Thursday, March 31, 2011

Two more from Lagranja

Earlier this year, I mentioned the inexpensive Carinena I enjoyed from Lagranja (link here).  Well, last weekend at Trader Joes, I saw other wines from Lagranja and since they too were only $5, I wanted to give them a try.  The tempranillo and tempranillo/garnacha blends were both 2009 vintages, d.d.origens, and were both wonderful table wines.  I enjoyed them with grass fed steaks one evening, hummus and carrots the next, and French & English cheese last night.  They complimented each very nicely. 

Again, the flying pig and the colored zebra were a little silly, but they DID help me to readily locate the Lagranjas on the store shelf, without any doubts.  If you've not tried some of the inexpensive Spanish reds from Lagranjas, you should pick up a bottle and have a taste.  For $5, I don't think you'll be disappointed.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Inside Job - Enraging

On my recent transatlantic flight, I watched Charles Ferguson's "Inside Job" (links here and here, and hilariously, FoxNews has NO Review of it whatsoever here).  It both enraged and disgusted me.  Explained in very basic language, it paints (I believe) a VERY CLEAR picture of how investment banking is inherently evil, and the Americans and Brits who are the prime drivers of the imaginary "industry" of collateral default swaps, mortgage backed securities, and bogusly 'engineered financial tools' that have devastated the world's financial system.

It was educational, informative, factual, and enraging. 

The film should be used as required material in every High School Econ class, and every MBA ethics class, ever offered.

Wanna Gut Social Security?

Thanks to Crooks and Liars for this nice link and phone number. I want to get something back out of Social Security from the thousands I've been putting in to it. and NO, I do NOT want to privatize it.  Here greedy banker and hedge fund manager, take all my money please? Hell no.
Hands Off Social Security
Today is National Social Security Call-In Day. Call your Senators today to tell them not to touch it, please. Via Campaign for America's Future:
The following is from the Strengthen Social Security coalition, of which Campaign for America's Future is part:
We need you to call your Senators and demand that they vote for the Sanders/Reid Social Security Protection Amendment.
Senator Sanders and Majority Leader Reid are leading the fight in the Senate to protect Social Security from drastic cuts.
Their amendment simply says:
Social Security benefits for current and future beneficiaries should not be cut and Social Security should not be privatized as part of any legislation to reduce the Federal deficit.
Call your Senators RIGHT NOW at 1-866-251-4044. You’ll be given a choice of which of your state’s two senators to be connected with. Call BOTH of your senators if you have the time. It only takes a minute each.
Tell the person who answers the phone:
  • I am a voter/constituent living in [your state]. I am calling to tell the Senator:
  • I oppose all cuts to Social Security and
  • I urge them to vote yes on the Sanders/Reid Social Security Protection Amendment.
  • Please take the time for this very important effort today. This is for all of us who depend on Social Security.
Call Today: 1-866-251-4044.
I called, it took all of 2 minutes....  take action my friends.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Ultimate Grudge Match

NPR is running a story today (link here) on the Cricket match tomorrow, between Pakistan and India.  Having visited India in the past, and worked with both Pakistanis and Indians, I CANNOT think of another match, anywhere in the world, between ANY rivals, that is as extreme as this one.  Having fought 3 wars this century, and both having been part of the same British colony (from whom they learned the sport), separated by an arbitrary line drawn up hastily in just 3 days by a rather clueless British politician, both Pakistan and India share the same continent, many similar cuisines, a hatred of the British, a visceral hatred of each other, and a passion for cricket.  I've heard both young and old, men and women, rich and poor, voice their extreme antipathy of their neighboring country.

Bears / Packers?  Yankees / Red Sox?  Miami / Jets?  Eagles / Steelers?  No, none of these rivalries have even a fraction of the same intensity that India / Pakistan does in cricket.

Caleo Salice Salentino

I've liked Puglia wines for a long time.  Caleo's Salice Salentino, 2008, Denominazione di Origine Controllata is a good example of an inexpensive southern Italian red wine that is delicious and goes well with meat dishes.  I enjoyed it yesterday with some salt rubbed chuck tender steaks, mushrooms, onions & carrots.  It was quite tasty. 

Caleo does a good job in making inexpensive table wines and their Salice Salentino fits into that genre.  I picked mine up at Total wine for all of $7.  It won't be my last bottle from Caleo.

In what world Brit?

I was doing yoga in the living room yesterday as I watched President Obama make his speech on Libya.  As soon as it ended, I switched over to Fox news to see what kind of conniptions O'Reilly would have.  Amazingly, Bill actually agreed with the President for the most part, but O'Falafel's ego could not resist taking little snide pot shots here and there.  After his little diatribe 'talking points memo" pulpit, he spoke with the mental midget Brit Hume, Sr Analyst.  Ha.  At one point, Bill actually said that the Iraq war hurt the US image abroad, and I thought Hume was going to vomit in his revulsion and rejection of such an idea.  Hume spat out the following retort:

00:06:37    But I think that -- I think the world resented America.
00:06:43    And you correct me if you disagree.
00:06:46    You jump right.
00:06:46    In I think the world resented America for the Iraq conflict.
00:06:51    Would you say that's accurate.
00:06:52    >> I think some parts of the world that's true.
00:06:56    >> Bill: The majority of the world.
00:06:57    If you look poll after poll after poll, country after country that war hurt america's image. 

In what world Brit?

As I did yoga poolside today, I couldn't stop thinking about it.  Not Europe, Asia, South America, Canada, or Mexico.  Not in Australia, or India, or anywhere in South Asia.  Maybe in Saudi Arabia?  Kuwait?  Not Iran or Pakistan or even in Israel.   What part of the world Brit?

And it's really weird when O'Falafel is DEFENDING President Obama, as one of the more rational voices on Fox.  Very strange indeed.

It's amusing to watch the massive, flip flopping, about-faces on all the wanna-be Republican Presidential candidates, Senators, and Congress people, who are determined to try to perceive and paint Obama as the WORST President EVER, even when they agree with what he just did.  Priceless.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Agnes Obel - Philharmonics

Agnes Obel - Philharmonics
Falling Catching - instrumental
Riverside - tres triste
Brother Sparrow
Just So
Close Watch - is a very touching, sad song
Over The Hill - if I listened to this 10 or 12 times, I might just take up a heroine habit
On Powdered Ground - "Don't break your back on the track" coincident with the high piano rhythms reminiscent of a rail road crossing do a wonderful job on the subconscious.

[Listening again to it this afternoon, without any Cognac in my system, has nearly brought a tear to my eye.... oh man]

Agnes Obel is sort of like a like a young, Danish, Tori Amos, without the disturbed childhood over-tones... a slight accent, but barely detectable. Some of her vocal hint at a Cocteau Twins influence, in tone, but not as ethereal.   Deeply emotional tones run through her singing.  Very well produced.  I saw her on a German television program briefly last week - prior to this I was unaware of her work.  On Air France, she is loaded into the CD area, along with Neil Young (Crazyhorse), The Doors, Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, and others.  Her Philharmonics album cover photo makes her look like a very young Julie Andrews, with a Peter Pan-esque hair cut, 'deep in thought' somewhat haunted expression on her pretty face, with a l'air of tortured sadness.

If you've not heard of Agnes Obel, check out her work.   I find it quite moving.

The Myth Universal German Fluency in English

In Hannover, Essen, Dusseldorf & Berlin german, speaking English Fluently is A-typical amongst the cab drivers, bell hops, hotel reception, waitresses, and other service personnel I encountered 2 weeks ago.  Some speak it in a very limited sense.  Others have about a "first year's introduction" of basic vocabulary and sentence structure, but cannot form their thoughts or understand just a few expressions.  This is a contrast from what I found around Munich, Frankfurt, and Seigen, where English proficiency was "normal & expected".  And it was unlike Dresden and Freital, where the languages spoken were primarily German & Russian, with very very very little English and absolutely No French.

This unexpected lack of English fluency often made communication a challenge.  My 2 years of High School German and one year of University German meant I could speak German about as well as a 5 or 6 year old child of idiocracy, slowly, with basic Worschatz (vocabulary), and we'd manage to have short, hesitant, conversations or interactions that relied more upon gesturing and pointing and inference than on actual concise communication.   I was SO VERY happy to get to France after 5 days in Germany, for the language, food, wine, culture, and the fact that it had been 10 years since my last business visit, and 8 years since my last vacation in France. Plus the fact, I am nearly fluent in French.

Suzuki Leon

The Suzuki Leon Diesel is not a bad little car.  I had a rental from Eurocar out of the Suisse side of the Basel airport last week, and it was pas mal.  Peppy, manueverable - very useful in tiny French parking garages -
sportive, lots of electronic comforts - auto windows, locks, traction control, intelligent dash display, independent Left/Right climate controls, enjoyable to drive.  When I first got it, I was dejected - a Suzuki?? But after a few kilometers, I grew to like it.

My German colleagues warned me that the 'cars on the Suisse side are better quality than the French side of the airport'.  I know the French side is popular with Citrons, Renaults and other French models, but this Leon was not bad at all.

Policy of Truth

This Depeche Mode song has been running through my head all day yesterday and today...

The WB video original is here (link) but you cannot embed it.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Tale of 3 Hotels

Novotel Belfort France, Holiday Inn Express Essen Germany, and Kastens Hotel Luisenhof Hannover Germany, in that order from best to worst, in terms of
- price
- Comfortable room
- Size of the room
- fitness center
- petit-déjeuner (breakfast)
- d'éclairage (lighting)
- international focus
- friendliness
- English proficiency
- lack of an annoying key activated room power shut off
- variety of TV channels
- parking availability

In Germany, I paid nearly 200 Euros a night at the "5 star" Kastens Hotel Luisenhof in Hannover for 4 nights.  The bed was adequate. The Wifi an annoying 12 Euros a day. Really? 12 Euros to use a cloud service? What a rip off.  The food was inedibly German; foot, knuckle, snout, oh so many ways to serve a pig with sauerkraut and potatoes, ew. I ordered something that was supposed to be a filet of lamb "saddle steak" for lunch upon the afternoon of my arrival at the hotel.  What was presented on my plate resembled burnt, pan fried, toughened spam.  It was the thickness of spam, with a "Waffle House Cooked to Well Done" peice of chewy shoe leather tenderness - or lack thereof.  The cabbage and potatoes that came with it were sickeningly sweetened, and the wine (ein Baden rot Wein) gave me a head ache before I'd finished the glass.  This "only" cost me 44 Euros - ridiculous.  I tried to get the Wifi to work, and on my personal net book it did, but on my Dell work computer (AKA anchor) it refused to configure, ladened with pop-ups as it was and being on a non-corporate network.  [side note: hey IT professionals, if you're looking for a terrible, unfriendly Wifi user interface for your company, install Odysee Client Manager, and you'll be sure to be aggrevating your company's professionals and lowering their productivity in no time!]

After enduring 3 days and 4 nights of unpleasant German food and carb ladened beer (which I sipped, while my colleagues downed stein after stein), I took the highly efficent German train system from Hannover to Essen, passing through my father's childhood home of Dortmund enroute.  The train was clean and efficient, but it was also so bumpy, I had to shut down my computer for fear of crashing my spinning hard drive with the incessant & intermittently intense vibrations.  Compared to the Air France Airbus 340 in which I was flying as I wrote this, it was 10X to 100X worse in the Deutsch Bahn train, and we did experience some slight turbulence.   An afternoon spent at the company's Essen office, I check into a Holiday Inn Express - "Sie sind eine Rakete Wissenschaftler??" "Nein, aber ich habe in einem Holiday Inn Express Aufenthalt letzte Nacht!!" - that the company had booked for me.  It was cold and wet and windy outside, just above freezing and all I have is a suit coat, so no walking around the city or jogging for exercise for me.  'I'll use the fitness center' I thought... oh..  there is none? Ok.  I'll do yoga in my room..  except the room is SO TINY there is BARELY enough room to layout my yoga mat between the bed, window, desk confined space.  The shower/toilet/corner-sink geometric arrangement was something I could imagine well in place on a discounted cruise ship cabin, and I am paying over 140 Euros for this palatial accomidation.  The bed adequate, the HVAC non response.  Nein Danke fur Holiday Inn Express Essen.

SO on Friday afternoon after a 2nd day in the Essen office, I head to France, to have dinner with my old friend François and his wife, both of whom I have not seen for more than 10 years.  I fly Air Berlin from Dusseldorf to Basel - more on that debachel later - and upon my arrival in Eastern France, I check into the Novotel Atria, Belfort.  The Novotel understands its guests. I'd booked a room online for 89 Euros a night, pre-paid, that INCLUDED breakfast.  The room was spacious, power plugs on top of the desk instead of making me search under it. The breakfast was delicious.  Service was prompt and polite and mostly in French.  Wifi was free - with an annoying Orange France code that changed every 24 hours, but that's a small price to pay for "free".  The room amenties, other than the lack of wash cloths and shower curtain were first class in this older hotel that was probably built in the 70s or early 80s.  There was no ubiquitous (in Europe and Asia) key activated power kill switch installed, so I wouldn't come back to a unventilated, dark, dingy room, and if I left something plugged in to charge (like a phone or laptop battery), It Stayed Powered and Charging!  Conveniently located next to the old city, and within walking distance of the train station and resteraunts, the Novotel was a very pleasant stay, at less than 1/2 the price of the "5 star"  Kastens Hotel Luisenhof.

Yes, the Kastens DID have a sauna and a steam bath in their fitness center, but the novotel has identical weight and aerobic elliptical machines as the Kastens, and the Novotel even had "fitnesss mats" that doubled nicely as a yoga mat, on a carpeted floor (I was sweaty from a long hike and didn't want to sweat up my own yoga mat).  The fitness center (Centre de la Santé) was even on the same floor as I was at both Kastens and Novotel.  But the addition of a steam bath and sauna was NOT worth a 100 Euros a day.

And the Novotel had consistant shower temperature delivery.  You set the Grohlehome knob adjustment in the French shower, the mixing valve worked, and consistant water was delivered in Novotel.  Compared to the Kastens, where each of the 2 showers I took in my room SCALDED then FROZE then SCALDED me, in the time it took to rinse shampoo out of my hair.  Seriously? Was it because I was on the 6th floor of a 100 year old hotel, whose piping could not take the idea of anyone flushing a toilet in the next room?  I had to take to showering in the fitness center to preserve whatever unscalded skin I had left. 

And the Kasten's hotel tried to be so fancy with halogen lights (that only succeeded in making the room dark and dingily lit and heating everything on the shelf above the sink, like my toiletry bag under a heat lamp) and marble tiled floor in the bath room, would it have killed anyone to MOP the bathroom floor once each decade?  In the reflected oblique light I could see various human detrius, some liquid, some that had once been mucus, staining the floor all around the sink, toilet and tub.  MAJOR EW!!  I wore my shoes and poolside sandals I'd packed (just in case) whenever I walked around that nasty room.  If I ever stay in Hannover again, I will NOT stay in that hotel.

So with German and French hotels, the normal axiom of "you get what you pay for" is untrue.  The less I paid, the nicer the hotel experience became.  And no, it wasn't that I have a positive bias for the French and a negative bias for the Prussians, I am the Germanic peoples.  Scalded skin, nasty floors, cramped living spaces, low quality food, are not language dependent.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Frost Delays Superstition Bloom

Our friend Tim is visiting this weekend, and we all drove out to the "Lost Dutchman" state park in the Superstition Mountains east of Phoenix, expecting to see massive wild flower blooms.   There were some yellows, and tiny tiny patches of a few purple blooms here and there, but in general, almost no wild flowers.  The recent frosts in January, February, and early March (very unusual for the Phoenix valley) appear to have delayed or perhaps eliminated the spectacular wild flower blooms that typically blanket the hill sides and mountain slopes.

We DID see no shortage of birds, WWII vintage air craft flying over head (Hellcats) and other hikers, some of whom were endangering their elementary aged school children on dangerous rock face climbs (without safety gear, planning, or common sense).  The weather was a light breezy 73F with about 20% relative humidity, and just a few puffy little clouds over head.  Wonderful hiking weather indeed.

80% accurate French Speaking is greatly appreciated by the French.

I found I am 95 to 98% fluent in French speaking, reading, and writing, but at best, about 66% in listening, especially with speakers who have a STRONG Central Massif accents (Clermont Ferrand, where they sound like there is cotton in their mouths), or when the speaker is rapidly delivering local colloquialisms, of which I have not previously been exposed.  I catch the basic essence of the conversation, but not the nuance. 

Of the 1/2 a dozen technical and commercial French speaking groups I met with this week, every single one of them complimented me on my French and expressed their appreciation for using their language.  They were nice enough to switch into English when my expression turned from one of comprehension to one of "huh, what did you just say? - so we conducted discussions in approximate 50% French with them speaking, and +90% in French with me speaking, using the subjunctive tense, reflexive verbs, simple past and future tenses as well as argot as often as possible,  and making every liaison between words that started in vowels (always tricky), guessing at most genders of nouns with a degree of accuracy, and always expressing a strong sense of self-deprecation "je parle francais comme la vache espanol" always put a native French speaker at ease and brought smiles to the faces of the people with whom I was speaking.  I tried to follow this with "Mais, il faut que on practiquer" (it is necessary that one practices).

We're off to go burn fossil fuels to look at wild flowers... no more time for blogging today.

Friday, March 25, 2011

50 Mile Radius?

Last week, the US Nuclear Regulatory Agency stated that a 50 mile radius around the failed Fukishima nuclear reactor should be evacuated.  The French mentioned the same distance, and they have almost as many nuclear reactors as the US has.  Many of the US reactors are nearing the end of (or have already extended beyond the end of) their 30 year lives.  If the same "50 mile radius" is applied to US nuclear reactor locations, pretty much most of the East coast and Rust Belt would be affected.  See the graphic below.
I am just 25 miles down wind of Palo Verde, the nation's largest Nuke generating station.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Yes Boss

On Air France, they have CDs stored for in flight listening.  Buddah-Bar's "Yes Boss" I found to be delicious, between Ireland and Iceland. The video is a lil silly, and the "boss" guy is sorta creepy (like a Ralph Fiennes on crack).

French anti wash cloth & shower curtain policy?

courtesy of Flickr
I do not understand why the French are so anti wash cloth, and anti shower curtain? What is it with the French and their cultural refusal to provide wash cloths for customers who stay in French hotels?   Sure, if it is a Hilton or Hyatt or some US based chain, and it is located in France, there's wash clothes. But for the Novotels, Ibis, Accors, Mercures, Sofitels, and others... one has to use a medium sized hand towel, 1 foot x 2 foot in size.  Sure that makes washing one's back extremely easy, but it's really huge, and if a wash cloth Was available, I'd use it. 

Same with a shower curtain.  Why the prohibition against water splashing out of the shower?  I can understand the incorrect assumption francais that in a bath tub, one should be sitting or crouched or kneeling or something, and MAYBE there's less splashing ... but in a stand up shower, to provide only a 1/2 width piece of glass to guard the sink from splashing from the shower assures that there will be a large puddle on the floor at the non-curtained, unprotected, walk in shower entrance.  It's a recipe for water damage.  Maybe it is because there's not a whole lot of extremely tall Frenchmen in the population now a days - since the tallest ones were picked off by German snipers in the trenches of WWI, and not given a chance to reproduce and pass on their taller genes?  I don't know.

The Germans, Dutch, Italians, Spanish, English and Swiss tend to provide whole shower curtains or whole sliding glass doors, and not the halfsies the French have embraced.  Most of the other Western European hotels give you a wash cloth, or something the size of a handkerchief, or a loofah to wash your epidermis. So what is it with the French prohibition on wash cloths and shower curtains?

Stylish Feline Relaxation

Last night, Dr Desert Flower took out a silk night gown out of the dryer that was not yet completely dry, so she laid it out over an ottoman we have in the bed room.  Our elderly cat never passes up an opportunity to relax in style.  A silk covered bed, elevated several feet above the floor? Why thank you!  LOL!

French Table Wine Is Superior To German Premium Wine

The worst French Wine served in France is better than the best German wines served at 5 star hotels.

I tried to keep an open mind, and drink German wines while in Germany.  I wanted to expand my pallet to and get a better appreciation for Rhein Wines, Baden Wines, and other vintages produced in the land famous for their beer drinking and their sweet Rieslings.  Instead, what I got were bad head aches - sometimes before the glass was finished, sometimes later that evening. In the middle of the night, each night, after having one or two different types of German wine (a glass or two, not 1 or 2 bottles), I woke up with a nasty head ache.  Wine is not supposed to give you "whiskey head".  Ew.

I will not be adding German wines to my recommended red wine list any time soon after the 4 I tried while in Deutschland.

Let the Germans and Belgians stick to beer, and the French, Spanish, and Italians stick to wine.

Courtoisy Evolution

Courtoisy Evolution, by Manusec.  Made in Germany.  30 seconds to boil 1 cup of water.  Thanks to 230V application, German engineering and precise manufacturing.  If I had a 230V outlet readily available, I'd get one of these too!

But, by the time I rewired it, and installed a hard wired plug, got a construction permit permit for it, I probably  could have bought 3 or 4 Courtoisy Evolutions.

It's 'fool proofed' with an 'auto off' feature as you pick it up.  That little black switch just under the handle toggles automatically upon lift, and is easy to put back down if you need to heat more water.  The base sits concentrically on the coil energizer.  The inside has a spun stainless steel heating base and a handsome clean plastic body. 

The first day I used this in the hotel, I filled it 1/2 way up, and it took about 2 minutes to get to a roiling boil.  I "mis-under-estimated" the next day when I put a single cup of water in it for morning tea, and before I could finish washing my face, BAM it was enthusiastically boiling - less than 30 seconds.

Compared to the failed Made-In-China Cuisinart I encountered in Hawaii 2 years ago, this fine piece of German craftsman, in it's most simple & functional form, was refreshing.

Monday, March 21, 2011

BAD - Bottom Line

"The Horses Are On the Track"
Big Audio Dynamite's "Bottom Line" has been running through my head all morning... I think as a result of watching too much BBC.  The catchy "da-da--da-da--da-Dew" bass line played over and over in the mental sound track of my shower this morning.

...again, with the cowbell.  =)

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Stumbling Distance

One thing the Europeans GET MUCH better than any American city, is the concept of "Centre Ville".  One can stumble home, to your warm cozy hotel, after a night of eating and drinking in centre ville.   No cabs required.  No Mass Transit needed.   I like the concept of a viable city center center built up around an older citadel.   Sucks that more American cities are not developed in a similar manner.   Good night.   Time for Just JoeP to crash.

Get the Pizza

If you are dining in Belfort France on a Sunday night, and you happen to go into the ONLY restaurant that is open (Tratorria de la Petite Fontaine) get the Pizzza.   DO NOT get the Etrecote de Marsala.  Unless, that is, you like highly grisled, thin, SWEET, unpleasant entrecote Marsala.  The wine was good, the service was good, but the main dish, ew, I cannot recommend.   I HAVE had the pizza there in years past and it WAS good, but I am a low carb guy now, and I did not enjoy the entrecote Marsala that had vanilla, caramel and very sweet flavors - ew!

Man, it is hard to be low carb in France, where the making and serving of awesome bread is a national tradition. 


If you are traveling in France outside of Paris, DO NOT expect to use your American Express.   Most business detest this card that has ridiculous and unacceptable fees.  I paid for my dinner yesterday and today in cash, my lunch yesterday, and every drink I''ve taken in cash since American Express is NOT welcome.  I don't blame the proprietors for forsaking AMEX's draconian fees.  Carry cash when in Europe,if all you have corporately is AMEX. 

Bordeaux Superior & Yoga Sunset

There's something VERY relaxing about doing yoga at sunset in a French hotel room accompanied by a double magnum (yes, that's 3 liters of awesome wine) of Bordeau Superior, after a 5 hour hike around the small city of Belfort France.   They have this centuries ld fort that has resisted the invading Prussians (Germans) and Austrians for centuries,and it has a giant lion sculpted into the side of the fort by Auguste Bartholdi - the same guy who sculpted the Statue of Liberty that reside close to New Jersey in the Hudson Riverbut is claimed by New York and ANY French influence is sadly forgotten.

You see, my old friend and colleague François purchased and held this bottle for me, for 8 years, in his cave. He and his wonderful wife had dinner with me Friday night here in Belfort, and we opened the double magnum, and put a dent in it.  Aftr I took them to the train station (garre) Saturday night for their vacation (by train) to Venice, I consumed some more of the bottle and pre and post yoga today, I had another glass.  I'll certainly finish the Bois Malot before I leave Wednesday.
 It's a 2000, which is famous in Bordeaux for excellent quality and flavor, and this double magnum does not disappoint.  I've got it on the window sill as the ambient temp is 7 to 12 C which is virtually cave temperature.   I'll need to remove it before dawn sun ras begin to heat it Monday morning.

Good wine is BEST enjoyed with good friends, and this  bottle exemplified this axiom.  

In the upper picture, you can see a tiny bit of cork (bouchon) that has broken off. when I tried (unsuccessfully) to withdraw the cork in my hotel room Saturday night.   LUCKILY, Cyrille, the bar keep and proprietor at La Voile Sucree near my hotel thought I was an honest face. and lent me a cork screw (une sommelier)  to withdraw the broken cock.    La Voile Sucree is a WONDERFUL tea bar, that you should visit if you are in Belfort and love tea (as I do).  I wass so grateful to Cyrille that I took the double magnum to his tea bar and poured him a glass, as I returned the borrowed sommelier.  Their tea (The') infusions are wonderful!
A 5 hour hike, awesome wine, a lovely sunset, beautiful weather, and a multiple-centuries old fort... it was a good Sunday.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

NIN Only

there's no time for blogging today... but this has been running through my head all day today.....  long long day

Trent, don't pick at scabs!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Herding Cats, South African Pinotage Merlot

I'd tried some South African wines previously, and I was Not Impressed.  So when I saw Herding Cats 2010 at Sprouts last week, seeing South Africa AND the "cutesy label" (for which I usually hold disdain), I was initially skeptical. But they were asking only $5 a bottle, so I thought I'd give it a try.  I was pleasantly surprised. 

Herding Cats is a "Western Cape" South African wine, imported by Underdog Wine Merchants - Livermore CA.  The makers say it has vanilla, black berry, and wild truffle.  Well... I don't know about wild truffles, I'm not a wild boar who can sniff them out, and the one time I over paid $38 for a "white truffle" soup at the overly inflated Bergamo restaurant in Greenville SC, I will never do that again... but it was drinkable, and smooth, and not too fruity.  The wine makers say that it is best served with pizza or red meat dishes, and the organic pasture raised sirloin steak I grilled with shallots / peppers / mushrooms & butter with which I paired it complimented well.

The cheetah is also an endangered animal... and if I ever have grand children, they'll probably read about cheetahs (and Polar Bears) the same way I read about dodo birds and great auks. 

Terence Donovan's Work

Terence Donovan was a British Photographer and film director, who I best remember for the Robert Palmer videos "Addicted to Love" and "Simply Irresistible".  Dr Desert Flower always loved Robert Palmer's work.  I thought he was a good singer and had charisma -as I'm a straight man I can't say he was "Hot" but I guess he was an attractive man.  But the models and dancers Donovan selected for the videos, they were not unattractive.  They moved like they were in a drug induced haze most of the time, but were lovely nevertheless.
Addicted To Love

Simply Irresistible

Tuesday, March 8, 2011


Increasingly, I am tethered to my home office due to inadequate battery technology.  When Dr Desert Flower and I moved to Arizona in 2007, and I set up my home office, I thought the "Plantronics C550 Wireless Office Headset System" was awesome.  I could walk around my house and yard during conference calls, take out the garbage, clean the litter box, cook a simple meal, fold laundry, load the dishwasher, answer the door if someone was a-knockin'.. I even did some gardening once, and in awesome weather I've been known to take an afternoon conference call while getting a daily dose of vitamin D from the sun.  The convenient mute button and noise canceling microphone, combined with a comfortable head set and ear cushion made this an ideal office aid.

Then, last Fall, 3 years into its service life, the battery life started to FADE Away.  I'd charge it all night, and it would last at most 90 minutes.   That's since dropped to less than 60 minutes, on a FULL charge.  I contacted my ever helpful Office Administrator at the Headquarters facility back East if they have any "replacement batteries".  She promptly responded that it was now corporate policy to no longer purchase wireless head sets due to the fact that nearly everyone who has used them have had similar results, and the replacement batteries are more expensive than a new corded head set, the "S11 Telephone Headset System".  The S11 has a 3 foot cord, so if I drop a pen on the floor and it rolls away, I cannot reach it without taking the head set off.  The S11 is also subject to electromagnetic feedback from the router and cable modem that are both within a few feet - less shielding.

So I am tethered to my office.  If I need to get up to get a drink of water or step away from the key board for some reason, I now carry an ancient AT&T portable 2.4GHz hand set, put on MUTE and SPEAKER so I can hear the conference call. 

And if you look at NiCad rechargeable batteries, laptop batteries, hybrid car batteries, anything that is rechargeable (like my Plantronics wireless head set) there's a finite life to the number of times it can be fully recharged and a degradation curve on the maximum amount of energy that the diminished recharges can handle.  Humans haven't found a battery combination yet that does not have a finite recharging life.  Once they do, it'll be a multi-billion dollar business... perhaps multi-trillion dollar, as we near peak oil. 

The Beauty of Tiny Things

might be the engineer in me... or the fact that my eye sight is not improving with age, but I find such images beautiful and fascinating.
From the book ' Microcosmos,' created by Brandon Brill, using a scanning electron microscope (SEM)

Monday, March 7, 2011

Anna's Anger Is An Antagonistic Energy

Photo taken from:
The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Western North America by David Allen Sibley
For those of you "sick of hearing about hummingbirds", tune out on this posting.  Because honestly, on most days, I see far more humming birds than I see human beings, when I work from home and do not have to travel or run an errand.   For those of you who are computer scientists (working in teams), reporters, research & laboratory scientists, physicians, educators, chefs, and others who work with, and around many human beings everyday, let this be a short insight into the life of a reclusive misanthrope who values his privacy - yet blogs somewhat publicly...  go figure.

I read the other day on the always helpful Cornel Ornithology Lab website (link here) regarding Anna's hummingbirds: "On rare occasions, bees and wasps may become impaled on the bill of an Anna's Hummingbird, causing the bird to starve to death."  I was so sure this was "urban myth" that I reflexively checked out Snopes first (link here..  but WARNING..  enable AD BLOCKER and Ghostery before visiting Snopes, or you'll be cookied and tracked TO DEATH).  Snopes turned up bupkus on it....  but those pesky scientists, with their peer reviewed journals and thorough methods....  lol!  Google found exactly what I as looking for.

Michael C. Long wrote a nice piece on "Anna's Hummingbirds with Hymenoptera Impaled on Bills" (link here with photos) in "Western Birds".   At this link you can see not one, but 2 different male Anna's hummingbirds, the "dominant species" (bigger than other species, and somewhat the bullies at the feeders) who perished when they had impaled yellow jackets with their bills.  It's sort of fun to listen to scientists (who are not engineers)  theorize about how the insects may or may not have been killed.  "Examination of the lump on the bill revealed the intact head of yellow jacket wasp (Vespula persylvanica) pierced from front to back directly between the compound eyes."  ...and how that "could not" have happened in mid flight because the insect would graze off and be moved to the side.  I did well in both biology and physics in high school and engineering college.  When I read "pierced from front to back directly between the compound eyes" that tells me the thrust was centered, precise, and symmetrical - the same way I place a hammer above a nail, or a bearing into a press, or an arrow into a balloon on a archery target.  It won't "deflect" off if you hit it hard enough, fast enough, and symmetrically at the apex.  But what do I know? I'm "just an engineer".  It's sad that this hummingbird in North Carolina (link here) probably died as well.

I also learned that praying mantids have been known to prey upon hummingbirds and eat them! (link here, but caution opening around children who are sensitive to gore) (learn something new everyday!).  That's like the large tropical rain forest spiders who catch fish (link here)... pretty impressive. 

Another fine source on hummingbird information is Swartzentrover,com (link here).  There you can see multiple images and HEAR what I hear in my backyard, as the Anna's Hummingbirds go flitting around.  Now that my girl friend Anna has run off, all sorts of Costas, Annas, and Black Chinned hummingbirds visit my backyard, since my gf is no longer possessively shooing them away.  The other species are noticeably smaller than the Annas, and I chuckle when I see some hungry male come flitting in to drink from the Exact Same aloe flowers that a female had just been to, 3 or 4 minutes earlier.  Anna used to hoard all the nectar and pollen to herself - now it's a free for all. 

So let this be a lesson to those territorial males out there.  Anger IS an energy, but when misused or applied disproportionately, it can get you killed.  Sure you might be an impressive flier, and the biggest & brightest hummingbird on the block, but flying around aggressively trying to stab things with your beak can get you killed, be it impaled on a wasp, a bee, a rose pedal leaf.

Gato Negro, Blanco

I've mentioned how much I enjoyed the inexpensive Chilean table wine "Gato Negro" before (lines here and here).  Those were reds... and I had forgotten that I also picked up a bottle of Gato Negro Sauvignon Blanc, out of curiosity.  It was not bad, for $4 a bottle (links here, here [ I give it more than 2 and a 1/2 out of 5 though], and here [though I did not taste much grapefruit in mine (thank goodness, I hate grapefruit!)] agree). 

The "Naked Wine Show" concurs as well (link here).  Yummy (the wine and the video..  it's G rated... she's not really naked).  Crisp.  Good with cheeses, poultry, salads.  Wonderful when chilled on a hot day (as we've been having here in Phoenix recently).  This link (here) shows the Sprout's inexpensive price at which I purchased this bottle.  It will not be my last.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Kirkland Malbec

COSTCO appears to have good taste in COSTCO (Kirkland) branded alcoholic beverages.  Their vodka compares favorably in blind taste tests and price to Ketel One and Grey Goose, and now they are selling a Malbec for $9.99 a bottle.  $10 is my "cut off for skepticism" so I picked up a bottle last week on my run through the store. 

I was pleasantly surprised Friday night when we opened it with dinner.  Granted, it was NOT the first bottle of the night, on a dinner with friends, chez leurs, but it was tasty and full bodied.  I will be buying it again, on my next trip through COSTO.  Good with meat dishes - we had Dijon mustard mushroom sauce filets with a sauteed cabbage dish that this complimented quite well - lots of full flavors - and our hosts V and T prefer Californian and German wines, so the Argentinian Malbec was a welcomed sojourn into neutral territory enjoyed by all.

Between Two Saints - 2000 Pauillac

The Appellation Pauillac (pronounced POY-ack for anglophones) is wonderful, but very expensive.  It is situated Just South of St Estephe and Just North of St Julien, two of the most wonderfully delicious Bordeaux wines ever produced.  ("It is hard to find a bad saint" - Pierre Gourdon, 2002) So it is to be expected that a Pauillac is going to be good, and the year 2000 was an exceptional year all around Bordeaux.  So back in 2001, I bought about 40 bottles from a colleague who had lived in France, but had moved to the US, and who was liquidating his Cave (pronounced "calve" - the cool and dark place where you keep your wine, not a place for oil painting on wet walls or a "man cave") of recently purchased French wines "at cost" to his friends.  One of the bottles I picked up, was a 2000 Pauillac, for about $15 at the time.  It turned out to be a Barons De Rothschild Lafite, which retails for about $100,  now a days

Dr Desert Flower and I wanted to get out of the house, and not worry about work, and have a delicious meal, so we made a reservation at Coup Des Tartes, on 16th in Downtown Phoenix.  It is a BYOB place, and has a wonderful menu - I had the Filet Mignon and DDF had the salmon (was a special, not yet on the Winter menu), and we split the Brie Brulee as an appetizer (which was big enough to be a meal in and of itself).  I took the Pauillac, as well as a Portes De Bordeaux, Just In Case the Pauillac had turned in the 11 years and move to Phoenix since we first bought it.

The Pauillac was superb.  The meal was delicious.  The company, exquisite.  No baby sitter required.  No valet parking attendant to deal with.  Convenient location, friendly staff, a remarkable meal, with a fantastic wine.  I can't afford a $100 bottle, but I can afford a $15 one that matures into a $100 bottle, and then have it with the love of my life.  We shared 1/2 a glass with Coup Des Tartes owner Ron Pacioni, and complimented him on his restaurant, staff, and menu.  Good wine is best shared with good friends and good food.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Last Night's Daily Show (link here) was perfect... poignant, perfectly illustrated how Fox News is full of Hypocrites.  This was not some "selective editing" - not at all.  This was gleaned from Foxs' own words, on the same topic of earned income in-equality. 
"Not sucking from the tax payer's teet, except for the millions of dollars of tax payer funded bail out funds that the banks sucked on so voraciously"
"They had contracts" - Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr

X - True Love

I miss X.

Playlist Relocated

After getting feedback from a friend who follows the blog on an Android phone, that the Playlist obfuscates the top of each new blog posting, I relocated it last week to the bottom of the blog, in an effort to move the obstruction away from the newest blog posts. It worked for the Android ... but did it create any other problems?  I am curious if any other readers have had similar issues on other mobile devices?  or if it is unique to Androids?

As it is Public Radio's pledge week, and I've already pledged, I cannot stomach the endless radio appeals to send in cash, so I am listening to my Playlist exclusively today, sans NPR.  Sucks that the Playlist is "200 songs limited" though.  So much for "to the cloud".

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Intellectually Challenged

Baja Arizona

I heard an ironic radio report on KJZZ today about Baja Arizona.  Baja Arizona is a separatist movement by citizens in Pima county to divorce themselves from the rest of the state.   Their website (link here) states their case pretty well.  It would be more amusing, if the reasons they wanted to separate were not so poignantly valid. (link)

Maybe they'll call it "Gadsden" instead?

Anna's Gone

My girl friend Anna has forsaken me.  I did yoga poolside this afternoon, in 73F ambient, 10% relative humidity, and a gentle 5 mph breeze.  The FSM was seen in one of the scattered clouds over-head (Ramen!)... but Anna was on none of her perches around the yard.  Several brightly plumed male hummingbirds dove in to the lavender and aloes to slurp up the deliciousness therein, so I know it is not for a "lack of food" that Anna's no longer keeping vigilance in the yard. 

In the middle of my series of sit ups, a DID hear a familiar chirp-chirp-chirp from the aloe behind me, and turning, I saw a female Anna's Hummingbird drinking from some of the aloe, but after a quick drink, she darted off Eastward over the house, uninterested in the nectar feeders and familiar ocotillo perch on which I'd grown used to seeing Anna.  Perhaps she's got a tic-tac sized egg in a nest of spider webs that she's roosting upon somewhere in the area.  I wish her well, and honestly, I will miss her.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Fat Cat Union Bosses

The Repugnant Republican Spin Machine is running at top speed the last few months.  Instead of getting Americans riled up about Republicans cozying up to large corporations, Big Oil, Big Pharma, Big Banking, and Big (Insert Lobbying Group's Name Here), they're trying to get Joe Nascar and Joe WWF who are making 40K a year mad at the Teachers who make (on average) $51K a year.  Yeah, those greedy teachers, with their degrees, and their book learnin, and their "Fat Cat Union Bosses"!  How dare they want to collectively bargain!  Peacefully even!

Well, Rachel Maddow had a nice summary graphic yesterday, showing the top 10 groups who contributed to the 2010 congressional campaigns.  There WERE Unions in there!  3 whole groups, who ranked 5th, 6th, and 9th in order of who contributed the most.  Who was number 1?  Chamber of Commerce, of course, followed by a gaggle of artificial "grass roots" organizations, each of whom are sponsored by Republican millionaires and billionaires, and who claim to be supporting good ole hard workin Umerikuns like you and me.  Grrrrrr.

Yes, Unions can make it more expensive for corporations to operate, and are sometimes less flexible than non-union environments.  I've been grieved against many times in the unionized factories in which I've worked, always for petty reasons... BUT... I like the fact that there's an OSHA, and a minimum wage, and a limited work week, and other safety rules that make it less hazardous to go to work and earn a wage to feed my family.   I used to HATE unions when I was in my 20s and early 30s, but I've matured, and got over my antipathy.  Many members of my extended family are in unions, and most of their unions have worked to help their members.

It's not the unions that are "killing jobs" and "hurting America" - in fact, the unions are working hard to do just the opposite.  But like any evil marketing campaign, Karl Rove and Grover Norquist have spun this brilliantly, to take the Republicans greatest weakness (in bed with lobbyists and wealthy corporations) and occlude it with a false argument of "teachers are all rich fat cats".  Really?  Teachers, not Investment Bankers or Oil men, or Wall Street...  are the cause of  the nation's financial problems?

Vinho Paseo for $4

Sprouts once again had an unbeatable wine sale last weekend.  Bottles of Paseo for $3.99 each. I've never tried Paseo, but Portugal makes wonderful Ports, and Paseo Vinho Regional Lisboa 2009 (imported by HCG imports, San Jose) was not expensive, had a CVR Lisboa Selo De Garantia marked label, and a interesting mix of 55% Castelao, 15% Camarate, 10% Tinta Miuda, and 20% Touriga Nacional.  It was fruity, hinted of Porto without the kick, smooth, and very drinkable as red table wine.  I'm sorry that I bought only 1 bottle.

Once, while dining with a group customers - all of whom were Spaniards - at a Brazilian steak house in Atlanta, I made the mistake of ordering a Portuguese wine with dinner.  Before the waiter could bring it, in slightly hesitant Portuguese, one of my customers Changed the order to a Californian bottle (there were no Spanish bottles on the wine list), grabbed his over-sized steak knife, and said to me in English: "Portuguese wine will not be consumed tonight".  Being an ignorant American, I was unaware of the centuries of enmity between Spain and Portugal.  I won't make that mistake again.

After a few bottles were consumed around the table, I remarked, in very broken Spanish "So you will not drink their wine, but it is OK to eat their steak"?  My Spanish counterpart replied in accented English: "It is Brazilian, not Portuguese steak!" and we finished another bottle of Californian Napa valley together.

I do not have this cultural bias, and I'll enjoy Portuguese, Spanish, Italian, French, and the occasional German wine from time to time without enmity.