Saturday, September 12, 2009

In Bosch

The following resin figurines arrived in the mail the other day:

These are figurines of characters from Hieronymus Bosch's “Temptation of Saint Anthony”, a triptych painting depicting very surreal scenes and creatures in dark and on-the-edge-of-disturbing settings. Truthfully, I'm not sure that the figurine on the left in the picture above is from this work, since I've scanned over pictures of the painting a couple times now and cannot find the little cloaked fellow. You can take part in the same surreal “where's Waldo” experience I had by going here and see if you can find him (her? it?).

I was informed a couple years ago about a company in the Netherlands that has decided to make plastic figurines of characters from various famous artists. They offer other Bosch figurines, as well as figurines based on works from Dali, Escher, and others. I'm not exactly sure if they're selling a lot of these. I would honestly be surprised if they were.

Oddly, I had all but forgotten about this company and these figurines until I watched a film called “In Bruges”, in which the two main characters visit a museum (in Bruges, Belgium), which houses a Hieronymus Bosch collection. Bosch is not a central theme in the film – the museum scene is mostly played for comedy – but for whatever reason, that scene resonated with me enough to remind me of an odd little studio in the Netherlands selling Bosch figurines.

Hieronymus Bosch was born in a small town in the Netherlands appropriately named Den Bosch, sometimes referred to as Hertogenbosch. Coincidentally, I actually visited this little town a number of years ago. I do not remember seeing any fantastic looking creatures roaming the streets, but I do remember having a "Bosche Bolle", which is something similar to a large cream-puff covered in chocolate. Perhaps the most fantastic thing I did see was someone leaving a pastry shop with a "Bosche Bolle" the size of a human head.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Cupcake Comparison

In these tough, economic times, it's important to remember to have snacks. A good cookie may not fix your tanking stock portfolio, or compensate you for being laid off of work, but it's better than nothing.

One thing I've noticed over the years is that there is usually some sort of ubiquitous chain business selling the latest "trendy" snack. This first got my attention when Mrs. Fields Cookies started, but I kept a watchful eye on the Cinnabon craze, the meteoric rise and fall of Krispy Kreme, and the recent newcomer, Beard Papas. I've also noticed a number of gourmet cupcake stores popping up, fighting for the right to become the next big snack thing. A Sprinkles Cupcakes store recently opened up near me that seems to have a never-ending line of people. Passing by it on several occasions, I have witnessed a full squad of high-school cheerleaders, in uniform, standing in line, as well as a line forty people deep at 7PM on a Friday night.

They sell individual gourmet cupcakes for about $4 a pop, which seems ridiculously expensive to me. Interestingly, another gourmet cupcake place, Kara's Cupcakes, opened a store across the street from Sprinkles, selling their cupcakes at a mere $3.75 or so. Having nothing better to do one Sunday, I decided to brave the lines at both places (thankfully short that day), and do a head-to-head cupcake comparison:

(left to right: Sprinkles Red Velvet, Sprinkles Black and White, Kara's Chocolate Velvet, and Kara's Lemony Lemon)

I sorta screwed up, however, since I didn't get exact equivalents from both stores. Nonetheless, here are my findings on each individual cupcake:

Sprinkles, "Red Velvet" : Red Velvet is apparently some sort of standard of gourmet cupcakes. I'm not sure why, since the name makes me think of curtains or something. Anyway, this one was slightly disappointing -- the "cream cheese" frosting was too sweet and too solid. The "southern style chocolate" cake was a bit on the dry, not so tasty side. Finally, it was topped with a strange red and blue candy circle, which tasted like, and may have been, decorative wax. Rating: Meh

Sprinkles, "Black and White" : Not to be confused with the New York cookie of the same name, this cupcake was slightly better than the Red Velvet, in my opinion. The vanilla frosting again was too solid, and not so creamy. The "belgian dark chocolate" cake was sufficiently chocolate-y, but again a bit on the dry side. Maybe I just got a bad batch. Rating: Ok

Kara's, "Chocolate Velvet" : This is basically Kara's take on a Red Velvet, I think. The cake portion is superior to Sprinkle's Red Velvet in taste and moistness. The frosting was good, but nothing to write sonnets about. Rating: Ok

Kara's, "Lemony Lemon" : The frosting was a little on the sweet side (it's frosting, on a cupcake. I'm not sure what I was expecting), but the actual cake portion was tasty and moist. This was aided by the addition of a creamy Meyer lemon curd filling inside the actual cake. I learned my lesson and skipped the blue disc thing. Rating: Tasty

Saturday, January 17, 2009

You Got Bacon in My Chocolate

In my foolish younger adult days, I once decided to make a BLT sandwich. I opted to use eight strips of bacon. It was delicious, but, in hindsight, probably not the healthiest decision I've ever made. Like many, I have a hard time resisting the power of bacon. As a Cooks Illustrated article once stated, "Bad bacon is something of an oxymoron".

Recently, a chocolate manufacturer (Vosges) announced they had merged bacon with chocolate. Even more recently, I acquired one of these "Vosges Mo's Bacon Bars", and decided to try this unholy union for myself. Word on the street is that it's so popular in the UK, it's constantly sold out in shops. However, I generally do not view the Brits as culinary authorities with the final say, so I cleared a Thursday night on my calendar and prepared myself for this:

(no quail eggs were harmed in the making of this picture)

The instructions on the bar wrapper state:

"Notice the color of the chocolate, the glossy shine. Rub your thumb over the chocolate bar to release the aromas of smoked applewood bacon flirting with deep milk chocolate."

I did none of their silly preparation suggestions, and went straight for the main event.

It tastes, well, almost exactly as I expected. You could approximate the experience by grabbing a good piece of bacon, a Hersheys Bar (or something of slightly higher quality) and shoving them simultaneously into your mouth. Chew slowly. Your taste buds are hit with savory bacon wrapped in a milk chocolate base.

It's good. How could it not be? But, honestly, it's overkill at both ends. The bacon is overpowering, and unfortunately, the milk chocolate is overpoweringly sweet. They probably would get better results with a slightly less sweet dark chocolate. Yet, the milk chocolate version is the only one currently offered, so maybe I'm completely wrong on this. Perhaps I need to think bigger, and consider covering my next piece with a healthy dollop of clotted cream, or hollandaise sauce.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

I Think This is My Stop

The company I currently work for provides free bus service for its employees to various locations. No, I do not work for Google. I've gotten into the habit of taking the train to work every other day, and then utilizing this nice perk to get from the train station to the office and back again.

The other day, the bus going to the train station never showed up. Eleven angry nerds and me were left waiting and wondering in front of the main office building. Through a very efficient process, three of the angry nerds called the bus service hot-line at the same time and demanded to know how they were going to get home.

A very accommodating person on the other end of the line quickly organized an effort to send a van to us (they had a spare van sitting around?), driven by an expendable security guard. He arrived shortly afterwards, and the twelve of us crammed into the van. With helpful suggestions such as "if you get to the station in the next eleven minutes I can make my train", we were off.

Halfway there, the driver realized he was running out of fuel. He informed us that he would be stopping for gas, and was met by many voices of dissent, insisting that he continue onwards. I heard: "You can make it!", "It's only another ten miles!", and my favorite, "Those gas meters aren't really accurate you know – they make them for women!". We pressed onwards.

A few minutes later, the driver confessed that he, in fact, had no idea where the train station was. This prompted another chorus of loud complaints and heated debates on the best way to go. I closed my eyes and waited for the yelling to stop.

We did make it to the station, and like a taxi cab filled with clowns, the nerds exited the van in a mad rush for an approaching train. I was the last one out, and tried to give a heart-felt thanks to the driver, who looked a bit worse for wear. He nodded and drove off, probably in search of a gas station. To those drivers (and last-minute drivers) out there, I salute you for putting up with us nerds.

Friday, September 26, 2008

These Aren't the Fanboys You're Looking For

Rather than spend last Friday night drinking like a good, upstanding individual, I opted instead to go to a "video game pre-release event" at the artist-formerly-known-as-Sony Metreon in downtown San Francisco. Really, what the heck was I thinking.

Companies occasionally like to promote their upcoming games to rabid fans with these sort of events where a bunch of nerds obediently stand in line, hoping to get a chance to play an upcoming game, and otherwise demonstrate their fanboy resolve. I've never gone to one of these marketing-laden hype-fests, probably for good reason, but I figured that this particular game (made by We-Killed-Sonic Sega) was so obscure, that I might be the only one at the event. I was wrong, but only off by about 40 people.

I arrived about ten minutes late at the Sony Playstation store, saw a line, and got in it. I asked the person in front of me what the deal was, and he responded, enthusiastically, "I don’t know man, I just got here myself!" Fortunately, an unusually perky saleswoman showed up a couple minutes later to explain that I was in the correct line for the event, and that everyone in line would get the privilege of having something autographed by the game's producer (eh?). She then handed me a large stack of large "Sega" stickers (I still have no idea what I’m supposed to do with these) and vanished.

I waited for about 15 minutes as the line slowly shambled forward. Several people queued behind me, including a father-daughter pair (I suppose it was a family-friendly event). A quick look around verified that 90% of the people there were young Asian males in glasses, so I blended in well. Eventually, I got to the head of the line, where I could finally see what everyone was waiting for (apologies for the horrible picture).

Yes, I think that is some cosplay woman on the left. At least, it seemed like the employees at the store didn't know her. Maybe she came with the guy who was signing autographs, who was some producer I've never heard of. Maybe she just forced her way into the store with that plastic gun of hers.

Anyway, I got a signed game cover (for a game I cannot even purchase for another month or two) and a plastic grenade. Whoopee. Oh, and some raffle ticket for various items I did not win, or otherwise lacked the patience to hang around for three hours to find out if I won or not.

The evening was not a total loss, as I got to actually play the game for a bit, which was my actual objective. It was interesting, probably because it didn't have any references to hedgehogs, of any color. Also, I got the opportunity to roam around the Metreon for a bit, and found it more abandoned and lifeless than ever before, populated mostly by glum-looking security guards who, with subtle head-nods, convinced me to go about my business somewhere else.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Craigslist Advisory --- Avoid Scams by Trusting No One

I recently won a cell-phone in a contest. It's one of those large "smart phones" that has a tiny keyboard, and runs a tiny version of Windows, along with a tiny version of Microsoft Office. Since it was unlikely that I would ever need to edit Excel spreadsheets on the go, and since I already have a perfectly good cell-phone, I decided to sell it.

Amazon doesn't let you re-sell cell-phones on their reseller marketplace, and lately Ebay seems to be a place fraught with peril, so I decided to try my luck and use Craigslist. I posted a simple notice with information on the phone and my price, and crossed my fingers.

Within a few hours, I had roughly thirty different emails asking about the phone. They ran the gamut from well-worded inquiries with contact information, to gems like:

"i wanna buy the blackjack 2 u posted on craigslist"

I contacted the first person to respond, and we agreed upon a time and place to meet. Craigslist advises meeting in a public place, so if "Krystal" turns out to be twelve large guys who plan to steal your merchandise, at least you can entertain passers-by with your public beating.

In my case, the transaction went surprisingly smoothly. The buyer gave the phone a cursory examination and then handed me a large wad of cash. I verified the amount and we went our separate ways. I was not subsequently followed by thugs looking to liberate me from my money, but had I been, the joke would have been on them, since I almost immediately gave all the money to a nice man on the street playing three-card-monte and told him, "I'll be back for this later." I kid.

I still find it odd that anyone would be willing to hand over a large wad of cash to someone they knew only through two lines of text posted on Craigslist, but perhaps this is the way things are done nowadays, and I’m an old coot that needs to learn to embrace these newfangled ways.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

It is pitch black. You are likely to be eaten by the internet.

It's time for more embarrassing admissions. About twelve years ago, out of sheer boredom, I wrote an "Interactive Fiction" game. If you’ve never heard of the term "interactive fiction", it’s a game that's text-based and involves you reading and responding to gripping sequences like the following:


It is very dark in this non-descript room. You are probably going to fall down and hurt yourself if you're not careful.


You don't have a flashlight.


You are carrying a pack of gum, a weighted companion cube, a MacBook Air, and a match.


The MacBook Air, surprisingly, catches on fire immediately and quickly burns into ash.


Your yelling attracts Steve Jobs out of the darkness. Steve notices the remains of the MacBook Air, and berates you mercilessly until you keel over.


The game I wrote was an homage to the Infocom-written "Zork" games that were popular long ago, so it was filled with in-jokes, meaningless references to other Zork games, and the like. If you want to embarrass me further, you can now actually play it in your web-browser here (Java required, and the page is a bit flakey -- I had to type in "RESTART" at the prompt):

but be warned, it's really cheesy. Seriously.

Anyway, at the time I wrote the game, there was a small but thriving online community of people writing and critiquing each others' games. I'm not certain this community even exists anymore. I released my game into said community with little fanfare, and got a handful of emails pointing out the various spelling errors, bugs, and logic flaws in my game puzzles. I gave up my dream of winning the Interactive Fiction Pulitzer, and turned my boredom towards other pursuits.

Recently, for some reason, I did a Google(tm) search for the game, and uncovered a bunch of relevant links, including (to my amusement) a set of maps someone had drawn for my game. The maps are remarkably good. Here’s an example:

Compare this to the actual maps I drew in a notebook when I was actually writing the game:

No, the picture isn't out of focus. My writing really is that illegible.

The point to take away from all of this is that the guy who did these great maps apparently made them last year. I had to search through piles of archived stuff to even find the notebook for that last picture (and was honestly surprised when I found it). Stuff that happens on the Internet apparently stays on the Internet. Forever.