January 30, 2010

There is a Wizard and He is Going to Kill You

Filed under: Music — Chris @ 4:43 pm

I just finished reading John Darnielle’s great 33⅓ book on Black Sabbath’s Master of Reality. This bit does a pretty good job of summing up the difference between metal I like and metal I can’t stand:

[Sabbath’s songs were] about witches and devils and wizards and corpses. But there were barely any stories. Not like in Rush songs where if there was a wizard, or whatever, there would be a whole story, like a Robert A. Heinlein book. […] Rush songs they all have big stories and lots of things happen and there is some big meaning. On the first Black Sabbath album, the whole story in the song will be like, “There is a wizard and he is going to kill you,” or “There is a devil and you are the sacrifice.”

It strikes me that this quality, implying a story rather than telling one, is exactly what I enjoy in Darnielle’s songs. Sometimes, you just get a sketch of one crucial moment, as in “Heights” from Nothing for Juice:

When the seashells crumbled in your hand,
You looked up at me.
And the sand shifting underneath your feet,
Softened for you and, incredibly,
The sun went through from the sky.
And I was certain I was going to cry.
But then you reached up and you reached out,
We’d been staring at the water all day.
And then you touched me.
You were golden.
You were giving the game away.

Sometimes you get an isolated scene, devoid of any real context, that speaks simply of powerful emotions, as in “Noche del Gaujolote”, collected on Bitter Melon Farm:

All the birds were sleeping in their perches,
The little wind, swaying birches.
And the North American wild turkey
That your father brought home
Woke up and came towards us.

And the moonlight and the turkey waking up.
And the night air and the moonlight on your skin.
And the moonlight and the turkey waking up.
And the quiet yard and the turkey and the moon.

Darnielle’s critical supporters probably prefer to associate him with Raymond Carver. But Ozzy’s probably just as good a place to start.


January 23, 2010

Iceland Report, Part 1: Reykjavik

Filed under: Not Tech, Travel — Chris @ 12:40 pm

Here we are, just five months since I got back from Iceland, and I’m already prepared to blog about it. First up, some random tips on vacationing in Reykjavik..

  • Be prepared for schizophrenic weather. I’m pretty sure not a day passed that it wasn’t sunny and warm and one point and chilly and wet at another, oftentimes alternating between the two several times through the day. (This was in August. Can’t vouch for the other 11 months of the year.)
  • I didn’t go to Iceland expecting to eat anything particularly delicious—what I expected was to choke down some rotted shark or dried herring—so I was very pleasantly surprised to discover the lamb “boat” sandwich, a delightful combination of thinly sliced grillled lamb, crispy fried onions, various pickles, and the mysterious hlölli sauce (some kind of jazzed-up mayonnaise). You can get these at Hlölla Bátar, right in the center of Reykjavik, or at any number of takeout joints all over the place and they’re always pretty damn good even when they’re not great.
  • Crispy fried onions! They should be on everything!
  • Despite the all-important Bill Clinton endorsement and long lines of tourists and relentless hype from the world media, I’m not sure I’m on board with Baejarins Beztu Pylsur. It’s just a pretty good hot dog, albeit with lots of tasty crispy fried onions.
  • Skip the whale meat. It tastes like environmental exploitation (i.e., chewy and gamey).
  • The Nauthólsvík geothermal beach in Reykjavik isn’t particularly well advertised in the tourist literature, because it is publicly owned and absolutely free of charge. It’s a bit of a pain to get to if you don’t (as we didn’t) figure out the municipal buses, but it’s not that big a deal and it’s worth a trip. Walk South from the BSI bus terminal around the airport. You’ll pass a ball field, a University dorm (or something), and a discouraging shipping container or two. (You could, if you like, go by way of Perlan, which would probably make more sense.) They have a changing room and showers at the beach, with bins for your clothes (no lockers). The beach surrounds a small geothermally heated lagoon—the water is cool to warmish and doesn’t get deeper than 4 or 5 feet. There’s a hot tub built into the beach that spills over into the lagoon, but that seems to be given over to the splashing children. The adults congregate in a long, shallow hotter hot tub up near the changing rooms (though there’s quite a bit of splashing up there too, to be honest).
  • A lot of Icelandic beer is light beer (2.5% alcohol or less)—I think light beer is all you can buy in grocery stores and certain cafes. If you want a real beer, it’s safer to order one of the widely available imported brands, e.g., Tuborg or Grolsch.

[UPDATE] Also, you might be wondering: is the Blue Lagoon a tourist trap? Is it worth the money? Yes and yes! You should go! It’s totally fun!

January 3, 2010

No handlers could be found for logger “bzr”

Filed under: Linux — Chris @ 6:25 pm

This usually just means you don’t have permission to write to the log. Sometimes it ends up belonging to root (maybe because I did sudo bzr in /etc using etckeeper?). Just do:

$ sudo chown $USER ~/.bzr.log
$ chmod 644 ~/.bzr.log

December 13, 2009

Michael Hated Everything

Filed under: Not Tech, Top Chef — Chris @ 10:35 pm

Poor Kevin. It’s hard to say he choked, since he put out four pretty solid dishes, but he certainly underperformed his potential. As far as I could see the whole thing was pretty close, with each chef putting out one great dish (Kevin’s chicken skin and squash, Michael’s rockfish, and Bryan’s venison), one mediocre dish (Kevin and Michael’s desserts, Bryan’s tuna-noodle casserole with no tuna, no noodles, and no salt), and a pair of dishes that were good but not impeccable (the Judges always find something to peck).

I think the lesson of Kevin’s two part finale experience is that Top Chef is not the place for slow-cooked meats. It seems to me that you rarely get the time you need in an elimination challenge to properly cook a brisket or a pork belly (though, Shyamalan twist, Michael won with a pork belly back in the Thunderbirds episode).

Who does mom love more?

Predictions. I was only 5 for 13 with my predictions this season, and that’s not counting a totally ill-advised Jennifer vs. Bryan finale prediction from episode 5 (one has to admit that was pretty close!). I probably would have called Robin’s elimination if I had bothered to blog episode 10 (though maybe I would have chosen Eli for spite).

That’s a bit better than I did last season and about a million percent better than I did on Top Chef Masters.

The Rules. The record for The Rules is much better: 9 of 14 eliminations were arguably rule violations. One for Rule A (“Never make a salad or dessert”: Preeti), two for Rule B (“Play it safe”: Jennifer Z. and Robin), four for Rule C (“Respect your proteins”: Hector, Ron, Ashley, Ash, and Eli), one for Rule D (“Be prepared to change your plan”: Mike I.), two for Rule E (“Be prepared to critique your dish”: Eve and Mattin). The ones that fell through the cracks are Laurine, who set a precedent in going home for being a terrible hostess in Restaurant Wars, and Jennifer, Kevin, and Bryan, who were simply not the best of a very good lot. The only rule that didn’t come into play this season was Rule F (“It’s business, not personal”), which is surprising considering how many team-ups with Robin and Ron seemed headed for disaster.

That’s it for this season. No more TV blogging till who knows when… Any suggestions?

December 8, 2009

You Eat What You Like, And I’ll Eat What I Like

Filed under: Top Chef — Chris @ 10:10 pm

The trouble with finishing off the season with four incredibly talented and relatively drama-free chefs is… I’ve got nothing to say. This is what I was afraid Top Chef Masters was going to be like, before Michael Chiarello arrived to douche things up. Unfortunately, the old Chiarello touch didn’t take this week.

Prediction: It’s sad to see Jennifer go, even if it does put me back on a solid prediction streak. My call from last week stands: Kevin FTW. If you are not convinced by the mere fact that the more-technical chef has prevailed over the simpler-but-more-soulful chef exactly once in Top Chef history (that would be Hung, over the outmatched Dale and Casey; a moment of silence for Tiffani, Marcel, Richard, and Stefan); that Kevin is the all-time winningest chef (although Bryan now stands beside him as the all-time not-losing-est chef, having never once been in danger of Elimination); if Kevin’s toothsome Yukon Cornelius-ness isn’t enough to give you a rooting interest, just consider this: it will be an unpleasant and awkward Christmas at the Voltaggio’s if Bryan loses to Michael (or vice versa).

[UPDATE] I meant to note that this is the first time in Top Chef history where there can be no perverse or outrageous outcome in the finale. Notwithstanding Michael is kind of a dick—it’s hard to blame him since obviously his mother never truly loved him—all three chefs are incredibly talented and none of them is a boo-hiss villain in the Tiffani/Ilan/Lisa/Hosea mold. I’ll be rooting for Kevin, but I wish all the best to the Voltaggios too.

November 22, 2009

How Do You Measure a Chef’s Worth? Just By The Pleasure He Gives Here On Earth

Filed under: Top Chef — Chris @ 11:16 pm

This week was a preview of how I expect the rest of the season to play out. Kevin made the smart Rule B play, sticking with simple, clean flavors over elaborate presentations. He risked being dismissed as an underachiever. But in truth it’s rare for a chef to go home for making delicious food that’s not “ambitious” enough. Indeed, Kevin has exactly the kind of approach the Judges like: not overly fussy, focused on flavor, and “soulful.” The Voltaggios are more technically proficient, but more likely to try something risky or conceptual that falls short on flavor. (Top Chef contestants need to spend more time studying Tom Collichio’s Diet Coke commercial—he is not a big fan of conceptual cookery.)

Predictions: I’m putting all my chips on Kevin to win. If you need more convincing, with this episode Kevin clinched the record as the all-time winningest Top Chef contestant, with 5 Elimination wins and 4 Quickfire wins (one, the blind-fold relay, as a team member). He’s won nearly half of the Elimination Challenges he’s participated in (recall he was excused from the Joël Robuchon challenge for his Quickfire win). He’s only been in the bottom once, in Restaurant Wars (that great inverter of Top Chef fortune). In comparison, Stephanie (Season 4) had 5 Elimination wins, including her Season win, and only 1 Quickfire win. Stefan (Season 5) had 4 Elimination wins and 4 Quickfire wins. (Let’s hope that Kevin doesn’t imitate his home stretch performance.)

I am fond of Jennifer, but she obviously has a problem performing under pressure. I expect her to go home next week.

November 21, 2009

HTPC Project: The Build

Filed under: HTPC, Tech — Chris @ 3:15 pm

The HTPC is purchased, assembled, and installed. Our cable service has been cancelled and we are streaming the Project Runway finale even as I write this. This is the first in a series of posts I’ll write about the whole process of putting the thing together. Today, I’m going to focus on the hardware components and the process of assembling the PC.

Here is the final list of the components I actually purchased.

  • Motherboard: ASUS M3N78-VM Micro-ATX (includes on-board GeForce 8200 graphics, VIA VT1708B sound, and Realtek 8211CL Ethernet) Price: $75
  • CPU: AMD Athlon 64 X2 5200 2.7GHz 65W Dual-Core Price: $61
  • Heat sink: Thermaltake CL-P0296 18dBA CPU Cooler Price: $30
  • Memory: Patriot Viper 4GB (2 x 2GB) 240-Pin DDR2 800 SDRAM Price: $82
  • Case: Antec Fusion Remote Black (includes remote control) Price: $140
  • Power supply: Antec EarthWatts EA380 380W Price: $45
  • Hard drive: Seagate Barracuda 1TB 7200rpm Price: $80
  • Optical drive: Sony Optiarc AD-7240S-0B SATA DVD+RW Price: $28
  • Keyboard: IOGEAR GKM561R Wireless Keyboard with Trackball Price: $55

There are only minor differences from my preliminary list. I upgraded to 4GB RAM, because I just felt like I ought to. I added a power supply, because I was under the misapprehension that the Fusion case included one and it didn’t (this mistake set back the project by a full week). I added a heat sink, because the stock CPU fan is annoyingly loud at peak (although peaks should be rare under normal usage). And I swapped the Samsung IDE DVD+RW drive for a Sony SATA drive (see below).

The total cost, including tax and shipping (but excluding the re-stocking and re-shipping fees for a few mis-steps, about which more below) was $630.

The assembly went remarkably smoothly, about two hours total. Here’s the pile of parts, ready to be assembled into a computer:

Pile of Stuff

And here’s the empty case, ready to be filled with cool stuff:

Empty Case

The case is surprisingly big and heavy, about the size of a regular desktop PC or a stereo receiver. Here’s the case full of cool stuff:

Full Case
Notice that the Fusion case has a “three chamber” design, where the power supply, the motherboard, and the hard disks are isolated from one another to improve cooling. The hard drives are mounted in funny brackets with silicon grommets to reduce the noise from vibration.

The only real problems I had with the build were:

  • I initially wired up the system power incorrectly, leading to a few minutes of genuine sinking-heart panic when I first pressed the power button and was met with silence. The problem was my utter failure to correctly read this pin diagrams (the connections run in parallel, not across):

    This took about 10 seconds to fix, once I realized my mistake.

  • The motherboard was a little snug in its compartment, leaving the IDE port difficult to access, especially after everything else was hooked up. With a bit of determination and dexterous fingers, I probably could have gotten the DVD drive plugged in, but instead I took a hit on the re-stocking fee and ordered a SATA replacement drive. (SATA is better anyway, right? For some reason?)
  • I didn’t notice in the pile of miscellaneous cables I had amassed or read the case manual closely enough to look for the 24-pin power cable extension with a special dongle for hooking up the front panel LCD screen (which also serves at the remote control’s IR receiver). This led to a fair amount of frustration and wasted time trying to get the LCD screen and remote control to work, as you might imagine. I only figured this out after an 11th hour Google search had not turned up an off-hand comment in a user review by “RG”at This took about 2 minutes to fix once I realized my mistake.
  • The first heat sink I bought did not fit in the case; it was too tall. It did not even occur to me to check the dimensions before ordering—I just chose the cheapest quiet cooler I could find.

Here’s the finished HTPC, nestled on it’s shelf with the stereo receiver:

HTPC, completed

Note that the LCD display is lit but displaying no useful information. More on that next post.

November 15, 2009

The Quiver of a 17th Century Courtesan’s Inner Thigh

Filed under: Top Chef — Chris @ 11:15 pm

First off, I apologize for two weeks without Top Chef blogging. Let’s just say the demands of reality interfered with reality television.

This week, Robin’s luck finally ran out. She ran afoul of Rules A, B, and D: she made a dessert, she attempted to use a technique she had no experience with, and she blundered on as the plan fell apart. She showed up at Judges’ Table hoping to get credit for what she intended, rather than what she served.

The Elimination looked close though: Jennifer put out an inedible protein and Eli had put out a dish that was inedible, period. It’s pretty incredible to think Eli did not get eliminated when he served a dish that got the following reviews:

Tom: “The dish was a failure. Texturally, it completely failed.”

Padma: “I really didn’t like the flavors in that dish. I personally would never want to eat that again.”

Nigella: “I’d rather eat sawdust… I had to bring every ounce of my upbringing to bear to not spitting the bit I had back into the cup.”

"I don't like it at all."

"I don't like it at all."

You have to figure the Judges’ were just ready to be rid of Robin.

Predictions: Can I just pretend I predicted Robin for this week? I have a bad feeling all the fight has gone out of Jennifer, but I’m going to stick to my and everybody else’s guns and predict the top four will be Brian, Jennifer, Kevin, and Michael. (Note: One of these four has won every Elimination Challenge this year. That’s the most concentrated the winners have been in any season.) That means it’s Eli’s turn to go home.

Random observations

  • Kevin on Nigella: “Gordon Ramsey named a turkey after her. She’s legit.”
  • The three top dishes were, by far, less literally inspired by their casinoes than the bottom three dishes.
  • Eli on the Circus Circus casino: “It’s not like big top, elephants, giraffes… It’s, like, not a circus.”.
  • Jennifer served “shit on a shingle” in the Quickfire and “a sword in a stone” for the Elimination Challenge. She may want to consider serving things that sound appetizing.

October 25, 2009

Laurine’s at the Back of the Line When It Comes To Gettin’ Ahead

Filed under: Top Chef — Chris @ 6:13 pm

Let’s get this out of the way right up front: this week didn’t go well for me. After two consecutive front-of-the-house Restaurant Wars eliminations, I am going to have to retract my claims about the front-of-the-house advantage. While Radhika may have been the exception that proves the rule (she went home because she was the team leader and the team failed), Laurine finished the rule off once and for all. She went home instead of Michael, who under-seasoned his char and made bland asparagus. She went home instead of Jennifer, who made two bad dishes, one of which Tom said was “a disaster.” And she went home instead of Kevin, who sent out unevenly cooked, too-rare lamb. (Granted, the lamb dish was technically Laurine’s, and Tom tried to make a lot of the fact that Laurine had promised she would keep an eye on the dish and make sure it passed muster. But still it’s hard to fault Laurine for a poorly cooked dish when it was Kevin who was working the grill.) The reason that Laurine went home this week, instead of any of her teammates, is that she did a terrible job working the front of the house, failing to expedite dishes, forgetting to explain dishes as they arrived, and just generally being frazzled and unhelpful in a too-obvious way. I didn’t think it was possible, but there you have it.

Predictions: Damn you, Laurine, for not going home last week or the week before. And damn you, Robin, for pulling your act together and putting out a delightful pear pithivier. My record has sunk to a pitiful 3 for 9. I’m going to stick with Robin for next week, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Eli finally shoots himself in the foot.

"I am very happy about this whole situation."

"I am very happy about this whole situation."

Random observations

  • The tag-team Quickfire was by far the coolest challenge Top Chef has ever done.
  • Was Padma being a bitch or what? Was there any point in asking for salt for her asparagus except to mess with the Laurine and Mike’s heads?
  • I love that Toby Young is a man who can’t do without dessert.
  • Robin couldn’t help but complain about Mike V. at Judge’s Table, even as the Judges were complimenting her dish. Can’t she see how big his heart is?
  • Since Jennifer was the obvious second choice for elimination, and Kevin the third, one might be tempted to speculate the producers put a thumb on the scale in favor of the top contenders. Far be it from me to suggest such a thing. But one might be tempted.

October 18, 2009

You’re Not My Mom! You Can’t Tell Me What It’s About!

Filed under: Top Chef — Chris @ 10:46 pm

Another poor showing at Judges’ Table this week. Robin ran smack into the face of Rule E, saying she stood behind her dish when she should have been abandoning (er, critiquing) it. Ash went the “I had a much better dish in my head” route and seemed to put far to much stock in how well Charlie Palmer appreciated it in his head.(It was kind of a Rule D⁻¹ violation: don’t change your plan and then expect to get credit for the original plan.) Laurine opened her mouth and revealed that she didn’t know the difference between a rillettes and cat food. Any one of them could have gone home and it wouldn’t have been a surprise. But in the end it was salt before texture: Ash had failed at something so simple as to be unforgiveable.

Predictions: On the one hand, I want to stick with Laurine so that she doesn’t slip past me. On the other hand, it looks as if she’s working the front of the house in Restaurant Wars next week and that means there’s no chance she’ll go home, so long as she avoids the Radhika Trap. And it looks as if Robin, who is obviously the weakest chef left standing (she’s been in the bottom less often than Laurine, but she’s also never been in the top), is going to get herself in trouble next week. Restaurant Wars is always a good candidate for a surprise elimination, but I’m going to play it safe and assume Robin’s luck will run out.

Random observations

  • My comments about Robin above aside, I think its obvious that Eli was being a total jerk and owed her an apology. His evident pride in having “stepped up” to her was incredibly immature (and the other contestants undoubtedly would have told him so directly if they all didn’t also have a chip on their shoulders about her). Eli is such an arrogant tool that I really enjoyed watching Michael and Bryan get under his skin. It was simple schoolyard stuff (“That was flirting… Did you get to second base?”), but amazingly effective. The Voltaggio’s obviously know how to deconstruct a male ego.
  • "Dude, seriously, can you stop? You are pissing me off."

    "Dude, seriously, can you stop? You are pissing me off."

  • I think we can all agree that “the difference between a shaved armpit and a hairy armpit” was the good Toby Young.
« Newer PostsOlder Posts »

Blog at