Friday, January 27, 2012

I covet...

I am shamelessly borrowing from Connie's blog, her posts about things she likes are interesting as well as a great help when it comes time to buy presents. No more guessing, simply hit the latest 'I covet...' post and start going through the list. Very convenient.

Mine is going to be a wee bit different however. There are two types of things you can covet. First there are things that you can covet all you like but you'll never be able to actually afford them. Then there are things you can covet, knowing that you can afford them but are simply bound by practicalities such as budgets and cash flows. The former is of course the most fun. When Kai and I talk cars, he usually jumps straight to the ulimate, the Bugatti Veyron. This is the most excessive automobile on the planet right now, they go for around $2 million dollars. Once you have dropped that, the spending is far from over.The tires cost $10,000 each, can only be changed in France and Bugatti recommends changing them every 4000 kilometers! A routine maintenance costs around $20,000. This is so extremely out there that even if I had unlimited funds I'd be very hesitant to drop $2M on a Veyron. I'd go for the Ferrari 458 and donate the other $1.75M to charity. But we are firmly in fantasy territory now.

The things on my 'purchase at some point' list are a little different. No cars, I am deliriously happy with my TT-RS which has been getting many accolades in the automotive press. Some other things then...let's start with Connie's camera. She is a great photographer and given where she is at now I think it is time to get a bit more serious about lenses. About a year ago I upgraded her stock lens toa 15-85 IS which has enabled her to take some amazing shots. Next up is a better zoom lens, I am thinking the 70-300 IS.

Then there are some prime (non-zoom) lenses for closer up work that can handle much lower light conditions without resorting to a flash. But let's limit things to the zoom for now, good lenses are really, really expensive.

I like watching movies, especially with thunderous, house-shaking sound. To get the house-shaking bit, you need a subwoofer. This is a loudspeaker that specializes in very low frequency bass. I used to have a nice Velodyne SPL1200 that worked very well, generating truly earthquake-inducing bass with the help of a 2,000 watt digital amplifier. After a few years however its power supply failed. I had it fixed but every other year after that, it would fail again. The third time around I decided it was time to retire the thing and get a new sub. The problem is that Connie is very resistant to getting another one (subs tend to be big and ugly, thus have a very low WAF - Wife Acceptance Factor, the bane of every home theater enthusiast) and the good ones tend to be expense. I currently have my eye on a Definive Technology Supercube 6000. Quite the mouthful and only to be repeated in fellow tech-nerd company. Even I have to admit it isn't pretty though so I'll have to work the WAF angle hard before getting one of these...

It comes with a remote for added geek factor!

Next, something for my car :-). Having a black car is cool and stealthy but also lethal when it comes to rock chips. I remember my poor SLK looking like it had been sand-blasted after a spirited summer drive on the BC back roads. The front bumper and fenders needed to be repainted (at considerable cost) after which I had a clear film applied to them. This is also refered to as a 'clearbra', the idea is that the film (invisible when applied properly) stops any rocks and other small debris from pockmarking your car. I am going to pre-empt the summer and have it applied to the TT. The only problem is of course that this tends to be...expensive.

Let's see what else...I love my Dyson handheld vacuum so much that at some point I want to replace the big lumbering main vacuum we have with a Dyson as well. I am patiently waiting until the old girl gives up the ghost but I may just at some point do an impulse buy. Maybe when I am back in the States sometimes since gadgets do tend to be a lot cheaper there...

The iPad 3 is rumoured to come out in March. We are still and iPad-free family. I know Connie wants one...(and her iPhone 3G could use an upgrade of course)

Finally, I find myself traveling for work quite a bit lately. Usually Redmond, sometimes other destinations. Usually short term, a couple of days tops. A nice bag would work for this, we do have an assortment of bags but being into fine things as I am, a Tumi bag would be great. One of these:

Oh, Japanese knives. Always good for in the kitchen!

Monday, January 23, 2012

More gadget bliss

I am going to go out on a fairly serious limb here and talk about a vacuum cleaner. In a household with pets and an 8 year old boy, the house tends to get messy at times. A vacuum is needed to control this mess. The problem is, the average vacuum is clumsy and unwieldy. Ours falls squarely in that category, it lives downstairs in the closet, weighs about the same as a Smartcar and makes enough noise to scatter cats and children before it. The cost of entry of using it is high and it only gets busted out for the most serious jobs. For small jobs you use a handheld, something that we were sorely lacking. In fact, it was down to the old dustpan and brush that is functional but not always very efficient.
So as always I did some serious research online (for me that is half the fun in shopping for stuff) and found what I now refer to as The Dyson. A Dyson Digital Slim to be exact. The geeky pedantic in me muses that there is very little that is digital about this gadget, Digital Slim makes me think of a really nice and thin laptop, but that is an aside. It is the most serious handheld vacuum you can get right now and it sure does its job very well. It is very easy to grab it, use it and go to town on spilled cat litter, swirls of sand and dust by the front door and most importantly, does a very good job at cleaning cars! I guess that was my hidden agenda with this purchase since I tend to be mildly obsessive about keeping my cars in good shape. Especially my lovely TT-RS that has been sadly confined to the garage with the winter weather doing its best to make things miserable for nice cars around here...

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Weekend musings

Life has been very busy lately. Work in particular has been intense to the point of being exhausting. We went live with a product involving TV on the Xbox late last year and some things didn't go as expected. Given the importance of this product and the amount of executive attention it has been getting, things have been a bit crazy. As senior tech guy, I get sucked into these things with high expectations of things being magically fixed abound. Since this technology is quite far outside my usual expertise, my brain has been excercised more than it has for a long time. This is a good thing mind you, it is very tiring however! Friday evening I was so tired I could barely talk straight and the little wine I had did my head in thoroughly and I slept for 10 hours straight. I am off to Redmond tomorrow to consult with experts there which will also be a bit of a mind-bender I am sure so I decided to take it extremely easy this weekend.

Taking it easy usually involves cooking, my therapeutic activity. On wet winter days I go for comfort food, the kind that warms you with deep flavor and aromas. Braising is one of my favorite cooking methods and there is nothing better than putting a big pot full of goodness in the oven for a 5-hour braise, to be served that evening with a good glass of wine. Today I went for a chili, big chunks of beef chuck are braised in a dark beef stock enriched with chili powders and vegetables. It is a two-stage process, first I brown the beef, cook some onions and carrots, add the spices and stock before putting it all in the oven for a long braise. At the end I add poblano peppers, chunks of carrot and black beans, simmer it for another half hour or so, resulting in a deep, rich chili full of crunchy vegetables. This is pretty much the ultimate winter comfort food if you ask me.

I will also spend some time playing video games, I think I need a break from Skyrim, I have been playing Might and Magic Heroes VI, a fairly obscure turn-based strategy game that is great to run while other things are going on because it is turn based. It is definitely a bit hard-core and you have to be a fan of the genre but I certainly enjoy it. I usually also have an Xbox game on the go, I played the brilliant Batman Arkham City over the holidays and am wondering what will be next. There are plenty of games to choose from, I still want to at least finish the main quest in Skyrim though before moving on.

Connie and Kai were supposed to go up Grouse for Kai's snowboarding lessons but they were canceled at the 11th hour (I literally had to run downstairs and stop the car after getting a phone call) so my original plan of watching Hobo with a Shotgun has been scuppered. This is the kind of movie I can only watch when I am by myself since it is rather outrageous. So I'll postpone that and see what we'll do for the day. I definitely want to go and grab some coffee soon, maybe a visit to 49th parallel is in order.

Right then, time to go take it easy some of the cooking below, courtesy of Connie who after her recent photography class has much stronger opinions of how to take pictures. She was completely right though so I will let her do the picture taking if she is around.

onion: the usual flavor base

chunks of beef chuck

browning the meat = flavor!

a blend of New Mexico and Ancho chili powders

secret ingredient: deglaze with a splash of brandy

stage one complete, about to go in the oven!

Monday, January 09, 2012

Entropy and modern life

OK, time for a bit more nerdiness. One of my favorite things about physics and the universe in general is entropy. This is a simple concept that goes deep into physics and the famous second law of thermodynamics. What is comes down to is that entropy always increases. I won't go into gory details but imagine the great game of Jenga. Building a structure out of wooden blocks takes time and effort (which is energy). Knocking down a structure takes a mere flick of the wrist. When the wooden blocks are arranged as a structure, say a nice tower, they have low entropy. When the structure has collapsed and the blocks are in a heap on the table, they have high entropy. A wine glass has low entropy, the same glass shattered on the ground has high entropy. The interesting thing is that it is easy to go from low entropy to high entropy, not so easy to go back. You could in theory rearrange the glass shards back into a complete glass but that takes a lot of effort. Now imagine a cup of tea and a bit of milk. Mixing the milk into the tea is easy, separating the tea and milk afterwards is practically impossible. 

Interestingly enough, the fact that we perceive time has to do this steady forward progress of entropy...

Sooo...I like to blame entropy for the relentless march of decay that affects us all. Why do things break after some time? Why do we age? The reasons are very complex but at the highest, most simplified level can be blamed on entropy. Our heated bathroom floor stopped heating up recently. My lovely 42" plasma is no longer working as of Saturday, its power LED is blinking a steady error code, but that's it. Our vacuum cleaner is slowly falling apart and will need to be replaced eventually. The family laptop is experiencing a lot of Blue Screens Of Death and does lots of mysterious boot-time hard drive error scanning. My subwoofer's power supply has failed a few times now and I am currently without subsonic bass while watching movies. Sigh. In physics, reversing entropy takes energy. In my case, it takes money. Therefore, entropy in modern life is expensive...

Oh and btw, in my experience, children and kittens are experts at increasing entropy!

Sunday, January 08, 2012

A Dutch treat

Wow, the holidays are over! It was a mixture of long, lazy days of hanging out and days packed with activities. We had a very quiet Christmas at home (although Christmas day was spent cooking and eating non-stop) then a few days in Victoria visiting my sister. More quiet time at home, an interesting New Year's Eve on Seymour, a couple of days of reprieve, then back to work. Things are in a bit of a crisis at work right now so I have been entirely absorbed by it all. In fact, I am at work right now (Sunday afternoon) waiting for an event to start and catching up on my laptop in the meantime.

Now for the bit that refers to the title of this post. Dutch treat. Back in my childhood I used to enjoy the unique but wonderful Dutch treats and candies. There are lots of these, most notably licorice (in many, many shapes and flavors) as well as 'speculaas' (spiced cookies), 'hagelslag' (chocolate sprinkles), 'beschuit' (a very light and airy round crispbread) and 'boterkoek', an incredibly rich butter-laden type of shortbread. Imagine a very fresh slice of white sandwich bread slathered with butter and covered in chocolate sprinkles. This makes for a wonderful breakfast item :-)

Dutch bounty: licorice, Sambal Brandal (roasted Indonesian chili paste), speculaas, hagelslag (chocolate sprinkles) and chocolate covered kruidnoten (tiny little spice cookies)...
Every once in a while I will receive a care package from my mother (usually around the holidays) or I will find a Dutch store somewhere and I will be stocked up again, ready to munch away. Yesterday we went to New Westminster to attend the opening of Wild Rice (more about this in a later post), I knew there is a Dutch store there. I made a beeline for the place when we arrived and it sure is glorious:

The first stop was the Wall of Licorice:

This stuff is an aquired taste, most Canadians abhor it, including Connie. I am happy to say however that Kai loves it. It must be genetic :-). He filled up his own baggie from the plethora of choices available.

Tea is also a big part of the Dutch tradition (well coffee trumps it entirely but I never drank coffee when I was young), I am a big tea drinker at home. I tend to buy loose leaf tea from various places and bulk buy my favorites:

Right then, to finish off this post something entirely unrelated but I managed to snap such a cute picture of our new cat Jude that I simply have to include it. Happy New year!