Things to Get an Incoming Harvard Freshman

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Sheep shear belt from J. Press of Harvard Square, Cambridge, MA

As I was headed to my 25th college reunion at Harvard, I got a text from one of my partners. One of her friend’s sons was graduating from high school and headed to Harvard this fall and she wanted gift suggestions. As I was waiting for my hopper to O’Hare, I opined in no particular order:

1. Personalized stationary with initials embossed on paper and envelopes

2. Fountain pen -nifty basic Mont Blanc or fancy Cross with name engraved

3. Box of name cards

4. Custom laptop bag from Timbuk2 with an iPad Air inside encased in a Zagg backlit keyboard case

5. Album of fun selfies, depending on how cozy she was with the boy

6. Tie wardrobe from jpressonline.com -looking under neckwear. About five would do

7. Tasting flight of single barrel Kentucky whiskeys

8. Watch wardrobe featuring cheap but fun watches by Stuhrling, Stauer, Casio, Timex

9. Sony RX100m3 camera

10. Custom blazer buttons with his initials embroidered on them

11. Warm, lined hunting vests from Orvis

12. Gentleman’s knife with a 3 inch blade and corkscrew, other stuff optional

13. Rice cooker -old fashioned kind that lets you cook ramen, stews, osso bucco

14. Shaving subscription

15. Squash racquet and bag of balls, eyewear -even if he doesn’t play now, he will

16. Collapsible bike

17. BMW i28 convertible in silver

18. Bose bluetooth speakers -the big ones, Bang and Olufsen if particularly favored

19. Waterbed

20. 3 pack of 10,000 mAH battery packs, solar charger

21. 4 years of Dropbox subscriptions

22. Lava lamp

23. Annual summer retreats in the Hamptons, Calabria, Florianopolis, and Catalina.

24. Foul weather wardrobe -waxed cotton jacket in green by Barbour, anorak by LL Bean, ski jacket system by North Face

25. Beef jerky

Big Tablets Are the Next Big Thing

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Pictured above is the Samsung Galaxy Tab Pro 12.2 in the 32gB flavor. It is swagged out with a Zagg keyboard case and a Samsung bluetooth mouse. The new Pro series of Galaxy tablets come with Retina level displays and this one just pops colors and details. What really wins me over is the speed which when you run single windowed apps, runs very well on the quad core chip this comes with. Several on line reviews snipe about lag when you run four windows simultaneously -this is a Samsung TapWhiz junky trick that is best avoided. With a keyboard and mouse, it turns the 12 inch tablet into a laptop replacement. Easily going over ten hours of battery time, you don’t have to worry about extra power when you travel internationally or go to work with no cable in your bag. It is pricey and won’t win over bargain hunters -the Google Nexus 7 fills this category, and I think that Google hasn’t released a Nexus 10 II or a Nexus 12, because it wants its clients to have a chance in this world. It kills iPad Air in the screen category -the 10 inch screen on the iPad seems listless and dull in comparison, and I am a certified Apple fan having read the Steve Jobs tome and bought every generation of iPad, including two when the first one came out. I fight daily with my 5 year old who is transfixed by the huge TV like screen. Plus, when I try to work on an iPad, I dream of having a mouse. In Android, when you pair a bluetooth mouse, you get a screen cursor. iOS 8 really really needs to support this. Where Android wins for me right now is it has an edge of future now that Apple is losing as it caters to the extremely young and extremely old and the bulge in the middle. Android, because of its near app parity, means for the most part I don’t have to be tethered to the Apple ecosystem. Even iTunes music can be worked around as your library will be sucked up by Google’s music player on your desktop and made available on Android devices and the Chrome browser. Sure, you can’t play your iTunes movie library, but Google is making that less important by offering the same movies, often for cheaper. Also, the Play app is nimble where the Video app on iPad is ponderous and constantly buffering -maybe Google’s pipes are fatter through some payola -who knows. It’s all good.

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Not like -Best Buy features a Samsung Experience store, where the even cooler penbased Galaxy Pro is displayed but available only by ordering and picking up a few days later. Also, the 64gB version of this tablet was unavailable for immediate pickup and walkout. I get that the iPad’s aren’t available in every flavor, but I don’t understand why every iteration of offered Samsung Tablet isn’t available for immediate pickup and walkout at these store within a stores. Being impatient, I went ahead and purchased with the plan to return if I was disappointed (I am not) and ordering the right tablet from Amazon. Worried -Samsung notoriously ditches its hardware after a year or two, offering maybe one long delayed upgrade in OS or a patch to its Samsung apps here or there (which I just don’t use). I have a bricked Samsung Tablet 2 7.0 in a drawer that won’t power up but I’m afraid of throwing out because of the data in its chips -it died after about three years of steady use. Not Like -while premium pricing implies premium materials, I just see a lot of shiny plastic. Aluminum may bring charges of Apple copying, but they could have gone for a real leather option instead of the plastic leather grain molded back with fake stitching.

The large tablet is a real thing and brings work productivity together with media and fun consumption in a way that Microsoft could only dream of. They so badly want this, but can’t seem to get their act together. My Windows 8.1 tablet from Dell lies unused and powered off because it has a crappy screen and has lost its ability to reset to factory condition which I had to do twice after it got junked up with usual Windows crap -detritus of hacky updater files, streamed media and who knows what rapidly filled up the 32gB SSD and made it unstable and unusable. Despite attractive offerings from ASUS and HP and Dell with super sized tablets -basically detachable 18-21 inch all in ones with 4 hour batteries, I ran away. Microsoft has been revealed for what it has long been apparent to me -an enabler of the “Help Desk” in corporate IT who must have problems arise in computers to exist, and a non-thinking agglomeration of hackers who jumble together whatever works -who uses all the features in Word? While I might use Office for Android when it inevitably limps in in 2015, I will still curse it for stupid things like selecting the whole word instead of part of a word without changing an setting.

The iPhone 5S is Clearly The Best Smartphone For One Thing

I dropped my iPhone 5 and cracked the screen. Even though I was waiting for an iOS phablet, I decided to order the 5S. Having used it for three days, I have to say that it is the finest smartphone I have ever used and I have used almost every one. The screen is great and the camera takes gorgeous pictures but it is the battery life.The battery life is so good compared to my iPhone 5 that I have ditched my Mophie case for emergency use only. Having a small phone is great. Having a small phone that can let you create a talk on keynote in the middle of the night and have enough juice to last the day is phenomenal.

I don’t know why it works so much better but I suspect it has to do with the 4G radio and how the iPhone alloys juice to it. The phone clearly can get through my 12 hour day now with juice to spare.

Turkey Notes

I look forward to carving the turkey because at its core, it is an operation. The incisions to disarticulate the limbs are planned to preserve as much skin on the carved meat as possible because the skin has about 80% of the flavor. The cuts are designed to allow the soft long muscles of the thighs to maintain their texture while the four drums sticks –the femurs and the humeruses bilaterally, are set aside for those relishing the birdly wands. The flats of the wings, the radius and ulna, are kept with the one remnant digit. I like to think that the original therapods from which this turkey descended were not much different or less delicious. The breasts are always difficult to remove with enough of the core –the meat tight to the sternum and rib cage, that is the juiciest meat because it was the last to cook. I feel bad for those who must have white meat, because the breast is all about texture and juices and not at all about the essence of the turkey which lives in the thighs, especially the small muscles of the pelvis. From the breast, I carve broad steaks. I divide the dark meat from the white to make the choice easier.

Our turkey this year was “catered” in the sense that we picked up an organic, free range, Amish turkey –it probably even had a name. At first, I balked at “catering” something, then cooking it myself, being used to the amazing holiday catering at the Wakonda Club. The fixings were done and were great. The turkey was the cleanest, freshest smelling turkey I have ever worked with. There is a rule about fish that I extrapolate to all meat which is if it smells bad, it is bad. While I apply this rule to fish, it is not infrequent that I hold meat to a lower standard and that is something that I will reconsider.

Packaged chicken and pork typically smells horrible. Chickens reek of a smell which I interpret as boiled feathers. Freshly butchered chickens are usually hand plucked, but industrial processing requires expediency and this means dipping the chicken in boiling water to make the feathers easier to pull off. I think this is the smell that’s on industrial chicken. Pork has other odors, even less pleasant. Both will often smell like a unclean toilet –the kind you run into at concerts and football games. And on top of all of this, there is ammonia. I detect ammonia at a subconscious level because I have spent most of my life working in hospitals. This is all over many packaged chicken and pork products.

I will cut down the amount of meat we eat and the meat that we choose will have to pass the fish test. The turkey was sublime, full of natural flavors and textures that I hadn’t appreciated in a long time.

Gomtang Instant Noodle Soup -it’s all in the soup

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The food alchemists in Korea have many years and lots of resources to tweak products towards a kind of perfection that the Korean market demands with the byproduct that Asia as a whole likes South Korea as much as it dislikes Japan and distrusts China and especially its food. It creates a perfect storm for instant foods that recreate the sensation and feeling of the real thing. In this case, Gomtang, is a dish that takes days to make, involving the boiling of oxtail and bones for days resulting in a rich and hearty stock that is seasoned only with a dash of salt and chopped green onions. The boiling over days leaves your house smelling like a glue factory and it’s largely outsourced to restaurants that specialize in gomtang or sulungtang (alt word, basically same thing) like Gam Mi Ok in midtown Manhattan, where the soup is kept going round the clock for decades in giant cauldrons, served with simple flour noodles of vermicelli gauge. The Gomtang package noodle pictured above claims to give you the same taste. And it does. I made a batch for lunch for my family using these packs, and I did add sliced round cuts that I dipped in the soup to brown and quickly put aside for adding to the final dish. The soup, which is a bit salty like every package ramen dish, looks and tastes just like a decent gomtang. The beef that I added gives it a few added globules of beef fat which only adds to the authenticity. Add chopped green onions and for a moment, you are sitting on 32nd Street in Manhattan on a cold day savoring your gomtang. 

I do have to add that while it tastes good up front, there are missing flavor notes that give it away as not completely authentic. There is a flavor and soup texture added by the solubilized connective tissues of oxtail that leaves a sticky residue on your palate and makes the beef flavor linger -this is missing. Also, I would avoid drinking up the soup as it is a lot of unnecessary sodium to add to your diet. As a carrier and sauce for the noodles and added beef, it is perfect on a cold fall day, and I recommend it in moderation. 

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Instant Naengmyun: a review of Doong Ji Cold noodle in Beef Broth

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I bought a box of these Doog Ji Naengmyun on a whim because of the moonshot represented by attempting a Naengmyun in a box. I remember my mother spending whole days rendering the beef broth that forms the backbone of this dish served cold and while it was delicious, it was never as good as the Naengmyun you would get at the restaurants in Seoul that featured the original stuff made by people who fled south during the war. There is a mouth feel to the vermicelli gauge noodles made from sweet potatoes that is somewhere between al dente and rubber band like that is delightful in that hearty stock that is served chilled and vinegared.

About two decade or so ago, the frozen refrigerated section of the Korean grocers got the the first of many serial attempts at recreating this, and while they were close enough, they failed in the broth and the noodles were too time sensitive because they were partially hydrated and refrigerated, making it imperative you kept them in boiling water for anywhere from 30 seconds to five minutes. Any longer and you lose that rubbery, al dente feeling.

Enter Doong Ji which I tried for breakfast (the boiled egg). The reconstituted cold broth was initially very salty, dense and had too many competing back flavors that I was dubious. The noodles cooked in their own time, but because they were completely dry to start, they were more reliably done in the recommended 3 minutes if slow boil. I always sample starting from about a minute.

When rinsed and in the bowl with the broth reconstitute, the water in the noodles further dilutes the broth and by some strange alchemy, a 95% perfect Naengmyun comes through. The chewiness is perfect. The beef background is there with perfect amount of vinegar. There are some off notes. The dry flakes can be dispensed with. They are freeze dried radish and onions which do nothing for the dish. You are better off chopping green onions.

The broth by itself is still un drinkable unlike the best Naengmyun houses in Korea where you would get a mug of the warm broth as a beverage but slurped in with those noodles the flavors are almost there. It is better than a lot of smaller places where it’s a secondary menu offering. It is basically about there with the refrigerated stuff which is saying a lot.

It is a solid B when you ignore the broth. Don’t drink the broth.

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25th Reunion Class Report Excerpts

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…It strikes me odd how fast 25 years flew by. I have decided it is a function of age and perception of time. Looking through the eyes of my four year old, I see that a year comprises 25% of his life and proportionally, that is almost 12 years in my life. A lot happens in a year of a 4 year old, and a lot happens in 12 years to a 46 year old, but a year slips by to me like a month does to my little one. So each year, being proportionally a smaller part of my experience, goes by faster and faster, an unwanted acceleration.

We’ve lost some dear classmates…. They still live in my memories, but their absence on my contacts and my Facebook gives me a daily measure of the value of my time here and now. Their remarkably full but brief lives make me believe that living is not just not being dead. Every reunion after the 10th is as much about mortality as it is about taking measure of each other’s progress. It fouls the air with its musky perfume.

I concluded after the last reunion that people don’t really change, but the guys really can gain weight and lose their hair. Everyone should take a look at their weight and work very hard to get back to their Freshman year weight. You will be easier to look at, and you will be healthier and less of a burden to the pedicab driver next time you are in Phuket. Can’t help with the hair.

I think that television programming caters to this middle age navel gazing and explains nicely the current popularity of zombies and meth chemistry. Do you struggle to avoid becoming a zombie or have you have you unwittingly joined the undead? Do you make choices that help others or just yourself? You knew that head on the turtle was rigged to blow but so often you will grab it just because, no? Spoiler Alert –Walter dies. Or was the whole last episode was a fever dream as he froze to death inside the jacked Volvo in New Hampshire. Which isn’t that bad of a way to go.

Speaking of ways to go, would you help your fellow classmate if you ran into them in the post-apocalypse? As you stare at them unblinkingly through the reticule of your rifle, do you ask, “what House were you in?” as your posse dispossesses them of water bottles, tents, and a few cans of Spam. Nice shoes. Do you invite them in, or give them back their water bottles and shoes and send them along, or do think you will need more salt. I would like to think that an invitation would be the sensible thing because we humans are social animals and survive best in bands of trust and kinship, which I assume is a given among you, my brothers and sisters. Unless you lived in the Quad, then at best you might make a passable sopressata.

I recently visited Calabria, speaking of sopressata. Looking out on the sea, with the Aeolian Isles in the horizon, I thought of Odysseus and how he really took his time getting back home. I thought of Saracen Corsairs picking out good spots to land where they could avoid boiling oil showers, and thought maybe they tried the sopressata despite the injunctions if they were curious enough, curiosity being a kind of hunger. I can’t say I understand the meaning of life after that visit, but I can assure you I came a few steps closer staring out onto the sea under moon and stars with the hot Saharan wind pushing you away from the edge of the ruined battlements.

My meaning of life is written in the sweetness of a baby’s breath, the soft kiss of your wife, the sturdy pride in your children’s accomplishments. It is in seeking friendships that aren’t metered in banal Likes but in thoughtful actions. It is to serve the world at large. It also is to buy the latest iPad because you can. And sometimes you take the long way home because you want to, because the car drives nicely. And you try the sopressata, chased with a Zantac…

The Comical Irony That iOS 7 Users Are Suffering From Blue Screens Of Death

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I have had my iPhone 5 reboot itself spontaneously after the iOS7 upgrade. Also, it will shut down declaring there is no battery left when there was 75% left on the meter. It is behaving no better than my Android 4.3 Nexus 7 Tablet which will crash on occasion as well. Steve would never have allowed this. We are now seeing an “industrial” Apple. People of a certain age can remember a time when Pepperidge Farms was their own company and made amazing chocolate chip cookies. Now these cookies are just another petroleum/corn based byproduct, a faint echo of their original goodness. Going big, which was a dream of every Apple fanatic back in the days right before Jobs returned, has now come back in the form of this kind of behavior -blue screens and defunct Maps. The revolution is over.

Originally posted on TechCrunch:

So Windows sometimes does this thing when your computer freaks the heck out, displays a blue screen, and then reboots or fails in some other way. Called the Blue Screen of Death, it’s long been a cultural meme among nerds about the shortcomings of Windows.

Blue Screens are more past than present, as they are, at least in my experience, more the provenance of Windows XP than Windows 7 or 8.

Anyway, in 2007, Apple made fun of the Blue Screen bit in an icon. Some people found it cute, and others thought it was in poor taste. Here is what it looked like:

2013-10-11_11h28_52Ha. Fair play. Whatever. I mean, it’s cheeky, but calm down.

Fast forward to today, and it turns out that iOS 7 has a Blue Screen problem of its own. Certain actions will cause the screen to flash blue, and then reboot. This wouldn’t be worth…

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