Monday, May 3, 2010

A few tips to thrive in the Aquapocalypse!

Boil order getting you down? Well, before you get in a fist fight at BJ's or Costco over the last 6 pack of Aquafina (Which is filtered tap water anyway.) take a step back and use these tips to get through this minor inconvenience with a smile.

First off, why are we boiling water right now? We've all seen the news about the broken water main in Weston. Since the rupture was expelling 8 million gallons of treated water into the Charles, the MWRA needed to divert water from untreated reservoirs to maintain service. However, since pond water is now coming from the taps, there is a slight risk of getting sick from the natural contaminants. Of concern are Giardia, and Cryptosporidium and to a much lesser level common bacterias such as e. coli.

Giardia (Beaver Fever) and Crypto are not anything to laugh at, they are protozoans that cause gastro-intestinal issues in their hosts, most commonly diarrhea. Transmission is normally fecal to oral - which brings us back to the boil order. Mammals of all types serve as hosts, and the MWRA usually treats our water aggressively before sending it on to our taps in order to kill these contaminants. There are some relatively easy methods to safely treat our own water until the MWRA gets the system back together.

Hikers have been "enjoying" the effects of Giardia and Crypto for years and have come up with some great tech to prevent infections. I believe personally that the mechanical filtration available on the market is portable enough and inexpensive enough that everyone should have at least one unit in the home.

This is what I have, it's a light, inexpensive mechanical filter. Works easily, and the water it outputs is very clean tasting. It uses a filter with pores of .03 microns to capture contaminants - Giardia and Crypto are larger than the filter pores. The filter in this unit can treat 200 gallons, and costs about $80. For an effective cost of $0.40 per gallon for 200 gallons (Without fistfights at BJ's!), and new filters cost less than $40 (for a cost of $0.30 per gallon for 400 gallons.). This unit is small in size, has its own carrying bag, and weighs in at a paltry 11 oz. - so it's easy to keep around at home or on vacation. This is usually on hand at REI.

This is truly an amazing product, a portable "pen" that treats your water with UV light and effectively destroys problem causing microbes. This is another lightweight, easily usable and portable item, however it doesn't use a filter, but a lamp. The adventurer weighs in at a hefty 3.6oz., and will treat 50 qt. per pair of disposable batteries, for a cost of $8.00 per gallon for the first set of batteries, but that cost drops to $4.32 a gallon for the next 50 qts. For comparison, to the Hiker Pro above, 200 gallons will cost you around $1.10 per gallon. (The numbers are based on an assumption of $8 per pair of batteries.) The high cost offsets the value of the highly portable, and easy to use unit that is extremely effective.

There are two chemical treatments that I've used before, and would use again. Iodine tabs and chlorine bleach can effectively purify water, and chlorine is used by the MWRA at the treatment facilities.

Chlorine bleach treatment of water is fairly simple - add unscented household chlorine bleach to a large container of water, and allow it to sit for a bit. The resultant water is safe, but tends to taste "off". A trick that hikers use to combat that is to add some powdered drink mix to increase the palatability of the water. I will say this, chlorine isn't something to play around, and is highly toxic. When used correctly it is a great tool for sterilizing and sanitizing. It is important to be sure you have chlorine bleach, do NOT use non-chlorine bleach, or scented chlorine bleach to treat water. Most household chlorine bleach is 5.25% chlorine and potent enough for two drops to properly treat 1 qt. of water. 8 drops, or 1/8 tsp. will treat a gallon of water. The EPA site I've linked below has a table showing the amounts to use for different concentrations. Once mixed the water must stand for at least a half hour for it to work. Turbid water or extremely cold water will require a higher concentration of chlorine.

Iodine tablets are an easy alternative to bleach for a chemical treatment. The Potable Aqua tablets are the only ones I've tried, and while the taste isn't pleasant, it is decent enough once masked. The tabs come in 50 tablet bottles, and two tablets will treat 1 qt. of water. As with the chlorine, the treated water must sit for at least 30 minutes to take effect. One thing to note though, iodine is NOT effective against Cryptosporidium. The Potable Aqua tablets will last up to 4 years unopened, or 1 year opened, and has a cost of about $1.08 per treated gallon of water.

Boil, baby, boil!
Boiling is a safe and easy alternative to the above mentioned treatments. However, it is predicated on having enough available fuel to bring a large volume of water to a rolling boil for a minute or so, difficult if utility services are interrupted. The only real negative to boiling water is that the end product is HOT and tastes funky due to a lack of oxygen in the water. That's easily fixed by splashing it around in a clean pitcher and throwing it into the fridge for a few hours. This is really the best way to treat large amounts of water in the home, and any of your homebrewing friends should be able to hook you up with a large pot to use for boiling.

More Reading
This document from the US EPA is a good rundown of how to treat water during an emergency. It covers boiling, home filtering of turbid water, and chemical treatment.

If In Doubt
If in doubt about how to handle this whole situation, don't sweat it. Grab a homebrewer, or a hiker. Beer brewing began as a method to preserve grain and purify water. We know how to fix what ales you. Hikers have also been dealing with these contaminants for years, it's old hat at this point. So, relax and don't sweat the small stuff.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Been busy, with beer!

So quick update on where things are, I've been busy with Ghost Rabbit work. It looks like the sales candidate I chose and interviewed is going to be a huge winner for us. Gotta wait for things to get rolling before I can out his name though. I have to say, I'm pretty happy that we found him and he's going to take GRE to some great places. We also have a project coming up that's going to be the debut of one of the interal IPs we're working on. I'm excited to see it come out, and I hope it's well received!

I like it when things work out after all.

In other news, back on Easter I tried my first all grain batch of beer. It was an all day affair, literally. 13 hours of work, and all I have to show is about 9.5 gallons of beer! (That's "all" right?) In the next few days here I need to get them into secondary. 5.5 gallons of it is Carla's Amber and will be spending a couple weeks in secondary with Amarillo hops. The remaining bit is a small beer from the grains, hopped with Hallertau and will probably be used for experimentation. I'm curious to see what a slice of bacon, sprig of rosemary, or a piece of habanero do to a bottle of beer.

I'm expecting the Amber to be about 4.5%, and the small to be about 3.6%. I'm aiming for a pair of beers that are easy to drink, clean, crisp, slightly malty and easily paired with a torchon of pig's head.

I've got another experiment going on right now, I have about a pound of lamb's liver curing. I'm going to dry it until it's stiff and see if it tastes better than the fresh liver. I hope so, as I wasn't too fond of the flavor of the fresh liver.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Twitter Speakerboxes vs. Socialistas

Are you or your company a Speakerbox, or an engaged Socialista within a community? When you show up on a follower’s feed, do they get value from what you are saying? Do you come across as more than just a marketing mission statement?

The Speakerbox

When I first started using Twitter, I was amazed at the amount of people that would turn every posting into a complicated version of, “Hey, I’m cool, look at my blog!” They were usually businesses, and came across as not understanding or embracing the concept behind Twitter. They also presented as very self centered – littering my feed space with a never changing torrent of, “Look at me-isms” with tag-along links to their blogs.

What I find interesting about the Speakerbox, is they take all shapes. In my twitter community I have had Speakerboxes ranging from marketing companies (?!?) to fitness “gurus” selling the latest get thin quick scheme. One of the first things that come to mind about these feed killers is, “why take yourself out of the conversation?” It comes across as lazy, and lacking interest in the two way conversation that twitter makes simple and quick. It could be a product of automation, a lack of understanding of twitter, or a poor strategy – either way it’s not a competent use of the technology.

How do you identify a Speakerbox?

  • Soon after following them there is a high quantity of tweets directing you to their blog
  • You don’t see them participating in conversations
  • When they do participate, any statement is usually topped off with a link to their most recent blog post
  • They provide little value – their message is basically the equivalent of a TV ad, easy to ignore
  • The often lack personality or voice in their mass of tweets

The Socialista

This person could tell you how to be a rockstar in 3 tweets or less. They are engaged, and provide (sometimes interesting) insight or entertainment with every tweet. They go out of their way to be interesting, and they make themselves a valuable addition to your twitter feed. Very few twitter users are or ever will be Socialistas, it takes a high level of dedication as well as a directed strategy. An effective Socialista will promote their message, but will make their message part of the conversation. They are not afraid to jump in and provide suggestions or ideas within a subject they know well.

In time a Socialista will become a person (or company) that a twitter user will go to as an authority, or a trusted source of opinion. If trust is a currency, these people have it in great abundance. Often these Twitter rockstars, the Socialistas will become the first stop for many people when they are looking for related information. The Socialista eventually gains the position of trusted voice, and with it the ability to persuade viewers into trying new products, services, ideas, or food.

The characteristics of a Socialista:

  • They share knowledge first, promote their product/ service second
  • They have active back and forth relationships with other twitter users
  • There is a defined character, a personality behind the tweets
  • They are accessible, and someone that people want to talk to

Which works?

It comes down to your goals. What are your success metrics? At one time Twitter success was counted by number of followers. Today, our understanding of the space has matured, and many have realized that active and engaged followers have more value than simple numbers. The Socialista will find that their followers are active, engaged, and interested in what they have to say. When the Socialista suggests a product or idea, people will listen.

At its core, Twitter is a tool for engaging people quickly and concisely, the Speakerbox approach works counter to that model. It also sends an underlying signal that your company is holding themselves back from what is a cordial, inviting, and active social meeting place. I would hope that fewer people are joining Twitter with the goal of becoming the digital equivalent of a carnival barker. The Speakerbox undermines the message they preach, and reduce their value with every posting. The Speakerbox quickly becomes an unwelcome guest and will find that with time their message will fall upon fewer and fewer ears as they become little more than white noise in the feed.

Twitter offers an opportunity to present your brand (personal or corporate) in an approachable manner, don’t ruin that chance by forgetting to listen, and neglecting the conversations around you.

Some of the people and companies doing it right are:

@ruhlman , @jetblue , @brewcrewtv , @stonebrewingco

(I do like beer, food and travel…)

Monday, March 8, 2010

Consumer tracking a la iPhone games.

I recently picked up MyTown, a tracking app masquerading as a game. Now, I have a very distinct idea of what a game is, based on my lifetime as a gamer, and my time spent working in the games industry.

My definition of a game is:
  • Has a call to action
  • Has a defined challenge
  • Has a defined benefit vs. challenge (eg. scoring)
  • If Multi-player, provides a distinct mechanism for player vs. player
  • Is fun (Although that is taste)
Outside of that, it's not a game. It might be a toy, but it's not a game.

Now back to MyTown, a free iPhone app where the whole call to action is to "Check-In" at businesses you frequent in order to get points and money. The app engages the GPS built -in to the phone to push advertising, and to give a bonus to points and money based on proximity to the business you are checking-in to. You level up through checking-in, you can buy businesses to collect rent, to make more money. Properties also collect rent, but it's based on a timer.

What this app lacks is the challenge necessary to make it a game, unless of course you are an agoraphobic and can't go to different businesses.

What this app is, is a tracking application with a cute GUI. Under the guise of a game, a player will build a list of frequented businesses, and in some cases, provide significant amounts of frequency/ use data. On top of that, there is a "What are you doing" comment box that provides extra points for giving a description of what you are doing there. Inexpensive consumer habit tracking - already working based on a new H&M partnership that has been penned for the game.

Go within 200 feet of an H&M, and get the ability to buy H&M branded items in game. Add on top of the partnership possibilities the ability to push advertising based on location, and this type of app can become a strong money maker - with potential research related revenue streams as well.

What doesn't sit well with me is that this "game" isn't up front with people regarding the data that they're donating, and that there really isn't a benefit for the player. If this app were a game, it would at least be a trade off, fun for data - even then I think the player loses out. There would at least be a benefit for the player.

While this product isn't very notable in any respect, it comes across as rather awkward and unfinished. What it could be used for, a framework for future apps/ games of this type is rather interesting. A game that could actively call a player to locations to meet new competitors, receive deals/discounts, or receive in game benefits... those could be powerful tools to make for a more immersive, rewarding game experience as well as a more effective advertising spend for certain types of advertisers.

It will be interesting to see if more apps like this show up.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Best of: Dave's Camera's SD Card, Culinary Edition!

Time to catch up... haven't had a lot of time to sit and write lately. I've been very active with the projects though, just not good at keeping up with the picture taking. So in that respect, I'm utilizing a new tool - Adobe Bridge. It keeps multimedia files in an "easy to use, visual space".

It works surprisingly well. So well, I was inspired to post a "Best of Dave's SD Card."


Sam and Steve come to dinner-

30th Birthday Dinner-

Biggest Mexican in Maine (I will post the story behind that title.)-

That's a meaty handshake-

Christmas Eve Cioppino-

First attempt making Chocolate Fondant-

First attempt at making Pate` Campagne-

First time making and trying Foie Gras-

Valentine's Dinner, Grilled Shrimp on Broccolini-

Braised Pork Belly with Oyster Stout-

(This was last night's dinner!)

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Twitter Feed...

Been looking around the web for different tools to consolidate all these social networks I'm on... didn't find the panacea I was looking for, however I did find Twitter Feed. It's supposed to aid in advertising your blog on different social networks.

Interesting. I'm curious to see how they will condense each post, if it is a matter of using labels, the title, or if there is a random snippet of text given.

Either way, I think I might play with it a bit, to see how to most effectively get the idea of my posts out to the world.

This just in...

6" of snow forecasted for Weds. Snow Emergency has already been declared. Woohoo!

Friday, February 5, 2010

Review: Sel de la Terre

Guess who brings an almost dead camera to a nice dinner? This guy, right here. I even get bonus points for forgetting we had it.

We went to dinner at a great place located near Copley Square on the green light. Sel de la Terre, the name in no way reflects the clientele.* We sat down at 8pm in a moderately filled upstairs dining room. Our server was immediately available, and patient with us as we made our initial conversations and choices. (Found out later at dinner that he was from Utah, and was familiar with the best kitchen I ever worked in Le Moulin.)

Drinks: The wine choices were vast, and rather tasty, even though I can't really drink them. The observation was made that the glasses seemed smaller than customary. I opted for a maker's mark manhattan - rocks (The bourbon selection was really lacking.), when it came it was good, but the glass was filled with shaved ice. Shaved ice is a big no-no, made my drink smaller than it should have been, and it diluted very quickly, with a $13 price tag it's not a mistake I'll make again.

First course: We ordered two charcuterie plates, and one pureed eggplant "dip" with spiced walnuts. The eggplant was good, as it was mixed with a good creamy cheese, it was a touch forgettable once the charcuterie came. Now the charcuterie plate was truly inspired. It offered tastes of a well made lardo, a great basic sausage, an amazing duck liver mousse, and bresaola. The bresaola seemed merely an after thought, an "also-ran" if you will. It was good, but not very inspired. The amazing bit in the plate was the duck liver mousse. Covered in a light aspic, it came in a shallow square bowl. Light, creamy, ducky, and well spiced. Touches of a little cinnamon, pepper, and high quality duck liver. (I will make this at home!)

Entree: Our entrees came, and the table was split, two of us ordered Seared Duck Breast with Pommes Robuchon, and braised Brussels Sprouts with a red wine glaze. The other half of the table ordered Veal Paillard with a chorizo risotto.

The duck was perfectly cooked, but tasted reminiscent of five spice duck... I lost the idea I was eating french, and thought I might have wandered into china town. The pommes Robuchon were gritty, which ruined the experience for me. The brussels sprouts and sauce were perfectly done, and when paired with the duck - a true treat. I have to admit though, I wasn't completely turned off by the gritty potatoes, I ate them all. I also ordered a foie gras bread pudding, it was very tasty, although a little too sweet to be served as a main dish accompaniment, and there was no foie gras flavor to speak of. It was a well made bread pudding though, soft, crunchy, dry and moist all at the same time.

The veal was very tasty but hardly a paillard. It was easily a full 3/4in. thick in some places. It was nicely breaded, still crispy, and the meat still wonderfully juicy. The risotto was a bit of a miss though, it was ultra salty compared to the rest of the meal, and each piece of chorizo was a salt bomb waiting to go off. Salty risotto and salty chorizo make it hard to really love the dish. The risotto was perfectly al dente though, just the way I like it.

Dessert: This part of the meal made me wonder if we were still at Sel De La Terre. While everything we've had up until that moment had been very well made (even barring my critique above), the desserts seemed merely as overpriced afterthoughts. They lacked the polish and quality the rest of the meal had up until this point.

We ordered the cupcake plate, and the chocolate fondant with graham cracker ice cream and house made marshmallows. I'll say this about the cupcake, dry, insipid - we sent it back. There was to be some passion fruit flavor in one, and gingerbread flavor in another, but it just wasn't there. These cupcakes were disappointing. At 2 cupcakes for $10, I would expect a high quality, moist, tasty cupcake with a light and well made frosting. The passion fruit one was overly dense, tough, and dry. The gingerbread one had a cloyingly overly sweet frosting, although that same frosting had a wonderful texture.

The chocolate fondant was a little better, it seemed undercooked, as it completely fell in upon itself once pierced. It was definitely molten in the middle, but the lack of structural integrity turned it into a chocolate puddle on the plate. I'm a stickler for chocolate, and found it way too sweet, and it tasted like Callebaut chocolate, which is one of my least favorite. However, Carla loved the chocolate, and nary a word was murmured until the fondant was gone. The graham cracker ice cream was wonderfully made, as was the marshmallow. My only wish regarding the mashmallow was for it to be roasted a little more. It had a nice light brown coloring to it. I prefer them a little darker.

The service: Impeccable. Our server was perfection. He was attentive, knowledgeable, and great to talk to. He timed our meal out well, and even indulged my more esoteric questions about the charcuterie.

Bonus: After our meal, our server brought us a little sausage to taste. A sweetbread and foie gras sausage. This single taste has inspired me to make this item at home. The foie couldn't really be tasted, the flavors were too pronounced. However, the sweetbreads were in a large chunk, and very well flavored. Perfectly soft, not gristly, or fatty.

Final word: This was the best meal I've had in New England. Even with the challenges I outlined above, I would happily go here again, and again, and again. I wouldn't order dessert here again, not with the current pastry chef at least. It was apparent that the desserts were an after thought. They lacked the general care and polish that the rest of the meal had.

Beautiful place, beautiful meal, I'll be back.

(*In fact, I felt underfunded as I spied a very large, ancient and well accessoried eastern Euro man, with his 20 year old blonde "date".)