Thursday, June 30, 2011

GooglePlus Review

( #GooglePlus, #SocialMedia )


Image Credit: Paul Vedar

Last night the good people over at Lifehacker offered invites to the new Google+ service. I jumped at the chance to get one because I have been looking at a way to do multiple people video chats for months. Skype offers it for a few bucks a month, which I was considering, but I don't like that I have to install software to video chat when Google does it in the browser.

Google calls the feature "hangouts" and even in beta, it works pretty damn well. Actually checkout the Lifehacker crew's video:



Google seems to have built this service around security and privacy. This sounds like an odd thing for Google, but it comes from the public scorn they got from rolling out Buzz (which automatically shared private info like email addresses) and also as a response to Facebook. Even though Facebook has privacy features, I feel that they always trying to get you to share more public data (and their updates always change settings to make that happen). In order to compete, Google is focusing security groups (called Circles) so you can share certain things with certain people much easier.



I am sure Big G isn't completely saintly in this service, but since they have the Government breathing down their necks and face fierce competition with Facebook, I think the Google+ service is as legit as it can be. Since I am a google guy to start, I am hoping the service takes off because it will be much easier for me to manage my social circle with the plus service than with Facebook since I already have a hands off attitude towards it.

I was going to offer invites to readers, but it looks like Google shut down invitations already. But drop me a note, and if they turn it back on, I will try to get you in.

UPDATE: A blogger buddy (and current Keypulp founder) Joss Ross already found a security issue. Even if you choose a select group to see your post, someone could share it with everyone. Google has a fix, there is a drop down in the right corner that disables sharing. I think it should be defaulted that way, but for now, be aware and don't share!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Book Review: My Horizontal Life

#ChelseaHandler



I will admit that I don’t know anything about Chelsea Handler. I have never watched her show, and I don’t think I have seen her act in anything. So why did I read her book? I just finished a book about Nazis and I needed something funny and quick to read to get that darkness out of my mind and her book was just there.

I knocked “My Horizontal Life” out in a half of day and overall it reads like a typical celebrity book. The theme seems to focus on a series of one night stands before she became successful. Handler does well at weaving a story, but her attempts at comedy are just “meh”. It is not a lack of talent, she is just covering material that has been thoroughly picked over.

Actually the book reads like the female version of Tucker Max, only less gross. She writes about having sex with Hispanics, African Americans, Little People, criminals, and develops friendships with deeply troubled homosexuals. She talks about her crazy family and thus makes fun of herself. Nothing is shocking and I feel like she is attempting to make a bigger deal out of nothing for comedic effect, but there is no crazy punchline at the end.

There really isn’t any mental nutritional value in the book, but she did get my mind off of WWII era Germany, so the book served its purpose. Would I recommend it? Not really. If you have a selection, I am sure you can find other things to read that are better, but if you read it, you won’t wish that you hadn’t.

Here is some of her stand-up (I had no idea what she looked like):

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

TwitterFeed Test

( #twitterfeed )

I made some minor improvements to my twitterfeed settings which should improve Facebook interactions as well as adding my Google Reader shares to my social media sites. Here is hoping it all works!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Book Review: In the Garden of Beasts

( #ErikLarson, #InTheGardenOfBeasts )



A few months ago, I heard that Erik Larson had a new book coming out about the Nazis and I was excited to read whatever story he uncovered. I purchased “In the Garden of Beasts” two weeks ago to load up on vacation reading. I managed to get through the book last week while in Maine and I figured I would share my thoughts.

The book centers around the US ambassador to Germany (William Dodd) and his daughter (Martha) during his tenure in Germany right before World War II. Dodd comes across as a well meaning academic hopelessly over his head during the Nazi rise to power. Dodd fancied himself a scholar with political aspirations (actually he was seeking appointments rather than being elected to anything). His attempts to gain Nazi attention with diplomatic snubs rather than strong worded negotiations come across as futile. Larson picked up on an odd dynamic between Dodd and several US officials. Dodd appeared to have no support from US officials during his tenure. His reports of cruel treatment of Jews and mounting tensions were brushed off.

The most interesting aspect of the book is Dodd’s daughter Martha. Dodd chose to bring both of his unmarried adult children with him to Germany for “one last adventure together.” Martha actually secretly married before she left the US, but blew off that husband to engage in several affairs with Nazi, French, and Soviet officials while in Germany. Martha’s story goes well beyond the end of WWII, the last few decades of her life could probably fill up another book.

While I really enjoyed the “In the Garden of Beasts” it suffered from the same issue as Thunderstruck - you find it hard to cheer on the leads. Since the book is based on historical documents, all Larson could do is weave the story of their lives in an interesting way (which he does incredibly well), but since you know what is going to happen, you know Dodd was not effective and, at least for me, you are hoping the worst for the daughter because she was a complete asshole of a human being.

Overall, “In the Garden of Beasts” is a great read focusing on an overlooked but critical US diplomat during one of the most perilous times in recorded history. Larson’s talent at weaving a narrative based on books, diary journals, official documents, and old reports is incredible and worth reading for the history lesson alone.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Sunday Leftovers: Volume 03: Issue 33

( #SundayLeftovers )



Howdy true be-loggers, welcome to Sunday Leftovers! I had a nice relaxing vacation to clear my mind, read, and relax. Now it is back to the grind and this post is my warm-up. This week my trip to Maine inspires the recipe of the week, we listen to some western inspired tunes, and free fall. Lets open the fridge to see what is leftover...

[The Back Window]


CREDIT: Neoopsis


CREDIT: Danger Mouse, Daniele Luppi, Jack White - Two Against One

[Recipe of the Week: PopOvers]

Here is a last sputter from the Maine trip...

This was the absolute best directions I found, but it happens to be a video, so enjoy...



[DIY of the Week: Camera Glide Strap]

I am known for taking terrible blurry pictures. Here is a DIY that helps you make a good strap that helps stabilize your hand for better shots

DIY Photography: Glide Strap

[Video of the Week]



[Conclusion]

That is all for today. Check back tomorrow and Tuesday for book reviews. If you need to reach me, you can do so here. As always, don't take shit from anybody.

Smell You Later,
~ Joey

Twitter | Facebook

A Trip to Acadia National Park (Maine) - 2011

( #Maine, #Acadia )

For the last 7 months I have been keeping a secret from my wife. A vacation. Logistically I had to tell her when we were going so she could ask for the week off, but no other details. As for the location, my cousin and I planned the trip after I complained about two failed attempts to visit Maine over the last five years. Over the months, we figured out the details and played out the surprise last Friday for hilarious effect (right before we left I told my wife we were going to the Jersey shore much to her disappointment).

The drive to Maine (and specifically Acadia) was long, about 12 hours from Philadelphia. We ended up stopping on the way up, but the next day was smooth sailing. When we got to the house we rented, we were all really happy. It was directly on the bay which gave us daily access to kayaking (which we did). The homeowners had the house perfectly stocked with the things you would need and I would highly recommend staying there (but book early!).

We spent the majority of our time (while not kayaking) in Acadia. So here is a quick rundown of the things we did (in case there is an interest in repeating it).

Ship Harbor Nature Trail:



This was a really easy nice trail that lead to a rocky beach which offered extra challenge because we ditched the trail and just followed the rocks. When playing on wet rocks, you always have to watch your footing. I definitely had concerns about breaking my face open a few times on this trip, but then I would see my cousin’s 10-year-old son sailing over the rocks and I just went with it.

After the trail, we went to Jordon Pond which has a popular restaurant. This place is a bit of an overpriced tourist trap but they offer popovers which are like biscuit muffins that I didn’t see anywhere else. They were worth the trip alone (just order some soup and a bunch of them).

The Bowl/Beehive Trails:



While most of this trip was spend on some kind of trail (and they honestly started to blur together in hindsight), one that will stick out is the Bowl/Beehive. I actually picked the bowl trail out as an activity because it was said to be a little more difficult and had a nice view (I was craving a difficult trail). When we got there, my cousin’s son wanted to do the beehive trail. All I saw was a sign that warned of using mettle rungs and I was out. Somehow my extremely cautious cousin agreed to go on the beehive with his son while we went through the bowl trail. While the bowl was strenuous, the beehive was dangerous:



When we connected with my cousin, he was shaking and really regretted going through it. He said once you hit the tough spots, there is no going back so you have to move forward. Anybody thinking about doing it, take that warning.

Thunder Hole:



Thunder Hole is a rocky section of the park that has a small underground cave system that makes a rumbling noise when the tide comes in. While interesting, the “hole” is one of the most popular spots in the park and there were a ton of people hanging around. The masses ruined it just because the nice part of being at the park is you don’t have to be surrounded by people since there are so many options.



Several people ignored the gates and got close to the water. A few people die each year by rouge waves coming in and sucking people off the rocks. I saw quite a few parents letting their kids go to the edge and it totally bugged me out, I was glad to leave.

After Thunder Hole we went to Hunter’s Beach. It is a small stone beach and nobody was there. The current makes an awesome sound as it sucks in the rocks with each wave pulling back. Easily a favorite find.

Dining:

My cousin and I cooked almost every night. I am not a seafood guy (please don’t start) but everybody else was. My cousin’s wife managed to find a guy (by following signs) named Rat that had fresh lobsters and clams. My cousin said Rat’s clams were the best he ever had in his life and I believed him. Rat didn’t have 2+ lb lobsters on the day everyone wanted to cook them, so he called a lobster-man buddy and got us what we needed.

The cool thing about Rat is that we just found him, nothing was planned. He was the typical Maine accent and lived on this crazy farm. If it was the end of the world, I would have no doubt that good old Rat would be breathing easy in his house in the middle of nowhere.

We found a gem of a place in Southwest Harbor. It is called Quiet Side Cafe. My cousin and I were walking down the street looking for supplies for dinner when we spotted a blueberry pie cooling on a side window. Like a cartoon we were drawn inside and had a great meal and met some really nice people (I ordered Pizza - in Maine - and they knocked it out of the park). Owner Frances Reed was incredibly welcoming and the place had a great vibe. You must go there if you are in the area.

All of the other restaurants were fine. Order fish. My cousins said they never had a bad meal when it came to the fish. I didn’t have any bad meals myself, but nothing to blog about either ;-)

Closing Thoughts:

With the weather never breaking 80 degrees (and sometimes getting close to going under 50 at night), Maine it my kind of summer vacation. I did what I wanted, wasn’t on a schedule, and got to romp around in a truly magnificent place for a week. If I had to complain about anything, it would be the mosquitoes - they were merciless, but that still didn’t prevent us from going outside and having a good time.

I would absolutely recommend this trip to friends and any families that don’t want to do the typical Disney boxed vacation - you can be the master of your own destiny.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

The Girl with the Broken Vagina

( #badsex, #hotels )



It was late. We had been in the car for eight hours and my cousin wanted to make sure his kids had a bed to sleep in. We were somewhere in Massachusetts and my phone’s GPS told us to go to a Radisson in Clemsford. They had rooms and the price was right. Off we went.

After a minor issue with an AC unit requiring a room change, my wife, cousin, and I went to the hotel bar for drink. The people at the bar were young and had a redneck vibe about them, but we were north. I then overheard that they were part of a large wedding party staying at the hotel. Two drinks in, I went to bed.

I woke up having slept through what I thought was a pretty uneventful evening. My wife looked like she did not sleep at all. “Ugh... the people next door were having sex all night, the girl was loud.” “Did you say anything” I asked sheepishly. She said that somebody told them to “shut the f**k up” and they apologetically stopped. She then mentioned that the girl asked her lover to “do it again” and “put it back in” several times.

I was somewhat grateful I was able to sleep, but sad I didn’t get to mock my new neighbors, until they started having sex again. My wife was right - it was LOUD. The dude didn’t seem to be making much noise, but she was a peacock in full bloom for the whole world to take notice of.

We walked over to my cousins room to relay the story (in code and quietly so the kids didn't catch on). There was talk of breakfast, so I went back to the room to grab money when I heard crying next door. I just assumed it was a drunken lover's quarrel and went on my way. My cousin and I went downstairs to his car and noticed a firetruck, police car, and ambulance pulling up. At first I thought heart attack, but then I mention to my cousin that I would not be surprised if it was our neighbors. He looks at me and says “what the hell could he have done to her?” I didn’t know. I asked the fireman what was going on, he just said “someone got hurt” and kind of smiled.

When we got to the fourth floor, the emergency crew was in front of our neighbors door. As we passed by we heard the girl say “there is so much pressure, I feel like I am giving birth.” I grinned at my cousin as he gave me an admonished look for not having more sympathy. None shall be given. My wife, cousin, his wife, and I stood in the hall as they took the girl out in a stretcher, her lower area on ice. I gave her "Ed-Hardy-shirt" wearing paramour a salute as they took her away, to repair the vagina he destroyed so thoroughly.

As he walked down the hall with a concerned look in his face, I couldn’t help but notice the stride in his step and the acceptance of knowing nods. The girl may have been shamed, but this young man earned himself a reputation and a story that will live on for years to come, at the very least in this little social circle.

NOTE: Having said all that, we all have our suspicions that the girl’s front door was fine and it was indeed that back door that might have inflicted some serious injury. Thoughts to ponder indeed.

NOTE 2: Since this post was published on father's day, I also want to point out that this woman was some man's daughter. Doing her best to make daddy proud!

Sunday Leftovers: Volume 03: Issue 32

( #SundayLeftovers, #Maine )



Howdy true be-loggers, welcome to Sunday Leftovers! This week we have a Maine themed Sunday Leftovers since it is where I am. What will I be featuring in said Maine blog? Lets open the fridge and see what is leftover...

[The Back Window]


Ocean Pier, Maine - 1904


CREDIT: SimpsonCrazy.com - Mayor Quimby theme song

[Recipe of the Week: Lobster Roll]

No Maine themed Sunday Leftovers would be complete without a Lobster Roll recipe. I don't really get the culinary appeal of a lobster in a hot dog roll, but I am sure people say the same thing about a cheesesteak.

Ingredients

1/2 pound fully cooked lobster meat or 1 (2 1/2 pound) live lobster
1/2 medium cucumber, peeled, seeded and finely diced
1/4 cup bottled mayonnaise
1/2 tablespoon fresh tarragon
2 small scallions, thinly sliced
Kosher or sea salt
Freshly ground pepper
2 to 3 New England-style hot dog buns
2 to 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
Pickles and potato chips as accompaniment

Directions

1. Prepare the lobster salad.
2. If using live lobsters, steam or boil them. Let cool at room temperature. Use a cleaver to crack and remove the meat from the claws, knuckles and tails. Remove the cartilage from the claws and the intestines from the tails of the cooked meat. Cut the meat into 1/2-inch dice. You may pick all the meat from the carcass and add it to the meat or freeze the carcass for soup or broth.
3. Place the cucumber in a colander for at least 5 minutes to drain the excess liquid.
4. Combine the lobster, cucumber mayonnaise, and tarragon. Add the scallions. Season with salt and pepper.
5. Cover with plastic wrap and chill for 30 minutes to 1 hour.
6. Preheat a large heavy skillet (12 to 14-inches) over medium-low heat (a black cast-iron pan is perfect). Lightly butter both sides of each bun. Place them in the pan and cook for about 2 minutes until golden brown. Turn the buns over and toast the other side. Or toast the buns under a broiler instead.
7. When the buns are ready, stuff them with the chilled lobster salad.

[DIY of the Week: DIY Canoe]

This is not an easy DIY, but what trip to Maine would be complete without some activities in the water. Check out these detailed plans to make your own canoe.

Bateau: Canoe Guide

[Video of the Week]


Acadia National Park

[Conclusion]

Thanks for reading this week, please check the blog this week for more adventures in the great state of Maine. If you need to reach me, you can do so here. As always, don't take shit from anybody.

Smell You Later,
~ Joey

Twitter | Facebook

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

DME: Fathers Day and Hendrick's Gin

( @drinkingmadeeasy, #HendricksGin )



Drinking Made Easy posted an article I wrote about Hendricks Gin and making G&Ts for my dad. Give it a read!

Celebrate Father's Day with Hendrick's Gin

Update: It looks like DME's website upgrade broke the links, so here is the whole article.

With Father’s Day approaching and the weather heating up, I have been thinking about gin. When I was a kid, my old man used to ask me to make him gin and tonics when he got home from work or after he mowed the lawn. I started adding little dashes of cranberry juice for color which earned me a compliment or two. This encouragement led to a long running tradition of playing bartender at parties, which stands to this day.

I don’t always drink mixed cocktails, but if I do, it is almost always a gin and tonic. Tonic water and gin do nothing for me independently, but by their powers combined, they form pure boozy magic. It is the perfect combination of bitter and sweet flavors. A few weeks ago, I was talking to a well versed friend (the same guy that recommended Zing Zang in my Bloody Mary article) about my love of G&Ts; he recommend Hendrick’s Gin. After telling me about it, he brought a bottle over and it blew my mind.

Hendrick’s gin was established in 1999. The whole origin of the company and its 150-year-old still can be found on their website. The story confirms what my mouth has already told me - this gin is really smooth. It was so good that I felt bad mixing it with tonic water. I loathe martinis, but a spritz of vermouth and slice of cucumber radically changed my position on the drink and gin (independent of tonic water) in general. When I finally did overcome my hesitation about mixing it, I was blown away by the difference in quality and flavor. Simply put, this puts my father’s nasty ass bottle of Beefeater to shame.

If you are looking for a nice gift for your father, you can’t go wrong with Hendricks gin. It’s delicious and the bottle is unique (it looks olde-timey and medicinal), hell, you can even get it with an attractive carrying case. I purchased a bottle for my father because I can’t mock his Beefeater without providing a superior replacement (plus I get bragging rights for finding something better). As we all celebrate our dads this Sunday, just focus on the fact that if they didn’t have a favorite drink, we might not be walking around today.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Book Review: The Hunger Games Trilogy

( #HungerGames )


Image Credit: Jayme Rose

Last week my wife and I ripped through the Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins. The books are set in a future where society has collapsed and rebuilt itself. The remaining people of the North American Continent have been split into 13 districts and run by a centralized capital. The Capital is cruel and forces two children from each district to participate in a deadly competition where only one survives.

The main character named Katniss Everdeen is (of course) selected to play in the games and over three books, is subjected to physical and emotional turmoil. I was told after I read the books that they were classified as “young adult” fiction which makes sense since the drama factor was high. Overall the story was much better than what little I have read of Twilight (which I found to be terrible) and similar to the final Harry Potter books: high death tools, lots of action, and petulant internal dialog. I don’t understand why every author writing teenagers has to make them all so sulky.

Teenage angst aside, the story was solid. Collins created an rich and interesting world in each district and I enjoyed reading the history of her universe. For a book aimed at teens, the characters were fleshed out and the story was not sugar-coated (although how can a book about kids killing each other be sugar-coated?). Collins falters with the romantic triangle between Katniss, Gale, and Peeta: Katniss comes off unlikeable because of her interactions with both, Peeta is a wide-eyed puppy dog (even after all the crap that happens to him), and Gale is kinda like Fonzie from Happy Days, except Katniss is a bitch to him. I thought the final epilogue could have been a little more upbeat considering there is a “happy ending”, but I guess Collins had to keep it angst-y until the end.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Sunday Leftovers: Volume 03: Issue 31

( #SundayLeftovers )



Howdy true be-loggers, welcome to Sunday Leftovers! All things considered, we had a pretty good week on the blog. I wrote quite a few articles and had interesting things to talk about, if you missed this week, go catch up. That being said, this is a new week and there is still plenty of things to discuss, so lets open the fridge and see what is leftover...

[The Back Window]




CREDIT: Grace Potter and the Nocturnals - Paris

[Recipe of the Week: Leftover Stew]

Since I have been copying many recipes the last few weeks, here is something I actually threw together this week. You need a crock pot or a lot of patience.

INGREDIENTS:
2 filet mignon tails (or 15 oz of any red meat you like - I had this in my freezer)
3 diced potatoes
2 diced onions
3 cups beef broth
1 32 oz can of crushed tomatoes
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon Italian seasonings

DIRECTIONS:
1. Put everything in a crock pot
2. Set it to high and to cook for 5 hours
3. Walk away for 5 hours. When you come back, the meat should fall apart with a fork. Break it up and serve.

Enjoy!

[DIY of the Week: Coke Bottle Plant Waterer]

Not sure what is going on with the dude's voice, but this is a simple DIY to make sure your plants don't die in the summer (Looking at you Allison)



[Video of the Week]



[Conclusion]

I have a few articles ready to go for the week, so please check back. Definitely check out the site on Friday - we are going on a road trip! If you need to reach me, you can do so here. As always, don't take shit from anybody.

Smell You Later,
~ Joey

Twitter | Facebook

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Concert Review: Bright Eyes @ The MANN (Philadelphia, Pa)

Opening Act(s): Dawes, M. Ward
Date: Friday, June 10th, 2011
Location: MANN Music Center, Philadelphia, Pa
Website: Bright Eyes

[Venue]

I am always happy to see a concert at the MANN. The acoustics are excellent, the setting is clean and interesting, and it isn’t a hassle to get there. I purchased balcony seats for the concert—I didn’t even know the MANN had a balcony (even as we walked in), the architecture hides it really well, which is pretty cool. Once we got up there, I was in love. The sections were small with only two seat rows—so I did not have to sit next to annoying people. The people in my section were quiet and respectful all night, very good crowd. My only complaint was the heat and there wasn’t much that could be done for that.

[Opening Acts]

Act #1: Dawes



I never heard of Dawes before this show, so as they started their set with a slower song, I was quick to dismiss them and pull out my smart phone. But I started hearing the guitar player (and singer) start to toss in these interesting transitions and that got my attention. As their set continued, they built up the pace and I started to get impressed. The guitarist has a lot of talent and the entire band has a good sound dynamic (and sensibilities). I really liked their set and I want to hear more from them.

Act #2: M. Ward



M. Ward came out a few minutes after Dawes. Ward is a frequent collaborator of Conor Oberst (Bright Eyes, Monsters of Folk) and is probably known for his band “She and Him” with Zooey Deschanel. He immediately started into an instrumental piece which was upbeat and established his talent on the guitar. The next 30 minutes were very slow, sad songs that all built off a similar minor chord base and strum pattern. In a small, air-conditioned club this would be something that I could absorb, but in the heat, it just put me to sleep. At the end of the set, he invited Dawes out to back him and it sounded really good. I wish he brought a band with him for the whole set.

[Bright Eyes]



I did not expect a rock concert from Conor Oberst and Bright Eyes. Perhaps a few rocked out tunes mixed into a largely acoustic set, but the opposite happened. Oberst came out with firsts swinging leaning heavily on material from his new album and it was... awesome. Instead of putting the crowd to sleep like Ward before him, the band was LOUD. There were two drummers, two keyboard players, a guitarist (not Oberst), and a bass player - this group commanded attention.

All of the songs sounded fleshed out. After the first four, the band settled back into a mini-acoustic set where Conor played familiar tunes like “Four Winds” and “Lua” and then brought the band back out to fire up the crowd again. The tempo felt very intentional which alludes a control over the crowd reactions that is impressive.

I really enjoyed the concert: great crowd, great venue, great seats. I am continually impressed by Oberst’s versatility (acoustic, rock, electronica, and country). Oberst has been called the new Dylan too many times to count, but I think might have a new title to content with: Rock Star.

Friday, June 10, 2011

DME: King Family Vineyards

( #KingVineyard, @drinkingmadeeasy )



Drinking Made Easy was kind enough to publish my story about a visit to a Virginia Vineyard, check it out:

Drinking Made Easy: A Visit to King Family Vineyards

Update: It looks like DME's new website broke the links to the articles, here is the whole story:

The term wine country might invoke visions of the French country side or the sunny hills of Napa Vally... now allow your mind to think about Virginia. Not following? I recently took a trip to Charlottesville, VA to visit family. Knowing that I write for this blog, they suggested a trip to King Family Vineyards to sample the local wines and have a nice day in the sun, how could I resist?

Like most of you, Virginia is not my first thought when it comes to vino. But why not? My home state of New Jersey is making excellent progress in wine production and quality (another article for another day - I promise), why should Virginia be ignored? When I pulled into the vineyard, it looked like a massive outdoor picnic was taking place: families had blankets laid down with baskets of cheese, crackers, and (of course) bottles of wine. Children were playing ring toss and throwing around bean bags. Several dogs were lazily dozing under a large tree enjoying the sun.

A lovely picture, but what about the wine? It was very good. I introduced myself to a young lady presenting a sampling and she gladly allowed me to join the group. She handed me a glass of their Roseland 2010 and I was on my way. I don’t typically drink white wine (preferring red), but the Roseland had a pleasant sweetness that was not overbearing. Making my way through their entire series of whites, I was impressed with the variation and flavor. Another stand out was the 2010 Crose which was light and tangy.

I feel like I need to state that I am not a wine expert by any stretch of the imagination. I enjoy wine and I even make it yearly with my family, but I do not have the most refined palate: if I like it, I like it. I was ready for the red wine by the time the hostess opened the first bottle. The standout of the red sampling was King’s 2009 Meritage. It featured hints of sweetness with an undercurrent of spice. Around this time my father-in-law walked over with cheese and crackers and informed us that he had found a table. I attempted to make contact with a vineyard representative for an interview, but they were really busy that day (I called ahead, but they warned me it would be tough). Instead of stressing about it, I walked over to my father-in-law’s table and he greeted me with an open bottle ready to be poured. He filled my glass and I sat down thinking I couldn’t find a nicer way to spend an afternoon.

King Family Vineyard is located in Crozet, Virginia and is about a 20 minute drive from downtown Charottesville. If you happen to find yourself in the area, I recommend you take a drive to the vineyard and enjoy a nice glass of Virginia wine.

Father's Day Gift Suggestions

( #JoeKnit, #FathersDay )

Image Credit: Somebody in my family

A few weeks ago I came across this post about great father's day gifts and I read through to see if there were any good suggestions for my old man. If you are a frequent reader you know my father is a popular topic due to his unique personality. If you are not into Mean Joe stories—move on to another post. If you enjoy them or have a father that is a total pain in the ass to buy gifts for—keep reading.

I am not going to overly complicate things, I am just going to list Mike's (the author) suggestions and state why they won't work for my dad:
1. Omaha Steaks: My dad is butcher, thats not happening.
2. Golf Accessories: My dad doesn't like to play golf, although for a short period he did like to sneak onto courses to take walks and nap.
3. Sports Tickets: He could care less about any form of sports or team cooperation.
4. Remote Control: This is not a bad idea on paper, but any of the new remotes that have LCD screens will piss him off and be relegated to a drawer before he even tries it.
5. Fishing Equipment: I have never seen the man take an interest in fish in my entire life (besides eating them).
6. Camcorder: Technology = No.
7. Pocket Watch: He doesn't care what time it is. He is where he needs to be until he doesn't want to be there.
8. Restaurant Gift Cards: He'd rather cook for himself.
9. Magazine Subscription: No interest in reading anything outside of a very few select topics (mostly health related, but not the Men's Health kind of articles).
10. Movie Gift Cards (Netflix, Blockbuster, AMC Theaters): Has lost the attention and desire to sit through an entire movie.
11. Camping Trip: Depends on what you mean by camping. If you suggest a hotel room, jacuzzi, and quality steaks - he might go assuming the right company is involved (not his family).
12. Custom T-Shirt/Polo Shirt: It would have to be the right material and proper color blue or it will sit in his closet for all of eternity.
13. Swim Trunks: This is a man who mows the lawn in meat-stained white t-shirts, old jeans that are held up by string. STRING. He would look at the netting inside the trunks and punch them so hard the little Chinese kid that made them would feel it.
14. Anything from Sharper Image or Brookstone: See #6.
15. Accessories for the Barbecue Grill: Besides his bare hands on the open flame? No.
16. Massage: This actually could be feasible if there was no spa music. Actually, he has an acute hatred for perfumes and sweet smells so he probably would not step foot inside a massage parlor.
17. Shaving Accessories: See #13 - this is a man that does not care about appearances (unless he wants to prove how pretty he is).
18. Wine/Beer of the Month: Does not drink fermented alcohol anymore.
19. A Tie: No

20. A Home Cooked Meal: See #8.

As you can see, he is a pretty difficult person to shop for. Do you have a father or relative like this? Or do you have a suggestion for my old man? Share your stories here. Good luck finding your dad a good gift!

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Book Review: Deadline

( #MiraGrant, #Deadline )


Image Credit: Jayme Rose

Last year I reviewed the bookFeed” by Mira Grant. The story is set 30 years in the future and zombies are an every day part of life (although still deadly), the main protagonists are a brother and sister duo who are bloggers that get involved in a conspiracy way over their heads (think adult-ish Scooby-Doo without the dog and with real monsters instead of dudes in masks). I liked the book although it had flaws and was glad to see the newest chapter of the trilogy, “Deadline” was released this week... until I actually read it.

Before I start, take note of two things:
1. There are going to massive spoilers in this review, so DO NOT READ THIS REVIEW if you don’t want to know what happens.
2. Generally, I have lost my taste for writing negative reviews. People who go through the effort to produce creative work and build a fan base should be admired. With that said, I feel like this book was a money grab and ties into my rants about every freaking book being a trilogy when there is not enough meat to the story, I am going to touch on that in this review.

Again - massive spoilers to follow.

Grant impressed me in the last book: her take on the zombie virus was interesting because she took an extremely scientific view of how the zombies propagated and that shaped the overall tone and setting of the book. She also impressed the hell out of me by having the guts to kill of her main character (Georgia Mason). Grant lost my respect in the first chapter of Deadline by having the other lead (Shaun Mason) immediately talking to his dead sister. This persists the entire book. Grant spends the entire book explaining how odd it is for Shaun to talk to his dead sister in his head, after two chapters I was yelling at the book saying “we get it, he talks to his dead sister, people think it is odd but accept it - ENOUGH!”

The plot of the second book involves Shaun trying to identify people in the government who were involved in his sister’s murder and the plot holes start appearing quickly. Instead of being proactive, Grant has a minor character from the first book (an junior scientist named Kelly from the Center for Disease Control) appear at their doorstep bringing all kinds of trouble. Kelly’s appearance in the 2nd chapter established that cloning technology exists in Grant’s world. I immediately put the book down and said “they are going to clone George, this is a total cop out”. Shortly after Kelly appears, the characters are attacked and it is also established that Shaun had a “black box” full of writings, videos, and personal notes from George - essentially all of her memories. MacGuffin!!!

For the entire book, the characters run around to different CDC offices saying the same exact thing over and over again: there could be potential cures to the zombie virus but the CDC is suppressing research. Grant establishes the CDC as the bad guys early and the rest of the book forces a series of ridiculous plot twists (why would the Government kill millions of people when the last outbreak almost wiped humans off the Earth - no logic!) By the end of the story, the CDC manages to introduce the virus to insects that essentially causes all hell to break loose (because it can spread so easily). The last few pages reveal the George clone and the book ends.

Deadline could have been a fifth of the size and integrated into the other two books, but instead (I am guessing) the publishers pushed Grant to add a lot of filling and pump out an extra book. It was a bad decision because the quality of the second book was not near the first and it felt like a massive holding pattern. I don’t know if I will pick up the third book, but I am honestly hoping Grant redeems herself on the third and final outing for these characters.

Monday, June 06, 2011

Reviewing Music Cloud and Backup Services

( #Amazon, #GoogleMusic, #Cloud )

Over the last few months, mobile music lovers have been treated to a few new innovations in accessing their personal music collections. I am going to spend a few minutes reviewing those new services.

Amazon Cloud Service


The first music cloud service that I could access (officially) on my phone was Amazon’s Music Cloud service. Amazon starts off by giving you 5 GB of free online space, but with the purchase of a cheap album, your cloud drive will be increased to 20 GB. Another good feature is any music you purchase from the service does not count against your space restriction (translation: if you buy music from Amazon they host it for free).

When I first got the service, it was snappy and worked well in my dead zone house with just the phone signal. Over the last few weeks I have experienced the service getting stuck even in good reception areas. That said, the streaming service, doesn’t seem to drain the battery too bad which is a plus. Overall Amazon’s service works well. Although I have one more minor gripe: the “download files to your computer” feature asks me to download the download app every time I want files, even though I have it installed already. Annoying. Glitches aside, I have been buying most of my music through them (screw apple!).

Google Music Service


A few weeks ago Google announced it would be offering a cloud music storage system. The difference between Amazon and Google is that you can’t buy music from Google, but you can upload up to 20,000 songs. It took about a week, but I uploaded 50 GB of music to the system which was just under 8000 songs.

The service is slick and works well on my phone. Since I have both Amazon and Google stream apps on my phone, I have found Google’s service more responsive and less buggy - which makes sense since it is their operating system. The web interface is very similar to Amazon’s but has album pictures which is nice.

The upload app that runs on your computer is a little buggy and gets stuck after a while, but I guess processing 8000 files can be excessive.

Learn more about Google’s music service here. One bad thing about the service is you have to request and invite and is not open to all Google users to start with, but it is honestly worth the wait.

Apple iCloud

Reports are coming in this morning that Appple is about to announce a cloud service as well. I could care less. I hate their draconian DRM policy and never purchase music from iTunes.

Personal Cloud: Western Digital My Book Live

The last option I am going to discuss is a personal NAS drive that you can open up on your firewall for a personal cloud. I purchased a 2 TB Western Digital My Drive for $140 bucks. I plugged it into my router and it immediately worked.

The nice thing about this little device is that is has a built in DLNA server which can feed your music and files to all of your computers, gaming systems, and phones. It would VERY well with my android phone (something I could not figure out using Windows Media Player media sharing services).

Adventurous people can cut open firewall rules so they can access their music from their phones anywhere they are. Personally, I don’t have much desire to do that since I have the other services, but the My Book drive is a really cool device to have in the house, especially if you have streaming media devices - it just works well.

Conclusion

Right now the Google service is impressing me the most since it can host all of my music and isn’t giving me much trouble. That said, I really like this NAS system I have set up and the combination of the two allowing me to finally sell my insane CD collection to the used stores to free up space.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Sunday Leftovers: Volume 03: Issue 30

( #SundayLeftovers )



Howdy true be-loggers, welcome to Sunday Leftovers! The previous week was full of spreadsheets and paper-cuts, I am glad to be leaving it behind. Since I was so repressed, I have been writing like an animal today. I am doing a few reviews, a tech piece, and I am going to write that Virginia Vineyard article if it kills me (interview or not). Lets open the fridge and see what is leftover...

[The Back Window]




CREDIT: The Punch Brothers - You Are

[Recipe of the Week: Biscuits and Sausage Gravy ]
Credit: Simply Recipes

A couple of weeks ago I spent the weekend in Virginia and had myself some excellent Biscuits and Gravy, I needed to find a recipe so I make it without a 4 hour drive.

INGREDIENTS

Buttermilk Biscuit Recipe Ingredients:
2 ½ cups self-rising flour (plus extra for flouring your surface)
2 tsp sugar (Optional)
½ tsp kosher salt
4 Tbsp vegetable shortening (see Baking Tips below)
4 Tbsp butter (chilled)
1 cup chilled buttermilk (plus 1-2 tbsp more, if needed)
1 tbsp melted butter (Optional: to brush on top of biscuits after baking)

Sausage Gravy Ingredients:
1 lb sage-flavored pork sausage
¼ cup finely chopped white or yellow onion
6 tbsp all purpose flour
4 cups whole milk
½ tsp poultry seasoning
½ tsp ground nutmeg
¼ tsp salt
1-2 dashes of Worcestershire sauce
1-2 dashes of Tabasco sauce, cayenne pepper, or other hot sauce
1-2 tbsp butter or bacon grease (if needed)

DIRECTIONS:

Buttermilk Biscuits

Baking Tips: 1) Spoon the flour into your measuring cup, and level it off with the back side of a knife. If you scoop the flour, it will pack into the measuring cup, yielding too much flour, 2) Instead of 4 Tbsp each of butter and shortening, feel free to use 8 Tbsp of shortening or butter, or any combination up to 8 Tbsp.

1 Preheat oven to 450 F. Prepare a floured surface for shaping the dough and have an ungreased baking sheet ready (lined with Silpat sheets if you have them).

2 Whisk together flour, sugar and salt in a medium-sized bowl. Using a fork or a pastry blender cut in the shortening and butter. Work quickly, you don’t want the fats to melt – the key to fluffy biscuits is minimal handling. The mixture should be crumbly.

3 Make a well in the flour mixture, and pour in the buttermilk. Stir with a spoon and blend just until the liquid is absorbed and the dough comes away from the sides of the bowl – add 1-2 tbsp more buttermilk if the dough is dry. Do not over mix; the dough will be tacky, neither wet nor dry.

4 With lightly floured hands, turn out the dough onto a lightly-floured surface and gently fold it over on itself 2 or 3 times. Shape into a 3/4” thick round. If you use a rolling pin, be sure to flour it first to keep the dough from sticking to the pin.

5 Using a 2-inch biscuit cutter, cut out the biscuits pressing straight down (avoid the temptation to twist the cutter as twisting keeps the biscuits from rising). Dip the cutter in flour between cuttings to keep the dough from sticking to the cutter. Place biscuits on the baking sheet so that they just touch (for crunchy sides, leave space in between). Reshape scrap dough and continue cutting. Remember to handle the dough as little as possible.

6 Bake for 15-18 minutes or until lightly golden brown on top. Turn the baking sheet around halfway through baking.

7 Optional: Brush the tops of the biscuits with melted butter. (That is NOT optional!)

Sausage Gravy

1 Preheat a 4-quart saucepan over medium high heat (put a few drops of water in the pan – when they evaporate, you know the pan is ready). Crumble the sausage into the pan and let it brown for a minute or two, then turn down to medium heat. Continue cooking, breaking up the sausage into smaller pieces, until no pink remains. Stir in the onions and cook until they are transparent.

2 Remove sausage with a slotted spatula or spoon, leaving the drippings in the pan. If less than 3 tbsp of drippings remain, add enough butter (or bacon grease) to equal about 3 tbsp of drippings. Add the cooked sausage back to the pan on medium heat, and sprinkle the flour over the sausage. Stir in the flour and cook for about 6-8 minutes, until the mixture starts bubbling and turns slightly golden brown.

3 Stir in poultry seasoning, nutmeg, Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco sauce and salt – cook for 1 minute to deepen the flavors. Slowly add the milk and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until thickened (about 15 minutes). Be patient, it will thicken!

[DIY of the Week: Slip N Slide]

Need a Slip N Slide but think the packaged ones suck?

Check this out: Digital Misery: Slip N Slide

[Video of the Week]

Someone asked me "what's with all the space stuff on your blog?" To me space exploration represents looking towards the future instead of short-sited 6 month plans. As long as we keep reaching for the stars and wondering what is going on up there, I think some part of the human race will always survive.


[Conclusion]

Thanks for reading today. Check this blog this week as there will be alot of material for you to read (if you are into that). If you need to reach me, you can do so here. As always, don't take shit from anybody.

Smell You Later,
~ Joey

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