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Notes that have nothing to do with financial technology

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Tuesday, June 27, 2006

If Nominated, I Will Not Run ...

When I returned from my workout this morning, I picked up a voice mail from a Kristine Watson who informed me that I had won a National Leadership Award, bestowed by Republican Congressmember Tom Reynolds.  Imagine my overflowing joy.

A quick look at my favorite search engine (for the record, Vivisimo) showed me that this alleged award is a fund-raising scam.  This is a fundraising technique of the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) in which the target (in this case, me) is lured with an award and an appointment as honorary co-chair of some kind of advisory council.  According to blogs published by others who have received similar calls, the recipient pays $300-500 to support their publicity efforts on the award-winner’s behalf.

As noted on Thuktun Flishithy (a blog with a fascinating name), “Oddly, they don’t seem to be targetting only Republicans. Many of the reports of this are from Democrats and others who aren’t likely to share the political views of Rep. deLay and the NRCC. In some of these reports, it’s clear that this Leadership Award is being offered without much knowledge at all of the intended recipient.”

Other blogs mention that the “award” was offered to the medical faculty at Vanderbilt, a restaurant owner in Tribeca, and quite a few others.  The usual script is that the awardee calls the congresscritter’s office back, at which point a staffer plays a recording of said congressional rep saying something like, “Thank you for taking time to call. The United States Congress needs to hear from small business people like you, to hear just what it’s like out there, and to hear how much a tax-break would help you. Your voice is important to congress, and we want you to help us shape policy that will help small businessmen like you in communities like yours. Thank you. Please hold on and someone will be right back with you.”

My favorite write-up of the dozen or so I looked at has to be Ronald Silver’s, which you can read here.

Argh.  Thanks to others who have so considerately documented their experience with this alleged National Leadership Award, I think I’ll pass. 

Posted by twcarey on 06/27 at 09:44 AM
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Friday, April 28, 2006

In Search of Java

I purchased an espresso maker back in 1994 that did the job for me for over 11 years.  That included 2 1/2 years in Tokyo, where the machine had to be plugged in to a step-up transformer to work.  It typically took 2 1/2 to 3 minutes to make my favorite caffienated beverage, a wet cappucino. 

Still, it served me well, until that fateful day early last summer when an internal seal blew.

I sadly retired my faithful machine and went searching for a new one.  I drank drip coffee for a few weeks, but it just wasn’t the same.  My work suffered.  The level of caffeine in my system fell to dangerously low levels. 

Finally, I purchased a shiny Italian job for around $230 that promised a great capuccino.  As some of you might guess, I’m a bit of a gadget freak, and am able to follow directions even if they’re badly translated into English.  This machine’s instructions were so badly written that I ended up having to email the seller several times, only to find that they had failed to ship an important part.  Once the part arrived, I struggled with the machine for a few months, cranking out my two daily cappucini.  It would take about 5 minutes to brew each cup, which seemed excessive to me.  The attachment to steam milk was especially cranky. 

Then some internal part made a loud POP, and the machine stopped working.  So there I was, in mid-October, having killed a rather expensive piece of equipment. 

I did some more research, and picked up a cute little French number, which set me back a little less than $200.  Again, its workings were a little complex, and it would take almost 5 minutes to brew up a cappucino.  This one broke just before Christmas. 

Santa came through with another espresso machine for me that cost him/her about $150.  This one was somewhat more efficient, brewing up a cappucino in about 3 minutes.  After extracting the liquid gold through the coffee grounds, I would push a second button that heated the water up for steaming to a higher temperature.  One morning in March, shortly after finishing my annual review of online brokers, the machine made a loud popping noise, and spewed hot water all over the counter.  Fortunately, in spite of the low caffeine level in my bloodstream, my sprinter’s reactions got me out of the way of the geyser.

After several email exchanges with a nearly-illiterate technician, we discovered that the problem with this third machine was a small rubber ball that was supposed to be seated inside a spring.  Following the tech’s instructions, I disassembled the machine and found that the former ball had turned into rubber rubble.  The tech sent me a new one, apparently made of a better material, but the re-assembly process was not a success. 

This left me feeling that I had turned into a very efficient murderer of cappucino machines.  I felt deep despair at the thought of having to shell out big bucks every day so that my young pal Crystal at Peet’s could make me a couple of wet cappucini.  After killing 4 machines in only 8 months, I figured I should probably give up.

While wandering aimlessly, and in a low-caffeine state, around downtown Palo Alto last weekend, I noticed a board outside the Palo Alto Toy Shop advertising ... a coffee maker.  ?!???!  This seemed like an odd thing for a toy shop to push.  It turns out to be an invention of a local firm called Aerobie, which makes fun things to throw around, like the Squidgie Disc

One of their inventors came up with a brilliant device called the Aeropress Coffee and Espresso Maker.  I picked one up, figuring that a $30 experiment was worth my time.  This thing is nothing short of amazing.

First and foremost, it makes a great cup of coffee with very little fuss.  There are no fancy pumps or springs or internal seals to break.  The pressure that creates the flavorful brew is supplied by the user.  The device looks like a huge syringe, but without the needle on the end.  It takes about a minute to actually make the coffee; a total of two minutes if you count in setup time.  To create a nice foamy milk top for my cappucino, I bought a milk frother, so technically I am out about $55 for both pieces.  The frother is very simple—I heat up the milk in the glass container in the microwave, then whip up the heated milk.  I don’t have to generate steam in a machine that I will certainly just break in the very near future. 

I don’t think I can break the Aerobie very easily.  It simply doesn’t have the pieces that turn me into a Fatal Attraction.  It’s made of a hard plastic, so even if I drop it I can’t break it.  It’s very easy to clean, with no risk of scattering wet grounds all over the kitchen ... uh, no, I don’t know ANYone who would EVER do that .  The downside is that it makes one cup of coffee at a time, but most cappucino makers have that same restriction. 

I expect my productivity level to rise significantly now that I can efficiently caffeinate myself.  If you become an Aerobie Aeropress user, please let me know what you think. 

Posted by twcarey on 04/28 at 09:48 AM
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Monday, April 17, 2006

Back from NY

I’ve been traveling with my high-school-age daughter the last week, and haven’t been around to update the site.  We went to New York with my mom, had a wonderful time playing tourist, and saw three plays, all of which I would recommend for very different reasons.

Two of the shows focus on mother-daughter relationships, which I thought would be appropriate given the traveling party of grandmother, mother, and daughter. 

The first show we saw was “The Light in the Piazza,” at Lincoln Center.  The staging is innovative; I like the “stadium seating” in the theater, which puts the stage below the audience.  Victoria Clark has the main role as the mother, and her range is incredible.  I think the part is written for an alto, but at one point she is singing the higher harmony part in a duet with the actress playing her daughter, who is a soprano.  The sets are minimal, more suggestive than substantial, and the music is gorgeous. 

The second play we saw was very very different.  Lisa Kron’s “Well,” which is described as “a seriocomic investigation about wellness and the mystery of parent/adult child relationships.” This one breaks the fourth wall in several different ways.  It’s performed without an intermission, and you won’t want to miss any of it, so I suggest avoiding liquids with your pre-theater meal.  Kron weaves together stories of her childhood in an integrated neighborhood and her difficulties with allergies as a teenager, and questions why she is healthy now while her mother is afflicted with a variety of ailments. 

The press release describing the play says, “WELL opens with Lisa Kron’s mother sitting on a La-Z-Boy recliner in the middle of the stage.  As the play goes on to deal with Kron’s personal experiences of healing, a comedic coup d’état breaks out.  The actors critique the script, her memories conflict with her flashbacks, her mother interrupts with her own opinions, and Kron finds herself in danger of losing control.  The result is a hilarious and brazen piece that questions our thoughts on the conventions of both theatre and wellness.” That sums it up. 

Pieces of this show keep running through my mind.  It’s funny as well as thought-provoking.  I highly recommend it.  Website:  http://www.wellonbroadway.com

We also saw a classic Broadway musical comedy, “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.” I have a particular liking for shows with gratuitous dancing and senseless bursting into song.  Norbert Leo Butz is amazing, especially while performing the energetic “Great Big Stuff.” I’d love to bottle whatever he’s on and take it home with me. 

My older daughter is a junior at the University of Delaware, and is very involved on the production side of a lot of student-run shows.  Right now she is stage manager for the Harrington Theater Arts Committee’s production of “Jekyll and Hyde.” This show depends heavily on the actor cast in the dual role of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and they cast this one right.  Here is a clip of the very talented Chris Saltalmacchio singing “This Is The Moment." This song takes place right before Dr. Jekyll first drinks the potion that turns him into Mr. Hyde.  My daughter Colleen opens the curtain and organized the crew that moves the lab table into place—I’m so proud.  grin

We saw “Jekyll & Hyde” both Thursday and Friday nights, in an effort to be supportive, but also enjoyed it a great deal.  Unlike “Scoundrels,” this one does not have a happy ending, but it asks the musical question, “How does an individual integrate the good and the evil?”

Saturday we visited the gorgeous Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, PA.  It was a beautiful day and the gardens were nothing short of stunning.  We saw gazillions of tulips, walls covered with orchids, banana trees ... wow. 

Then Saturday night we saw yet another show—UD’s Professional Theater Training Program’s production of “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead.” Very well performed rendition of a play I last saw in the 70s when it was being staged by the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco.  The actors playing R&G (or is it G&R?) did a terrific job with the banter and the layers of language Stoppard writes.  The theater PTTP uses is tiny, but the production values are very high. 

Now it’s time to get back to work!  I have big plans for developing this website over the next couple of months.  Stay tuned.

Posted by twcarey on 04/17 at 08:48 AM
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