Jack's Brain

Recent News

7/22 - Wednesday

A 3d Camera

I'm not crazy about Fuji film, but there's no doubt they're innovaters in the digital realm. Fuji's latest innovation is a 3d camera.

7/22 - Wednesday

Another Reason to Smoke Cigars

Right now my humidor is covered with a thick layer of dust and the cigars within are drying out from lack of maintenance. This year I've smoked less than two cigars a month, a far cry from the two a week I used to average, which has allowed me to neglect my humidor.

This site is in a state simlar to my humidor, minus the carpet of dust, so I guess it shouldn't be a surprise that I recently noticed that the two are related. I don't know the nature of the relationship, but it seems if I'm not smoking a cigar I'm also not updating my site. The good news is lately I've been getting back into the cigar habit and it's had a postive effect on my site (not that you can obviously tell though). Hopefully I've found the key to keeping motivated and if the cigars in my humidor can be revived with some love and care so can my site.

7/8 - Wednesday

Farewell Kodachrome

A couple of weeks ago Kodak announced that they're discontinuing Kodachrome, their classic slide film (which is older than most people likely to read this). It wasn't a surprise given that the film was expensive and there is only one place in the entire world that processes it (Dwayne's Photo in Kansas). It has a cult following though so I ended up trying it. While I'm not a member of the Kodacult I do appreciate the film. Its look is unique; it's saturated, but without the contrast of modern slide film, and it favors earth tones. It can look a little flat, but the look works well for the right subject. For me the right subject is urban locations past their prime. When I think of Tucson or Osaka Kodachrome is the color film I want to shoot them in. In fact I already have, but have found the negatives as difficult to scan as their notorious for.

Unfortunately there's no point in stockpiling Kodachrome because Dwayne's will only process Kodachrome until the end of 2010. Once they stop then there's effectively no more Kodachrome despite how much film might still exist in the world. Hopefully I'll get my fill of Tucson and Osaka Kodachrome shots before then, but I doubt it. I wish I got to know you sooner Kodachrome.

6/16 - Tuesday

One Down...

My Food Map still needs to be updated, but I finished the text for my 3/9 Japan trip damnit! Someday I may even add pictures, but at the rate I've done it for the other trip pages I wouldn't hold my breath.

6/7 - Sunday

Farewell Sea Saw

It's not unusual for restaurants I like to go out of business and about once a year I even lose a restaurant I love. I've loved Sea Saw for years and I'm heartbroken because this is their last weekend in business. Sea Saw was impressively good the first time we ate there and they've improved a little more every time. There is a silver lining to this dark cloud though because Chef Nobuo Fukuda is staying in Phoenix and looking to open a new restaurant. You can keep up with his progress at www.nobuofukuda.com.

One amazing thing about their closure is that this weekend they're doing a standing room, all you eat meal for only $35. It's one hell of a farewell dinner because not only is it cheap, but they're still making most of their trademark dishes. I went there last night and it was the best meal I've ever had there with my favorite sashimi dishes, pinpoint execution elevating their already excellent cooked dishes, and even a few things I'd never seen there before. It was so great that it'll make their absence even more acute.

Tonight is their last night in business so I highly recommend going if you were a fan and even if you weren't then it'll give you a reason to look forward to their new restaurant.

4/26 - Sunday

Airline Upgrades

Thanks to persistence, and that recent flight to Japan, I should have enough frequent flier miles to get an international upgrade on American Airlines and US Airways. I hate flying coach internationally so upgrades are the best use of my frequent flier miles. Too bad I hate US Air. I was beginning to forget that fact when I received an email from them recently stating:

"Beginning July 9, 2009, you'll be able to pay for checked bags when you check in online - $15 for your first checked bag and $25 for your second. For customers who choose to pay for checked bags at the airport, there will be an additional $5 service fee, so save a few when you check in online!"
Charging for the first checked bag is already terrible, but charging an extra $5 because you waited until your flight to pay the baggage fee seems criminal. If I didn't have that upgrade coming I wouldn't fly US Air again if I could help it.

4/25 - Saturday

Temporary Normalcy

This week Lynn started training so she's actually working a day schedule for the first time in years. It only took a couple of days before I felt like life returned to normal life; watching movies, smoking cigars, and actually writing. Unfortunately Lynn's training only lasts a couple more weeks so I'm going to enjoy it while I can.

4/13 - Monday

I'm Not Dead Yet

The last thing I was doing before I disappeared in November was writing about our experience at the All Souls Procession in Tucson. Before I knew it months passed and we went to Tucson, New Orleans, and Japan. It's been a busy five months, but not locally. Most of my recent eating has been take out from neighborhood restaurants. The only fine dining has been a kick ass New Year's Eve dinner at Sea Saw and some exciting eating at noca.

Hopefully I'll get back to the occasional writing, smoking cigars, and some of the other things I used to do before we had our second child. (Oddly, I still manage to take pictures.)

11/13 - Thursday

Hiphopopotamus vs. Rhymenoceros (from Flight of the Conchords)

This is the funniest thing I've seen in a while.

11/12 - Wednesday

Life Update

Morgan is still young enough to wake up in the middle of the night and have her colicky moments, but she's learned to smile and coo so it makes everything a little easier to take. Mario Edward is still two years old and acts more so every day. Lynn returned to work a couple of weeks ago and somehow we've all survived.

Last weekend Lynn and I went Tucson to relax and celebrate our wedding anniversary. Mario Edward had the stomach flu the week before so I was worried I'd come down with it right before our trip since I had come down with the flu the last time we went to Tucson. I hoped to write about the weekend, but this demanding little girl is preventing me from dedicating more than 10 minutes to anything else.

10/5 - Sunday

Two Weeks Later

I haven't accomplished much these last two weeks at home. It's disappointing because I was hoping to get some writing or more photo processing done in that time. Lynn wanted to help me feel like I wasn't wasting my vacation time so we camped overnight in Flagstaff. When Mario Edward was one he was horrendous when we took him camping. This time he didn't try to eat all the rocks he could get his little hands on, but he still cried incessantly when we wouldn't let him run around when we were setting up camp or trying to sleep. It'll be a while before we attempt to camp with him again.

The one thing I accomplished was getting a new camera. I was going to get the Nikon D700, but after researching lenses it looked like I would have to spend a lot of money for lenses that were only ok to me. I remembered that I really loved the look of some rangefinder lenses so I got a 35mm rangefinder instead. My first choice in rangefinders is the Epson R-D1 (a digital rangefinder), but since my funds are limited I chose to buy a cheaper film camera (a Zeiss Ikon) and a couple of lenses (a Voigtlander Ultron 28mm f1.9 and a Voigtlander Ultron 35mm f1.7) instead of the more expensive R-D1 and only one lens. I plan on getting an R-D1 eventually so that I'll have the best of both worlds (digital and film). In the meantime let's see if I can make some magic with the Zeiss.

9/20 - Saturday

Time, Space, Motivation

For some reason when other people are around our house, even if they're watching the kid for me, I can't seem to concentrate enough to write. Today Lynn's parents left town so I don't have any excuse not to get any writing done now. Especially since I have the next two weeks off to help Lynn in her c-section recovery.

Where having Lynn's parents around worked out pretty well for me was it gave me the opportunity to take pictures around Phoenix. I've always had a hard time finding anything of interest in Phoenix to take pictures of, but ever since we got back from Houston in May I've been making a real effort to find something. I've been keeping a list of ideas since then, but their visit was my first chance to work on it. I was trying to shoot at least once a week while they were here, and the first couple of times I had to force myself, but the last couple of weeks have been productive for me.

At least if I don't do much writing in the next two weeks I know I'm going to be productive scanning negatives and processing images.

9/1 - Monday

The Big Announcement

We had a cesarean section scheduled for the fourth, but Morgan must've thought Labor Day was more appropriate because she was born 3:19 this morning. Lynn and Morgan are both fine.

8/10 - Sunday

Quick Bites (Sandwiches)

I'd been to Cheba Hut a couple of times, but never had anything that good despite glowing recommendations. Recently I finally ordered something that convinced me that I need to keep eating there. The Kind (turkey, bacon, Swiss cheese, and mushrooms) with lettuce, tomatoes, mustard, mayonnaise, vinegar, and oil sounds like a mess of ingredients, but combined with their toasted fluffy bread it was very delicious. I don't eat that much turkey, but I now have a reason to.

Noah clued me into The Original Hoagie Shop years ago. He was in love with the grilled chicken, but the cheese steak was my sandwich. Noah finally got to eat there for the first time in years so I thought I'd give the grilled chicken a try to see what he was in love with. The sandwich was almost as much of a mess as The Kind with grilled chicken, sauteed onions, cheese, lettuce, and mayonnaise, but it was surprisingly good. Not as good as The Kind, but definitely worth eating.

Lynn has been addicted to the shrimp po'boys at Cajun Seafood Corner so we've eaten there far more often than most sandwich places. The last time I picked up food there was a large banner heralding "under new management". I think that might explain what happened to the food. The first thing we noticed just looking at our food was that they got chintzy with the fries. It looked like they split the normal side of fries between our two sandwiches. That ticked both of us off, especially since we love the fries. The second thing we noticed was the bread wasn't very good. They switched from Vietnamese French bread to a more traditional one that was either old, just sucked, or both. Hopefully things improve by our next visit.

The last couple of times I've been to Pane Bianco and had the mozzarella, tomato, and basil sandwich it's been disappointing. It's a simple sandwich so there isn't much room for deviation. In this case the difference between a great sandwich and a merely good one is a little salt. At least their market focaccia continues to impress.

Camera: Panasonic LX3

About a year ago when I purchased my Ricoh GX100 the only other real contender was the Panasonic LX2. To me the LX2 had a couple of major issues and was already due for an update so I hoped the LX3 was impending. It wasn't and I got a GX100 instead. Finally a year later Panasonic finally announced the LX3.

It's quite a camera with a 24mm - 60mm zoom lens, RAW mode, and manual controls, but the question for me now is whether it's a worthwhile GX100 upgrade. I never even thought of upgrading my GX100 until I saw all the improvements the GX200 provided so the LX3 needs to be at least comparable. The LX3 does have a couple of advantages. The most compelling is the faster lens (f2 versus f2.5 at 24mm). The 3 inch lcd panel is also bigger than the GX200's 2.7 inch lcd, but I'd be able to live with either one since they both have 460k pixels. The LX3's CCD is slightly larger than the GX200's and has less pixels so the sensor might be less noisy. The GX200 has a few advantages of its own. It has a larger memory buffer than the LX3 (5 RAW images versus 3 RAW images), but either one of these beats my GX100's complete lack of a RAW buffer. The GX200 has a longer telephoto (72mm versus 60mm), but I don't use the long end much anyway. The LX3 is missing the GX200's electronic level, a handy feature I can live without. Oddly the LX3 is missing one feature that'll prevent me from ever considering it for an upgrade; there's no 1:1 aspect ratio. I love the square format too much now to ever buy a digital compact that doesn't do it.

The Panasonic LX3 is a nice camera with a good feature set that makes it an attractive camera, but not a compelling upgrade for me. If I didn't love square format then it'd probably just come down to image quality.

8/6 - Wednesday

LA Road Trip

Last weekend I went to LA for some eating and picture taking for the second time this year. The food wasn't as good this time, but I took more pictures so it balanced out. I have yet to look at my digital pictures and I get my negatives tomorrow so it'll be a while to figure out if I actually got any worthwhile shots. Even if they all turn out the way I wanted them to I still have a list of pictures I want to take next time.

The one food highlight was the bacon chili cheese hot dog at Pink's, which was perfect late night grub. It wasn't worth the hour plus wait, but I refuse to wait an hour for anything. Everything else was pretty good. I was especially disappointed to find that the chicken and waffles at Roscoe's House of Chicken and Waffles (Pasadena location) were good, but didn't compare to Lolo's Chicken and Waffles. It's good to know, but a waste otherwise.

This was probably the last trip I'll be able to take until December, but at least I can look forward to the Arizona State Fair for photo opportunities.

7/21 - Monday

There's a Party in My Tummy

Brobee: "Why are you sad?"
Carrots: "We want to go to the party. The party in your tummy."

7/18 - Friday

Restaurant: Szechwan Palace (east Phoenix, AZ)

Crossroads: 44th St. south of the Loop 202
Visit Frequency: First Visit
Meal: Lunch

I have to admit I don't find Chinese food the most exciting stuff in the world. At least that's what I used to think until I heard someone on the radio talking about Szechwan cuisine. More than just spicy the food sounded very flavorful with well thought out combinations. When Lynn and I were in Chicago we ate Szechwan for the first time and loved it. I doubted there was a good Szechwan restaurant in Phoenix when someone told me about Szechwan Palace in the Chinese Cultural Center.

The interior was nice, perfectly appropriate for a business lunch. There were two menus, one of which had the lunch specials with the usual Chinese dishes. We had the other menu and a quick look at it revealed many Szechwan specialities. There were a lot of things I wanted to try, but settled on something I've had before, the twice cooked pork. Made with thinly sliced pork belly it was quite different from what non Szechwan places serve. Almost exclusively meat it was salty, spicy, chewy, oily, and a little earthy. It was excellent, with the exception of some pieces of fat that completely resisted chewing, and better than the one I had in Chicago. It wasn't the most exciting dish, but definitely something I'd get again.

My lunch companion wanted me to experience one of the more unusual Szechwan items so we got a "spicy water"(?) with fish and beef. It was a bowl of dangerous looking red broth covered in crushed red pepper. The beef and fish were covered in the red pepper with chopped vegetables underneath. The broth was spicy without being deadly and gave a good flavor to the meats (pleasantly tender) and vegetables (which were still a little crunchy). I had heard about the effect of Szechwan peppercorns, but never experienced it before. They're always described as numbing in quantity and after eating enough broth I noticed something, but it wasn't numbing. To me it had a cooling quality, like peppermint. My brain couldn't reconcile the combination of hot and cooling so I had to eat it slowly to avoid the effect. I'll have to try it again to see if I find it more agreeable the second time.

The food I had at Szechwan Palace was excellent and not afraid to be spicy plus there's a menu full of things I've never tried before so I'll be back. Probably next week.

7/5 - Saturday

Fireworks

I love fireworks, but not enough to actually plan to see them. What usually happens is I try to see them from our backyard, which doesn't have decent a view, then drive closer to the fireworks after they start. This year Lynn had to work so I was even less likely to plan something.

This year we couldn't see anything from the backyard (big surprise) so I packed the kid up and found a good spot to see the Mesa fireworks. We didn't get to see it for very long, but we caught the grand finale. After that we went to see the Tempe Town Lake fireworks. I thought the 202 would give a great view and apparently so did everyone else on the 202 because traffic was at a dead stop. The view was great and I thought it was funny to be surrounded by people who were (mostly) there to see the fireworks. I wasn't on the freeway the whole show, but we caught the grand finale nonetheless.

On the way home I was surprised to see Chandler's fireworks. I was trying to decide whether to drive closer to it or go home when we saw their grand finale. It was a good night where somehow no planning resulted in seeing lots of fireworks.

7/3 - Thursday

Nikon D700

This week Nikon announced the D700. The reason I care about it is because it has the same full frame sensor and almost all the features as the D3 plus a couple of new features in a smaller body that cost $2,000 less than the D3. That's exteremly attractive for anyone, like me, who thought the D3 was the best full frame dslr on the market, but didn't care for the price or enormous body. Maybe when it's available I'll actually get a dslr instead of just thinking about getting one.

6/29 - Sunday

In-N-Out Burger

I've had a love-hate relationship with In-N-Out Burger; sometimes I think they make the best burgers ever from a chain and other times I find them almost inedible. Hopefully it'll be a love-love relationship from now on because I think I've finally figured out what causes me not to like their burgers. I used to get their cheeseburgers animal style, but the cheese and sauteed onions would somehow make the occasionally underseasoned burger patties taste completely unseasoned. The last couple of times I've been to In-N-Out I've just had hamburgers with light onions and have been much happier.

Chocolate Tasting

Vosges makes some of the most unique chocolate bars around so it's always an experience trying them. Sometimes I even get surprised in a good way, like with the tasty "Naga Bar" (milk chocolate with sweet Indian curry and roasted coconut). Salt was something I'd never had in chocolate before so the "Barcelona Bar" (milk chocolate with hickory smoked almonds and sea salt) was a new experience. I liked the combination of creamy milk chocolate with the occasional grains of sea salt, but it was too salty for Lynn. Neither of us really tasted the almonds so I would've liked them larger. The "Goji Bar" (goji berries and pink Himalayan salt) followed the salty chocolate theme, but added some fruitiness from the goji berries. It was a good chocolate bar, but I think the larger pieces of goji berries would've made it much better.

The "Creole Bar" (dark chocolate with espresso, cocoa nibs, and chicory) didn't sound like something I'd enjoy, but I tried it anyway. It was bitter chocolate without any trace of espresso riddled with hard bits. I didn't like it on any level. Lynn could taste the espresso, but didn't like it any better. The "Black Pearl Bar" (dark chocolate with wasabi, ginger, and black sesame seeds) sounded pretty good, but all I could taste was the ginger. I was curious how the wasabi would work with the chocolate so it was especially disappointing not to taste it.

The "Woolloomooloo Bar" (milk chocolate with salted macadamia nuts, coconut, and hemp seeds) lacked a satisfying crunch from the macadamia nuts since they were too fine, but the combination of coconut and salt was tasty (probably because a little coconut goes a long way). I wasn't so crazy about the bar at first, but it grew on me enough that I'd get it again. While in Tucson I found the infamous "Mo's Bacon Bar" (milk chocolate with applewood smoked bacon and salt). The bar was smokey and salty with a little crunch from the bacon. It wasn't nearly as terrible as you would expect and much better than the bacon chocolate chip cookies we had at Cowboy Ciao. Ultimately the chocolate bar was a little too weird for me to get again though.

I've had a few non-Vosges chocolate bars too. The Chocolatour "2005 Grenada 60%" smelled like any ol' chocolate and had a mellow chocolate flavor I highly enjoyed. The Valrhona "Le Noir" may be my favorite unadulterated chocolate bar for its complexity, but I was impressed with the Chocolatour's simplicity. The wrapper stated, "Historically the Grenada origin developed the most flavor over time, so this might be one to age a while before eating," and, "Tastes best before April 2008". It made me wonder if the first statement was just marketing or if the chocolate was only meant to age a couple of years.

I'm not one of those "the darker the better" kind of chocolate eaters, but I tried Valrhona's "Le Noir Extra Amer" (dark chocolate [85% cocoa]) on the off chance that the maker of my favorite chocolate bar could change my mind. The chocolate started with an almost coffee like bitterness that got fruity and a little sweet. The chocolate wasn't as terrible as I thought it would be, but the long bitter aftertaste was too much for me. I like chocolate with nuts better than straight chocolate so I had high hopes for the Valrhona "Le Noir Noisettes" (dark chocolate [61% cacao] with hazelnut pieces). Unfortunately the chocolate was nondescript and the hazelnuts were too fine and a little over roasted so they tasted more like hazelnut dirt than hazelnuts. What's worse is occassionally I got something crunchy that made me think I got a piece of shell. It was the worst Valrhona bar I've ever had.

6/25 - Wednesday

Ricoh GX200!

Yesterday Ricoh announced the GX200, the successor to the GX100 (my current digital camera of choice). I've been pretty satisfied with the GX100 and I've been shooting mostly film lately so I didn't think I was in the market for a new digital camera, but after reading through the upgrades I might be getting one; most of the upgrades are things I've wanted! The following are the changes I care about.

Seeing that list is it any wonder I'm interested in the camera? All the changes aren't positive though; the GX200 JPGs look like crap. Since I only shoot in RAW mode these days the JPGs aren't an issue, but it's important that the RAW files at least look as good as the GX100's. I'll find out as soon as I find some time to download sample RAW files.

6/23 - Monday

Kid Update

I've been trying to teach the kid to say "love" for weeks now and I'm sure Lynn's parents were too when they had him. Yesterday when he was in his high chair and Lynn and I were in the other room he decided to say it for the first time. We heard "I love fishy" like five times. Stupid fish.

His grasp of language is getting better almost daily now. Too bad he's learned "mine". He's also learned how to use doorknobs so things have been getting interesting.

6/22 - Sunday

Restaurant: Taqueria Mi Casita (Chandler, AZ)

Crossroads: Northwest corner of Alma School and Warner
Visit Frequency: First Visit
Meal: Lunch

Some days you just want food fast so a neighborhood taqueria [taco shop] is a good way to take care of that. I don't know of a good one in my neighborhood so I tried Taqueria Mi Casita.

I tried my usual assortment of tacos (chicken, carne asada [beef], al pastor [marinated pork], and chorizo) in hopes of finding at least one good one. The tacos were the standard build; white onions, cilantro, and meat on two small corn tortillas. The chicken was bland, but that's typical for a taqueria so it's no surprise. What was a surprise was how close to bland the pastor was. The entire reason I like it is because it's usually one of the more seasoned items. The carne asada was the best of worst because the flavor was decent, but the meat was chewy like it had sat around too long. The only taco I liked was the chorizo, which had enough heat to give me a tingle in the back of the throat.

Taqueria Mi Casita is exactly the reason I'm reluctant to try new taquerias; they don't seem to put much effort into delivering good food.

6/17 - Tuesday

Just Raise the Prices Already

Recently airlines have been dreaming up all sorts of new fees to help make up for high fuel prices (or at least that's why I hope they're doing it). I hate being charged for service that was previously included in the ticket price, but most of the fees are easy enough to avoid. Except on the three airlines that decided to charge for your first checked bag. I try to travel without checking a bag, but if there's anything that should be included in the ticket price it's that. Unfortunately I have a decent number of frequent flyer miles that I eventually hoped to cash in for international upgrades on two of the three bastard airlines (American and US Air), but now I won't be flying either.

At some point these airlines should've just thought about raising prices instead of alienating customers with furtive fees that they might not even find out about until it's too late. Hopefully not too many other airlines will follow suit or I might have figure out an alternative to flying.

6/6 - Friday

The Joys of Film Photography

The last couple of days I've been scanning my ass off, but I've only managed to scan 11 of my 35 rolls. It's a lot of work, but satisfying. I'm really excited about some of the pictures I've scanned, but since I have less than 16 hours before I have to return to my fatherly duties I'm going to keep scanning instead of processing anything.

The sad thing is I haven't even looked at my digital pictures yet to see if any of them are any good. That makes me wonder if getting a dslr is a good idea.

6/5 - Thursday

Best and Worst of Our Houston 5/08 Trip

Houston isn't the hub of fine dining that Chicago is, but there's a lot to love about their dining scene (e.g. an abundance of Cajun, Asian, and seafood restaurants). The unexpected thing this trip was that one of my favorite restaurants from our last Houston trip (Indika) ended up being the worst dinner of this trip. Apparently I should've stuck to their brunch.

Category
Lynn's Pick(s)
Mario's Pick(s)
Best Appetizer
Liver and Onions (seared foie gras with candied onions) - Brennan's
Oysters Damian (fried oysters with horseradish cream and pico de gallo) - Pesce
Worst Appetizer
Seared foie gras with onions and fig chutney - Indika
Crab samosas with papaya chutney and endive salad - Indika
Best Entree
Callo de Hacha (scallops with corn, corn cake, and rajas con crema) - Hugo's
Salsa Verde focaccia pizza (tomatillo salsa, roasted poblanos, fried garlic, and feta) - Star Pizza
Pork Confit (fried pork chop with sweet potato spaetzle) - Brennan's
Canita de Puerco con Manchamanteles (pork shank with guacamole and beans) - Hugo's
Worst Entree
Barbecue brisket - Harlon's Pit Bar-B-Q
Ribs - Harlon's Pit Bar-B-Q
Best Side
Potatoes au gratin - Pesce
Mushrooms and bok chow - Pesce
Worst Side
Coleslaw - Harlon's Pit Bar-B-Q
Endive salad - Indika
Best Dessert
Bananas Foster - Brennan's
Bananas Foster - Brennan's
Worst Dessert
Mango sticky rice - Mo Mong
Mango sticky rice - Mo Mong
Best Lunch
Star Pizza
Star Pizza
Worst Lunch
Harlon's Pit Bar-B-Q
Harlon's Pit Bar-B-Q
Best Dinner
Pesce
Pesce
Worst Dinner
Indika
Indika
Best Atmosphere
Brennan's
Brennan's
Pesce
Worst Atmosphere
Mo Mong
Las Rosas
Best Service
Brennan's
Brennan's
Worst Service
Indika
Indika

Honorable Mention: fried pickles - Boudreaux's (both of us); avocado roll (macadamia nut crusted shrimp and avocado Vietnamese spring roll) - Mo Mong (both of us); goat cheese cakes and salad - Indika (Lynn); chicken and sausage gumbo - Swampy's Cajun Shack (both of us); barbecue shrimp - Pesce (me); volcano chicken (fried chicken with egg noodles and sate sauce) - Mo Mong (me); beef Saigon (beef, vegetables, and vermicelli) - Mo Mong (Lynn); sweet potato spaetzle - Brennan's (me); stewed beans - Las Rosas (me); chipotle chocolate cake - Hugo's (Lynn); crepes with cajeta, dulce de leche, candied pecans, and dulce de leche ice cream - Hugo's (me); the dinners at Hugo's and Brennan's (both of us)

6/3 - Tuesday

Best and Worst of Our Chicago 5/08 Trip

We ate well often in Chicago, but having the best meal I've ever had on this continent at Alinea was a real surprise. I'd love to do one of their 12 course menus again while Lynn wants to try the full 27(?) course tour.

Category
Lynn's Pick(s)
Mario's Pick(s)
Best Appetizer
Seared scallop with potato and mushrooms - Spring
Seared foie gras with rhurbarb - Tru
Nori cured hamachi - Spring
Worst Appetizer
Kobe beef tartare - China Grill
Oysters with tempura uni - Tru
Best Entree
Butter poached lobster - Tru
Halibut with potato-leek puree, Chardonnay reduction, brown butter, and bacon vinaigrette - Tru
Worst Entree
Mushroom crepe with maple syrup - North Pond
Spicy seared tuna - China Grill
Best Side
Chinese brocolli with garlic - Lao Sze Chuan
Chinese brocolli with garlic - Lao Sze Chuan
Worst Side
n/a
n/a
Best Dessert
Chocolate with candied hazelnuts - Tru
White chocolate ice cream affogato - Spring
Worst Dessert
Bananas in a box - China Grill
Trio of creme brulees (vanilla bean, ginger, and chocolate) - China Grill
Chocolate with burnt caramel, honey crisps, and wattleberry ice cream - Tru
Best Lunch
Lao Sze Chuan
Lao Sze Chuan
Worst Lunch
Joy Yee's Noodles
Pizzeria Uno
Best Dinner
Alinea
Alinea
Worst Dinner
China Grill
China Grill
Best Atmosphere
Alinea
Spring
Worst Atmosphere
Tru
Tru
Best Service
Alinea
Alinea
Worst Service
China Grill
China Grill

Honorable Mention: lobster pancakes with mushrooms - China Grill (both of us); grilled octopus and Japanese eggplant - Spring (me); Kobe beef - Tru (both of us); orange beef - Lao Sze Chuan (Lynn); grilled mahi mahi with mashed potatoes and mushroom cream sauce - Frontera Grill (me); chocolate souffle - Atwood Cafe (Lynn); banana and white chocolate bread pudding with caramel sauce - Atwood Cafe; the meals at Moto (both of us) and Spring (me).

6/1 - Sunday

Gone Fishing

Taking a pinhole picture at the Cloud Gate This was the picture I meant to post while Lynn and I were in Chicago and Houston, but I put it off until we got back. I took six cameras with me, which was a bit many, but hopefully the results will be worth it. I won't know until I get the film developed and scanned. The final film tally is as follows:

120 Rolls35
-Black and White17
-Color18
35mm Rolls11
-Black and White8
-Color3
Total Rolls46

I'll get the 35mm scanned when it gets developed, but since I can't stand the way the photo lab scans 120 film I have to do it myself. I estimate I'll have about 380 negatives to scan so those pictures will probably trickle out over the next year. I guess it's a good thing I don't have any plans for the next year.


5/14 - Wednesday

Things the Kid Picked Up Too Early

4/27 - Sunday

It's Not Discontinued Yet

When Polaroid announced they would discontinue making instant film I knew some retailers would stop carrying the film immediately. What I didn't anticipate was that people would panic and start hording film now. For example, Polaroid 600 film (the integrated stuff that most people are familiar with) is supposed to be manufactured until at least January of next year according to Polaroid's own discontinuation schedule, but most places have been completely sold out. That's not a bad thing except that when they get new film in stock they're charging almost double the original price. Polaroid film has always been pricey ($1/exposure is usually a good price), but $2 an exposure is insane. I was going to wait until January to stock up, but seeing that kind of mark up has motivated me to find packs locally (for the decent price of $1.10/exposure).

What kills me is that a few months ago CostCo used to carry five packs of 600 film for a very good price (unfortunately I don't remember what, but I think it was less than $1/exposure). If they were paying attention they'd start carrying it again.

4/15 - Tuesday

Congratulations, it's a...

Yesterday we officially found out the gender of the new baby: it's a girl. Finding out was sort of anti-climatic because I've thought it was a girl for a long time now. Lynn wasn't surprised either because she'd already been referring to the new baby by our girl name (Morgan Jean). My mom is thrilled because she's always wanted a girl. We would've been happy either way, but we never agreed on a boy's name anyway.

Older updates are located in the archive.

Babble

Random thoughts that come to mind.

Restaurant Pet Peeves

Restaurants should realize there's nothing as unappetizing as the smell of cleaning products. Twice recently my nose as been assaulted by Pinesol type products, and I've considered walking out both times.
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Whose bright idea was it to create no-boil lasagna noodles? We tried them once because we couldn't find regular lasagna noodles, and they were surprisingly undercooked for noodles that supposedly doesn't require boiling. It ruined our lasagna. I'm sure there's probably a trick to getting the no-boil noodles to cook properly, but it can't be any easier than boiling them. Is boiling water really too difficult for people to handle?
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What's with the recent popularity of the word "ginormous"? This week alone I've seen it in print, and heard it on the radio. It has to be possible the dumbest word I've ever heard in the English language. What, gigantic or enormous wasn't good enough so someone got the bright idea to create this lame word? I think it's a ginormous pile of crap.
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Lately I've been wondering what those who are born blind see when they dream. I know the things I see in my dreams are, more often than not, based on what I see in real life so I would imagine that those born blind might dream some really cool stuff unencumbered by the memory of sight. Of course they might be limited by their waking imagination, or as Steve mentioned to me, they might see nothing at all. I guess it brings up an interesting connection between experience, imagination, and the purpose of dreaming. When a dog dreams it seems to be reliving its experiences, but who can tell? If you've never experienced sight could you see things in dreams?

[Addendum: After doing some research I found out that people born blind typically don't have visual dreams. How disappointing. It seems the parts of the brain responsible for dreaming relies on recent experience.]
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My Food Rules


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At one time I had trouble finding my El Diablo lump [not formed into briquets] mesquite charcoal (I love real mesquite charcoal because the stuff burns very hot and I think the combination of beef and mesquite is great). I eventually found it, but between when I needed it and when I found it I tried a couple of other charcoal type things. One was charcoal briquets with mesquite in it, and contrary to what I expected would be briquets made with some mesquite charcoal it turned out to be briquets with little mesquite shavings in it. Needless to say the flavor wasn't even close to as good as real mesquite charcoal. I also tried hickory chunks (wood, not charcoal), but five minutes after the flames died down enough to cook with their heat would dissipate. They would be great to put on regular coals if you wanted to give something hickory flavor though.

Thankfully I have a couple of bags of El Diablo right now, but Von Hanson's Meats has Royal Oak lump charcoal that I'll probably try someday.
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I saw a motorcycle with a handicapped license plate on it. I'm still trying to figure that one out.
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Somehow I'm not surprised by "RIAA Sues Deceased Grandmother". Remember, the RIAA are the same people who asserted that they should have the right to hack into your computer and destroy it if they detected mp3s on it.
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Sometimes I run across sentences or phrases in the English language that I just love for their sheer brilliance or oddness. My classic example is "Good hygiene makes the citizen," which I heard some crazy guy mutter to himself before he offered a couple of ladies his seat on the bus. (I assumed he was commenting on their hygiene, but you never know since he was crazy.) The statement was oddly phrased, but to me it sounds like something George Orwell might come up with on his best day. Can you imagine a dictatorship trying to encourage brushing your teeth with propaganda posters featuring blocky silhouettes of people proudly raising their toothbrushes with the slogan "Good hygiene makes the citizen" across the top? That's the sort of imagery that sentence evokes for me. Considering that the vast majority of language isn't evocative for me I think that's pretty cool.

Another example is recently I was looking for the Philip Dick book "Ubik" at a local bookstore. I didn't find it, but I did see another one of his books named "A Scanner Darkly". The title alone almost got me to buy it. Those are words that you normally don't see together, and it implies all sorts of potential and mystery. What is a scanner and how can it be darkly? Maybe when I'm finished with the books I'm currently reading I'll get it.

Today I ran across another one of those sentences. "I have electrified your keyboard so that it is deadly to the touch." It sounds like it might be the first line in some sort of crazy cyberpunk novel (like Haruki Murakami's "Hardboiled Wonderland and the End of the World"). Maybe it's the sort of line some evil genius uses to gloat at James Bond immediately after they make a bet about who can beat who at Unreal Tournament. I don't know, but it definately has potential.

I guess this is just going to be an ongoing section because I like adding to it. Our new programmer had this for his Instant Messenger away message, "Katamari withdraws". I thought it was some sort of well known literature or historical refence, but it turns out he was just missing playing Katamari Damacy. I still like the phrase though.

It seems cool phrases aren't limited to English. When I was in France I picked up a bottle of water that said "l'eau mobile" or "the mobile water". That sounds so much cooler than bottled water.

One of the guys at work skipped out on our poker night so my friend told me, "You should seek him out and ridicule him." That sounds so much cooler than, "Find him and make fun of him."
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Random fact: it took me $8.75 (or in video game terms, 34 continues) to finish The House of the Dead. I couldn't say if that's good or bad since I don't know how much money it takes anyone to finish the game.
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Burnt orange is the teal of the 2000's.
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I was listening to "Ruby Tuesday's: An Experiment in Eating Out Smart" on National Public Radio (NPR) and heard that Congress is trying to require restaurant chains to display nutritional information on their menus. I understand why restaurants are opposed to the idea because I'm also opposed to it too for several reasons. One, nutritional information may be accurate for fast food restaurants where the servings are almost the exact same size, but for sit down restaurants portions vary so the nutritional information could be incorrect. If it's not accurate, what's the point? Two, some people may want to know nutritional information, but they don't need to know nutritional information. Someone who's allergic to peanuts needs to know there's peanuts in kung pao chicken, but they don't need to know there's 30 grams of fat in it. It's about time people started taking a little responsibility for themselves, and if they're really concerned about nutritional information, look it up for themselves. I'm sure the next step in this line of thinking would be to force restaurant chains to put warning labels on their food so people would know that eating certain items may make them fat because we know most people will just ignore the nutritional information anyway. Finally, nutritional information isn't free; it costs a restaurant money to have their food analyzed by a nutrition lab. That may not seem like too much money for a company that's packaging and marketing food for sale in supermarkets, but it would be hard on a restaurant that changes their menu fairly often (like El Torito). It indirectly discourages menu changes.

My biggest fear is that once national chains are forced to print nutritional information on their menus, then the next target would be local restaurants. Even the reporter seems to realize that the possibility exists, and hinted about it at the end of her segment.

The legislative proposals to mandate nutritional information would only cover chain restaurants like Ruby Tuesday's. They would not apply to that mom and pop diner down the street. But Jacobson says even that diner should provide nutrition information. Even small specialty restaurants, he figures, must know what they put in their food.
It would kill the dining experience as we know it. Goodbye daily specials. Goodbye seasonal or rotating menus. Goodbye anything that hasn't been planned out three months in advance. We might end up with restaurants set up like speakeasies because it'll be illegal not to have it printed that there are 20 grams of carbohydrates in the lamb dish.
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You know you're getting old when all the cover songs on the radio are from your childhood.
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Lately I've been working with special characters for foreign languages at work, and I've noticed that some of them are really cool. One of the things I really like are the upside down question marks and exclamation points in Spanish. It seems like it adds character to the written language. It also seems to add weight to exclamations. You have to admit that "¡Bastards!" looks much better than "Bastards!".
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Why is it the only time I remember to eat at certain restaurants also happens to be the day they're closed?
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I hate it when some event is being shown on television or being videotaped, and it's over edited. What recently brought it to mind was all the programs showing Fourth of July celebrations with fireworks. It seemed like the cameras were showing the fireworks less than half the time that they were going off. The rest of the time was spent on singers or people in the crowd. Aren't the fireworks the real draw? The times they would actually show the fireworks they had this bad habit of switching through three or four cameras rather quickly, or overlaying different cameras so you could hardly get an idea what the fireworks actually looked like in the sky.

I've also noticed the same problem with concert videos and videotaped Cirque du Soleil shows. I know directors want to feel like they're earning their money, but these are experiences that, in person, are seen from one stationary position that overlooks the entire area of activity. If they really want to convey the feeling of the moment they should try and keep their camera tricks to a minimum. I mean, would you want to view a painting by seeing three or four close-ups in quick succession (or have two different close-ups overlaying each other), or would you prefer to view the entire painting at a leisurely pace?
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It's finally happened, I've become old. Want to know how I found out? My car stereo was short two radio stations because Phoenix doesn't even have enough rock/alternative stations to fill up the six presets on my stereo, so I decided to look for worthy stations. The fact that I don't like pop, country, or Mexican music severely restricted my choices. I settled on KJZZ (National Public Radio [NPR] and jazz) and KBAQ (classical) to fill the holes. They're both publicly supported, like PBS, so how bad can they be?

Lately it seems that almost all new music with a guitar sucks. (Creed sucks! For the love of all things good, stop playing Creed!) Well the other day when I was picking up my mail (which wasn't worth the trip) and a green chile chimichanga from Sylvia's La Canasta (which was worth the trip), I flipped to KJZZ which had the NPR show "Car Talk" on. I don't care to talk about cars, but the show was pretty entertaining. Immediately after "Car Talk" there was a program on talking about a photographer who late in his career decided to photograph using only a Polaroid camera, and was rather successful at it. Ever since then I've found myself listening to NPR all the damn time! Now it's not even humor or about art forms I like, but anything: current events, world politics, public service bullshit, anything.

When I was a kid I used to hate riding in cars with old people because invariably they'd have nothing but talk radio on. Now I see I have become the old person. Damn you NPR. Damn you and Creed!
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The news usually sucks, so the latest news trend is bound to suck too. Now they're replaying old news. Talk about scraping the bottom of the barrel. I guess I can blame ESPN Classic for this, but who could have predicted that the geniuses behind the news would look at that and think it's a brilliant way to "repackage" old news? My prediction for the next stupid news trend, people sitting around talking about old news (that way they don't even have to go to the effort of digging up old news footage).
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Daytime tv sucks. It's all talk shows, game shows, courtroom shows, and soap operas. How can people watch this crap? I can't even leave my tv on for half an hour, this stuff is so bad. (On a positive note, I do have to say that it's pretty good motivation to do anything but watch tv. Hell, it inspired me to write about how much it sucks.)
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Older babble located in the archive. Believe me, you aren't missing much.

Projects

Basically this section is more for my benefit than other peoples'.

Recently Completed

Text for the Japan 3/9 trip

In Progress

Google map restaurant project
Convert site to blog software
Text for San Francisco/Napa Valley 12/03 trip
Photos for Europe (part 2) 04/04 trip
Photos for Portland 10/02 trip
Update Photography page
Architecture page

Yet to Start

Text for Thanksgiving '02 trip
Text for Monterey 11/04 trip
Photos for New Orleans 12/03 trip

Preplanning

Cameras in the mail project