Monday, July 31, 2006

amazing astronomical images

images from Cassini.  left: moon Dionne ringside; center: moon Enceladus' surface; right: SaturnOver the weekend I visited the NASA Exploration Center at Moffett Field. A small museum dedicated to space flight, it contains the Mercury Redstone 1A space capsule, a full-scale model of a section of the International Space Station, and a 40-foot wide immersive theater for multimedia shows on interplanetary exploration.

In the theater, I watched the presentation on the Cassini-Huygens mission to Saturn, and was fascinated both by the probe journey and the images it has returned (samples above). Also mentioned was the Sombrero Galaxy (pictured below), a formation so awesome I thought it was going to be my cool thing of the day.

The Sombrero Galaxy, or M104 as it is officially cataloged, is 30 million light years away, and it is receding at the astonishing rate of 1,000 km/s. Its dust ring is its most striking feature, but more impressive are its 38,000 light year radius and its black hole center with a mass 1 billion times the weight of our Sun.

As I was researching my post, though, I discovered something cooler still: the amazing galleries of astronomical images available on-line. I’ll suggest two to start with:

the Hubble Heritage Images and NASA’s Astronomy Picture of the Day (check out this, this and this)

however, there are many more to explore.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

the week magazine

At dinner tonight, both Daphne and Brad mentioned The Week magazine. Having never heard of The Week, I was curious, and Oliver gave me an issue to browse. The Week promises “All you need to know about everything that matters,” and judging from my sample it delivers.

The Week’s editors pull top stories from newspapers and magazines around the globe, combining them into brief but detailed articles that report various viewpoints. The content starts on page 1 and is laid out in a format reminiscent of The Economist.

It has very few ads, less than 30% of “the book” is reserved for advertising space, but not all of the news is serious. The Week carries art and entertainment reviews, a best of the tabloids section and the requisite gossip column.

Check out the articles on the website and consider a subscription. 50 issues are $29.50.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

liou's house

Continuing our Saturday night dinner series, Joy, Mike, Lisette and I headed to Milpitas to visit Liou's House Chinese Restaurant. Liou's House is not well known outside of the Chinese community. There are no Yelp reviews and the only Google search results just list its name and address. But, trust us, it is worth making the trip to 680 and Jacklin Road.

Liou’s House is run by a famous Taiwanese chef and it specializes in hard-to-find dishes that need to be ordered a day in advance. There is no website, and this part of the menu isn’t translated, but if you call and describe what you want they will be happy to prepare it for you.
delicacies from Liou's House in Milpitas
The special items are:

buddha jump over the wall
soup inside winter melon
beggar’s chicken
baked cod
premium sea cucumber
honey ham
napa cabbage with dried scallop
Dongpo pork
spare ribs in pumpkin
grilled prawns
crispy squab made with 8 other ingredients
lobster cooked with ginger and green onion
sharks fin soup

Each that we tried was quite large (designed for 6-8 servings) so you should be cautious in ordering and you should bring friends. Being greedy, we over-ordered.

We started with winter melon soup (top left). Served inside a perfectly cooked winter melon, the soup contained prawns, chestnuts, ginger, mushrooms, chicken, pork and all of the winter melon your ladle could scrape without damaging the structural integrity of the container.

Next up was the honey ham (2nd from top). A bit drier and more seasoned than the spiral cut ham you might have tried, it comes with lotus seeds, honey molasses and little pockets of thin bread you can use to make mini-sandwiches. Delicious!

We selected one item from the regular menu, Chinese squash (loofah) with bamboo fungus (3rd from top). I’m not sure that I love the bamboo fungus (although I concede that this was a minority opinion at our table) but the loofah was excellent.

Perhaps best of all were the spareribs in pumpkin (bottom photo), little riblets cooked until extremely tender inside of a tasty Chinese pumpkin. We were all extremely full, but there were scant remains of the pumpkin when we were done eating.

To complete our meal, the attentive staff brought us green bean tapioca. I was it a bit skeptical, but one taste erased my doubts. Like everything we ate tonight, it was wonderful. I am anxious to return to Liou’s House to sample more dishes, so let me know if you want company for your next visit.

Liou’s House: 1245 Jacklin Rd, Milpitas, CA (408) 263-9888 (closed Monday)

Friday, July 28, 2006

the mellow side of elvis costello

Now 88 years young, Marian McPartland is a legendary jazz pianist and composer. For the past 27 years she has also been the host of Piano Jazz on NPR. Each week on Paino Jazz, a well-known performer joins Marian and they talk and play. The format provides insight into the musician’s craft and it showcases Marian’s understated, melodic style.

As I was driving home I was listening to KCSM and I recognized Marian’s voice and her program. She was discussing composing with an Englishman whose voice I did not recognize. He was mentioning that he had always been drawn to darker material, so I was quite surprised to hear Marian begin to play the first notes of the wedding reception standard “At Last.” I was even more surprised when her guest starting signing as it was immediately clear that she had been talking with Elvis Costello.

Apparently Elvis’ wife has been teaching him new tricks as the Attractions front-man and rock bad boy has matured into an accomplished jazz signer. His voice is well suited to the genre and he demonstrates a subtlety and knowledge of the material that is quite impressive.

McPartland and Costello’s hour-long session is available from Amazon or by track from iTunes. Those in a romantic mood will appreciate the perfectly crafted interpretations of “At Last” and “The Very Thought of You.” However, each of the songs is excellent and “You Don’t Know What Love Is” may be the standout. Costello’s own “Almost Blue” is also noteworthy.

McPartland and Costello are performing together this year at the Tanglewood Jazz Festival Sept 1st.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

popping bubble wrap

My postings often reflect my mood. Tonight’s mood is silly, so I present an interactive and addictive online experience: pop the bubble wrap. There are many sayings about life’s simple pleasures, and bubble wrap makes all of them come true.

Whether you pop bubbles methodically, one bubble at a time row by row, or frenetically, twisting and stomping to destroy the most with each violent action, popping brings out the happy inner child. The online version is not quite that satisfying but it helps you achieve a similar transcendental state. Enjoy!

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

the bikini

The next few weeks are a time for celebrations. Tina, Hansel, Brad and Orlando all have birthdays and Emmanuel and Meg are marking the tenth anniversary of their nuptials, but perhaps no occasion is as important as this one: the bikini has turned 60. It debuted in Paris in July of 1946 (although it was actually invented the year before). ABC news has a photo history.

The bikini was so shocking that designer Louis Reard could not find a fashion model that would wear it and was forced to hire a stripper instead. Following scandal in Paris, two-piece swimsuits were banned in many countries. But, their popularity grew in the late 40s and 50s, thanks in large part to the influence of Hollywood.

My favorite Hollywood bikini moment came years later in the opening scene of Diamonds Are Forever, but many my age might prefer Pheobe Cates’ pool scene in Fast Times at Ridgemont High for its impact on their development. Here’s to the bikini!

Bonus links: Jessica Alba’s yellow bikini and her brown and white ones
More bonus links: Sports Illustrated’s Swimsuit Collection. Magazine covers from 1964 foward and online galleries from 1996

Tuesday, July 25, 2006


DC Comics has been getting a lot of attention these days. Batman Begins was a critical and financial success last year ($205M domestic box office), Superman Returns is in theaters now ($180M at the box office so far), and Wonder Woman is coming to screens near you next summer. One of their newest projects received little notice, though, and it seems destined for failure.

A live-action TV pilot was produced for Aquaman to sell a series concept similar to Smallville. It would have traced the early years of the water-loving superhero, but the show was not optioned and the initial episode never aired. Starting today, you can purchase the 41 minute pilot from iTunes for $1.99, something I did this evening.

When I was little I remember having an Aquaman action figure. I had Batman, Robin, Batgirl and the Riddler too, but Aquaman and Batman were my favorites. I recall waiting for the all-too-rare Aquaman episodes on Super Friends Saturday mornings, but I didn’t have the comics so I never knew the back-story of the King of Atlantis.

Aquaman the pilot fills in the gaps, as it starts with the young A.C. It deviates from the mythology of the 1960’s comic books, but it appeared to have been on a path to create a stronger story arc. Part X-Files, part O.C. and part Buffy, Aquaman could have been a hit, especially with the young ladies who love Justin Hartley.

I'm not sure what is more interesting: the reasonably entertaining (despite phone-in performances from Ving Rhames and Lou Diamond Phillips) TV show or the step this represents in alternate distribution of diverse, on-demand programming. Either way, Aquaman on iTunes is the #1 video download and it is my cool thing of the day.

Visit the iTunes Aquaman page

Monday, July 24, 2006

the lonely planet guide to my apartment

As I have mentioned in previous posts, I am a bit behind in my New Yorker reading. I did pick up the travel issue (2006-04-24) over the weekend, and I was delighted to find Jonathan Stern’s satirical The Lonely Planet Guide To My Apartment. It is brief, side-splittingly funny and online.

The guide covers essentials such as what to bring, when to go and local customs. I especially enjoyed Things to See & Do, but all of the descriptions of the indigenous people and their local culture are quite humorous. For instance, consider this advice for women travellers:

Solo female travellers are often subjected to excessive unwanted male attention. Normally, these men only want to talk to you, but their entreaties can quickly become tiresome. Don’t be afraid to be rude. Even a mild polite response can be perceived as an expression of interest. The best approach is to avoid eye contact, always wear a bra, and talk incessantly about your “fiancé, Neil.”

Well done, Jonathan! I am looking forward to reading more of your work.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

white nectarines

I really like fruit, but sometimes I forget how incredibly delicious it can taste. Fortunately, all that is required to correct my memory problem is a trip to a farmers’ market in July or August.

Take yesterday’s visit to the Ferry Building Farmers’ Market. Before going, I knew that I liked nectarines and I remembered that some of the best locally grown ones were reaching the height of their flavor. But, it was only after sampling the offerings of the organic vendors that I recalled how sweet and succulent the nectarine could be.

The finest of the nectarines this Saturday were the Arctic Jay and Artic Rose white nectarines from Kashiwase Farms. Kashiwase is a 200-acre family-run organic farm in Winton that grows stone fruit, more than 80 varieties of peaches, plums, cherries, pluots and nectarines. Named KQED’s farmer of the month last August, Steven has been running the farms since taking over from his father Henry who took over from his father Frank.

At $3.00 a pound, the nectarines are not inexpensive, but their unique candy-like sweetness is worth it. Be sure stop by the Kashiwase Farms stand at the Ferry Building Farmers’ Market Saturdays, and look for the Arctic Jay and the Arctic Rose at your local fine grocer.

Bonus link: Visit the SF famers’ market next Saturday for their Peach Celebration

Saturday, July 22, 2006

summer sambas

The Bay Area, like most of the country, is suffering with abnormally high temperatures. So, to take your mind of the oppressive heat I present a new iMix of Brazilian music perfect for our warm summer nights.

There are samabas and bossa novas, Tropicalismo and other Brazilian styles. I have picked songs from the masters who thrust Brazilian music on the world stage in the 1960s: Antonio Carlos Jobim, João Gilberto, Caetano Veloso, Elis Regina and Gilberto Gil (the current Brazilian Minister of Culture). And, I have included tracks from the younger generation: Bebel Gilberto (João’s daughter), Maria Rita (Elis’ daughter), Celso Fonseca, Ana Caram and Zuco 103, among others.

Zuco 103 - Humana
Elis Regina - Alo Alo, Tai Carmem Miranda
Joao Gilberto - Wave
Gal Costa - A Ra
Nara Leao - Meditacao
Luiz Bonfá - Manha de Carnaval (Morning of the Carnival)
Sylvia Telles - Voce E Eu
Marcos Valle - So Nice (Summer Samba)
Astrud Gilberto - Só Tinha de Ser Com Voce
Caetano Veloso - Coisa Mais Linda
Antonio Carlos Jobim & Elis Regina - Corcovado
Celso Fonseca - Don de Fluir
Jobim - Morelenbaum - Eu E O Meu Amor/Lamento No Morro
Nina & Chris - Agua
Jeni Fleming Acoustic Trio - Garota de Ipanema
Lenine - O Último Por Do Sol
Fernanda Porto - Outra Margem do Rio
Agustin Pereyra Lucena - Aguas de Marco
Gilberto Gil - So Quero Um Xodo
Luciana Mello - Sexo, Amor E Traicao
Fleurine - Você
Miucha - Lugar Comum
Ana Caram - Desafinado
Bebel Gilberto - Samba Da Bencao
Maria Rita - Mantra (Faixa Oculta)

If you enjoy the mix, you should check out these essential albums:

Antonio Carlos Jobim with Stan Getz and Astrud Gilberto - Getz / Gilberto (1963) (iTunes, Amazon)
Antonio Carlos Jobim and Elis Regina - Elis & Tom (1974) (
iTunes, Amazon)
Bebel Gilberto – Tanto Tempo (2000) (
iTunes, Amazon)
Ana Caram – Blue Bossa (2001) (
iTunes, Amazon)
Maria Rita – Segundo (2005) (
iTunes, Amazon)
Celso Fonseca – The Leblon Sessions (2006) (

Bonus drink: the caipirinha

Friday, July 21, 2006

the z4 coupe

I have a friend whose young son knows almost everything about every car. It is rather amazing the way he can identify makes and models of new and classic vehicles with uncanny precision. I was never that gifted as a youngster, but I did have a strong interest in things automotive. I’d look forward to the arrival of Road and Track each month, and I would pour over the details of the new offerings.

I still like cars, but my interest has waned as I have aged. Often the first time I am aware of a new model is when I see it on the road. However, one soon-to-be-released car has caught my attention: the BMW Z4 Coupe.

BMW released the Z4 Roadster 4 years ago to mixed reviews. Not everyone appreciated its shark-like styling, an outcome I find hard to imagine for the gorgeous curves of the 2-seat coupe. The hardtop completes the car and results in one of the most striking GTs produced in decades.

The coupe comes standard with a composite aluminum and magnesium block 3.0 liter, 255hp engine coupled to a 6-speed manual transmission that rockets the car 0-60 in 5.7 seconds. Traction is assured by a stiff suspension, Dynamic Stability Control, Cornering Brake Control and 17x8 rubber. A 10-speaker audio system and 4 years of complete maintenance are also included. Optional are: automatic transmission, Xenon headlamps, iPod integration, and the Sport Button which stiffens the throttle and steering for performance driving.

Base price is $40,100, and it is $43,270 very nicely equipped. Click here to build your own, and visit your local dealer next month for a test drive.

Bonus link 1: A photo gallery of 10 supercars including the Veyron and the FXX
Bonus link 2:
Burnout Revenge, a very fun car crash video game
Bonus link 3: David Hasselhoff’s newest music video:
Jump In My Car. It is more horrible than you could imagine making it must watch

Thursday, July 20, 2006

at&t park

Barry Bonds after HR 722I was with my trusted peers at AT&T Park tonight, and I thought I would share the top 10 cool things about the game. So, from the home office in Star Valley, Wyoming:

10) It was a matchup of 1 (Padres) and 2 (Giants) in the NL West.
9) Outstanding defensive plays (line drives to Bellhorn at 3rd and Durham at 2nd)
8) Many home runs including Barry Bonds’ 722nd (photo right) and 3 in a row in the 8th inning
7) The bottom half of the 5th. It was a beautiful inning of baseball, and it included a hit-and-run, a sac fly, a steal and a suicide squeeze (Vizquel bringing in Wynn)
6) Zinc
5) Great pitching. Lowry pitch 8 1/3 innings of shutout ball.
4) The Giants won 9-3 and are now only 1 ½ games back
3) Halter tops
2) Bill for getting us had amazing seats. We were 3 rows back immediately behind the Giants dugout complete with in-seat food and beverage service

and the #1 coolest thing (paradoxically): the warm weather

The Padres are in town through Sunday, you should consider heading out for an evening game tomorrow (7:15) or Saturday night (6:05).

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

a pirate puzzle

Ahoy, me hearties! Lisette sent me a great, grand logic puzzle today. I was able to approximate the solution rather quickly (I do remember some game theory), but fully describing its elegant and paradoxical outcome took a little longer.

There are 100 pirates on a pirate ship. There is much celebration and debauchery as they have just stolen a 1000 gold pieces. The next morning, they decide it is time to divide up the treasure among the crew.

These pirates are perfectly rational and democratic. The system for division works as follows:

The fiercest pirate (pirate 100) proposes a way to split the gold. For example: 13 to myself, 7 to pirate99 (the next fiercest pirate), 22 to pirate98… The pirates then vote on this proposal. If 50% or more vote yes, they divide up the gold. If less than 50% vote yes, the proposing pirate is tossed overboard and the next fiercest pirate makes a proposal. This continues until a proposal is excepted by 50% or more.

Being fierce, all the pirates enjoy tossing others overboard but, being greedy, they prefer gold to entertainment. Being rational, they are interested in self-preservation, and they dislike being tossed overboard themselves. Each pirate knows the proposing order and, despite bad hangovers, each always votes in his best interest.

If you are the fiercest pirate, what proposal would you make? What is the maximum amount of gold pieces you can get without being thrown overboard?

The pirate puzzle appears to have been first published in Scientific American in 1999 along with an even more interesting variant. When you have developed the solution to the above question, consider the answer if the pirates were less successful plunderers and there were 100 pirates with only 20 pieces of gold.

The text of the original article along with the solution to both variants can be reviewed here, but don’t visit until you are confident you have the answer. If you need a hint, view Tristan’s comment here by highlighting the white space.

Bonus link: practice your pirate-speak

Tuesday, July 18, 2006


I discovered something new today that some of you may already know. When Microsoft released the Windows XP operating system, they included a feature that dramatically increases the readability of screen fonts on LCD displays. The problem is that not only did they not enable the feature by default, they buried so deep inside the Display control panel that almost no one can find it.

Cleartype uses sub-pixel anti-aliasing to increase font smoothness. These pages explain the process in much more detail. Apple has embedded similar technology in OS X, and whenever I have used Macs I have admired the fonts in documents and spreadsheets. Now that I have switched on Cleartype on my XP laptop, my Mac envy is reduced

Studies suggest that Cleartype increases in reading speed and reduces eyestrain. Even though it trades edge definition for that result, I think it looks much better. If, judging by the below samples (click for full size) you do as well, here is the best way to turn on Cleartype.

1) Confirm that you have Windows XP and a LCD display. Although Microsoft claims that Cleartype works well on CRTs, many CRT users complain of blurriness
2) Install the ClearType powertoy from the links on
this page
3) Follow the settings wizard for optimal results

The result: a big improvement for fonts in folders, menus, web pages, email and Office files. If you only have time to try one tip from (at least) one cool thing, make this the one.

Monday, July 17, 2006

one bush street

photo credit: friskypics.comI’ve driven by Bush and Market countless times but somehow I failed to really notice the stunning modernist building that occupies its corner until a visit today. Designed by the San Francisco office of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill with Hertzka & Knowles in the mid-1950s for Crown Zellerbach and completed in 1959, One Bush Street is certainly one of the most elegant modern towers ever created.

SOM is most likely the preeminent architectural firm in the country. Formed in Chicago in 1936 they have designed hundreds of landmark buildings around the world. Some you may be familiar with include:

Lever House, New York (1952)
John Hancock Center, Chicago (1969)
Sears Tower, Chicago (1973)
Davis Symphony Hall, San Francisco (1980)
Time Warner Center, New York (2004)

photo credit: ccsI lack the vocabulary to fully describe the Crown Zellerbach building and can only hint at some of its distinctive features. Most striking are its walls of glass, and it was San Francisco first such tower. However, despite the abundance of glass, steel and aluminum, the building does not seem massive or overpowering. A small, glass lobby allows the 20-story building to float (an effect repeated at 650 California St), and its 13-acre lot allows it to be well set back from the street.

True to its modernist routes, form follows function and its interior spaces are spectacular. Offices are column-free as steel girders span each floor and the stairs and elevators are concentrated in a service tower.

Bonus link 1: view more shots of One Bush Street on flickr
Bonus link 2: visit friskypics
excellent collection of SF architecture photos

Sunday, July 16, 2006

jeff klein

The world keeps on turning, but mostly it’s turning on you.

I heard that lyric on KZSU and I knew I had to learn more about its author. After a few google searches (no success) and then some trial and error reviewing KZSU's online playlists, I found the writer (Jeff Klein) and the song ("The 19th Hole" from the 2005 album The Hustler). After a short trip to Tower, I had it playing on my stereo.

Recorded in his bedroom in New Orleans over 17 days pre-Katrina, the principal themes of The Hustler (Amazon, iTunes) are love fading and lost. The melodies are stripped down and emotional, the words are dark and complex. The opening line from “Put You to Sleep” is representative and brilliantly captures the end stage of a relationship:

I’m leaving in the morning, and packing all my things
Searching for a point of view, of the same damn thing
I used to be so entertaining, I could sweep you off your feet
Now all it seems these days I could do is put you to sleep

Other adjectives that can describe the album include intimate, evocative, edgy and, occasionally, disturbing. Standout tracks are the two mentioned above along with “Stripped” and “Pity,” but the album hangs together beautifully in a way that is rare these days.

Visit Jeff’s myspace page

Saturday, July 15, 2006


V12 sunglasses for Nike, communication badge for Vocera and cd player for MujiIDEO is the best-known product design company in the world. With clients that include AT&T, Cisco, Dell, Eli Lilly, Fisher-Price, Microsoft and Samsung, and offices in Palo Alto, San Francisco, Chicago, Boston, London, Munich and Shanghai, IDEO has helped create some of the most innovative consumer, consumer electronic, medical and office products.

Starting with David Kelley Designs (IDEO was formed in 1991 when David Kelly Designs merged with ID Two and Matrix Product Design), IDEO and their designers developed: the mouse for the Apple Lisa; the neat squeeze toothpaste tube for Proctor and Gamble, the Palm V for 3Com; the Leap office chair for Steelcase; the Treo for Handspring; and, the personal video recorder for Tivo.

They are also responsible for scores of lesser-known but equally cool commercially available products including: sunglasses for Nike; strollers for Evenflo; the communication badge for Vocera; a salad spinner for Zyliss; the Kart chair for Vecta; and, a wall-mounted CD player for Muji.

At the Palo Alto Arts Center, “IDEO Prototypes the Future” provides a glimpse into the creative process that has made IDEO famous. There are early mock-ups of the Palm V, client prototypes of the yet-to-be produced like the exciting Masher and DJammer for Hewlett-Packard, and IDEO-driven concepts like Crave Aid and their vision of connectivity in 2010.

Perhaps most fascinating are the multi-media installations that trace projects’ evolution. They have a case study on their work with Prada, and replaying on a large plasma screen is the 1999 Nightline Deep Dive on “how they do it.” For the program, an IDEO team designed a better shopping cart in 6 days.

“IDEO Prototypes the Future” is a small but excellent exhibit for those interested in design. It continues at the Palo Alto Arts Center until September 10.

Bonus link: download a gallery walkthrough with IDEO CEO Tim Brown
Bonus link 2: IDEO redesigns

Palo Alto Art Center: 1313 Newell Rd, Palo Alto, CA (650) 329-2366

Masher for HP, visions of 2010 and DJammer for HP

Friday, July 14, 2006

san jose with orlando

I hadn’t seen Thaddeus Orlando in a while, so I was delighted when he invited me to happy hour. Even though that meant a drive to downtown San Jose (something I do less often than once a year), I was excited to catch up with an old friend.

Rolling with Orlando is like rolling with a Hollywood celebrity. There are the constant interruptions for greetings and autograph requests. And then there are the privileges that flow from his fans: free drinks, free food.

We started out at PF Chang’s on Second for mojitos and then migrated next door to the Loft for appetizers and drinks. The Loft is a great bi-level restaurant with a large outdoor deck on the second floor. On a nice, warm evening everything tastes better outside.

After the Loft we walked down Second and over to Third to visit the Capital Club. The Capital Club is a gym in a wonderful old building constructed in the Federal style, and it is located across the street from St. James Park.

Following our tour of the club and its upstairs bar, we wandered back down to First Street for more food and beverages at the E&O Trading Company. Should you visit E&O I can recommend the excellent corn fritters and the tasty lettuce cups with shredded beef. You might also consider a libation made with infused vodka from Hangar One. If we didn't have to drive home we could have visited a dozen more establishements and had each bartender greet Orlando with a smile and a cocktail.

Downtown San Jose is an enigma. There are many good restaurants and bars in a concentrated area, and it is the 3rd largest city in California behind LA and San Diego. Yet, despite all of the new construction, it is a much less desirable destination than SF or possibly even Oakland. The city is rather quiet at night and, even though they have many civic events, there is little to compel a visit – that is, unless you have a guide like Orlando.

I’ll be back to explore San Jose more. I’ve heard that Seven is a quality spot for dinner, and I am fascinated by the urban renewal. If you are thinking of visiting, I would recommend bringing your own Orlando: he has the place wired. Email me for his contact information.

The Loft Bar and Bistro 90 S 2nd St San Jose, CA (408) 291-0677
Capital Club Athletics 196 N 3rd St San Jose, CA (408) 292-1141
E&O Trading Company 96 S 1st St, San Jose, CA (408) 938-4100
Seven 754 The Alameda # 10, San Jose, CA (408) 280-7178

Thursday, July 13, 2006

the i/o brush

Lisette sent me information about the I/O brush, a 2004 project from researchers at the MIT Media Lab designed to stimulate children’s interest in art and computers. And, after thinking about it for a little while, I’ve decided that it is one of the coolest inventions ever.

I could try to explain what it is, but it is much easier to see for yourself. Watch the brush in action (MPEG, Quicktime) and click here to see the Discovery Channel’s report on this excellent innovation.

Bonus link: other projects from one of the creators of the i/o brush

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

the two second tent

As my friends know, I am not a camping enthusiast. In fact, my idea of roughing it in the great outdoors consists of a stay here or here. But, after seeing this advance in tent technology (sent to me by Scott via Gizmodo), I am reconsidering my position about nights under the starry skies.

The two-second two-person tent and the three-second three-person tent are offered under the Quechua brand and sold in the U.S. by Decathalon. As you might gather from the above picture, the manufacturer has found a way to simplify tent assembly. To set up camp, just toss your tent in the air. That's it. No parts to lose or complicated instructions to follow. Re-folding is a bit trickier (there are 8 steps estimated to take 15 seconds to complete), but I imagine with a little practice my readers will have no trouble.

The award-winning design (Gold, IDEA 2006 Best Product Design) is inspired by collapsible auto windshield shades and relies on two fiberglass spring hoops. The basic two-person tent is 8 feet long and 4 feet, 9 inches wide but less than 8 pounds in weight. It is constructed from polyester polyurethane, it completely waterproof and, at $69, seems like quite a bargain.

Bonus link 1: more photos of the tent in action
Bonus link 2: a real-world review providing a
strong recommendation for the three person tent

11/8 Update: The Consumer Product Safety Commission has recalled all 22,000 two and three second tents sold in the US for failing to meet flammability standards. I hope that an improved version of this innovative design returns to the market soon.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

hu-chiang dumpling house

The Hu-chiang Dumpling House opened 6 months ago in Cupertino Village, and there have been long lines waiting for tables at lunch and dinner ever since. Lisette has been hoping that we would have a chance to try it, and Sunday night, after playing 9 holes of golf with her friends at a short but still interesting executive course, we headed off for dumplings. Of course we had to wait, but our meal was worth it.

I’m certainly not a dumpling expert but I do love Xiao long bao, steamed pork-filled dumplings perfected in Shanghai and often eaten with a little vinegar and ginger. Good Xiao long boa have three essential properties: thin skin that becomes soft when properly cooked, tasty meat sometimes mixed with chives or chopped vegetables, and abundant soup that helps steam the meat inside of the dumpling and provides a juicy treat with the first bite.

The soup inside is the best part, but it also makes Xiao long bao tricky to eat. The challenge is to lift the dumpling out of the steamer and onto a Chinese soupspoon without puncturing the skin, and even for those skillful with chopsticks it can be hard. Sometimes the dumpling’s wrapper sticks to the paper that lines the bamboo steamer and the soup leaks out. This happened to me at dinner and the table felt my pain.

The menu at Hu-chiang Dumpling House lists 6 types of dumplings (some are their own invention), and we tried all six.

Hu-chiang juicy Shanghai steamed dumplings
Steamed dumpling with crab meat paste
Steamed dumpling with loofah and shrimp
Fresh shrimp dumpling with Chinese chives
Steamed dumpling with pork and cabbage
Vegetarian dumpling with mushroom

They were all tasty, but the best (in order) were the crab meat (very juicy interior and intense crab flavor), the traditional Xiao long bao and the loofah and shrimp. I’m not sure what loofah is, but it is yummy. My least favorite was the pure vegetarian as it was dry and a bit bitter.

There are a number of very positive online reviews of the HC Dumpling House including write-ups at Jatbar and Yelp. However, a common theme, echoed by Lisette’s friends, is that many of the non-dumpling menu items are average at best. We stuck to the dumplings, and with 8 per basket we had a nicely-sized meal.

My favorite Xiao long bao are from Yank Sing, a large and well-known City restaurant. But, I can’t always make it up to SF when I have a craving. I am happy to have a high-quality substitute close by, and my pescatarian friends can take advantage of the wide variety of non-meat dumplings Hu-chiang offers.

Yank Sing: 101 Spear St, San Francisco, CA (415) 957-9300
Hu-Chiang Dumpling House 10877 N. Wolfe Rd Cupertino, CA (408) 873-4813

Bonus link: I’ve heard rumors that the Shanghai Restaurant (930 Webster St, Oakland, CA (510) 465-6878) has some great Xiao long boa. Next time I’m in Oakland’s Chinatown I’ll have to stop in and find out for myself.

Monday, July 10, 2006

better butter

Elaine is a frequent contributor to (at least) one cool thing. Previously she has written about the Dining Room at the Ritz-Carlton and Banana Joe’s Pineapple Frosty. Tonight she continues the foodie theme by introducing us to a better butter. Elaine writes:

I’d had my eye on Plugrá Butter at Trader Joe’s for a while, but always refrained from getting it mostly because I’m lazy and I like the convenience of the stick format (vs. the European block-style) for easy measuring during cooking, and I was reasonably satisfied with the flavor of my typical Lucerne or Land O’ Lakes selections.

Over the July 4th weekend, during a visit to Vicky & Gary’s in Portland, I realized my folly. They stock Plugrá Butter, and I immediately noticed its rich flavor and texture. Plugrá is delicious for the same reason Mitchell’s is superior to other ice creams: it packs more fat (in fact, the name is a play on the French words meaning just that: more fat). In contrast to regular butter, which contains 80% butter fat and 20% water and milk solids, Plugrá contains 82.5% butter fat, which displaces some of the other components to improve taste and texture. The lower moisture content results in slower melting, flakier pastries, higher cakes, crisper cookies and better tasting sautés. One will note that the Recchiuti Fleur de Sel recipe provided by Joy specifies the use of butter with this high fat content. Plugrá Butter is made domestically by Keller’s Creamery,

My next project: to track down butter from Vermont Butter & Cheese Co., producers of a cultured butter. Cultured butter is the norm in Europe. It involves the addition of dairy bacteria to the sweet cream during churning, which results in the digestion of virtually all of the lactose in the cream and the production of methyl ketones that enhance the flavor of the butter. People describe the end result as intensely rich and milky, with a faint mellowness to it like a St. Andre cheese.

p.s. Portland is cool for other reasons too. We took several hikes through the Columbia River Gorge and lower Cascade Mountains and saw over 16 waterfalls, including Multnomah Falls, the second highest waterfall in the country at 620 feet. Oh yeah, the lack of sales tax is also cool.

Sunday, July 09, 2006


Last night, Mike, Joy, Lisette and I dined at Lure, a modern 34-seat restaurant that opened in San Mateo 7 months ago. We had read good reviews in San Francisco Magazine and then in the Chronicle, and we were familiar with the chef (May Lawrence) from her days at L’Amie Donia. She is chef-owner now, and we were excited to sample her coastal cuisine.

Lure is serving a summer menu, and as 4 motivated diners we tried a good portion of it. We started with corn and shrimp fritters for the table. The white corn had been perfectly roasted and the fritters were perfectly fried. They were not as heavy as you might expect and were a great way to begin the meal.

From there we enjoyed the raw menu with a “tasting of each.” The standouts were the delicate red snapper served with onion, salt and watermelon (delightfully refreshing) and the big eye tuna with mango and avocado (a divine combination). The quality of their raw fish is outstanding, and on a return visit I would not hesitate to sample their oysters.

There was one “miss” among our appetizers, though: the chilled white peach soup. It was a warm summer night and the novel soup sounded wonderful. Sadly, its strong and syrupy flavor was not the delicate taste we were hoping for.

The entrées more than made up for the disappointing soup. Lisette opted for the Alaskan Halibut, and its presentation with zucchini ribbons and an olive-raisin tapenade was lovely. Joy and I both ordered the roast quail, and we each received two quail, de-boned except for legs and wings and stuffed with cornbread stuffing. The quail was succulent and enhanced by portions of honey roasted nectarines that were too sweet by themselves but balanced the fowl and stuffing. However, it was Mike’s dish that stole the show.

Gary Michael ordered the Wild King Salmon. From the “taste of each,” I knew that Lure had some fine salmon on hand that night, but I was stunned at how perfectly cooked the entrée actually was. The fish flaked but still retained a translucence and color more like a fine smoked salmon than one that was poached. And, the flavor… amazing! Joy identified the technique as slow roasting, which basically amounts to poaching it at an extremely low heat (~200F or under) in an oven, submerged in liquid (like oil).

We seriously considered ordering more salmon for dessert, but instead we tried the actual dessert menu (good, not great). We added flights of Peller Estates ice wine that provided a nice conclusion to the meal. Included were the Resiling icewine (tastes like strawberry jam), the Vidal icewine (a more complex liquid jam) and the Cab-Franc icewine (grape jelly in a glass).

If you have read this far, you know that I really enjoyed Lure. I have one reservation, and that is the price point. Entrées range from $25 to $36 (the salmon was $28) and, except for the quail, the portions are not large. Although the wine list has nice bargains in the $30's, dinner for two at Lure is as expensive as some of San Francisco’s best restaurants. That's tough competition.

Lure: 204 2nd Ave, San Mateo, CA (650) 340-9040
Dinners Tuesday-Saturday, lunch Friday only

Saturday, July 08, 2006


Since missing it in the theater, I have been anxious to see Syriana (trailer). Now that it has been released on DVD I had the chance. For those that want to learn more about the plot, there are some detailed reviews available and the official site contains a synopsis. But, the shortest explanation is that Syriana tells 4 loosely related stories of people involed in oil and the Middle East.

In the first, Bryan Woodman (Matt Damon) is a Geneva-based energy trader seeking to secure the Syrianan Royal Family as clients. The Royal Family, meanwhile, is in transition. The Emir is stepping down and will deicide to hand his kingdom to the well-educated, progressive Prince Nassir (Alexander Siddig) who has just signed a deal with the Chinese or the younger Prince Meshal who may be more amenable to American interests.

In the second sub-plot, Connex (an American oil conglomerate) is trying to obtain regulatory approval for its purchase of Killen, a smaller Texas oil company that has just secured drilling rights in Kazakhstan. Aiding their effort is the high priced law firm Sloan Whiting, advisors to oil men everywhere. And, standing in their way is the Department of Justice and their concerns that Killen violated the US Corrupt Practices Act. Connex is desperate to secure a steady crude supply since they were displaced by Prince Nassir, a decision that Dean Whiting (Christopher Plumber) himself is seeking to undo.

In the third storyline we meet Bob Barnes (George Clooney in an Oscar-winning performance), a deep cover CIA agent that has been operating in the Middle East for more that 20 years. First a soldier in the Cold War and now a soldier in the Great War on Terror, Barnes willingness to serve his masters in Washington is unwavering. His Washington masters turn out to be less loyal to their field agents, however.

Finally, in the last sub-plot we meet Wasir and Saleem Khan and other Pakistani migrant workers manning the drilling and refining stations of Syriana. Screenwriter Stephen Gaghan (Traffic) weaves these together in a complex and compelling drama about the action necessary at the international level to secure the supply of oil. The result is both entertaining and thought provoking.

Two notes. First, the story is complex. There are dozens of characters, and much as Bob Barnes is trying to discover the real agenda by piecing information together, the viewer is left to discover the real plot by digesting snippets of conversation that always seem to be happening in the background. Second, there is one very graphic torture seen mid-way through the film. The squeamish will want to cover their eyes.

Friday, July 07, 2006

patxi’s chicago pizza

Even though the men of Guy’s Night Out are spontaneous, adventurous and never predictable, we have been known to return to our favorite restaurants on occasion. I have mentioned several in the rotation before, but last night we visited one I have yet to reference: Patxi’s Chicago Pizza. If you like real deep dish pizza, especially in the Giordano’s tradition, you need to know about Patxi’s.

Patxi’s was started 2 years by some folks who had been at Zachary’s. Those who have dined at the legendary East Bay pizzeria appreciate that it is home to the best Chicago-style pies in the Bay Area, or at least that is what I used to think. Now that I have had dozens of delicious pizzas from Patxi’s, I’m not so sure that Zach’s is still king.

Patxi’s serves salad (I enjoy the Greek) and thin crust pizza, but the only reason to go is for the deep dish. We usually get the Special (sausage, mushroom, onion, green pepper combo) and modify the Veggie (mushrooms, onions, green peppers) by replacing the olives with spinach. The busy kitchen is open so you can watch as your dough is tossed and formed in the deep-dish pan. Then it is covered in cheese, toppings, more cheese and a thick tomato sauce that neither too sweet nor tangy. 25 minutes later your 2-inch deep pie is delivered to your table, and a blissful food coma is sure to follow.

Patxi’s first location was in Palo Alto, but they have opened a second in Hayes Valley for your dining convenience.

Patxi’s: 441 Emerson St, Palo Alto, CA (650) 473-9999
Patxi’s: 511 Hayes St, San Francisco, CA (415) 558-9991

Bonus link:
Little Star Pizza in the Western Addition has been getting rave reviews

Thursday, July 06, 2006

my 200th post

(at least) one cool thing has reached another milestone: the 200th post. Since starting, I’ve had more than 30,000 page hits, earned a 5-digit technorati rank and, much more importantly, developed a readership of old friends and new. And, since my 100th post recap, the frequency and quality of comments has increased (I love comments!), and I’ve been fortunate to receive 15 new guest contributions.

Guest posts: Honey, Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me, A Better SD Memory Card, MAME, MiMe’s Café, Ino Sushi, Coinstar, Adventure Games, Talbot’s Toyland, Stokke Strollers, Banana Joe’s Pineapple Frosty, Burnout Revenge, A Sausalito Getaway, Primer, Fleur de Sel Caramels

Topics I’ve covered in posts 101 - 199 include popular culture, design and, of course, food.

Music: Guggenheim Grotto, Gabriel and Dresden, St. Lawrence String Quarter, David Poe, Soundtrack for a Story Evening, More Mellow Songs for a Rainy Night, Love Vigilantes, 80’s Covers, Nerdcore Rap, 45s From My Youth, A New iMix

All the President’s Men, Thank You For Smoking, Dodgeball, John Cusack

Jungle, PBS On-Demand Video, TV Funhouse, Secrets of the Sexes, The Wire, Frontline – The Dark Side, No Direction Home, The Dog Whisperer

Music Used in TV Ads, Bollywood Fandango, I Pinch, European Car Commercials

Mobile Movies, San Francisco International Film Festival, Vertical Challenge Helicopter Air Show, Pride Weekend, Independence Day

TurboTax, Freeware, Skype, American Airlines Mastercard, Cheaper Long Distance

The Jerker Desk, Frank Gehry for Tiffany, Heavy Duty Wall Hooks, Pineapple Slicer, Affordable Design, Design Within Reach Sale

The web:
Digg, 511 Traffic, The Evolution of Dance,, The Week in Photos

Pimpstar Rims, The ThinkPad T60, “Pimpstar” Fans, Backing Up a DVD

BBQ ribs at Lozano’s, Parmigiano-Reggiano, Bonne Maman Peach Preserves, Crab Cakes, Bread Pudding, Gelato at La Copa Loca, Pink Grapefruit Yogurt, Fuku Wa Puku Puku, Lobster Roll at the Creamery, Cream Puffs, Fromage d’Affinois, The 24 Hour Omelet, Tapas, Goat Gouda, Cheese from Spain

Millbrae Pancake House, Mantra, Dosa, Fresca, Ozumo, Everett & Jones BBQ, Texas Smokehouse BBQ

And, some subjects that are harder to classify:
Tamba Hali, Sam, Sleep, 24 - The Summer Season, Curing the Hiccups, Presidents and A**holes, Must-Read New Yorker Articles

I hope that you have enjoyed many of these and I thank you for your support as I work on the next 100 entries.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

cheese from spain

Mike, Joy, Lisette and I had glorious cheese this evening. We enjoyed some selections I have mentioned before (goat gouda, Pierre Robert) and some new cheese I have not yet discussed. In the latter category were two nice offerings from France: St. Nectaire, an uncooked, semi-soft monestary cheese made from the milk of cows that graze on volcanic flora at an elevation of 3000 feet; and, Mimolette Isigny, an aged hard cheese similar to Dutch Edam but with a sharper flavor and a distinctive bright orange color. But, the stars of the evening were two from Spain: Monte Enebro and a young Mahón.

Monte Enebro is a creamy, soft-ripened goat's milk cheese created by legendary producer Rafael Baez. Limited in production, it comes from Avila (south-west of Madrid) and is made from the milk from the valley’s goatherds. It is inoculated with penicillin mold and cave cured, added steps that produce an extraordinarily rich and tangy flavor. The Oakville Grocery stocks it, and I imagine other fine cheese stores do as well.

Mahón is a cow’s milk cheese from Menorca, one of the Baleraric Islands. Made using traditional methods from milk that is naturally acidic, the semi-firm cheese is fruity and intense in flavor. Finished with a paprika and oil rubbed rind, the cheese also has slight saltiness making it wonderfully versatile . The Mahón we had is younger in age and was obtained from Piazza’s Fine Foods.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

independence day

I had another topic in mind, but when I saw these of images of fireworks this evening I had to post them. The photos were taken from the Iwo Jima Marine Corps War Memorial in Arlington, Virginia looking back across the Potomac River to the Washington Monument and the Mall. The photographer is Molly Riley of Reuters.

If you are in the DC area during the summer on a Tuesday evening I strongly suggest a detour to the Marine War Memorial for the Sunset Parade, a one hour performance by the Drum and Bugle Corps ("the Commandant's Own") and the Silent Drill Platoon. My parents must have taken me dozens of times as young child, and of the many wonderful things you can do in Washington during the summer, the Sunset Parade is at the top of my list.

Monday, July 03, 2006

must-read articles

I had planned on something a little lighter for today’s cool thing, but this morning The New Yorker posted the online content for next week’s issue (July 10). In it are three must-read articles, two of which are available at the If you have some time, perhaps tomorrow during the Independence Day holiday, I would also recommend a forth, from the current July 3 issue. Links follow.

2006-07-10 issue, posted 2006-07-03

David Remmick: Comment
Nattering Nabobs (The Administration’s war with the Times)

Seymour Hersh: Annals of National Security
Last Stand (The military’s problem with the President’s Iran policy)

Lawrence Wright: A Reporter at Large
The Agent (How 9/11 might have been prevented)
Note: this article is not available online, but an
interview with the author is

2006-07-03 issue, posted 2006-06-26

Jane Mayer: Letter from Washington
The Hidden Power (The legal mind behind the White House’s war on terror)

Sunday, July 02, 2006

the dog whisperer

I’ve written about The New Yorker before (here and here), and I have written about South Park before (here), but I never thought I would write about both in the same post. Well, thanks to Cesar Millan that has changed.

Cesar Millan is very much a man of the moment. Better known as “the dog whisperer,” Cesar stars in his own television show Friday nights on the National Geographic channel and runs the Dog Psychology Center. Cesar has also authored the top-selling advice book in the country (amazon) , has twelve DVDs for sale and was featured in the New York Times. Grabbing the attention of (at least) one cool thing, Cesar was recently profiled by Malcolm Gladwell in The New Yorker and immortalized by Trey and Matt on South Park.

Work has impacted my casual reading, so it was only last night that I picked up the May 22, 2006 issue of my favorite magazine and turned to “What the Dog Saw: Cesar Millan and the movements of mastery.” It’s a fascinating discussion of how dogs and people interact and the pack leader techniques Cesar uses to command the attention of our canine friends. Through his Center, Cesar provides dog “counseling” and behavior modification for desperate owners unable to control their pets.

A super trainer, Cesar is able to trace problem animal behavior to problematic owner behavior, and he works with his clients to correct the mixed signals that are confusing their pets. As always, Gladwell’s writing is crisp and insightful. The article is available unofficially here, but I encourage you to read this companion interview with Gladwell and Gladwell’s blog where he discusses some of the controversy surrounding Cesar’s techniques.

Not ones to miss big trends in popular culture, South Park devoted the May 3 episode to the dog whisper, and when I discovered this today I immediately downloaded “Tsst” from iTunes. (It is hard to beat the convenience and the $1.99 price.) Unfortunately, iTunes video is limited in resolution (320x240), but the prorgam looked pretty good full screen from a few feet away on my 17” LCD . More importantly, it is a great episode.

If you are a Cartman fan, and who among us isn’t, you will love that it is devoted entirely to Eric’s antics. Unable to control her son, Cartman’s mom finally seeks professional help in the form reality TV shows. First the nanny from Nanny 911, and then, when she fails, it is Super Nanny to the rescue. Cartman is strong though, so as a last resort enter the dog whisperer doing some of his best work. “Don’t reason with it, don’t argue with it, just dominate it.”

Bonus link 1: download this 2 minute clip of South Park “Tsst”
Bonus link 2: watch any of 35 clips from Cesar’s TV show

Saturday, July 01, 2006

design within reach sale

Design Within Reach is having a sale on select items. My favorite discounted products are:

Bedside Saddle

A nice alternative (or compliment) to a nightstand, the bedside saddle can organize items that often end up on the floor. An exclusive DWR product, it is on sale for $39.95 instead of $88.

Russel Wright “Bamboo” Vase

Russel Wright
was a pioneer of American modern design, and in the 1930’s he created a series of vases. They have been re-issued under exclusive license, and they are offered through Design Within Reach. Normally $225, the 9” tall “Bamboo” vase is on sale for $79.95.