Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Make mine a Ballantine's

I will never claim to be anything but highly suggestible. Recently, I went on a Mad Men binge, imbibing the entire existing corpus via Netflix. At one point, Roger Sterling refers to a bottle of Canadian Club as "the good stuff" which  got me to thinking about the relative merits of whiskeys.

For some time, I've been heartily tired of the whiskeys that must be reverently anointed with no more than a drop or two of water and then savored with furrowed brow and serious mien.

I wanted a whiskey that didn't cost the earth that just tasted nice. Something that I could splash over a couple of rocks into my father's old thick bottomed Rosenthal crystal tumblers

I started out by tasting the Canadian Club, but there was a pervasive bitterness to it that just didn't please me. I tried a great number of other blended whiskeys on the rocks, but for some time I couldn't find one that was just right.

Finally I hit upon Ballantine's Finest (ironically the lowest priced whiskey in their lineup). Ballantine's is a venerable brand of blended Scotch whiskey that tastes to me exactly like a whiskey should taste. Faintly sweet, smooth, a hint of bitterness and very little in the way of smoke, peat or iodine (why is it that some people crave those flavors in whiskeys? I think it's just a masomachismo thing). $28.50 for 1.75 liters at my local hoocheria.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Only crazy people have the iPad 2 right now.

I never figured that I'd be one of the crazies standing in line for the newest iWorldChanger. Sure, I have pretty much iEverything, but I generally order it all from the comfort of my own home and boxer briefs. Initially, when I watched the Apple announcement, I felt pretty good. Apple was making a strong platform move, but they hadn't included anything that was a must have for me. I'd get to use my much loved iPad 1 for another year and I could look forward to upgrading next cycle. Done.

Then the Chief Acolyte weighed in. "Honey, if you get the new iPad, we can send your old one to my brother in China." This amounts to a spousal new shiny-toy purchase full dispensation. I'd also promised The Novice a new iPad for her sixteenth birthday and she'd been waiting patiently for the new model to arrive.

On Friday, I checked the website, but not early enough. By the time I looked at the site, the deliveries were already at 2-3 weeks. Now it is well-known that the stores on the first day of release are strictly for the crazies. I moseyed past my local AT&T store around 4:00 PM to see if there was a line, but it turned out that they had only received 5 units and they had taken orders starting who knows when. I figured I'd try my luck on the second day. Historically, Apple has resupplied their stores every day during a new product release.

Arriving at 8:20 AM on Saturday morning at the Apple Store in Manhasset (which opens at 10:00 AM), there were already about 20 people ahead of me. A great number of the people on line seemed to be Chinese and from their dress and comportment, my guess was that a significant number of them were buying to resell on the Chinese grey market. This pattern would continue as the line grew. (For the record, I am also Chinese.) A shout out here to Stephanie, Warren and Jennifer my iPad 2 line homies.

Periodically, what appeared to be a Store Manageress came out and gave us the party line. "We have no iPad 2s in stock. You are welcome to line up here in anticipation of deliveries. We have no ETAs, no information about quantities to be delivered today. We will let you know what we have as soon as we get it."

Sometime around 10:30 A FedEx truck pulls up to a round of cheering from the linies. Three hand trucks worth of various sized boxes are unloaded.

By 10:51 there were probably about 200 people on line. Around 11:00 AM they came down the line and said, "We received fewer than 10 iPad 2s in the shipment. They are all gone. We do not anticipate receiving anymore iPad 2s today." and with that c. 250 person-hours of line waiting vanished into a reluctantly dispersing, slightly incredulous crowd.

I was pretty much set to leave at this time. I was even in my car, but it occurred to me that the Chief Acolyte had asked me to pick up a iPhone 4 bumper for her bro. So I went back into the store, picked out a color and then wandered over to the iPad 2 display to mess around with them a bit. I'd pulled my iPad 1 out of my bag and was doing side-by-side comparisons, when a blueshirt asked me, "You interested in buying an iPad 2 today? I'd hop on line right now." I dropped the bumper, jammed my iPad back in my bag and nipped back outside and got on to the new line only about 10 people back from where I'd been in the first line. Somehow the word had gone around that a UPS truck had pulled up and a new line instantly formed.

Blueshirts immediately appeared and delivered the party line, "We have no iPad 2s in stock. You are welcome to line up here in anticipation of deliveries. We have no ETAs, no information about quantities to be delivered today. We will let you know what we have as soon as we get it." When asked pretty much anything, they were all, "We know nothing." They even exuded a whiff of, "We have no idea why these crazy people are lining up next to our store again today." I asked one of these blueshirts why the blueshirt in the store had told me to get back on line. "Who told you that? I have no idea why anyone would have said that to you." I declined to identify my tipster, but when I saw him again I asked him if I really should stay in this line and he said, "I would."

So I stayed. It took about another hour. They counted us off. I was #31. Warren was the only member of my first line cohort that I saw back on the line and he was about 15 ahead of me. The limit was now one per customer due to extremely limited quantities. Then they told us that they had received wifi only and Verizon units. Originally I had intended to get an AT&T unit which is more useful as it is an unlocked GSM device. Should I give up my precious 31st position in line and the hours I'd invested in this fool's errand, or should I take the Verizon unit? Since I don't really travel internationally and I have both AT&T and Verizon accounts, it wasn't really a deal-breaker for me. The Novice is planning to study abroad so she really wants the GSM, that fact combined with the hours I've put into this mean that this unit is MINE.

They shuffle us into the store one single digit group at a time. Periodically there are announcements. "16 GB wifi only sold out." "Verizon white sold out." "Verizon white available again." Around 1 PM I finally make it out with the 32GB white Verizon with a cream leather smart cover.

So. What's the final verdict? Apple certainly has a way of obliterating one's better judgment. I have no need for this thing. The cameras that have been added are truly craptastic in quality. The cover that I bought for $80 is more a thing that needs protection than a thing that will offer any. (That thing about cleaning the screen is utter poppycock BTW, unless you actually smoosh the cover around on the screen). It is lighter than than iPad 1 but not so much that it makes a real difference. Is it faster? I never noticed the old one being slow. AND I ENDED UP WITH THE CARRIER I DIDN'T WANT.

I love it anyway.


Saturday, December 04, 2010

Pizza Giotto

Here at the Sanctum, the Tiny Leader and the Darling Leader both frequently demand to be fed that ambrosia universally beloved by tiny cult leaders, pizza. Whenever the Chief Acolyte informs me that the supplies are low, I spring (ok, actually I need about 30 minutes to warm up both myself and the oven so maybe it's more like lurch) into action, and produce crisp, thin, slabs of pizza in about 25 minutes. All of this is accomplished through the good offices of my trusty sous-chef, Trader Giotto. The attached video shows the entire process compressed into about 4 minutes. A note on the oven time. I usually just use my nose. When it starts smelling like pizza, I look at it. If it basically looks done except the edges are a little pale, I know it's time to spin it. About a minute or two after that, the edges should be lightly golden and the pizza is done. Exact times in my oven @475 are 2.5 minutes, then turn the pizza and then bake for 2 minutes more.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Run Away to the Circus

Trust the Gray Lady to cast her haughty gimlet eye down upon the gaudy big top and to find it wanting.


This is what I have to say about Ringling Brothers & Barnum & Bailey's Coney Island Illuscination. Just go. And bring your kids. Sure, it's nothing that most adults haven't already seen. I suppose if your kids are especially jaded and have already seen Cirque du Soleil and Big Apple Circus and Momix and attended Robert Wilson's L'Orfeo at La Scala fer chrissakes, then it might all be a little passé for them. If your kids are like mine and consider Yo Gabba Gabba and the Backyardigans to be excellent entertainment, this'll blow their minds. The Tiny Leader (<4) and the Darling Leader (<2) were both rapt.

This is like a circus that might have rolled into your mythical little American town but better. It's a one-ring big-top with the worst seat in the house being no more than 50 feet away from the ring. You get jugglers standing on horses, spinning hair-hanging maidens, a posing trio of elephants with ladies in spangly costumes, blind-folded martial artists jumping through flaming spinning blades, a man in a cage with a whole pride of lions, clowns, acrobats, aerialists, dancers, tight rope acts, and ladies disappearing, reappearing, changing costumes in a flash, turning into a lioness, etc.

If you go an hour before showtime, your kids can hang out in the ring itself. The ringmaster clown leads them in activities like dancing, jumping rope, hula-hooping, and there's an up-close and personal cameo from (presumably) the most even-tempered of the three elephants.

The cheapest tickets are $10 and they're fine. $20 tickets are excellent. Under 2s are free and any number of businesses offer $5 off coupons for kid tickets (a 20 ride ticket from Deno's Wonder Wheel is the example that I know of). You can also check the coneyisland.com website to see if they have a promotional offer going.

Two things to be aware of, as follows. The air-conditioning can be a little aggressive in spots, so bring sweaters and make sure that the whole gang takes a bathroom stop before going to the show, it's port-a-potties and not nearly enough of them. Bonus: You are in Coney Island: Luna Park, Deno's Wonder Wheel, The Cyclone, The boardwalk, the beach and Nathan's. Enjoy!


Friday, July 23, 2010

Joining a machine to an Active Directory Domain across a Hamachi 2 VPN

OK. This is extremely geeky. I put this here just so others who might want to try this can find it. It is possible to join a machine to an Active Directory Domain across a Hamachi 2 VPN. A little bit of trickery is required, but it's actually pretty low-impact. The first step is to make sure that the machine you'd like to join to the domain is a member of the same Hamachi network as the domain controller and that it can see the DC. Ping std.hamachi.logmein.com to get the IP address of the Hamachi intermediation server (I get . On the machine that is joining the domain, set the Local Connection DNS setting to the Hamachi IP address of your domain controller. Now go into the Hamachi 2 client on the machine being joined to the domain. Go to Preferences, Settings, Advanced settings, Server connections, Server address and hardcode the IP address of the Hamachi intermediation server there. Hamachi should then be able to resolve and reconnect to the network. At this point, you can go ahead and join the machine to the domain. The thing to keep in mind is if you ever lose the Hamachi network connection between these machines, check to see if the IP address of std.hamachi.logmein.com has changed and change that setting in Hamachi appropriately.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Lenovo ThinkServer TS200v how doth thou suck *ss?

Ceaselessly and with great fervor. Let me count the ways:

1) Server 2003 installation crashes.
2) No 2003 Server drivers are available for download.
3) ThinkServer "EasyStartup" program hangs.
4) Driver installations need .Net framework 3.5 installed to run cleanly, meaning you have to add the Application Server role BEFORE installing drivers.
5) Hypervisor setting turned off in BIOS
6) When the Hypervisor setting is turned on, graphics go squirrely and machine freezes
7) If you boot into Safe Mode with Hypervisor setting turned on graphics are OK but machine blue screens upon password entry
8) BIOS flasher fails mid-flash.

I finally got the Hypervisor to successfully start up the virtual machine by turning off the Hypervisor in BIOS, booting, removing the display drivers (built-in, on-board adapter), booting, turning on the Hypervisor in BIOS, full power off, and then rebooting.


Thursday, August 27, 2009

Help getting dressed

Sure, I can whip up a different vinaigrette every day of the week. Blue Cheese, Caesar and Ranch all know the touch of my whisk. I've even been known to dress green salads with Nuoc Cham or various Asian sesame oil & rice vinegar concoctions. Some days though, I just need a little help. I'm doing a bunch of other things and I just want my dressing to come out of a bottle. This is when I reach for the FreshDirect Blue Cheese Dressing. This stuff is easily as good as anything you'd make yourself without the hassle of keeping supplies of sour cream, buttermilk and blue cheese on hand. Honorable Mention goes to FreshDirect Roasted Garlic Caesar Dressing which is good but needs a little extra oomph, some mashed up anchovies or a little drizzle of nuoc mam a.k.a. fish sauce (known to the Caesars themselves as garum). I would avoid the FreshDirect Raspberry Nectar Vinaigrette w/ Omega-3. I find it to be sweet, sour and insipid.

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Friday, August 21, 2009

The Gleat Galric Clisis

Is it just me, or has it become harder and harder to get decent garlic? Everywhere you go these days, its those white net tubes of garlic sent over from China, in slow-moving uninsulated cargo containers. Even if you don't see the tubes, chances are very good that the anonymous loose garlic you find in your local supermarket comes from our favorite 1.3 billion producers of low-cost products. The stuff has a nasty off aroma and if you actually eat it in little chunks as I am wont to do, you get this weird acidic aftertaste. It's just bad.

When my timing is just right, I get great local garlic at the various Farmers Markets. Very occasionally, a single head of garlic turns up in my CSA box, but that just doesn't even begin to cover my everyday garlic needs. Fortunately I have found two reliable sources of non-Chinese garlic. The regular (non-organic) garlic from FreshDirect comes from Mexico. (The "organic" stuff comes from Argentina, but I just don't know what that word means outside of the US. Even in the US it's starting to mean "Factory produced, ultra-pasteurized and shipped to you from far away.) The other place that has garlic with identifiable provenance is Trader Joe's, their organic garlic is clearly marked as a product of California.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Uploading your contacts into Gmail or GApps and synchronizing with the iPhone

I recently spent a great deal of time uploading all my contacts into Gmail Contacts and then trying to get those contacts to sync cleanly with my iPhone's contacts using Google Sync . To my chagrin I learned that although both these mechanisms work very well, there are some significant stumbling blocks when using them together. The first important thing to note is that not all of the fields that are in Dave's terrific .csv file will sync to the iPhone. Here is a shot of all the fields loaded with test data uploaded to Gmail. Pretty, right? Not shown because it didn't fit in the screenshot is the "Notes" field at the bottom but that worked fine. The fields "Section 1 - Other" and "Section 2 - Other" Show up as "Other" and "Home" respectively, toward the bottom of the contact; a little odd but dealable.

When you go ahead and set up the Sync with the iPhone, that's when you run into problems. None of the Section 1 Phone number fields will sync with the iPhone. Section 2 fields: "Home," "Home Fax," "Mobile," and "Pager" sync up just fine. The fields "Section 2 - Company," "Section 2 - Title" and "Section 2 - Other" will also fail to sync.

After a GREAT DEAL of trial and error, I have come up with one significant improvement. If you replace the Section 1 - Description with "Work" (don't use the quotes) you will get two more fields on your iPhone; "Section 1 - Phone" and "Section 1 - Fax" will sync to the iPhone as "Work" and"Work Fax" respectively. Those Section Descriptions are REALLY important. They must be on every line of the .csv, spelled correctly and the first letter must be capitalized or they just don't work.

So to recap: Use this .csv file. Change the Section 1 - Description from "Other" to "Work" (again don't use the quotes). Do not use the following fields: "Section 1 - Mobile," "Section 1 - Pager," "Section 1 - Other," "Section 2 - Company," Section 2 - Title," "Section 2 - Other." (Possibly these columns could be removed from the template, but I haven't tested this).

Just as a side note, if you have contact records that contain a "Company Name" but no "Name" field, Gmail will not import those. Copy the contents of the "Company Name" field into the "Name" field and you're good.

Once you've done this though, it really rocks. BUT: don't forget to occasionally use the Gmail export function to backup your contacts to a csv file. Although it feels like you're backed up because it's on your iPhone and on Gmail, the truth is if something is accidentally deleted from Gmail or if something should go terribly, terribly wrong over at the big G, your sync'ed iPhone contacts can disappear in a twinkling of an eye.

If anyone wants to take this info and make it into a super user-friendly tutorial, they should feel entirely free, I just don't have the time just now :)