Wednesday, January 31, 2007

the ambrose

When I travel to the Southland, I prefer to stay in West LA. It has great restaurants, and it is convenient to the places I am most likely to visit.

When cost is not an object, there are many excellent hotel options, ranging from the W in Westwood at the moderate end of the expensive range to Shutters on the Beach and the Peninsula Beverly Hills at the high end. But, this trip I was delighted to find a stylish and reasonably priced alternative: the Ambrose in Santa Monica.

The Ambrose is a 77 room hotel that opened in July of 2003. Constructed in the Craftsman architectural style, it is in mid-town close to Yahoo, Sony and Universal. It is 1.5 miles to the beach and a much shorter walk to the shops on Montana Ave.

Rooms at the Ambrose start in the high $100s and have unexpected amenities for that price point: Frette towels, Aveda products and free underground parking. They also include complimentary WiFi access and a delicious continental breakfast. We enjoyed the orange and grapefruit juices, the croissants and pastries, and the yogurt and fresh fruit.

The Ambrose does not have a pool and its gym is tiny, but it is minutes from the 10 and the 405 and it has charm missing from larger properties. More importantly, the beds are very comfortable and the hotel is quite quiet. The Ambrose proved to be a nice base for our LA operations, and I urge you to consider it for on your next trip.

The Ambrose Hotel: 1255 20th Street, Santa Monica, CA (310) 315-1555

Sunday, January 28, 2007

din tai fung

Besides the Getty and Korean BBQ, another must-do activity in LA is to have dim sum. After reading pages of glowing yelp and chowhound reviews, Lisette suggested we try the LA-branch (top center) of Taiwan’s famous Din Tai Fung for dumplings.

Din Tai Fung is renowned for their Xiao long bao, and they did not disappoint. Sealed with 18 folds, each delicate dumpling had the perfect amount of juicy pork and a generous quantity of broth (middle left). The dumpling skins were very thin, but even I was able to pick them up without breaking. These are the reason we had to wait for an hour for our table.

We also tried a variant on the traditional XLB, the juicy crab and pork dumpling (middle right). As you can see from the cross-sectional picture (middle center), it was packed with flavor. The second close-up shows the inside of the delicious pork and vegetable dumpling (top left).

The other items we ordered (hot and sour soup, noodles and vegartarian dumplings) were all tasty. And, dessert was a special treat: red bean dumplings (bottom right). The meal was a nice way to end a fun trip to the Southland, and I am happy that Lisette’s friends were able to join us.

Din Tai Fung: 1108 S Baldwin Ave, Arcadia, CA (626) 574-7068

Saturday, January 27, 2007

chosun galbee

Last night Lisette and I set out in search of LA’s best Korean BBQ. Our friend Irene had just been to Chosun Galbee the week before, so we decided to follow her recommendation.

Chosun Galbee is a very attractive, modern restaurant on Olympic at the corner of Koreatown. The interior features lots of marble, bamboo and glass, and they have patio seating and grilling that should be perfect for typical LA nights. With large tables and several private rooms, Chosun Glabee must be a great place to bring a group.

Chosun excels in the most important category for Korean BBQ: the meat. Our galbee was excellent: tender, exceptionally marbled and only lightly marinated. Its flavor and texture were perfect, and I enjoyed eating each slice most when only adding a little garlic and jalapeno.

The chap jae was also wonderful at Chosun; however, there are a few quirks I should mention. First, it closes a bit earlier that I might have guessed. We had a late start and didn’t arrive until 10:30. I thought that would be fine on a Friday night but we were the last patrons to be seated.

Second, the bahnchan (small dishes) were a somewhat disappointing. Some of my favorites were missing; there were no marinated cucumbers, soybean sprouts, green onion pancakes or the yummy little potatoes. And, the kimchi wasn't very spicy. Third, the very helpful waitresses had numbers instead of names. A little impersonal, but perhaps this is traditional? But, these flaws could not detract from our enjoyment of the fantastic short ribs.

Chsoun Galbee: 3330 W Olympic Blvd, Los Angeles, CA
(323) 734-3330

Friday, January 26, 2007

fridays off the 405

There is never a bad time to go the Getty Center in Los Angeles. They have a strong Western collection, especially early Renaissance Italian paintings and 18th century decorative French art. They help arrange wonderful special exhibits like the beautiful Holy Image, Hallowed Ground: Icons from Sinai. And, everything is perfectly showcased in its stunning Richard Meier designed gallery spaces.

However, extended hours on weekends make late afternoons and early evenings the best time for a visit. As Lisette and I discovered today, you can arrive as most people are leaving and feel like you have the museum to yourself. Better still, you can enjoy the Center’s spectacular architecture and views in the changing light of sunset.

The Getty remains open until 9p on Fridays and Saturdays, and it plays host to a number of unique events. Perhaps the hippest are the (usually) monthly Fridays Off The 405 which features artists like Dntel (aka James Figurine aka James Tamborello) in the courtyard along with a cash bar.

Admission to the Getty is free. Icons from Sinai continues until March 4, and the next scheduled Fridays Off the 405 are March 16 and April 13.

Saturday, January 20, 2007


I enjoy live music but I tend to find out about the most interesting shows too late. Often I have plans or the concerts are sold out.

I’ve mentioned some of the event websites I use to learn about shows, but I’ve long thought that there had to be a better way. I want to see a schedule for the bands I like (popular and obscure) without having to scroll through an endless list of all shows. Thanks to a tip at Lifehacker I have found the perfect solution: iConcertCal.

iConcertCal is a free iTunes plugin for the PC and Mac, and it creates a personalized event calendar for you based on your music library. It cross-checks the artists in your collection against sites like Pollstar and The List for performances in your area, and it produces a monthly calendar in the Visualizer space of iTunes (see screenshot) with links for more information.

Created by two genius EE grad students, the plug works exactly as advertised. Run the installer, start iTunes and give it a minute or two to build your custom hot list. If you have never used the Visualizer in iTunes (and who has?), finding your calendar is non-obvious, but there are only two steps:

View -> Visualizer -> iConcertCal
View -> Show Visualizer (Ctrl + T)

I can’t describe how happy I am to have discovered this excellent software. Although I can think of a few features I wish it had, I appreciate its simplicity. Shows I might have never have known about include:

1/27: Keane at the Berkeley Community Theater
Carbon Leaf at the Independent
Of Montreal at the Attic in Santa Cruz
2/2, 2/3:
Of Montreal at the Great American Music Hall
Erin McKeown at Cafe Du Nord
Si*Se' at the Independent
2/14, 2/16, 2/17:
James Taylor at the Orpheum
Teitur at the Swedish American Hall
Josh Ritter at the Swedish American Hall
Snow Patrol with Silversun Pickups at the Bill Graham Civic
3/2, 3/3:
Lyle Lovett with John Hiatt at the Fox in Redwood City
Willie Porter at the Freight & Salvage in Berkeley
Bright Eyes at the Great American Music Hall
Bloc Party at the SF Design Center
Gilberto Gil at the Fox in Redwood City

Thanks iConcertCal! Download for PC and Mac
(listings are US only and update weekly)

Friday, January 19, 2007

lessons learned from WWII movies

Paul's note: I am pleased to weclome back Bill to (at least) one cool thing with his third contribution. Previously Bill has written about talbot's toyland and the rosicrucian egyptian museum, and today he shares his encyclopedic knowledge of films with a discussion of some of his favorites.

Paul has been asking me to do a post on the top old WWII movies for some time. To narrow the list, I decided the movie had to be made before 1980 and had to portray either a true story or fictional characters within actual battles (which means I'll have to put The Guns of Navarone in another list). As I considered some of my favorites, I realized that many of them made a lasting impression on me. Here's a list of some of the best old WWII movies and the lessons I learned from them:

Sands of Iwo Jima (1949)

Good thing I didn't see this movie right before either of my sons were born, or I would have named at least one of them Stryker, after the marine sergeant played by John Wayne. Stryker is the ultimate leader of men: tough as nails but with a heart of gold. In order to teach one recruit proper technique for bayoneting, Stryker smacks him in the face with the butt of his rifle, but then dances with him later on. How's that for tough love! Even the whiner in his platoon finally appreciates Stryker after he gets killed by a sniper. The lesson? You can't be too sensitive when your coach/boss/wife yells at you. It's probably for your own good.

To Hell and Back (1955)

Unlike the fictional Stryker, Audie Murphy was a true hero. It's hard to beat a real Medal of Honor winner playing himself. I haven't seen this movie in a couple decades, but its lesson is still indelibly etched in my mind. When your good buddy gets killed right next to you, the best thing you can do is go berserk, charge the hill and take out a few dozen of the enemy. Not only do you get to avenge your friend many times over, but you may get a medal to boot! Fortunately for my close friends, I haven't had to apply this lesson yet.

First To Fight (1967)

The sole survivor of a night attack on Guadalcanal, marine Jack Connell single-handedly kills the last 50 or so Japanese. He is sent home as a hero and promoted to Lieutenant. Things start to go bad when he meets a pretty girl and gets married. Feeling guilty, he volunteers to go back to the Pacific. But as he leads his men onto the beach, Jack suddenly thinks of his wife and freezes in fear. His sergeant finally has to kick Jack in the butt to snap him out of it. Jack redeems himself by blowing up one pillbox with a bazooka and repelling down a cliff to toss explosives in another. The lesson? Getting married turns even the toughest guy into a big softie. Although I saw this one coming, I couldn't prevent the same thing from happening to me.

Patton (1970)

George C. Scott is phenomenal as Old Blood & Guts. Even as a little kid, I thought it was unfair that Patton got in trouble for smacking that loser in the hospital. The lesson? No matter how badly some punk deserves it, it's just not worth it to hit him. It will only hurt you and your team. Good one to keep in mind for both sports and work situations.

A Bridge Too Far (1977)

So how does Patton hurt his team by hitting that guy? HQ starts letting Montgomery call more of the shots. Instead of a straightforward run up the middle, Monty decides to get fancy with Operation Market Garden. In this true story, multiple paratroop drops are supposed to take and hold key bridges in the Netherlands long enough for the tanks to make their way up. Much is made in the movie of Panzers on aerial photos being ignored, but the real problem is that Monty's plan depends on everything going perfectly. When unexpected problems arise (e.g., the banks of the roads are too soggy for tanks to get around obstacles, supply drop zones get over-run, and radios don't work) even this star-studded cast can't complete their mission. The lesson? Keep It Simple, Stupid.

The Great Escape (1963)

A true story better than anything you could make up, this movie honors the perseverance and bravery of allied flyers in a Luftwaffe prison camp. The movie is faithful to the real events, except for the use of composite characters played by a stellar cast. Steve McQueen, in particular, has some great moments throwing his baseball against the "cooler" wall and evading the Germans on a motorcycle. By digging 3 tunnels (Tom, Dick and Harry) and finding ingenious ways to hide their efforts, the prisoners manage to get 76 men out before being discovered. A few escape for good, but most are ultimately caught. However, they succeed in their primary goal of diverting German forces in order to track them down. (Unfortunately, they are so successful in distracting the Germans that the Gestapo executes 50 of them.) The lesson? If you're going to get in trouble anyway, you might as well make the most of it.

The Battle Of Britain (1969)

Another all star cast portrays pilots during the battle of Britain in 1940, with exceptional scenes of aerial combat. A great touch is that the Germans actually speak German at all times. Just as the British are about to break under the relentless pressure of the numerically superior Luftwaffe, Hitler gets angry and orders the Luftwaffe to target London instead of the RAF's airfields and radar installations. This gives the RAF the breathing room they need to recover. When the Luftwaffe, in frustration, switches to daylight bombing raids, the RAF shoot down enough planes to make the Germans finally give up and turn their attention to Russia. To quote Winston Churchill, the lesson here is "Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never..."

Monday, January 15, 2007

fold shirts fast

I’m not sure what is more amazing – that I had never seen this technique before or that there are hundreds of videos on YouTube demonstrating the method. It is extremely fast, easy to master and produces very high quality folds. In experiments tonight conducted after watching 24, we all produced perfect results on our first attempts.

The instructions are the same for t-shirts, polos or long-sleeve. The Japanese clip above is canonical, but if you want more detailed demonstrations and slow-motion replays, try this.

Bonus link: a tool to fold even faster. Of course there are YouTube videos demonstrating ways to make you own

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

make your own cd case

Tens of billion of pressed and blank CDs and DVDs have been sold yet the packaging alternatives are still poor. CD jewel cases are bulky and easy to break. Their advantage: good protection and room for a title on the spine. Slim line cases take up less space and are less ugly, but they are harder to label. Digipaks are better still, but expensive.

For burned media I tend to use Tyvek or vinyl sleeves, but today I stumbled upon a new alternative: the make-it-yourself paper sleeve. Well-suited for gift presentation, the materials are affordable (any 8 ½ x 11” sheet of paper) and the skills required are minimal. The one drawback: standard paper can lightly scratch a disc if care is not taken on insertion and extraction.

To create your own, I suggest starting at paper cd case. Type in title and content information in their web form and print out a sheet of paper for your case. Their template has a spine label, title front and back and optional track listing. Better still, it has lines for folding – a great help when perfecting your technique. paper cd case is based on the Tom Hull folding method illustrated on the left.

For more unique designs, Curbly suggests using wrapping or decorative paper. Two of her cases are shown in the photo top right. A caveat: fancy paper eliminates the cost advantage of this approach but it does make for a very attractive case.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

introducing iPhone

As everyone on the planet must now know, Apple introduced the iPhone today. Hundreds of nifty gadgets were launched at CES, but the only news that mattered was the June release date for Apple’s handheld convergence device that is so much more than a phone.

You don’t have to be a Apple worshiper to recognize the possibilities that iPhone creates. Multi-touch input, context sensitive buttons, wide screen for video, the ability to run full versions of OS X applications, a 2 megapixel camera, complete iPod functionality, real web browsing via WiFi and Edge and gorgeous design. Oh yeah, it places phone calls too and has software that integrates all of these functions in a revolutionary fashion.

Apple has a micro-site up with animation, video, pictures and all of the details. However, there are two web articles I wanted to draw your attention to. First, the folks at Gizmodo were able to get hands-on with the iPhone and have posted a quick review. Some excerpts:

Screen: Most gorgeous ever. Flawless.
Gestures: They work! Multitouch is great for zooming photos.
Browser: Perfect rendering of the page
Their bottom line: what the iPod did for music, “the iPhone is going to do this for cellies.”

Second, Time Magazine has posted an in-depth article on the iPhone’s origins. Now that the iPhone has been announced there will be scores of articles on its development, but this is the first and most-detailed currently available.

Bonus link: David Pogue at the New York Times who was able to play with the iPhone for an hour this evening

Monday, January 08, 2007

gadgets galore

For tech lovers, it’s the most wonderful time of the year. Today, tomorrow and Wednesday, 2,700 exhibitors will show their latest products to more than 100,000 attendees at CES 2007, the world’s largest consumer electronic tradeshow.

Although the convention is in Las Vegas, internet coverage is comprehensive and almost real-time with blogs like Engadget and CrunchGear providing hundreds of pictures, descriptions mini-reviews. My favorite source: Gizmodo.

If that wasn’t enough excitement, MacWorld Expo kicks off in San Francisco tomorrow. Tune into your favorite gadget site in the morning for minute by minute updates on Steve Jobs’ highly anticipated keynote address.

Will an iPhone be unveiled? The New York Times thinks the Apple announcement will be even bigger, but you will have to tune in tomorrow and wait for “one more thing” to find out. Gizmodo and Engadget will be live-blogging, and iLounge and the Unoffical Apple Weblog should be good sources for more details.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

your very own camarasaurus

During the Late Jurassic period, the Camarasaurus lived in North America and Europe. Full-sized, this quadruple herbivore grew to 23 feet high, 60 feet long and a weight of 40,000 pounds. The Camarasaurus been extinct for 144 million years, but Emeryville company Ugobe is hoping to change that.

Meet Pleo, a week-old infant Camarasaurus. Created by Caleb Chung, co-inventor of the wildly popular Furby, Pleo is a robot that adapts its personality and skills to its environment. Pleo has touch sensors, a microphone, a camera and 14 internal motors. Pleo also has 6 CPUs to control its very lifelike actions and its development as it progress from infant stage to puppy stage and through adolescence and adulthood.

Pleo received quite a bit of attention last Winter at DEMO 2006, and now that its $250 price is set and the February 3 pre-order date approaches, the folks at Ugobe have been making the PR rounds again. The latest Wired has a great feature on Pleo’s creators and development, and embedded early 2006 video of an infant Pleo waking up. The Sci Fi Channel has recent clips of Pleo walking and doing some tricks.

Read the January 2007 Wired article and check out a Pleo fan blog

Thursday, January 04, 2007

cheap, portable memory card readers

As Warren noted, transferring photos from your camera while on the road can be a huge hassle. For my trips last year, I brought along a bulky reader. Perhaps soon memory and camera manufacturers will solve this problem by integrating wireless technology – or maybe the well-designed SD cards Warren reviewed will become more affordable. Until then, the answer is cheap, portable memory card readers.

Via slickdeals, Supermedia Store is selling 2 SD readers for $5 – shipped! These small USB 2.0 devices turn your memory into a thumb drive and are tiny enough to take with you wherever you travel. The superlicious deal is good for today only.

Not able to act fast enough, don’t use SD or don’t need two? No problem; the LED Shoppe has you covered. This little SD reader is $3 and this small Compact Flash device is $5. Shipping is free and there are no expiration dates for these prices. View all of the LED Shoppe’s card readers.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

new numa

Remember what I said about an increase in article quality for the New Year? Well, you can forget about that. While researching another topic, I stumbled upon the New Numa and I had to post it. I’m not sure how its September release escaped me.

If you are familiar with the original Numa Numa you will understand. If you are not, you must watch it. It is one of the most important video clips in web history. The BBC has calculated that it has been viewed more than 700 million times since it debuted 2 years ago, and it has spawned thousands of copies.

Fans may be interested in the lyrics - and in the band O-Zone’s actual music video for Dragostea Din Tei. Wikipedia has even more details, including the song’s chart history (hint, the number 1 is involved in almost every European country) and the lawsuit with the group Haiducii over who actually penned this masterpiece of modern music.

Monday, January 01, 2007

happy new year

I enjoy year-end lists; they're like Cliffs Notes for the past 12 months. You’ve probably seen things like AP’s Top News Stories of 2006, and it has been hard to miss YouTube’s most viewed videos. So, I thought I would link to some lists that you might have missed.

20 Weirdest Gadgets of 2006 (at the Register UK)
want more? try’s list of the 50 strangest

The 2006 Darwin Awards (via Slashdot)
related: Wired’s 2006 Foot-in-Mouth Awards

The Best of the Post (400 photographs from 21 WP photographers)
similarly: the most interesting flickr photos of 2006 by month and day

The 25 Most Popular Travel Articles of 2006 (NYT)
also from the NYT, The Top 10 Books of 2006

An indie take on The 25 Best Albums of 2006 (from IGIF)
check out even more lists (at metacritic)

Roger Ebert’s 4 Star Movies of 2006 (Chicago Sun-Times)
more movie lists from reviewers and the meta list (at metacritic)
The Top 5 Movie Posters of 2006 (at Sam’s Myth)

Bonus link: an amazing 360 degree panorama of Times Square