Hootie and the Blowfish face death ray, headline Rites of Spring

I’m not a fan of Hootie and the Blowfish. Their music seems pretty well designed to not offend people, so I can’t really say anything
derogatory about it. It’s sort of like a noble gas, just filling space, not affecting the listener. But Hootie isn’t one of the fun noble gasses, like Neon or Helium. On the periodic table of music, I’d put Hootie as the equivalent of Argon, making up roughly 1% of the musical atmosphere.

However, mix Hootie and the Blowfish with the power of 112 suns, and you’ve got something much more interesting…

So say the creators of the Solar Death Ray as they blast a Hootie and the Blowfish audio tape into liquid oblivion. Hootie lives on, however, promoting the Tendercrisp Bacon Cheddar Ranch burger and headlining this year’s Rites of Spring.

I’ve been planning on attending Rites for a while now and, like most Vanderbilt students, surprise was my first reaction. Not so much because Hootie and the Blowfish were selected so much as that the band still exists. Surprise turned to perplexity as I tried in vain to recall a single Hootie song. Then, finally, I felt relief that Vanderbilt had not gone with its usual inexplicable choice of a rap group to top the concert billing… or had it?

Should be fun, with lots of good music and Aerobie time. The rest of the Rites lineup is available here.

Doing Shots: Notes from Coffee Geek Fest III

ryanweb2.jpgOffering further proof that “coffee is the new wine,” Murky Coffee held an espresso tasting in the Clarendon shop Sunday night. A few friends and I spent the evening there along with thirty other coffee lovers as Murky baristi served up shot after shot of nine different espresso blends from all over the country.

The event was unique for bringing together so many different espressos for side by side comparison. Having all those blends on hand is a rare occurrence in itself, but pulling the shots on Murky’s Synesso Cyncra really made this an exceptional experience. Thanks to the Cyncra’s state of the art temperature control, each blend was brewed at exactly the temperature specified by the roasters. This is essential for getting the full complexity and sweetness out of each one. Since the machine allows a different temperature to be set at each of its group heads, Murky was able to have two espressos flowing at all times (and it still took three hours to get through them all).

To highlight the differences between each blend, we were given tasting sheets to fill out as we sampled shots. They included spaces for notes on flavor, body, aftertaste, and the ineffable quality of brightness, a measure of acidity that’s hard to describe in words but easy to sense by taste. The sensation is like the tightening feeling you get in your mouth when you drink a citrus beverage. To enhance our tasting vocabulary and spare us from having to make notes like “has a distinct coffee flavor,” we kept a copy of the SCAA flavor wheel nearby. It came in handy, though I don’t think anyone went in for suggestions like “nippy,” “leguminous,” or “sweet basil anise.”

Our group of five included two current or former baristi (me and Wendy, a former trainer with Starbucks), one frequent espresso drinker (Julian), and two friends whose interest was piqued by my never shutting up about coffee. Of them, Justine had her first pure espresso shot that night. David, who was staying with me for the weekend while visiting D.C. law schools, had his first the night before when I insisted that he try a mediocre shot from another local cafe so that he’d have a basis for comparison. Yet despite our varying levels of experience, our impressions of the blends were remarkably similar. David and I both chose Zoka’s Paladino as our all around favorite, while Intelligentsia’s Black Cat, Gimme! Coffee’s Leftist Espresso, Metropolis Coffee’s Red Line, and Counter Culture’s Toscano (Murky’s store blend) received consistently good marks from our table. We all agreed that one blend was excessively bright and made for a less enjoyable cup. The night ended with David winning a t-shirt for his ridiculously long tasting notes and our group settling down with milk shakes at the Silver Diner. Estimated time that I got to sleep that night: 3:45 am.

It’s also worth noting that Wendy and Justine came to the espresso tasting straight from attending a firearms class offered by the National Rifle Association. What would David Brooks say about that?

That so many people were willing to devote their Sunday night to tasting espresso and that the various roasters enthusiastically contributed their beans to the event bodes well for the continuing improvement of American coffee shops. As Tyler Cowen would say, better educated consumers push up the quality of a good by refusing to settle for inferior products. If Sunday night is any indication, and I think it is, then the demand for gourmet coffee in the U.S. isn’t even close to peaking yet. Starbucks successfully developed the extensive market, but the intensive market for specialty shops is still wide open as more and more consumers learn to love great coffee. The best is yet to come!

The pictures are courtesy of David. At top, Murky barista and reigning Southern Regional Barista Champion Ryan Jensen gets the machine ready. That’s a lot of demitasse cups! Below, from left to right, David, Wendy, Justine, me, and Julian pause for a photo between shots.

tastinggroupweb.jpg

This could be the start of a really bad redneck horror movie

Regular readers may remember Hogzilla, the massive wild hog killed in Georgia that John Coleman and I wrote about back in August. The beast was shot and quickly buried, leaving a striking photograph as the only proof of his existence.

I was doubtful of the animal’s existence, but a recent exhumation has revealed that it was quite real, though a bit smaller than originally claimed. Still, at eight feet long and 800 pounds, Hogzilla is indeed worthy of the name.

[Link via BoingBoing.]

An entrepreneurship professor who lives what he teaches

Lots of bloggers have been amused by this story about a couple selling candles that smell like Jesus (more specifically, his robes, which are foretold to be “fragrant with myrrh and aloes and cassia”). Jeremy Horpedahl of The LCD was in for a bigger surprise in the story: the candles’ inventor is one of his former college professors. Bob Tosterud taught his entrepreneurship at the University of South Dakota. He’s evidently qualified to teach it, as he and his wife have sold thousands of the candles at nearly $18 a piece.

Jeremy has also written about how Tosterud would require each of his students to come up with a new business idea every day. He collected the best of these over the years and eventually published a book, Almost 500! Million Dollar Ideas for $9.95. The students do the work and he reaps the book proceeds. This guy really is a genius.

Virtual Murky

Today’s broadcast of All Things Considered on NPR features a story on Ryan Jensen, the barista at Murky Coffee’s Eastern Market location who is competing this weekend in the United States Barista Championship (Ryan took first in the regional competition a few weeks ago). The story features quotes from Ryan and Murky founder Nick Cho. The background noises were recorded at our Clarendon location, so readers living outside the D.C. area can get the virtual barista experience by listening in (including a cameo by me calling out a “small latte on the bar.”)

Good luck to Ryan in Seattle!

[Update 4/27/05: New permanent link for the story.]

[Update 3/14/05: The longer version of the story that ran locally is also online now. Thanks, Stuart!
Direct url for RealPlayer: http://www.wamu.org/audio/mc/05/03/mc050311-7288.ram

The SCAA has the final results from the competition.]

Taylor (the Latte Boy)

Finally, a love song for the barista! Today I received in the mail my copy of Broadway singer Christiane Noll’s jazz CD Live at the West Bank Cafe. Having wanted this album for a while, I played it immediately and was delighted to discover that the second track is a fun little song about a woman hitting on her morning barista. Written by Marcy Heisler and Zina Goldrich, it features some clever lyrics about love in the age of Starbucks:

And today at 8:11, Taylor told me he was playing

With a band down in the village in the basement of a bar.

As he smoothly flipped the lever to prepare my double latte,

But for me he made it triple! (And he didn’t think I knew)

But I saw him flip the lever, and for me he made it triple,

And I knew the triple latte meant that Taylor loved me too!

I said, “What time are you playing? And thank you for the extra skim…”

He said, “Keep the $3.55,” because this triple latte was on him.

I can’t help quoting this rhyme, too:

I used to be the kind of girl

Who’d run when love rushed toward her.

Till finally a voice whispered, “Love can be yours,

If you step up to the counter and order.

Finding an online recording is tricky, but luckily the Gay Christian Network points the way. (It came up on Google, I promise. Though I suspect many would be less surprised if I were gay than if I were Christian. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.) A recording of Kristen Chenoweth singing “Taylor” is available here. Click the stream labeled 30:14 and scroll over to about seventeen minutes into the clip.

More Christiane Noll is available here; advice for hitting on your favorite barista here.

Brin blogs

It’s not easy to find bright spots in the last election season, but I recently came across one: it provoked physicist and science fiction author David Brin to start a weblog. Brin’s writing is consistently thought-provoking. His The Transparent Society provides an alternative and sensible outlook on emerging technologies and their impact on privacy, freedom, and accountability, while his Uplift series of novels is one of my favorites (I’ll soon begin book five of six).

Right now his weblog features an ongoing series about modernism and its enemies on both the right and the left. Installments 13 and 14 deal particularly with global warming and Michael Crichton’s State of Fear. Number 15 turns to the left via feminist sci-fi author Margaret Atwood (whom I’ve never read).

The best part item I’ve come across on his blog so far is a link to a speech he gave at the 2002 LP National Convention in which he castigates (L)libertarians for letting their ideology keep them at the margins of political debate. I was going to pull a few quotes from the piece, but there are just too many incisive remarks to choose just one or two. It’s essential reading for anyone who finds themselves a part of our “movement.” (Sorry, Adrienne.) Go. Read. Now.

Reviewing Global Crises, Global Solutions

gcgs.bmpProving once again that the “freelance writer” part of this blog’s subtitle isn’t just there to lend a false sense of legitimacy, I have another book review up on aBetterEarth. This time the subject is Bjorn Lomborg’s Global Crises, Global Solutions, the 650 page final report of the inaugural Copenhagen Consensus.

Due to the nature of the book, there was too much to cover for me to go into much detail on any particular chapter. I did have a few comments on the issue of climate change, however, that were (understandably) cut from the final draft that I want to discuss here. If you’re unfamiliar with the Copenhagen Consensus, read my review first and then come back to this entry. If you’re already familiar with the CC’s conclusions, feel free to just read on.
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Then you’re gonna have to ban this blog

CNET has an interview up today with Brad Smith, the contrarian commissioner of the Federal Election Commission. Smith warns that an adverse judicial decision from last fall has forced the FEC to begin considering how it’s going to extend McCain-Feingold to the Internet. If Congress doesn’t step in, Smith says, the resulting regulations could extend all the way to what links a person places on his blog to what copy he sends out to an email list.

McCain-Feingold was bad news from the beginning, but its blatant violations of the First Amendment were somewhat hidden from individuals because they applied to coordinated activity, monetary donations, political organizations, and the mainstream press. Now that the online publishing revolution has empowered the individual and blurred the distinction between press and private citizen (as if there ever should have been a distinction!), extending the law to the Internet will demonstrate how restrictive it really is.

We can hope that Congress will act to prevent this, but I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for the establishment to pass a law saying they want less control over political speech. The judiciary might be a better bet, but the Supreme Court dropped the ball on the original challenge to McCain-Feingold and a test case might not arise until well into campaign season. Even with a positive outcome, having to deal with the FEC’s arcane regulations or facing harassment from political opponents could have a chilling effect on online speech.

[Hat tip to BoingBoing for the link and to Unexpectedly Sober for the inspiration for the title.]

[Update 3/5/05: Tim Lee blogs about another case of law struggling to adapt to the new online media. Should bloggers possess the same right to protect their sources' anonymity as the traditional press enjoys? A California court seems poised to say no.]

Cato goes RSS

I checked the Cato homepage today and saw that the Institute is now offering a syndication feed for its daily commentary feature. This is a great addition for people like me who try to keep up with so many sources of information that they often neglect to manually visit sites they like. It should also help the Institute op-eds more play among bloggers (for whatever that’s worth to Cato).

The RSS feed URL is:
http://www.cato.org/rss/commentary.rss

For people not yet using a news aggregator, I recommend Bloglines.

Writing without a deadline

[This entry was actually written late last night, which explains my drinking and the gradual descent into irrelevancy. My Internet connection went down and I wasn't able to post this until now.]

One of the downsides to my experience with student media in college is that it hard for me to write without a pressing deadline. I’ve always been a procrastinator, but as I faced deadline after deadline and always managed to produce something publishable I grew more and more confident in my ability to eke something out in the (tada!) nick of time. I went from starting papers a day or two in advance freshman year, to perhaps the evening before as a sophomore, to around midnight as a junior, and finally often to the morning of the due date by second semester senior year. I might have stopped had I been slapped down once or twice, but my grades were never affected by my bad habits (and it’s not because they were low to begin with!).

I thought I’d picked up the ability to write in a more timely fashion by doing something as up to date and enjoyable as blogging. Alas, the new habits haven’t carried over into my other writing — I just finished a review of a book I started reading back in December. Not having a firm deadline and being preoccupied with other things, I let it simmer instead of hammering it out. Last night I realized that I’d fallen right back into my college writing habits. With a deadline finally facing me, I therefore did my best to recreate my caffeine and sugar-fueled college writing experience: a late night trip to CVS for a 20 oz. Coke, a Butterfinger bar, and two Cadbury Eggs and I was on my way. A couple hours before dawn I’d essentially completed my review. It’s not the healthiest way to write, but it got the job done. If the submission process goes well it will be published on Thursday; I’ll be sure to post the link.

Beverage side note #1: Speaking of 20 oz. Cokes, I was happy to learn last night that they’re now available in lime flavor. I’ve long been a fan of lime in Coke and envied the Diet Coke drinkers for their expanded range of options (but not for the fact that they’re drinking diet). I bought a bottle and it was even better than I thought it would be; they really did a good job getting the lime flavor down. I’ll be getting more of these.

Beverage side note #2: Speaking of Cadbury Eggs, last week I experimented with a crazy idea for a drink I came up with: cutting the top off of an egg and pulling a fresh shot of espresso straight into it. The plan in my head was that if I refrigerated it first it would be a simple matter to cut off the top and pour the shot. Unfortunately, my mental image of Cadbury Eggs was a little off. Perhaps because they’re an eagerly anticipated annual treat, I remembered them being bigger than they actually are. In reality, they’re too small to even stand up in a demitasse cup! I also thought they had more space inside than they do; they’re actually almost completely filled with creme. Even removing some of it, I could only pour in about a 1/3 of a shot. Nonetheless, the taste is an all out assault on the mouth, but in a good kind of way, as the espresso adds an initial burst of coffee flavor to the egg while melting into the chocolate and creme. All things considered, though, it’s just not worth the effort, mess, and all around poor aesthetics.

Beverage side note #3: I had lunch at a place in D.C. today that served Faygo bottled sodas in place of Coke or Pepsi. How great is that?

Beverage side note #4: I think I’m going to have a glass of wine.

Beverage side note #5: If my Cadbury Egg espresso drink seems a bit excessive, consider the guy who orders a venti Chantico at a Chicago Starbucks location. That’s 1300 calories in twenty ounces of drinking chocolate! [Hat tip: Starbucks gossip.]

Beverage side note #6: Speaking of Starbucks, the massive chain is rolling out Turkish coffee as a new menu item. This strikes me as a risky move, as it will be hard to do well and it adds one more thing for baristas to learn in a company that’s already expanding at a tremendous rate. [Hat tip: Fortune Elkins.]

Beverage side note #7: The wine is quite enjoyable, thanks for asking. It’s a Scheurebe, a derivative of Riesling grapes that I’ve never tried before tonight. Very crisp and fruity.

Beverage side note #8: The cork, on the other hand, was ridiculously hard to remove. I must remember not to take this particular wine along on a date, for this bastard cork had me struggling like I’d never attempted such a thing a before. Or like I’m as weak as a schoolgirl. (Neither of which is true.)

Beverage side note #9: Blenheim Hot Ginger Ale. Fa-zow!

Beverage side note #10: I think the wine started to take effect with that last comment.

Beverage side note #11: These beverage side notes aren’t really “side notes” so much as they’ve become the unanticipated substance of this entry.

Beverage side note #12: I poured my best latte art ever this weekend! Fa-zow!

Anyway, what I was trying to say before this entry got out of hand is that I’ve been busy but won’t be so busy anymore after tomorrow, so I should be back to semi-substantive blogging soon. In the mean time, Ceaf Lewis has created a webpage that will blow your freaking mind.
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