Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Tasting The 2019 Samuel Adams Utopias

I have been very excited to try the 2019 Samuel Adams Utopias that I received as a Christmas Gift. In fact, I was so excited, I even went through the trouble of recording an entire video to document my experience. However, in the week that it took me to edit the video, I had second thoughts about the method I had chosen to express my feelings about tasting the 2019 Samuel Adams Utopias. I had watched a number of beer tasting videos in order to prepare for making my own, and I find that watching someone throw back a beer doesn't interest me. On some level, it also kind of disgusts me. Certainly, nobody wants to watch me do that. And it seems to me that since the viewer can't smell the beer and taste it along with me, it's far better to express my thoughts via the written word.

This Sure Doesn't Look Like Beer...
I experienced a small amount of dread just before I twisted open the bottle of Utopias. I had been chasing this unicorn for at least 10 years. What if I didn't like it? What if the very smell of it made me want to boke? I put those concerns aside as I steeled up my nerves and popped the bottle cap that sits under the decorative cap. There was no "fwoosh" sound as I opened the Utopias, which one should expect since Utopias is not carbonated. Immediately, my nose was greeted with the pleasant aroma of toffee, molasses and wood. It smelled very much like a cognac with a pronounced alcohol aroma.

Samuel Adams Utopias is meant to be enjoyed one ounce at a time, hence the rather small size of the official Utopias glass. I'm reminded of a story involving my father. As a worker for the federal government, he was on furlough during the Clinton shutdown of 1996 and I was on Christmas break from college. He and his work buddies decided to commiserate at their favorite restaurant and I was invited along. While there, the group ordered a round of cognac which I slammed down as quick as possible. Everyone was horrified. As a college kid, my thinking was that I was being given a shot of alcohol in a fancy glass. My father, however, informed me that "good alcohol is meant to be sipped, not gulped down". And that's true of Samuel Adams Utopias. Even though it's technically a beer, you're supposed to sip it like a fine liquor.

And sip it, I did. I sat by the fireplace and sipped the Utopias and just focused on enjoying this Holy Grail of beers. And it tastes a lot like a cognac with a little hint of beer flavor. It's a decadent taste that's a little fruity with hints of cherry and vanilla. There's really nothing that I can compare it to because it's so unique. I definitely like it, but I also see it as something that I'll only break out for special occasions. I've told my daughter that, if I ever die, she'll have to either bury me with the bottle or cremate me and store me inside it. It's that good.

Monday, January 13, 2020

Expectation VS Reality: Fig & Goat Cheese Beyond Burger

I spent a decent part of my Holiday break watching documentaries on plant-based diets. I recognize that there's likely an inherent bias in such documentaries, but I figured that cutting back on meat at least little bit isn't a bad idea. The girlfriend and I decided to try to challenge ourselves to eat one completely plant-based meal a week. To that end, my first contribution came from Blue Apron with their Fig and Goat Cheese Beyond Burger with Roasted Cauliflower & Spicy Lemon Dressing.

Beyond Meat is one of those plant-based meat alternative companies similar to Impossible Foods that are attempting to mainstream plant-based foods by trying to mimic the taste and texture of meat. Beyond Meat uses pea protein and no soy whereas Impossible Foods uses potato protean and does use soy. The nuts and bolts don't matter that much to me at this time. I just want to know how it tastes.

The BlueApron description sounds enticing enough: To give the plant-based Beyond Burger™ incredibly savory-sweet flavor, you’ll pair it with an easy sauce of sautéed shallot mixed with fig spread and dijon mustard sauce, then layer it all on soft buns alongside tangy goat cheese for creamy contrast. We’re serving it with a delicious side of roasted cauliflower tossed in a bright dressing of fresh lemon juice, sweet currants, and spicy crushed red pepper.

We briefly considered not telling the kids that they were eating plant based burgers. A Folgers Coffee type scenario played in my head where I thought "We've secretly replaced the ground beef that these children usually eat with plant-based protein. Let's see how they react....". We ultimately decided that deception on that level is not cool, so we were fully open with what we would be serving. The kids weren't looking forward to it nearly as much as the adults were. The adults saw it as an adventure. The kids saw it as a punishment.

Meal prep was easy enough. I had never cored a cauliflower before, but that's not much of a task. I did, however, start to waiver when I opened up the packaging for the Beyond Meat patties. They smell like a laundry basket. But, the patties cooked up nice enough and I could hardly tell that I wasn't cooking an actual burger.

Here's how it turned out (click on each image to see it in more detail):



As for the taste, my own personal thought is that the burger tasted fine for the most part, but just before swallowing, I noticed a taste that I could only describe as "earthy". It's not bad, or bothersome, it's just noticeable enough for me to be very aware that I'm eating a plant-based burger. I suspect that if I had been more liberal with the fig-mustard sauce and the goat cheese, the taste would have been less noticeable. If I had to eat this sort of burger for the rest of my life, I wouldn't be inclined to run out into traffic. The cauliflower tasted really good in the dressing and that was the real star of the meal for me. It was the perfect mix of sweet, acidic and peppery. It made me not hate cauliflower for once.

The kids had a lot less of a negative reaction than we expected. My teenage daughter said that she liked it just fine, but she couldn't get past the fact that it was plant-based and was not inclined to take more than a few bites. The younger kids wanted nothing to do with it at first, but ultimately tried a few bites before requesting "real" bugers. The cauliflower was a hit all around, though. 

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Clovis' Wife Is A Big Spender

Clovis was very happy to hear from yet another credit card scammer, because Clovis owes a ton of money on his credit cards. You see, Clovis' wife had run up over $50,000 of credit card debt on his cards and he needed to get a lower interest rate in order to make those payments. How lucky it was that the scammer called Clovis with just such an offer! Clovis could barely contain his excitement and notified his wife, telling her to "pass the yams". When Clovis tried to commiserate on the subject of his spendthrift wife with the credit card scam agent, the agent kept ignoring him. Clovis asked the agent several times if he was married, to no avail.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Skyrim: Killing A Cave Bear With Unrelenting Force

It's New Year's Day and I've got the day off. I spend a good part of the day playing Skyrim on my Xbox One. Now, normally, I wouldn't gush online over such an old game, but, despite Skyrim being around 8 years old, I'm still amazed at how well it has held up over time. While playing today, I got attacked by a cave bear on a hill. I used Unrelenting Force on him hoping to briefly stun him and then go in for an attack. As it turns out, my Unrelenting Force shout made the cave bear roll down the hill so much that it killed him. The kill didn't register until the cave bear stopped rolling down the hill, so I didn't immediately realize that it had died. Check out the video for yourself:

Monday, December 30, 2019

iRobot Braava Jet 240

My iRobot Roomba has been a real workhorse over the last several years and it shows no real signs of slowing down. It sits patiently in my living room and is ready to give the carpet a good cleaning at a moment's notice. It's not really suited to kitchen mopping duty, though. So, I thought it would be a great idea to enlist the help of a robot mop to help clean up the kitchen and dining area. After looking very long at the iRobot Braava Jet m6, I went with the smaller, less expensive iRobot Braava Jet 240.

Whereas the Roomba vacuums sit on a charger until you activate it, the Braava Jet 240 is more suited to be put away in a cabinet until you're ready to get it out to mop. It doesn't sit on a charger, rather, it comes with a rechargeable battery and a plugin charger. Once you're ready to have it mop, you select a mopping pad, either dry, wet/dry or wet and you set the little guy on his way. You can also pour some iRobot brand cleaning solution mixed with water into Braava Jet's tank for a little extra cleaning power. Personally, I use Bona, a water-based solution and I'm happy with the results. You can also purchase washable re-usable pads, but, for now, I'm content to use the disposable ones that came with the Braava Jet 240 as they seem to do the job just fine.

My kitchen and dining area is shaped like a T and is about 250 square feet. There are four entry points, three of which can be closed off by simply shutting the door. There's an open entry way from the kitchen into my living room, which I usually use an iRobot virtual wall to keep my Roomba from crossing over. The Braava Jet 240 doesn't respond to virtual walls, though. Rather, it has a "virtual wall mode" where you can start the Braava Jet 240 in a certain position and then tell it not to mop anywhere behind where you started it. Which brings me to my next point: unlike the typical Roomba, the Braava Jet doesn't navigate by randomly bumping into things. Instead, it navigates the room in a methodical manner and actually maps out the room.

But how well does it clean? Well, it's not a vacuum, so, if you have a decent sized mess, you're actually going to have to either sweep your kitchen or run a Roomba through it because the dry mopping pad will only do as well as a Swiffer Sweeper would. The damp mopping works pretty well and seems to take care of all but the most stubborn food stains. For best results, I run the Braava Jet 240 in dry mode and then in wet mode and it seems to do a good enough job.

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Samuel Adams Utopias 2019

Samuel Adams Utopias 2019
Samuel Adams Utopias Beer is an "extreme beer" made with caramel, Vienna, Moravian and Bavarian smoked malts, and four varieties of noble hops: Hallertauer Mittelfrüh, Tettnanger, Spalter, and Saaz hops. Utopias is matured in scotch, cognac and port barrels for almost a year. The result is a high alcohol, non-carbonated beer that seems closer to a fine sherry or a port rather than a beer. A limited number of bottles of Utopias are released each year and a single 25 oz bottle tends to go for around $200. I have been trying for years to obtain a bottle without success. Many friends, family members and significant others have also made the attempt on my behalf over the years and none of them were up to the challenge. Until now. Thanks to my very savvy girlfriend, I found a 2019 bottle under my Christmas tree this morning.

This is it. This is the Holy Grail of beers. I was so consumed with excitement that I sent a txt to my beer group friends to announce my acquisition and the resulting message was near gibberish. The 2019 Utopias has 28% alcohol by volume which makes it illegal in 15 states. Only 77 wooden casks of Utopias were brewed this year and I am the proud owner of bottle #05163. I'll be doing a tasting video in the coming weeks and will also be soliciting opinions from the friends in my beer group sometime afterward.

Monday, December 23, 2019

My Reddit Santa Came Through

The Reddit Secret Santa program is a gift exchange that is designed for Reddit users. It matches a Reddit user with another Reddit user, and each user must then send a gift to the other user according to that user's tastes and preferences listed on their profile. I haven't participated in Reddit Secret Santa in several years, mainly because the presents I have received in the past all indicated a lack of even the smallest thought and effort. But, having been involved in a very interesting Christmas show, and having had such a great time buying presents for everyone on my Christmas list, I decided that I would like to add some extra Christmas cheer to someone's season and joined up. I didn't expect much in return, and I just wanted to focus on finding the perfect gifts for a fellow Redditor.

This morning, my Reddit Santa came through and a package arrived at my doorstep. The gifts were so beautifully wrapped that I was going to wait until Christmas to open them, but I just couldn't resist. Inside, I found two books, Hillbilly Elegy and Citizens of London. I also got what smells like some very good coffee from Blanchard's Coffee Roasting Co, and a Mandalorian coffee mug to drink it in. I suspect that Hillbilly Elegy is an attempt to counteract my liberal leanings which are quite evident in my Reddit posts. I'm open to other perspectives, though, so I'm happy to be have the chance to delve into this memoir from the self-styled Blue Collar Prophet, J.D. Vance and perhaps have my perspectives challenged.

So, thank you very much, and Merry Christmas to you, Reddit Santa. And, of course, thanks to for spreading some Christmas cheer around once again with its Reddit Secret Santa program.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

A Loan Depot Christmas

Those shysters from Loandepot called Clovis again. This time, it was a rep named Richard. Clovis asked him "So, you're a real Dick then, ain't ya Richard?". Clovis then asked Richard how he felt about working for a company that scams people out of money. Richard said that he felt that Loandepot helps a lot of people and that Clovis is entitled to his opinion. Clovis said that Richard isn't entitled to be a dick and then wished him a Merry Dickmas.

Monday, December 16, 2019

Re-Tile Frustration

I bought a set of Tile trackers back in July of 2018. I've been very happy with the product and have been using them to keep track of my car keys, work keys, wallet and briefcase. At about the year mark, the Tile app kept warning me that the battery was getting low on my tiles. I procrastinated replacing them because I wanted to see just how long the batteries would last. About a month ago, two of them finally died. Clearly, the battery life lasted far longer than the promised 12 months, which makes me happy. What kind of irks me is the Re-Tile replacement plan.

Tile advertises that their products are 99% recyclable. However, in order to recycle your old Tiles, you have to take them to an e-waste facility yourself and likely pay a small fee. That fee is likely covered in the discount you get from Tile for re-ordering once your Tile battery dies. It's a decent method, I guess, but I would really like the option to forgo the discount and have Tile send me a postage-paid envelope so that I can send the old Tiles to them and they can handle the e-waste recycling themselves. My old Tiles are going to be sitting in a box until I can remember to trek out to my local e-waste facility. How many other people have the same issue? How many Tiles will just end up in landfills because it's easier and more convenient?

The above being said, I am very happy with the new lineup of products that Tile has to offer. I replaced my old Tiles with ones that have replaceable batteries so that, next year, I won't have to deal with environmental guilt. The replaceable battery Tile is a bit bigger than the old non-replaceable battery ones, but, it's not that big of a deal to me.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Loan Depot Hits On Clovis

Clovis got a call from a scammer claiming to be from a company called Loan Depot. Clovis was asked if he lived in a manufactured home, and Clovis said that clearly, someone had to have made it. As things went on, Clovis started to wonder whether rep was hitting on him. It's the curse of Clovis' beauty and Clovis has become used to it. Near the end, Clovis calls the rep out on the scam, saying that calling from a spoofed number and using a robo call to filter out customers aren't the practices of a legitimate business.

Monday, December 9, 2019

Nest Hello Video Doorbell

I've been wanting to get a video doorbell for over a year now. The main thing hindering me from having done so is the fact that I want a wired doorbell yet didn't have the wiring necessary in order to support one. This ruled out me being able to use a Nest Hello video doorbell and pretty well consigned me to having to accept the Ring video doorbell, which I did not want for several reasons.

Thanks to the Nest branded indoor power adapter, one can now run a Nest Hello video doorbell from an indoor outlet. This, along with the Black Friday price of $149, helped me pull the trigger and buy the Nest Hello. It's currently embedded in my front door where the old door knocker used to be and there's a wire from my entryway outlet running to it. Okay, it's not ideal, but it'll do until I can actually get an electrician out there to hard wire it. Now that that's done, what do I think? It's awesome!

There's a high degree of danger of me becoming some kind of weird hermit that watches footage from his video doorbell all day. The Nest Hello is always recording video and it gives you the option of saving up to 30 days of video footage along with 30 minutes of footage that you can save to your clip library. The first thing I do in the morning after getting my coffee is watch the overnight footage. Nest will tag any motion that it sees so that you can easily hone in on anything interesting. Already I've noticed that my street is much busier than I had thought, and the neighborhood cat rubs his face against my house between 5am and 7am every morning. The postman got wise to the Nest Hello early on and now slinks over to my door just at the edge of sight so that Nest Hello doesn't tag him as a person and only tags him as movement.

My home office is in the back part of my house and I'm unlikely to hear anyone knocking at the front door unless my dog decides she's interested enough in the noise to go barking after it. Now, thanks to the Nest Hello video doorbell, whenever the bell is run, I get a notification on all of my Google Home devices as well as my phone. I can then ask my Google Home Hub to show me the front door. I can talk to the person and, from there, decide what to do. On Friday night, the pizza guy rang it and I told him just to leave the pizza on the patio and that his tip was in the mailbox. When Jason came over and rang the doorbell Saturday afternoon, I told him to come in and wait for me in the living room and then unlocked the door from the Nest app on my phone as I sat in my office.

While at a Christmas dinner party Sunday evening, I asked the host what he thought of his Ring video doorbell. He remarked that he liked it, but wondered how long he would be able to go without recharging the battery. I mused to myself that I don't have that problem.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

HP OfficeJet Pro 8035

The evolution of my home office setup has continued with the addition of an HP OfficeJet Pro 8035 all-in-one wireless printer/copier/fax/scanner. My poor old Canon Pixma just can't compete with the amazing features offered by the HP OfficeJet Pro 8035, chief of which is the ability to print from anywhere using the HP app. In theory, you can also scan from anywhere using the HP app, but that would require something actually being put in the scanner to begin with.

What can you really say about a printer? It prints. It scans. It copies. I assume it faxes but I'll probably never test that function. Overall, it's a small but powerful printer, delivering a printing speed of 20 pages per minute in black & white and 10 pages per minute for color. Setup was super-easy and I had this thing running within 10 minutes of getting it out of the box. I liked that it connects directly to your WiFi network via direct authentication rather than having to use a WPS button which my current router does not support. Print quality is fine and the ink doesn't smudge when the paper is hot off the press. I guess the only bad thing I can say about the HP OfficeJet Pro 8035 is that loading paper into the paper tray is a bit awkward.

Monday, December 2, 2019

The Google Pixel 4

It was hard to say goodbye to my Samsung Galaxy S8+ after over two years of service. It had been a good, reliable phone. Unfortunately, it started to develop some interesting "quirks" after I took it in the ocean to photograph some rays and nurse sharks. Ever since then, it wouldn't connect to the Samsung Dex station. Even more odd, whenever it was turned off and I would plug in the charger, it would complain that the charging port was wet. I could see those behaviors being a result of its dip in the ocean, as saltwater can be corrosive for electronics (I honestly don't know what I was thinking at the time. Maybe I just wasn't). I could deal with those minor issues, but once the batter started losing the ability to last an entire day on one charge, I knew it was time to put the old girl out to pasture.

I picked up the Google Pixel 4 as part of Google's pre-Black Friday deals. Although the Samsung Galaxy S10 appears to have a better battery life and an additional wide angle camera, I was intrigued by the Pixel 4's night shot mode. The lack of a headphone jack on the Pixel 4 also gave me pause, but, I have recently settled on a nice pair of bluetooth earbuds and haven't used the headphone jack on my Galaxy S8+ in months.

One of the best features of the Google Pixel 4 is the Google Call Screening option which is enabled by default. Every time the Pixel rings, the standard "Incoming Call" interface is shown with a "Screen call" button. Tapping on the button will have Google Assistant begin speaking to the caller. Google Assistant will tell the caller know you are using a screening service and it'll provide you with a transcript of the call while asking the caller to state the reason for the call. Once the caller begins talking, a transcript of their response will show up on the phone's screen in real time. I've only had the Pixel 4 for a few days, and I have already used the feature dozens of times to screen out unwanted telemarketer calls.

Google wants you to navigate the Pixel 4 using gestures, but I found that I just couldn't get the hang of it, so I dove into the settings and added the Back, Home and Tile buttons back. I'm not all that interested in the Face Unlock feature and, although I am excited to try out the Astrophotography feature, it's not new as it was released with the Pixel 3. I guess what I am trying to say is that the Google Pixel 4 is a good phone if you don't have to pay full price for it.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Clovis Gets A Job Offer

I got an email from some fly-by-night tech recruiter trying to get me to sign on to some shady contract work. I declined the offer, but told them that my colleague, Clovis would be happy to have the work. I forwarded Clovis' resume on the condition that the recruiter would not tell Clovis that I referred him.

This guy gave me up almost immediately when Clovis asked how he got his number. And, of course, Clovis was not too happy to have been bothered.

Monday, November 25, 2019

I Nearly Got Trampled To Death

We were on our way back from catching the 2pm showing of Blue Man Group at the Briar Street Theatre early Saturday night when we noticed that the crowd on Michigan Avenue was starting to bottleneck. I thought that perhaps there was a pre-pre-Black Friday deal going on at Lush or something. Why else would there be dump trucks blocking the through-ways? As we attempted to cross Michigan Avenue via Chicago Avenue, we found that the street had been blocked for the Christmas Tree lighting parade. Yet another example of people jumping the gun on Christmas and trying to decorate before the Thanksgiving leftovers are cold.

At this point, we had two choices: settle in somewhere until the parade was over or try to find a way around Michigan Avenue. I had remembered that the nice lady that we had met at the Starbucks Roastery had mentioned that the Du Sable bridge south of the Magnificent Mile would be closed, so I knew that there would be little chance of us going South to cut over. But, perhaps we could get to lower Wacker drive via one of the Michigan Avenue stairwells. With that in mind, we pressed on South. And it could have been a fatal mistake.

The further South we pushed, the denser the crowd got in both population and intellect. What kind of idiot parent carts their kid around in a wagon through a dense crowd? What kind of parent thinks that they can let their kid run wild through that same crowd? What kid of moronic blogger thinks he and his girlfriend can successfully navigate this kind of human sea?

The northmost access stairwell under Michigan had been closed, but I still had hopes that the southmost one, just North of the Du Sable bridge would be open. The two of us pressed on until the crowd bottle-necked to a stop. We were packed shoulder-to-shoulder like passengers on a Tokyo subway car. And then the crowd suddenly lurched forward and I tripped over a stroller wheel or a wagon wheel or something and I went down. I managed to stick my wrist out in order to save myself from completely face-planting. For about two seconds, images of my death via crowd trampling flashed through my brain. The headline "Old Man Crushed By Indifferent Crowd" seemed to have a particular ring to it. But, thankfully, a number of hands grabbed me, set me up right, brushed my back clean and didn't attempt to steal my wallet. Thank God for Chicagoans. If this had been New York City, my entrails would be been dragged across the Five Burroughs without anyone giving it a second thought. We pressed on, with the waning hope that the stairwell would be our salvation.

When we got in sight of the Lower Wacker Drive stairwell, it appeared to be blocked and I didn't see anyone moving down it. We ducked into the lobby of a building close by in the hopes that the elevator would be able to take us down to a lower level. No luck. On our way back out, we met a frazzled woman who was frantic about getting out of this mess. She said that she thought she could see heads moving down the Lower Wacker Drive stairwell, but wasn't sure that she could push through the crowd. The mere prospect of being able to get free was good enough for me to try. But, what to do to clear the crowd?

I told the woman that she was with us and that she should grab my girlfriend's hand and follow behind us. I started yelling as I approached the stairwell "I have a pregnant woman in labor! Clear the way!". Our new friend took the cue and started huffing and puffing while holding her stomach. This was enough to part the crowd and we managed to get to the stairwell which was filled to overflowing with people trying to get up. I spat forth more exclamations of an impending birth and that got us enough room to squeeze through the throng, placing us safely below Michigan so that we could cross under it and head East. We bade farewell to our fellow crowd swimmer and got the hell out of there.