Sunday, December 31, 2006

the year in review

A year has past since the start of (at least) one cool thing, and 378 posts, 40,000 visitors and 60,000 page hits later I am still enjoying sharing my discoveries with new friends and old. I have been delighted to receive 26 guest contributions and hundreds of comments, and I hope to get many more next year.

Posting daily has occasionally been a bit of a chore, especially after Thursday nights with the guys, but what I have learned has been worth the effort. For the new year, my posting frequency will decrease but perhaps the quality will increase to compensate.

So, as we exit 2006 and ring in 2007 I wanted to wish everyone a Happy New Year and thank you for your readership and support. I also wanted to recap the year that has past with a breakdown by topic of former cool things of the day:

Annual events: Chinese New Year, San Francisco International Film Festival, Sam, Vertical Challenge Helicopter Air Show, Pride Weekend, Independence Day, Pickles, Fantasy of Lights, Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir Christmas Concert (thanks Emmanuel) and Christmas Eve at Yoshi’s

Art and photography:
Flickr, Picasa, Amazing Astronomical Images, Neat Image, the week in photos, A Better SD Memory Card (thanks Warren), Monet in Normandy, Photoshop Tutorials, HDR Photography (thanks Don), Photo Tips via Lifehacker, Gorillapod and Fan Ho

Bay Area activities:
Año Nuevo, Pescadero, NUMMI, the rosicrucian egyptian museum (thanks Bill), Mobile Movies, Outdoor Movies, San Jose with Orlando, USS Hornet, USS Pampanito, SLAC and the SF Asian Art Museum

Consumer products:
Downey ball, slippers, Gillette Fusion, woven dental floss, thorlo socks, Epson scanner, cheaper long distance, FlossAction Brush Heads and a Pineapple Slicer

Ikea, Herman Yu Design, Design Resources on the Web, Bay Area Design Resources, desk chairs, Lemon Twist, The Jerker Desk, Frank Gehry for Tiffany, Heavy Duty Wall Hooks, Affordable Design, Design Within Reach, 2 Second Tent, I/O Brush, IDEO, One Bush Street, Bikinis and the iPod,

Santa Barbara, A Sausalito Getaway (thanks Scott), Vegas and Hoover Dam

Food: see
yesterday’s long reset

Games and toys:
Set (thanks Scott), Adventure Games (thanks Julie), Talbot’s Toyland (thanks Bill), Burnout Revenge (thanks Mike), MAME (thanks Warren), Presidents and A**holes, RC Chevy Silverado and the Hot Wheels Radar Gun

Nike CPR Hybrid, HMB Golf Links and the Stanford Golf Course

The Complete New Yorker, Must-Read New Yorker Articles, Top 10 Lists on, The Week Magazine, The Onion, SF Magazine, August 28 New Yorker and Spore.

Weeping Camel, Winged Migration, Mostly Martha, Infernal Affairs, Mad Hot Ballroom, Curse of the Were Rabbit, Grain in Ear, All the President’s Men, Thank You For Smoking, Dodgeball, Primer (thanks Scott), Syriana, Fearless, The Prestige, Clean, V for Vendetta, Lucky Number Slevin, Happy Feet (thanks Scott) and Curse of the Golden Flower,

Movie lists:
Ang Lee, Wong Kar Wai, Hayao Miyazaki, John Cusack, Top 5 Science Fiction Movies and Bond Girls

Music artists:
Lou Rawls, Johnny Hartman, Anton Kuerti, Guggenheim Grotto, Gabriel and Dresden, St. Lawrence String Quarter, David Poe, Iron and Wine, Jeff Klein, Elvis Costello, Silversun Pickups, Charles Brown, Retrobyte, Teitur, Tobias Froberg, Death Cab for Cutie, Elliott Smith (thanks Scott), Xzibit, Natalie Merchant, Brooke Ramel, Lindsey Buckingham, Prince in Las Vegas, Joe Newman and Damien Rice

Music blogs and web sites:
Hype Machine, Motel de Moka, Songs Illinois, Free iTunes, Riding East and Concert Bootlegs

Music mixes:
Soundtrack for a Story Evening, More Mellow Songs for a Rainy Night, 80’s Covers, 45s From My Youth, A New iMix, Summer Sambas, 12-inch Singes from Grad School, Top 5 Artists from the 70s, A Swinging Christmas and Cool Christmas Blues

Music lyrics:
Nerdcore Rap and The Crane Wife

Radio and web radio:
Launchcast v Pandora, KCRW, Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me (thanks Mike) and Pete Tong

Short films and viral video:
Lazy Sunday, Microsoft Designs the iPod, A Day in the Life of Natalie Portman, The Evolution of Dance, Guitar, Mentos and Diet Coke, OK Go, My Animated Day, In God We Trust, Superficial Friends, Shawshank in a Minute, Animusic, A Special Christmas Box, d7tv and the JibJab Year in Review

TrueCrypt, Skype, Yahoo! Widgets, Freeware, Cleartype, Firefox PlayTagger, iTunes 7, Cleaning MP3 Tags, Tweaks For Your New Computer, Keyboard Shortcuts and Backing Up a DVD

Tamba Hali, You’re With Me, Leather, Fat Steve, The Bunny and the Cougar and NoKa Chocolates

the Roomba (thanks Don), Coinstar (thanks Tom), Google WiFi, The ThinkPad T60 and “Pimpstar” Fans

Television: Jungle, PBS On-Demand Video, TV Funhouse, Secrets of the Sexes, The Wire, Frontline – The Dark Side, No Direction Home, The Dog Whisperer, Aquaman, Top 11 Chappelle Show Sketches, Studio 60, Arrested Development (thanks Scott), Rome, Hacking Democracy and Festivus

Television Commercials:
Music Used in TV Ads, Bollywood Fandango, I Pinch, European Car Commercials, I Walk the Line and Lo-Def Productions

Pimpstar Rims, Fuel Cell Buses, Cleaner-Burning Vehicles, Stokke Strollers (thanks Warren), Z4 Coupe, Red Victor 1, Bond Cars, Cars from Tokyo Drift, Raytheon Hawker and the Eclipse 500 VLJ

Web sites and the web:
flavorpill, Pandafix, Shiny Shiny, KeepVid, Digg, 511 Traffic, The Satorialist, Stumbleupon, Scam-baiting Wikipedia, Sigalert Traffic Information, 2007 iPod Buyer’s Guide,, Top “Undiscovered Web Sites, Ig Nobel Prizes,, Wallpaper and the Whitney Music Box

And, finally, a gift appropriate for all occasions, a donation to Heifer International (thanks Meg).

Saturday, December 30, 2006

the year in food

SF Chronicle restaurant critic Michael Bauer just published his Top 10 new restaurants of 2006, a companion to April’s Top 100 list. Making the grade are former cool things of the day Tres Agaves, Ame, Kaygetsu, Dosa, NOPA and Coi as well as Redd and Ad Hoc in Napa and Poleng Lounge and Terzo in San Francisco. Inspired by Mr. Bauer, I thought I would recap my year in food.

(at least) one cool thing recommended a number of other new establishments: Range (a 2005 Bauer pick), Bartolotta (in Vegas), Shabuway, Gochi, Old Port Lobster Shack, Mantra, Lure, Hu-Chiang Dumplings, Liou’s House, Blue Agave, The Counter, Nihon Whiskey Lounge, Maverick, Tai Pan and the Mission location of Little Star. Mantra changed chefs and Blue Agave in Fremont folded, but everywhere else seems to be thriving.

Old favorites received their share of attention too: La Bodeguita del Medio, Fiesta del Mar, Sakae Sushi, Ti Couz, Nobu (in Vegas), Uncle Frank’s BBQ, Tamarine, Pizza Antica, Pancho Villa, The Creamery, Patxi’s Pizza, Koi Palace, Incanto and Quince.

I was fortunate to be able to try places others have been raving about: Maravilla (in Ojai), Chris’s Fish and Chips, Santa Ramen, Millbrae Pancake House, Fresca, Everett & Jones BBQ, Texas Smokehouse BBQ, Pizzeria Pico and Thanh Long. And, in two cases, restaurants I thought were good but not great vaulted into a more exalted category thanks to outstanding meals: Ozumo and Sushi Sam’s.

Coverage extended beyond restaurants. To Stuart’s delight, I discussed cheese: Brillat-Savarin, Parmigiano-Reggiano, Fromage d’Affinois, Goat Gouda and Cheese from Spain. Oddly for those who know me, I mentioned things purchased in a supermarket: Bonne Maman Peach Preserves, Crab Cakes, White Nectarines, Pink Grapefruit Yogurt and Dr. Bob’s Ice Cream.

Reviews included specialty items like: cannele, Ice Cream at Fenton's, Mitchell's and Rick's, Gelato at La Copa Loca, Cream Puffs at Beard Papa, Chocolates at Cocoa Bella, Fuku Wa Puku Puku and Mac Pie. And, special events like Tapas and Chocolate Tasting.

Of course, what is life without tasty beverages like: Moet & Chandon, pomegranate juice, Italian wine, Turley Zin, sake, Paul Hobbs Cabernet, Smith Woodhouse Port, White Tea Snapple and Sambazon Acai Smoothies.

Finally, there were the recipes: Bread Pudding, The 24 Hour Omelet, Pumpkin Cheesecake, and Butternut Squash Soup. And, my favorite category of all, the guest contributions: Dining Room at the Ritz Carlton, Honey, MiMe’s Café, Ino Sushi, Banana Joe’s Pineapple Frosty, Fleur de Sel Caramels, Better Butter, and the Pomegranate Martini.

My thanks to all of my lunch and dinner companions, guest contributors, event organizers, recipe testers and inspirers for a very delicious 2006!

1/3 update: the San Jose Mercury News published a list of their favorite meals in 2006. Among the listed are Gochi, Old Port Lobster Shack and (not surprisingly) Manresa

Friday, December 29, 2006

tai pan

Tai Pan in Palo Alto.  from left: peking duck; seafood bisque with puff pastty; spicy tofu with seafoodLast night the guys returned to Tai Pan. It was our second visit to the gorgeous, upscale Chinese restaurant that replaced Hong Kong Flower Lounge in Palo Alto late last year, and I suspect we will add it to our regular rotation.

Tai Pan features innovative, modern dishes prepared in a Hong Kong style. Michael Bauer has written extensively about some of his favorites, and almost everything we have tried has been excellent. The one exception was the frog in clay pot that we had in November: it was tasty enough but it has a bad bone to meat ratio.

Dishes that were new to us that we really enjoyed include: the wonderfully rich seafood jewels bisque crusted with perfectly flakey puff pasty; a seafood madras in a light curry reminiscent of the three squash curry at Tamarine; and, the two taste flounder about which Mr. Bauer raved. There are many more on the extensive menu that we are eager to try like the Venison in brown sauce.

The very helpful and attentive staff at Tai Pan has guided us well, but don’t overlook the classic dishes either. As I hope the photos suggest, each is prepared with the freshest ingredients and has a taste that justifies its price.

Tai Pan has a very nice wine list. We’ve had a half case of an excellent Chenin Blanc thus far, and last night we also enjoyed port with our desserts. Tai Pan offers a steamed mochi-like ball with black sesame paste that is delicious, but our favorite was the mango pudding. With wine and dessert, expect to pay $50 per person.

Tai Pan: 560 Waverley St, Palo Alto, CA (650) 329-9168
Tai Pan in Palo Alto.  from left: crispy noodles with seafood; mango pudding; pea sprouts with garlic

Thursday, December 28, 2006

mac pie

Elaine and Don were just in Hawaii and they were kind enough to bring me back a very special treat: Mac Pie. I had never had Macadamia nut pie before, but consultations with friends confirm that it is a rare and prized dessert on the Islands. Now that I have tasted it, I can understand why. It is quite decadent.

I could try to describe the elements of its deliciousness, but the Mac Pie website does a better job:

Mac Pie is fashioned after Sheila's grandmother's traditional southern chess pie using the favored local macadamia nuts with other premium island ingredients. Maui raw sugar, fresh Hawaiian eggs, fresh creamery butter, along with pure doublefold vanilla and a light dusting of macaroon coconut combine to make a unique, most irresistible pie, unequaled anywhere. Mac Crust, our exclusive handmade butter macadamia nut crust alone will tempt you to experience for yourself and conclude what Sheila's friends confirm--"It's the best pie I've ever tasted!"
They ship throughout the US and offer four main flavors: original, Kona coffee, maple, and butterscotch. Original, coffee and butterscotch are also available with chocolate chips.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

investigative journalism

NoKa chocolate is the most expensive in the world. With prices that can exceed $1000 a pound for simple squares and basic ganache-filled truffles, it is more than 15 times the price of the fanciest offerings from Godiva, Joseph Schmidt, Michael Recchiuti and La Maison du Chocolat.

What is so special about NoKa? According to the site, the secret is NoKa’s single origin 75% cacao with no added flavors, resulting in “the most exquisite chocolates to ever grace the palate.” The UK’s Taste agrees as they named NoKa the world’s #1 chocolate. Luxury retailers like Nieman Marcus have taken note and sell NoKa in their stores and online.

But how is it that 2 former accountants in Plano, Texas are able to compete with the finest from France and Belgium? A blogger in Dallas decided to find out and his results are astonishing. In a 10-part web article for Dallas Food, Scott answer the question, “What is NoKa Worth?

I highly recommend reading it in its entirety for the NoKa story (hint: this may be the best piece of investigative journalism I seen all year) and for what you will learn about chocolate. Scott explains where chocolate is grown, how it processed, what couverture is, and how chocolatiers like Recchiuti, Jacques Torres and Norman Love and use couverture for their creations. Scott also provides lots of link and recommendations both for chocolate and for online sourcing.

Read the article

Bonus info: US retailers that carry Amedei. There are 2 in San Francisco

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

koi palace

from left: XLB, shrimp with spinach, steamed pork buns Koi Palace isn’t a new discovery but it is my favorite dim sum spot. I’ve been a dozen times, and it is popular with both the critics (the Michelin Guide mentions it favorably and Michael Bauer slots it his Top 100) and the crowds.

Koi Palace seats more than 400 but remains packed from early morning forward. Even on Chowhound, where controversy is a staple, there is consensus that Koi Palace serves the best dim sum.

frm left: shrimp with banana, pan friend shrimp with green onion, duck burritos Our long weekend provided and good opportunity to return and Koi Palace remains as tasty as ever. If you haven’t been in a while or, more tragically, if you have never been, plan a pilgrimage and follow these tips:

1) order from a waiter. The carts are tasty, but some of the freshest, hottest and best items will never make it to your table without a little help
2) get lots of dumplings. The steamed shrimp and spinach (top center) and the pan fried shrimp and green onion (center center) are especially tasty
3) bring friends so you can try more things and still have room for dessert( bottom)
4) call ahead the morning you are going to get a number - and remember where you learned this valuable inside tip when you speed ahead of the hungry masses who have been waiting for an hour or more

Koi Palace dim sum menu

Chinese donuts and custard-filled pineapple buns
Koi Palace: 365 Gellert Blvd, Daly City, CA (650) 992-9000

Monday, December 25, 2006

Joyeux Noël

Joyeux Noël from Marie-Michèle Desrosiers (

Sunday, December 24, 2006

christmas eve at yoshi's

Tonight Elaine, Don, Lisette and I decided to head over to Yoshi’s to hear the very talented Clairdee (official site). For the past 5 years Clairdee has performed a special Christmas Eve concert, following a tradition Charles Brown helped establish. With Brown’s bassist Ruth Davies on upright and a set list highlighting “Merry Christmas Baby” and closing with a raucous “Ringing in a Brand New Year” it felt like Mr. Brown was with us smiling and signing.

Clairdee has been signing jazz all her life. Influenced by greats like Johnny Hartman, Joe Williams and Nat King Cole, she shares their smooth style and knows how to make a song her own. This was certainly evident is the beautiful Frank Loesser tune “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve” and his playful “Baby It’s Cold Outside.” She also studied Betty Carter and Nancy Wilson, and she made it clear that she shares their gifts of phrasing and power.

On stage with her tonight was an all-star local lineup: Ken French and Jon Herbst on piano and keyboards; Ruth Davies on bass; Jim Zimmerman on drums; John Hoy on guitar; and Rich Armstrong (myspace) with additional vocals, trumpet, flugelhorn and 20 different percussion devices. I love her voice, I love her band, and I thank Clairdee for sharing her Christmas with us.

In 2003 she released a holiday music album that will become one of your Christmas favorites. Especially beautiful is John Herbst’s instrumental arrangement of Horace Silver’s Peace. An instrumental is an odd selection for a singer’s CD, but it speaks to her confidence and love of music that she showcased this pretty and moving song.

Peace (iTunes, Amazon)

Bonus link: Don’t overlook 2005’s excellent Music Moves (iTunes, Amazon)
recorded live at Yoshi’s

Bonus event: Clairdee at Michael Mina New Year’s Eve

Saturday, December 23, 2006

happy festivus

As Seinfeld fans know, the characters were shallow, self-obsessed, largely amoral and generally unlikable people. The show’s genius was that they combined to produce some of the funniest moments in television (“sponge-worthy,” “master of your domain,” etc.).

A benefit of its nine season run was that the characters became well-developed; none more so that George. His parents were regulars, and the many events from his childhood that turned him into a stingy, deceitful and neurotic adult were recounted. The most classic is in the above clip as it explains the story of Festivus.

Festivus is a holiday invented by George’s father and celebrated on December 23. Its traditions include the Festivus pole, the airing of grievances and the feats of strength. Through the magic of YouTube, all of the Festivus parts of the episode “The Strike” are in the above clip. Wikipedia has more Festivus details for the curious.

Bonus link: for more twisted holiday humor, don’t overlook South Park’s The Spirit of Christmas (now back on YouTube). This not safe for work or children precursor to the TV show is as humorous as it is irreverent. Thanks to SFist for the reminders.

Friday, December 22, 2006

curse of the golden flower

Chow Yun Fat as Emperor Ping in Curse of the Golden FlowerZhang Yimou (imdb) garnered critics’ praise with his nuanced historical dramas (Ju Dou, Raise the Red Lantern and The Story of Qiu Ju) and then secured wider audiences with his martial arts epics (Hero and House of Flying Daggers). With Curse of the Golden Flower (official site, press site) he returns to the style that made him China’s foremost director without forsaking his interest in creating legendary action sequences.

Curse of the Golden Flower is set 10th century during the Tang Dynasty. Emperor Ping (Chow Yun Fat) returns unexpectedly to the Imperial Palace with his second son (Jay Chou) to join the rest of his family for the important Chrysanthemum Festival. The Palace, recreated in stunning color and grandeur, is home to Empress Phoenix (Gong Li), the Crown Prince Wan (Ye Liu) and the Emperor’s third and youngest son (Qin Junjie). However, the beauty of the Palace and the lavish preparations for the Chrysanthemum Festival cannot conceal the trouble within the family

The plot is captivating. Zhang Yimou’s adaptation of a famous Chinese story unfolds with Shakespearean or Sophoclean drama. The costumes and sets are stunning. Their vivid color, detail and scale are almost indescribable. The visual effects are amazing. More than 1000 extras were employed and the wire tricks are unlike anything ever attempted. But, what makes Curse of the Golden Flower a must-watch film are the performances from Gong Li and Chow Yun Fat.

Chow Yun Fat developed his international reputation projecting power with a gun in stylish gangster films like John Woo’s The Killer, Hard-Boiled and A Better Tomorrow. Under Zhang Yimou’s direction, he shows that his immense acting abilities have only increased. Every movement and expression conveys the force of Emperor Ping’s resolve.

Gong Li rose to stardom together with Zhang Yimou (with whom she had been romantically linked) in Ju Dou, Raise the Red Lantern and The Story of Qiu Ju. They have not made a movie together since To Live, and this actress/director reunion was highly anticipated. It does not disappoint, as Gong Li gives the Empress a strength that matches her husbands. Despite her period costumes that accentuates her curves, it is her eyes that the viewer can’t stop watching.

Curse of the Golden Flower opened today in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco, and I highly recommended it. Distributor Sony Picture has scheduled a full US release for January 12.

Gong Li as Emperess Phoenix in Curse of the Golden Flower

Thursday, December 21, 2006

oakland interfaith gospel choir

Emmanuel is my business partner and an important muse for (at least) one cool thing. Tonight, he steps into the role of guest author as he shares one of his favorite American Christmas traditions.

Every year on Christmas Eve, the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir has a special performance at Slim’s. Although Slim’s is a nightclub, which might seem like a strange venue for a choir, this is an event for the whole family. We have been 3 or 4 previous years, and this Sunday will be attending their 21st Christmas Concert with our 6 year old and his grandmother.

The full choir, 55 vocalists strong, cannot fit on Slim’s stage, so a smaller subset will do the 2 shows (at 7pm and 9.30pm). Despite the reduction in force, the ensemble packs full energy and their joyous vibe quickly permeates everyone in the audience. It is impossible to resist joining in signing and moving and being filled with Christmas cheer.

Tickets are available at and are $15.00

Slims: 333 11th Street (@ Folsom) San Francisco, CA

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

concert bootlegs

Music artist have widely varying policies regarding taping live performances. Some prohibit it completely; others assist it by letting tapers patch in to the soundboard. Many are somewhere in between and are to open to fan-created recordings as long as the tapes are for personal use and trading. (View a large list of bands that allow some form of recording.)

Similarly, taping rules can vary by venue and by country. In Europe, for example, laxer copyright laws have allowed companies to sell unauthorized concert records for profit. In the US, lawful bootleg exchange is confined to trading, and there are numerous websites that facilitate this. Examples are band-specific sites like The Counting Crows and more general ones like DAT-Heads. If you are just starting out, though, trading can hard as newbies have little to offer. Fortunately, there are some other alternatives.

As I mentioned when I wrote about Death Cab for Cutie, the Internet Archive hosts lossless files from concerts. They have recordings from 2,200 bands and 35,000 shows. (Search the Internet Archive. Read more about the history and legality of bootlegging.)

For those searching for artists not on, my friend James writes in with two other suggestions. James is a serious music lover with catholic taste. While shopping in Berkeley, he discovered Riff Raff Recording on Haste at Telegraph in front of the old Cody’s. Riff Raff was formed by music lovers to ease the friction in trading, and they have more than 1,000 live blues, R&B, funk, indie, alternative and rock shows from the 1960s forward available for trade or supplies (or the monetary equivalent of supplies).

James picked up 6 shows by very famous artists whose live bootlegs are quite hard to come by and he reports back that the sound quality is excellent. These guys love live music. Check them out Wednesday – Sunday, 1-6p.

In his “notes from the field,” James also reports on a developing legal dispute over the concerts in Wolfgang’s Vault. William Sagan bought memorabilia and live recordings from “Wolfgang” Bill Graham’s estate. He is selling the memorabilia and giving 320 concerts for free download.

On Monday, artists from bands including Santana, Led Zeppelin and Grateful Dead filed suit to shut down Wolfgang’s Vault. In the case of the bootlegs, it will be interesting to see this unfold as Sagan owns what BGP had permission to record and Sagan is not distributing them for profit. James didn’t offer a legal opinion on the case. (See the full list of concerts; fans top 100. Free registration required for download.)

Finally, James is a very avid concert attendee. It was his decision to see Wolfmother that allowed me to see Damien Rice, and one day I hope he will submit a regular post listing his top picks for the coming month. Today, we have the James-endorsed concert calendar for the rest of the 2006:

Tomorrow 12/21: Popscene’s Holiday Party with Silversun Pickups. 9:30p ($10)
Fri12/22 and Sat 12/23: Vienna Teng at
The Independent. 9p ($20)
Sunday 12/24: Yoshi’s 5th Annual
Christmas Show with Clairdeee. 7p ($16) 9p ($10)
Saturday 12/30: The Flaming Lips and Gnarls Barkley at the
Civic. 8p ($55)
Saturday 12/30: Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven at
The Independent. 9p ($23)

Perhaps James will also share his concert-finding secrets. For now you’ll have to be content with the sites I use: SonicLiving, Flavorpill, and the SF Weekly.

Bonus link: shaky video of The Flaming Lips covering Gnarls Barkley’s Crazy

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

a special christmas box

I’ve posted SNL Digital Shorts before: Lazy Sunday, A Day in the Life of Natalie Portman, and TV Funhouse. So, given my recent fixation on all things holiday related, it is natural that I post the latest. A warning: headphones or lower volumes are best when listening if your boss or your kids are around. And, yes, the other vocalist is Justin Timberlake.

A sign of the times: Media companies are getting savvier about the internet. Ten months ago NBC issued takedown notices for Lazy Sunday. However, the above clip was added to YouTube by NBC themselves. Perhaps they are learning from CBS who has used YouTube to boost Late Show ratings 5%.

Monday, December 18, 2006


Wallpaper. No, not the magazine, although it is cool – the kind you use as a background image decorate your desktop.

Yesterday I was looking for images for my swinging and cool blues Christmas music posts, and I visited mandolux for inspiration. Mando, the photographer, is a very skilled professional in Southern California, and Mandolux, the site, hosts his selections of beautiful, eccentric pictures sized for desktops. The hi-quality images are cropped for 1, 2 and sometimes even 3 or 4 monitor displays of all resolutions, including widescreen. You could spend an hour or more browsing the archive.

Despite my stylish nature, I have a boring blue desktop. However, in a strange coincidence, lifehacker featured mandolux and I decided to spruce up my monitor. There are so many good choices – like this one or this one or this one or this one or this one. I selected this one and adjusted the appearance property to match.

A nice thing about the lifehacker story is that there were great comments suggesting additional sites for desktop backgrounds. Some of the best are:

MacDesktops: 1000s of user-submitted images
Images from the Hubble space telescope
: slow to load but it is worth it

Perhaps you will find something you like.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

cool christmas blues

Some of the finest Christmas albums ever made are blues albums. Here are three of the best:

Charles Brown – Cool Christmas Blues (1994) (iTunes) Recorded at Russian Hill Studios, it doesn’t get any cooler than this. I loved listening to Charles Brown sing, and this album showcases many of his own songs: “Santa’s Blues,” “Christmas Comes But Once a Year,” “Stay With Me,” “To Someone That I Love,” and “Please Come Home for Christmas.”

Santa’s Blues

B.B. King – A Christmas Celebration of Hope (2001) (iTunes) Produced to raise money for The City of Hope, this is B.B. King at his finest, laid back guitar and gritty vocals. The song selection is perfect: the beautiful “Christmas is Heaven;” three songs written by Charles Brown; and, some blues favorites like “Back Door Santa” (he’ll make the women happy while the men are out at play).

Please Come Home for Christmas

Lou Rawls – Merry Christmas Baby (2006) (iTunes) Capitol Records has just re-released this 1967 masterpiece along with 7 cuts from 1993’s Christmas is the Time and 2 songs from his final recording session. All of the classics are here, presented in Mr. Rawls’ smooth, bluesy style.

Little Drummer Boy

Charles and Lou - you are missed

Saturday, December 16, 2006

a swinging christmas

The holidays are prime party season, so I thought I would share some of my jazz favorite CDs sure to match the mood.

Ella Fitzgerald – Wishes You a Swinging Christmas (1960) (iTunes) The best jazz voice ever combines with perfect arrangements to make this a must own album. It is hard to pick favorites, but if pressed: “Good Morning Blues,” “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve,” “Let It Snow,” “Frosty” and an amazing “Winter Wonderland.”

Winter Wonderland

Joe Williams – That Holiday Feeling’ (1990) (iTunes) Joe Williams sung with Count Basie and has a silky smooth baritone. For That Holiday Feeling’ he adds a serious horn section: Joe Wilder, Clark Terry, Al Grey, Bobby Watson and Frank West. It is getting harder to find but it is worth the effort.

Let It Snow!

Oscar Peterson – An Oscar Peterson Christmas (1995) (iTunes) The master on piano with David Young on Bass, Lorne Lofsky on guitar and Jeffy Fuller on drums. Dave Samuels on vibes and Jack Schantz on flugelhorn join with solos.

Away in a Manger

The Ray Brown Trio – Christmas Songs (1999) (iTunes) Bassist Ray Brown and friends swing the classics. Examples are Diana Krall on “Santa Claus is Coming to Town;” Etta James with “It Came Upon A Midnight Clear;” Dee Dee Bridgewater on “Away in a Manger;” and, Kevin Mahogany with “The Christmas Song.”

The Christmas Song

Ella, Joe and Ray – you are missed.