Thursday, December 28, 2006

Best Vermont Cheese

When we visited Vermont last summer, I made a note to remember the excellent "Constant Bliss" cow milk cheese, made by Jasper Hill Farms.  Also check their Bayley Hazen blue cheese.

They're sold at Zingerman's, in Ann Arbor and at two places in Portland, Oregon, but apparently not in Washington state.

French Press

My other favorite Christmas present is this French Press from Bonjour Products:

It makes 3 cups of incredibly tasty, rich coffee or tea.  Just grind the beans (to the large French press size), plop them in, pour boiling water, and wait 4 minutes.

Cleaning up is the hardest part, but still very easy -- certainly easier than an espresso machine. Pouring water over the filter mechanism seems to get it clean enough for daily use. I should probably soak it in soapy water and rinse it thoroughly every so often just to keep it spotless. has thorough instructions for how to use press pots.

Handy headlamp

For Christmas this year I received this extremely useful headlamp which I'm now using all the time. The bright LED beam lasts a long time on tiny replaceable lithium batteries, making it great for doing little jobs around the house or the garage.

You can get it at Brookstone for $25.

Kevin Kelly (of Cool Tools) recommends the Zipka, from Petzl. It's about the same price but I think more clunky-looking than the Brookstone.

Friday, December 22, 2006

The Truth Behind An Inconvenient Truth

We finally watched An Inconvenient Truth, which is required viewing for anybody who wants an easy-to-understand introduction to the facts behind climate change. Thankfully, this is not a political, Bush-bashing movie like Fahrenheit 911, nor is it fact-stretching in the name of humor, like Supersize Me.  There were one or two brief political jabs, but they were quite appropriate considering who made the movie. 

There are plenty of sites out there that attempt to give a counter-argument, but none are convincing.  Just one example is a publication by The Heartland Institute that tries to refute the claim (mentioned in the movie) by the journal Science that not a single peer-reviewed scientific publication has published evidence in the past ten years that contradicts global warming. This claim should be easy to disprove: produce just one contradictory peer-reviewed article.  Instead, the bashers point to a vaguely-defined survey of "climatologists" who say there is controversy.  No refuting facts, just instilling an ill-defined mood of skepticism where there is none.

Still, I was disappointed to hear that Al Gore, in a desparate attempt to increase profits for the movie, has himself been actively trying to warm the earth through shameful activities such as this:

Aparently he's even making a pathetic attempt to jump up and down on the Greenland ice shelf to hasten its slide into the ocean. 

 For the full story, click here:

Al Gore Caught Warming Globe To Increase Box Office Profits

The Onion

Al Gore Caught Warming Globe To Increase Box Office Profits

Environmental officials claimed that Gore's tire fire in Akron, OH was "completely out of line."

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

No power till Saturday ?!?

It was 47 degrees inside my bedroom when I woke up this morning.  And still no sign of a repair crew at the transmission pole that feeds our neighborhood.

From the official Puget Sound Energy site (updated 6pm Dec 18):

Two of three substations serving Mercer Island have been restored, with the third expected to be energized Monday evening. Many customers have regained service on the north half of Mercer Island. Full restoration of the island's heavily damaged distribution lines likely will continue late into the week, perhaps Friday or Saturday. Our electric system sustained tremendous damage on the island from falling trees and limbs.

Our neighbors were complaining among themselves about unfair it is that Mercer Island always seems to be last in line for help on disasters like this.  "They just assume everyone here is rich and can afford to stay overnight in hotels," says one.  "In fact, it's so bad that we probably won't have power before we leave for Hawaii on Wednesday".

And I'll have you know that the Westin was completely booked all weekend, so don't go assuming that all of us have it easy here!

Sunday, December 17, 2006

West Mercer Mess

Mercer Island has been without power since Thursday night. This tree fell on West Mercer Way near 46th at about 2am, narrowly missing the big house on the left.

West Mercer Way was still officially blocked on Saturday afternoon, though by then some neighbors used chain saws to clear the path enough to allow cars through. Posted by Picasa

Thursday, December 07, 2006

I like young people

I just took the Harvard Implicit Association Test, which concluded that I have a strong automatic preference for young compared to old. That's not unusual -- about 35% of the people who took the same test had the same result.

The same site has tests for attitudes about race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, etc. If I take those tests I probably won't bother tell you the results.

One thing I wish the site did: tell me how I compare with other people from the same demographic. The site collects my zip code, occupation, education level, etc. -- I wish they would expose the results they get.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Free tire repair at Les Schwab

Somehow my tire ran over a nail yesterday and, poof, it was flat. I want to sell the car soon, so I'm not interested in a new set of tires or anything -- I just want to quickly get myself back on the road as soon as possible.

Imagine my surprise when I dropped into Les Schwab this morning and asked them to get me a new tire. The salesman talked me out of it and instead gave me a free repair on the old one. Took about half an hour and now my tire is as good as new!

Saturday, December 02, 2006

The only time Milton and his wife ever disagreed

Milton Friedman was married to his wife, Rose, for 68 years (!) and when he died last week was eulogised by the Economist as the "most influential economist of the second half of the 20th century (Keynes died in 1946), possibly of all of it".  Of course, when two people have been married so long, you really can't credit just one of them for anything -- they were clearly a team, and should be assigned co-authorship to everything they did.

Which is why it's interesting to see this interview they gave to the WSJ last year, talking about Iraq:

Mr. Friedman here shifted focus. "What's really killed the Republican Party isn't spending, it's Iraq. As it happens, I was opposed to going into Iraq from the beginning. I think it was a mistake, for the simple reason that I do not believe the United States of America ought to be involved in aggression." Mrs. Friedman--listening to her husband with an ear cocked--was now muttering darkly.

Milton: "Huh? What?" Rose: "This was not aggression!" Milton (exasperatedly): "It was aggression. Of course it was!" Rose: "You count it as aggression if it's against the people, not against the monster who's ruling them. We don't agree. This is the first thing to come along in our lives, of the deep things, that we don't agree on. We have disagreed on little things, obviously--such as, I don't want to go out to dinner, he wants to go out--but big issues, this is the first one!" Milton: "But, having said that, once we went in to Iraq, it seems to me very important that we make a success of it." Rose: "And we will!"

(The WSJ concludes by noting that Mrs. Friedman had the last word)

[via trunkandbarter and freakonomics]

p.s. Bonus factoid:  Milton was a well-known Reagan fan, but guess who he supported as Reagan's successor?  Donald Rumsfeld (!) [according to the Economist ]

Most authentic Japanese on Mercer Island

I really want Yuzen to be a success. They just opened on the South End of Mercer Island a few weeks ago, filling a sorely-needed hole in the selection of local restaurants. Like a zen koan, it's beautiful and brilliant, but will leave you disappointed if you don't expend the effort to understand the point of it all. [see comments below]

It's authentic -- really authentic, like a hip new restaurant in Shibuya or Harajuku, not one of those stodgy places that tries to be every American's idea of what a Japanese restaurant should be. You notice this when you walk in: they play Japanese pop music instead of some endless koto muzak. There are specials posted in front, though not plastic models like most Americans expect -- but printed in flourescent colors like you'd see in a real place.

They serve freshly brewed tea without needing to ask. I actually prefer when it comes in a pot you can pour yourself, but that would never happen in Japan. The menu is bilingual, of course, but you get the feeling that the English is there to appeal to Japanese yuppies who want to pretend they're internationally savvy, instead of the other way around. A nice, modern display of sakes is next to the sushi bar, laid out for tasting, just like you'd see in a fresh new restaurant in a hip neighborhood of Tokyo or Yokohama.

Unfortunately, I'm afraid the realism is going to be too much for most Mercer Islanders. The menu is a little pricey ($9 was the cheapest lunch, for a chicken udon -- figure closer to $14 for most lunch sets). I don't mind the prices for such a cheery, clean place, but too many South Island tightwads are going to look at that and wonder why it costs more than one of those Korean-run all-you-can-eat sushi buffets. People here are not going to appreciate the subtle authenticity.

It's tough to bring kids here too. There is no "kids menu" with cheeseburgers or mac-and-cheese cop-out food for parents who've given up. We ordered a regular yakisoba that we split among the two younger kids, and our oldest (a 9-year-old) had the tempura lunch. It was all yummy and healthy, but again, probably a bit more authentic than most people could handle. Our kids are used to more soggy home-cooked yakisoba, so they complained that it was too "crunchy".

I had an excellent tempura udon. I prefer slightly more of a thick flavor, but I know that real Japanese like the milder version served here. There was karashi, though, and the tare was perfect. I'm not sure why they didn't include the oroshi-daikon with the tempura, but when I asked, it came freshly prepared.

The service was outstanding, which is a shame, because it would have been nice for them to have somebody besides us to serve. We had the place to ourselves for lunch the Saturday we visited.

Here's what they can do to make it more appealing to people like me:

  • Do something for the kids. No, you don't need to add chicken fingers, but at least offer half-portion tempura or donburis. How about coloring books with Japanese characters?
  • Expand the menu. I think they're mostly going after sushi lovers, and there is a reasonable fresh-made selection, but I do wish they had some ippin-ryouri or something. They put organic tofu in the miso for crying out loud, you'd think they could offer some hiya- yakko.
  • My biggest suggestion is to offer something seasonal, like oden.

I do hope they make some adjustments. Most of my non-Japanese friends won't appreciate the funky realism and, sadly, will dismiss it as an overpriced imitation of "real Japanese food" -- which couldn't be further from the truth.

Posted by Picasa Yuzen in Mercer Island