Saturday, January 25, 2014

What Does the Fox Say?

If you've been hanging out in geezer La La land listening to Frank Sinatra, check out the Ylvis brother's  music video. Click here

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Wine Labels

“Anyone who tries to make you believe that he knows all about wines is obviously a fake.”

― Leon Adams, The Commonsense Book of Wine

There are 24,000 names for varieties of wine grapes. Ampelographers (scientists who identify and describe different vines) believe these represent about 5,000 truly different grapes. The good news is that only nine are considered classic varieties. The whites include; chardonnay; chenin blanc; riesling; sauvignon blanc; and sémillion. The reds include; cabernet sauvignon; merlot; pinot noir; and syrah.

In the USA, it's quite common to find the name of the grape on the wine label. This is a big help to the consumer.  If you like Chardonnay, all you have to do is choose among 40-50 different brands you find on the shelf. European wines (especially French and German) are more likely to label wines with the geographical region listed rather than the grape variety.

Here's a US wine label:
It tells me the name of the winery, the variety of the grape, and where it was produced.

Now here's a French wine label.

How am I suppose to know that this bottle contains wine made from chardonnay grapes? Also, it's difficult for non-French speakers to pronounce some of the words. The good news is that there's a great site called Forvo where their motto is "All the words in the world pronounced." You can practice with pouilly fuisse and Puligny-Montrachet.

We will talk about wine videos on youtube in an upcoming wine post. I highly recommend Karen MacNeil's, The Wine Bible. This is a very readable (900 pages) book on all aspects of wine. I've seen the used book for sale on Amazon for around $5.00 including shipping.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Is Big Brother Watching Us?


My recollection of "1984" included TV screens in every room which allowed Big Brother to watch everything that was going on. Now we hear that the NSA has  the capability to turn on the camera and   microphone of our computers without our knowledge.

Follow this link to read the full story "N.S.A. Devises Radio Pathway Into Computers"

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Happy People, A Year in the Taiga - The Film

This is one great movie. Available on Netflix.

Documentary. Directed by Werner Herzog and Dmitry Vasyukov. In English and Russian with English subtitles. (Not rated. 94 minutes.)

Werner Herzog seems to have calmed down a bit about nature, a subject he's often brooded about in the many documentary and fictional films he's made since the 1960s. In the "Minnesota Declaration," a 1999 manifesto, he suggested that life in the oceans is "a vast, merciless hell of permanent and immediate danger."

He sings a somewhat different tune in his new movie, "Happy People: A Year in the Taiga," a documentary about Siberian fur trappers who live and work in extreme conditions. Of course, the title refers to a Herzogian definition of happiness, which is stoic at heart, having everything to do with his subjects' ability to face a hard life with fortitude, skill, endurance and a deep understanding of and respect for their hostile environment.

The trappers live in Bakhtia, a tiny village that's way off the grid - it can only be reached by helicopter or, if the river isn't frozen, by boat. ("Taiga" refers to subarctic forest at the edge of the tundra.) With few exceptions, like the use of snowmobiles, the way they work hasn't changed in hundreds of years. Usually accompanied only by their loyal dogs, they trap sable, operating out of remote cabins they build and laboriously maintain.

It's a do-it-yourself world that Herzog clearly admires - much of what we see is the men performing the tasks that enable them to survive. It's riveting to watch the film's main subject, a lean, bearded fellow named Gennady Soloviev, use a hatchet to carve himself a pair of skis from a log. We also learn about the arts of ice fishing, making mosquito repellent out of bark and constructing traps that will survive winters of 50 below.

The movie is exceptional in Herzog's canon because he didn't film it himself. He took an existing, four-hour documentary made for Russian TV by Dmitry Vasyukov, cut it to 94 minutes (working with his usual editor, the highly esteemed Joe Bini) and added narration. If you know Herzog, you know what to expect. His entertainingly deadpan voiceovers - sometimes oracular, occasionally flirting with the absurd - are well known enough to have inspired many YouTube parodies.

Though perhaps not in the first rank of Herzog documentaries, "Happy People" is well worth seeing. There is intense, harsh beauty in many of the scenes, and it's impossible to watch the film without sharing Herzog's deep, genuine liking for his subjects. The filmmaker has stated many times that he doesn't understand irony. When he says these people are happy, he means it.

Walter Addiego is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. E-mail:

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Saying Goodbye to Starbucks et. al. - Part 2

Bialetti Moka Stove Top Espresso Maker - $29.99

Bialetti Venus  2 Cup Stove Top Stainless Steel 
Espresso Maker - $80.00

De'Longhi EC155 15 BAR Pump Espresso and Cappuccino Maker

Breville 800ESXL 15-Bar Triple Priming
Die Cast Espresso Machine - $350

If you have to ask, you can't afford it.

My machine is the Breville pictured above. I bought mine refurbished for considerably less than retail.

It surely can't take longer to fix an espresso drink at home than it takes to drive to or through Starbucks.

Click here to see a video of the inexpensive aluminum Bialetti stove top espresso maker to the sounds of La donna è mobile.

Click here to see a video of the Bialetti Venus  2 Cup Stove Top Stainless Steel 
Espresso Maker

Click here to see a video of the De'Longhi EC155 in action.

Click here to see a video of the Breville in action.

"What can I get for you?
"I'll have a Peppermint White Chocolate Mocha with Whipped Cream (venti, 20 fl oz)"

If you actually ordered and drank this beverage, you would have consumed 660 calories, 22 g fat (15 g saturated), 95 g sugars. Sugar Equivalent: 8½ scoops Edy’s Slow Churned Rich and Creamy Coffee Ice Cream.

This post isn't about the calories in espresso drinks but how you can prepare them at home for a fraction of the cost.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Saying Goodbye to Starbucks et. al. - Part 1

Drinking espresso drinks in the morning and sometimes in the afternoon has become a billion dollar business in the USA. If you have plenty of money, and enjoy hanging out at coffee places, go for it.
On the other hand, if you really can't afford the $300-$400 a month you might be spending, you might want to think about making your espresso at home.

The secret to good coffee and good espresso is quality beans, quality water, and a quality grinder. Part 2 of this series lists a number of different espresso devices. There is an espresso machine for every budget. The obvious advantages of home brewed espresso is lower cost and you can make the drink exactly to your liking. I think a lot of people don't make their espresso drinks at home because it sounds complicated (how much coffee to use, how to foam the milk, etc.) You can buy a milk frother from Amazon, Aerolatte Milk Frother Satin for about $20.00. You  can heat the milk in the microwave and use the frother to create foam.I have found that freshly ground coffee makes all the difference in the world. Unfortunately, high quality burr grinders are on the expensive side. They are not cheap. I found mine on sale at Costco for $30.00 but the coffee geeks say it's no good for my espresso machine. Look for a deal on the Cuisinart Supreme Grind DBM-8 Coffee Grinder. I drink more regular coffee than espresso.

Click here to see a visual list of the most common espresso drinks.

Commuters might want to consider a spill proof travel mug such as the Contigo Autoseal West Loop Stainless Steel Travel Mug with Easy-Clean Lid, available at Amazon for under $20. Be careful not to burn yourself, because this mug keeps the coffee hot for about 4 hours. You might even want to experiment with adding an ice cube so your coffee is drinkable immediately. This travel mug is even a good idea if you plan on continuing to buy your coffee on the way to work.

"A latte is something North Americans have made popular. In Europe, a latte would tend to be considered something you would serve to your children. When made properly I consider a latte to be a delicious drink. Many people confuse the latte with the cappucino. A latte is espresso in combination with steamed milk. To give you an idea of ingredient ratios, a 16oz. drink would be 2-3oz. of espresso and the rest steamed milk. 

Hint: I consider a good latte to be a "blended" drink. A good barista will incorporate foam, steamed milk, and espresso together giving the drink a blended taste and a marbleized texture."


This drink is often confused with a Latte, but in essence they are different drinks. The common cappuccino is made in 1/3 proportions. This means a proper cappucino is 1/3 espresso, 1/3 "steamed" milk, and 1/3 "frothed" milk. The espresso and steamed milk are poured together and the frothed milk is scooped on top. This drink is very subjective in my opinion, and can be ordered several different ways. 

Hint: I think this drink is a good test of how good a barista actually is, and be forwarned if you do not like formy-ness order a latte…" 

"Espresso is made by forcing very hot water under high pressure through finely ground, compacted coffee. Tamping down the coffee promotes the water's even penetration of the grounds. This process produces an almost syrupy beverage by extracting both solid and dissolved components. It also produces the definitive creme, by emulsifying the oils in the ground coffee into a colloid, which does not occur in other brewing methods. There is no universal standard defining the process of extracting espresso, but there are several published definitions which attempt to place constraints on the amount and type of ground coffee used, the temperature and pressure of the water, and the rate of extraction. Generally, one uses an espresso machine to make espresso. The act of producing a shot of espresso is often termed "pulling" a shot, originating from lever espresso machines, which require pulling down a handle attached to a spring-loaded piston, forcing hot water through the coffee at high pressure. Today, however, it is more common for the pressure to be generated by an electric pump." Wikiped

If you prefer regular coffee, see my November 11, 2013 post, "A Good Cup Of Coffee."

(to be continued)

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Cancer-fighting nanorobot may be able to target tumors, spare healthy tissue

Researchers from Chonnam National University in Gwangju, South Korea have created so-called "Bacteriobot," a genetically-modified non-toxic salmonella bacteria that delivers cancer treatments that target tumors. 

Click here for the full story.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Are All Nuts Created Equal?

Nuts Are Really, Really Good For You

The results of a couple of recent research studies that followed almost 119,000 people over 30 years. The results? Those who ate nuts daily were 20% less likely to die from any cause. 20%! From any cause! That’s significant.

Follow this link for the full story.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Heretics and Heroes: How Renaissance Artists and Reformation Priests Created Our World - The Book

"In Volume VI of his acclaimed Hinges of History series, Thomas Cahill guides us through the thrilling period of the Renaissance and the Reformation (the late fourteenth to the early seventeenth century), so full of innovation and cultural change that the Western world would not experience its like again until the twentieth century. Beginning with the continent-wide disaster of the Black Death, Cahill traces the many developments in European thought and experience that served both the new humanism of the Renaissance and the seemingly abrupt religious alterations of the increasingly radical Reformation. This is an age of the most sublime artistic and scientific adventure, but also of newly powerful princes and armies and of newly found courage, as many thousands refuse to bow their heads to the religious pieties of the past.  It is an era of just-discovered continents and previously unknown peoples. More than anything, it is a time of individuality in which a whole culture must achieve a new balance if the West is to continue."

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Taking Your Radio On the Road

I know that Sirius satellite radio is popular with lots of folks ($10-15/month). I don't listen to the radio very much because my Ford Focus is equipped with Ford Sync which allows me to listen to anything on my iPhone or iPad via bluetooth while in the car.

Another options for folks on the road is Radio Locator

"Welcome to, the most comprehensive radio station search engine on the internet. We have links to over 13,800 radio stations' web pages and over 8700 stations' audio streams from radio stations in the U.S. and around the world."

With Radio Locator you can: (1) Find US radio by city or zip, (2) Find US radio by call letters, (3) Find Internet Streaming radio, and (4) Find World Radio.

This service is free.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Christmas 2014 Wish List

I don't exchange presents with my adult children. I send money to the grandchildren for Christmas every year. My daughters feel like they should buy me something for Christmas each year. It used to be something like a shirt made from bamboo, etc. This past year I solved the dilemma. Through out the year when I see an inexpensive gadget that interests me, I add it to my wish list on Amazon. Now at Christmas time I receive all these little stocking stuffers which are exactly the stuff I like.

Monday, January 6, 2014

How Are You Listening to Your Music, TV, Etc.?

Traditional Stereo System

I admit to being from the old school when it comes to stereo systems. The center piece of my system is an Onkyo HT-R520, 1000 Watt Receiver amplifier, 7 speakers including a self powered 8" subwoofer.

Sound Bar Systems

What has become popular in recent times is the Sound Bar Home Theater System. This is a bar containing small speakers that is usually mounted on the wall below a flat screen TV. Along with the sound bar, a wireless sub-woofer might be included.

I don't see how these small speakers can compare to much larger speakers in traditional stereo system. On the other hand, when people grow up listening to music with earbuds these speakers must sound very good.

I listen to lots of podcasts, streaming video, and music on my iMac, iPhone, and iPad. I've owned a number of different kinds of earbuds. My current favorite earbuds are Meelectronics M9. They are available on Amazon for around $16.00.

Meelectronics M9

AKG k240 Studio Headphones

I just bought a pair of AKG Studio Headphones. They're great for listening to sound from my iMac even though they will also work with an iPhone or iPad. These headphones are about $90.00 at Amazon.

Bluetooth Speaker
I recently purchased a Canz 808 bluetooth speaker at Sam's Club or Costco for $20.00. I am really impressed with the quality of sound. It will connect to any device with Bluetooth capabilities.

Plantronics BackBeat 903 Bluetooth headset

This headset is good for walking around in the house, working out, hiking, walking, etc.

I have yet to install a connection which will allow me to connect my iPhone to my stereo system. I'm working on it.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Food fake-out: Products with misleading names and images

Bacon bits with no bacon, onion rings with no onions, and other products with misleading names and images.

Click here for the whole story.