its fancy GUI. (OK, strictly speaking the Mac was there first, but I never played with a Mac much...) Now you could cut and paste between different programs! There was this thing called the clipboard, and a desktop for you to put all your files, so you could easily find them (Hahaha, that was a great idea -not!)

Things have stayed fairly much the same since then - computers are faster and Windows has gone through some changes in terms of look and feel, but the clipboard has pretty much remained as-is. If you were really bleeding-edge you could get a program to duplicate your clipboard across machines - useful when you are writing code or doing email on machine A and debugging on machine B.

Now, in the always-online age, it seems logical to use the Internet as your clipboard, and we now have various websites devoted to this (called Pastebins). Sites like Pastebin.com and Paste2.org are all the rage. Initially created to allow "collaborative debugging", it didn't take long for 1337 H4x0rs to start using them to share stolen passwords, credit card numbers, and exploits.

PS: Remember when collaborative debugging was done over email, newsgroups, or web forums?

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Not the sort of thing you'll find in every phrase book

This is a sample phrase from from the Eastern ǃXóõ dialect, provided by the linguist Anthony Traill:
"Give them their stinking genitals with the fat!"
Makes "My hovercraft is full of eels" seem tame in comparison...

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Certified Man Cave

What is a certified Man Cave, you ask? Well, thankfully, this website provides the answer:

  • Construction must be managed by a Man Cave Builders licensed contractor using elements such as: Wood, Stone, Leather, Metal and Glass.
  • Media design and install must be overseen by a professional Man Cave Builders media representative.
  • The project should include at least 3 of the following components:
    • Bar
    • Multiple TV Monitors
    • Game Table
    • Video Game Console
    • Comfortable Seating: couches, love seat, bar stools, theater seating
    • Audio/Video Media Center
  • Must be a dedicated space for entertaining.
  • The new Man Cave room must be themed to fit within the Man Cave philosophy and standards and be "marked" accordingly within the Man Cave Certification process but always tastefully befitting the room's design.
  • The three founders of Man Cave Builders must fully inspect and are required to "sign off" on the room's certification.

Right, well, I'll get right on that then...

Friday, October 02, 2009

Lhasa Beer



I noticed a display in our local Whole Foods store for a new beer: Lhasa Beer.


Made in Lhasa, Tibet and claiming to plugh back 10% of profits to benefit Tibetans, I was initially highly sceptical. I suspected a clever marketing ploy from a Chinese-owned brewery (probably not even in Tibet)...



However, after looking at their website, it looks like they are the real deal. Their brewery is actually in Lhasa. 72% of their employees are ethnic Tibetans (52% are women). They are co-owned by Danish company Carlsberg. They have links to NGOs that operate in Tibet.

It looks like people are divided on whether to buy Lhasa Beer:

It's highly likely that the Chinese government own a portion of the Lhasa Brewery (why else would they allow it to operate?), and the cheaper alcohol that would logically be produced by a large Lhasa-based brewery is likely to have an impact on the level of alcoholism in Tibet...

I guess I will have to think about this some more.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

A Confederacy of Dunces

{A} and I saw the Seattle world-premier production of A Confederacy of Dunces at the Book-it Repertory this past weekend.

I was a little nervous - this book is full of zany characters and a takes place in several locations around 1960s New Orleans, a place with a unique culture. Capturing all that on stage would be hard... The good news is I think the production mostly did a great job - the leads were fantastic, Brandon Whitehead as Ignatius Reilly, and Ellen McLain as his mother were pretty much perfect and just as I imagined the characters.

Todd Licea made a great Mr. Levy and Kevin McKeon was great as Mr. Clyde, the proprietor of Paradise Hot Dogs. (His portrayal of Claude Robichaux was a bit too old and doddering for me...)
Charles Norris was good as Burma Jones - perhaps not as towering a figure as I had imagined when I read the book, but he played him with a nice "cool cat" attitude.

The ending felt a bit rushed and too hard to follow for people that didn't have the book freshly in their memory. The play probably will be most appealing to people that know and love the book and can put up with the minor flaws in the script, set or performances. People that have never read the book will have fun most of the way through, and hopefully will get their curiosity piqued enough to want to check out the book.

I leave you with a link to the Ignatius' Ghost blog, which takes you on a tour of modern New Orleans looking for the locations mentioned in the book.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Bogart Recipe

Here's a recipe for a yummy cocktail served at the Big Picture in Redmond. I'm posting it here so that I can find it in the future when I forget the recipe - it's easy to make at home (assuming you have fresh sage leaves).

Ingredients:
1 measure Gin
1/2 measure Triple-sec
1 measure Margarita mix
2 fresh sage leaves

Put a few ice cubes in a shaker, add the gin and triple-sec and sage leaves, and muddle well. Add the Margarita mix, shake, and strain into a martini glass. Garnish with a sage leaf if desired.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

New "7 Worlds Collide" album from Neil Finn et al

Last night I saw that there is a new album by Neil Finn and friends (who call themselves "7 Worlds Collide'), called Sun Came Out. There's more info on the ReverbNation website here, and you can listen to the album here.

This new album seems to contain all new songs. From the album page:
7 years ago, Neil Finn & friends first got together to perform some live shows – and release a resulting live album. In December of 2008 and January 2009, Neil did it again, only this time bigger and better! He assembled a group of his friends and fellow artists in Auckland, New Zealand to record a brand new album of all new & original material.
The cast list this time includes Neil, Sharon & Liam Finn, Wilco, Johnny Marr, KT Tunstall, Ed O’Brien & Phil Selway of Radiohead, Lisa Germano, Bic Runga, and others – all contributing to the performances and songwriting.


The previous "7 Worlds Collide" album he did "with friends" was 7 Worlds Collide - Live At The St. James. "Down on the Corner" and "Edible Flowers" are really good, as is "There is a Light that Never Goes Out" - plus a few live versions of Crowded House and Finn songs.

Excellent news!

Monday, September 28, 2009

French oysters

This is the 2nd year in a row that French oysters have been hit by a mystery "plague" that is killing young oysters. This year 90% of the young oysters have died.
Producers in Normandy are so worried that last month they handed out free
boxes of the shellfish near Caen chanting: "Take these oysters, they may be the last you'll ever eat."

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Playing the Enemy

{A} mentioned a segment on NPR's "To the Best of Our Knowledge" which aired on KUOW on Friday. The segment covers the 1995 Rugby World Cup match between South Africa and New Zealand, and how Nelson Mandela's support of the Springboks helped to unify the country. I remember watching the match and the euphoria that swept the nation in the weeks following the South African victory. It was one of the many highlights in Mandela's term as president.

You can listen to the podcast here, skip to around the 38 minute mark for the start of this segment.

The show is based on the book Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game That Made a Nation by John Carlin - one I will add to my "to read" list. I hadn't fully appreciated how brave Mandela's support of the Springboks was.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Happy Hour in an Irish pub

You'd think happy hour in an Irish pub would be a great time to get some cheap(er) Irish beer, right? Nope, that's not the case at Bellevue's Paddy Coyne's.

Instead of discounts on Guinness or Smithwick's, they offer cheap Bud and Bud Light. A pint of Irish beer will set you back the regular price of $6. Somehow that just strikes me as lame - they'd be better off not having any beer specials during happy hour.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Giving Nigerians a bad name...

It seems that Nigerian officials are not fans of the movie "District 9".

While it's true that Nigerians are portrayed as crime lords in the movie, running the underground market cat-food and weapons market (not to mention prositution), I think the thing that really irked the officials is the naming of the main "baddie": Obasandjo sounds a lot like former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo. And it doesn't help that he's a superstitious megalomaniac that wants to eat aliens to inherit their power and control over alien weaponry.

Sadly, this type of thing really happens in some parts of Africa, including South Africa. (It's called "muti killing"), so there is some real-world inspiration for the crim lord's behaviour. Add to that that a large amount of crime in today's South Africa is due to Nigerian gangs, and you can see that to a large extent the writer/director was just drawing on current events. You can read more about the director's reasons for making the crime lord a Nigerian and referencing muti, in the interview here.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Fidelity password fail

I called Fidelity customer yesterday and was asked to authenticate by entering my ID and PIN using the phone's keypad. At first my mind was blank - what was my phone PIN? It turns out you use the same user ID and password as you use on www.fidelity.com.

Convenient, yes? The problem is that this means the "secure" password I had chosen, which contained upper and lower-case letters and numbers, was actually being stored by Fidelity as a string on numbers.

For example, suppose your password is "MaGic8" . Using the phone keypad mapping for letters this becomes the number 624428. The sad thing is you can log in to Fidelity.com using 624428 as your password. You could also type in "NCHHCU" since this maps to the same numbers.
In this example, there are 4096 (4^6) different passwords that an attacker could enter and that would all allow them access to your account.

Instead of 62 or more possibilities per character (uppercase, lowercase and digits), you're effectively using 10 possibilities per character. That's a drop in entropy of 10 bits (or a factor of 1000) for a 6-character password.

What's odd is that they don't seem to do the same thing for the user ID - typing in the numbers your ID maps to doesn't work.

Friday, August 21, 2009

The Ultimate Yuppie Gym


I was amused to see an advert for a new gym in Bellevue that is due to open in the new Bravern building soon. The gym, the first West Coast location in the David Barton Gym chain, makes most five-star hotels look shabby. Not surprisingly, it will share The Bravern with Neiman Marcus (a.k.a. "Needless Markup"), and Microsoft.

Barton was quoted saying , “My new gym will be so inspiring that even techies will start looking like their fantasy characters.” For a look at what the new gym will look like, see the gallery on their website.


The terms "ostentatious" and "poor taste" come to mind, but I'm sure nouveau riche Seattleites will be keen to show off by going to this gym. Just another sign that some people have more money than sense.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Tea at Butchart Gardens


Victoria Trip 2009
Originally uploaded by Mr Snootyhamper
This is the spread *for one person*! Way too much food - we tred to slowly make our way through this over the course of an hour or two, washed down with copious amounts of tea, but alas some things had to go unsampled (like to chocolate truffle).

The ginger and cucumber sandwiches were especially good.

BC Parliament in Victoria


Victoria Trip 2009
Originally uploaded by Mr Snootyhamper
I like the way they light up the building at night!

Victoria Sunset


Victoria Trip 2009
Originally uploaded by Mr Snootyhamper
Here is a nice shot of the sun setting over the inner harbour in Victoria, BC. You can't really tell from the photo, but it was actually raining a bit when we took this.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Good times in Victoria, BC

{A} and I recently went up to Victoria, BC in a seaplane to celebrate our 1-year anniversary.
Here are a few highlights from our trip:

  • We had dinner and brunch at one of our favourite places in Victoria, ReBar. We first went to ReBar on our first Victoria trip several years ago, and their food is as good as always. Their fresh fruit and veggie drinks are also great (try the Sundance Kid!)
  • The Royal BC Museum had an exhbition from the British Museum titled Treasures, that was amazing. Worth the trip just to see this stuff...
  • We got to visit Butchart Gardens (finally!) Summer is definitely the time to go, although I hear the gardens are worth seeing in all the seasons. Some pics from the gardens are in the set on Flickr
  • We had an amazing tea at the gardens. From what I've heard, the tea at the Empress hotel is more expensive and not as good. (I've not been to the Empress myself though). Good things about tea in the Butchart Gardens: you can sit on the veranda and enjoy the garden views, great tea and yummy food, and it's reasonably-priced!
  • This list on Yelp.com pointed us at a few food places, which were all good. Notably...
  • Decent brunch at MoLe (worth another look), a place with lots of veggie options and some yummy smoked tuna eggs benedict.
  • Amazing cocktails and service at Solomon's. These folks take their drinks very seriously and have some fantastic, unique concoctions as well as making a great Sazerac. They also had great food, from tapas-style small plates to some interesting-looking main plates. A large table of chefs was there enjoying a tasting menu (it looked like they were tasting 10 courses!) - apaprently a regular gathering that I'd be happy to try duplicating next time I'm in town.
  • A delicious Italian meal at Pagliacci's with live gypsy/Yiddish music. It looks like this place is a real institution and has been going for decades. A cosy, lively atmosphere and some of the tastiest Italian food I've have had for a while!

Peter Cook and Dudley Moore

I was reminded today of the great comedy duo of Peter Cook and Dudley Moore. One of my favourite sketches (which I was sure I had posted here before, but it seems not) is the pub sketch. Here it is:


Thursday, July 30, 2009

The next Iron Chef America could be from Seattle!

I spotted an interesting blog post today on the "Eat All About It" blog:
The Food Network released the names of contestents for The Next Iron Chef, and Holly Smith is on the list. Smith, of Cafe Juanita and Poco Carretto, joined nine other top chefs in five weeks of worldwide taping, flying ‘from Los Angeles to Japan to New York to compete in the food fight of their professional lives.’

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

"New Orleans is drinking better"

This is one of the interesting news snippets you get for friending New Orleans on Facebook: An article in the LA Times titled "New Orleans is drinking better lately". And the obligatory teaser:

Anyone invoking the world's great drinking cities has to place New Orleans pretty close to the top.It's the birthplace of Peychaud's bitters and Southern Comfort, of the Sazerac and the Ramos gin fizz. And it has a long-standing absinthe legacy, including in 2007 being the first port of entry for the liquor since it was outlawed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 1912. Not a bad inheritance.

However, the cocktail revolution sweeping New York, San Francisco and Chicago -- the speak-easies and fedora-sporting bartenders alchemizing booze into transcendent mixology -- has been slow to come to town. But a new crop of bars and bartenders are giving the Big Easy's drinking scene a decidedly upscale flavor.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

LBJ Can Haz Pants?

A friend on Facebook posted a link to this classic recording of a phone call made by then-president Linden Johnson: Linden B. Johnson orders some new Haggar pants

In this telephone call, which has become one of the more famous exchanges LBJ
recorded, the President asked a leader of the Haggar clothing company for some
custom-made pants, providing specific (and sometimes graphic) instructions on
how they should be customized for him.


Never let it be said that I don't post educational information on this blog!

Chris Walker cameo in "Inked"

Chris Walker, of the Contemplative Programmer blog, recently was involved in the 48 Hour Film Project in Seattle, getting to act in one of the entries, titled "Inked". You can watch "Inked" here, and see prior films from various cities around the world here.

He has a single line in the film, a single word in fact, and it's very apt if you know him. In the security team at Microsoft, Chris had a knack for spotting bugs in code, and would often send out gems to the team with the email subject line "Code du jour". I miss those mails...

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

"Nothing up my sleeve" numbers

I just came across the term "nothing up my sleeve number" today, and it made me smile. Sometimes geeks chose pretty cute names for things :) See the Wikipedia entry here.

The related entries on differential cryptanalysis and S-boxes is interesting too. I am not a crypto geek, so the intricacies of this stuff is beyond me, but the higher-level descriptions and the history are fascinating.

Spam, spam, spam, bacon, egg and spam

One wonders what the advertising folks were smoking when they came up with this new TV advertisement for SPAM.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Attaching a VHD to a Windows 7/Server 2008 host from managed code

This past weekend I had "fun" working on a project to attach VHD files to a Windows 7/Server 2008 host machine. My aim was to have a C# app be able to do this and then read the files off the VHD...

It turns out the easiest part was opening and attaching the VHD file. The VHD APIs are pretty straight-forward, and a simple managed wrapper lets you call these from C#. (I chose a Managed C++ wrapper, but there is a C# wrapper here)

By default AttachVirtualDisk will mount all the volumes on the virtual disk, which is what I wanted. (You could also tell the VHD API to not mount them and do it yourself for the partitions you cared about, but that sounded like a lot of extra work to me...)

Now came the fun - which drive letters were assigned to the mounted partitions on the VHD? It turns out the VHD API doesn't provide this information - the most it will give you is the physical path for the drive device (see GetVirtualDiskPhysicalPath)

I looked around and found some examples of people using Powershell to mount VHDs and figure out the drive letters. Some folks were using the Virtual Disk Service (VDS), which has a managed wrapper in Server 2008 (Microsoft.Storage.Vds.dll) - Taylor Brown talks about this on his blog.

That wouldn't work on Windows 7 though, so I was left considering writing a managed wrapper for the VDS COM interface. My head was beginning to hurt... :)

Luckily I found some hints at using WMI to get the info - using WMI from .NET is not too complicated once you figure out which objects and queries to use. Here's the resulting code (Managed C++) which retrieves the logical drive for the first partition on the VHD:

// Return the logical disk for the VHD's first partition
property String^ LogicalDisk
{
String^ get()
{
String^ physicalPath = this->PhysicalPath; // Calls GetVirtualDiskPhysicalPath API wrapper
String^ logicalDisk = nullptr;

// Use WMI to get the logical drive for the first partition on the VHD disk
RelatedObjectQuery^ q = gcnew RelatedObjectQuery(String::Format("\\\\.\\root\\cimv2:Win32_DiskDrive.DeviceID='{0}'", physicalPath), "Win32_DiskPartition");
ManagementObjectSearcher^ searcher = gcnew ManagementObjectSearcher(q);
String^ firstPartition = nullptr;
for each (ManagementObject^ o in searcher->Get())
{
firstPartition = o->Path->ToString();
break;
}
if (firstPartition != nullptr)
{
// Now see which volumes are related to the partitions
q = gcnew RelatedObjectQuery(firstPartition, "Win32_LogicalDisk");
searcher->Query = q;
for each (ManagementObject^ o in searcher->Get())
{
logicalDisk = o->GetPropertyValue("Name")->ToString();
break;
}
}
return logicalDisk;
}
}

"Molecular biology for computer scientists"

I just saw this rather intriguing post on Bunnie's blog: On Influenza A

In it he muses about the similarities between the influenza virus and computer virii. Some really interesting stuff, and some links to other reading.

A snippet to entice you to click on the link above:
If you thought of organisms as computers with IP addresses, each functional group of cells in the organism would be listening to the environment through its own active port. So, as port 25 maps specifically to SMTP services on a computer, port H1 maps specifically to the windpipe region on a human. Interestingly, the same port H1 maps to the intestinal tract on a bird. Thus, the same H1N1 virus will attack the respiratory system of a human, and the gut of a bird.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The non-sucky re-finance experience

After complaining about my experience with WaMu/Chase, I'm pleased to report we've closed on our re-finance with Quicken Loans.

I called them the afternoon that I realized WaMu/Chase were not going to work out, and within a day I had received spoken to a loan officer and received an estimate. The next morning I signed forms electornically locking in our rate and starting the credit reviews, etc. Within a week of applying the property valuation was done, and the loan was approved. During the whole process I was able to easily speak to my loan officer (email and phone calls answered within a day). Title search took about a week and a half, and we then signed the papers at our house. The whole process took under 4 weeks.

I was also really impressed that Quicken Loans sent us the full set of papers we would be signing the day before, so we could review them and ask questions if needed. No other lender I've worked with has done that, or offered to do signing at a location that's convenient for you instead of them.

Another nice thing: The property valuation report was very detailed and has some great info, such as comparable properties in the neighbourhood that have sold or are listed for sale now. More data than most estate agents give you when you are considering listing your home and trying to figure out a realistic price...

All in all I was really impressed with these guys and would recommend them to my friends. If you are thinking of re-financing or purchasing a home, give them a try.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Abita Beer in Seattle

So, I have been a bad muppet and not posted anything about our trip to New Orleans. {A} has been much better and posted several entries already, so I recommend you read them in the meantime :)

One of the highlights of the trip for me was the discovery of a local brewery - Abita Beer.
Their Turbo Dog beer was quite nice and already had made an impression, but one night we had dinner at a cute cafe and I tried the seasonal Strawberry Beer from Abita. Wow.... Love at first taste?

This is one of the best summer beers ever - light, crisp and refreshing. The Strawberry refers to local, Louisiana strawberries. (The beer is a spring/early summer speciality, made in small amounts).

When the waiter suggested it, I thought "Ugh, it'll be too sweet". (I am not a huge fan of sweet beer or hefeweizen, although I do like some Belgian lambic beers like Kriek and Framboise).
I would say the Abita Strawberry beer captures the aroma and flavour of strawberries without picking up the sweetness - the beer is still nicely balanced and almost tart.

Now, on to Seattle. Not surprisingly, given the distance between Louisiana and Washington state, I have not seen Abita beer available here. Until I visited New Orleans, I had never heard of them. Looking at their website, though, it appears a few places in Seattle stock their stuff. On the eastside where I live, the only option seemed to be Larry's Market, which recently became a Top Food.

I can happily report that the Top Food in Redmond does sell Abita beer - only the Purple Haze was out when I was there, but there may be hope of getting Turbo Dog or some seasonal beers too... I will update this post if I find out more! :)

Update: 6/13
I spoke to the beer & wine buyer at Top Food in Redmond, and he said he'd be happy to order other kinds of Abita beer if I would be willing to buy a case. Sadly, though, the Washington State distributor, Columbia, only sells Purple Haze, Turbodog and Amber. No seasonal ales like the strawberry or satsuma.

I also found this discussion on Chowhound, which mentions that the Bellevue Whole Foods is an option. (I can report that the one in Redmond doesn't have any Abita beer...)

Thursday, June 11, 2009

New Iain M. Banks book, "Transition"!



Ooh, goodie! I enjoyed The Algebraist and Matter and can't wait to get started on this one!

It sounds like a bit of a departure from his Culture and far-future sci-fi, as this one is set on Earth in the (near?) future. It sounds like it may be more like some of Ken Macleod's books (or dare I say it, "The Diamond Age"). There's not really enough info on Amazon's page to know, though. So I guess I should be patient :)

It's available now for pre-order from Amazon (hardcover)... The softcover version will be out later in the year.

There is also an interesting article featuring Banks and other sci-fi authors on the BBC website here. The topic is "Can science fiction keep up with modern science?"

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Meet the Contemplative Programmer

Chris, who until very recently worked in my team at Microsoft, started a great blog. The official description is "musing about programming, management and old computers". He has lots of interesting anecdotes, such as the current post concerning Guest accounts, and an earlier post on core memory.

You can read the blog here: http://contemplativeprogrammer.com/

Monday, June 08, 2009

Powell's Sci-fi Recommendation

The kind people at Powell's Books in Portland offer expert advice on science fiction books, as this sign shows.

I think I've seen this guy moonlighting where I work too...

Thursday, June 04, 2009

What's Sue McCown been up to?

It turns out Sue McCown of Coco La Ti Da and Earht & Ocean dessert fame has not been hiding under a rock for the past few months. This blog post describes her work with Seattle's Cupcake Royale to help them improve the texture and longevity of their cupcakes. (They noticed that many people bought them to eat the next day, and they tended to dry out overnight...)

For some reason when I read the description of Sue making batch after batch of cake mix, tweaking one variable each time, I picture a female Alton Brown doing a "food science is fun" routine. I'm not sure Sue would like to be labeled "the female Alton Brown", though :)

Sunday, May 31, 2009

On Sazeracs...

One of the things I did in New Orleans a few months ago was become acquainted with the Sazerac, an "old-fashioned" cocktail. The "official" website and recipe are here: http://www.sazerac.com/cocktail.aspx. Wiki has some good info too.

The traditional drink should be made with (good) rye whiskey, Peychaud's bitters and Herbsaint (a pastis, like Pernod). Absinthe can also be used, and there are a few now available in the USA, even some made near us in Seattle.

What is odd, though, is that ordering this drink outside New Orleans is a bit like trying to find Marmite outside the Commonwealth.

About 50% of the places I try ordering one have no clue how to make it. I guess this is not too surprising, since the cocktail is not "in vogue", and many other old-fashioned cocktails have fallen by the wayside. I've also had more than one person say that Absinthe is still banned/illegal in the USA... :)

There are a few places that know what a Sazerac is, and mix a good one. I was very pleased when the friendly barman at Pazzo in Portland sid he knew the recipe. He warned me that he did not have Peychaud's bitters, but they had some that were made in-house by the chef. The resulting drink was pretty close to the ones I had in New Orleans.

I'll update this with any other success stories...

San Diego

{A} and I are in San Diego for a few days for my cousin's wedding, and having a great time so far.

The wedding was yesterday, and was beautiful. Strangely, it's colder and greyer here than it was in Seattle when we left, butt luckily the rain held off, and the fog lifted in the evening so we could enjoy some of the view of the bay at the reception.

We're staying downtown in the Gaslamp district, which is bit like Seattle's downtown - lots of shops and restaurants, and a bustling nightlife. We explored a bit on foot on Saturday and discovered Nobu's within walking distance - I'll have to see if we can make it for lunch or dinner :)

We went to a really nice little cafe this morning for breakfast - Chocolat. (Their website is worth a look just to see the fun photo panning they have). They mainly focus on gelato, but also do some yummy paninis, bruschetta and pancakes (savoury and sweet). They have some seriously good coffee too - imported from Italy, I think, although it was not brand I had heard of... Well worth a visit if you come to SD.

Our hotel is nice, but I can't recommend the food at the hotel restaurant, J Six. Terrible room-service on Friday, and lacklustre breakfast on Saturday were enough to make us skip them for the remaining meals...

We had fun today exploring the Hotel Del Coronado and the surrounding beach, and then took a short drive north. Lunch at Rubios, a local chain of Mexican restaurants, was surprisingly good. I had great mahi mahi tacos (soft corn) with great fresh salsas.

Later today we are driving to the suburbs in the East to meet my aunt and uncle for dinner and to see their 8-month old ridgeback puppy :)

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Abita Purple Haze

I am happy to report that the Abita Purple Haze beer I bought at Top Foods in Redmond a few days ago lives up to the high expectations I described previously.

Purple Haze reminds me a bit of Belgian lambic beers and gueze's - not surprising, really, since this is a wheat beer with raspberry puree added after filtration. (I think they are going for a summer-friendly version of Framboise). Flavour-wise, it's lightly tart and fruity, but like the Strawberry, the fruit is more of a perfume than a strong flavouring. There is no real hoppiness, and the finish is clean and crisp.

This one is a nice summer beer, but I think I prefer the Strawberry.

Ladysmith Black Mambazo in Seattle

A quick add-on to the previous post about summer concerts:
Ladysmith Black Mambazo (from South Africa) will be playing at the Woodland Park Zoo. More info here.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Music, comedy and other link clearances...

This will be a bit of a "grab bag" of links.

Some music news:


  • A new album from Eels is coming out on June 2nd, called "Hombre Lobo". Check out the video for the first single here, and pre-order the CD here.
  • Elvis Costello has a new album "Secret, Profane and Sugarcane", also coming out on June 2nd, and is on tour. He'll be at Ch. Ste Michelle this summer.
  • Amadou & Mariam will be opening for Coldplay at Washington's Gorge amphitheater on July 11th. I guess they have arrived :)
  • Marymoor have some fun concerts this summer, such as Duran Duran and The Decemberists.

Movie news:

Humour links:

One of the British folks in my team at work mentioned this comedian, whom I had not heard of before: Bill Bailey. Apparently his "Guide to the Orchestra" show is great, and is coming out on DVD in the UK, so I hope it ends up being released across the pond too.

Here are some Youtube links in the meantime:

Thursday, May 14, 2009

WaMu/Chase and the sucky re-finance experience

I've been waiting for weeks to hear back from WaMu ("Now part of Chase") about my mortgage re-finance (which was meant to close by tomorrow). I finally heard back today, and it turns out they are "running behind" (no sh*t!) and would only be able to close in another month's time.

This whole process started in early February, with me dealing with a really pleasant guy on the phone. (This was after WaMu sent me snail-mail saying I could refinance for "no cost" - turns out that means $700 in application fees.)

The pleasant guy on the phone soon made way for an incompetent local property valuator that called me to say WaMu had cancelled my application and she was therefore not doing the valuation... After spending a few days playing phone-tag with WaMu I managed to talk to someone only to find out the application was still active and they were waiting for the valuation... (WTF?) So, a week or two later and a new valuator came out to look at the house. All was well, my credit rating came back in the high 600's and it looked like all would be well.

Then my application went to underwriting for review. Dawn, my loan officer, said they were running about 3 weeks to do the review, so after waiting 3 weeks (plus a few days grace), I emailed Dawn to see what was up. Nothing for a week. So, I started calling Dawn and leaving voicemails asking her to contact me. Nothing for weeks. This week I tried calling her again and realized her voicemail message has changed: she's now "out of the office for an extended period", and requesting that no-one leave voicemails for her.

OK. Let's try the operator number she suggests I use.... It turns out that is equivalent to listening to gaping void of deep space - not even muzak to while away the time. Next I try callign the number for Dawn's manager, only to get voicemail and a message saying she has chanegd teams and I should not leave a message.

I spent some time hunting around for 800- numbers to call, and finally speak to someone that gives me the name and number of Dawn's new manager. I call and leave voicemail. Repeat for 3 days... Finally today I hear back from Juan, the manager, and while he is extremely appologetic, the gist of it is that I am up a proverbial creek with a proverbial paddle.

They will not be able to close until mid-June, and my rate-lock expires tomorrow. For $1000 I can extend the rate lock (or I guess I could let it float, but Juan didn't really seem interested in that option?) At least they offered to refun the $700 I've paid in application fees, so now I can start the whole process over again with another lender... Wish me luck!

PS: If this is how WaMu/Chase treat their customers, Heaven help them!

David Byrne's new EP

I just heard that David Byrne is selling a special live EP recorded during his current tour, with proceeds to benefit Amnesty International. Definitely a worthy cause, and a nice addition to the studio album ("Everything That Happens Will Happen Today").

For more info and to listen to the EP, go to David Byrne's site here.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Sushi Me

This is a quick recommendation for a new sushi place that opened a few months ago in Bellevue: Sushi Me. They are a kaiten sushi restaurant (a.k.a. conveyor-belt sushi).

Previously, the only kaiten sushi places I had been to were fairly unimpressive in terms of quality, and some took the no-frills theme a bit too far for my tastes.

Suhsi Me strikes a nice balance - they have a modern, clean feel, with a more inventive menu than traditional sushi places. They are definitely trying to appeal to both sushi newbies, and fans. They have lots of interesting rolls and some great veggie dishes: edamame, inari (tofu skin) and tamago (egg) sushi and basic veggie rolls. Something really unusual was their breaded and deep-fried tofu. They also have a few cooked dishes on the menu (like ramen soup).

I will still go to more old-fashioned places like Kiku Sushi when I am craving really good nigiri sushi (their aji is great), but for a mid-week lunch, Sushi Me is my new favourite sushi place.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Wine in baby bottles

Wow... This place in New York certainly has an interesting way to serve wine:
http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/22/dining/reviews/22brief1-002.html

The joke is that the French word for baby bottle (biberon) is also slang for a bottle of booze. The idea to conflate the two originated at Le Refuge des Fondus, in Paris, which La Cave is modeled after, down to the tightly set communal tables and benches that require clambering over your neighbors.


Sounds like a fun place to try next time I visit the Big Apple!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Cooking tofu using the dry-fry method

Hello everyone, and I hope you had a great Easter and Passover!
I just got back from a fun trip to New Orleans, which I will be writing about in the next few days (so much to blog about!)

In the meantime, I thought I'd share this quick tip that I came across on the veg*n discussion list at work. Do you love deep-fried tofu at Thai and Chinese restaurants, but hate frying food at home (or do you just want a healthier option?)

This webpage describes a method to cook tofu that yields a yummy browned crust and makes it soak up more flavour from the sauce/marinade you use. The trick is to use a non-stick pan, no oil, and slowly cook the tofu on medium heat, removing some of the water and giving it a delicious crust.

I tried this last night when I made some barbecued tofu and it was amazing... (Do the tofu as described above, remove from the pan and mix with some diluted barbecue sauce, sautee some onions in a bit of olive oil, and then add the tofu and sauce, simmer for a few mins).

Monday, March 30, 2009

Good news for fans of Tully's

Via the Seattle P-I : New Tully's deal means more stores, more items on store shelves

This is great news, since it means Tully's have a reprieve from filing for bankruptcy or scaling back. {A} and I usually make it to a local Tully's once or twice a week, and I know I would go more often if there was a location on the way to/from work. (During the week I grudginly go to Starbuck's for tea or less grudginly go to Kitanda when I want coffee).

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Nicolas Cage is the true Wooden One

{A} is fond of referring to Clint Eastwood as "The Wooden One".
After seeing "Knowing" last night, I would have to say that Nicolas Cage deserves this title 100x more than Mr. Eastwood.

Despite some wooden acting, the movie was surprisingly fun. (It helps when you walkin with next to no expectations)

The polar opposite of NPR

This week the local NPR station KUOW was running their spring pledge drive, which meant that at various times (when the fund-raising banter got too much to bare), I switched channels or (gasp) turned off the radio.

One such time was Thursday evening's drive home. I hit the "FM/AM" button in the car accidentally, switching to some other preset FM channel. Hitting it again I hopped over to AM, which I pretty much never listen to. Preset 1 on AM for some reason was set to KTTH, and I found myself listening to Savage Nation.

Pretty amusing stuff, and a bracingly different kind of show from the usual stuff I hear on NPR ;-)
I will have to remember to tune in every now and then to ensure I maintain a balanced perspective...

Interestingly, Wikipedia says the top three radio show hosts in terms of audience are:
  1. Rush Limbaugh
  2. Sean Hannity
  3. Michael Savage

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Sexist advertising then and now

http://playboy.covertocover.com/ is quite cool (requires Silverlight) - it allows you to look through selected Playboy magazines from the 50s onwards. It's quite interesting to see how packed full of adverts the magazines were (and still are) - endless sequences of beer, whiskey, cigarette, motorbike, car, etc. adverts.

It's also interesting to see how sexist advertising was - Queen Mary whiskey is billed as "not for ladies", I guess implying that bunnies will be happy to drink it.

There also seems to be a surge in ads for malt liquor in the late 60's. Country Club makes it clear that they will get you drunk twice as fast as if you drink beer, with none of that pesky head or carbonation to get in the way.

Hours of fun! :)

Monday, March 23, 2009

The Asteroid Cafe is not closed, after all

A while back I mentioned here that The Asteroid, a great little restaurant in Seattle, had closed down.

Well, today I happened to go their website and noticed this message from January:
You may have heard the Asteroid is closed. Well, we were for about four days at the beginning of September. The ownership of the Asteroid has changed however that is the extent of the change. We are still proud to have Chef Matt Wolfe manning the pans and creating outstanding specials. We will be restarting wine tastings in just a few weeks, probably Wednesday evenings. More to follow... Hope to see you soon!

I will be checking them out ASAP to see if the food and service are as good as they used to be. Hopefully the very friendly barman is also still working there... :)

The Seattle Times actually covered this a while back but I must have missed it...

Friday, March 20, 2009

Tunnel needs amusing

Lately I have been mis-reading a lot of the news headlines about the proposed tunnel which will replace the Alaskan Way viaduct.

For some reason the phrase "Viaduct bored tunnel" makes me think of a tunnel sitting listlessly in the mud, wondering what to do... Perhaps we should get some balloons for it?

PS: It looks like we may get our own version of the "Big Dig" if this plan goes ahead! I must say, it was quite exciting to ride through the huge tunnels in Boston - some even went under the water! Freaky!

Spring is Sprung!



Spring is sprung, the grass is ris.
I wonders where the birdies is?
They say the birds is on the wing.
Ain't that absurd?
I always thought the wing was on the bird.

I wish M+S well on their trip to Japan - hopefully the cherry blossoms will be out! (It looks like we will have to wait another couple of days in Seattle)

Thursday, March 19, 2009

10 years - 10 lbs

So, last week was my ten-year anniversary at work. (I can't believe how quickly the time has flown by...)

The tradition is that for every anniversary you bring in X pounds of chocolate. (People are often sometimes creative and bring in candy, donuts, or other treats in some quantity that represents the length of time). Perhaps unsurprisingly people also tend to send announcements in binary, e.g. "100 Years at Blah Company!"



I spent a fair amount of time trying to think of something cool to bring in today, but finally settled on loads of little chocolate eggs (lucky that we're close to Easter!) I have milk & dark chocolate, almond-filled and caramel filled. 10 pounds of eggs looks pretty cool!

Update: 3/19/09

Added a picture of the chocolate eggs.
I was a bit worried by the end of Tuesday when the eggs seemed to not be moving that fast. (I had visions of them sitting outside my door for weeks...) Luckily someone with a real craving for chocolate came around overnight, and by Wednesday morning I was down to a few dozen. By the end of Wednesday they were all gone!

So, 72 hours is all it takes for 10 pounds of candy to be consumed at work :)

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

What's on TV? Radio, actually...

{A} and I are big fans of NPR (especially shows like "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me" and "This American Life"). Usually we listen in the car, since we get pretty bad reception at our house (yes, I am too lame/lazy to put up a decent FM antenna to solve that...)

I was quite pleased a few weeks ago to find a nifty Public Radio application for my iPhone which let us stream the radio over the Internet. We have a line-in on our stereo, so it's easy to plug the iPhone in and have the radio shows audible through a few rooms in the house now. But it turns out there is an even cooler way (I think) to listen to the radio... Use your TV!

To be more precise, cable TV. Our cable feed includes a lot of radio stations, and the audio quality is better than most Internet streams. {A} discovered the KUOW channel, and we've since used it to listen to a few shows. But what makes it really cool is that if you have a DVR, you can now record specific shows that you might otherwise miss... Not all shows have podcasts available, so this seems like a good way to "time-shift" radio shows.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Whoa! "Wolverine" movie is directed by a South African!

I just saw that the up-coming X-Men movie about Wolverine is directed by Gavin Hood, a South African! :) One step closer to world domination...

Gavin won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film on 2005 for Tsotsi, which I previously blogged about here.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Saturday, March 14, 2009

News from Riebeek West

Hello all! Firstly, you may have noticed I've been a bit absent on the blog recently. I've mainly been hanging out on Facebook, posting links to thinks there instead of here.

Anyway, I will try to break the trend and post more goodies of general interest here... Starting with this bot of news from Riebeek West in South Africa. (Just an hour's drive from Cape Town)

Their annual OliveFest is coming up soon, but a new event for this year is MedFest. The idea is simple: the various restaurants and wineries in the valley have teamed up, with each pair representing the food of a Mediterranean country. There are a lot of restaurants that have popped up here in the past few years, some of them really good if my mom is to be trusted :)

This is a cool idea, and something WA, CA or OR wineries could try doing too... (Hint, hint!)

Here's their full blurb:

A Taste of the Med in the Swartland

Friday, 27th March till Sunday, 29th March.
Riebeek Valley, gem of the Swartland launches its inaugural MedFest, a unique new culinary expedition for foodies. It is touted as a celebration of local and regional cuisine presented as tapestries of tastes and flavours of the countries and regions surrounding the Mediterranean and its immediate hinterland.

For visitors, the epicurean weekend has been made very simple: restaurants in the Riebeek Valley have teamed up with local wineries in the Swartland, each team representing the cuisine of one of eight Mediterranean countries and islands. Each restaurant will offer its own themed set menu with a small selection of starters, main courses, desserts and a salad.

The focus of each menu will be on authentic food from the country that is represented, made with the freshest local produce.

For more info see our website
www.riebeekvalley.info
For enquiries or bookings contact the Riebeek Valley Tourism Office Tel: 022 4481584

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Auto-summarizing Steve Ballmer's mail

Microsoft Word has an auto-summary feature that supposedly allows you to extract the most important information from a document and highlight it or generate an "executive summary".

For fun (and based on {R} mentioning this last night), I thought I'd see how Word does on Steve Ballmer's recent email announcing layoffs at Microsoft. Here's a link to his complete email.
With the default settings to extract the most important 25%, this is the summary you end up with:


In response to the realities of a deteriorating economy, we’re taking important steps to realign Microsoft’s business. Today we announced second quarter revenue of $16.6 billion. Our products provide great value to our customers. Our financial position is solid. We have made long-term investments that continue to pay off.


Our response to this environment must combine a commitment to long-term investments in innovation with prompt action to reduce our costs.


As a result, we reduced operating expenses during the quarter by $600 million. We
must make adjustments to ensure that our investments are tightly aligned with
current and future revenue opportunities. Our leaders all have specific goals to
manage costs prudently and thoughtfully.


To increase efficiency, we’re taking a series of aggressive steps. We’ll cut travel expenditures 20 percent and make significant reductions in spending on vendors and contingent staff. We’ve scaled back Puget Sound campus expansion and reduced marketing budgets.


Our priority remains doing right by our customers and our employees. The decision to eliminate jobs is a very difficult one. Thank you for your continued commitment and hard work.



WTF? No mention of any layoffs until an oblique reference at the very end. I guess the sentence from Steve's original email was too buried for Word to find it... The term "shit sandwich" comes to mind when reading Steve's email - positive-sounding wrapping around the tough message in the middle. For some reason, doing this when you're communicating with executives is frowned on - they want the juicy details bubbled up in the first paragraph. Might be nice if they did that when they communicated "down" to the company too...

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

NYT: South African wines step onto the stage

I recently came across this article on South African wine from the New York Times. Here's a brief excerpt to whet your appetite:

Forgive me if I’m excited, but I can’t help it. I want to tell you straight out that South Africa, of all places, is one of the greatest sources for moderately priced cabernet sauvignon on the planet today.

I suspected this before, but after the wine panel tasted 25 South African cabernets recently, I can say it unequivocally, without the usual hedging and qualifications.

Well, almost, but I’ll get to that later.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Great Ken Levine quote

Ken Levine has some thoughts on the inauguration, including this great zinger aimed at Cheney:


"We always knew Dick Cheney was Dr. Strangelove"





Happy Inauguration Day!

It's done - the USA has a new president! I missed hsi speech, but will watch it tonight. From the snippets I heard on NPR, it sounds like he did a great job (as usual).



Here's a screenshot from the Photosynth mash-up I mentioned previously:

Friday, January 16, 2009

Inauguration countdown!

I haven't been this excited for a US presidential inauguration since, well, forever! It looks like we will have the event screened in a large conference room at work, so I will try to sneak away to watch part of it.

It's also quite cool to see that PhotoSynth will be used to create a "mash-up" of everyone's photos of the event. CNN will feature a live fly-through of the photos on their "Magic Wall".
Read more about it here, and be sure to send some pictures if you are there!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Watching BSG webisodes on your XBOX 360

I've been playing around with ways to watch online movies on my PC and XBOX, mainly due to the new Battlestar Galactica webisodes which have been released on SciFi.com. I thought it would be cool to watch them before the new episode airs this coming Friday, and since we will have a few people over at our house, I wanted to get them up on our TV screen instead of watching them on a PC.

There are several tools available to grab movies (which in this case are Flash .FLV files) from a website and save them locally. The one I used is Orbit Downloader, which works OK but seems to make Internet Explorer 8 very unstable. (I uninstalled Orbit as soon as I had the files I wanted). Another option (not tried by me) is Keepvid which seems to not require any software installation.

Anyway, once you have the .FLV files locally, you might want to watch them. My system didn't have a codec to play these files, so I installed the current version of the K-Lite codec pack. Depending on which tools you use to convert the files (see the next step), you could skip this.

Finally, you need to convert the .FLV files to a format that the XBOX can play. I chose to use a tool I already had installed, Handbrake. (Handbrake is also great if you want to transfer videos to your iPhone/iPod Touch)

In Handbrake, simply select the files, and choose the XBOX profile. I chose to increase the video size to 1024 wide so it would look better on a large screen. (The XBOX can also stretch video to fit the screen, but it looks more blocky). The resulting MP4 files that Handbrake creates can be put on a USB storage device and played on the XBOX easily.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Lupper and déjouper

This great post from the "French word a day" blog introduced me to the word déjouper, a meal that stretches from lunch time to dinner time and cover lunch and dinner. (Kind of the same as the made-up English word lupper that we used to use when I was growing up).

Usually lupper was what you had when you forgot to eat lunch at the usual time, got really hungry in the afternoon, and had an early dinner. Déjouper on the other hand seems to be more of an informal dinner party with friends and family that starts around 1:30pm and stretches on into the early evening. It sounds very civilized, and like something I need to do more often!

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

S&M Dining in Seattle

This article in Seattle's The Stranger newspaper caused a flurry of mail on the food & wine mailing list at work. While many people tool exception to the overall negative tone of the article and got very defensive in response, I tend to agree with a lot of what is said and didn't think the author was being unreasonably cranky.

I've not yet been to any of the restaurants mentioned, although Poppy is high on my list of places to try in the first few months of this year. I wonder if the communal dining thing is a fad, or whether the hard economic times will force restaurants to be more accomodating and offer a la carte menus with cheaper options? Time will tell...

Have any of you been to communal, fixed menu restaurants? What's your take on them?

Spot the defect!

From this zuneboards post, the Zune New Year's bug. Can you spot what is wrong? :P


year = ORIGINYEAR; /* = 1980 */

while (days > 365)
{
if (IsLeapYear(year))
{
if (days > 366)
{
days -= 366;
year += 1;
}
}
else
{
days -= 365;
year += 1;
}
}