Friday, June 30, 2006

european car commercials

With the exception of the controversial spots that launched the Infiniti brand more than 16 years ago, US automotive ads are all about the car. Sure, there are attractive drivers, passengers and pedestrians, but the star of the advertisement, whether it is for a mini-van, SUV or sleek sports car, is the vehicle. In Europe, however, they seem to take a different approach as these 3 examples from Cartoonland (a German site) suggest.

The first is for Peugeot (screenshot above left), and is likely to appeal to the ladies. The second is for Nissan (center), and I have a suspicion my male readers will appreciate it. The final clip is for Renault (right), and it is fun for the whole family. My thanks to a friend who would rather remain anonymous for the tip on the Nissan Pathfinder “Front Independent Suspension” commercial.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

affordable design

Generate features unique lighting and accessories produced by young designers. Here are two examples of the type of products they carry:

Lazy Wall Lamp
Created by Chris Slutter, the leunlamp provides room lighting by leaning against the wall at adjustable angles. Its base is polished aluminum and its shade is polyurethane. It is 71" tall with a 5" x 5"x 5" shade. $179

Hella Jongerius Bathroom Mat This innovative bathroom mat was created by another Dutch designer, Hella Jongerius. It comes with a blue or white background and features polyurethane “water” drops to provide texture, create interest and prevent slipping. $60

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

fleur de sel caramels

fleur de sel caramels Joy made fleur de sel caramels today, and she was kind enough to prepare a package for Lisette and me. Thanks Joy! Even better than Joy’s legendary toffee, the caramels have a perfect balance of sea salt, delicious caramel and delicate chocolate. Joy suggests, “they really aren’t too hard to make.” I don’t believe her, but here is her recipe. Joy writes:

Fleur de Sel Caramels
from "Chocolate Obsession", by Michael Recchiuti & Fran Gage

flavorless vegetable oil for the pan
1 1/2 cups (10 1/2 oz) granulated cane sugar
1/2 Tahitian vanilla bean, split horizontally
1 cup (8 oz) heavy whipping cream
2 T (1 1/3 oz by weight) light corn syrup
1 T (1/2 oz) unsalted 82% butterfat butter, chilled
1/2 t fleur de sel in fine grains
tempered 61%-70% chocolate
fleur de sel for finishing

Line the bottom and sides of an 8" square baking pan with lightly oiled parchment paper.

Put the sugar in a medium heavy-bottomed pot and scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean into the pot. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the sugar melts. Continue to cook without stirring until the sugar turns dark amber, 5-6 minutes.

Meanwhile, bring the cream to a boil in a small saucepan over medium heat. When the sugar is the correct shade, stir in the corn syrup. Remove the pot from the heat and slowly pour the hot cream into the sugar a little at a time. The mixture will sputter and foam. When the bubbling subsides, return the pan to medium heat and cook undisturbed until the mixture registers 252F on a candy thermometer, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat, immediately add the butter, and stir with a wooden spoon. Add the salt and stir until evenly distributed. Pour the caramel into the prepared pan and let cool at room temperature.

Prepare a sheet pan lined with parchment paper. Invert the pan of cooled caramel onto a work surface. Peel off the parchment paper. Using a ruler as a guide, cut the caramel into 1" squares with a lightly oiled knife. Temper the chocolate and dip the squares. Place them on the prepared sheet pan. Sprinkle each square with a few grains of fleur de sel before the chocolate sets.

Store the caramels in a cool, dry place, not in the refrigerator.

Some tips: this recipe produces a luscious, soft caramel that is unfortunately rather difficult to cut cleanly. Although the instructions seem to advise against refrigeration, chilling the caramel briefly just before cutting yields neater squares with sharp edges. However, it's best to dip the individual pieces when they are at room temperature; cold caramels tend to harden the melted chocolate too fast and can ruin the tempered chocolate coat.

Because the caramels are quite rich, I like mine in 3/4" squares, coated in bitter chocolate. The fleur de sel finish is important for more than just aesthetics: the crunchy grains of salt help counterbalance the sweetness of the candy and add textural interest to the silky caramel filling.

Oh, one more tip: the dipping chocolate should be completely liquid but not at all warm to the touch; otherwise, the chocolate will melt the caramel and you'll be left with a squishy puddle where your beautiful square once was. I definitely had a few of those.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

no direction home

I’ll admit it: I’ve never been much of a Bob Dylan fan. I don’t like his voice, and I never understood why he is the object of so much worship. Martin Scorsese’s masterful No Direction Home is changing my mind, though, and I encourage you to see why. Part 1 will be re-broadcast on PBS nationally tomorrow evening, and part 2 follows on July 5.

No Direction Home (amazon) is 3 ½ hour documentary that debuted in September to great acclaim. It focuses on Dylan’s emergence and rise to stardom, first as a hero to the folk movement and then as a “sellout” when he goes electric. It covers the period between 1961 and 1966, and it tells its story with reels of expertly edited, never seen before footage. Home movies and early interviews fill in the human side of Dylan as he tries to cope with his sudden and immense fame. And, rare performance film keep the focus on the music while setting the cultural context.

Each Dylan album sold millions of copies and the lyrics were carefully studied for hidden meaning, but all but the most famous songs are unknown to most my age and younger. No Direction Home is great way to discover his mid-1960s work, and its soundtrack (amazon) contains wonderful alternate versions.

As a companion to this post I’ve created a new iMix: Dylan and Covers. I’ve selected 10 recordings from Dylan and 10 covers of his songs – that’s 20 chances to find something you like. The more famous tracks are included, but must listen to performances include:

Bob Dylan – She Belongs to Me (alternate take)
Bob Dylan - Stuck Inside of Mobile With the Memphis Blues Again
Nina Simone – Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues
Aaron Neville – With God on Our Side

No Direction Home Part 1, Wednesday, June 28 (KQED 9p)
No Direction Home Part 2: Wednesday, July 5 (KQED 9p)

Monday, June 26, 2006

a new imix

I’ve added a new iMix to iTunes: eclectic and wistful. It’s a bit more depressing thematically than I intended, but it does feature some of my favorite voices and songwriters. The selections span three decades and seven genres: blues, country, folk, indie, pop, rock and soul. I hope that you enjoy it.

Alison Krauss & James Taylor - How's the World TreatingYou
Ray Charles & Bonnie Raitt - Do I Ever Cross Your Mind?
Sly & The Family Stone - Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be)
Ernie Halter - These Arms of Mine
Al Green - Funny How Time Slips Away
Buddy Guy & John Mayer - I've Got Dreams to Remember
Norah Jones & The Peter Malick Group - Heart of Mine
Willie Nelson - The Healing Hands of Time
Son Volt - Tear-Stained Eye
Andrew Kenny & Benjamin Gibbard - Farmer Chords
Lyle Lovett - Nobody Knows Me
Cyndi Lauper & Sarah McLachlan - Time After Time
Teitur - I Was Just Thinking
David Gray - Flame Turns Blue
David Wilcox - Last Chance Waltz
Damien Rice - The Blower's Daughter
Daniel Lanois - Sonho Dourado

Sunday, June 25, 2006

backing up a dvd

At Guys Night Out, Mike mentioned that his son Adam had just broken a DVD. Unfortunately, DVDs are not childproof, and movie companies don’t offer free replacements. For the family favorites that are watched over and over again, you may want to make a backup copy.

Thanks to iTunes, most of my friends know how to rip CDs. Ideally, they would use a high quality reader (like a Plextor), rip using Exact Audio Copy (download) and, for mp3s, encode using the latest distribution of LAME (see Hydrogen Audio for recommendations), but what can you do. Backing up DVDs can be just as easy using iTunes if you follow these instructions.

First, start with high quality media that is compatible with your DVD player. Recordable DVDs come in 2 basic flavors, DVD+R and DVD-R. DVD+R is a newer standard and better for data storage. DVD-R is older and more compatible with home electronics. Retail brands like TDK, Sony and Fuji use different companies to manufacture blank media. The highest quality blanks are made in Japanese factories by Taiyo Yuden or by Maxell Japan and Mitsui under their own names. Check the label and only buy discs of Japanese origin.

Second, download and install DVD Decrypter and DVD Shrink. They are free and they work together. The first helps your computer to read the DVD you wish to back up; the second compresses a DVD-9 (a dual layer DVD) fit on a DVD-5 (a standard 4.7GB recordable DVD).

Third, insert the DVD you want to backup and launch DVD Shrink (main site). When you select “Open Disc,” Shrink does an analysis to determine necessary compression and then displays the contents of the disc. To reduce the required compression for the main feature, you can increase the compression ratio for extras, remove unnecessary language tracks and drop features altogether – or you can just accept the default recommendations.

When the compression ratios are just right, hit “Backup” to use your DVD burner to produce a copy or write an ISO to your hard drive to be burned later. The software is very easy to use, and although the compression and encoding can take an hour or more, all of the work can happen unattended. This guide has more details.

A final note. Sadly, the legality of making a backup copy for your own use of DVDs you have purchased is murky. To help protect your fair use rights, consider a donation to the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Download DVD Decrypter
Download DVD Shrink

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Pride Weekend

credit: TreeBed.  click for original It’s Pride Weekend in San Francisco, a time of fantastic celebration and community. Twin Peaks turns pink, KITS becomes KGAY, and everyone starts singing along to Madonna, Erasure and ABBA songs without shame.

As is our tradition, Brad and I headed over to Delores Park late this afternoon to take in the festivities and support the Dyke March. This year we were joined by Christie, Elaine and Sam. Sam slept for most of the parade but she did attract much attention.

The weekend kicks into high gear tomorrow morning with the parade (10:30 start time, route) and parties well into the night.

Friday, June 23, 2006

the week in photos

Yahoo has a new Flash application that presents the week's most interesting news-related photos. The page loads quickly and the photos are higher resolution than similar features at AP, The New York Times or Yahoo's main news photo page. It is a bit hard to find on its own, so check it out here.

12/22 Update: These great photos continue to be hard to find. The pattern of the link has changed to for the latest. To find the previous weeks, edit the date at the end of the URL to an older Friday. For example,

Thursday, June 22, 2006

the dark side

Tuesday night, Frontline aired a 90-minute report on Vice President Dick Cheney’s control of our nation’s response to the brutal 9/11 attacks. This afternoon, PBS released the entire program for on-demand web viewing.

With strong sourcing and on-camera interviews with dozens of former national security and CIA officials, the hard-hitting program documents how Cheney and his longtime colleague Donald Rumsfeld worked with loyalists in top positions at relevant departments to quickly shift operations from a CIA plan to attack terrorist globally to a Pentagon-driven effort to invade Iraq.

Much of what is presented has been written about before. In fact, journalists Steve Coll, Ron Suskind, Bob Woodward and Dana Priest discuss their work as part of the documentary. Frontline itself has even covered a few of the key points (watch Rumsfeld’s War). But, this is the first time the story has been presented so completely and compellingly.

Despite its importance, the program is difficult to watch. We learn that CIA advance teams in Afghanistan were denied promised Army Special Forces support for 6 weeks until Rumsfeld was given total control of the operation. We receive more evidence that military resources were diverted for Iraq while we were still fighting Al Qaeda in Afghanistan. There is extensive documentation about intelligence on Iraq’s weapons programs that was distorted and manipulated. And, despite the programs intentional focus on Cheney, Rumsfeld and their war with the CIA, the viewer must ask where the President and the National Security Advisor were during these meetings. The records show that they were in attendance, but the principals seem unable to recall meaningful participation.

Current Administration officials refused to talk to Frontline, and many of those interviewed were the losers in the intense internal political fight over our national security policy. Still, what is most remarkable to me is the large number of top CIA people willing to discuss the post-9/11 events. Yes, they have an agenda, but throughout their long and distinguished careers it had not been overtly political. To dismiss their comments now as purely partisan would be a mistake.

Watch The Dark Side

Bonus link: Find additional PBS on-demand programs

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

vacu vin pineapple slicer

To celebrate the start of summer I present the Vacu Vin pineapple slicer, the most essential kitchen gadget since the lime juicer. Fresh pineapple is nutritious (it is a great source of fiber, and it contains micro-nutrients and bromelain) and, more importantly, it is delicious. However, pineapples are a pain to shell and core. The work is messy, time consuming and, if your knife isn’t sharp, dangerous.

You can pay more and buy fresh, pre-sliced pineapple, but with the Vacu Vin slicer you will actually have fun cutting your own. For best results, pick a ripe (but not over-ripe) pineapple, lop off the top, and then twist the slicer like a corkscrew. It separates the core, separates the flesh from the shell and spiral cuts the fruit. The result is continuous ring ½” thick - kind of like a pineapple slinky. As a bonus, the shell is in tact for your decorative needs.

Amazon sells the standard version for $9.98. Vacu Vin has also developed a stainless steel model of the product, but it is not yet available from Amazon, Williams-Sonoma, Sur La Table or This store carries it, though.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

curing the hiccups

I got the hiccups yesterday afternoon. They returned yesterday evening, and then this morning, and then this afternoon and then again this evening. Each episode lasted over an hour and provided untold amusement for others. As humorous as this is, I was not pleased.

My recurring hiccups did provide an opportunity to test some of the hundreds of cures that can be found on the internet. For example, I can now tell you that putting your fingers in your ears does not cure the hiccups. Similarly, putting sugar on the back of your tongue or pulling on the tongue did not work for me. I had disappointment with holding my breath and with breathing into a paper bag. Antacids didn’t do the trick and neither did just drinking water slowly. I would just hiccup as I swallowed.

I have found one method that when followed carefully does work. I can’t vouch for any of the other content on the site, but this technique is the real deal. From its creators:

(1) Pour a TALL glass of water.
(2) Exhale then hold your breath
(3) Pinch your nose closed
(4) Slowly, take 10 - 20 swallows of the water...while holding your breath with your nose pinched closed
(5) Only when you can't stand it any more (you'll know by that overwhelming drowning sensation) take a deep breath and relax.

If you or, more likely, your kids are similarly afflicted, give this cure a try. I don’t know if it works every time (and I hope I don’t have to find out if it will work repeatedly for me), but it has worked so far and that seems good enough right now.

Monday, June 19, 2006

goat gouda

Arina Goat GoudaThere were several food-related candidates for today’s entry. This morning I had a delicious, sweet Ruby Star grapefruit with breakfast; this afternoon I snacked on a few squares of rich Scharffen Berger bittersweet chocolate; and, this evening I indulged in the addictively abusive Hell’s Kitchen television program. But, it was the cheese course that carried the day. My featured selection: Arina Goat Gouda.

Arina goat gouda is a product of Holland. Manufactured in 16-pound wheels that are aged for four months, it has a semi-firm but creamy consistency. The taste is tangy but also subtle and silky. It is milder than an unaged goat but sharper than a cow’s milk gouda.

I enjoyed my cheese with a New Zealand Southern Rose apple, and I found the pairing to be outstanding. Less sweet that a Delicious or Fuji, the Southern Rose is very firm and crisp - kind of like a less sour Granny Smith. The apple is wonderful by itself, but even better with a slice of Arina goat gouda. Whole Foods was my supplier for both items.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

the wire

Emmanuel recommended The Wire to me, and after watching the the first 3 episodes of season 1, I'm hooked. The Wire (imdb) is an HBO dramatic series that provides an inside look at the Baltimore Police Department. Less famous than fellow HBO productions The Sopranos and Six Feet Under, The Wire is no less excellent.

Shot on location in Baltimore, the show is gritty, nuanced and highly textured. Its creators are David Simon, an ex-reporter from the Baltimore Sun whose first book provided the inspiration for the NBC series Homicide, and Ed Burns, a 20 year veteran of the Baltimore PD. The Wire reminds me of the best episodes Hill Street Blues or NYPD Blue, and from the start it has the impact that both of those series created. The Wire elevates the police drama art form with details and story complexity missing from normal television.

The storyline continues episode-to-episode as Avon Barksdale’s drug gang consolidates its influence in the Western projects and a special task force led by Lt. Cedric Daniels tries to learn enough about their operations to make arrests. The strength of the program is that characters on both sides of the drug war are developed, and the acting is uniformly strong. Dominic West does have a stand-out role as Det. Jim McNulty, a character about who his partner, William “Bunk” Moreland, wonders, “How is it you always have the world pissed off at you?” It must be his Irish charm.

The Wire commands your attention, but the careful viewer is rewarded with masterful dialog and a strongly compelling story arc. Debuting in 2002, The Wire is set to start its fourth season. The first two are available on DVD (amazon).

6/24 update: Early this morning I finished watching season 1, and it is amazing television. I was very positive in my original post but, in retrospect, I should have raved more. Every aspect of the show, from the opening credits that reference Francis Ford Copola’s The Conversation (amazon) to the conclusion of the 13 epsisode story, is meticulously crafted. The cast is huge (there are crews of drug dealers, junkies, informants, detectives, police brass, attorneys and federal agents) but there are no weak performances. Even the show’s theme song (a cover of Tom Waits - Way Down in the Hole by the Blind Boys of Alabama iTunes) is inspired. If you like police dramas you will love The Wire. I can’t wait to start season 2.

Saturday, June 17, 2006


left: Bell 47, center: Hiller 360, right: Hiller 360Each year the Hiller Aviation Museum organizes a helicopter show at San Carlos Airport, and today I went to Vertical Challenge 2006 with Lisette and her sister Linda who is visiting.

This was my first helicopter show, and I must say that it was quite fun. Hiller is a name synonymous with helicopter innovation, so it is no surprise that an aviation museum founded by Stanley Hiller has an impressive collection and an ability to attract a diverse set of presenters.

At the show were some copters from Hiller’s past: there were various models of the elegant Hiller 360, and in rare treat, there was a short test flight of the only restored Hiller Hornet. The Hornet was conceived in the early 1950’s and its rotor is powered by ramjet engines at each tip.

left: Navy Cobra, center: Coast Guard Dolphin, right: Marine CH-53Also at the show were military helicopters that flew in for display. Sikorski was well represented with a Navy Seahawk, an Army Blackhawk, and two large Marine CH-53’s Sea Stallions. Boeing was in the house with several vintage tandem rotor designs alongside the contemporary Chinook. There was a Navy Sea King, and, of course, there were Bell Hueys and 47s. As a nice surprise, there were 2 Bell AH-1W Super Cobras.

However, what would an air show be without aerial exhibitions, and there were several of those. The California Forestry Department demonstrated how they use their Bell UH-1H Super Hueys to load and drop men and water. The California Highway Patrol demonstrated a rescue with one of their Bell 206Ls. And, before we arrived, the Coast Guard showed how they perform search and rescue with their HH-65 Dolphin.

View all of my pictures from Vertical Challenge 2006
left: Hiller Hornet, center: CHP Bell 206L, right: CFD Bell Super Huey

Friday, June 16, 2006

"pimpstar" fans

Last month I wrote about Pimpstar rims and my friends are still talking about them. We all want Escalades so we can roll like we’re “drivin’ Christmas trees.” Now, from Computex in Taiwan come “pimpstar” case fans for your computer.

OEM supplier Polo Tech showed a spinning led fan that can display pre-programmed words. They hope to commercialize a USB version that will allow users to enter text, graphics and simple animation – and all at an affordable price (~$10 a fan). When these are released I predict that we’ll become case modders, cutting in plexiglas windows to show off our customized led cooling fans.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

cheaper long distance

My dsl drama caused me to take a closer look at my phone bill. I don’t make many calls, but I am always surprised at how large the charges are. Yes, I over pay for caller id, but more shocking are all the taxes, fees and plan costs associated with AT&T long distance.

Last month, AT&T charged me $16.63 for 60 minutes total of long distance calls. The breakdown is as follows:

2-02 AT&T One Rate (R) Weekends Plan 4.95
2-03 Tax: Fed .41
2-04 CHCF-A, CHCF-B .16
2-05 CA Relay Service and Comm. Devices Funds Surcharge .02
2-06 Pub Util Comm Fee .01
2-07 California Teleconnect Fund Surcharge .01
2-08 Univ Lifeline Tele Serv Sur .10
2-09 Utility Users Tax .24
2-10 California 9-1-1 Surcharge .05
2-11 Universal Connectivity Charge .70

2-12 Carrier cost recovery fee 1.49
2-13 Bill Statement Fee 2.49

and then $6.00 for 60 minutes of calls at the night rate!

Ten cents a minute after paying a $4.95 plan fee is reason enough to switch, but it turns out that many of those extra charges are just that, extra charges AT&T chooses to assess. They are not mandated. The carrier cost recovery fee is a great example, but most obnoxious is the $2.49 bill statement fee – and I don’t even get a paper bill!

So, with more rage as motivation, I went to phonedog to find cheaper long distance. After a little research using phonedogs service comparison tool, I settled on the Pioneer 2.7 cent plan. The appealing features are:

No monthly minimum
No plan fee
No bill statement fee

when you pay your bill by credit card, and 2.7 cent a minute rates 24 hours a day. In-state calls are even cheaper at 2.6 cents a minute. There is a 10.7% USF tax (it is hard to get around Federal taxes), but had Pioneer been my carrier last month my bill would have been 85% less.

You can sign up online, and the switch takes about 5 days to complete. I can’t yet vouch for Pioneer’s line quality or customer service (I’ve only had the sevice since Monday), but I am delighted by the reduction in unnecessary expenses. A quick survey at dinner suggests that many of you might have AT&T long distance plans you are paying too much for for but not using. If so, check out phonedog and dial in some savings.

8/31 update: Pioneer is working out great, and I am excited to learn that we will all be getting a refund on our 2006 Federal tax returns for long distance excise taxes paid. The IRS just announced the program today

Wednesday, June 14, 2006


Paul’s note: June has been a great month for guest posts. I’ve had 4 so far, and Scott returns to increment the total. Scott is a big movie fan who appreciates the unexpected, and tonight he shares a new recommendation with us. This is Scott’s third contribution. Scott writes:

I'm here to recommend a movie for you: Primer (amazon). But, sorry, it is not for you, or you, or ... yeah, probably not you either. But for you, you're in for a treat.

How to describe this movie without giving away anything? For this is a movie best served cold. Remove all expectations. Don't prepare for it. Don't read anything. Don't follow this link. Just netflix it, and don't read the sleeve.

Ok, so you need more convincing. Did you like Memento? Good start. How about Shallow Grave? When you watched the Usual Suspects, did you immediately want to watch it again? Did you watch Donny Darko and wish it wasn't so hokey (but otherwise liked the originality)?

When you watch something Hollywood claims is "a complex thriller" do you cringe when they spoon-feed some of the "tricky parts" to the audience? Are you, how shall I say, a film geek? Do you hate it when directors and producers choose budget effects and big names over plot and substance? Do you tend to keep mental notes as you're watching (as opposed to turning off all but the frog brain)? It might be for you.

Ok, a *little* bit of description. It is about two friends. It is about trust. It is about greed. It will twist your mind. It will take some work. It has a budget of $8000. That's it.

You will watch it. You will not get it. When it is done, you'll probably say "what in the Hell just happened?" You will not like it. But you will be curious, just enough, and watch parts of it again. Then all of it again.

You will start taking notes. You will watch it again. You will turn on the subtitles to get every word. Each time, you will like it more, and you will understand it more. Maybe after three or four viewings, you'll be tempted to visit the discussion page. But you'll prefer to draw your own conclusions, figure your own answers. Your notes will expand beyond two pages. You will find it is tight - air tight (though ... "there are always leaks.")

If you don't think so, you haven't watched it enough times. If you don't want to watch it again, then you'll know ... this movie was not for you. But if it is, and you have, and you know ... you'll thank me.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

sonic dsl

Today, I changed dsl providers from AT&T / SBC to The result: one very happy Sonic customer.

Those who know me appreciate that inertia is a steady influence on my actions. I first signed up for SBC dsl in 1999 (back when it was PacBell) and I have been a customer ever since despite a high monthly rate and mediocre speed. Last month I encountered intermittent trouble (dropped sync, line errors, heavy static on my voice line) and I contacted SBC internet support to try to get help. This was a big mistake.

It is very frustrating explaining to CSRs in India that, despite their support scripts, unplugging my modem and waiting 60 seconds does not cure all ailments. It was similarly pointless to argue that removing my functioning router and plugging a computer directly into my dsl modem wouldn’t change anything.

The day staff in San Jose was no better. They seemed confused by the concept of “intermittent.” When their line tests suggested trouble they sent out a tech. When he was able to get sync (just like me 80% of the time) they closed the ticket. The process repeated itself, and then ended with their advice that I buy a new modem. The Advanced Solutions group insisted that the problem was either my modem or my internal wiring, and for $150 I could request an inside technician to tell me which one.

Fortunately, the folks in the quite separate SBC voice division are much more competent. After I opened a different trouble ticket for the static, SBC voice sent out 3 repair technicians to isolate the external problem. My thanks to Steve, Splicing Technician #973 for finding and fixing the bad connector. Better still, SBC voice credited me a month of service without me asking.

In contrast, when the voice repair also resolved my data issues, I contacted internet billing to request a similar credit. A maddening hour and no credit later, a new force took hold – rage – and I began researching for SBC alternatives.

I use Broadband Reports for line speed and quality tests. The tests are free, anonymous and accurate. Additionally, Broadband Reports compiles reviews of ISPs, a service that was great for my situation. I was tempted by cable internet. The promised speeds are fast and Comcast is running a sale. Also, in switching to a new technology there would be no downtime. However, after reading the stellar customers reviews I decided to try Sonic, a small regional provider based in Santa Rosa.

Before placing my internet order last week, I called Sonic tech support to ask some questions about my configuration. Someone answered immediately, and I was shocked by how knowledgeable he was. Similarly, when there were some glitches in provisioning my new line, I was amazed at how Sonic handled it. The issue was escalated to one of their top tech guys, Jason, and he kept calling SBC ASI (Sonic subcontracts their lines) to request changes on their end and then me to keep me informed.

I don’t know how they do it, but Sonic is able to provide much better technical assistance and higher-quality internet service over SBC’s lines all at a lower price. I ordered Pro dsl, and for $19.95 I’m getting 1.5mbps-3.0mbps download and 384kbps-512kbps upload. This evening, according to the Broadband Reports line speed test, my actual speeds are 2083 / 422 (or 260.4 KB/sec down and 52.7 KB/sec up). That is double was I was getting from SBC at half the price – and it is likely to get better as the line is tuned. My advice: if you are considering an ISP change, talk to Sonic.

p.s. tonight, after another hour on the phone I got that month’s refund from SBC internet. hell hath no fury...

Monday, June 12, 2006


Last night Joy and Mike made a tapas dinner for Elaine, Don, Lisette and I. Mike and Joy recently returned from a vacation in France and Spain, and they had hand-carried gourmet goodies and much inspiration for our meal. As the pictures and menu suggest, we were treated to quite a feast. A description of what we enjoyed follows.

fried marcona almonds (I didn’t know these existed – addictive!)
marinated green olives (they looked flavorful, but I don’t like olives)

pimientos de Padrón (padron peppers – the salt helps bring out the flavor)
pan catalan (tomato & garlic-rubbed bread, Mike made this - a traditional start to a tapas meal)

gazpacho andaluz (andalucian gazpacho – so refreshing)
ajo blanco de Málaga (traditional ajo blanco from Málaga, garnished with green apple – amazing flavor)

embutidos de bellota (chorizo & sausage – mmm, meat)
jamón serrano, Ibérico ( a wonderfully marbled ham)
jamón de bellota (perhaps the finest of the hams, from pata negra pigs fed on a diet of acorns)

Warm plates
berenjena con miel de caña (perfectly fried eggplant with sugar cane honey)
tortilla espanola con patate (a tasty spanish tortilla with potatoes)
gambas al ajillo (perfectly cooked garlic shrimp)
almejas a la marinera (clams in flavor-packed white wine sauce)
setas con piñones y jamón (mushrooms sauteed with Ibérico ham and pine nuts)
albóndigas con salsa de azafrán (fantastic mini meatballs in saffron garlic sauce)
escolanets (literally, "altar boys" – delicious bacon-wrapped dates stuffed with marcona almonds)

queso Idiazábal marinado al romero (a Basque sheep’s milk cheese marinated in oil with garlic, black peppercorns, bay leaf, & fresh rosemary and thyme)
manchego con membrillo (manchego cheese with quince paste – I love quince paste!)

higas (fresh figs – it’s the start of fig season!)
crema catalana (a show stopper, wonderful custard with carmelized sugar)
arroz con leche, como hacen en mieres (rice & milk, mieres-style – cinnamon makes everything better)
pan con chocolate, sal "Maldon", y aceite de oliva (toasts with Michel Cluizel "
Concepcion" chocolate, Maldon salt, and olive oil – I could eat this all day)

Thank you, Mike and Joy. Almost every dish above could be its own cool thing.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

a sausalito getaway

or: how to throw a surprise birthday getaway on short notice

Paul's note: Scott returns this week with a plan for a perfect night in Sausalito. Previously, Scott has written about Set, and his wife Julie (the suprisee below) has written about adventure games. Both Scott and Julie are big movie buffs, so look for future posts on that topic. Scott writes:

It was nearing the Big Day, and the plans were still tumbling in my mind. The greater features were coming together, but the details were not quite settled out. A weekend away would have been ideal. But what to do with the kids? So how about a single night instead?

But I was down to 5 days, and nothing worth visiting on the weekend wasn't already booked solid. I knew this without even checking. Ok, it had to be a single weekday evening. Bonus points for taking time away from work.

It was mid April. The six solid weeks of rain were predicted to be soon a thing of the past. The ark was beginning to show signs of descent. So we had to maximize the promised good weather. This meant coastal, or, if nothing else, a place to aimlessly mill about in the prodigal sun.

Names appeared in my head. Carmel - weather would be perfect; too far away. Half moon bay - quaint, but a little too quiet; and hellish-weekday 92 traffic. Napa, Sonoma - been there too recently; a bit of a drive. Always: The City - so much to see and do, but not maximizing the weather factor. Then it became obvious - Sausalito. Just close enough so we wouldn't be worn down by weekday traffic before we check in. Just far enough to still be a getaway.

So I made the calls. Again, the answer became obvious after one or two conversations: the Inn Above Tide. Outstanding location. Best views in Marin. A bit pricy, yes, and I'm cheap, yes, but it was just for a night.

Where to dine? So many choices in the City; could stop on the way up. But best for one-stop shopping, not to mention best to avoid parking in the City. So one call to our local blog host and another to Sushi Ran and we're set. No more planning required.

The day arrives. Still details on how to spring the surprise. Couldn't hold the suspense for long once I came home around 4 to shuttle the kids to grandma's house. "Thought we'd go out for dinner." Only surprise left was ruined when she realized her toothbrush was missing (already packed in the trunk with next day's clothes). "Ok, got me." But at least the destination was still unknown.

The forgotten sun shined on us as we drove up North, across the Golden Gate. Perfect views were confirmed as we parked at the Inn. We were greeted by excellent wine and outstanding cheeses, but we just want to stare at the profile of the city, and took the glasses out on the deck.
The staff at the Inn were impeccable. They treated us like we were the only ones there, and every single member was knowledgeable, helpful, friendly and courteous.

The room was modest, perhaps small to the wallet-mindful eye. But the view from the balcony was unbeatable. It beckoned and delayed us from our dinner reservation. Should have pushed dinner time past sunset. Mental note.

The Ran was a short walk away, in the northern half of the shopping area. As with any walk around Sausalito, we were treated to magnificent hillside vistas of charming villas clinging (tenuously, in all that rain?) to steep bluffs.

Ran is a bustling restaurant with two dining rooms and a busy sushi bar. The menu offered lots of choices, beyond the standard Maguro, Saba, etc.

Of course we had to try the Miso-glazed Black Cod. It wasn't quite Nobu, but close enough to be unimpeachable. We wished we could eat this every night. Only the wide variety of the menu kept us from ordering a second one to share. All of the sushi was super-fresh. We sampled many varieties of fresh cuts, and each were equally remarkable.

Afterwards we hit the local Aquarius-like theater down the street to take advantage of a rare movie night. By the time that was over, the sleepy village was down for the count. The Marina serenaded us for the walk back to the Inn, but little else was seen or heard.

Breakfast was an excellent collection of fruit, juices, pastries, breads, cereals and yogurt, perfectly portable back to our balcony for the best dining room with a view we could ask for. We soaked up the sun and the panorama, relaxing with the paper.

It was hard to pack up to go back to work, so we lingered a little longer than planned. We spent a few hours nosing around the quaint little shops along Bridgeway, and made sure we brought a reminder home, as is our custom. Little Freya was found in a quaint French-village-style consignment shop, and she happily joined Wilbur (San Francisco) and Pudgie (Half Moon Bay) when we all arrived home.

Less than 24 hours later, I returned to work, and Julie returned to the girls. But for those brief hours, it was wonderful to revisit one of the many diverse destinations that this wonderful Area has to offer.

Inn Above Tide: 30 El Portal, Sausalito, CA (415) 332-9535
Sushi Ran: 107 Caledonia St, Sausalito, CA (415) 332-3620

Saturday, June 10, 2006

45s from my youth

click to view my first iMixI published my first iMix to the iTunes store tonight. I’ve been a fan of the concept since Apple created the feature, and I have used others’ playlists often to find new music. However, the hassle of selecting the correct versions of songs from the store and the pain caused by having to omit tracks not yet available through Apple had kept me from publishing my own. Now that I have done one, though, I have to say it wasn't so bad. I'll likely upload more.

The theme for my first public playlist is one destined to cause embarrassment, but it was one that was fun to assemble. I decided to catalog the 7-inch records I owned and played quite often when I was between 5 and 10 years old. I had albums too (the Beatles, children's songs and even the Bee-Gees were in high rotation), but each song on this list was in my collection as a 45-rpm single and was my favorite at some point.

Peter, Paul And Mary - Puff (The Magic Dragon) (1963)
Elvis Presley - Hound Dog (1956)
Jim Croce - Bad Bad Leroy Brown (1973)
Tony Orlando & Dawn - Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree (1973)
Captain & Tennille - Love Will Keep Us Together (1975)
James Taylor - How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved by You) (1975)
Glen Campbell - Rhinestone Cowboy (1975)
B.J. Thomas - Play Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song (1975)
The Theme from S.W.A.T. (1975)
The Manhattans - Kiss and Say Goodbye (1976)
The Commodores - Three Times a Lady (1978)
Elton John & Kiki Dee - Don't Go Breaking My Heart (1976)
Village People - Y.M.C.A. (1978)
ABBA - Dancing Queen (1977)
Billy Joel - My Life (1978)
Barry Manilow - I Write the Songs (1976)

As part of the playlist process, I’ve been trying to think where I first heard some of these songs. I didn’t listen to the radio that much when I was little, and my parents weren’t big fans of contemporary music. My dad loved Big Band, especially Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey, Artie Shaw, Harry James, Vaughn Monroe and Benny Goodman. My Mom's taste was a bit more New York. Her albums included Broadway musical soundtracks featuring folks like Richard Harris and Barbara Streisand as well as artist albums from vocalists like Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra and jazz artists Count Basie and Duke Ellington.

TV was certainly a big influence. Some of the singers had their own TV shows or specials (The Captain and Tennille, Tony Orlando, Glenn Campbell and Elvis) and others probably appeared on award or variety programs. As I grew older, peers were a likely influence (Billy Joel, the Village People). But, I am uncertain how some 45s made their way into my record box.

I forget how I first heard Bad, Bad Leroy Brown but I know that it remained #1 on the Paul chart for more than 2 years, supplanting Puff the Magic Dragon and Hound Dog. Similarly, I’m not sure how, at an age when I was convinced girls were icky, I was so prepared for seduction with tracks by The Manhattans, The Commodores and, lady-favorite, James Taylor.

What I do recall is how much I enjoying playing my 45s and albums and how often I would alphabetize them to make sure they were in perfect order. I also remember my first stereo, a present from my uncle and grandmother my parents thought was too extravagant. And, I remember how much fun it was to listen to the latest releases at the neighborhood record store. I imagine that now that I have published my list, certain friends will never let me forget what is on it.

Friday, June 09, 2006


Remember, dodgeball is a sport of violence, exclusion, and degredation... so when you're picking players in gym class, remember to pick the bigger, stronger kids for your team, that way you can all gang up on the weaker ones - Patches O'Houlihan

I’m embarrassed to admit this, but after 2 years I finally watched Dodgeball (imbd, official site). Maybe it was my punchy mood, or perhaps it was my lowered expectations, but I thought that the film was shockingly funny and I laughed hard throughout.

Vince Vaughen plays Pete, the unsuccessful owner of Average Joe’s gym. Average Joe’s is home to a collection of misfits that resembles an adult Bad News Bears. Gym rats at Joe’s include Steve the Pirate, the awkward Owen, the love-struck high school student Justin, the ambiguous Dwight, and Gordon, who was certainly last to be picked for every elementary school sport.

As with all serious dramas, our heroes face a true challenge that tests their character. In Dodgeball, that challenge is rival gym Globo Gym operated by White Goodman. White is preparing to foreclose on Average Joe’s so that he can build a new parking lot for his mega gym. Ben Stiller’s over-the-top portrayal of White is genius, and his interaction with real-life wife Christine Taylor (Kate in the film) is hysterical.

Although I could continue to comment of the depth of character development or the complexity and unpredictability of the plot, what is special about Dodgeball is the barrage of cheap humor. It is packed with quotable lines and funny concepts like ESPN 8, “the Ocho.”

Better still, Dodgeball features a talented extended cast. Rip Torn is en fuego as coach and Dogeball legend Patches O'Houlihan. “If you can dodge a wrench you can dodge a ball.” Fans of the short-lived Herman’s Head will appreciate Hank Azaria as the young Patches. Jason Bateman (brilliant in Arrested Development) gets sharp lines as color commentator Pepper Brooks. And, William Shatner, Lance Armstrong, Chuck Norris and David Hasselhoff all have great cameos.

The Dodgeball DVD (Amazon) contains deleted scenes, an alternate ending and a handful of short featurettes.

Bonus links: the International Dodge Ball Federation and the National Amateur Dodgeball Association. Perhaps once the governing bodies agree on how to spell the name of their sport it can rise from obscurity?

Thursday, June 08, 2006

burnout revenge

Paul’s note: An aspect of (at least) one cool thing I am enjoying most is the guest contributions. This has been a very good week so far in that respect, and I am happy that it gets stronger tonight with Mike’s submission. With delightfully dry humor, Mike describes a fun Xbox 360 game he enjoys playing with his son Adam. Mikey Mike writes:

Way back in high school, I used to play video games on occasion after school at the local bowling alley. That stopped when the distributor of free games was taken down by a sting operation involving an undercover, wheelchair-bound investigator, but that’s another story. I never played in college, and throughout my tenure at SGI in the 90’s I loved the graphics but never got back into gaming.

Since then, many former SGI colleagues went to work for places like ATI and NVidia, producing consumer graphics which far exceeded any SGI systems at a fraction of the price. A few years ago I was pulled back into gaming to gawk at the newer graphics technology - and things have really changed since the 80’s.

I recently purchased an Xbox 360, partially because I know many of the hardware engineers who developed the technology and partially because I like to geek out watching the latest graphics technology. The first game I bought was Burnout Revenge (website, review), a street racing game where the object is to win a race through city streets, 8 lane highways, and mountain pass roads while taking out as many rivals, roadside cafes, dumpsters, pylons, and anything else with less mass then your vehicle as possible. Drivers are rewarded for particularly dangerous behavior, including driving in oncoming lanes, barely missing passing traffic, drifting around corners, and extended airborne periods.

The visuals are spectacular: cars are highly detailed, streets and buildings are intricately textured, and a myriad of objects from park benches to picnic tables lay just off the road. It’s difficult to resist short detours to drive through an adjacent trailer park or sidewalk café just to spread mayhem.

Driving controls are obvious and easy for beginners, while advanced players will enjoy subtle maneuvers and bumping to force a rival into oncoming traffic. Crashes are one of the best parts of the race: panels crumble, frames twist, and wheels and other debris fly from the wreck like a Hollywood stunt scene as cars tumble across the road in into each other. Anybody who has been stuck in stop and go traffic on 101 will enjoy freeway races where you can swerve around traffic on the shoulder, across oncoming lanes, or just plain plow through a group of slower cars.

Video output is true HDTV, audio is 5.1 surround, and the game play draws you in for a sweaty palm adrenaline rush through some spectacular scenery. It’s a wonder high school kids get anything done these days.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Banana Joe’s Pineapple Frosty

Paul’s note: Elaine returns to (at least) one cool thing with another excellent guest contribution. Previously she reviewed the Dining Room at the Ritz Carlton, and today she shares the highlight of her recent Kauai trip: the Pineapple Frosty. I can’t wait to try this frozen drink, and while I contemplate a trip to Kauai I plan on encouraging Elaine to buy a juicer. Elaine writes:

don eating a pineapple frostyKauai is an island of delightful sights and hidden treasures tucked amidst secluded beaches, rain forests and small laid-back towns. Neither Don nor I had been there before, but we felt like we stumbled upon many of the island’s finds during a recent trip there.

Some of the highlights included: spectacular vistas along the Nualolo Trail in Waimea Canyon on the West Shore and the famous Na Pali Coast trail on the North Shore; Queen’s Bath, a natural ocean pool carved into a lava shelf filled with refreshing water and tropical fish; the National Tropical Botanical Garden; the view of Hanalei Bay from La Cascata in the Princeville Hotel; and, the Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge, where we saw baby albatross birds in their nests!

As far as food went, we were thrilled to find Jo-Jo’s Shave Ice (I recommend the tropical rainbow flavor with macadamia nut ice cream, photo), the hole-in-the-wall Hamura’s Saimin stand that served tasty, if sodium-laden, ramen noodles, and a relaxed and well-executed meal at the iconic Beach House restaurant in Poipu. Perhaps the yummiest food find, however, was Banana Joe’s Pineapple Frosty.

I was determined to get my fill of tropical fruit-related drinks, smoothies and desserts while in Kauai, and we had read about Banana Joe’s in what proved to be a definitive and excellent book, The Ultimate Kauai Guidebook: Kauai Revealed. As we entered the humble shack we saw that in addition to drinks, there was a daily frosty special. That day it was pineapple. Don decided to order one, and we watched with interest as Joe prepared it.

He pulled several pre-cut pineapple logs out of the freezer and fed them into a Champion Juicer. The machine masticates and homogenizes whatever you feed into it. In this case, the frozen pineapple came out in a light yellow soft-serve texture that was healthy (100% pineapple, including some unobtrusive fiber) and hearty (Joe used about a half a pineapple!). If you’ve ever been lucky enough to have a Dole Whip at Disney World, this compares favorably. It’s creamy, perfectly sweet, and intense in pineapple flavor.

We hear the banana frosty is excellent as well. Since the trip, I’ve contemplated getting a Champion Juicer just for this purpose, but kitchen real estate is an issue these days, so I may just have to revisit Banana Joe’s soon.

Bonus links: Elaine’s Kauai pics, Don’s Kauai pics

Banana Joe’s: 5-2719 Kuhio Hwy, Kilauea, HI (808) 828-1092

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

the stokke stroller

Paul’s note: Warren is a frequent contributor to (at least) one cool thing. Previously he has written about SD memory cards and classic video games. and today he reviews the ultimate in toddler transportation. Warren writes:

OK. I have to admit. I'm getting back into Daddy mode. Case in point: I was at the mall Saturday when I suddenly felt a huge twinge of stroller envy...and I don't even have a new bambino yet! I was walking into a department store when, out of the door next to me, rolls this sporty, sleek, mod, baby stroller that was just screaming Euro-cool. Mind you, the baby sure wasn't screaming, and he looked like he was at the top of the Darwinian baby survival chain with a big grin that communicated "I am one bad baby!" The only thing missing on the baby was some bling.

So, back to the stroller. The brand was Stokke. Evidently it's a Norwegian company with a growing presence here in the US. I hopped on over to their web site and got their pitch. Not only is their stroller, called the Xplory, a cool looking device, but it's also insanely practical. The most salient benefit of the stroller is it's ability to raise the child up high so that the baby can see well. It gets above the dirt and grime of the city streets, elevates to a position where he/she is easy to feed, and, if you click on the first link, kick serious butt in a game of ping pong with the other kids in the neighborhood. An additional feature of the stroller is that it is narrow, allowing it to navigate the pinched aisles of stores and malls without requiring everyone else to peel out of the way.

Even though I haven't used the stroller yet, it appears to have two possible flaws. First, since the center of gravity of the stroller (with bambino) is high, there is possibly some increased risk of tipping. Second, since this is a Euro-cool gadget, it lacks significant storage capacity. Short of these possible issues, I can't see much wrong with the stroller. Even though I have a perfectly good stroller from previous "engagements," I may have to run out and get an Xplory so that I can get some serious daddy points and generate a wake of stroller envy wherever I go. (Paul's note: Warren and his lovely wife are expecting their 3rd son this summer.)

Bonus link: a cool blog for dads like Warren and Brad

Monday, June 05, 2006


Samantha was born 2 weeks ago, and Lisette and I had a chance to meet her last night. Sam doesn’t do too much yet (she mostly eats and sleeps), but it is impossible to miss the joy she brings her adoring parents. Sam will certainly be spoiled with love and attention, and she already has her daddy wrapped around her tiny finger.

In visiting her we got to see her nursery, her cute baby clothes and the many accessories that accompany newborns. Little Sam has cribs and playpens and swingy chairs – all the latest in infant entertainment. She also has a growing CD collection, and after a nice dinner out at Hamano Sushi we listened to one of the recent additions to her library: the Best of Schoolhouse Rock.

Many of the classics are on the CD: Conjunction Junction, Unpack Your Adjectives, I’m Just a Bill and, of course, Interjections! However, for the ultimate in cartoon education, I recommend the Schoolhouse Rock! (Special 30th Anniversary Edition) DVD. It has video for all 46 songs and special features.

Bonus link 1: Read more about Schoolhouse Rock
Bonus link 2: Watch one of my favorite segments

Sunday, June 04, 2006

texas smokehouse bbq

texas smokehouse bbq in san joseMy quest to find great BBQ brought me to San Jose last night to the Texas Smokehouse BBQ. The TSB is a true hole-in-the-wall with just 3 tables inside and a San Jose address near 101 and 680 that is not easy to find. It is worth the effort though, as the many locals getting take-out are more than happy to tell you.

bbq chicken with collard greens and yamsThe first clue that my meal at TSB would be extraordinary came as we walked up and began to smell the BBQ flavor coming from the homemade 500-gallon pit parked out in front. The next clue appeared when reviewing their menu; they make all the classics. And, the final tip-off was when we were ordering and learned that they were sold out of cornbread, beef ribs and pork ribs. I now know that if I want ribs I need to go earlier than 7p on a Saturday.

tri-tip with baked beans and yamsDon’t be fooled by TSB’s low prices – their portions are huge. We ordered the meals, which come with your choice of two sides. I was able to try the baked beans (very sweet), the yams (soft and tasty) and the collard greens (spicy!) I was also able to sample the tri-tip (fantastic sauce and smokey flavor) and the chicken (tender with baked in sauce). One of their regulars told us that in not having Larry’s ribs we really missed out. Oh well, I guess we will just have to go really soon ;)

Another reason to return to the Texas Smokehouse is the dessert. They were out of peach cobbler, so we loaded up on $1.25 sweet potato pie. My, oh my! My friend Hansel makes a great sweet potato pie, but this might be better.

Texas Smokehouse BBQ: 1091 S Capitol Ave San Jose, CA (408) 926-2829
Hours: Wednesday - Saturday 11 am to 9 pm, Sunday 11 am to 7 pm

Saturday, June 03, 2006

the 24-hour omelet

Our friend Lloyd was visiting from D.C., and Brian and Jennifer organized a breakfast so that all of us could see him. Brian and Jennifer are tremendous hosts, so it is no surprise that a meal advertised as bagels and coffee turned out to be a first-class spread with wonderful fruit, delicious home-made muffins and a fantastic egg dish that was quite light, fluffy and flavorful.

Hours later, after we were stuffed with breakfast and we were still savoring the delightful Ceretto Santo Stefano Muscato d’Asti Brian had opened to torture James, I asked Jennifer how she made the delicious eggs. She pulled a Cooks Illustrated cookbook from the shelf and directed me to the recipe for the 24-Hour “Omelet” as refined in America’s Test Kitchen.

The recipe needs to be made at least 8 hours in advance, and it can be prepared as early as 36-hours before. It is easy enough for someone like me to follow, and it is perfect for entertaining. The only thing you have to do the morning of your brunch is slide the casserole dish into your pre-heated oven and serve the masterpiece 1 hour later.

24-Hour “Omelet”
serves 6 to 8

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
10 slices white sandwich bread
12 oz cheddar cheese, shredded
8 large eggs
3 cups whole milk
1 small onion, grated
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon dry mustard
½ teaspoon Tabasco sauce

1. Grease the bottom and sides of a 9 x 13 baking dish with 1 tablespoon of the butter. Spread the remaining 3 tablespoons of butter over 1 side each of the 10 slices of bread. Cut the bread into 1-inch pieces. Scatter half of the bread evenly in the prepared dish and cover with half of the grated cheddar cheese. Add the remain bread and cover with the remaining cheese

2. Whisk the eggs, milk, onion, salt, pepper, mustard and Tabasco together in a medium bowl. Pour evenly over the bread and press the bread cubes lightly to submerge. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 8 hours to achieve the desired consistency

3. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and placed the refrigerated dish on the middle positioned rack. Baked until puffed and golden brown (60 minutes) and serve immediately

Friday, June 02, 2006

24, the summer season

Mike, Joy, Lisette and I watched the final episode of 24 tonight. Yes, we were running a little behind. Afterwards, a discussion ensued, and Joy came up with a genius thought.

Joy: We should just have a season where Jack sits on a beach and orders mojitos. ‘Previously on 24…’
Mike: And then ‘Next week on 24…’ you see Jack ordering more mojitos.
Paul: Some of the hours would have to be censored. Jack on a beach with Audrey…
Joy: Due to graphic content, viewer discretion is advised.
Mike: That episode would be pay-per-view or something.

Granted, this season’s cliffhanger is not as well suited for 24 hours of relaxation as previous seasons, but I think an internet-only low-key 24 would be awesome. Think of how it could start. 7:00 am – 8:00 am, everyone is sleeping.

Joy: They can show the 4-way split screen, and everyone’s just sleeping. Jack, Cloe, Curtis, Bill – sleeping.
Mike: The cliffhanger can be the alarms going off.
Joy: No. One of the alarms goes off and you don’t know which one. Who’s going to wake up???!

The discussion continued like this for quite a while, and we realized 24, The Summer Season, could be packed with suspense.

Mike: Trees could be rustling.
Lisette: So they all order the same drink, and the bartender screws up a drink.
Paul: Maybe Jack could have a bad burrito, and we could see how strong he really is.
Mike: Jack is napping, rolls over in bed, and the camera pans to … NOTHING!

You get the idea.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

the thinkpad t60

I’ve been in the market for a laptop. After 5 years my old Thinkpad finally died and I needed a replacement. For demos of our secret new product I’ve been using a Dell Latitude, and the new 620 does seem like a good value, but I decided to purchase another Thinkpad instead.

As you may remember, IBM sold their PC division to Chinese manufacturer Lenovo last year. Apart from sparking paranoia about spying, the only real impact of the sale seems to be more reasonable prices for the business-oriented laptops. They are still IBM-branded and indistinguishable in quality.

There are several product lines in the Thinkpad family. The X is ultra-portable, the R is designed for value, the Z is their new widescreen, multimedia offering, and the T has been the corporate standard for almost a decade. Within each line there are also feature choices: the obvious ones like memory, processor speed and hard disk size; and, laptop specific options like screen resolution, battery size and wireless. These are packaged in popular bundles, or if you don’t mind waiting several weeks for build time, you can customize more extensively.

The T60 I selected was an Express package, the 2623D6U model. It features a 1.83 GHz Intel dual core processor, 512 MB memory, 80 GB 5400 rpm hard drive, DVD-writer, ATI Mobility Radeon X1300 graphics controller, and a very sharp 14.1” SXGA+ display. The connectivity options are also extensive, and my model has built-in Bluetooth, gigabit Ethernet and Intel’s 802.11 a/b/g wireless chip. I would have preferred the 9-cell lithium ion battery but it shipped with the 6-cell instead, resulting in a total weight of 5.12 lbs. (Note that 512 MB of memory isn’t enough, but it much more economical to buy extra RAM from a vendor like

For me, several concerns drove my choice. Durability was important, and the titanium-cased T60 is well built. The hard drive is securely-mounted and runs shock-detection software to instantly park the heads if dropped. The top is rigid and well-hinged to the body. And, the keyboard action is unique in the laptop world. As a bonus, it comes with nifty security features like a fingerprint reader for logging in. It is a bit James Bond, but the fingerprint reader works well and it is more convenient than typing a password.

Pointing device was also critical for me. This is a minority view and it narrowed my purchase options, but I don’t like the track pad. I find it to hard to move the cursor fast, and I can’t control it well for fine operations. I much prefer the track point (or dot or pointing stick or nipple as it is often known). And, I like that I don’t have to move my hand away from the keys. When you type slowly, every bit helps. Thinkpads provide both a track pad and a dot.

With laptops, displays are important. In the T-family there are 5 options. Cheapest is XGA (1024x768) in 14.1 and 15” sizes. Next in price are the SXGA+ (1400x1050) in 14.1 and 15” sizes, and, finally they offer UXGA (1600x1200) on their very expensive T60p. I prefer the extra real estate provided by 1400x1050 resolution, but I must say that the pixel size is quite small. Fortunately, the screen is very sharp and clear. Perhaps it could be brighter, but both text and video look gorgeous. One more point on displays. Microsoft’s next operating system is very graphics intensive, so if you are buying a new laptop over the next year, check to make sure if it will be Vista-ready.

There are a few other things you should know about the T60. First, installing a new OS is a pain. The hard drive is SATA and its controller must be installed first. I wanted to set up my machine dual-boot with Media Center Edition on a second partition, and the install of the new operating system took an entire day. Second, although the hard drive is 80 GB, 7GB are reserved by a hidden service partition. Using Lenovo’s software you can perform recovery and repair from this partition rather than using recovery CD’s. I considered removing this, but on-balance it is a good feature. Third, on performance, the T60 benchmarks just as expected for its components, with one exception. Disk I/O is faster than typical 5400 rpm drives. And, finally, heat and noise are not a problem. Thanks to Intel's excellent new mobile chip, the T60 runs cool and quiet.

Surprising, the Lenovo direct price is competitive, but the ship times were too long for my patience level. For the best source of stock and price information, use PriceGrabber and, if you want it soon, consider a vendor like PC Connection or CostCentral. I used the former and I’m very happy with my purchase. Now, after two weeks of use, I am ready to proclaim the Thinkpad T60 my cool thing of the day.