February 2006 Archives

Math Test

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I'm embarassed to say I got one of these wrong. How will you do?

You Passed 8th Grade Math
Congratulations, you got 9/10 correct!

Site updates

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I've done a little housekeeping on my blog here. I finally got comments working once again. I had added a MovableType plugin to try and cut down on the immense amount of comment spam I get on my various blogs. And it worked too well, especially if you don't have it set up correctly! After much going 'round and 'round with MovableType support, I finally figured out it was all my fault and, after getting the plugin set up correctly, comments are back working and spam is gone!

I need to add that I am heartily impressed with MovableType support in general, and 'lisa' in specific. She worked long and hard, trying to figure out why my comments weren't working. And this for a non-paying customer who uses their free version! Certainly, support above and beyond the call of duty. And after that display of professionalism and courtesy, I probably should spring for the "Personal Basic" version, which would allow me to add additional authors to my blogs, as well as get listed on their "Recently Updated" list. To learn more about MovableType, the very popular blogging software I use on all my blogs, see here.

I also added three new Cocktail entries, and I cheated on two of them. this one and this one are backdated to more correctly track when we actually tasted these libations, as opposed to when I finally got around to typing them in. I especially recommend the latter entry, as it talks about a wonderful new Curaçao I was finally able to track down.

New Bio-Optic Device!

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Email joke of the week:

Introducing a new Bio-Optic Organized Knowledge device, trade named: "BOOK".

BOOK is a revolutionary breakthrough in technology: no wires, no electric circuits, no batteries, nothing to be connected or switched on. It's so easy to use, even a child can operate it.

Compact and portable, it can be used anywhere -- even sitting in an armchair by the fire -- yet it is powerful enough to hold as much information as a CD-ROM disc. Here's how it works:

BOOK is constructed of sequentially numbered sheets of paper (recyclable), each capable of holding thousands of bits of information. The pages are locked together with a custom-fit device called a binder, which keeps the sheets in their correct sequence.

Opaque Paper Technology (OPT) allows manufacturers to use both sides of the sheet, doubling the information density and cutting costs. Experts are divided on the prospects for further increases in information density; for now, BOOKs with more information simply use more pages.

Each sheet is scanned optically, registering information directly into your brain. A flick of the finger takes you to the next sheet. BOOK may be taken up at any time and used merely by opening it.

Unlike other display devices, BOOK never crashes or requires rebooting, and it can even be dropped on the floor or stepped on without damage. However, it can become unusable if immersed in water for a significant period of time. The "browse" feature allows you to move instantly to any sheet and move forward or backward as you wish. Many come with an "index" feature, which pinpoints the exact location of selected information for instant retrieval.

An optional "BOOKmark" accessory allows you to open BOOK to the exact place you left it in a previous session -- even if the BOOK has been closed. BOOKmarks fit universal design standards; thus, a single BOOKmark can be used in BOOKs by various manufacturers. Conversely, numerous BOOK markers can be used in a single BOOK if the user wants to store numerous views at once. The number is limited only by the number of pages in the BOOK.

You can also make personal notes next to BOOK text entries with an optional programming tool, the Portable Erasable Nib Cryptic Intercommunication Language Stylus (PENCILS).

Portable, durable, and affordable, BOOK is being hailed as a precursor of a new entertainment wave. Also, BOOK's appeal seems so certain that thousands of content creators have committed to the platform and investors are reportedly flocking. Look for a flood of new titles soon.

Cocktail of the Week - First the Money

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Cuba Libre

This week's cocktail is from my New Classic Cocktails book. This time, it is the "twist" to the classic rum and coke, or, as they call it, a Cuba Libre, so named as the toast used by American soldiers after the Spanish-American War - "Free Cuba"! My friend Mark came down, and the Rum & Coke is a favorite of ours, so I made us up the twist to this classic recipe.

    First the Money

  • 1 lime
  • 1 teaspoon white creme de menthe (I use Marie Brizard brand here)
  • crushed ice
  • 1oz dark rum (Myers)
  • 3/4oz Toussaint coffee liqueur (don't have this, so I used the more popular Kahlua brand)
  • Coca-Cola (always Coke here, never Pepsi)

First, you cut the lime into quarters and muddle it, along with the creme de menthe, on the bottom of a tall highball glass (luckily, I received a set of these for my birthday!). To do this, you just plop them into the glass and take your muddler (a small wooden bat; the Lewis Ice Bag comes with a very nice one), and smoosh against the bottom of the glass, being careful not to bust the glass itself. Then fill the glass with crushed ice, add the dark rum and coffee liqueur, stir it up, fill with Coke, add a straw and you're good to go!

I like this drink. It's a nice twist on the standard R&C. Not a complete replacement, mind you, but it works pretty well as a starter. Surprisingly, you can taste all the ingredients, which means you can go pretty lightly with the creme de menthe, as a little of this powerful minty liqueur goes a long way.

As an added bonus, I will throw in the recipe for a very good, more direct, variation on the Cuba Libre:

    Cuba Libre Improved

  • 1 oz rum (I use Bacardi silver, although Capt. Morgan Spiced Rum is an approved variation)
  • 1/2 oz gin (doesn't have to be Bombay Sapphire in this case!)
  • 1/4 oz lime juice
  • Coca-Cola

This adds a splash of gin, along with lime juice, to the straight rum & coke normally served here at Chez Arnold. Limes can, of course, go in any R&C, but adding juice & gin really give this a true sparkle.

More great findings for my liquor cabinet! I finally found a good Curaçao, replenshed my Maraschino liqueur, got some fresh Meyer Lemons, and a new hand blender. So I had to mix up a couple of cocktails using these.

    Brandy Crusta

  • 2oz brandy (I used Hennessy Cognac - yeah, I know, what a plebeian!)
  • 1/2 oz orange Curaçao
  • 1/2 oz Maraschino liqueur
  • 1oz lemon juice
  • 3 dashes Angostura bitters

Moisten the rim of the cocktail glass with the lemon and dip into a rimmer, like superfine (caster) sugar or any of the fine Stirrings rimmers. Mix the brandy, Curaçao, Maraschino liqueur, lemon juice and bitters in a shaker filled with crushed ice. Strain into the cocktail glass and decorate with a lemon rind.

Curacao BottleI was able to use lots of cool new discoveries and gifts in this classic cocktail! I've been on a quest to find a good Curaçao. As I've mentioned before, most available Curaçaos (usually of the blue variety) are pretty horrid tasting. Generic label artificial everything, they make pretty much anything undrinkable. The blue Curaçao is an important weapon in the cocktail mixers arsenal, as it gives drinks a unique color, but if I couldn't find one that didn't taste like chemically hopped-up sugar water, I wasn't going to use it any more. But a web quest uncovered a real version made in Curaçao called, of all things, Curaçao of Curaçao. Many more clicks later, I found the distributor, and found the one local retailer. My first trip to Marty's Liquors didn't turn up any Curaçao, but questioning the manager led me to their Newton store, where I was able to snatch up bottles of their blue and orange (same flavor, different color) Curaçaos.

Luxardo Maraschino LiqueurAnd what a difference they make! Both of them taste like a stronger Cointreau, with a very pleasant orange aroma and a sharp, sweet orange taste. No artificial aftertaste at all. A "blind" side by side tasting against the Arrow brand was no contest. Even your nose could tell you, as the Curaçao of Curaçao smelled like an orange, while the Arrow smelled like chemical sugar water. I am so very happy to have found this! Check the distributor's web site, Preiss Imports, for a retail outlet near you - it'll be worth the effort and money, trust me!

I also got to use my freshly delivered Meyer Lemons! Yup, my folks tracked down a supplier (Melissa's) and I received a nice big box of Meyer Lemons the other day! And they are as good as advertised. I especially like how easy they are to juice - very plump and soft. The juice is still more lemon than orange, but I like it alot and am looking forward to using them in many of my upcoming cocktails.

And I finally bought a fresh bottle of Maraschino liqueur. I know what you picture when initially reading the name - some sort of red, syrupy production akin to grenadine syrup. But no, it is a colorless liqueur from Italy, made using Maraschino cherries, which are not normally red. In fact, you wouldn't want to know how these red dollops of sweetness are made (it involves soaking in brine and other yucky sounding steps). Maraschino liqueur is very interesting tasting, and an important ingredient in a real Daiquiri. Unfortunately, it is hard to get a top brand here in the States. Like sake, the locals keep the good stuff for themselves, so you have to make due with the brand in the twine called Luxardo, which isn't too bad, I guess.

    Great Barrier Reef

  • 2 oz gin
  • 1 oz Cointreau
  • dash bitters
  • dash blue Curaçao
  • 2 scoops vanilla ice cream

Combine ice, gin, Cointreau, bitters, blue Curaçao and ice cream in a blender; blend well and pour into a nice tall glass.

I was looking for a slightly offbeat blue Curaçao recipe and I found this one in one of my Christmas present cocktail books. In this case, it is a good looking magazine-style cocktail recipe book called Fantastic Cocktails & Mixed Drinks. A nice collection of recipes, with pictures for every drink. It's easy to find blue Curaçao drinks - just flip through the pages and look for a blue drink! In this case, the blue color is muted, unlike some of the more popular blue ones, like a Blue Lagoon, where the blue Curaçao contributes virtually all the color. As an extra added bonus, I got to use another birthday gift, my hefty stainless steel Cuisinart Smart Stick hand blender. After some struggles with the tightly packed ice, it finally started churning things up, and it made a very smooth, great tasting cocktail shake.

After cocktails and playing Serious Sam 2, we watched the first episode of the short lived UPN series, Nowhere Man. I'm not sure how I came across this series - surfing around and read a review on it, and it sounded interesting, so I ordered up the first DVD from Netflix, which contains the first 3 episodes. The story of a man who is erased from society's memory for mysterious reasons, it was interesting enough to keep us watching for the next couple of episodes anyway.

Short Friday Playlist

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Short list for today, as I've been really crunched for time. I tended to put on the CDs and let them play through, rather than picking and choosing ahead of time.

Cumbre by Sukay
  • Sukay - "Tierra De Vicuñas" (Cumbre (The Summit) [1990]) : I was on a business trip to Seattle a few years ago (once again, probably more than I care to imagine, actually!), and I stopped to listen to a group playing music outside of Pike Market, a very cool place in central Seattle. It was Andean music, with pipes and classical guitar and the like. I really enjoyed their music, so I picked up this CD. Some really cool instrumental pieces here. This one opens the CD and is, like most of the others, pretty upbeat and exciting.
  • The Silencers - "A Letter From St. Paul" (A Letter From St. Paul [1987]) : Quite possibly my all time favorite album, certainly in my Top Ten, as every track is wonderful, culminating in this mysterious letter from a psychotic woman living in St. Paul Minnesota.
  • Mike Oldfield - "Family Man" (Five Miles Out [1982]) : Another one of my favorite artists. Most know him from "Tubular Bells", used as the theme from The Exorcist (even if the director later said he would have used Tangerine Dream instead if he had heard their music then), but he has a large body of art, including multimedia and movies, that deserve a bigger audience. This CD is an example, including a couple of nice long arrangements, as well as this song, later turned into a hit by Hall and Oates.
  • Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares - "Svatba" (Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares [1987?]) : The Womens Choir of Bulgaria brings their haunting voices to an early 4AD CD. Nice music to put on when your concentrating on something else, as the emotions come through irregardless of the language barrier or your level of concentration. We saw them in concert many years ago, and I even still have the shirt.
  • The Chills - "Male Monster From The Id" (Soft Bomb [1992]) : From a CD I don't remember why I bought it, but am sure glad I did. An excellent power pop group, hailing from New Zealand, The Chills put out some dynamite records. Unfortunately, I showed up late to the party, as this was one of their final CDs, and by all accounts their weakest. Still, it's got some nice jangly pop songs, including this one.

Gabriel Boudier CassisWe did a couple more champagne cocktails last night. My wife brings home some bottles of the Roederer Estate Anderson Valley Brut sparkling wine every year from the company Christmas party, so we usually have a sufficient supply of champagne around. And it makes a surprisingly good mixer for plenty of interesting cocktails. So here's a couple more, both from my New Classic Cocktails book.

    Russian Spring Punch

  • ice cubes
  • 1/2 oz creme de cassis (Gabriel Boudier)
  • 1 oz lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons simple (sugar) syrup
  • chilled Champagne (the aforementioned Roederer Estate)
  • 2oz Vodka (Stolichnaya)

Fill a sling glass (a nice tall thin one) with crushed ice and add the cassis, lemon juice and simple syrup. Add the vodka and top with Champagne at the same time. By adding them together, you prevent the Champagne from fizzing over the top. You can decorate it with a lemon slice and berries.

I made a couple of discoveries during the week and this cocktail (the "classic" one) used both. The Gabriel Boudier Creme de Cassis is a delicious French cassis, missing from my liquor cabinet for far too long, and I finally found a dusty bottle of it at a New Hampshire liquor store. It goes great over vanilla ice cream too, I have to add! Also, I finally tracked down a bottle of the Nantucket Off-Shore simple syrup, as I'm too darned lazy to make my own. I did find a note in one of my cocktail books to the effect that these days you can use caster (or superfine) sugar rather than going the whole way to simple syrup (which is merely sugar water). But I'm glad I found a local purveyor of the Stirrings products, and appreciate them getting back to me about local sellers. If you want to find someone local to you, be sure to just drop them an email. Their web site is Stirrings.com. I, of course, am too proud and picky to try their mixers, but the Simple Syrup, bitters and rimmers are some great products.

This was a pretty good cocktail, and went down easy. Maybe a few too many ingredients, as it was hard to tell them apart.

    Parisian Spring Punch

  • 1 1/2 oz Calvados
  • 1/2 oz fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 oz vermouth (always Noilly Prat here, as recommended by the book)
  • 1 teaspoon fine caster (super-fine or bar) sugar
  • chilled Champagne

Put the Calvados, lemon juice, vermouth and caster sugar in a shaker with crushed ice and mix thoroughly. Strain into a sling glass over crushed ice and top with Champagne. Decorate with apple slices.

I have to admit, we didn't use Calvados. I have some, but am not crazy about it. I prefer Lairds Applejack, and so we used that instead. And this "twist" was a much more subtle cocktail the classic, and I liked it alot.

Spiced SidecarA couple of repeats this time around. As Michael wasn't around the last time I did the Spiced Sidecar, and I hadn't yet used my Meyer Lemon Juice that I received in my stocking for an official Sidecar, I figured this would be a good time to try them both out again.

And yup, it worked out pretty well. I again used the Williams-Sonoma Lemon Drop Cocktail Froster, and both drinks wer very yummy. Now if only I could get some real Meyer Lemons!

Reading List Update

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I'm sure you've been sitting on the edge of your seat, just wondering how my reading has been going along. Here's the update. First, some books I've previously mentioned.

    Update from the previous entry

  • Hammered : I really enjoyed this. It got a little too techy for me at points, where stuff is explained (or explained away) in belabored sci-fi terms, but it was a pretty good future noir nonetheless. And it really is the first book in a series, as it ends just when things are beginning to get interesting! Not standalone by any means.
  • The PayPal Wars : I got through about half of this. It was a pretty interesting story of small, tech company madness. Been there, done that, got the t-shirt. And it was also from a marketeers point of view, even more annoying to this tech guy. Still, most people from outside the software industry would probably find this pretty fascinating.
  • Frankenstein : Sorry, just couldn't get through it. Made it less than halfway. Just not riveting enough for car audio.
  • Drive : Really good book. Short, to the point, mystery / noir. Sharp writing, interesting characters.
  • Gardens of the Moon : loaned this out, along with George RR Martin's fourth book in the Song of Ice and Fire series, A Feast For Crows, to my sister. She says it is pretty good and amazingly drew the same conclusion that I did - it felt very similar to the wonderful Chronicles of Lymond series by Dorothy Dunnet - complex "historical" fiction. Early reports are, though, it isn't as heavy as the Lymond stories.
  • Blink : haven't started this yet.

Here's all the books I have currently ongoing.

    Currently Reading

  • The Kalahari typing school for men by Alexander McCall Smith. I listened to the first book in this series, The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, a few months ago and enjoyed it immensely. The narrator of these, Lisette Lecat, is really good, and it's nice to have someone who can correctly (and lyrically) pronounce the foreign names. I just finished this one, and it is as good as the first one. Small, interesting stories about life in modern Botswana. Thumbs up!
  • The Voyage of the Narwhal by Andrea Barrett. Saw this on the display by the checkout counter, which contain lots of "winter" books. This one is a fictional account of the search for the Northwest Passage. It seems cool enough, but I've just started it.
  • Fer-de-lance by Rex Stout. As a devout mystery reader, I'm ashamed to admit I haven't ever read a Nero Wolfe mystery novel. Rex Stout wrote a bunch of them (over 70!) and the relationship between Wolfe and his action man, Archie Goodwin, is one I've actually thought about when thinking about my own nebulous detective novel. Just started this one, which is a collection of the first three books.
  • The Last Best League : one summer, one season, one dream by Jim Collins. Really fascinating book about the 2002 season of the Chatham Athletics of the Cape Code Baseball League. All of these kids, on the cusp of either stardom (see Nomar Garciaparra or Jason Varitek) or failure, battling curveballs, being 20 years old, injuries and doubt. Good book!

Of course, I can't just keep the ones I haven't read yet. I have to add to the pile!

    In The Queue

  • Uncommon Clay by Margaret Maron. One of the Deborah Knotts mysteries, which I find to be very well written and nicely plotted. I'm not crazy about her other series, but this one has some nice atmosphere and a good protagonist. I've read most of them up to this one and have been usually happy with the results.
  • Cypress Grove by James Sallis. Another one by the author of Drive. I'm also looking into getting one from his detective series, but my local library didn't have the first one, so I have to continue looking.
  • I was reading this review in the Globe the other day, and being a big historical fiction fan, I couldn't resist picking up the first in the series, Captain Alatriste by Arturo Pérez-Reverte. And I also picked up the other highly regarded one talked about in the review, The Jewel In The Crown by Paul Scott.
  • The End Of The Beginning : from the siege of Malta to the Allied victory at El Alamein by Tim Clayton. I like reading history even more than I like reading historical fiction, and one of my favorite things to read about is World War Two's Campaign in North Africa. An incredibly complex subject, it was the area where the tide finally turned in favor of the Allies, and where the American army learned to fight.
  • The Voyage of the Beagle by Charles Darwin. I found The Origins of Species to be highly entertaining, and I heard that Voyage was even better, so I finally picked up a copy. You can find both of them online here.

Web Links of the month

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  • Home Heating Systems - HeatingHelp.com : Contracting web site for heating problems, with a lot of information on solving your steam, hot water and other heating problems, plus how to get in touch with a pro.
  • defective yeti: Xyzzy : Very funny post, done in the style of the old text adventure games like Zork, explaining the Bush foreign "policy".
  • Logan Intl Airport - AirportMonitor : very cool (Java-powered) site showing near real-time view of the Logan air traffic.  You can rewind time to pretty much any point and see what was flying around when.  It was used by a recent poster to the
  • Bill Mauldin : Some very funny combat-oriented cartoons by the dean of them, Bill Mauldin.
  • anti-telemarketing counterscript : very cute flowchart to help you out when called by telemarketers, to turn the tables on them and have you follow a script!  Of course, these days it isn't quite as important.  Since signing up with the various "do not call" lists, our spam phone calls have dropped to almost nothing.
  • IP Spotting - How interesting is your IP address? : this page takes your  IP address and tries to figure out how "interesting" it is.  Mine is a 4, darn near a record low for uninteresting IP addresses.
  • MailBigFile.com : a site that does one thing, and one thing only - allow you to send big (up to 1gb) files via email! If your ISP puts unreasonable limits on the size of file you can email, this is the place to go.
  • dafont.com : Fonts. A gazillion of them.  And all for free!
  • Images - 30 Great Westerns : Yet Another Film List. This time, it is a list of 30 great westerns.  I'm disappointed my favorite one (Winchester '73) isn't on here, but still a very interesting list.
  • C.O.R.E. : The Center for Orsten Research and Exploration. Orstens are Cambrian sea fossils and this page has some really beautiful pictures.  See the Gallery link.
  • Gather.com : Join your blog to lots of other blogs and spread some content!
  • John Allen Paulos Home Page : Author of the fascinating book Innumeracy as well as a professor at Temple University, this page contains lots of his writings, and how people are generally statistically clueless.  See especially his critical view of the exit polling errors in the stolen 2004 election (his view - it wasn't the exit polling that was in error).
  • crates and barrels : pictures of crates and barrels as found in video games.  I've seen lots of them:-)
  • THE WORLD QUESTION CENTER 2006 : Each year, The Edge asks a provocative question to many leading thinkers. This year, the question is "What is your dangerous idea?" and there are some fascinating answers.
  • And finally, a couple of freeware specialized word processors you might find useful:
    • Tranglos software: KeyNote : a tabbed notebook, where different files are kept in different tabs, rather than new windows, like Microsoft Word does.  It also includes the idea of hierarchical notes, kept in a tree view.
    • RoughDraft : a word processor specifically geared towards screenplay and novel writing.


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