Archive for the 'Entertainment' Category

Onkyo TX-NR1008 AV Receiver; Amazing Features, Awful User Interface

Sunday, October 24th, 2010

tl;drThe Onkyo line of receivers offer an amazing set of features and excellent quality for an extremely reasonable price. The user interfaces of such equipment continues to suck. There is a web server.

As a part of our latest remodeling efforts, we are taking the “down to the studs” opportunity to mount a TV on the wall and have a couple of wall mounted dipole speakers installed in the proper spots to create a pretty good surround sound based media consumption experience.

As the last time I upgraded AV equipment was well prior to HDMI becoming standard, this also requires a new AV surround sound processor with HDMI switching capabilities.

Thus, this is some random notes on the experience and a sort of in line review of Onkyo’s 1008 Network Ready AV receiver.

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Delicious Bread Anytime

Tuesday, October 5th, 2010

King Arthur Flour — an awesome company that makes excellent products — has the single best explanation of no knead bread I’ve found. Seriously. Go read that. Make it. Then get the book I mentioned below to expand beyond the basic loaf.


Not long ago, I took on bread making and have had great success.

However, I don’t make bread that often because, by the time I decide I want some with dinner, it is typically too late to actually make it in time!

A friend had raved about a bread recipe that involved no kneading and keeping the dough in the fridge for use anytime, claiming the result was fantastic bread with less than 2 hours from fridge to table.

In particular, he recommended the book Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. With access to Crackazon Prime on my iPhone, I ordered the book.

And damned if it doesn’t work. At left is the first loaf I made using this technique. In the toaster oven, even.

The base recipe basically involves mixing — but not kneading or working — a dough from a base ratio of water, flour, salt, and yeast. This then goes into the refrigerator (I’m using a six quart Cambro food container
) for at least a day, and will keep for up to 2 weeks. As it ages, it will apparently take on more of a sour dough flavor.

When you want bread, you dust the top with flour, rip off a hunk of dough, let it rise on your pizza peel for ~40 minutes, and then bake it at 450 degrees for 30 minutes.

End result? A delicious bread with a crunchy crust, excellent texture, and great flavor.

The introduction to the book is a bit smarmy, what with the claim of a “revolution in baking, blah, blah, blah”, but the rest of the book is awesome. The first couple of chapters discuss ingredients and tools quite clearly while the next chapter lays out the base recipe.

From there, the rest of the chapters are full of all kinds of other bread and bread-like recipes.

Annoyingly, the recipes are all in “cups” and “tablespoons”, not weights or ratios.

So, if you do get the book, the base recipe is 708 grams water, 12 grams yeast, 25 grams salt, and 812 grams flour. Yes — it is supposed to be considerably wetter than a “normal” bread dough.

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Tomato Porky Thing

Saturday, September 4th, 2010

I tossed this together tonight and, though simple and fairly obvious, was just too good to not share.

Heirloom tomato season is upon us and I’ve been grabbing some beauties from my community garden plot.

A simple use that makes for a good all in one meal:

  • Slice the tomato into 1/4″ thick rounds
  • Place on lightly oiled (olive oil works best) cookie sheet or pizza pan
  • Place a couple of fresh basil leaves on each
  • Add a bit of meat. I used pulled pork (as I had made some earlier), but I’m betting ham or bacon would work exceptionally well, too. Chicken works quite nicely, as well.
  • Sprinkle with mozzarella cheese. Good thick layer. Maybe grate a touch of parmesan in there, too
  • Lightly pepper and add a touch of salt. I used porcini mushroom salt.
  • Toss into a warmed pre-warmed oven at about 300 degrees.
  • Wait a minute or so, then turn the oven over to Broil on high
  • Wait until all the cheese is melted and starting to bubble/brown


“So, I’ve douched Janis 4 or 5 times…”

Thursday, August 12th, 2010

I’ve been meaning to write a proper eulogy for Janis Joplin since we had to put her down (cancer @ 14 years) last fall. But I still can’t bring myself to do so. So, a short story…

While living in Connecticut with my sister Ann’s family, Janis got skunked one evening. Now, the best way to deskunk a dog is some combination of tomato juice and/or vinegar & water.

This led to my sister and my lovely wife Christine heading out to the drug store to pick up several boxes of douche to cleanse Janis’s skunky funk.

Upon returning to the house, Christine proceeded to cleanse Janis’s skunky fur with douche quite a few times, smelling Janis in between to determine how much more douching was required.

Not surprisingly, Christine’s skunk detection skills were stretched to their limits at the end of this and she needed a third party opinion.

So, marching downstairs, Christine asks of the first person she sees, “I’ve douched Janis 4 or 5 times now, can someone please smell her to see if the stench is gone?”

The first person, though, happened to be our cousin Andy. Andy had not, in fact, ever met Janis. Nor did Andy actually know that Janis was a dog.

Andy’s facial expression really can’t be described beyond the popular emoticon:


Fatblogging: I’m below 230! (Assist by The Scale That Tweets)

Wednesday, April 28th, 2010

For the first time in umpteen years, I’m solidly below 230 lbs (I briefly dipped below 230 in 2007 or so, the last time).

I’m using the rather innovative and revolutionary diet of Eat Right and Exercise. Otherwise known as Consume Fewer Calories Than You Burn.

Namely, I’m biking to work every day it isn’t raining, cut out junk food, cut down on portions, and have focused on eating lots of veggies and fruits.

At right is my means of tracking weight, the Withings Wifi Body Scale.

The Withings scale is WiFi enabled. Thus, if you stand on the scale for about 5 seconds after your reading stabilizes, the scale will submit your weight to a central web site where a (rather bloated and slow) Flash app can be used to monitor your weight.

However, there is also a fairly nice iPhone app. The scale can also be configured to tweet your weight (my 174 lbs target is actually below what I’d consider success @ about 190), as well.

I also briefly used the Lose It! application. It is actually a very well designed, easy to use, application for tracking your caloric intake.

Beyond all the techno-goop, the Withings scale is simply very well engineered. It has a striking, minimal, design and feels quite solid. Setup was a breeze and use is quite intuitive. It can track multiple people’s weight and automatically identifies each user by their weight (though I have no idea how it would deal with two people who have similar weights).

The iPad & Reading (Free Books, too!)

Sunday, April 11th, 2010

Update:I’m keeping a list of ebook publishers/sources for which I’ve found inFeel free to send me suggestions. This is, by no means, a complete list — I’m just taking notes as my OCD-compulsive nature kicks in and I build up a huge set of books to read.

  • The Baen Free Library contains quite an amazing selection of donationware ebooks from many well known science fiction and fantasy authors.
  • Feedbooks contains a ton of public domain and original content as they are also a publisher of ebooks. Their blog is pretty interesting, too.
  • A one-off; Charlie Stross’s Accelerando comes highly recommended.
  • In the meta-category; a weblog post claiming to point to the “top 20 websites for DRM-free Sci-Fi Books”.
  • This list is impressive and also leads to cheap sources for ebooks, too. I’m perfectly happy paying for ebooks (just like real books), though I’m not at all happy about paying more than the paperback price for an older book.
  • Tor books — publishers of Jordan’s Wheel of Time series — has embraced ebooks to a large degree.


I know lots of people that have picked up iPads — no surprises there. What is surprising is that just about everyone has something for which their reaction is “the iPad changes everything”.

I have several of those, but — at the moment — the biggest is reading. I used to read tons and tons of books, but gradually tapered off because I carrying around a couple of books was a pain in the ass and, for vacations, I would need to take up to a dozen, depending on duration.

That and, frankly, it has been bloody obvious for years that an e-book read that is “good enough” would provide a portable library and a decent reading experience. The Kindle was almost the one, but having 40% of the front surface area covered by a keyboard seemed like a complete waste to me. I did, however, use the Kindle app on the iPhone to read a couple of books — good, but not great.

I find iBooks to be a wonderful reading experience. Easy on the eyes, very nice user interface and — with the versatility of the iPad — I can read Kindle books, and do a myriad other things on the device. Haven’t spent much time with the Kindle app, but if it is like the iPhone, it’ll be just fine, too!

I, however, am a cheapskate. I haven’t quite brought myself to drop money on books. Fortunately, there is a large number of freely available books in both the iTunes and Kindle stores.

With a bit of hunting, I have also hit upon a treasure trove of mostly Science Fiction and Fantasy — my favorite genres — books! In particular, Baen Books made available a large number of their books in many formats! In particular, you can find a list of the participating authors, click through to their titles, then select the EPUB/Nook/Stanza Format on the download page.

Note that the books have covers as in the picture on the left, but the cover art doesn’t show up in the iBooks application on the iPad.

I donated $51 in return for a ton of books.

Bread Revisited!

Monday, March 29th, 2010
Dutch Oven Bread

A while ago, I took up bread making. The goal being to master turning out a consistently awesome loaf of your basic bread using a simple mix – knead – rise – knead – rise – bake recipe; standard fare directly from the first chapter in Rulhman’s Ratio.

From the first loaf, I was able to turn out a generally yummy hunk of bread, but the texture was just a bit dense.

At the moment, I bake all of my bread in a cast iron dutch oven; 30 minutes lid on, 40 or so minutes without the lid. This leads to a wonderful crisp crust and soft interior.

As it turns out, my bread was too dense simply because I wasn’t letting the dough rise long enough on the second rise! Extending the second rise not only fixed the density issue, but I’ve also now cut my ingredients by a third because my existing quantities would actually cause the bread to lift the lid on the cast iron dutch oven!

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Make: Kegerator!

Wednesday, March 17th, 2010
Completed Kegerator

I have always wanted to brew beer and have a number of friends that do. The results are almost always delicious and always interesting.

Having helped with the bottling process, I decided long ago that if I were to ever brew beer, I would not use bottles. Instead, I would rack into a keg and dispense from there.

Obviously, I needed a kegerator!

To force the issue, I brewed my first batch of beer a few months ago knowing that i would have to figure out a means of serving said beer from a corny keg before I could enjoy the fruits of my brewing labors. A 5 gallon “corny keg” is the standard vessel used in soda fountains and it has two “ball locks” on the top, one for the gas line and one for the liquid out line.

I actually looked into simply purchasing a kegerator outright, but they were expensive, generally inefficient, and often designed very poorly.

Thus, I decided to build my own.
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Simple Stupid Gas Range Upgrade

Monday, March 15th, 2010

If you are lucky enough to have a gas range, you already know the joys of a dead even heat source that can range from medium-low to blowtorch. None of that cyclic all-on/all-off nonsense of the typical electric range, for example.

However, “low heat” is not something in the typical gas range’s vocabulary. On our Viking, the lowest setting on the smallest burner will keep a small pot of water at a rolling boil and will consistently cause a cup of rice to boil over. And it is a really low flame!

Enter the heat diffuser. A heat diffuser sits between burner and your pan or pot. It effectively acts as a heat buffer and, as the name implies, diffuser.

On a gas range like mine, it allows one to achieve the lowest simmer/heat you might want. On an electric range, a cast iron heat diffuser — you want thermal mass — will nicely even on the all-on/all-off behavior of most ranges.

At ~$20, it is a worthy tool to add to your cooking arsenal!

Review: Breville Toaster Oven (of awesomeness)

Sunday, February 21st, 2010

I have long wanted a really good toaster oven. One that had decent capacity, was versatile, and insulated such that it doesn’t lose a ton of heat when sticking food into it. As well, I can’t deal with poorly designed products and will often choose dead simple over a full featured item simply because simple is harder to screw up.

After 8 months of research and comparisons, I finally settled on the Breville BOV800XL Smart Oven. It isn’t simple and it certainly isn’t cheap, but the Breville is really quite an excellent piece of technology.

The Breville’s controls are straightforward. You select the mode first, then there are two additional dials that configure, effectively, temperature and time. For toasting, the two additional buttons select slices and darkness; seemingly silly, but it actually works quite well!

As well, the toaster oven has a convection setting and a “frozen” setting that automatically adjusts the cooking times to account for cooking frozen foods. The “frozen” button is the one feature that borders on frivolous gadgetry. Then again, cooking random frozen foods really isn’t a part of our diet. If it was, the adjustment it makes actually does make sense.

The interior capacity is large enough to bake a 13″ pizza or roast a whole chicken (though you might have to cut it into two halves). Combining decent insulation with high wattage, the Breville both heats relatively quickly, holds heat well, and the outside does get warm, but not terribly hot.

When the internal rack is in toasting position, opening the door magnetically slides the rack out a few inches. Very convenient.

All in all, the Breville is a well engineered kitchen tool. It can easily replace your toaster and can often fill in for your full sized oven while both pre-heating more quickly and using less electricity overall. And, of course, the Breville can act as a secondary oven for those times when you need two ovens.

Since the addition of the Breville to our cooking toolset, it sees daily use.

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