May 21st, 2009

food cooking tomato

Pink peruvian salt and colour-changing lights

Vegas is always a mix of fun things to do, too far to work and a ton of work. We got in on Saturday and went out for an early dinner at BLT - Burger Laurent Somebody in the Mirage. It's where the enclosure for a single white tiger used to be, pacing around and sniffing for the other tiger it could smell but not see (the problem with alternating animals in and out; the Secret Garden habitat out back is much better, with big enclosures with trees and pools and hiding places and multiple pools for the dolphins and the lions and tigers and leopards are much happier there - happy enough that there's a cute as a huge kitten baby leopard playing by the gift shop and a baby dolphin racing the rest of the pod).

BLT does a BLT - bacon cheeseburger, optional cheese - and a range of other burgers. I always mean to try the pork and shrimp and always end up with a beef selection instead, because they're thick and juicy and correctly cooked (rare if you like, even). The sweet potato fries are great and the milkshakes are yummy whether they come with alchohol or not. Kind of a gourmet double-double ;-)

That gave us the energy not to boggle at the Caesar, Cleopatra and Centurion posing for tourist pictures outside Caesar's palace while Caesar - who verily doth seem to have come off an engagement at the Excalibur didst prettily entreat thou to partake of dinner in the new diner. The mini-Trevi fountain is flowing again - without the nebulisers - and the full-size Bellagio foundations were going on an odd schedule. Usually it's every 15 minutes in the evening, and the Voice announces the next time. Recently there has been no Voice and timing has been any old time. We arrived just in time for Simple Songs - one of my favourites - and had only walked a little way round when they started up on the Pink Panther music. And five minutes after that they did Time To Say Goodbye (opera riffing in English - much as last night we heard something that puts lyrics to Gabriel's Oboe from the Mission - insert purist sniff here). And then the Voice returned, putting the next performance half an hour later, so we glanced at the conservatory - still the butterfly house and zen garden, now with mums (pre-recession they would have sniffed at so prosaic a flower) - and flaked out.

Sunday brunch at the Wynne is still excellent - and crowded; it's not the worst queue I've ever seen in Vegas, but you can't call the place quiet. And the rest of the week we alternated conference sessions, hours of writing about Windows 7 and nipping out for dinner. Shibuya is as wonderful as ever, especially after seeing Ka. Ka was the first Cirque du Soleil I ever say and they've made it even better; the staging has changed - as has the stage. The hydraulic stage is even more flexible; at one point they 'shoot' arrows into it, turn it vertical and climb up and down them. The story seems a little darker; I don't remember the King and Queen (in chess-piece headsets) getting shot and I don't remember the Spurned Inventor (lucky in finding a meteor and devising gunpowder/unlucky in love) being blinded at the end. And the acrobat skipping rope and doing somersaults off the top of the Wheel of Death? wow!

We worked our way through a lot of the Venetian eating places. The new gelateria by the fountains in Palazzo - where we waited an hour for our room to be ready and were never called by the hotel, whose service level is dropping alarmingly - is is a little cramped but the ices are good. The Bastianich grazing Italian bar in St Mark's Square in the Venetian is pricey but excellent quality; try the fried cauliflower and the salted caramel gelato. The Grand Luxe Cafe is a cafe diner; my spaghetti vongole was good but not memorable. And the Del Monico steakhouse in Palazzo does excellent side dishes and cocktails and I'm impressed that they can cook a steak so thick evenly - but I really wasn't impressed by the steak over all; quantity stunning, quality meh.

The flight to Cincinnati on Delta was mixed; those first class seats at the front are comfy and the views are good, but Delta is too mean to carry enough sandwiches for everyone in first class and if the alternative is a chef salad then I'm not eating. The fudge brownie was OK but I'm very glad my sister was having a party for the new neighbours with a nice buffet spread ;-) It was very good to hang out with my ssiter and her new partner Brad and meet her friends again; we did dinner parties and the theatre (Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde - all the seriousness of a school play with the intent to suspend disbelief but neither the skill nor the crane to do it, plus I must have missed the redeeming love interest in the book, but nice to see *performance* of any kind) and the pottery fair (my sister rushed for her favourite potter, I went round three times, restricted myself to three bowls and then bought a dinner service at Costco and took it to Los Angeles as carryon). We had an expedition to a craft and fabric shop that was miles and miles going and very near coming back; we checked out Busken Donuts (the local magazine said it was as much of a Cinci icon as goetta (go'dda), a scrapple-like concoction of fried pork, offal and oatmeal that we teased Pixie with all weekend) - it was very full of people picking up cakes for mother's day and only one working till, so they gave us the two donuts after ten minutes of queuing to save time and they were nice enough but not the Donut of My Dreams. We drove around and stopped at the overlook of the Purple People Bridge and the Golden Arches and enjoyed the spring weather and the not being in Orlando.

The week in-between we spent, not in Orlando proper but in the giant Marriot resort doing meetings, writing copy, doing meetings, grabbing half an hour in the pool, doing meettings over dinner, writing copy over dinner and falling down exhausted. LA was slightly more relaxed; we had time to have dinner most nights. As the bar food at the Sheraton is OK but not stunning, we explored for a few blocks around and twice ended up at Bottega Louie; a cavernous white space with high ceilings and ornate plaster cornicing, and a pastry and deli section and bar, and two glassed-in kitchens. The food and the portion sizes are variable; the small plate clams with garlic breadcrumbs were small and uninspiring, the ricotta spinach ravioli with peas and pancetta were delicious but really a starter size, the lasagna was meaty and rich and tasty and enormous but had no bechamel and very little cheese, the eggplant parmigiana was deconstructed (three slices) and superb expect for the fact that the tomato sauce was inordinately spicy and the pizza was excellent - a wonderful, moreish crust with a good rich tomato sauce and big dollops of mozzarella plus chunks of fennel sausage. The service was very attentive - the bus boy, the waiter, the maitre d' and the waiter who recognsied us from the first night all dropped by frequently to chat - but one night they brought me the wrong beer and one night the bread was very dry (it was excellent the other night though). It's nice to have an interesting, well-priced downtown restaurant so close to the hotels so I hope the things I'd mark them down for are execution details for what feels like a pretty new restaurant.

On the table, along with the chili flakes and the pre-grated-but-freshly-grated-real-parmesan and a little pepper grinder is a salt cellar with pink salt. The crystals were more even and less like flakes (which does change the flavour) but it was very close to the pink peruvian sea salt my sister had lurking in her cupboard. We declined to use it in the lemon bars (baked lemon curd on a pressed pate sucre, which is really quick in a Kitchenaid mixer) but it went very nicely with the shrimp pasta from Costco. And the nice thing about buying dinner at Costco on the way back from the two half-price book stores is that you can get enough tasting samples to count as lunch at the same time.

Walking back from Bottega Louie we spotted an imposing building with every floor and featute picekd out by LED lights. We know they were LED because they were colour cycling, like the pens you get at trade shows (or the illuminated cup holders in the Ford Focus we rented to get out of LA). This had the white painted building cycling from blue to purple to magenta to yellow to green and back to blue; most bizarre.

Friday night I adorned the hotel bar for a couple of drinks with our friend Thomas (I've never had a Mai Tai made with pineapple juice and we had already drunk them out of Anchor Steam) while Simon collected the colour-changing car and we headed off to Little Tokyo for sushi. I can never remember the name of the place we like (begins with O) but it's right at the end of the village square and has a solid wooden door and then one of those cloth dividers. We asked the sushi chef for omakase and I'm not sure what everything was; toro and hamachi and the eggy one and sweet shrimp (with one head each tempura'd and one head and shell each used to make miso soup) and three very white fish (maybe saba, maybe not) each with a dollop of sauce and a trickle of ponzu - the most memorable was minced green chili and yuzu. Dessert was lychee ice cream from one of the tiny shops and we loaded up the luggage and headed to a motel near Vermont. We usually stay at the North Hollywood Travelodge - nothing special but clean, cheap and quiet - but it was full so we tried the Days Inn in Thai Town. The decoration was great; giant oscar figurines and scenes from movies painted over the doors - Back To The Future and Cleopatra (our door) and the like, but the pool closed before we got there, the road was pretty busy and I'll blame the other guests for the ambience (because the tasteful sage green in the rooms was fine). First there was a group of friends standing in the middle of the parking lot chatting while one of the boys dropped his trousers round his ankles. Then there was a group of friends - maybe the same - having a friendly but loud conversation in the room above us. And then there was the woman sobbing her heart out in the next room a little too early next morning; she'd pause for breath and be utterly silent for nearly a minute and then start again with the frenzied, punctuated sobs. Luckily breakfast at Figaro on Vermont is always cheering; I might have already mentioned the bowl lattes and the bacon scrambled egg croissant with breakfast potatoes and a small dressed salad and delicious bread (baguette and something with a large crumb and slivers of chocolate) - but getting a parking space right outside with 30 minutes left on the meter and sitting on the sidewalk in the sun was pretty great too. And I know I've talked about the Griffith Observatory and Palm Springs and La Jolla so I'll just check us into the Glorietta Bay on Coronado island and get on with the Future in Review conference, where we have interesting people and plenty of sunshine and the first exhibition of the touring show of Dr Seuss sculptures - the Lorell and the tower of turtles and Sam with Green Eggs and Ham and of course The Cat, twice.

I think I can express myself rather better one-on-one or in a round table than on stage; I was excessively nervous about contributing to the predictions of the future session today - not only am I used to being the one doing the interviewing, not only is 'the state of print and online media and where we go in the next 3-5 years' rather too big to cover in under 5 minutes, not only did I feel very underqualified, sat as I was between the CTO of Xerox and a TED fellow who is piloting a text-based lookup system to check for counterfeit drugs in Ghana, but the microphone was only picking me up if I faced the audience and not the interviewer, so many apologies to Stephen Evans from the BBC World Service if I seemed to ignore any attempts to interject a question or head me off at the pass. I'd been planning to work up my thoughts (and notes) into a blog post and Scott Schramke of SNS asked me afterwards if I'd do it for the SNS blog, so I shall post a link when it goes up.

For dinner tonight we tried a brand new Italian around the corner called Vigilucci's, mainly because the manager interrupted his (very Italian) phone call to say 'buona sera' as we walked past (there's something about Italian hospitality - Ingilterra! they cried and asked us which football team we supported (Simon said 'the Mariners')). They have several other local restaurants including in La Jolla; this latest is in a brand new building - so new the four faces of the clock tower all tell a different time. We sat on the patio, gazing up at the stars; Simon's sirloin tip and porcini saffron risotto was deliciously rich and my four giant grilled langostini looked like sea monsters - it took the crackers and leverage on the table to snap off the spiny legs to suck out the tendrils and the blackened shell gave it a little tang. Bellissima!

WES to TechEd 09: recent writing

It's not only Windows 7 at the moment - there's a blast from the past as Microsoft finally makes Vista as good as XP, just in time for Windows 7 to come out (I know Mark Russinovich was only joking when he said Microsoft would 'throw Vista under the bus') - but it is mainly Windows 7 ;-)

BlackBerry chief: Apple did us a favour
Facebook to fade away?
Vista SP2
Surface SP1
Office 2010: first look
 The real story about Windows 7 compatibility

Future in Review: how to succeed in China - move in

According to Cisco, the way to do it is to set up in China properly; relocate some VPs, hire lots of staff, design and manufacture there rather than just sending in plans. Although that exposes a lot more IP, it turns out you get viewed as a Chiense product and aren't then subject to the "alleged malpractices" that other companies have suffered in the past. There's something fundamental about the philosophy of doing business in China encapsulated there (maybe even the philosophy of China in terms of belonging and being foreign, which is interesting when Western business philosophy is just starting to acknowledge thta corporations act in their own interest, not the interests of their parent country) and it's contrary to the standard shortcut advice of 'don't take IP you don't want to lose to China'.

Tens of thousands of factories have shut down in China; 20 million migrant workers have lost their job, ten million have gone back to their villages - some of them pushed out almost deliberately to increase the manufacturing capability in the interior, according to Ira Kalish of Deloitte Research. The middle class in China hasn't lost jobs and they're still spending. That sounds like the recipe for a divided nation...

40% of the toxic US assets ended up on the books of European banks. Consumer debt as a proportion of GDP is higher in the UK than in the US, which I find hugely worrying compared to the popular perception that it's Americans who buy big cars and giant fridges and put them in huge houses (I said popular perception, remember). In 2006 US consumers got 200,000 billion dollars by 'cashing out' of their home equity; last year it was 20 billion; people don't move into smaller homes nearly often enough to earn that money. Interesting implications for the US/European recovery; all the predictions here at FiRE that don't rely on pseudo-phsyics say the US situation bottoms out at the end of 2009.

(In other news, if you get a Facebook message suggesting you check out some oddly worded site, do what I do with any spam that suggests a site without proving it's really from someone I know - don't click, delete the message and tell the alleged source they probably have a Facebook virus and should clean up their system (or get a better password, perhaps). Liam, this means you - amongst others.)


Future in Review: the other side of efficient solar

I was disappointed by the thorium nuclear power session yesterday; it's a little too much like existing nuclear power that I have huge reservations about. 75 year half-life and non-fissile material that can't overheat and set off a Three Mile Island or be made into weapons is good, but a facile approach to safety ('hey, I'm sure you can get zapped by a solar panel') does not reassure me and a facile dismissal of other energy ('solar panels the size of the hotel swimming pool would only power one of the lights in the room') doesn't help. Maybe I want the nuclear industry unnaturally humble but I think it has a case to make.

So does solar, but Jeff Krisa from Tiga Energy gave me one of the best explanations I've had of why solar has advanced so slowly so far. Not just the dominance of the oil industry but the fact that it's a subsidised industry and subsidy suppresses innovation (if you get money at an inefficient level why try to get more efficient?). The rising cost of oil made it attractive to start work on solar again and there's some great materials science going on: using filters to use all the solar light wavelengths, not just the easy ones, making panels significantly cheaper by printing them onto a flexible substrate rather than glass (the substrate is cheaper, you don't need glass-moving robots or a massive clean room which means the energy cost is lower too). Tigo is working on the other side of things; getting the DC power out of the panels efficiently.

Today they're linked in serial in a monolithic system; all the power from all the panels in a series comes through together so one panel that's in shadow or out of alignment or just not working properly can pull down all the power you get out. Tiga distributes electronic monitoring and control throughout the solar array; instrumenting the panels lets you manage them independently and tapping them individually is more efficient. Getting more power out of the same solar array seems like a no brainer, as long as the installation costs are low enough. 

And yes, you can get zapped by a solar panel; "whether the switch is on or off, as long as you have sun you have 400, 600 even a kilovolt running through the panel". Bad if you're trying to do maintenance or climb over the panel to put out a fire; Tigo says they can turn panels off and they'll be off. I wonder if making solar panels easier and safer to maintain puts the cost down overall even more?

Incidentally 80% of the world's nuclear power cores are now made by the Japanese steel industry and the next electric car out of Japan will cost less than $20,000 rather than $50,000. I wonder what the Japanese are doing in solar?

I want Outlook 2010 right now

There is yet another Facebook attack going around (that weird URL someone sent you? Phishing, if you couldn't already tell). I commented on a comment on Facebook and of course it's turning into a major discussion I don't particularly want to continue (does that sound rude? - but I know about the attack, I've given my view and hearing lots of people say 'oh, I saw that' isn't that interesting). Outlook 2010 will let me mark an email to be ignored and everything that's a Reply All to it will hit the bit bucket too, leaving me more time for the interesting conversations I can actually contribute something further to.

Everything else I know is going to be in Outlook 2010 (and the rest of the next Office) is covered over at</span>