East Bay View (a blog about several things)

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Monday, July 30, 2007

Summertime in the SLC, part 2

Theme: Statisticians volunteer!
Talks: 4
Bureaucratic turf wars: 2
Actively painful talks: 1: like listening to Coach Z mangle vowels for 25 mins. Yes, I'm a horrible person for making fun of non-native speakers of English.

  • You'd think a talk about potentially starting a Masters in Statistics programme in Vietnam would mention Vietnam a little more often. Speaker got called by an audience member for basically copying a US masters course; speaker blew this off, because US masters courses are so good!
  • Don't all these programmes inspiring schoolkids to statistise sound too much like Troy McClure educational videos?
  • Can't help but note that the potential for future cheap labour is a strong motivator for all this.
  • One reason non-statisticians do such bad stat is the right theory doesn't yet exist for them. Everyone knows that if your data isn't experimental, there are corrections you can make, but you're probably screwed. At some point in the future, a number of very smart people may remedy this, but until then...


Made my first purchase from McDonald's in four years. Bought a Coke. God didn't strike me down.

Tony Caputo's Market & Deli

Had the Caputo sandwich, which contains prosciutto! salami! mortadella! provolone! The Italian bread was charmingly chewy, but I'm biased towards a less busy sandwich. Coffee was acceptable. Best feature might be the range of under-a-buck chocolates. My 69c Urbani Tartufi was scrumptious, even if I couln't taste the truffle.

Chanon Thai Cafe

Me: I'll have the gang panang with chicken, and make it spicy.
Server: OK. We have a spice scale from 1 to 5. We'll make yours a 1.
Me: Well then, can I have it extra spicy?
Server: OK, I'll make it a 2.
Me: Extra extra spicy?
Server: You sure?
Me: Yeah.
Server: OK, a 3.

I didn't try to talk him any higher, which was for the best. After the initial hot shock wore off, I was able to enjoy an exquisite curry, in which you could still make out the lime, just. Some of the best Thai food I've had, with the "some of" qualifier only because the chicken was a little dry; shoulda had beef. Shiitake filled spring rolls were also good, though Cocaine found his unspiced pad thai too sweet. Can't wait to go back.


RIP Ingmar B.

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Sunday, July 29, 2007

Summertime in the SLC, part 1

  • It's 6am on a Saturday morning in Berkeley, what the hell are 20 people doing on the bus? Have they been partying that late? Nope, inspection shows they're starting their day. As someone who finds it hard to get out of the house before 2pm, this is disconcerting. What's impossible to understand is how they go about this with no apparent grudge against civilisation.
  • My single recurring nightmare is that of missing a plane; looks like missing a train might join it. I get off the bus with 25 mintues to spare, 400 yards from the station, but I can't see a place to cross the tracks, so I need to walk north or south. I choose south, which is of course wrong. After lugging my bags a mile and half, I get on the train with two minutes to spare. Still nearly two minutes more than my closest shave when catching a plane.
  • Chicken-fried steak in the Amtrak dining car: at least it's not airline food.
  • So reports tell me to expect to be a couple of hours late getting into to SLC, but I turn up a couple of hours early, at 3am. It's like ra-ai-in on yr wedding day, etc. My friend Kwang from Canberra, also staying at the Best Western Garden Inn, is surprisingly not that aggrieved at receiving a call at this time.

To be continued!


Friday, July 27, 2007

The Godfather of Disco: West End boys



Thursday, July 26, 2007

Mission Ice Cream Crawl

July 22nd, 2007. Participants: Me, Punk, Hurricane, Chinatown.

Mitchell's Ice Cream
Sunday afternoon, line was about ten minutes. Had big scoops of each of macapuno and cantaloupe for $4.10. (Not on the menu, but if you're not that gluttonous, you can ask for two small scoops and it's slightly cheaper.) Quite creamy, though with a supermarket mouthfeel, which probably means it's too heavy on the emulsifiers. The macapuno, however, transcends any doubts: really nice coconut taste. (Same with the buko.) The cantaloupe isn't bad, but there are many better places around here for fruit ice creams. The one bad flavour I tasted was, of all things, vanilla. You have to come here at least once; along with It's-It, it's the classic SF ice cream, and unlike It's-It, it's good.

La Copa Loca
Had passionfruit and guabana (sp? aka soursop) gelato for a mere $2.75. Not very creamy but decent flavour. Not a destination like Milano, but generally better balanced than Naia, though lacking that one great flavour to put it over the top. Fruit flavours seem to be the strength here.

Mission intermission: Taqueria San Jose
You go here for the pork tacos and the pork tacos alone. Two of us had al pastor tacos; two of us had non-pork burritos. Two of us rated this among our best taqueria experiences; the other two thought it was appalling. Fortunately, I was one of the taco-eating pair. Incredibly crisp and oily pork off the vertical spit, cilantro, onions, zingy hot sauce, $2.40 each. If you're fat-phobic, kosher or veg, this isn't your place. If you prefer burritos, well, I won't laugh at you, at least not to your face. If you're me, you can't wait to go back. Still, docked a star for making my friends queasy.

Bi-Rite Creamery
The ginger, salted caramel, and lemon samples I tried were all Mel Gibson-crazy. Settled on the salted caramel and paired it with the more conventional roasted banana. The ice cream here laughs off the usual creaminess-flavour trade-off like no one besides Sketch in Berkeley. It's not quite as creamy as Mitchell's, but it has a better mouthfeel. The banana has a deep, deep taste, and the salted caramel, as you may recall, is Bai Ling-insane. This is shock flavouring, which is why I'm withholding the fifth star for the moment -- don't know if it'll stand up to repeat visits. But repeat visits are guaranteed.

Bombay Ice Cream
Two sample limit, boo. Tried cardamom and saffron; chose cardamom ($2.50). It was fine, but slightly disappointing. Decent creaminess, but the flavour seemed muted. Ici's cardamom is better, and that's hardly Ici's specialty. Bombay's cone was actually quite good, though, especially for something presumably made off-site.

Northern California Frozen Dessert Rankings:

Milano sorbetto
Sketch ice cream
Fairfax Scoop ice cream
Pizzaiolo gelato
Marianne's ice cream*
Bi-Rite ice cream
Chez Panisse Cafe ice cream
Ici ice cream
Milano gelato
Pizzeria Picco soft serve
Mitchell's ice cream*
Naia gelato*
Fairfax Scoop sorbet
La Copa Loca gelato
Sketch sorbetto
Three Twins farmers' market ice cream
Fentons ice cream (but for heaven's sake, don't order a salad)
Homemade granita
Bombay ice cream
Cafe Fanny ice cream
Ben & Jerry's ice cream
Breyer's supermarket ice cream
Naia sorbetto
Cold Stone ice cream
Haagen-Daas supermarket ice cream
It's-It ice cream sandwich
Standard supermarket ice cream

*need to choose the good flavours

Still to try: Downtown Bakery and Bovolo in Healdsburg, Rick's in San Jose, maybe Citizen Cake...

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Saturday, July 21, 2007

A simplistic base for thinking about statistics

If scientism is essential to modernity, statistics is science's acknowledgement of modernity. Pre-modern society deferred to gods, kings and fate. Modern society is no longer driven by obedience to these authorities, it's driven by individual desires: for things, ideas, opportunities, data. (Of course there were individual desires in pre-modernity, and gods and kings and fate are still with us; once again, we're talking large-scale driving forces.) As democracy and secularisation drew attention to variations in ways of thinking, causality was no longer so straightforward. What statistics offers is the idea that we can deal with a non-deterministic world by using deterministic processes. In fact, the same is true for science in general; statistics merely foregrounds the contradiction.


If you're thinking of starting a fight on the bus at 3 a.m. while dressed as Harry Potter

Don't. Remember your MLK.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Triumph of the Thrill

Might as well get in on this while it's fresh. 1500 inmates of the Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center in the Philippines practice their MJ routine.


Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Summer vegetable tasting notes

  • Varieties with "June" in the name are the best, followed by Red Havens.
  • The good peach purveyors at the BFM are Ram Das (guy with the beard), Blossom Bluff and Woodleaf.
  • Current strategy: variety matters more than farmer. If the vendors named above all have the same variety, choose the cheapest.
This usually means I end buying the seconds from Woodleaf. Today I got them for $1.50 a pound at their end-of-day sale.

Tomatoes: I really like the Miyashita Farms odorikos at the Bowl, but they're not always available. Riverdog's heirlooms at the BFM are very good. Not feeling the ubiquitous Early Girls, don't have much tomato taste, if I wanted sweeter tomatoes I'd get cherries. Maybe the dry-farmed ones will be better.

Mushrooms: The Bowl almost always has #2 mushrooms available for around a dollar a pound. This is one of the best deals around.

Corn: Trying very hard to enjoy it, with mixed results. Corn on the cob really isn't doing it for me -- not like the corn of olde, just boringly sweet -- so I've resorted to more complicated preparations. Tried a Chez Panisse-style corn pudding souffle today. Plus side: it actually rose a bit. Big minus: it crumbled as soon as I took it out of the ramekin.


40 favourite songs of the Nineties, #27: Tricky, "Black Steel"

Actually, I get lots of letters from governments. Most of them say I'm the sucker.

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Sunday, July 08, 2007

It's OK to dis the buildings, or the terrorists have already etc.

Funniest thing about the America's Favorite Architecture site is that for almost every building, the main page photo is filled mostly by, you know, the building. But for the World Trade Center (#19), the shot is taken from way back, so the towers only fill a fraction of the picture. It's basically an admission: their only architectural interest was their size.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

June meals

Things I cooked last month, not counting staples like toast or pasta unless I jazzed them up a bit. Asterisk denotes something actually good.

Moroccan carrot salad
Fennel pasta with anchovies
Sauteed chard with lemon and chili
*Mushed potato with sorrel sauce
Asparagus with mustard mayonnaise
Fennel, artichoke and parmesan salad
Broiled corn-on-the-cob
*Broiled ivory king salmon with tomatillo, zucchini and glazed shallots
Fava bean and salmon eye soup
*Teriyaki trout
Green and cannelini bean salad with shiitakes
Shiitake pasta gratin
Sauteed corn and parsley
Sardine, pea and fava bean ragout
*Tomato salad
Poached ivory king salmon
Greek salad
Yellow squash and leftover duck saute with garlic and basil


Sunday, July 01, 2007

Tour de Marin

My ex and I were quick to work out we couldn't travel together, since she liked to plan nothing and I liked to plan everything. More than having a plan, it was the act of planning I enjoyed: fitting everything I wanted to do into a limited time period and budget, like a crossword (not a sudoku, that has too few variables). Of course, when I do go out with other people, I'm flexible, so as not to be authoritarian. Anyway, all of this is to say that planning the 2 BART rides and 7 bus trips required to visit all the places in Marin was more fun than the transit (even though I was reading all the way, and though I finally crossed the Golden Gate Bridge for the first time), but less fun than the ice cream.

Sorella Caffe, 107 Bolinas Road, Fairfax

Even though I only had a panini (admittedly a ten dollar one), I still got the full treatment: free bread, olives, parmesan, animal crackers, gummi bears. The grilled chicken panini came with sauteed vegetables, which had a marvelous garlic fragrance. Zucchini was a little bitter. The panini, which also contained arugula, tomatoes and chopped olives, was well-executed. Cooking was good, ingredients could be better.

NB: contrary to their website, their Friday to Sunday lunch hours are 12-3.

Fairfax Scoop, 63 Broadway Blvd, Fairfax

If there weren't a dozen other ice cream joints I want to try, I'd be back here in a jiffy. After some tasting, I bought a cone with a scoop each of the honey lavender vanilla and the strawberry. The HLV (or maybe it was VLH) is one of the finest flavours I've ever had, up with the pumpkin at Marianne's in Santa Cruz. The ice cream was very soft and rich, sweet not cloying, with tiny shreds of lavender embedded. The strawberry was fine but not nearly as flavourful. The housemade cone was cute.

I had to have more of the LVH (or HVL), so I bought a second cone, this time pairing it with the banana-raspberry sorbet. The light, slightly icy sorbet, dominated by the raspberry, was an excellent contrast, not up to Milano's but what is?

I very very slightly prefer the less buttery, more consistently flavoured style of ice cream of Sketch in Berkeley, but no ice cream I've had at Sketch, or anywhere else in the Bay Area, compares to that VHL/LHV. Maybe it'll be even better when lavender season gets going.

Emporio Rulli, 464 Magnolia Ave, Larkspur

Just had an apricot and almond tartlet. Very fresh and with a buttery crust. They were sold out of gelato for the week, which might have been for the best.

Pizzeria Picco, 316 Magnolia Ave, Larkspur

Tiny place, with eight counter seats and four tables outside; still, the one server on duty wasn't enough. But I forgive that, because my Specialized pizza -- pepperoni, house-made sausage, tomato, house-pulled mozzarella and basil -- was wonderful. Similar style to my beloved Pizzaiolo, with a thin, Neapolitan-style crust, quickly singed in a wood oven. Which is better? It's close enough that it's hard to say. I think Pizzaiolo has a tastier crust, but Picco's meats are delectable. Maybe Pizzaiolo has the advantage, but I won't be confident in that judgement until I make a return trip to Picco.

The other renowned dish is the Straus soft serve with olive oil and sea salt. I couldn't taste the salt at all. Thinking about it now, it seems likely the harried server forgot to salt it. Regardless, and though I'm not a soft serve person, it was very good: quite buttery for soft serve, with the oil accentuating the decent vanilla bean flavour.

I won't make the trip here regularly, but I'm sure I'll be back.


RIP Edward Yang.

I have work to do for once, so see you in a couple of days.

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The Lives of Others: Conversation piece

Sharp concept: Wiesler, proud Socialist Stasi, is assigned to snoop on Dreyman, favoured playwright of Mrs Honecker; Wiesler gets morally confused. From the brilliant opening sequence, in which Wiesler impassively plays excerpts from a marathon interrogation for the edification of his students, director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck is almost as efficient as his subject. The difference (besides occasional un-Wieslerian sloppiness, especially in editing of conversations) is that he doesn't lose himself in his art. The screenplay, however, does: I have no problem with the humanisation of the Stasi officer; what I object to is the extent to which the humanisation is driven by Brecht and the gloopy "Sonata for a Good Man". And it's too long, with the existence of multiple endings more damaging than the fact the some of them are happy. But the movie is outstanding for the way it piles up ironies, as each successive good deed comes ever closer to causing disaster. Ulrich Mühe, as Wiesler, effectively uses the old trick of not doing much, so that when you do just a little more it means the world. In a messy role, love interest Martina Gedeck is dignified; in a clear role, Sebastian Koch, as Dreyman, is attractive.


40 favourite songs of the Nineties, #28: Sleater-Kinney, "The Size of Our Love"

Carrie's death fugue. She draws out and flattens every phrase, as the dying of a lover overtakes life. Comfort doesn't stand a chance against reality -- no pink frost, just black milk.

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