The Bunch of Grapes
A Blog in the Liberty of the Savoy
Wednesday, November 26, 2003
11:46 AM
So I finally read Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel [amazon]. I say "finally" because it seems sometimes like half the other things I read mention it.

If you don't know, it's a book about the deep causes of why some human societies (oh, say the Europeans) conquered others (oh, say the natives of the Americas) and not the other way around. Diamond has an axe to grind regarding prevalent - often unconscious - beliefs that the reasons involved must have something to do with the intrinsic intelligence, industriousness, or worth of the peoples involved. He makes a good case that nothing could be further from the truth.

To summarize briefly, those areas that can support a lot of population with domesticable crops and livestock are the ones that develop states and technology first. Eurasia is quite dominant when it comes to domesticable crops and - even more so - livestock. It's not that the other areas' peoples didn't try hard enough - their raw materials were inferior. (For instance, the wild grasses in the Americas all come with smaller seeds than the wheat, oats, or barley of Eurasia, and the large animals of Africa all have qualities that make them undomesticable.) That, plus the easy transmission of crops, livestock, and ideas across the Eurasian landmass gave the Eurasians an unstoppable head start.

His case for the success of Eurasia against Africa is sketchier than the one for the Old World vs. the New World, I think. As is the case for why Europe, and not China, ended up "winning." (Although I think his ideas regarding the latter issue are among the book's most interesting in many ways.)

The book was a surprisingly easy read, and nowhere near as long as it first looked - although the Author's tendency to first preview what he was about to tell you, then tell it to you, then review what he just told you, over and over again, eventually grew tiresome and let to some skimming. Still, I give it an 8 - it has a good beat and you can dance to it.
8:06 AM
Check out this Interactive Holiday Snowglobe. A real work of art.
Monday, November 24, 2003
2:10 PM
OK, I'm feeling melancholy. Maybe it's work, maybe it's Wife's arthritis, maybe it's the gloomy days, or maybe it's grief for Dad - I don't know. Combo pack?

I made Rum Raisin ice cream this weekend, half-following a generic custard-based ice cream recipe and half winging it. It came out nicely. The recipe was more-or-less:

2 cups cream
1 cup milk
3/4 cups Torani Vanilla Syrup
4 egg yolks
1/2 teaspoon fresh grated nutmeg (approx.)
1/2 cup raisins (approx.)
1/2 cup rum (approx.)

Pour the rum over the raisins, set aside for several hours.

Heat the cream, milk, and syrup until hot, temper the egg yolks with a cup of that, pour the tempered yolks back in the pan and heat mixing continuously, until slightly thickened, being careful not to let it boil of course. If you've ever made this style of ice cream, this procedure is old news to you. If you haven't, find some better instructions, OK?

Strain the mixture into a bowl. Cool the mixture by putting that bowl in a bigger bowl, with ice water in it (in the bigger bowl, not in the bowl with the mixture, dummy.) Once cold, add the nutmeg, soaked raisins, and rum.

Put it in your ice cream maker and go. It'll be runny out of the maker thanks to the alcohol. Put it in the freezer to firm up.


I also did some other chores that I had hoped to get to this weekend - I bathed and clipped the dogs, and did a miniscule amount of leaf raking.
Friday, November 21, 2003
8:11 AM


Another activity you may think I should avoid.

Actually I was already aware of the dangers of frying turkeys. Not just from [SPOILER] this week's Ed, either. Indeed, the de facto leader of the geek cooking movement, Alton Brown, is on the record against the practice.
Wednesday, November 19, 2003
10:19 AM
It's snowing, it's snowing. Big fat luscious beautiful flakes. Will it cool down enough for them to accumulate? A nation holds its breath.
Tuesday, November 18, 2003
1:05 PM
I'm depressed because Mario Kart: Double Dash seems unexciting and ungreat. I was afraid this might happen. If a new Mario Kart game isn't the greatest thing ever, what's left in life to look forward to?
Monday, November 17, 2003
8:56 AM
My wife and I saw Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World yesterday. (She hasn't read the books, but she's listened to a few books-on-tape, so she has some familiarity with Aubry / Maturin.)

So, did the movie live up to the anticipation? It came close, but of course no movie could. It captured many aspects of the books beautifully. Russell Crowe is just terrific as Jack Aubrey. Paul Bethany suffices surprisingly well as Stephen Maturin. The evenings in the cabin with violin, cello, and toasted cheese are perfect. Gunroom and Captain's tables dinners are almost as good. The battle finishing battle scene is great. And we really feel Stephen's enthusiasm at naturalizing on the Galopagos, and his pain when it doesn't turn out as he'd wish.

But so many decisions needed to be made to condense the experience down into a couple of hours. So Maturin's not a spy, nor is he (apparently) half Catalan. Neither Maturin nor Aubrey really show their lovably ridiculous or buffoonish sides of their personalities. The story is almost completely at sea, with no foreign ports, period London, or Austin-esque English countryside (or English Ladies) to add flavor.

And a few things that are just plain wrong. It is simply an offense against God to have Stephen taller than Jack. The Surprise looked filthy - it hardly needed any dirtying up to pass as a whaler. Jack Aubrey would never run a ship with such stained decks. And just to quibble, Jack Aubrey using flintlocks in 1806? Flintlocks, forsooth, where's the old reliable slow-match?
8:39 AM
I visited Mom in Eugene Saturday. Nothing much to report; we both seem ok about Dad, I guess. So if I'm waiting for some big emotional catharsis, then I'm still waiting. Perhaps the most exciting thing about the trip was that I has the best $9.00 hamburger. Mom knows a few really good places to eat in Eugene; this was at Marché, downstairs in the fifth street market.
Thursday, November 13, 2003
7:59 AM
Some somber news - yesterday evening I received a call from my mom, who had received a call from (of all people) my uncle, who had received a call from a deputy with the Multnomah County medical investigator's office. My father - estranged from me for four years now - had taken his own life by a gunshot to the head earlier in the day. I don't want to delve too much into my feelings (or perhaps more honestly, my chilling lack of feelings) in this semi-public space, but I did want to mark the event here.
Wednesday, November 12, 2003
4:25 PM
So here's what the new ice cream maker looks like:


It's a tank. A glorious, stainless-steel tank. The entire top, including the mixing bowl, is one solid piece of stainless steel, with a single hole where the driveshaft emerges. (So yes, cleaning it requires some creativity.) The blade that goes onto the driveshaft is a heavy, no-nonsense piece of metal reminiscent of something you'd find on a lawnmower. It attaches to the shaft with a nice chunky thumbscrew.

It's big and pretty loud - no surprises there. The freezer works excellently, indeed turning room-temperature stuff into softish ice cream in about 30 minutes. I've tried some not-sweet-enough juice stuff, which turned into a so-so granita, and a box of store-bought Umpqua brand egg nog. The egg nog ice cream that resulted was excellent.

Never have I felt so much like I was on Iron Chef.
8:22 AM
Sorry about the lack of updates - I've been sick. It started with a sore throat, then went to chest congestion, then nasal, sinus, and ear congestion, with accompanying fatigue. Good times. Good times.

There are a few topics I would like to tackle here later, if I have the time and energy. One, I finally finished Jak II and feel a full review is in order. Two, we got out Musso Lussina ice cream maker and so I need to talk about that. But not right now.
Wednesday, November 05, 2003
2:36 PM
Completely immersed in CryptoAPI, PKIs, and trying to implement Digital Signatures this week. I'm starting to get past the fear of the new and get into it as an interesting problem - somewhat.
Monday, November 03, 2003
8:31 AM
So last night was the Simon and Garfunkel concert at the Rose Garden. It really was good. I suppose you can tell if a concert worked by seeing if you are still humming the songs the next morning. I am.

(Hey, if I get the names of songs wrong here, cut me some slack. It was only two days ago that I learned that the some obviously titled "By the Light" is actually "The Boxer." I'm not a music critic, and I don't play one on the Web.)

I'd read some about their tour, but it had escaped me that the Everly Brothers were the "opening" act. Well, actually, the "intermission" act or something - partway through the concert they were introduced by Art and/or Paul (Paul, I think) and came on for two or three songs ("Wake up little Susie" and "Dream") plus one with S & G ("Bye Bye Love.")

Simon impressed me more than Garfunkel. I almost wanted to root for Art as the underdog, though. But no, Paul's songwriting, guitar-playing, and truth-be-told effortless singing took the night. Garfunkel at times reminded me of an American Idol contestant trying to make up for a lack of voice with facial expressions alone. When they swapped solo vocals in "Bridge Over Troubled Water," it was clear - that short little dumpy Paul Simon guy, who looks like he's barely trying, can really SING. His solo there, and his great acoustic guitar intro to "Sounds of Silence" were the highlights for me.

They hit "Sounds of Silence" and "Mrs. Robinson" in the middle of the show, then went into a series of more-obscure-to-me songs, before finishing with "Bridge," "Cecelia," "The Boxer," and of course closing with "Feelin' Groovy." Those we great, but damn it, I wanted more "Sounds of Silence" and "Mrs. Robinson." Would it have really hurt to play those three or four times each? :-)

In sum, missing my bedtime, braving the traffic and parking, joining the aging crowd, and caving in to criminal T-shirt prices ($45, yes, forty-five dollars, not the $25 misreported by the Oregonian this morning) was pretty much worth it in the end.
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