Test Test: Amano Chocolate

Who doesn't love chocolate, right? Well, my wife for one. She's sucrose intolerant (lacks the enzyme sucrase), so the sugar makes her sick. Can't say I blame her then. It's a good opportunity to try out some fancy chocolate when she's out of town. What can I say? I live on the edge.

I picked up some Amano chocolate over at Amazon. The shipping there was a dollar cheaper than direct from the site, so I went all cheapskate. I bought one each of the Madagascar and Ocumare. To my pleasant surprise it arrived the very next day (04/10). How's that for quality service!


Apple Tacos

First off, let me up front apologize for not having pictures. My wife took the digital camera on her trip to Oregon and I'm left here with no way to document my life. How will I ever survive?

So, on IRC the other day, somebody was pointing out the vast difference between two things and used the classic phrase, like "apples and oranges", to which another party responded saying that it was more like "apples and tacos". Well, that got me thinking, why not apples and tacos? I mean aside from the fact that they seem so different. Different can be good. I mean bananas and mayonnaise sounds like a horrible combination but turns out to make a delicious sandwich. So it was only fair that I give it a shot.

I complicated matters a little bit because I came up with my own recipe for shredded pork taco meat. Ideally I should have controlled for everything but the apples, but with my smoker out of commission for so many months I've really been craving to slow roast something even without smoke. I purchased a pork roast for just this purpose. (Incidentally whenever possible I but Salmon Creek Farms pork. Yes it really does make a difference, and generally it's actually cheaper. Win, win!)

Well, for this roast I mixed up an unholy combination of most of the spices in my house (ground black pepper, kosher salt, chili powder, cayenne power, paprika, Tabasco sauce, garlic powder, thyme, spicy mustard and worcestershire sauce). That made a nice paste which I smeared all over the pork. Placed it in a dish, covered and roasted at 250° for oh about 3½ hours. Once it cooled I shredded it and stirred it around in a reduction of the sauces that filled the original cooking vessel. So yummy.

But it was late last night when I finished the roast, so I couldn't make the tacos right away. Besides, I was so full of chocolate that I couldn't bear the thought of eating. Instead the pork went into the fridge until today. I diced some onion, sautéed it in some oil with a little ground chipotle, and then added the pork. Once that was warm I tossed in the diced apple and kept cooking until piping hot. I used a Granny Smith which I figured could take the heat while retaining its crispness and the tartness would stand out against all the spice. The final taco was on a soft white flour tortilla with grated mozarella cheese and lettuce.

The apple flavor was definitely noticeable. I think the choice of a tart apple was wise because a mild apple would have been lost in that taco. I would probably do a finer dice (¼ inch or less). My apple chunks were too big and they seems to overpower rather than blend. There were also spots in the taco where there was no apple flavor and that stood out as well.

One concern I had was that the apple would get all mushy and soggy while cooking. It didn't happen. I really should have given the apple more credit. My wife makes and cans apple pie filling. Those things go through a process of cooking, canning and then baking and still come out in one piece. I should have known an apple could sit in a skillet for 5 minutes without melting.

I ate the whole apple so that's probably the last serving of apple tacos for a while, but I think I'll have to try again and see if I can achieve a more balanced flavor.


Kitchen Confidential

Title: Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly
Author: Anthony Bourdain
Published: 2000 by Bloomsbury
ISBN: 1-58234-082-X

Joseph told me that one of his culinary icons was Anthony Bourdain. I had heard of him, seen him as a guest judge on Top Chef, but I was curious as to why so I picked up this book. I don't think Alton Brown has anything to fear as far as replacing my #1 food hero, but I have definitely learned a few things about the food industry.

I do respect Anthony Bourdain. He is unapologetically a ruffian. He is, or at least has been, a drug abuser. He's got a foul mouth. You definitely won't want to read this book to your kids. So what's to love about somebody like that? Well, the fact that he is who he is and he's happy about it. He doesn't pretend to be somebody else. He's not concerned with what others think about him. He says exactly what he thinks and you know that's what he means, nothing more and nothing less.

My favorite section, probably not surprisingly, is the chapter about why he doesn't eat fish on Monday. Turns out that because the fish market is only open Monday through Friday, the fish you're served on Monday is likely whatever they bought on Friday and couldn't sell over the weekend. I have since heard the same thing from other sources, albeit with less colorful language. Mr. Bourdain also makes it clear that it is in a restaurant's best interest to serve you food that may not be the most fresh. So whenever you see something that is on special, be wary. Carefully consider any item which is not commonly sold, since it may have been in the fridge for an extended period of time. He tells of one of his jobs which was to arrange the Sunday morning brunch buffet, which consisted of leftovers from service the previous nights (yes, plural). So, also be cautious there.

I think this book has scared me away from ever opening my own restaurant. No, it's not something I've ever seriously considered. Every once in a while I think to myself that it might be fun. I don't think I have my heart into it enough though. There's a vast difference between a love of cooking (and eating!) and the ability to put in the hideous amounts of work required by a restaurant. I fall clearly in the first category and I think I will happily stay there.


SXSW 2007

The annual South by Southwest Festival is up and going. I like this conference for a couple reasons. First, it's all about the artists. You gotta love that.

But what I really love is the free music. OK, I'm a cheapskate. I'm also opposed to giving money to record labels that don't really care about their clients and instead sue their customers. I can't justify taking the music either, so it's nice when they give it away. To be honest, it's turned me on to a few bands that I would have never found any other way, such as the Eli Young Band. It's too bad they're on an RIAA label. I really considered buying some of their music.

I usually end up deleting about 1/3 of the music. Be warned that some of the lyricists have potty mouths and some of the musicians should really be working in fast food. But still, 2/3 of 738 ain't bad.

SNMP Watch Script

We have some mail servers which occasionally get way behind on their mail queue. I wanted a good way to see the size of the queue in real time, without having to log into the web interface of the machine (it's a proprietary device). So I wrote this script which not only prints out the current value of the SNMP OID, but also tracks the value so you can see if it's increasing and if so, by how much. It could easily be adapted to any numeric SNMP variable.



Rabbits, Horses and Morons

Saw a post on ruhlman.com about fried rabbit ears. While it's not exactly my cup of tea, I really don't see a problem with it. Some of the comments on the blog are quite visceral and I just don't get it. Just because an animal is cute or is useful in some other way than food, doesn't mean we can't eat it. OK, I can understand if you think eating animals is wrong. Vegetarians and vegans are totally missing out, but I can completely respect that point of view.

It's a lot like the recent Congressional debate about horses. Many want to ban the practice because "the slaughter of horses is both cruel and inhumane, and it is our responsibility to ensure that it no longer occurs". And why isn't it cruel and inhumane to raise chickens in small wire cages where they have to have their beaks clipped to keep from pecking each other? Oh, that's because the chicken industry has more money than the 3 horse meat producers do.

People who eat meat (that would be most of this country) need to accept that that involves taking a life. We should respect that animal, but unless we kill it we can't eat it. Hamburger does not come from a store, it comes from a cow. Either accept that or you really need to become a vegan.


Prefix Area Code With SER

I'm setting up a SER server for routing SIP calls to a PSTN gateway. Calls to the PSTN should always be 10 digits, just to remove any confusion, but I want to allow people to dial just 7 digits. I needed a way to look at the caller's phone number and prefix their destination number with their own area code. Hans fought this issue previously and couldn't get it to work just with SER, but instead had to exec a script. Not ideal, but it'll work. He didn't have the script at hand so I wrote my own in Perl.

First, the SER config snippet:

if (uri =~ "^sip:[0-9]{7}@") {

And the script:


use strict;
my $DEFAULT_AREA_CODE = '307';
my $to = $ARGV[0];
my $from = $ENV{SIP_HF_FROM};

# if it's not a 7 digit number
&output($to) if ($to !~ m/sip:\d{7}@/);

# if no from header. weird, but whatever.
&output($to) if (!$from);

# find area code addr
$from =~ m/<sip:(\d{3})\d{7}\@/;
my $area = $1;

# no area code? just assume one
$area = $DEFAULT_AREA_CODE if (!$area);

$to =~ s/sip:/sip:$area/;

sub output
   my $result = shift;
   print $result;
   exit 0;


Taste Test: Chocolate Sauce

Due to a slight mixup, we received a bottle of Hershey's Special Dark chocolate sauce. A week ago I had also made a bottle of Alton Brown's cocoa syrup, so I had a perfect chance to compare them. Incidentally, the dutch cocoa I used was also Hershey's.

I tasted them straight up, in spoons, at room temperature. I poured them out and handed them to my wife without telling her which was which. She gave them to me in random order. It wasn't hard to pick out which was mine though. It was the one with little gritty chocolate pieces. Whoops. I don't remember those being in there last week. Maybe I just couldn't taste it on the cheese cake. Or maybe they form while sitting in the fridge. I filtered it through a sieve, but maybe I need a finer mesh.

As far as the taste, the Hershey's tasted much sweeter. It was also less viscous, from the corn syrup no doubt. I think I preferred my own syrup as it had a much richer taste. For a Special Dark, I really expected more dark flavor. I wonder what the regular syrup is like.


Careful, Careful

Yesterday I was looking around in the cupboard to see how much of my sun-dried tomatoes were left. Off to the side I noticed another bottle of oil and popped it open. Turns out it was a garlic infused olive oil I made who knows how long ago. I gave a whiff and it was a little funky, so I wondered to myself how long an oil like that would last.

Well, later in the day I happened to browse to the garlic entry at Wikipedia. Apparently fresh garlic oil only lasts about a week and that's in the fridge. Mine had been sitting in at room temperature for a good six months. I was a prime candidate for dying of botulism. The thought of it scares me a little, honestly. Commercial oils use salt and acid to eliminate the risk. I tried to find instruction for how, but came up empty.

I guess in the future, I'll stick to fresh herb oil.


DRM, Apple, Macrovision

Steve Jobs' essay on DRM has stirred up quite the hornet's nest of controversy. That's a good thing really. Far too many decisions about DRM are made in smoke-filled back rooms by corporate executives.

Why would the big four music companies agree to let Apple and others distribute their music without using DRM systems to protect it? The simplest answer is because DRMs haven’t worked, and may never work, to halt music piracy.

He's absolutely right. If you know even the littlest bit about cryptography and if you think about it for just a few minutes, it's obvious that DRM is broken from the get go. You can't give somebody the secret and the key and expect the secret to stay that way for long. It's a no-brainer.

That's not what I'm here to critique. Seems that Fred "I'm high on crack" Amoroso, CEO of Macrovision, posted a response to Steve Jobs. You may remember Macrovision as the screwball way to prevent copying of VHS tapes. It works by changing one of the timing tracks such that other VCRs get confused, but TVs don't. It's actually quite easy to fix with a $30 signal cleaner.

Macrovision has a vested interest in DRM systems. That's their business. So it's no surprise they came out swinging at a call for DRM to be axed from the planet. Let's address his four main points:

DRM is broader than just music
While your thoughts are seemingly directed solely to the music industry, the fact is that DRM also has a broad impact across many different forms of content and across many media devices. Therefore, the discussion should not be limited to just music. It is critical that as all forms of content move from physical to electronic there is an opportunity for DRM to be an important enabler across all content, including movies, games and software, as well as music.

Digital media, no matter what it is, will benefit from unimpeded access. Could the TiVo have been created if the broadcast flag had been implemented? Would id Software have become the video game powerhouse it is if Barney Doom hadn't been created? Would Microsoft Office ever have been used if it hadn't been so easy to copy? DRM systems limit what can be done to only whatever the original creator thought of. Ain't nobody smart enough to think of every possible way to use something. Does it always work out well? Of course not. But that doesn't mean that DRM systems would guarantee success either.

DRM increases not decreases consumer value
I believe that most piracy occurs because the technology available today has not yet been widely deployed to make DRM-protected legitimate content as easily accessible and convenient as unprotected illegitimate content is to consumers. The solution is to accelerate the deployment of convenient DRM-protected distribution channels—not to abandon them. Without a reasonable, consistent and transparent DRM we will only delay consumers in receiving premium content in the home, in the way they want it. For example, DRM is uniquely suitable for metering usage rights, so that consumers who don't want to own content, such as a movie, can "rent" it. Similarly, consumers who want to consume content on only a single device can pay less than those who want to use it across all of their entertainment areas – vacation homes, cars, different devices and remotely. Abandoning DRM now will unnecessarily doom all consumers to a "one size fits all" situation that will increase costs for many of them.

DRM increases consumer value?!? Hang on, I need to wipe the milk off my screen. That's a riot. Consumers don't care about jumping through hoops. They don't want to be bothered with the fact that they can't hook their DVD player into their VCR because of the Macrovision encoding (been there). They want to be able to make copies of movies to take on their iPod or to let the kids put their peanut buttery fingers all over (done that). Just make it work and I will buy your content. That's really what it boils down to. Every thing a company does to make it harder to acquire content makes me that much more likely to turn to illegal distribution means. How is that a win for anybody?

DRM will increase electronic distribution
Well maintained and reasonably implemented DRM will increase the electronic distribution of content, not decrease it. In this sense, DRM is an important ingredient in the overall success of the emerging digital world and especially cannot be overlooked for content creators and owners in the video industry. Quite simply, if the owners of high-value video entertainment are asked to enter, or stay in a digital world that is free of DRM, without protection for their content, then there will be no reason for them to enter, or to stay if they've already entered. The risk will be too great.

The perceived risk will be too great for some. But what they really fear isn't that people will copy their content. That's a given whether there is DRM or not. What they are scared of is that somebody will out-think them. That they won't be able to keep up with the competition. Well, sorry buddy. Lead, follow or get out of the way. What will truly increase electronic distribution is giving content creators the ability to directly distribute their own content. That revolution has already come and it's not going to stop. For the vast majority of these artists, the real danger is obscurity. DRM only assures them of that.

DRM needs to be interoperable and open
I agree with you that there are difficult challenges associated with maintaining the controls of an interoperable DRM system, but it should not stop the industry from pursuing it as a goal. Truly interoperable DRM will hasten the shift to the electronic distribution of content and make it easier for consumers to manage and share content in the home – and it will enable it in an open environment where their content is portable across a number of devices, not held hostage to just one company's products. DRM supporting open environments will benefit consumer electronics manufacturers by encouraging and enabling them to create ever more innovative and sophisticated devices for consumers that play late running premium content from a number of sources.

So let me follow the logic through here to the next step. If an excessively restrictive DRM scheme is harmful, and a more interoperable system is better, doesn't it follow that a completely open system would be the best? It seems obvious to me. And doesn't it defy logic that a system built around keeping secrets could actually be "open"? The more open it becomes, the less DRM can be applied. You can't have your cake and eat it too.

Over the last few years I have seen the winds of change begin to shift in opposition to DRM. I expect that within 5 years we will see the effective disappearance of DRM, replaced with open content formats. And the world will be better for it. Until then, you can count me out of any DRM scheme which is not already broken. But wait, isn't that all of them?



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