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I’m sorry sir, I’m not a scuzzball

September 25th, 2006 No comments

I was driving back home from downtown yesterday and was at the corner of Bedford and West Washington. Just as I was about to complete the right turn I feel a nudge from behind. No, it wasn’t someone in the back seat, it was a car.

I turn around and see two heads in the car behind me. I signalled to pull over into the parking lot next door and they did. After getting out and inspecting the damage, I wander over to the offender’s car to get some info. Inside that car were two dingbat sorority-type girls. The driver seemed to be a sophomore or junior at UW, I couldn’t really even see the passenger.

I asked to get her info and she asked for a pen/paper. When I got back with those they had already found a pen and paper of their own. As she wrote name/address/phone number down I asked to see her insurance card as well. “Um, I don’t have that with me. I think it’s at home.” Not good. I told her that you’re pretty much required to have that on you when you drive. She looked confused. I then asked if she at least knew the name of the insurance company. “Actually, no, my parents pay that for me.” Big surprise. Then I asked if she at least had her ID to match with the name she was giving me. Nope, that was at home too as she was going to the store just a block away. “Sir, I’m not a scuzzball, I do have all that stuff, just not with me,” she said.

There really wasn’t any damage to the back of my car. Maybe a tiny scratch where paint rubbed off. I told her it didn’t look bad but I’d call her if I needed anything. She said OK and halfheartedly apologized and sped off.

How irresponsible could one be? She didn’t have an insurance card, know the insurer’s name nor have her ID. I feel like I should take my car in for repairs just so she does have something to pay for. Maybe then she’d learn to have that stuff with her.

I just Facebook’d the driver and found out she goes to MATC Madison. I should have known.

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A bit of (cheese) culture in Monroe

September 17th, 2006 No comments

This past Saturday’s afternoon entertainment was Monroe’s Cheesefest. Yep, Cheesefest. It’s an annual even that takes place on Monroe’s town square. Thousands of people from all over attend, with the central themes being cheese and all things Swiss.

One of the first things we saw was a decently long line extending out of an establishment on the outer ring of the square. As we got closer we realized it was Baumgartner’s, which neither of us had heard of, but apparently everyone else had. They serve beer (Berghoff mostly – as it’s from Monroe) and cheese. Could it be any more stereotypical Wisconsin?

We waited in line for a couple minutes and then went inside. Polka music filled the air and a line had formed at the cheese counter. Past the cheese counter was a bar and a stage for the polka band. We ended up getting a beer each and a couple cheese sandwiches. Yep, cheese sandwiches. Sounds like something you’d eat for lunch if your income was below the poverty level. They were actually pretty good, possibly because I was starving. The sandwiches were simple thick slices of cheese (swiss and cheddar in this case) squeezed between some rye bread. The sweetish bread and salty cheese went well together, although I don’t think I’d make a habit of eating that.
In true Wisconsin form, an old gal was there with poufy hair, smoker’s cracks on her face and a lot of makeup. I didn’t catch her with a cigarette in her hand, but I’m sure one wasn’t far away. When I think of barflies, she’s what comes to mind.

The main draw of the event is obviously the cheese, which Monroe is well known for. A single tent had been setup to exhibit the cheese. A couple dozen cheese producers were there sampling their wares. A large sign outside the tent explained that the cheese was inside and to “Form No Lines.” Which I took as an indication that you weren’t supposed to start at one end of the tent and end up at the other, stopping at each table along the way. I think that was their intent.

It definitely didn’t happen that way. It was quite the opposite, in fact. People formed an ad-hoc line and stopped at every table along the way, but, even worse, lingered at each table as long as possible. When they finally stopped lingering and were ready to move on, the people in line in front of them hadn’t stopped lingering and everyone else was held up behind them. It was a fiasco.

Despite all that, I did get to sample a dozen or so cheeses. They were all very good, but nothing stood out enough for me to purchase it. I’ll let Brennan’s do that for me.

On the opposite side of the square, a cow milking contest was held. A couple hundred people gathered around the post office area and watched the proceedings. 4 cows were lined up, along with handlers and one girl assigned to shovel duty, and teams huddled around each cow. A classy gal with a microphone marched around talking to the milkers and entertaining the audience while the contestants tugged away. It was another uniquely Wisconsin experience.
While my comments above could largely be described as cynical, the festival was actually quite charming. The locals seem to love it and non-locals come from all around to see it. It’s free to attend, the food is great (cream puffs, cheese sandwiches, homemade ice cream bars, chocolate covered cheesecake), and the weather happened to be perfect. As we were getting ready to leave, we passed the old couple pictured on the left. Yes, that’s an inverted ice cream cone on her head, but they embodied the festival’s atmosphere. Good natured people, proud of their heritage, having fun like they do every year at this time.

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JMK Notsomuch

September 17th, 2006 No comments

After Cheesefest yesterday, we ended up going to CherryVale Mall in Rockford, IL. After that, we went to eat at JMK Nippon, not too far north of the mall. We had been to this restaurant before, but never eaten. 2-3 years ago we went to get a table but the line was out the door and the wait for a table was even longer. This time we went with the mindset that we might have to wait a bit. We didn’t.

The restaurant is split into two parts, the cafe and then teppanyaki style area. The former is open and bright and serves a number of Japanese dishes. The latter is darker, gimmickier and probably the part of the restaurant that is the big “draw.” We ate at the cafe area.

We ordered a “tokkuri” of sake, and it turned out to be incredibly sweet. I’m not sure I would order it again, but it was something new so I can’t complain.

With the Yakitori House at Epcot not quite hitting the spot a few weeks ago, I ended up ordering tempura shrimp/Udon and a rainbow roll. The udon was pretty good, if not a bit bland in the broth department. The tempura was served as a side, which is fine because the breading didn’t get soggy then. And for $8, the amount of tempura and noodles you got was substantial.

The rainbow roll was a different story. It came out first and was mediocre at best. The rice was somewhat wet and the fish didn’t adhere to the rice like it should. The fish was a bit wet too. Perhaps it was due to the Mexicans dressed as sushi chefs behind the sushi bar. Apparently JMK was thinking that Mexicans cook at every other restaurant in the US, why not a Japanese one? I’m going to go out on a limb and say that they probably didn’t have any sushi-making training and certanly don’t have the years and years of experience most sushi chefs have.

Ross had a fish combination that came out in a psuedo-enamel box. On it was a white fish with a slightly salty sauce, some strir fried vegetables, seaweed salad (I’m really starting to like this stuff, does anyone know it’s Japanese name?), and some rice with raisins in it. He really liked it and considered the restaurant choice a success. I can’t complain too much, but I wouldn’t race back.

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Why read when you can watch?

September 12th, 2006 No comments

CNNVideo.JPGI hate it when CNN runs video on CNN.com and doesn’t include a small story with the video.

Take this image, for example. Something rare happened and you want to know what that was. You click on the link (neglecting to notice that silly video camera icon next to it) and a Pipeline window opens up. You’re on a slow connection at work and you can’t see the video and you’re only left with the tiny snippet of text on the right that describes it.

Would it make more sense to have that link to an article which also includes video? I’d even let them put the video camera icon to the right of the link to indicate that the article also includes a video.

I imagine this is all because CNN gets big money for ads displayed in or around video feeds and these links bring in traffic. I generally ignore the links as they’re puff pieces anyway, but still.

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Don’t waste your time

September 12th, 2006 No comments

Another annoyance of mine: incorrect references to time zones. If you want me to meet with you at 11 eastern, 10 central and it’s the middle of June, it’s 10 EDT/11CDT, not 10 EST/CST.

If you’re in the midst of daylight savings time, you stick a D in the middle of it. If you’re not in the midst of daylight savings time, you stick an S in the middle of it, as you’re on standard time. Even better, since everyone mostly follows the same daylight savings time rules, let’s have you just use ET/CT instead of attempting to look embarrissingly intelligent.

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Direct vs Nonstop

September 12th, 2006 No comments

I’m beginning to get annoyed by people who travel frequently but don’t know the difference between nonstop and direct flights. If you travel so much, you might as well get the terminology right.

Nonstop means that you go from origin to destination without the plane stopping anywhere else first. You have one flight number, one takeoff and one landing.

Direct means going from origin to destination on one flight number, but with a stop somewhere in between. They usually are spoken of as having “continuing service to…” when the pilot/flight attendants make announcements. For example, you might board NW 562, which you had purchased thinking it went from MSN right to DEN. However, it operates as a direct flight most of the time and stops in MSP first. You might even switch planes in MSP, but the next plane you get on will still be NW 562.

What gets me about this is you don’t earn miles or segmetns for direct flights, even if you have to switch planes. It makes no sense that you can get on NW 562 from MSN to DEN and top in MSP but not have it count. Passengers still get off in MSP and board a different plane, but NW pretends that doesn’t happen and just credits you with miles “as the crow flies” from MSN to DEN.

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Scallops et al.

September 10th, 2006 No comments

I’ve begun somewhat of a weekly tradition of making a gourmet-ish meal on Saturday afternoons. I’ve mentioned how I like to take pictures of food before, so I figured this would be a good time to illustrate my most recent meal.

We couldn’t come up with anything in particular to make for dinner, so we wandered into Williams Sonoma for some ideas. After tasting some of their new flavored oils, I was able to to together a rough menu. I ended up buying a bottle of the Olivier “Parmesan” oil (it was betwen that and their pesto one) and headed home.

My idea was bacon-wrapped scallops, buttered angel hair pasta and my signature bruschetta. Ross liked the rice cream at Kringla Bakeri og Cafe at Epcot’s World Showcase, that we decided to make the recipe from my Disney World recipe book. I tasked him with this particular part of dinner.

While I seemingly enjoyed a bottle of Kunin Pape Star 2004 with dinner, the image above is incorrect. I actually just had that while making the food. It was recommended to me by the vibrant lady who has made quite a few recommendations for me at Steves Wine Market. I’d link to the wine’s site itself, but Kunin doesn’t even list the 2004 Pape Star yet. To me, the wine tasted and smelled like brie cheese (amongst other things). I was concerned that this actually indicated it was corked, but it was still drinkable so that probably was not the case. A review of the 2003 version of this indicates that smell was most likely leather. Beats me. If you’re wondering, the bottle was $21.

This meal was actually comprised of trips to three stores: Williams Sonoma, Copps and Brenans. Copps was for bread, mushrooms and bacon, while Brennans was for scallops and some additional wine.

The first thing to do was prep the bread for toasting. I’m a big fan of mice en place as it helps me get everything onto a plate at the same time. I’ve had good luck with it, even if my ability to strictly adhere to it wavers.

The bread was sliced, cut in half and then coated with a bit of that new parmesan oil. It was then set aside while I prepped a bowl of mushrooms and wrapped the scallops.

Read more…

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New game “Kidney Mix Up!”

September 10th, 2006 No comments

There goes Madison.com again, always with their funny headlines about organ transplants. I should be more specific, it’s the Captial Times that wrote this particular headline, but you can get equally interesting headlines from the Wisconsin State Journal as well.

I just found it humorous that they used a phrase like “mix it up” with a subject like kidney transplants. It’s not like they’re trading clothes or making a cake, they’re giving organs. Way to go, guys!

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CBS Snooze

September 7th, 2006 No comments

I wanted to watch Katie Couric’s debut on CBS News on Monday. I even told Tivo (via the web), to grab it for me. I got home and found that Tivo actually thought it should have recorded Monday’s CBS News instead of Tuesday’s, and instead had decided that Saturday’s news would be equally sufficient (which might be true, but that’s a different story).

I tried again last night, for her second day, and Tivo had actually pulled through. My initial impression is that she has the right stuff for the job, but she hasn’t quite found her niche yet. She appeared awkward and overly perky. But at the same time, she was noticeably trying to moderate her perkiness. It came off as just being uncomfortable.

A toss to Bob Schieffer was way too cordial to make anyone think they were watching the news. It was like she was hosting Today and had just tossed it to Al Roker and wanted to know what he had for breakfast and how his weekend was. When Katie got the toss back from Bob she was again overly polite. Not that polite is bad, but he had just given a report on the president’s admission of secret prisons and she thanked him like he had just donated $10,000 to the Muscular Dystrophy Association. “Thank you very much, Bob!”

They eventually moved on to some clips of her interview with the president. Again, and I don’t know if it was just me, it felt like she was interviewing him for the Today Show rather than CBS News. She came off like a high school cheerleader interviewing the quarterback of the football team.

The interview clips shown were more or less teasers for the terror-filled, scare-you-crazy, we’re-all-going-to-die, laughathon that was the night’s hour-long special report entitled “5 Years Later – How Safe Are We?” I’m unsure if they ever answered that question as I could really only stomach a few minutes of President Bush speaking and Katie babbling.

The one thing I thought was funny was the president saying that he works hard on connecting Iraq and al Qaeda. I’m not sure if he was talking about an explicit connection between the two groups or just being able to connect the two in people’s minds. I lied his way into doing the latter years ago, the problem is, he’s never been able to do the former. I think his actual intent last night was that he wants people to believe that if we leave Iraq al Qaeda will think it’s easier to attack us because we cop out of things. Isn’t the opposite true? If we stay in Iraq (where we don’t belong) we’re opening ourselves up to more attacks becasue no one wants us there?

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Textual sustenance

September 6th, 2006 No comments

I’ve been trying to find some good food and restaurants blogs, however I’m not doing so well. I’m looking for something with coverage of exciting new restaurants all over that includes reviews and commentary.

SlashFood.gif

The best I can come up with so far, and it’s not bad at all, is Slashfood. It’s not restaurant oriented, however it does a good job of covering most everything else. From agricultural news to cookbooks and even regular coverage of national newspapers’ food sections, it has it. It sometimes has a declasse take on things (they’re prone to drooling over gadgets), but I like that they have food porn.

Food porn you say? Nope, it’s not videos of “101 Ways to Do a Watermelon.” It’s artistic photos of food shot like you would see in a cookbook, magazine, or newspaper. Lots of their submissions seem to be very amateur, but seeing them made me realize that lots of other people take pictures of their food. I’ve been doing that for years – both at home and at restaurants.

One other site I should mention is Fast Food News. Slashfood links to it once in a while. It covers anything fast food related, from new menu items to commentary on chains. I’m a fan of the new menu item submissions, as how else would I have ever heard about DQ’s new Meltdown Chili Burger or Del Taco’s Maple Sausage Rollups?

If you know of any other sites along these lines, let me know. I can always use something new to read.

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Great graphics

September 5th, 2006 No comments

CrocHunterDead.jpg

I saw this picture the other night when stories were just breaking about the Croc Hunter’s death. I forgot who ran it exactly, but it was an Australian news agency of some sort.

Do you think they had this graphic created years ago and had been waiting to run it or did they create it on the fly? Both are equally possible, but I’m going to lean to the latter being more probably. Look at the lack of exclamation marks, red lettering and crying fans.

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Yeti wasn’t scared

September 4th, 2006 No comments

I’ve been eagerly anticpating the opening of Expedition Everest at Animal Kingon for a number of years. I remember going in 2004 and wandering over to a bench to stand on along the path by Dinoland. A mother was yelling at her son on the bench, so I had to wait a bit before I could get on it to stare at the new ride being built.

To me, Animal Kingdom hasn’t ever been a huge draw. Yeah, it does have Tough to Be a Bug and Dinosaur (forever Countdown to Extinction to me), and some decent in-park counter service places, but it never took more than a morning to get through. Sure, it’s only open till 5:00 most nights anway, so maybe that’s what they planned. Even Kali River Rapids and Kilimanjaro Safari don’t cut it for me. The former soaks you (see the pics from my 2000 trip) and the latter is so fake (read: concrete baobab trees, ostrich eggs and tire tracks) that, while I might ride them anyway, don’t overly interest me.

That’s partly why Expedition Everest (EE) was so exciting. It was going to be the ride that kept me in the park past noon. It was giong to put the AK into the Disney MGM Studios category where it doesn’t take a full day to do, but isn’t something you just plan for a morning sometime.

That’s not to say that the ride itself wasn’t the true excitement. I had seen videos from the first few days it opened on the web which raised my interest (I guess I like spoilers – oh yeah, be careful reading below if you don’t want the ride spoiled for you).

We got to the park, and after attending to Ross’ nasty toe, rushed over to EE. We grabbed a Fastpass to return in an hour or so, and tried cheating the machines for a couple extra tickets but had no luck (they were all locked – I think Disney is realizing how many people realize the button in the back can easily get you extra tickets). Because this was a new ride I decided that I should also wait in the full stand-by line as well. The wait was only a half hour.

The line itself, while containing no pre-show, is well done. More than many other attractions, this one progresses you clearly through a story, leading you to the expedition (the ride) itself. It weaves in and out of small buildings, and a decent amount of it is outside. You start off in a building that is essentially a check in desk for Everest expeditions. There are signs all over indicating they have been waiting for the Expedition Everest team (of which you’re part) to arrive. A printer, a radio, and lots of books all tie together to indicate this is the place where your journey begins.

You then weave through an outdoor area, with a temple of sorts in the middle. The centerpiece is a shrine to the Yeti protector of the mountain). The Yeti is the villain of this ride, and the line does a good job of foreshadowing your future encounter with it through various signs and pictures.

The next building you enter is a supply store of sorts. Canteens, crampons, bedding, tea and cooking supplies line the shelves. Shortly after you exit, you arrive at the Yeti Museum. This is the largest building they put together and has an extensive collection of folklore, artifacts and Yeti images. They speak of lost expeditions and generally get you apprehensive about your own impending expedition. One exhibit even explains how “scat” can be used to track and understand animals.

You eventually end up at the load building of Expedition Everest. This is where the Fastpass, stand-by and single rider lines converge. The trains seem to hold a good 30 people, and your wait in the load area is relatively short. A simple lap harness is the only restraint necessary for this attraction.

The ride itself is a lot smoother than any other roller coaster I’ve been on. I’m not sure if that’s due to engineering or the ride being so new. You start with a basic hill climb and loop around a bit to get you going. You’re then taken higher, you’re seemingly climbing Everest, until you reach a piece of track that is broken. The ride stops (in its tracks – get it?), you pause for a few seconds, the Yeti makes some noise, and you fall backwards down the same track you just climbed. The trick is while you’re pausing, wondering why the track is broken, the track behind you is switching to go a different way.

You careen backwards through the darkness inside Everest, eventually stopping at a shadowing projection of the Yeti. The Yeti makes some noise and jumps around and suddenly you’re moving forward again. The track switch isn’t what you would expect like you’ve seen for ordinary railroad cars. This track switch isn’t a horizontal movement of track section from one to another, but moreso the track rotating around its center to change the train’s movement.

This is the part of the ride that most feels like a normal roller coaster, as you twist and turn through tight corners. The climax is passing a very large Yeti, which seems to almost touch your car as it reaches out and you pass it.

Because I can’t just ride something new and amazing like that once, we came back an hour or so later and found the ride was closed due to lightning. Apparently you can ride in the rain, just not when there’s lightning – at least that’s what the monotonous weather spiel the cast member greeter said on our first ride through when it looked as if it might rain. Despite the ride being closed at the time, the Fastpass return line was full and a line outside had formed. This gave the impresion the ride might be open, and although there were cast members around, none were trying too hard to inform people the ride wasn’t operating.

We came back a bit later and found the ride was operating again. Having gone through the stand-by line already, I was very impressed with the Fastpass line. The Imagineers were able to design the queue with the new Fastpass, stand-by, single rider model and did an excellent job. Interestingly enough, if I had bypassed the stand-by line before and just did the Fastpass line, I would have gotten the same story as the full line, just in a condensed version. You’re taken through smaller replicas of the check in, supply and museum buildings, just as if you had waited in the stand-by line. This is the first time I’ve seen that done, and it was very impressive. Even if you seemingly skip a large amount of time in line, you’ll still arrive at the load area with the same background story as the other riders.

With EE, Disney has once again raised the bar on what thrill attractions should be. The story, theming, ride detail and track design all come together to make EE a premier E-Ticket ride.

I strongly recommend perusing the entier gallery of EE pictures starting at the bottom of this page. I made sure to take a lot in line, on the ride, and after.

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