Archive for November, 2007


Tuesday, November 13th, 2007

Hershey’s — the chocolate company — appears to be in a world of hurt. Sales are down. And as I learned from Steve Dekorte, Hershey just dumped their board of directors, to be replaced by a new board “focused on restoring sales” (well, duh! what BoD wouldn’t be focused on increasing or, in the case of a beleaguered company, restoring sales?!?!?!).

Possibly, but not probably, coincidental, it seems that Hershey’s is a participant in and major funder of the Chocolate Manufacturers Association.

Now, the CMA lobbied — in conjunction with the Grocery Manufacturers Association — to have the FDA change the definition of “chocolate” from “containing 100% cocoa butter” to allowing the cocoa butter to be substituted with “hydrogenated or chemically-modified vegetable fats”.

Kirk Saville, a Hershey’s spokesman, said:

There are high-quality oils available which are equal to or better than cocoa butter in taste, nutrition, texture and function, and are preferred by consumers.

That reads: “Cocoa Butter Expensive. Corn oil cheap. Cheap is good. Customer won’t notice difference.”

I’m not a huge choco-holic, but even I must call Bullshit on this one. I have had what falls into the marketing category of “chocolate flavored” or “chocolaty” or “artificial chocolate essences added”. yuckYuckYuckYUCK! Lightly flavored sand, in the case of drink mixes and many “chocolate like” bars. Choco-like oily skid marks, in the case of the various “flavorings.

Now, I honestly have no idea if the FDA has changed the definition of “chocolate”. But I am not surprised that a company clearly focused on minimizing manufacturing costs with no regards to quality — even through lobbying to change the very definition of “chocolate” — is spiraling the bowl.

(Thank you to Garret Albright for providing links to the latest info regarding FDA’s potential redefinition of Chocolate.)

IKEA as a video game.

Monday, November 12th, 2007

David Byrne has written up his first trip to IKEA and his conclusion that it is largely like a big video game, what with the codes and the odd pockets of design, etc…

One soon realizes that one of the goals of this “game” is to decide which cabinets, in which wood or wood-like material, would, could or should be combined with which counter materials, and then to match them to a particular style sofa and upholstery, and finally, to select the color and texture of floor material that would coordinate best with all the above.

That is just level 1. It is relatively easy. Especially when you could give a rat’s ass about “design” and are all about “comfort” and “functional”.

The food level is really a bonus level; opt-in for energy points.

Level 2 — the stock room– is particularly vicious in how it plays off level 1: You must choose items that are actually in stock to win.

Christine and I have consistently failed on this level — walked out with no more credits… no more patience… no product in hand… game over…

To add to the complexity, certain products can only be ordered on the weird-ass maze-like walkthrough showroom. If you ask for said products down where all except these special bonus products are stocked, you’ll get mocked by the helpful staff. Mocked for at least 2 life points (2 of us shopping — game over after that).

Level 3 is comparatively easy: Assembly. To their credit, IKEA does deliver relatively high quality mass-produced furniture and the assembly instructions are better than any I have encountered while the end product is certainly quite solid.

I have yet to tackle purchasing and installing an entire IKEA based room. Sounds like a boss level of awesome magnitude. Given the utter failure (and occasional humiliation) involved in finding stuff that is actually in stock, I might never play that particular video game again.

Yeah, I have said that before. Sigh.

Pear/Grape Pie

Sunday, November 11th, 2007
Big Box of Grapes

I finally returned to the farmer’s market Saturday morning after a many month hiatus. Amongst a number of yummy purchases, I ended up with 30 pounds of assorted grapes (at the obscenely low price of $13). It is good to be recognized by the vendors.

Obviously, I’m making tons of raisins. And freezing some. And keeping some around for noshing upon. The quality of these grapes are just amazing. All seedless. Some as big as plums. Ranging from sugary sweet to slightly tart.

While in Missouri, my Mom taught me how to make her style of pie. Extremely simple to do, very subtle nuances required to do it well.

Hmmm… grape pie? A google search reveals lots of recipes for Conchord Grape Pie, but very few plain old grape pies. OK — time to improvise.

Grape/Pear Pie

Pictured at right is the result. Completely delicious. A decent product for my second pie ever, but not quite perfect; the bottom crust was just slightly underdone and I had to work the crust too much due to improper tools.

The pie is in the style of my Mom’s Cheatin’ Tart. That is, I made a pie crust that was larger than the pie tin, dropped it in the pie tin, added the filling, and then folded over the excess. It was off-center on purpose. Some people like more crust, some less, and thus having an off-center hole allows one to cut to the tastes of the consumer.

The filling is a combination of about 2 cups of raw grapes and 1.5 medium sized pears. I simmered the grapes and pears for about 30 minutes in 1/3rd of a cup of water, with cinnamon and a touch cayenne pepper (not enough to taste, just enough to draw out flavors — thanks, Ben!), until the grapes were soft but not totally mushy.

The key with making a pie crust — in this case, a dead simple flour/sugar/salt/butter crust (I’ll try Chuck’s vodka crust once I nail this one) — is to ensure that the fat (butter or lard — butter in this case) does not get too hot. Thus, one needs to avoid working it too much, which I failed to do. I was using a cuisinart to mix the crust, but the Cuisinart dough blade sucks. It leaves flour untouched all around the outside edge and requires significant mixing after the fact. My mom has a cool little blender top mixer that does a great job.

While doing my pie engineering, I posted a series of observations on Twitter. Much useful feedback was given. For now, I have ordered an OXO Good Grips Dough Blender with Blades; the good OXO dough blender, not the flimsy one.

I also need new pie tins. According to my Mom, black tins make the best pies I can’t argue with her expertise. I do wonder if a is the way to go. I might try making a pie in one of my many cast iron pans.

Update: Mom wrote in the comments with some hints and tips. I also made a new pie using a marble cutting board + keeping the dough cold. More soon.

California is stupid (but I love it here)

Sunday, November 11th, 2007

Once again, LED technology has evolved. This particular flashlight has 9 superbright white LEDs powered by 3 AAA batteries. In this case, it appears to be mostly an efficiency-at-this-brightness issue in that the previous generation LEDs of this brightness would generate considerably more heat (and not last 20 hours on 3 AAA batteries).

But, WAIT! What is this warning!!

This product and/or its packaging contain a chemical known to the State of California to cause cancer, birth defects or other reproductive harm.

OH NOES!!! Except that it is utterly useless. The State of California enacted Proposition 65 back in 1986. Entitled the “The Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986”, the law was designed to require notification when Bad Stuff was present in any given environment.

Of course, it has been horribly abused and certain jackassery legal outfits have built entire businesses out of extorting money out of legitimate businesses through prop 65 threats and suits.

There is even an official web site with FAQ.

So, of course, clarifications of the stupidity are ever present everywhere but in California. For those of us that call CA our home, we are used to seeing stupid Prop 65 warnings on everything from cans of foaming goo to etched into a window on hotel entrances to stuck on the side of the occasional garbage truck. A sort of legal graffitti that is as ignored as the stupid “massage cheap” and “earn money at home” phone post signs.

But the rest of the world needs some clarification on this seemingly scary notice. And, thus, you’ll see that the above scariness is immediately followed by:

NOTE: Only California law requires that this warning be given to the consumer. This warning is only required by the State of California and is not based on this product or its packaging causing exposure to hazardous chemicals over those allowed by any law or statute. Again this law is NOT based on exposure, it is based on content, even when the content is in full compliance with safety standards set by the Federal Government. There are NO regulated chemicals used in this products in a way to create an hazard to the public. We are sorry for any confusion or concern regarding this warning that may have caused.

I’m sorry, too.

Make Your Own Arcade Controls

Friday, November 9th, 2007
Roger Playing MAME with Ghetto Control Deck

Many years ago — long before Roger was born and back when I lived in Chicago — Adam Swift and I grabbed a couple of pieces of wood, hit up an arcade parts store, and whipped up this total hack of an arcade control deck.

I call it the Ghetto Control Deck because the wood was found in an alley near my house (construction waste). I tore apart a broken (bad button) PlayStation One controller and used it as the brains of the controller.

Thus, the control deck can be hooked to a playstation for some excellent retro gaming action. Of course, no retro gaming experience is complete without Robotron and Robotron cannot be played without two geneuine arcade sticks. However, trying to play — say — Mappy, Flicky, Mr. Do, Dig Dug, Joust, Bosconian, or any of the other classics without a proper set of buttons on the right is nigh impossible.

So the deck is reconfigurable using a set of phone jacks to plug-n-play the way you want. Simple to reconfigure and all the parts were in my junk box!

Now — more than ten years after it was built — MAME is all the rage and Dave Dribin has produced an awesome port of MAME to Mac OS X. As well, USB technology has evolved such that “HID Compliant” devices are fairly common and cheap. That plus some awesome work in MAME OS X means that plugging in any HID compliant game controller “just works”.

OK — mash it all up now. Not surprisingly, there are simple devices that will enable a PlayStation I or II controller to be plugged into the USB port of your computer. Better yet, if the converter is HID compliant, no drivers are necessary and it’ll just work with software like MAME OS X.

Plug it all together and it “just works”. Nothing like a bit of frantic Robotron action on a 46″ LCD.

Construction is not difficult. You’ll need a soldering iron, a hole cutter, and some kind of fasteners. I used wire ties because I had a boatload and I was two lazy to deal with that whole nut + bolt thing.

Click on through for details (with pictures).

Read the rest of this entry »

Little Snitch 2.0 now available

Thursday, November 8th, 2007

Objective Development relased Little Snitch 2.0 today.

Little Snitch is an outbound firewall, more or less. That is, it monitors all outbound connections and warns if an application makes any kind of connection for which there isn’t a rule permitting said connection.

The warning panel that comes up allows the user to allow or deny the conneciton and to do so one time only, until the app in question quits, or foreever. You can also specific that the app should only connect to a specific server and port, a specific server, a specific port (HTTP, for example), or any connection at all.

LS has an awesome rule editor built in and 2.0 adds a really neat traffic monitor.

All in all, it is a beautifully designed and highly functional piece of software.

I tend to run Little Snitch all the time. It can be a bit noisy when it is first set up, but that is quickly rectified as you refine your rule set.

Little Snitch has busted a handful of applications that “called home” or made connections to surprising places. (I busted an Apple application that was doing so — it was an accident and it was fixed before the software as ever released).

Bird Splat

Thursday, November 8th, 2007

Blake pointed me to this random weblog post that includes pictures of the imprint a bird left on a window after it went splat.

Surprisingly detailed.

We have a similar problem at Apple. Birds are semi-regularly flying into the windows on the main entrance of building 1. If you stand on the bridge in the atrium in the early afternoon sun (if any, these days), you can see several bird silohuettes.

Of course, I live in a glass house — an eichler — and bird strikes are pretty common. One of my neighbors has a problem with small flocks of birds getting drunk on rotting berries and then flying int their windows. I think the record is, like, 10 dead birds in an afternoon.

One last bird story — when in Columbia visiting my parents, a bird flew into the windows there. Not just any bird but either a hawk or a great blue heron. Whatever it was, it was big. Scared the crap out of me. Bird seemed OK, though.

FSJ: Thank you.

Saturday, November 3rd, 2007
Dinner with FSJ & Bike Helmet Girl

Fake Steve Jobs was kind enough to make the trek out to Tommy’s for dinner with a number of us after a reading and book signing in San Francisco.

With FSJ, was Bike Helmet Girl — Tiffany Barbarash — who does modern dance and is the subject of some amazing collaborative art.

Julio Bermejo and the Tommy’s Crew took great care of us. I must figure out how to make Tommy’s pan-fried red snapper. Amazing.

Utterly delightly folk. Enjoyed your company. Thank you for taking the time to join us. Namaste.

PyObjC 2.0 Source Available

Thursday, November 1st, 2007

Ronald comitted the source for PyObjC 2.0 into the public repository.

It can be found at PyObjC 2.0 trunk (

The NEWS.txt file is extremely illuminating as there were tons and tons of changes and bug fixes in 2.0.

It cannot be emphasized enough; this is a huge release for PyObjC. As big as when PyObjC first gained subclassing (which wasn’t until about 7 years into its 14 year history). Go read the NEWS file; both major enties on PyObjC 2.0.

Note that libffi on Leopard is fully 64 bit and, thus, PyObjC should be mostly ready for 64 bit, though it was neither built for, nor tested with, 64 bit.


Thursday, November 1st, 2007
Fall on the Creek

Only a few days before this photo was taken, the same scene was deep green.

When we arrived in Missouri, it was clearly late summer. A bit dry to due to the drought, but there had been enough rain that it was green in that lush, alive, way that the midwest does green.
The wind through the trees was the soft rustle of life. A gentle sound of soft greenery brushing against each other under the hot light of the summer sun. Growth everywhere. Late growth, but that vibrant green of the heartland.

And then, overnight, it all changed. We had one day of overcast rain and a night of cold. Not freezing cold, but the deep chill that just can’t happen in the summer.

And the next day was sunny. But the sound was different. The wind would blow and the sound from the winds was staccato — it sounded crisp. Though the color hadn’t changed, the leaves had lost their essence of life almost overnight.

Within only a couple of days their color started to change. Or, given the lack of a true cold night or two, the leaves simply fell off the trees.

An amazing transition. Within days, it was clear that fall had arrived in the midwest.