g r o t t o 1 1

Peeve Farm
Breeding peeves for show, not just to keep as pets
Brian Tiemann
Silicon ValleyNew York-based purveyor of a confusing mixture of Apple punditry, political bile, and sports car rentals.

btman at grotto11 dot com

Read These Too:

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James Lileks
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As the Apple Turns
Entropicana
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Capitalist Lion
Red Letter Day
Eric S. Raymond
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Aziz Poonawalla
Corsair the Rational Pirate
.clue
Ravishing Light
Rosenblog
Cartago Delenda Est



Cars without compromise.





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 1/17/2005 -  1/23/2005
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12/27/2004 -   1/2/2004
12/20/2004 - 12/26/2004
12/13/2004 - 12/19/2004
 12/6/2004 - 12/12/2004
11/29/2004 -  12/5/2004
11/22/2004 - 11/28/2004
11/15/2004 - 11/21/2004
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10/25/2004 - 10/31/2004
10/18/2004 - 10/24/2004
10/11/2004 - 10/17/2004
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12/29/2003 -   1/4/2004
12/22/2003 - 12/28/2003
12/15/2003 - 12/21/2003
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11/24/2003 - 11/30/2003
11/17/2003 - 11/23/2003
11/10/2003 - 11/16/2003
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10/27/2003 -  11/2/2003
10/20/2003 - 10/26/2003
10/13/2003 - 10/19/2003
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12/30/2002 -   1/5/2003
12/23/2002 - 12/29/2002
12/16/2002 - 12/22/2002
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11/25/2002 -  12/1/2002
11/18/2002 - 11/24/2002
11/11/2002 - 11/17/2002
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10/28/2002 -  11/3/2002
10/21/2002 - 10/27/2002
10/14/2002 - 10/20/2002
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 1/14/2002 -  1/20/2002
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12/31/2001 -   1/6/2002
12/24/2001 - 12/30/2001
12/17/2001 - 12/23/2001
Friday, February 1, 2008
15:00 - Larry the Cable Guy, in embryonic form
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VROn7ZvVoW8

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How's this for a dispatch from an alternate dimension? Before he was Larry the Cable Guy, he was... Dan Whitney, a nervous, scattershot Nebraskan throwback to the 60s' style of stand-up comedy that mostly consists of flinging almost-puns and semi-double-entendres out like chaff over the crowd while you run giggling agitatedly from cover to cover:



And now he never appears out of character in public. I kinda think Paul Reubens did it better, though, and Cantinflas probably better still...



14:54 - Greetings from sunny California

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Someone on the East Coast just suggested to me that while it might have been raining here in California for the last week or two, it was most likely balmy 70-degree tropical rain, not like the soul-freezing stuff they're getting back East.

Yeah, well, here's what my folks up in northern CA just sent me from this past week:



I don't know what it is with the weather this year, but it sure does make for good photos...


Thursday, January 31, 2008
17:09 - Something to be proud of

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Hey, remember when Jon Stewart made fun of Jimmy Dean's Pancakes & Sausage on a Stick, with Chocolate Chips?

I kind think the Germans have trumped his thesis, and we no longer can trumpet those cathartic paeans of trendy national shame, for we have been beaten to the creation of ... Cheeseburger in a Can.



"The Germans have a new way of doing it", indeed.

Don't miss the full review. There are ... photos ... of the tasting experience.

Via CapLion.


09:28 - Shop the Red Squiggly Underline of Quality!

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I saw this on El Camino Real yesterday:



Okay, I'm a nerd. But I thought that was funny. This too.


Wednesday, January 30, 2008
01:11 - Almost forgot to mention

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No, that ganache didn't go to waste.



Too much cream, though, as I noted in the earlier post. I put these in the fridge to stabilize them a bit, in an airtight container (to avoid picking up fridge odors), and they sweated—got little beads of moisture wicking out onto the surface, presumably from the cream on the inside. And it didn't dry out, really; just made the surface of the shells sticky. Ah well—I'm learning...



00:53 - I say! Cherry? In cola? How droll!

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Hey, remember back when they didn't have computers to do cutting-edge visual effects in commercials?



And this was the highest of the high-budget, too. Blows the mind, it do.

Via David.



23:01 - I must be watching a different movie

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Why do I do this to myself?

Curiosity got the better of me, and I went looking at the IMDB page for the Oliver Stone movie World Trade Center, just to see what people thought of it, critically. (The reason why I looked, for the record, was that I just saw Cloverfield, a movie which explicitly evokes 9/11 imagery in the form of a monster movie; and I started thinking about how the film industry has approached 9/11 thus far in only a handful of other ways, namely as documentary and as farce, and I thought it odd to recollect that the only traditionally "blockbustery" approach to date has been Stone's, the one I'd heard nothing about.)

IMDB typically puts a representative well-thought-out user review on the front of every movie page, and in the middle of a bunch of thoughtful analysis of the filmmaking and acting, here's what the one on top of the pile had to say:

The crumbling of the towers, which still is incredibly difficult to watch, let alone fathom, is handled with taste, but also is awfully gripping. We get a real sense of the terror and panic and then Stone gets the claustrophobic atmosphere right. With close-ups of Pena and Cage amidst the ruins, he gets us so close, we can almost taste the rubble and concrete dust.

But that's the last time we really see or feel any sense of genuine, gripping storytelling in this film. I realize criticizing a film about 9/11, especially one that displays its American stars and stripes so blatantly, is tantamount to treason these days. After all, as this administration and its minions love to point out, if you disagree with them, you're not only unpatriotic, but also an appeaser of the villains. It's poppycock, of course. Dissent is undoubtedly American, but these chaps so love draping themselves in the flag that jingoism overwhelms all reason. Why bother with rational thought when you can scare people?

What struck me while watching the film is realizing how much goodwill was channeled toward the United States after the attacks and what's ultimately sad is how this president took all that goodwill and squandered it by launching an utterly pointless war in Iraq. We could have done so much good in the world, instead of now being one of the most hated nations in the world. And Bush has now turned 9/11 into a political slogan for political (and personal) gain.

...And then, as though nothing had happened, we take a breath and dive right back into the on-topic film critique.

Why is it that I feel like angry kids are throwing rocks at my head from behind the rocks and trees everywhere I go? I turn my head to look where it came from, and all I detect is a rustling of leaves and a vanishing snicker. Hey, you! Come back here! I saw that!

Seven years is a long time, and it's wearing on me.

I can understand not liking a president. I can understand the impulse to snark about someone you didn't vote for who's been in office for most of a decade doing things you wish he didn't. That's all part of democracy: the right to be loudly angry about things. As I said in a comment at Dean Esmay's, it's depressing and spirit-crushing and generally maddening to see random Bush swipes everywhere you turn, from "Things My Girlfriend And I Have Argued About" to reviews of Cloverfield to Randy Newman at Macworld, place after place that I imagine to be safe from political intrusions upon the things I seek for entertainment and relaxation—yet it's people's right to make them.

But what I don't get is this... this narrative. This "We are a silenced minority voice, repressed and marginalized" conceit. The bizarre idea that speaking out against the administration is some noble and risky act of bravery, nay, something "tantamount to treason"—something that doesn't take place for hours on end every single weeknight on Comedy Central and in the multiplexes and even at the freaking White House.

"After all, as this administration and its minions love to point out, if you disagree with them, you're not only unpatriotic, but also an appeaser of the villains." Really? Really? What is this sentiment, repeated in its infinite variations on thirteen out of every ten randomly selected web pages on the Internet, based on? Some State of the Union address that I missed some year? Did Bush stand up there at a podium, look into the camera lens, and say "If you don't follow along with our plans, you are unpatriotic"? Did he? Or is this some kind of hyperbolic extrapolation from the allusions of some talk radio host or commentator on the dread Fox News (which, as we all know, holds monopoly power over the airwaves and prevents people from tuning in to any other news source)? Might I point out that the only times—the only times—I've ever heard anybody talk about anybody accusing anybody of being "unpatriotic" is when opponents of the administration complain about how they feel they've been made to feel by some mythical public demagogical haranguing that always seems to be on some different channel from the one I'm watching? What does "these chaps so love draping themselves in the flag that jingoism overwhelms all reason" mean? What quotations support this thesis—that a case for, say, war on Iraq was built not on a decade's worth of flouted UN resolutions and trusted intelligence reports from agencies all over the world (not just our own), but on empty, podium-pounding outbursts of militaristic hoo-ah that overwhelmed, I suppose, the faculties of reason of hundreds of Senators and Representatives on both sides of the aisle? "Why bother with rational thought when you can scare people?" Why indeed—when forced to choose between soothing the public with meaningless platitudes and lame assurances that everything is okay and there's nothing to worry about and everyone should go about their lives and shop and strengthen the economy, and telling everyone that they're doooomed and must blindly and unquestioningly vote a certain way in the upcoming irregular elections or else The Terrorists Win, which as I seem to recall is the exact opposite of how that particular turn of phrase was deployed way back in the day—why, what kind of evil genius politician would ever consciously choose to make people feel secure instead of scared? He'd have to be some kind of idiot evil genius!

As for the closely related invocation of the "utterly pointless war in Iraq", which you physically cannot derail someone from blustering about who's got himself a head of steam worked up, I will only comment that saying something like "We could have done so much good in the world, instead of now being one of the most hated nations in the world" does not count as a case or an argument. Let's have some kind of vague example, perhaps, of what "good" we could have done in the world following 9/11 that did not involve removing Saddam Hussein from power. Eradicating terrorism? Is that what this is about? You want to talk about eradicating terrorism, while leaving Saddam in charge in Baghdad? Seriously? Or do you mean something like how we should have responded to 9/11 by forcibly sending all our richest and most top-hatted and bemonocled tycoons into the skies in dirigibles, to float over impoverished nations and shower them with $100 bills? Is that how a country that's just been mugged and is the beneficiary of global pity is supposed to act, so as not to "squander" that sweet, sweet pity? Is that the vision that dances in your head? It must be something like that, because simulacra of reality have evidently been banished from it in favor of "Bush has now turned 9/11 into a political slogan for political (and personal) gain"—boy, if I could earn myself a sub-30% domestic approval rating and a permanent spot on the World's Top Three Most Hated People (And the First Two Don't Count) list, coupled with the near-certainty of the opposition party taking over the office next year and eradicating any of my residual political legacy from the White House, then surely my nefarious master plan would be realized to its iniquitous conclusion, and I'd be one happy dictatorial overlord, wouldn't I?

In short... what movie are these people watching?

It must be a good one, because I feel like I'm missing out on all the injokes.


18:29 - 100% customer satisfaction!
http://pages.ebay.com/services/forum/new.html

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Heady stuff from Ebay:

2. Sellers will no longer be able to leave negative or neutral Feedback for buyers. This change will occur in May, 2008.

That'll fix everything!

Via David.



11:27 - What did we ever do before we had Apple stuff to look forward to?
http://stevenf.com/2008/01/trees_reviewed.php

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We reviewed trees, apparently.

Sign me up for one of those "untethered" babies.


Tuesday, January 29, 2008
20:06 - R8 COLLECT!

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Boy, when you see those headlights come up behind you after dark, you know it can only either be an S5, on which they would look a bit stodgier and higher off the ground, or ... the first R8 I've encountered on the road.



I tell you, that is a big car. I followed it all the way till it exited 85, and compared to the various compacts and sedans it was passing, it was huge, taking up most of the lane. I guess that's how it magically manages to have interior room, huh?


17:50 - Tension tripod
http://www.metacafe.com/watch/1041948/1_image_stabilizer_for_any_camera_lose_the_tri

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Via Mark; this is a damn cool idea.

Monday, January 28, 2008
16:31 - The key to a successful relationship is communication
http://www.mil-millington.com/

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You know, I often wonder about stand-up comedians who tell jokes about their wives/husbands/girlfriends/brothers-in-law/other people they have to go home to after the show is over and sit down to dinner with. Jimmy Kimmel, Bill Engvall, Ron White... they all make bank on jokes about their significant others who, in some cases, are clearly in on it and play up all the humor they can muster in a supporting role (cf. The Man Show). But I have to imagine that there are plenty of comics who have to precede every trip to the stage with a litany of excuses to their mistresses' eyebrows and pleas not to take what they're going to say seriously, followed by a hurricane of apologies after the curtain falls.

This site makes me think the same thing. Specifically: why on earth does the term "girlfriend" still even apply after all the things listed here have scrolled by? (Particularly assuming she has access to Google?) Unless I'm really that clueless on the subject and am missing some vital ingredient that makes it all make sense...

(This page is like eight years old already, though, judging by this, so this is probably just another of those parties that I'm so late to that the venue has been booked for a philately convention.)


15:00 - Chocolate Reviews: Pralus Tanzanie, Equateur, Indonésie, Fortissima

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Pralus Tanzanie 75%: Creamy and mild, with grape Kool-Aid
Pralus Equateur 75%: Rich and almondy, no Arriba in sight
Pralus Indonésie 75%: Heavy, cloying, like wading through molasses
Pralus Fortissima 80%: Nice blend, but lacking punch

Pralus is a small French manufacturer whose claim to fame is a whole line of single-origins from growing locations all around the equator. It isn't well known, but the name shows up from time to time in listings of "insider" chocolates, and this last month's shipment of the monthly surprise from Chocosphere was a box of these four Pralus varieties: three single-origins at 75%, and one blend at 80%.

Pralus has apparently only recently just shifted away from packaging its bars in transparent wrappers; judging by the reviews of its line, it's something of a novelty now to not have the chocolate show up in these wacky clear packages. The monochromatic, dull-finished wrappers give off a bit of that faux-downmarket vibe that you get from "Dirty Potato Chips" and so on, where badly aligned offset printing and plain line-art telegraph a message more like "We're so serious about our craft that we can't be bothered to waste our time on something as pedestrian as making it look attractive" than "We suck at packaging". Or at least one hopes that was their thought process.

That said, I appreciate the information they do put on the package: the front design shows where the chocolate originates from, geographically, even down to latitude/longitude coordinates (in French), as well as clearly describing the cacao varieties that go into each one. You really get the feeling that this company takes the single-origin thing seriously.

One thing I notice about all these bars, though, is that there's a pungency to them, a spicy, caramelly richness that's absent from most of the other bars I've tasted from other manufacturers. Whereas Lindt's 70% (which I am coming to regard as my "reference" chocolate, at least for blends, and the best base for truffles and molds) has a complex roasted flavor that feels more classically "chocolate" to me than just about anything else, these Pralus bars are all a tad odd, broadcasting notes of just about everything but chocolate, as though they just can't figure out what they want to be. That's the fun of single-origins, though: nobody picks a single-origin because of its classically familiar flavor. That's why you do blends.


All the bars—100g each, though not wide and flat like the Lindts, making the stack of four feel chunky and heavy—are scored into these tiny squares, with a big logo segment in one corner that strikes a weird balance between practical function and artsy finish. At least it's not as stupid as the diagonal Scharffen Berger scoring. But mixed with the thickness of the bar, the tiny square scheme does have the downside that in order to break anything off, you end up having to grip the whole bar and press so hard you melt thumbprints into an otherwise nicely-finished surface.

This is especially the case with the Tanzanie bar, a Forastero that tastes very mild and sweet for a 75%, hardly Forastero-like at all. Certainly nothing like the Arribas from Ecuador or the related dark roasts from Ghana or Côte d'Ivoire. Rather, the main flavor I get at first taste is something like grape Kool-Aid flavoring—not a bad flavor, at least as far as I'm concerned, but certainly something surprising to find in a chocolate.

On a side note: once when I was in Kailua-Kona on the Big Island of Hawaii, I stopped at a shave ice stand where the girl behind the counter was bantering with people in the line. The guy in front of me was mentioning something about various odd flavor choices and their popularity; the girl said, "The only flavor I just don't get is grape. It's awful! And nobody likes it! I can't imagine anybody ordering it!" The guy commiserated: surely, grape flavoring was the devil's own creation, and its presence in shave ice menus is only the result of some kind of sinister union rule grandfathered from the days when you could buy quince and plum and horehound Jolly Ranchers or something. The guy took his cone and left; and of course I stepped up next and ordered grape. She peered at me, sure I was putting her on. It took some effort on my part to convince her that yes, I actually wanted grape shave ice. No fooling. Take the level on that bottle down by a bubble from the nozzle, because Crazy Freak Grape Flavoring Man is in town. Or else I'm from the union. Don't cross me, sister, 'less you wanna end up strapped to the bottom of a buoy out in the bay.

For a review that almost exactly mirrors my impressions of this bar, see SeventyPercent.com. Seriously: I usually disagree somewhat with that site's impressions, but in this case it's all dead-on. The mushy bar feel, the creamy texture, the "rustic" look, the "cocoa parting shot" that reminds you that this is in fact chocolate after all. Weird bar, hard to get a handle on, but quite enjoyable.

Equateur, Pralus' Ecuadorian bar, is a bit of an odd beast in another way: unlike almost everything else with an Ecuador brand on it, it's not Arriba, but actually Trinitario, the Caribbean Criollo/Forastero hybrid you usually find on Trinidad. As such it doesn't taste a bit like the Arribas I've grown used to, and has none of that aggressive, dark, velvety evil you get from companies like Hachez or Chocovic or even Domori. Instead, Pralus' bar tastes like it's got almonds in it: woodsy, pulverized almonds all throughout. It's a very rich taste, yet interestingly light, quite close to the classical "chocolate" you might expect from a blend, but that almondy note stands out throughout the melt and makes it into something quite unique. Very pleasant. (The SeventyPercent.com review seems to think it's Arriba, but I'm not sure where that comes from, as Arriba is a Forastero variety, and hard to confuse with Trinitario, from what I understand. At least it would explain why Alex Rast can't detect any Arriba character in it.)

With Indonésie, though, things take a curious turn. This bar smacks you across the nose as you unwrap it, letting you know right away that this is no classically "approachable" bar. A taste confirms the suspicion; it hardly tastes like "chocolate" at all, and is about as far from that classical flavor as some of the Madagascar single-origins I've had from Valrhona, such as Ampamakia (man, I gotta get me another Ampamakia bar; that was gooood). Unlike Valrhona, though, Pralus doesn't try to reign in (Aaagh! Now you've got me doing it!)—sorry, rein in the wild horses of the flavor profile on this one, and it takes you deep into uncharted swamps and sinister privately-patrolled sugarcane fields that you suspect might have marijuna plants sown in toward the middle of the field, so you try to scuttle your way back out the way you came before someone sticks a machine gun in your face. If you come out the opposite side of this chocolate with your palate intact, consider yourself lucky: otherwise you might have to undergo an intensive rehabilitation treatment of Lindt 85% intermingled with Chuao in frequent, expensive doses.

The 80% Fortissima is a lot like Indonésie in a way, with much the same flavor characteristics, but blended with some other strains to result in a more subdued, more restrained bar that's a lot easier to handle, despite its slightly higher cacao content. I'm not sure who they think they're fooling with that chin-jutting name: this is one of the milder ones of this batch, with only a slightly more focused chocolate undertone to distinguish it. The origin is allegedly Ecuador, like the almondy Equateur; but it's also labeled as "Criollo/Trinitario", meaning this is a blend, possibly using the Criollos from Indonésie as its mixing agent. I can hardly detect the expected darkness or bitterness in this bar; like the Scharffen Berger 82%, being in the 80-percent category just seems to make this bar a milder version of one of its less-restrained 70-class siblings, oddly more approachable, but at the same time a little disappointing that it isn't more punchy. Certainly not what I'd expect from something called "Fortissimo". Ah well—at least they didn't call it "Crescendo".

Pralus has some interesting things going for it—unique flavors, small-company bar handling, quirky and personality-laden presentation. The bars also cost $8.35 each. That puts them at more than twice the price of the comparable mass-market Lindt, and as such I wouldn't want to do anything in bulk with it, any more than I would use the similarly-priced Domori single-origins for anything (well, anymore I should say—those Sambirano truffles were quite an experiment, and one I'm not sure I'm eager to repeat). It's well worth a look, but expect to be confronted with a belligerent, self-satisfied lineup of bars that don't feel they ought to compromise their character to suit your unadventuresome taste, peasant.

It's too bad the bars aren't just a little bit better; then they might really be able to make that attitude stick. As it is, though... eh. Not my favorite.


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© Brian Tiemann