Monthly Archives: March 2011

Hunter S. Thompson & Keith Richards

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Matterhorn

I just finished reading Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes. It’s a novel about the Vietnam War and the actions of Bravo Company of the fictionalized Twenty-fourth Marines in fictional locations in the real Quang Tri province of Vietnam. It’s a phenomenally well-written book whose characters and story grabbed me in a way I hadn’t experienced in a war novel in a long time. I highly recommend it.

I’ve written a couple posts about the moral reality George R.R. Martin created in his A Song of Ice and Fire series. Martin’s commitment to the rules of his fictional world is strong in the face of any desire for protagonists to win, to avoid suffering, and to survive. Adam Serwer of The American Prospect made the point that Martin’s series is analogous to HBO’s The Wire:

Like The Wire, the impulse to pick heroes and villains gives way to despair over the dumb, arbitrary cruelty of the system all the characters remain subject to. One’s talent for working the system is more important than commitments to abstract principles, and characters who adhere to society’s rules aren’t necessarily good, and those who reject those values altogether aren’t necessarily evil.

One thread that was dominant throughout Marlantes’ novel was the senselessness of violence in the Vietnam War, both on the level of pointless battles fought for useless pieces of land and the absence of any meaning to who died when. In many cases, beyond the absence of meaning from war, the way certain villainous characters (or if not villainous, at least despicable characters) played the systems they lived in, be they the Marine hierarchy or racial, was determinative of who lived and died, who was honored and who was disgraced. Marlantes is incredibly committed to the rules of his story at both of these levels. It makes for a brutal and sad tale, but one that undoubtedly is closer to reality than most you’ll ever read.

Tom Bihn Checkpoint Flyer

Checkpoint Flyer
After about a month on back order, my Tom Bihn Checkpoint Flyer in Black & Crimson, with a case for a 15″ MacBook Pro and the Absolute Shoulder Strap has finally arrived. While I’ve used some Tom Bihn bags and packing cubes, I’ve never had one of Tom Bihn’s bags. I’m not going to have time to do a review now, but let me just say the construction is totally top notch, the bag looks great and I’m anxious to travel with it.

Experience Beer in Madison, Wisconsin


I was in Madison, Wisconsin this past weekend for work – I’d never been to Wisconsin before (other than passing through the Milwaukee and Appleton airports a few times). It didn’t take long for me to get why Milwaukee’s baseball team is called the Brewers. While I’m obviously familiar with Milwaukee as the home of Miller and their associated brands, my familiarity with Wisconsin’s microbrews was limited. Thanks to a rare shipment to Ace Beverage, I was able to try New Glarus Spotted Cow a couple years ago. I’d heard good things from friends who’d gone to school at UW-Madison and ended up really enjoying it.

The first thing that I can say about Madison is that there are a lot of bars. It’s a college town, as well as the state capital, and being Wisconsin, there’s a strong appreciation for good beer. Bars tend to have huge selections of Wisconsin microbrews, at very low cost. Most pints are $3-4. It’s hard to get a High Life in DC at that price, let alone a high-end craft brew.

When I travel and go to a craft cocktail bar, I often have the experience of being overwhelmed by the size and scope of a joint’s menu of original cocktails (Smuggler’s Cove is a perfect example of this). Rarely do I have that experience when going to a bar that has a wide selection of beer, in part because I got into drinking fine spirits at the (now defunct) Brickskeller in DC, with their 800+ beer list. But things were different in Madison. The lists of brews were dominated by tiny Wisconsin microbrews from breweries I’d never heard of.

Starting off at The Old Fashioned, right on the Capitol Square, I was met with a 30 beer tap list. The choices were overwhelming, so I had a New Glarus Spotted Cow. Sure, I wasn’t breaking new ground, but I needed more time to process the beer list before I’d be able to forge into virgin territory. The Spotted Cow is a light and fruity farmhouse ale. It’s dominated by it’s yeast, which isn’t filtered out and adds a lot of layers. As much as I enjoyed Spotted Cow, it turned out to be one of the less interesting beers I had in Madison, simply because it sort of pulls its punches. That wasn’t the case when I tried the Evil Doppleganger Double Mai Bock by Pearl Street Brewery in La Crosse. This beer doesn’t pull any punches, with an 8% alcohol content and a lot more hops than I’d expected from a maibock. Still, it’s rich and has a nice sweetness and was a great example of a Wisconsin beer that wasn’t fooling around with flavor.

The next night I had dinner with friends at a great bar and restaurant, The Weary Traveler. There I got to try another offering by New Glarus – a Belgian-style ale called Stone Soup. I thought this was as great an example of an Abbey ale I’ve ever had that wasn’t actually from Belgium. Clean and refreshing, with a nice maltiness and light spice, it paired really well with the infamous Bad Breath Burger (featuring cream cheese, roasted garlic, and other fun things). After dinner we moved to The Paradise Lounge, a dive bar in the truest sense, yet still packed with good craft beer offerings. I found a beer I liked there and stuck with it all night: Capital Brewery’s Maibock. Despite it’s 6.2% ABV, it tasted light and was an easy-drinker, putting malt and a light hint of hops fruitiness on the finish. I really liked the complexity of this Maibock.

The Washington Post is currently running their annual Beer Madness bracket. It’s interesting to see their choices, which are heavily tilted towards breweries in the Mid-Atlantic. There are some great beers in the contest, but after this last weekend in Madison, I could imagine Wisconsin dominating a final four given a few of the entries I had this weekend. The WaPo bracket is interesting, though, for their openness to user voting, which is then fully ignored as their panel makes the decisions about who advances each round. Oh well, at some point I’m sure the Post will get this contest right and find a way to have a really well rounded field and genuine user input. I’d suggest they have a much wider field that helps determine which 64 beers make it into the tournament, then allot at least 30% of the votes for each match-up to the majority choice of users. That would make the whole thing more inclusive of audience participation for something other than wracking up page views.

But I digress… As you can tell, I had a great weekend enjoying fine beers in Madison. Between the daunting selection of Wisconsin microbreweries, the quality of the beers they’re making, and the rock-bottom price point for drafts at bars and restaurants, I will definitely look forward to visiting Madison again.

Cross posted at A Jigger of Blog

Mad Fast Trains


I’m a big Mad Men fan and I like high speed rail, so I suppose I’m the target demographic for this PSA featuring Vincent Kartheiser and Rich Sommern as their Mad Men characters. The ad is connected to an effort by PIRG, MadFastTrains.com, which kicks over to a letter writing tool so supporters of high speed rail can contact their senators. Oh and you get a bumper sticker for doing it.

It’s unfortunate that so many Republican governors have rejected funding to build high speed rail around the US (Wisconsin’s Scott Walker, Florida’s Rick Scott, and Ohio’s John Kasich all recently turned down hundreds of millions of dollars of federal funding for rail construction). Rail travel is both economical and frankly a lot more enjoyable, especially when traveling only a few hundred miles, than air travel or driving. I don’t like that when I go to Europe or Asia, I can have a markedly better experience traveling by rail than I do in the US. We’re a big country. We do big things. There’s no reason high speed rail shouldn’t be one of them.

The Stolen Scream


This is a really cool story of how keeping things free in the public domain of the internet leads to greater creativity and an easier spread of ideas. FStoppers has an interview with the photographer who took these pictures of himself, Noam Galai.

There is no way to know for sure but I bet if Noam had watermarked his images from the start, none of this would have happened including the Glimpse Magazine cover. The people that were looking for “free” images online would not have contacted him if his images were watermarked, they would have simply found another image to use. By allowing his images to be public, Noam has gotten to experience something that many artists would give anything for. In my opinion, this experience is worth more than any advertising agency could pay for the image. Noam has made almost no money on these images so far, but I believe the money will come. I know many, if not most of you, will disagree with me but I see Noam’s Stolen Scream as an amazing example of art and the power of technology. I believe everything worked out for the best.

David Bergman is right on here. This really shows that there’s a great opening for creative commons as a means to share ideas around the world. It also shows how unethical some individuals and businesses can be to take work published on Flickr and represent it as their own.

…Adding on, I see that these pictures are not currently licensed under creative commons. I’m not sure if they originally were licensed under creative commons and Noam changed the licensing to “all rights reserved” after others started selling his work for their own profit, or if they were always licensed “all rights reserved” and people straight-up stole his work from the get-go.

Wine Adventures in Chile

Originally posted at Huffington Post

Wine tourism in Chile is, as the concept suggests, about two things: wine and tourism. While there’s no shortage of phenomenal Chilean wines waiting to be discovered, my recent tour of Chilean wineries was a success not because of the standout bottles of wine I sampled, but my holistic experience of visiting Chile to explore their wine regions. I wanted to share my favorite experiences from my tour of Chile, particularly my memories of drinking, eating and relaxing in some of the nicest places I’ve ever visited.

My girlfriend Lori and I flew into Santiago, but immediately transferred to La Serena, three hundred miles north. After a slight problem with our luggage, we went east from La Serena, towards the Andes and the Elqui Valley. While Elqui has been a producer of grapes used in pisco for a long time, it’s a relatively new front in Chilean wine making. Going to Elqui Valley was a great decision – people in the valley were surprised that American wine tourists had thought to come so far beyond the traditional valleys and people everywhere else were impressed that we had broken the mold with a stop in Elqui Valley.

Beyond improving our reputations, the experience in Elqui Valley set the tone for our entire trip. The very first winery we visited was also the smallest: Cavas del Valle. An organic winery, Cavas del Valle produces all of their wines in a single room and ages them in a small cellar in the next door. Our 9 a.m. tour was quick, but included some really interesting wines. Unfortunately they don’t export to the US, but their Syrah Gran Reserva and Cosecha Otoñal, a late harvest wine made with pink muscatel grapes, are almost worth the trip to Chile on their own.

The real reason I wanted to go Elqui Valley, though, wasn’t wineries like Cavas del Valle or Falernia. No, the real reason was I wanted to see some stars. No, I don’t mean Chilean poet Gabriela Mistral, though we did visit her museum in Vicuña. I mean the incredible night sky. The Elqui Valley’s elevation and lack of light pollution make it one of the best spots on the globe to see constellations. In fact, some of the most important research telescopes in the world line the ridges of the Elqui Valley. We visited Mamalluca Observatory, which is geared for tourists, and got to see the wonder of our universe first hand. To take further advantage of the beautiful night sky, while we were in the valley we stayed at a hotel, Elqui Domos, whose unique geodesic domes opened in the top and allowed us to view the night sky from the warmth of our bed.

My favorite winery tour came the day we left the Elqui Valley, flew back to Santiago, and drove north again to the Aconcagua Valley to Errazuriz. Sure, this was because four of my ten favorite wines from the trip were made by Errazuriz. But the wine was just part of the winery tour – their history, their design, their food, and their staff made it a success. We started with a four-course meal on the patio outside the main building, which includes their bottle storage, blending, facility, and some cellar space. The food was typically phenomenal and each course was paired with a new wine. What made the lunch memorable, though, was the view. From our seats we could see the vineyard, which stopped only a few feet away from our table. The view was spotted with palm trees and the slopes of the vineyard alternated between grapes and Haas avocados. The meal was only the start – when we finished our lunch, our guide Rene lead us down the sloping ramp into their old wine cellars. Tradition practically oozed from the walls; the Errazuriz family has produced ton of wine over the last 140 years, not to mention multiple Chilean presidents. Things got really cool when we moved on to their new, state of the art cellar, which really belongs in Architecture Digest. A stunning glass, steel and stone building surrounded by a moat that served to cool the interior, it is a purpose-driven work of art.

Being a winery, the tour really reached its peak when we sat at the large bar in the main house and tasted Errazuriz’s wine with Rene. Lori and I had hit it off with Rene and before long he was breaking out some of their Icon wines: Don Maximiano Founder’s Reserve 2006 and Seña 2007, the former a 94 point wine according to Robert Parker, the latter a 96 point wine. I’m not an expert on scoring wines, but there’s no doubt in my mind that these two are simply brilliant, among the best I have ever tasted. To cap our visit off, Rene gave Lori and I a bottle of their Estate Sauvignon Blanc and a couple of glasses for us to enjoy from the top of the vineyard with a view of Aconcagua Valley. It’s hard to imagine a more perfect visit to a winery anywhere in the world.

While the service we received from our guide at Errazuriz was phenomenal, one thing that impressed us throughout the trip was the quality of service offered by staff at restaurants, hotels, and wineries. One night at Termas de Jahuel, a hotel with a hot spring and spa in Aconcagua Valley, we were watching the sunset on a secluded patio when I turned to Lori and said, “The only thing that could make this sunset better is if we had Pisco Sours.” An instant later one of the hotel staff came upon us and asked if we’d like Pisco Sours while we watched the sunset! The timing was almost as good as the cocktails, which, incidentally, are a must-have while in Chile.

Great hotels were a theme throughout the trip. One of our favorites was Hotel Casa Real, which is located on the grounds of Viña Santa Rita in the Maipo Valley. It only has sixteen rooms and has the feel of an intimate bed and breakfast, despite the fact that it’s a massive mansion dating from the 19th century. The grounds have a regal quality to them and the food was some of the best that we ate on the trip. Toss in a stately game room with a giant billiards table and Hotel Casa Real succeeded in making me happy.

Our other favorite hotel was The Aubreyin Santiago. Located in the popular Bellavista neighborhood, The Aubrey is a new hotel at the foot of Cerro San Cristobal Hill, adjacent to the entrance to the park’s funicular. This place has tremendous character – each room is different – and a remarkably helpful staff. Our room was on the top floor of the hotel, with a great view of The Aubrey’s sleek and sexy swimming pool.

Bellavista is my kind of neighborhood. It’s young, hip, and casual, with scores of great restaurants and bars. After dropping our stuff off at The Aubrey, we went to eat lunch at a very authentic Chilean restaurant, Galindo. The food was memorable, though I had a bit of language miscommunication: I’d thought I was ordering a Pernil sandwich, but ended up with a regular order of Pernil, which was a huge order of roasted pork leg. Fortunately, the pork was delicious and I had no reason to complain. Another food I fell in love with at Galindo was Pure Picante, which are basically spicy mashed potatoes. We had them in a lot of restaurants around Chile, but the Pure Picante at Galindo was the best we found in Chile.

When we arrived in the early afternoon, many dive bars around Bellavista had set out tables and chairs on the sidewalk. While there were already plenty of people enjoying a few beers on a sunny Saturday afternoon, by Saturday night the whole neighborhood was jumping. Since it was our last night in Chile, Lori and I did some bar hopping, visited an art gallery, and made friends with a stray puppy or two. The raucous nightlife of Santiago moved at a much faster pace than the stops in wineries and luxurious hotels that we’d made over the last week and before we knew it, we were ready to head back to The Aubrey and call it a night…and a trip.

Disclosure: I won my trip to Chile from the Wines of Chile and their Tweet, Tweet, Chile contest.

The Pale Blue Dot

Via Devour,

Moving footage of the Tunisian and Egyptian democratic revolutions interweaved with different timelapses and set to Carl Sagan reading from his book “Earth – The Pale Blue Dot.”