Saturday, December 09, 2006

Bourdain in Beirut

I saw something pretty remarkable last night: Anthony Bourdain's show on his experiences in Beirut, during the war of last July.

Brett and I have been on a bit of a Bourdain kick recently; we caught a couple of his shows, and then she had the chance to interview him for the Bohemian. She also started reading his book. Friends will also remember that it was his restaurant in New York that ended my several years of vegetarianism, and it was on his advice that I bought a Global knife. We went to his reading in Sonoma, and I must say I was impressed. He seems to be a very personal and "real" guy who just happened to get lucky and famous, and now he's living his dream. Also, he really knocked 'em dead at that event.

I had also heard, of course, that he was one of the American evacuees of the Beirut bombing.

Yes, it is extremely weird to view war through the lens of foodie culture. And yet in this case it was highly appropriate, I think. Beirut by all accounts had come a long, long way, and was just on the verge of becoming a real tourist destination for westerners. It was also, as Bourdain said during his reading, just what the neo-cons are supposed to want the middle east to become. It was a booming, pro-business, multi-ethnic, tolerant, and westernized place. Althought I had never really imagined travelling there before, seeing what it was like really made me wish that I could go. (Especially since I am extremely deprived of middle-eastern food in Napa; there's a persian restaurateur, but he basically serves California-type food.)

Bourdain started shooting the day of the Hezbollah raid which captured two Israeli soldiers; that act, which resulted in the death of seven other soldiers, initiated the bombing which basically destroyed the city; it easily killed hundreds.

Bourdain and his crew were whisked away by an american security consultant, and watched most of the war from a hotel above Beirut, to the north of the bombed area. From there, it seemed oddly clear: the unassailable machines of war scattering death throughout the city. I guess I'm an unrepentant pacifist, but I just don't get it -- the urge to escalate, to completely destroy the enemy, seems so obviously wrong. It seems so clear that it will end up causing more total pain and death, that I find it difficult to understand why rational people choose it.

Now, yes, there are more obvious examples: the enemy footsoldiers approaching your borders, murdering your families. I would take up arms. I understand the desire to stop terrorism; it's just that it's clear that conventional military force is pretty much useless against it. In fact, as in the case of Hezbollah after this war, it usually feeds the terrorists. The use of massive force cedes the moral high ground to the terrorists, at least in the eyes of those in the theatre -- who are the very people who will be recruited into the ranks of those terrorists.

We need to find a better way; we need to create a lasting peace in Israel. Yes, the tactics of Hezbollah are abhorrent; they celebrate violence in a way that is extremely damaging. And yet they are responsible for much less death and destruction than our side, the peaceful, tolerant westerners.

So that's all. It seems like a perfect metaphor, though -- one moment, we are eating kibbeh, enjoying the fruits of tolerance, going about our existence as though there were no problems in the world, and suddenly, the forces of violence and destruction wipe it all away. I feel as though, despite all of our attempts to deal with terrorism, we are still ignoring it in the ways that matter.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Git 'er done

I swear I'm going to fix this truck, just as soon as I get this hose off the radiator with a pipe wrench. Maybe I should have drained the coolant first, or at least let 'er cool down...

Check out the reshaped 'burn. Very key.

Mullet Over

I don't know if you've had this experience, but when harvest season starts off with your boss giving you a mullet cut in front of all your coworkers, well, enough said, really. I mean, you've got a mullet, so that's pretty much all there is to talk about.

A word on the mullet: now that I've gone right through to the other side of mulletdom, obviously I have a new perspective on things. First off, it's true what they say: it's all business in front, and you've still got the party in the back. It's really the best of both worlds. I mean, your hair is out of your eyes, so you can go ahead and do your framing, laying concrete, siding, digging ditches, or, as in my case, winery lab work. And yet, you're still obviously out to have a good time. Yeah, you're a party guy.

Also it should be noted that, should you choose to get a mullet, your friends pretty much will talk about it constantly for the entire time that you've got the hairdo. Your coworkers will get over it in about two or three days, but if you, say, unexpectedly go to a party with your new mullet, you're pretty much the center of attention. If you were to, for instance, walk down the street in the Haight and meet some friends, they pretty much won't get over it, and people will start talking to you spontaneously in bars and such. And want to take pictures with you.

Yes, you will need to grow the 'stache as well. Of course you will. The mulstache is part of the look, you can't half-ass this like your fuckin' faux-hawk. A faux-mullet isn't going to fool anyone. That's just a bad haircut, not the rank, over-the-top class-defying mindfuck of a hairstyle that will make you the coolest kid in class for like six months, when some other guy goes for a mullet and suddenly there are two trendsetters, not just one.

So that's my call -- it's got to be done. All of a sudden, you're way more amusing and hip than you used to be with your new mullet, and you can say, when it's all said and done, I did it. I brought back the mullet almost single-handedly. I saw an opportunity and I took it. I was there before the people in Levis and iPod commercials. I was there before the kids in suburbia grew out their hair, before the hipsters in New York and LA grew rattails. I had the balls that the mullet-watchers don't. I went somewhere they were deeply afraid of. And it was good. For about two weeks.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

A day in the life

Or, at least, an email in the life.

From Rich:

Well anyway, here is the latest of the best (and worst really in a way) achewood:'s clickable as well)


My response:

That is so apropos, really, seeing as how I recently watched the 1971 film Le Mans starring Steve McQueen -- not rally cars of course, the Le Mans was sports cars, but there are a couple of really gnarly crashes in it.

It reminds me of the end of the Italian Mille Miglia, when the Alfonsode Portago, a Portuguese nobleman, killed eleven spectators when his Ferrari careened out of control after a tire blowout. Tons of people have died racing automobiles, although we tend to think about that as a thing of the past.

Of course we enjoy the fruits of all those high-speed pursuits when we fire up our modern automobiles with airbags, disc brakes, and multivalve engines. Worth it?

That's the end of the email. And it's the end of August -- that means it's almost time to fire up the industrial machinery and start crushing the almost 9000 tons of grapes that will come through the 'wood. I've got to finish up my pre-harvest prep. Including hiring another lab tech -- know anyone?

I bought a bunch of espresso pods for the Solis -- so far results are mixed. Pretty poor really -- I can only get a decent shot maybe half the time, which is weird because you'd think they should be more consistent if anything? I dunno. Got some decaf pods too, which is cool.

I have to finish up cleaning and go home. Such is my glamorous life in wine country.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Dude --

Check this out. That's right, another blog with the same name, from the same place, with way more posts than mine. This can lead to only one conclusion: my blog name is totally weak. Oh well. It may be too late.

So I've started a new project: I'm going to try to make a chronological chart of my material obsessions over the past few years. After all, the impetus to change career and get into the wine business started off as an obsession with food and wine beginning in 2002-2003; since then I've been obsessed (as documented by purchases) with: handmade persian rugs, coffee and espresso equipment and autombobiles. There were also occasional flare-ups of some "background" obsessions: hi-fi audio, guitars, and computer gear.

The real difficulty of this is finding a good way to graph the intensity of the obsessions in addition to when they are active. I think we may also do a chart for Brett's obsessions: moving to Europe, Swedish handicrafts, being an artist, etc. I believe that this exercise will be most informative.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Long time no nothing

Hello, gentle reader. It has been too long since my last entry in this forum. A brief synopsis of what's been going on: Brett and I visited Richard in L.A. Richard, who has a diagnosed mental disorder, was institutionalized. At around the same time, Israel invaded Lebanon, quite possibly starting a larger conflict in the Middle East. Then, Brett and I moved. Also, my boss quit and I got a small promotion at work.

So...yeah, it's been busy and rather stressful. I will expand on some of these topics later if anyone is interested. Or if not!! That's the great thing about a blog. Anyway, toodles.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Fast, Cheap, and Out of Control

OK people -- tired of Koyannisqatsi? Add this one to your list of mind-blowers: documentarian par excellence Errol Morris' 1997 masterpiece, Fast, Cheap, and Out of Control.

It's about four people: a topiary gardener, a lion tamer, a specialist in naked mole rats, and an MIT robot scientist. It sets two of the characters against the others, in a way...on one side you have mechanation, trans-humanism, and insect social structure, and on the other you have the total control of nature and animal instinct. It's totally brilliant and makes you think more than once about, well, everything. I don't want to spoil too much, but pay attention when they start talking about feces. It'll make you squirm for sure.

All this makes me think about what I love about car racing, especially vintage car racing. Actually, I don't care much for modern car races, but with the old cars, I'm totally mesmerized. It's because it catches the entire evolution of automotive development: they start off with these pre-war cars with like 25 horsepower and end up with 1960s V8 monsters, and all the while they balance the power and handling...and it's all a pointless pursuit, more or less. We would have all been better served if they'd built a train system that goes everywhere. But there's something caught up in the intersection of the technical struggle and the beauty of the sheetmetal designs that, I would argue, embodies the best aspects of humans as a species. We have an enormous capacity to create diverse forms of beauty. This is obvious. What isn't so obvious is the relationship between beauty and pointlessness. I seems like it's at its peak when the entire exercise is utterly pointless, like wild animal shows: They're dumb: downright stupid, but there's a certain awe about them that's impossible to deny. But it's almost the as great when an everyday task or need is transformed by an invention: I would argue that as a society, we "Americans" are totally in awe of the automobile. Look at all the people that commut in pickups with giant v8's, or new sportscars, and tell me that this is the product of a rational mind.

Anyway that's all for now. Throw that one on the queue, and if you can stomach another documentary, put Morris' late-1970s masterpiece Gates of Heaven on there as well. Two words: pet cemeteries. Pet cemeteries that I've seen with my two eyes -- and Brett has recently written about.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Vintage Race 2006

I know that you have been waiting patiently for an update, gentle readers. And I think that I do have something that might interest you.

Our story begins last year, June 5th, 2005 -- Brett's birthday weekend, and I've already messed up by not getting her a cake. Oops, who knew it was such a big deal? My plan for recovery, you ask? Why not take her to the Jaguar Vintage Car Classic at the Infineon? I mean, what girl doesn't like that?

Oddly enough, she consented. And odder still, once we got there, she loved it.

Really! She loved it. Both of us got teary-eyed, sitting there in the sun watching an amazing array of old racing and sports cars, not in a museum, but cranking around a racetrack, screaming their hearts out. And she hasn't stopped talking about it since.

This year, we brought the camera and she, Brett Ascarelli, my fabulous in-house photographer, snapped some shots. Here are a few favorites:

These cars are so damn small!

Check out the smoking E-type -- it had to retire after about two laps. Too bad -- that was the mid-late 1960s production sports cars race, and it's fun to see the E-types in a race dominated by Shelbys and Corvettes.

Next up is the "Piranha," a crazy kit car that's based on a Corvair!!! Unsafe at any speed!

But here's my personal favorite: unbelievably, there were a couple of SAABs on the track that day, Sonnett V4's, which were actually raced! About 2,000 Sonnett V4's were produced, a fiberglass-bodied two-seat sportscar. And I totally love them. They were powered by a ford v-4 good for about 65 hp, SAE. Probably like 50 by today's measurements. But they were out there, and they're beauties.

Saturday, May 27, 2006


Above is a picture of my first successful performance modification: I have added an "intake" to my old Saab. Perhaps this isn't so impressive, since really it just consisted of removing the factory air filter assembly and bolting the new, larger air filter in place.

Translation: I have found another geeky obsession to bore you with.

Well...that's all for now. I was really excited about it for a minute.

Friday, May 12, 2006

I'm a friggin' mechanic all of a sudden.

So this monday, after spending the weekend ordering stuff for the "new" car and getting its oil changed, I was greeted by an unwelcome occurance: a terrible squeal from the engine compartment, followed by a small "clunk," heralding a major change in the material status of the alternator belt, and ushering in a new era of tool-time for yours truly.

Despite the $92 pre-purchase inpection and around $500 of work done on the car since then, my reputable but perhaps overworked mechanic in Sonoma had no idea that the alternator belt was on its last legs, or even, apparently, that the car is meant to operate with two belts instead of one. Oops. This does not bode well for the aforementioned timing chain rattle.

Flash back to Monday morning, around 8:30 AM, (nearly the same time and day of the car accident that has caused the automotive content of my life to rise so drastically). Myself, calling the shop that works on Brett's car:

(Ring ring)
"'s Auto Service."
"Yeah, I've got a question for you -- how are you guys with older Saab nine hundreds?"
"Uh...we don't work on Saab 900s (you idiot)."
"Um...ok, thanks..."

Next shop no answer.

Next shop:
"Selbach European."
"Uh, yeah, do you guys do Saabs?"
"What's the problem?"
blah blah...
Them: "Yeah...well, we could take a look at that. Thing is, we're just really busy right now. I mean, wow, we are plowed under..."
"O.K. well, thanks, maybe if I can't get anyone else to do it, I'll call you back."

Moments later I order a set of replacement belts from a Saab website, resolving to do it myself. Today, Friday at 6:30 pm, they are on the car and took me to work today. However, that was not before a mishap with the order (two power steering belts, one alternator) that delayed all of this by two days.

Not to mention all the grease and dirt on my hands, and teaching myself with the help of a book how to do it. That said, it really wasn't too bad, despite the Saab "backwards engine" setup, where all the belts are right near the firewall. All the bolts turned easily, and I didn't even cut myself; as long as I get home tonight, I'd say it was pretty much a success. Now, here's the big question: will I now be emboldened to tackle further projects with this (my only) car? I've heard that it may be possible to deal with the timing chain rattle by replacing a guide accessible under the valve and timing cover; this may have the fringe benefit of clearing up a major source of possible vacuum leaks, the valve cover gasket. And of course, here's the big question: could I deal with the project to convert the car to a light pressure turbo? Most of the parts come from the turbo engine and are a direct fit, although it involves replacing a whole lot of them. It would mean a probable 10-15 hp gain, and a gain in fuel efficiency as well (so far the 2.1 naturally aspirated engine is getting worse mileage than the old car with its far more powerful 2.0 turbo.) But would the gain in efficiency offsetthe price of super?

I have spent a whole hell of a lot of time thinking about this stuff since my old reliable auto was destroyed. And money. Back in the day in NYC I spent about $60 to $70 a month on transportation, a little more if I took the bus out of town or took a cab somewhere. Furthermore, it was all electric and I could read while I went to work. Sure, I've caught the car bug, and I love the joy of the open road and all that, but I could sure do without the extreme cost ($3.25 for 87?) and the life-threatening auto accidents.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

But this just looks right...

Well I must admit I miss the rush of taking Pete's Audi for a spin with the top down, but we all know that when you get down to it I'm a SAAB guy. I found this baby on the side of Highway 12 in Sonoma; my co-worker spotted it. It's a 1991 SAAB 900S with 164,000 miles on it, in remarkably good condition. I had it checked out by Universal Auto in Sonoma who gave it a more or less clean bill of health, and did a bit of work on it. Well, it has a coolant leak -- I think that it's a just cracked expansion tank -- we'll see tomorrow. 1991 introduced the 2.1 liter naturally-aspirated four in the "S" cars, which has the reputation of being the most problematic of the classic 900 engines, but I think it should take me a few more miles. I'd like to swap in a rebuilt turbo engine someday; it would probably cost me a few grand, but it would still be much cheaper than a whole new car.

There is one big problem though -- the heated seats don't seem to be working. The guy who sold it to me swore that they worked, and maybe they did before it sat through this rainy winter. Maybe a mouse took a liking to some wiring? Maybe somebody stood on a seat and broke the wire in it when they were cleaning it up? Anyway, I'm going to find out.

And I really hope that nobody runs into me -- although it seems they're trying. Going around the bend between Ravenswood and Viansa today, there was a tractor coming the other way on the highway with its blinkers on, and a long line of cars waiting patiently behind it. All except one -- a brand new silver Corvette, screaming towards me in my line AROUND THE FUCKING BEND. I hit the brakes (he didn't) and we came within probably 3 feet of highway head-on collision. I mouthed "motherfucker" and drove on -- but I swear to you if we'd collided, I was about this close to pulling his battered, midlife-crisis body out of that fiberglass piece of shit and beating out of him whatever life was left. The other accident was, at least, just that, a simple accident caused mostly by road conditions; this was a really, really stupid decision that could have easily cost that asshole his miserable life -- and mine, which I was planning to do some things with. Right on the other side of the bend, a few hundred feet away, is a straightaway with a dotted center line for passing, but no, he just couldn't wait.

I hope that he realizes what a lucky guy he is tonight; if I had been driving Brett's car (which has shitty brakes compared to the old SAAB) or if I just hadn't been paying attention, he would've ended up with that big ol' engine on his lap.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

From across the void...

The other day, as I was driving home, I heard a recording of a call to 911 from a victim of the 9/11 attack. It really brought me back.

I've told this story a few times but somehow I keep feeling the need to retell it; somehow I don't think I've quite done it justice yet.

In terms of weather, September 11th was about as good a day as it gets in New York. The sky was preternaturally blue, and totally clear in every direction. I lived at that time in "South Williamsburg" Brooklyn, two stops outside Manhattan, right underneath the elevated tracks for the J-M-Z. I'd recently bought a digital camera, and for some reason I had thought of bringing it to work with me that day; in the end, I didn't.

I read novels or the New Yorker on the way to work; I took the J train back into Manhattan briefly, and then caught the F back to DUMBO, (Down Underneath the Manhattan Bridge Overpass, the stupidest acronym in New York) in Brooklyn. As the train made its way slowly over the Williamsburg Bridge, a woman exclaimed that "that building is on fire." Nobody paid any attention, really. People say lots of things, and the view of the towers is often obscured as you go over that bridge. I looked up long enough to see what she was talking about, and think to myself, isn't that the World Trade Center?

I also remember thinking to myself that the black, gaping hole looked a lot like something I'd seen in a Hieronymus Bosch painting. Specifically, I think, the right panel of The Garden of Earthly Delights.

My commute took me back underground; the question, "Hey, did you see the fire in the WTC?" went on deck for small talk at work. By the time I reached the York St F stop, the second tower had been hit. A column of smoke trailed over DUMBO. A woman said to me as I walked, "Two planes hit those two buildings," and I answered, "No, it was only one!" I imagined a single-propeller plane, far off course, losing control; I also remembered the famous statement about the WTC: that it had been engineered to withstand a plane crash.

There was a clear line of sight from my workplace to the towers; it was just over the east river from them, and there is a famous park there which has views between the two bridges. I saw the two towers smoking from just in front of the entrance, and then went up to the sixth floor. There, I found confusion. No one's cellular phone worked; we had no radio or television (not that it would have helped us, since the antennas were on the towers) and most websites were down. The New York Times frontpage would sporadically load; the best connections seemed to be with IRC servers, far away. The conversation was about the attacks; that was where I heard about the attack on the Pentagon. Also I heard there were five more jets in the air, and that fighters had been launched to intercept them, and many other crazy things. I heard about leaflets dropped from the planes, as well.

Some of my coworkers went up the the roof to get a better view. There was a janitor up there who wouldn't let us on the roof (building policy) but we looked out through the door, which framed the towers against a background of pure blue. We could see things falling from the towers: people jumping. A coworker of mine, Shu Li, brought his camera and recorded it.

Back in the office, more confusion. I remember seeing people leaving Manhattan, walking over the Brooklyn Bridge, from another office suite. We desperately searched for information, and tried to contact our families (who often knew more than we did about what was going on) and it was from one of them that we heard the first tower had fallen. After that the office gathered down on the street to stare at the other tower; it fell as well, with a sound like bricks being thrown into an empy dumpster, and just as loud, even on the other side of the river.

I walked home through Brooklyn that day; a little south of where I lived, the Hasids were giving out water to those who were walking home. At home, my roommates were on the roof. They'd received calls from family telling them what happened while they were asleep -- no jobs. That night, we went out to a Mexican restaurant on Bedford Avenue that was operated "cash only" as a sign proclaimed on the front door. I remember saying that if I were President Bush, I would immediately invade Iraq, regardless of actual causality. Turns out he was thinking the same thing.

For me, and I think for many people who experienced it, even through television, the whole even has been relegated to a strange, surreal part of the mind: the "antipodes," as Aldous Huxley called it. A place that we don't visit very often, because there's no real way to understand it. The recording of that phone call brought me back there, to the time when we were all struggling to understand what was going on and how to react, when a 911 call, even a fire in the World Trade Center, might be business as usual on some level. Stay put and we'll come get you. The implication in the fireman's voice is "we've all got problems," a very New York attitude, I think, and on some level reassuring: they know how to handle this, calm down.

If only it were. It seems to me that what has followed has been worse than what happened. It was a terrible thing, it changed all of our lives, and it changed them for the worse. It has provided an excuse for war that has killed many more than died that day, and a basis for the terrible fear which pervades our society. Yes, some people are exploiting that fear, but that cannot last forever, and I hope that we can see through it soon. Horrible things can happen to anyone at any time, a point which we seem determined to prove. But the way forward is along the path of justice and wisdom, a path from which we have strayed. It seems that many statements beginning with "September 11th changed the way we look at..." often point away from lessons we have spent many years and lives learning.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

And why should we all be there at 7:30?

Sometimes in life, things just don't make sense. One thing leads to another, unforseen complications arise, causality is indirect or simply lacking.

Around a week ago, I found myself at a party, eating sushi off of an ecdysiast's torso. I won't lie to you: in a way, it's a titillating idea. There are a couple of drawbacks, however. The fish, usually served cool, quickly rises to body temperature, the body in question belonging to a mostly naked woman that you, the eater of said sushi, really doesn't know very well at all.

I don't know quite what else to say. Don't try this at home? I mean, no one got hurt...

It should be mentioned that Brett Ascarelli (my domestic partner) took this picture, and also the picture in the "After the Flood" post, and should be credited, as she recently reminded me.

Friday, March 17, 2006


So, I showed my coworkers the posting with the side view of my car in it, and they all got excited that I had a blog! WOW!!!

The upside of this is I have new readers. The downside is that they'll make fun of me for writing stuff like, I dunno, alternate storylines for the Star Wars prequels, rants about audio or computer stuff, or just about any other topic would actually treat in this forum. The solution: make this blog so dull that no one in their right mind would actually read it.

It's almost as if I'd planned this from the start...

Thursday, March 09, 2006

iPod "HiFi"

Disclaimer: I have not heard the product.

Rant: What the hell has happened to home stereo.

In the 1970s, there was a war: this one wasn't related to oil, or terrorism or even communism. It was about winning the home stereo market, and it was fought in Japan, California and elsewhere. Marantz, Technics, Sansui, Onkyo, and many other manufacturers were building stereo "hifi" systems that pushed the envelope in terms specifications and features. You remember what they looked like: silver and shiny, with weighted controls and glowing lights in the darkness. Your dad probably had one until he threw it out in the early '90s or late '80s and bought a some black box that purported to have better specifications. That one probably broke about 5-7 years later, and he got another one. This one doesn't even have a phono preamp, and all the vinyl records your parents once had are not getting moldy in the basement. Then, one day, they just said "what the hell" and bought a Bose wave radio at the mall.

The iPod HiFi is for you, the hip kids.

Here are my objections:
1) Placement. The Apple website shows the HiFi next to your sweet flat-panel TV. I guess the imaging is so good that you can put it anywhere and still perceive stereo.

2) Frequency response. the plus-minus 3 decibel area is 53-16,ooo. I am more or less OK with 53 as the low end -- 40hz is generally considered the cutoff for perception, and a lot of the stuff down there is perceived as "thump." But 16k is just too low for truly detailed high end. There is nothing in the audio world that would describe itself as even close to "audiophile" that has a high end of less than 20k. High-end tweeters are much higher than that.

3) What the hell kind of amplifier is in there? What's the thd? Is it a 50w amplifier with a distortion of 0.01% or is it a crappy 8w piece of shit like what's in every boombox? Hmm, I wonder why there aren't any specs on the website.

4) No nobs or controls on the unit. Oops...where's the remote? Honey? Have you seen the iPod HiFi remote? HAVE YOU???? DAMMIT HONEY I NEED THAT REMOTE CONTROL, I CAN'T CHANGE THE VOLUME!!! FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, WHERE IS IT!!!

Now, that said, if the thing sounds "good," I think that's great. Sounding "good" is certainly subjective, and if it does image halfway decently, and represent dynamics and timing well, I think it could be a steal at $349. I just don't understand why there aren't any tweeters on it.

Mind you, I just bi-wired my Linn Katans (~$900 or so, without stands, claimed performance 75-20k hz) to my Nikko NR-719 amp ($84 on ebay, with luck showed up working) which is a 35w amp from the late '70s that claims 35w into 4 ohms with 0.05% thd. What's more important is that the phono stage sounds basically like you're in the same room with the musicians. I guess what I'm saying is that I don't mind putting a little effort into having stuff sound good -- while iPods and the like are cool, and make it easy to listen to your favorite music, I'd rather work a little, pay some attention, and then have something pay off by sounding great. Plus I'd rather listen to reissues of Son House on Yazoo or Art Blakey lps than mp3s from the iTunes store. Jazz just sounds better on vinyl.

Man, it's been a fricking blogfest today. I guess I really don't want to do my taxes.

Condensed version...

Here is another view of the mangled SAAB. Check out the dimple over the rear wheelwell. The frame is so bent that the rear hatch won't open. They must have forced the doors open -- they won't close. I really could have died here, and I must say that I'm glad my SAABie gave its life to save mine (and the passengers in the other vehicle -- crumple zones help absorb impact that affects the other car as well.)

Drive safe, folks.

Doesn't look too bad there...

Through a wonderful and mysterious set of circumstances, my boss (and when I say my boss I don't mean my immediate supervisor. I mean the guy more or less in charge of Ravenswood's production, the wise and generous Peter Mathis) has lent me a truck. I know what you're saying -- "But that's not a truck! That's clearly an Audi TT Quattro!"

Why yes it is. See, the magnanimous Peter Mathis required the use of his pickup truck this evening, and rather than tell me "Tough luck kid," thereby requiring me to thumb for rides on the side of highway 121, he lent me his well-loved roadster. Which is, by the way, totally sweet.

This is a sports car. I'm not sure which edition this is, but it's either the 180hp or 225hp turbo version. It has a 6-speed manual, which is a wee bit clicky with short throws, but feels sturdier than just about anything I've used before. The brakes are awesome -- if my old 900 had brakes like this, I think that I may have avoided the accident entirely, or possibly just been rear-ended by the pickup behind me. I bet his ABS works too.

You know what definitely works in this car? The seat heaters. I've always been a fan of the feature, going back to the long, cold winters of my youth in Rhode Island. The heaters in our old SAAB 900s sedans would heat up just a wee bit before the engine coolant warmed enough to start blowing cold air. It's hard to describe how satisfying that was. Next to the seat heaters in the Audi TT, however, they seem like 90-pound weaklings at the Gold's Gym in Venice Beach. The heaters in this car were almost instantly noticeable. In moments, they were uncomfortably warm. By the time I figured out how to turn them off, I think I could smell cooking meat. You could probably fry an egg on the passenger's seat while driving, or at least keep your coffee good and warm.

What else? The steering is stiffer than anything I've driven, but feels really good. The car clearly has tons of grip, especially with the quattro option. Oh yeah, and it's fast. Way fast. Not by Lamborghini or even Camaro Z28 standards, but by 1990 Toyota Camry standards it's a screamer. And a revver. The redline is above 6000, heights to which I could never aspire on my boss's automobile.

Anything not to like? I'm not a complainer. But it is widely known that I have little but disgust for most newer cars, with their plasticky silver and heated drink holders. Despite the sumptiousness of the leather (which is considerable) the car's design is a little, well, gimmicky. There is a dimpled-circle motif that is maybe taken just a bit too far, especially since some of it is done in plastic that belies the VW thriftiness behind the Audi's luxo-splendor. That said, all the controls, even the digital ones, feel pretty nice.

If I had the money (surprisingly only three to five times what I'm considering spending on an 850) would I do it? Maybe, which is better than I thought. This car gives a pretty serious sense of control and seems sturdy. I think I would have survived the crash in this car -- the chassis of this car is definitely stiffer than the 900, and it has little mini-roll bars. I think it passes the safety test. The only downside is, of course, the cargo space in the roadster. That and the money of course.

Seems like a good way to cook bacon, though.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

And the winner is...

Coupla things. After a great deal of deliberation, it seems that my new vehicle will be...a Volvo 850. The SAABs 900s are too much of a gamble, and the only ones with ABS and airbags are the 1990-1993 models. If I could find one in good condition with relatively few miles, I would do it, but I think it's going to be easier to find a Volvo.

The only problem with the Volvos is that, basically, they're available in either manual transmission or turbo -- even the 1997 low-pressure turbo GLT model is only available with a four-speed auto. So I'm going to try to find a 1992-1996 GLT 5-speed, any color but white. (I am not about to be washing my car weekly, plus white just isn't my style.) I would love a turbo, especially since they cost only marginally more at this point, but the base model still has 168 hp, or just a tad more than the ol' 900 Turbo, albeit with a bit less torque.

I feel like the 850 is pretty much the last chance at having a really "Swedish" car. The post-1993 SAABs and later Volvos just don't have the simple, clean designs that made them feel unique. So, in that sense, I don't think that I'm abandoning my automotive roots. I'm just trying to make my way in a world where automobiles have become a rolling media center and breakfast nook.

Whatever, my issue. Maybe I should just get over it and buy a Grand Cherokee. Why not double my gasoline consumption for a little more room?

Sunday, March 05, 2006

End of an Era?

Recent events have caused a rather obvious and yet profound problem. I am, in a word, carless.

The problem is exacerbated by a couple of things. My car of choice, the Saab 900, is no longer produced, except in a debased form by General Motors. SAAB has more or less been dismantled. In fact, its headquarters are now officially in Detroit. Furthermore, even if I liked the cars, I couldn't afford them, seeing as how they are now aimed at the "luxury" segment of the market.

Last year, my father stopped driving them after having done so for 30 years, and I'm afraid that I may have to do the same.

But it gets worse. There are a few cars that I could be happy in, I think. They are cars which meet a certain basic level of safety (for which I have newfound respect) and performance (which I think has a certain bearing on safety) and a wee bit of style. In short, I want a car that runs, isn't a dog or a deathtrap, and doesn't look like crap outside, or have flimsy plastic bits everywhere inside. In cars made after 1998 or so, this is easy -- pretty much every car produced now is a luxury racer with an airbag and a dvd surround massage system with latte injection. I can't afford them.

This leaves pretty much one option, as far as I can tell: the 1992-1997 Volvo 850. More or less in my price range, first front-wheel Volvo, which adds to Volvo's bevy of safety features, quick and stylish. My new ride.

One little problem: very few of them, especially the more desirable ones with leather and/or turbochargers, are available with manual transmissions. I'm afraid I can't stand automatics. I don't feel like I'm driving.

What to do...I suppose it doesn't matter anyway, since I won't have enough cash for a new automobile until my insurance settlement happens (who knows when, or if they won't be able to wiggle out of it) or I receive a major donation or loan. (I've had some loan offers, to be honest, but I'm trying to avoid more debt.)

So what will it be? Anachronistic deathtrap or snore-worthy slushbox sedan? Stay tuned. Also there will be more pictures of the wreck, which currently adorns my lawn. (Insurance might need to see it, y'know?)

Thanks to all for your support.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

She's not going to see 200,000 after all.

As in the proverb I think the picture says it all. At about 8:30 yesterday morning, I was driving to work during one of our thirty or so rainy days up here in wine country when an SUV veered into my lane. At the time, it seemed like they had lost control of the car and were just sliding, but I only had about a second or so to judge (and slam on the brakes) before I smacked into them, still going around 40 mph. The red SAAB was my car.

Thank God, merciful Buddha and all praise be to Allah, but I crawled out of the car with minimal injuries. The airbag went off (despite the blinking SRS light) and the crumple zones worked exactly as designed. I'm not sure if the car saved my life, but it sure gave up its life for mine, and I'm grateful for that and the clever Swedish designers that made it that way.

The other car was a family of four, with a pregnant woman at the wheel. The accident induced her labor, and I hear that she delivered the baby safe and sound, a little girl. Her husband (I think) was in the passenger seat and got off with a cut over the eye. Their two little girls made it, too, although I think one broke her leg.

Anyway, I think we all got off as easy as we could have. I'm not really the religious type, but I find myself thankful for whatever force provided my good luck. And saying "Jesus!" a lot.

Also my birthday is coming up -- I'm taking donations for a new (old) SAAB.

Photo by Robbi Pengelly/Sonoma Index-Tribune

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

One of those days...

I had the worst day ever just now.

I pretty much couldn't do anything right. First thing, as I get into work, my boss yells at me for stuff I didn't do the previous day. The thing is, I was stressed yesterday because I'm trying to get into a chemistry class, which I thought started Wednesday, but really started yesterday, so I was unexpectedly out until 10:15 instead of 6:00. To top it off, super-busy day, with tons of little things going not quite right. At lunch I got upbraided for not getting chips to go with the chili dogs, and not getting cheese on them.

After work, I get home as my girlfriend leaves for the city for a Swedish class. Then I frantically look for my college transcript for two hours, so I can prove that I took calculus...although I will have to take the placement test for the chemistry pre-requisite. Just now, I got a case of the fuck-its and tried to sneak back around the house to see if there was beer in the neighbor's kegerator -- of course there wasn't, and they caught me in the act. (Full disclosure: they're pretty much cool with the occasional missing pint.)

Still, the suckage level here is way too high. Did I mention that Columbia claims that they will only mail out a transcript within 48 hours of receiving my written, signed request? (In the mail today, but still, wtf?) WHO IS GOING TO REQUEST MY TRANSCRIPT? AL-QAEDA? I don't get it.

Then google video claims that I don't have flash 7. Is there no end to this?

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Zassenhaus Turkish Grinder

Yes yes. My dad got me a Zassenhaus Turkish Coffee Mill (Model 175M) for Christmas from Sweet Maria's. I took it to work for a couple of weeks.

Maybe I should explain, if I haven't already. At work we have a Gaggia Classic espresso machine, and on my first day, they told me how to use it. Now, I make all the coffees. The Gaggia is a pretty solid machine, although some sneer at it because of its small aluminum boiler -- the best ones are brass or copper. Despite that, it's totally capable of making great espresso and pretty good steamed milk. The boiler size makes it a bit weak for steaming, I think, but I think it would be alright if I just had a thermometer for the pitcher.

Anyway I usually buy the coffee, and it just seemed a shame to me that we had to get it pre-ground. It always seemed better the first day and then to decline by about the third. Plus, grind was an issue -- if I got it at Peet's, everything was cool, but if that isn't possible, then there's a problem.

Enter the turkish coffee mill, a can of Illy beans, and myself after a two-week vacation. Here's the straight dope: the mill is great. Probably the best damn thing since the espresso machine itself. As long as you've got time, that is.

The long version: I get to work and start weighing out 14-gram double shots. The first day's are far too coarse, and I actually started to worry. Maybe the burrs are off? The Zassenhaus' final burr is actually floating, not secured at all, and it took a few grinds to knock them into place centrally. At the end of the first day, I tried the adjustment nut again and found that I could tighten the burrs substiantially more than I had been able to.

On day 2, it became clear that the mill was going to work out. The setting from the end of the first day was basically dialed-in, producing a tiny rat's tail-like trickle. Everything was ristretto-fine, and it stayed that way for a couple of weeks, through the can of Illy and then a can of Trader Joe's Fair-Trade, Shade-Grown Ethiopian Yirgacheffe (which was damn good.) Then I decided to take it home. It probably doubled the time it took me to make coffees. This isn't a problem on Sunday morning, but it kinda is when your coffee 15 becomes a good half hour.

Does it make a difference? (Co-Worker question, many, I'm sure have no doubts about this one.) Yes, an obvious one -- getting the correct grind size is most definitely an enhancement. Plus the freshness. The Yirgacheffe's spiciness came through, and although it dissipated towards the end of the week, it remained quite tasty and satisfying. It reminded me of nutmeg and clove. Illy preground never works perfectly with our machine, so just getting to use Illy and a good grind is enough for me.

One sorta negative though -- the shots with both coffees seemed more sour than before. I'm not sure whether it's a temperature issue, timing, or something about freshness, but some of the shots were just too sour for me, and I like short, sweet/sour shots.

Oh, and all that grinding. Let's hope it's good excercise.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Quick note

Turns out a couple of my friends are, more or less, avid bloggers who write much more often (and perhaps more interestingly) than I do.

Daphne is a tremendously intelligent music writer and ethnomusicologist grad student at Columbia...Rich is a student of science and technology, a grad student in materials science at USC, and an astute observer of techno-cultural trends. Both totally worth reading.

After the flood...'s been a little while since my last post. A lot of stuff happened. Mostly, the holidays, wherein I had some time off, went back east to see the fam and my friends. Blah blah.

Anyways Napa flooded. Floods are crazy. I'm new to this, having come from the relatively disaster-free northeast. Aside from a couple of hurricanes, none of which caused any major damage, I haven't seen any real FEMA-level disasters firsthand.

Well it seems like we're going to be spared any FEMA intervention, but a lot of Napa flooded. Yountville and St. Helena, towns upvalley of us, are effectively cut off and there's major damage. A lot of the town of Napa, where we live, is flooded near the river...about two blocks from us to the east. There's probably about 10-20 feet of elevation, and the plain flattens out around there, so I think that we're relatively safe, for this one, at least.

Brett took this picture yesterday, when there was some sun between the two storms. This guy was letting his kids play in the floodwaters...I guess that the fact that his were the only kids playing in the water didn't make him stop to think. After they walked out pretty far in the rushing waters, somebody whistled and told them to come back, at which point Dad told everybody that it was OK, he knows what's safe for his kids. For my part, I couldn't stop thinking about this John McPhee story I read in the New Yorker a long time ago about how he was on a canoe trip as a kid and this other kid drowned. The unlucky kid got his foot caught between two rocks so his face was underwater and his lungs were filled with water in seconds. It took two days and a rescue helicopter to recover his body. Luckily, we didn't witness anything like that, despite dad's best efforts.

Those vines behind the kids are underwater. Cameron Stark, my old boss at Unionville Vineyards, said that wine country was slowly reverting to the swampland it was before California was strip-mined in the nineteenth century, thanks in part to global warming. Today as we drove back along highway 29 and looked out over the entire lover valley, completely flooded, it seemed easier to believe than in the dry summer months.

Oh, and I found this when I was looking for flood information earlier. Yeah. Thanks for calling me an idiot because the valley gets flash floods for a couple days every five years. At least my city isn't built on sinking silt from the Mississippi. If you ask me, though, the idiots are still the ones who don't fund river control and levee operations. Napa's flood control construction is, just like New Orleans', years behind schedule because of state and federal budget cuts. Oops.