Thursday, January 29, 2009

Soft Launch in One...Two...Three


I have griped here about the crap Motorola cable box that we're renting from Bend Broadband (BBB). The mind-boggling crappiness of the box and its user interface isn't BBB's fault -- they are not in the hardware design and manufacturing business -- and they have to use whatever is available, and what's available in your basic HD DVR cable box options are offerings from Motorola (whose cable DVRs I have had a longstanding hatred for) and from SA -- Scientific Atlanta. Never had one of those latter pieces in the house, but I am told they are pretty crappy, too. 

I suppose that I shouldn't even blame all of the shortcomings of the box on Motorola because all they make is the box itself, while the user interface, called iGuide, is a product of TVGuide/Gemstar (though I bet that Major Issue #1 -- the inability of the box to respond to remote keypresses for sometimes up to dozens of seconds is a hardware issue -- "underpowered CPU" is what I've heard). There are other UIs running on that box around the country but iGuide is all I've ever used. 

My DISH satellite setup had a UI similar to the iGuide. 

This blog is so powerful (meaning: someone other than myself reads it) that it caught the attention of John Farwell at BBB, who heard my gnashing and woe-is-me-ing and talked me into trying the new Moxi MC3 DVR, (pictured, above) which BBB has just "soft launched" (meaning, toe in the water, not yet being advertised) in the Bend market. 

It's a buck more per month, but I saw a demo of the UI on an MC1, Moxi's earlier offering, and it looks totally cool. 

The installation guy is scheduled to be here later today. 

I'm hoping this box provides a better TV experience than the Motorola running the numbingly clunky iGuide user interface. 

It would have to work hard to be any worse. 

After we've used it for a while, I'll post my impressions. 

I Falled Down


I took a tumble day before yesterday. Slipped on a really slippery bit of ice in front of Nancy P's Baking Co.  and landed on my right side. The side where I broke my humerus (the arm's upper bone [heh -- "bone"]) in an auto accident in 1980. Snapped it right at the surgical neck. The darn shoulder joint has never been the same since. 

I have an drawing class tonight at the Art Station, taught by Vicki Shuck, but I'm right handed and jamming the arm bone into the shoulder bone on Tuesday hasn't done that arm any good. I shouldn't skip the class, but I think I have to. 

I feel guilty about that. 

Now -- About Them Steelers and Cardinals...


I'm not much of a football fan. Ball sports. Giant men running back and forth across a court, bulky men mashing into each other on a field, grown men chewing tobacco while wearing pajamas, and other men of various sizes and attire variously swinging, batting or racqueting at balls of various sizes ... such things hold little interest for me.

Nor do I have any affinity for any football team, most likely because my family moved around so much when I was a kid and I had to go to so many junior high and high schools that I quickly figured out that "team spirit" only makes sense when you've never gone to the other high school that your former high school wanted to crush. 

So I've never managed to get very worked up over team sports; their odd and arbitrary rules remind me of 43-Man Squamish, Mad Magazine's 1965 sendup of ball sports. (Wikipedia article here.)

Besides, as either Ernest Hemingway or Ken Purdy (author of the story "Blood Sport") or Barnaby Conrad said,"There are only three sports: bullfighting, motor racing, and mountaineering; all the rest are merely games."

If there's no risk of death, then it's just playing around. 

Me, I'm happy to have lived long enough that I can see the Tour de France on TV. 

But I kind of enjoy the Super Bowl for the sheer silly spectacle-ness of it. 

I would normally watch the game at home with Mrs Elliott attempting to keep the snacks healthful and the alcohol usage reasonable. But this time Mrs Elliott is away on a business trip and the idea of staying at home, alone, watching the game seems kinda, well, sad.

Clearly, then, what is needed is to find someplace in town to watch the game. 

I'm not a jock, so Neanderthal sports bars filled with (large) jocular men wearing team caps and swilling corporate beers* are not my idea of a suitable place. I must find a venue with a good TV, reasonably well-behaved patrons, and a comfortable seat. 

The hunt is on!

==============
* I.e., any brand of beer that is delivered in a gigantic pickup truck-hauled road-blocking trailer with the beer's name plastered all over it. 

Monday, January 26, 2009

A Reminder to Check Back

Readers of this blog may be interested to know that I've added several more local coffee houses, restaurants, and roasters to my espresso review blog entry

Sunday, January 25, 2009

A Lazy Sunday


I managed to sleep in today! I made it to 7:30! Yay! I'm usually up somewhere before six and six thirty so even sleeping in another hour feels quite luxurious. Mrs Elliott, unlike me, seems to have a nearly endless capacity for sleep, and I usually try not to awaken her on weekends. 

Unless I want someone to play with. 

And it was beautiful outside today. Two inches of pure white snow had fallen and everything was light outside, even under the overcast. 

So I had to wake my wife, so we could get dressed, so we could get in the car, so we could go out for breakfast, and mainly so we could look at everything covered with new snow. 

I applied the paddles and by and by she came to life, she stirred, roused herself, and got dressed so we could get in the car and go out for breakfast mainly so we could look at everything covered with new snow. 

I wanted to try Jackson's Corner for breakfast. Mrs Elliott had turned me on to them a couple days ago when she suggested we try them for lunch (very nice). 

I saw an ad for the place in Gusto magazine, one of those heavy glossy four-color promotional books that every town I've ever lived in has. Since they are usually given away for free, these publications make their money from advertising, which makes their restaurant "reviews" completely useless. 

(Sidebar: I know one well-regarded chef whose downtown restaurant has never received a Gusto puff-piece "review" despite his advertising heavily in the magazine. Maybe they didn't like his place and followed the rule that if one cannot say anything good about a place, it's best not to say anything? Or maybe he didn't achieve that subtle balance -- that balance between sucking up and making the editor feel like he was darn lucky to be in the presence of a great chef -- which is required to garner glowing reviews?

No telling.)

But I wander! Up and down subordinate clauses, lost in metaphoric tangles (both metaphorically and in reality) ... I worry that I drift away from my point. 

Oh yeah -- I don't have a point. Time to start the soup. I have some Wookey Hole cheddar, navy bean soup, and a pint of Murphy's stout awaiting my attention. 

So, to wrap up this ramble, Gusto had a nice shot of a Jackson's Corner breakfast, which motivated me to try them, which is why we went there. 

We had fritattas, an unfortunate scone,* kombucha and coffee, and read the Sunday Bulletin at Jackson's Corner. 

Breakfast wound down, we drove home -- with KWAX FM on the radio -- to where I had some honey-does** to take care of.

Opera's playing in the background, it's snowing outside, a whole flock of nearly 100 american robins (pictured above) have laid siege to the junipers in the backyard, and lunch is calling. 

Hope you're having a nice day, too!

===========
* I'm pretty sure a scone is not meant to have the texture of a cake. Some in town do, though. Sigh . . . maybe it's time to start reviewing scones in addition to espresso and stout beers. 

** "Honey-do's" or "Honey-does"? I'm torn. The former is a possessive. We're looking for the plural form of "honey-do." But "honey-dos" looks like the name for a sticky early (d)isk (o)perating (s)ystem. [Update Jan 26 -- My brother, the smart English teacher, writes to say, "First, of course, `Honey do' is short for `Honey, do this' or `Honey, do that.' The apostrophe, however, in `Honey do's' connoting a plural is wrong by rule (apostrophes only being acceptable when used to make a letter plural as in `Mind your p's and q's') but correct if one wants to avoid a pronunciation shift that would cause confusion as in `Honey Dos (DOS?) Unfortunately, the MLA (Modern Language Association) only sez the aprostrophe is correct for letters and incorrect for abbreviations (MBAs, PHDs) and numbers (at 6s and 7s, though these should be spelled out, okay then, as in it takes 12 12s to make one 144). No word on the apostrophe for for Honey do's. Seems right, though. Especially after a vowel."]

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Dry Stouts


Or "Irish Dry Stout," as this type of beer is sometimes called. Fairly low in alcohol content, with a dry finish, a "...relatively light bodied, bitter stout whose coffee-like dry flavor comes from using dark roasted malts. The classic examples include the big three Irish brewers: Murphy's, Beamish, and Guinness." [1]

I like dry stouts. I don't think anyone in Bend brews dry stouts. I find non-dry stouts to be either too high in alcohol, or far too fruity (sweet) in taste. Bend Brewing Company's Nitro Cream Stout on tap is pretty dry, and I hear that Blacksmith has Guinness -- the exemplar of Irish dry stouts -- on tap.

In my ongoing search for a good non-imported, preferrably local,  dry stout I've tried these offerings from the local markets:

Domestic:
Dick's Brewing Company's Cream Stout has a very sweet finish that puts me off.
Widmer's Snowplow Milk Stout has an even sweeter note that almost gags me. 
Stiletz Oatmeal Cream Stout is also too sweet.

(The hell? If I want sweet beer I'll add my own sugar plsthnx.  And I'm seeing plenty of stouts with added flavors, like coffee. Uh-huh. If you've read my post about espresso in Bend, (always being updated, keep an eye on it) you know that I like my espresso straight, not as a flavoring for sugary milky drinks. I like my pizza made simply with the purest ingredients.  By the same token, I'm looking for a stout that can stand on its own without being tarted up with whatever else they found in the kitchen.)
St. Andrei at The Newport Market has had Moylan's Dragoon Dry Irish Stout on order for a few weeks. I await its arrival.  

Update: Feb 20, 2009. The Moylan's was entirely too sweet for my taste. Felt like hurling every time I swallowed. I guess that when it comes to stouts, I'm a Guinness guy.

Imported:
Guinness Extra Stout (1 pint, 6oz bottle) is pretty okay, but isn't very interesting.
Guinness Draught (14.9 oz can) has a nitrogen widget inside, so the mouthfeel is creamier, but the palate a bit flat.
Murphey's inna can. See Guinness Draught, above. 
On tap:
The Blacksmith has Guinness on tap. Tastes exactly like Guinness Draught in a can (above). No other stouts there.
Decoy also has Guinness on tap. It had more character to the taste than Blacksmith's. Why? Mark, the fellow behind the bar, suggested that it has something to do with the plumbing. I couldn't hear everything he said (Friday night crowd), but I did pick up something about how their kegs were located very close to the taps whereas The Blacksmith has about 50 to 60 feet of tubing for the beer to negotiate. Guinness is also their one stout.

(As an aside, it's far too dark in The Blacksmith for reading. I am, after all, on a hunt to find the perfect downtown bar  for reading and drinking stout. Decoy's lighting is just fine.)

===============
1. See entry at Brewwiki.com

Just Got Taken


Dang. I just got scammed for $3,700. And it was my own darn fault, too. A fellow in Singapore placed an order on January 8 for some product, and provided a credit card number. I called American Express to confirm the card's ownership. Amex verified that the customer's name was a match, gave me a charge authorization number, and I ran the card. 

To fulfil the fellow's order I contacted my vendors for the needed parts, and proceeded to build the item the customer ordered. 

Fortunately I haven't yet shipped the goods. Because I got a call this afternoon from a fellow in Nashville who found the charge on his card and my company's name. His wife's last name is the same as the last name of the Singaporean scammer. 

We had a real nice conversation, I told him what happened, and he understood. He's contacted Amex to dispute the charge, which is as should be. 

I called Amex to ask wtf? 

The nice man reminded me that one of the terms of my merchant agreement is that I must only ship goods to the card billing address. Knowing that, it's my responsibility to check, so when I had Amex on the phone I should have not just asked for a name match, but to confirm that the shipping address provided by the scammer matched the card's billing address.

They'll be sending me a letter asking me to explain my side of the story (there isn't one), then they'll do a chargeback in about 30 days to make the cardholder whole. 

Sigh. Lesson learned.  

Haircut, Dinner, and Music

Not bad for a Wednesday night in a small town...

Credits

Beer: Wildfire (complimentary 16 oz served at Bond Street Barber Shop)
Haircut: Bond Street Barber Shop
Espresso: Armand Speide, Chocolat et Gâteaux
Dinner: Bistro Corlise, Jason Logan owner and chef
Entertainment: Blue Rose Trio, (with HDCM's Isabelle Senger filling in for violinist Audrey Solomon), music by Haydn, Beethoven, Villa-Lobos, Piazolla, Desby

Virtuoso performances by all. 

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Outside Our Window

7 am this morning. Sometimes it just blows me away. Click on it for a bigger version.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Stupid Stupid Motorola Set Top Box


I pretty much hate the set top box that Bend Broadband (and many, many other cable providers) uses. It's a Motorola DCH3416, dual-tuner DVR running the iGuide user interface by TVGuide/Gemstar. We had a lesser version last year of this box, running the same software, when we were Time Warner Cable customers in SoCal. I had hoped that this more powerful box would not have the same annoyances the other box tortured me with, but no.

So, just to get them off my chest, I herewith post my peeves:

  1. Major Peeve for all of us in the Elliott household: This stupid box is frequently unresponsive to keypresses for sometimes up to tens of seconds while it's doing things. This causes the user to try pressing the key on the remote a few more times just to see if the box "saw" the remote. Then after it's done doing things, it will suddenly catch up and play back all those keypresses, including the extra, repeat, ones, which usually takes us someplace in the menu system we wasn't trying to get to. 

  2. Minor Peeve: It changes channels just because I told it to record a show -- not display it, mind. I'll be listening to music on one of the Sirius channel I pay BBB for and suddenly the audio will change to the show I told it to record. Hey stupid box: I said record, not view! I'll watch it later. That's why we record things. 

  3. Another Minor Peeve: So we're watching a show and a giant popup text box pops up saying that my recording has finished . . . while I'm watching another recorded show. And it stays there, covering up most of the center of the screen for easily 15 seconds. The "exit" button can be used to dismiss it, but if it doesn't dismiss immediately, one wonders whether the box saw the command, so one tries pushing the key again. Which leads to Major Peeve (See 1., above). Stupid box needs a "quiet" mode to stop this.

  4. Yet Another Minor Peeve [added Jan 19, 2009]: The box keeps recording the same show over and over. Say I have told it to set up a series recording of New Episodes of The Rachel Maddow Show. MSNBC airs that show twice a day, I think it is. So I watch the playback of the first instance, and the stupid box then proceeds to record the second instance. Look -- this is the 21st century. Surely the box can determine that I already recorded and deleted the show.  
NOTE: Motorola, not Bend Broadband, is the manufacturer of the hardware.The user interface, called iGuide, is a product of TVGuide/Gemstar. Minor Peeves #2 through #4 are most likely iGuide issues. The major Peeve (#1) has to be a hardware issue (small cpu?) or really crappy soft/firmware coding.  I'm told that trying to get UI improvements through TVGuide/Gemstar is pretty much a waste of time.

The Bulletin reported today (see below) that satellite providers may be providing local channels in a couple years. If that happens, then I'm going to spend some time playing with their boxes and if Gemstar hasn't cleared up this box's UI glitches then I'll seriously be considering a switch.

[Update January 29, 2009: Bend Broadband's Moxi MC3 box is coming to the Elliott household. See here.]

Channels come to satellite providers, cable will have more competition 
By Andrew Moore / The Bulletin 
Published: January 18. 2009 4:00AM PST 


Satellite television in Deschutes County can be both entertaining and frustrating. There’s plenty of content at competitive prices, but depending on where you live, that content might not include “American Idol,” “World News Tonight” or “Sunday Night Football.” 

For reasons wrought with red tape, neither of the nation’s two satellite television companies, DirecTV or Dish Network, provides customers in Deschutes County with network programming. There are a few caveats, but for most satellite customers here, it means using rabbit ear-type antennas to pull down over-the-air broadcast signals from Bend’s network affiliates in order to watch network programming. 

That could change in 2009. 

Chris Gallu, general manager of KTVZ-TV, Bend’s NBC affiliate, and KFXO-TV, Bend’s Fox affiliate, says he has created space at the KTVZ/KFXO station for both satellite companies to place the necessary uplink equipment and that as a result, both have expressed interest in using the station to process local network signals for Bend in 2009. 

“The satellite companies have come to town and looked around and requested this be the facility to uplink all local channels, in this year,” Gallu said. 

Robin Zimmerman, a spokeswoman for Meridian, Colo.-based Dish Network, said the company dooes not comment on the status of contract negotiations. 

Robert Mercer, a spokesman for El Segundo, Calif.-based DirecTV, said the company has no immediate plans to offer local network programming to Bend due to bandwidth limitations pertaining to its satellite signal. 

“We understand there is strong demand for locals via our service, and though we will continue to expand our satellite capacity to offer more services, it’s a little early to say when or if we’ll be able to launch in Bend,” Mercer said. 

Gallu said the satellite television providers now beam local network channels into the top 182 markets in the country. The Bend television market, which encompasses Deschutes County, is the nation’s 192nd largest market out of 210 total markets. Most of Crook and Jefferson counties are included in the Portland television market. 

“We’re right on the cusp, so we should be getting it, and it will offer alternatives for all of Central Oregon,” Gallu said. “Especially in rural areas, it would be a great relief.” 

Background 

Since 1999, satellite providers have been barred by federal law from providing their customers with network programming that originated outside customers’ home markets unless the customers were able to prove they could not receive over-the-air broadcast signals from their local network affiliates. This became known as the “local-into-local” rule. 

In other words, it became illegal to provide someone in Deschutes County with a feed from the NBC affiliate in Los Angeles if he or she could receive KTVZ’s NBC signal over the air. 

Certain satellite customers who had service prior to the law’s enactment were able to keep outside network signals. 

But for new customers, it can be a hassle. 

John Baker owns and operates Para-Tech Satellite Systems in Bend, an authorized reseller and installer of both satellite television systems. Baker said roughly 50 percent of the customers who come into his office eager to sign up for satellite television service leave empty-handed after finding out the service does not include network channels. 

“People don’t know it at all,” Baker said. “They think they can get locals, and I say, ‘No,’ and they say, ‘That’s OK, I’ll watch the Portland channels,’ and then we say, ‘No. No (networks) period,’ and they look at me and their face is blank. They can’t believe they can’t get the networks. When they finally get it, they drift off with dazed looks.” 

According to the Nielsen Co., the television ratings firm, there an estimated 64,830 households in Deschutes County have televisions. Of those, 65 percent are served by cable providers such as BendBroadband or Chambers Cable of Sunriver. Another 22 percent receive satellite television and the remaining 13 percent watch over-the-air programming or no broadcast television at all. 

In rural areas of the county, satellite television service is the only option available, as the cable companies mostly serve only incorporated communities. That means rural satellite television customers must use rabbit ear-type antennas to watch network programming. 

In some cases, whether because of distance or geographic obstacles, over-the-air signals are not available for some satellite customers, which enables them to apply for waivers from the local network affiliates to allow them to receive network programming from out-of-market stations. 

Competition 

Should Dish and DirecTV begin offering local network signals, the impact on Deschutes County could be significant, primarily due to the fact that the cable companies would have genuine competition. The local networks are all available on BendBroadband and each offers a substantial amount of high-definition channels. 

“Historically, it’s safe to say we’ve seen significant increases in new customers in markets where we launched locals with a heavy marketing campaign — as much as a double-digit increase,” said Mercer, the DirecTV spokesman. “In local markets where we did little marketing, we had a much smaller increase. So it varies quite a bit depending on the marketing effort and the market.” 

In the Portland television market, where local network programming has been available on satellite for years, 55 percent of the television households subscribe to cable, 27 percent subscribe to satellite television and the remaining 18 percent watch over-the-air programming or no broadcast television at all. 

In a written statement, John Farwell, BendBroadband’s vice president of business operations, said the company welcomes competition. 

“I’m a firm believer that competition is what makes companies great,” Farwell wrote. “It provides the impetus for businesses to seek continuous improvement in the products or services they provide and to strive for customer loyalty through reliability and superior customer care.” 

Farwell noted that BendBroadband, despite some perceptions that it’s a monopoly, already faces competition in each of its product lines: television, phone and Internet. Qwest, through a partnership with DirecTV, offers services in the same three categories. Numerous other Internet providers, and Internet-based telephone providers, also exist in Central Oregon. 

Farwell said BendBroadband offers video on demand as well as access to COTV, its local channel that features a variety of Central Oregon-themed programming. COTV is not available from either satellite provider. Farwell also noted that BendBroadband, a local company that employs roughly 200 people, can provide a level of service that could be hard for the satellite television companies to match. 

“When you subscribe to BendBroadband, you’re buying local and supporting a local business,” Farwell wrote. “When you call with a billing question or need technical assistance, your call isn’t going out of state or out of the country.” 

Business impact 

The addition of local network programming also would benefit advertisers, advertising agencies and the local stations, according to agency and TV officials. 

Matthew Bowler, a principal with the Bend-based advertising firm The Mandala Agency, said companies wanting to advertise their products or services would reach more viewers. It also would provide agencies like his more flexibility in helping clients reach potential customers. 

“The expected result would be television campaigns would be more effective in delivering measurable results for advertisers,” Bowler said. “Television would become a more attractive advertising medium.” 

Bowler noted that satellite television service with local network service also would help advertisers reach some of the more affluent areas of the county that are in rural areas or rural resort developments such as Pronghorn that are outside of any cable company’s footprint. 

Bend’s network affiliates also would benefit, as more viewers could translate to more advertising revenue, said Dave Ulrickson, general manager of KBNZ-TV, Bend’s CBS affiliate. 

Discussing his previous experience managing television stations in Santa Barbara, Calif., Ulrickson said those stations’ advertising revenue grew every year once the satellite television providers added Santa Barbara’s local network affiliates to their signal. 

“It’s a gamble and (the satellite television companies) won’t make any promises because several markets are trying to do the same thing, but what (Gallu) is doing is absolutely the best way for that to happen here and it would be very beneficial for us,” Ulrickson said. 

Baker, of Para-Tech Satellite Systems, said the addition of local-into-local service in Bend would be a double-edged sword. He figures business would definitely pick up, but he also worries it might be more than he could handle, thereby spawning new competitors in the satellite television sales and installation field. 

He also wonders how many people would be motivated to leave their cable providers, especially if they bundle other services, such as BendBroadband’s phone and Internet service. Chalk it up to human nature. 

“People get locked into one thing and are not going to change even if something new comes up,” Baker said.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Should Be Cold, Isn't

I'm told this is supposed to be the coldest week of the year. 

The junipers are exhaling their scent. 

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Jack on the Town, a followup


(Following up on my post about yesterday's quest to find a good place in Bend to drink and read)
  1. I was downtown this morning and asked Dunc (Pegasus Books) about the building with the missing mezzanine. According to him, it used to be the J.C. Penny building, but he didn't recall whether the main floor had a high ceiling. I proposed that it did. It's possible that when it was later divided into small shops and offices, a drop ceiling was added. Up above all the main floor offices is likely a huge, gloomy, dark space, with nothing in it but dust. I like to think that a big old forgotten Zeppelin is parked up there. 

  2. I told Duncan that Fun Home was brilliant. "That's good to hear," he said. "Because if you didn't like it I was going to give up on you." 

  3. Mrs Elliott is, even as I write this on Saturday evening, finishing Fun Home. "It's good," she says, as she closes the book, her touch lingering for a moment on the dust jacket.

Jack on the Town

(Being an overlong tale of my perambulations around downtown Bend, books under arm, in search of a good place to drink and read)

I was hankering for a Friday evening out, but Mrs Elliott didn't quite feel up to it. She'd picked up a case of pneumonia earlier in the week, but once her doctor (Dr Uri) diagnosed it and set her up on a course of antibiotics, she was well on her way to recovery. But needing a little more downtime before feeling up to snuff, we agreed that she'd drop me off downtown on a errand she needed to run,  go back to the house to nest and catch up on her "chick" TV (Gray's Anatomy,und so weiter), and I could a taxi home later. 

So with a copy of The Best American Short Stories, 2008 (Salman Rushdie, ed.) , under my arm, I forayed out for an evening on the town. My goal was to find a place where a fellow could sit at a table, read a book, sip some wine or good local ale, and people watch. 

But first I dropped into Pegasus Books to chat with Dunc about graphic novels. A few months ago I had read a copy of Watchmen, (Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons) considered to be a pretty outstanding example of a medium which sits between the novel and the comic book form. Though it was an interesting take on the concept of super heroes living amongst us, I wasn't impressed with it: the dialog was corny, the illustrations at times clumsy. 

I wanted something a little more literary, more nutritious. So Dunc suggested that I try Fun Home -- A Family Tragicomic (little play on words there) by Alison Bechdel. "If this doesn't do it for you," he said, "then I don't know what will." 

So now I was packing two books as I strolled over to Wall street in time for a 3 o' clock  massage appointment.

On the way I saw a man peering into the windows of Merenda, now closed for nearly two weeks.

"They're gone," I said.

"I guess they are," he said. He was about my height (i.e., short) and appeared to be in his late 40's. 

"I'm looking for a place where I can watch sports," he said. "I don't want a noisy sports bar, though. Do you know any place like that?"

I didn't. He wondered of Ciao Mambo had a TV. I didn't recall seeing one when Mrs Elliott and I ate there, and told him. I also told him that since I'm not much into sports so I don't notice such things, my information could be wrong. JC's? Westside Tavern? I dunno.

I wished him luck, he wished me a good weekend, and I continued down Wall street for my massage. 

Yasuko Narita, LMT, of Balanced Life Massage, runs a discount coupon at the back of The Source Weekly, and Mrs Elliott used one last week for a 1-hour massage. She said that Yasuko did a right nice job on her, and so I booked myself a 90-minute deep tissue/Swedish massage session for this Friday afternoon.

It's been two years since my last massage, and this creaky old body with all its old broken bones and joints (auto accident decades ago, don't ask, but kids -- don't drink and drive) needed some serious poking and prodding so I told her to go for it. 

Yasuko is a pretty small person. Shrimpy, even. 

But she has strong hands and totally kicked my ass. She found tender and sore parts I wasn't even aware of.

She has a nice shop: clean, organized and she knows what she's doing. Recommended. 

I left feeling relaxed and sleepy. 

Before I moved on, I spent a little time exploring that old building which houses her office, as well as those of many other massage therapists, small businesses, contractors, engineers, lawyers, therapists, String Theory (in the basement), and CPAs. I don't know what the building is called, when it was built, or any of its history. 

I noticed that a portion of the mezzanine floor seems to be missing. 

On the Wall Street end of the building, the stair flight to the second floor is very long, plenty long for there to be a floor between the ground floor and second floor. The elevator doesn't have a button for this missing floor. At the rear of the building there is access to the mezzanine level which the front stairs bypass, but the mezzanine floor at the rear covers only about one-third of the building. The entire front 2/3rds of the mezzanine floor appear to be inaccessible. 

I mulled this mystery as I walked over to the Deschutes Brewery public house. I like this pub -- it is a cheery place with a "happy" atmosphere. The bar area was pretty busy, but even so, I scored a stool, ordered an ale (whatever was on nitro -- I couldn't hear the name over the sound of the crowd) and opened Bechdel's book. 

It quickly became clear that this book was an entirely different animal than Watchmen. A personal story, I soon became engrossed. 

Finishing my beer, I decided to move on, still in search of the good place to read -- I had it in my mind that The Wine Shop and Tasting Bar on Minnesota might fill the bill, so I headed south on Bond street. 

As I walked past Zante, a "lifestyle salon & spa," I noticed, in this order, (a) that they had a massage chair near the front window, and (b) that they were still open. Thinking of poor Mrs Elliott at home recouping from her illness, I recalled that she has on more than one occasion said she wished she knew of someplace in town where she could get a quickie chair massage. So I popped into the shop to inquire about prices. 

Now, "spa/salon women,"  with their flawless skin, flawless hair, and seriously aloof attitudes are generally an intimidating breed, at least to me. Seems like they would scare off more customers than they would attract, but apparently not, since most spa/salons employ them. Zante is no different in this regard, but I found the two young women working there to be quite friendly. They did have the requisite complexions and coiffures, but attitude-wise, they were fun. 

I purchased a gift card for an hour of chair massage, divisible into as many smaller chunks as she might like, for Mrs Elliott.

Moving on, I passed Giuseppie's Ristorante. I recalled that someone on the Bend Economy Bulletin Board had described them as having the best Italian food in Bend. I noticed a table for two in the front window. The lighting was low, but not too low for reading, so I backpedaled to the menu posted by the door to inspect their comestibles. I spied a Gorgonzola & roasted garlic antipasto that appealed so I decided to check the place out. 

Restaurants can be risky business for the gentleman seeking leisurely time to read a book. The wait staff can pester a man so frequently with "How's everything?" and "Would you like some more water?" that one must resign oneself to the fact that one will not be left alone and just eat and leave.

However, the cheerful server who seated me immediately "got" what I was after, and led me directly to the table I had eyeballed. We discussed the reds by the glass wines, and I settled on a montepulciano. She said it was her favorite mainly because "montepulciano" is so much fun to say. 

She left me with a glass of wine and the menu, and moved on to take care of another table. 

The wine was excellent, and the literary Fun Home drew me back into its tale of family dysfunction and secrets. 

After a comfortable period of time, my server returned to take my food order. In addition to the cheese appetizer, I also ordered a Caprese salad. I had some trepidation about this. A proper Caprese salad is a simple affair: tomatoes, fresh mozarella, basil, olive oil and balsamic vinegar. The simplicity of the salad demands excellent ingredients, and while I've had some amazing Caprese salads (on the island of Capri), as well as in restaurants that have a clue, I've also had my fair share of disappointments in this department mainly due to waxy, tasteless supermarket tomatoes. January in the northern hemisphere is not tomato season, so I was curious to see what Giuseppie's kitchen would do. 

I went back to reading. 

After a bit, the cheese appetizer arrived. It was pretty darn delicious: melted Gorgonzola, some crusty bits of bread, and a lovely large bulb of garlic which had been sliced open and placed under the broiler just long enough to completely soften the cloves, giving them a mild, delicious taste. 

I ate them, secure in the knowledge that even though these fragrant little garlic bombs would result in devastatingly potent breath, I was going to have a good time anyway. That's one of the benefits to being a married man, not on the prowl, not needing to impress anyone. As a single man, one must take care not to become too terribly offensive in appearance, behavior, or odor.

Not my problem. 

So far, the ristorante had been perfect -- but what about them tomatoes? 

When the server brought the salad, it looked as though they had used sun-dried tomatoes. Perhaps not a bad choice if good fresh tomatoes are not available, but not very traditional. However, my fork cut easily through the first slice just like it would through a fresh tomato, rather than a leathery dried tomato. 

And the taste? It was excellent -- rich and full-bodied, like a good ripe tomato. What were these? I wondered. They were quite dark ... heirlooms, perhaps? "Romas," said my server. "With a little pesto brushed on top."

These were Romas? I know what the stores are selling right now in the Romas category -- waxy, pale orange, and fairly tasteless. Except in size, I saw no resemblence between those unfortunate fruits and these delicious slices.

"B-but . . . how can this be?" I asked. 

"It's our chef, Russ -- he's a genius. He was just out a few moments ago," she tilted her head in the direction of another table, "helping them to decide on what they wanted for dinner."

I had to buttonhole this Russ fellow and find his secret. 

A few minutes later, I had my chance. "Dude," I said. "Seriously -- these tomatoes are amazing. They're Romas? How did you make ordinary Roma tomatoes so flavorful?" 

"I roast them."

I knew that roasting vegetables for an hour or two in a medium oven before using them in stews or soups is a common technique for deepening and concentrating their flavors, but I'd never heard that roasting tomatoes could be so magical. 

"No kidding. These are brilliant! So . . . what? 250 degree oven for a while?"

He spilled. 

"More like 300 degrees for an hour and a half, then leave them in the oven overnight with just the pilot light on. That dries them out some. After that, I refrigerate them. When I serve them I brush on a little pesto sauce."

Yep. The man knows what he's doing. I don't know whether Giuseppe's is the best Italian restaurant in Bend, but Russ's salad is a hopeful sign that the kitchen is indeed better than average. I asked for a second glass of the Tuscan red, made a note to myself to bring Mrs Elliott here when next we felt like Italian, and returned to Bechdel's memoir. 

I surfaced a while later. The wine glass was empty, the food was gone from my plates, and I wanted to move on. The wine shop was calling. Paid my bill, thanked my server, chatted to the owner and complimented the chef, and left.

The night was getting decidedly colder so I hurried to Minnesota. "What've we got happening tonight?" I asked. 

The woman behind the bar (she looked very like the owner but she wasn't the owner) said that they were having a happy hour tasting of two syrahs: a blend and a straight syrah, for $5. 

"It's almost 7:30," I said. "When's happy hour?"

"4:30 to 6:30."

Okay. I guess that happy hour ends when happy hour ends. Cheered by this news, I said I'd like to check out the wines. 

The blend was okay, nothing worth writing home about. The straight syrah, a Porcupine Ridge 2007, was, on the other hand, quite good. And at $17 a bottle, a good value. I've always found pretty good values at The Wine Shop and Tasting Bar. In December Mrs Elliott and I enjoyed a sparkling wine tasting, and bought a fine bottle of prosecco (which we drank on New Years Eve, aka our wedding anniversary) for $24. 

Anyway, somehow there were these two women who were out on the town for the evening sitting next to me and we started talking about this and that. They asked about Fun Home, which I was continuing to read when they weren't pestering me. I overheard the blonde say to the brunette that she liked how the woman who was serving us (who looked like the owner but wasn't) had done her hair. The blonde ordered a split of sparkling wine, the brunette had just finished tasting the syrah blend. She said she thought it was very good, but having overheard me comment to the woman (who looked like the owner but wasn't) that I thought the syrah was better, she ordered a glass for herself.

By this point I was about three sheets to the wind, and said so. 

"You're pretty contained for a drunk," said the brunette. "Why do you like this wine better than the other one?"

I tried to describe to her why I found the blend to be bland, but the straight syrah more interesting. "The finish is more interesting . . ." I struggled for words. " . . .  it leaves a kind of fuzzy burn down the throat."

"Who doesn't like a fuzzy burn?" she asked. Then, changing subjects, she pointed out that her friend, whom she had known for six months, who was a manufacturer of jeweled collars and leashes for dogs, and other pet bling, had just been granted a patent on a design. 

I was impressed. Patents cost a fortune to get, and I reckon she was the first person I've ever met that has a patent. A woman with a patent is nerdy attractive. 

I asked them about the woman who was serving us (who looked like the owner but wasn't).  

"Twins," the brunette said. "She and Melanie are twins, I think," said the blonde. 

Oh, right. Once I saw them side by side it was super-obvious. The owner, Melanie, had chestnut brown hair, while her sister's was much darker, maybe even black. 

The next half hour was a pleasurable mix of reading and being interrupted by my increasingly playful wine-bar mates. But I was getting the itch to move on. Still looking for the nice places to read. 

I paid my tab, said good night to the inventor and her gregarious friend and, with a bottle of syrah added to my two books, walked over to the Bend Brewing Company. Like I needed more alcohol. But, in my defense, it should be noted that I had not yet found a companionable place to drink ale and read. Sure, Giuseppe's and the Wine Bar were both perfectly fine, but they were wine places, not beer. I still hadn't found the beer place. Deschutes Brewery's pub is fun, but it's just too noisy and crowded. 

But the bar at the BBC looked like just the place. There were plenty of people yet it wasn't crowded. Folk were having a good time but it wasn't so noisy that a fellow couldn't hear what the bartender was saying. 

I settled myself at the bar, and ordered a nitro Cream Stout. I am a fan of dry stouts. Most stouts are too fruity for me. I am not interesting in a stout that boasts of caramel malts -- I like my stouts crisp. And low in alcohol. A good draft Guiness is my idea of a good time.* And I also found BBC's cream stout to be quite good. 

Well, anyway, I read some more, finished my beer, and asked the bartender to call a cab for me. 

I was home in 10 minutes. 

Mrs Elliott had spent a most restful evening, watching her shows. I gave her the massage gift card, which she loved. 

"Whew," said Mrs Elliott. "Your breath sure smells like alcohol and garlic!"

No surprise. 
=============
* Andrei, who does wines and beers at The Newport Market, has gone to the trouble to locate a dry stout for me. He told me that Moylan's Brewery makes one and that he's expecting some 22 oz bottles any day now.

Friday, January 9, 2009

House Heating Update

Our house's heating just got way more modern. What we have here is an early-70's stick-built house near The Newport Market. It's well-insulated per the various men I've hired to take care of various structural and mechanical/electrical issues that needed cleaning up. But as I detailed in earlier posts, the upstairs heating for the living room, dining room, and kitchen was broken (read all about that here.) The wood stove insert in the downstairs fireplace does a mighty fine job heating the downstairs, and my fancy duct work does bring a lot of its heated air upstairs, but it labors mightily. On cold nights the living room, where we spend most of our time, can be a bit chilly.

"Why don't we get a small forced-air furnace to heat these rooms," asked Mrs Elliott. 

The more I looked at the idea, the more sense it made. The furnace could go into the garage, a wall of which backs up the the kitchen; the attic/crawlspace has plenty of room for ducting; the main electrical panel is just a few feet away; and directly above where the furnace could be sited there is a natural gas pipe, with a cap on the end. The only thing in the house presently using gas is the kitchen stove. Odd that gas was brought into the house in the first place, since all the original heat was electric (radiant ceilings). 

So I called up a local HVAC company, who quoted the install. For comparison shopping purposes, I called a second one. Their quote was nearly three times higher. I could not determine from the quotes what might account for this difference, although the higher priced guy suggested that the lower bid might not include some fancier hardware and less-good warranties. The lower-priced guy denied that his materials, workmanship, and warranties were any less good. 

So I got a third quote. Which was almost precisely between the first two quotes. And for almost exactly the same job. Nothing fancy, basic stuff. He did sorta kinda suggest that the lowest bidder's workmanship has been found to be substandard in the past, and that his company has been called out many times to take care of problems that the lowballer left behind. 

But I bet the lowballer has similar stories about the mid-priced guy.

Even so, this planted a seed of doubt about the quality of work from the lowest-priced guy. Yet the mid-priced guy wanted more than we wanted to pay. So I asked on the Bend Economy Bulletin Board whether anyone had an HVAC guy they could recommend. One poster suggested Moore Climate Control, operated by Lyndon Moore. 

Lyndon provided a quote, several pages of references and copies of his contractor licenses. His quote was between the lowball quote and the midrange quote. I liked the guy and what he had to say (by now I had become pretty familiar with what we wanted and the corners we didn't want to see cut), so we gave him the job.

He sent out two guy to do the job -- both smart, both well-spoken, both obviously quite accustomed to this kind of work, and both well-aware that they were lucky to be finding work amidst the almost complete cessation of new construction we've seen here. 

There's been some sawing and banging noises, the sound of things being dragged around in the attic, plenty of sheet metal, insulation wrapping, mastic-applying, electrical and gas activity, holes cut in the ceiling with plenty of drywall dust everywhere. 

But we have upstairs heat now. At the touch of a thermostat. Like Mrs Elliott and I have been accustomed to for both our entire respective lives. The system is nice and quiet (oversized boots used for the outlets, Mrs Elliott and I both dislike noisy, whistling vents).

Of course, our gas bill will go up dramatically, now that we have something serious connected to the gas line. And of course I still need to feed the insert downstairs with wood to heat the lower level where Mrs Elliott and I have our work spaces. But it'll be nice to get up in the morning to a preheated house, and I expect to have less wood schlepping to do. 

It's a modern miracle.

Oh - the other companies that bid on the job were (in no particular order): Quality Heating, Mountain View Heating, and Cascade Heating


Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Must. Wake. Up.


I haven't been feeling inspired blog-wise lately. I usually need a couple weeks to recover from the holidays. I'm not good at small talk and if there's a skill that one needs to survive a couple days in close proximity to the in-laws and their extended group of relatives and friends, it's the ability to make small talk. Lots of it. And I suck at it. 

So what saves me is preparation. As in: bring a couple bottles of wine. "I only drink to make other people seem  interesting," said George Jean Nathan, New York theater critic and founder of the American Spectator. 

It's a sentiment I can easily identify with. 

As a result, the holidays leave me feeling a little overfed, hung over, and sluggish. Still trying to wake up here. 

Say, I saw a segment on KOHD news (I think it was) about Oregon's DUII laws. Jeepers -- first offense is $5,000??? Yikes. 

That confirms that my habit of walking, cycling, mooching, or cabbing after a couple pints or glasses of wine is a good one. I just got a little breathalyzer for my keychain and plan to use it for a reality check whenever I'm out of an evening with Mrs Elliott. 

 
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