Saturday, September 20, 2014

Saturday Happy Hour - the Negroni

With NPR celebrating bitter in a story this week, I thought nothing could be more appropriate than the recipe for the Negroni, a champ of appertifs, slightly sweet and with a nice bitter bite. It's a great go-to cocktail for before dinner as it leaves you nicely hungry and relaxed.

Ingredients:

1oz gin
1 oz Campari
1 oz Sweet red vermouth
Optional: dash of fruit flavored bitters - cherry, grapefruit, orange

Add ice to a tumbler, combine ingredients and stir. Serve.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Pizza N' Games 4 is here!


Tomorrow: it's on like Donkey Kong. Quite literally, we will have Donkey Kong. Pizza n' Games 4 has finally arrived! Come to Les & Jim's in Merrill for some epic game playing - video games, board games, RPG, and much much more. Vendors will be selling games, game related merch, and other nerdy stuff. There will be various SCA demos. I'll personally be running Call of Cthulhu and the Doctor Who RPG (the old FASA one). Come and join us - only 6 bucks for a full day and pizza!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Thursday Kiddie Cocktail -- Ginger Apple Sparkler

Another fall recipe this week; not hot this time but with distinct fall flavors. There is an alcoholic Gingered Apple Sparkler as well, but this is decidedly virgin.

Ingredients
1oz ginger syrup
3oz apple cider
1 oz orange juice
3 oz seltzer (or, as usual, replace ginger syrup and seltzer with ginger ale)
dash of bitters (Angostura, a popular brand, adds a negligible amount of alcohol, little enough that this is still technically non-alcoholic aka <.5 ABV; there are a couple of industrially produced non-alcoholic bitters as well, if it is a concern. Or, leave it out.)

Put 2-3 ice cubes in a highball glass. Add ingredients, stir lightly, serve.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

My crazy idea for the week

Photo courtsey Kainet
So here's my crazy idea for the week on how Merrill can attract businesses and create jobs in the area:

Invest in fiber optic infrastructure.

Feel free to discuss.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Race and northern WI

I grew up in Merrill, but I spent 12 years - most of my adult life - in the Bay Area. Growing up, there were a couple of kids who weren't white (most were of pacific-rim east asian extraction, and a couple of Native Americans), but for the most part everyone was about as white bread as you can get. In the bay area, there was an absolute melting pot of all kinds of different peoples and cultures.

Growing up I heard many people complain and make jokes about the Hmong (our only local recent immigrant population at the time), yell about Native Americans spearfishing rights (using more racial epithets), and casually use the N word. "Pollack" jokes too, but at least those were mostly made by people of actual Polish decent. I was raised - by my parents, by Sesame Street and Mr. Rodgers, by everything that I knew about science - to deplore such actions, but I got used to it.

Then I moved away, into a place where racism still exists but it is conversed about, and blatant racism is called out much more. I got to interact a lot with people from all over the globe.

When I moved back to Merrill I discovered that the population has become more diverse in northern WI, and some of the more blatant signs of racism have gone away, but it's still much more prevalent here, especially amongst the older generations. My stepkids' cousins - some of the sweetest kids you'd ever meet- are multiracial, and I hate to think of the things they are called, both behind their backs and to their faces.

I have still heard the N word used since I got back. I've still heard jokes about how lazy -fill in the blank- race is. I've heard the jokes about Mexican immigrants (who've apparently replaced the Hmong on the local scale of "scary immigrants") I've still seen the cops called on someone because they were playing "urban" (how's that for a cover word?) music.

Systemic discrimination is a problem everywhere (look at the headlines in the news! When your case is suddenly much better because of your witnesses' skin color, we have a race problem!), but it is so ingrained up here that I think we have to take a good look at our institutions and ourselves, and start to talk about how racism is effecting us all, and not for the best.

I'm calling this out. If I hear someone being racist, I will not look embarrassed and sheepishly turn the other way. I will tell them they are being inappropriate, and explain exactly how and why they are wrong. I will encourage people to learn more about other cultures. I will encourage people to learn more about the history of race relations in this country (at the very least, I'll encourage them to watch some Spike Lee joints). And I will not accept that this is just how things are up here.

Apple, Windows, and UI design

No, this isn't going to be a rant about Apple. At least, it won't be after I explain why I'm not a big Apple fan to start with; then I'll complain about both Apple and Windows. This is a rant about UI design and how I'm incredibly sick of  function following form rather than vice versa.

 OK, so I'll start this off with a caveat: I am not a fan of Apple products. That isn't what this is all about, but I know that everyone (including me) gets their panties in a bunch when it comes to their favorite OS's. The reasons I don't like Apple specifically are:

  • Price point; these are luxury items. The OS is a locked-down linux distro. You're paying for a name.
  • Press to click. I hate pressing to click more than almost anything, because nothing aggravates my carpal tunnel more than pressing and dragging with the same finger - and when I want to reset my finger location on the trackpad I have to let go. With my Thinkpad I can move the cursor with one finger and click with a completely different finger, saving my wrist years of pain. (Yes, wireless mouses are nice, but less wrist movement is better.)
  • The fact that you have to use their hardware and software. If I could use their software on a machine that I customized for myself (see trackpad above) I wouldn't have nearly the level of loathing that I do.
That being said: I'm not a Windows apologist. Windows 8 is one of the worst operating systems I've ever seen. I do like that I can put Windows on basically any computer that I've built for myself, but I can do the same with Linux -- if only Linux would run Adobe products. And yes, Windows isn't the most secure environment ever (but in large part that's because it's so widely used and therefore widely targeted). Windows isn't getting a free pass. I do like PC hardware much more than Apple hardware, because I can make my own and it doesn't cause me physical, literal pain. Windows I currently just like better because I can turn certain things off. Which leads me to the bulk of my rant:

When it comes down to it, I'm not happy with either Windows or Apple, because designers need to STOP making things animated and flashy and "pretty" just because they can. In my mind, the ideal UI is one that is nearly invisible - you don't notice it, you just notice that you can get things done with it. I'm currently on Windows 7 (well, the whole house is either Win 7 or Linux; Linux where we don't need to connect with school systems that only work with Windows or Mac and also don't need Adobe), but I still turn off all the animations, fancy see-through color schemes, etc. I basically make my Windows 7 look like it's 1996, because I don't want all those fancy shiny animations and see through rendering load bogging down my system. Of course, I don't really have the option to do this on a Mac, but my complaint is the same: all the major OS's... ok, both of them... are suffering from function following form. Especially Windows 8, ick.

OK, I get it. Oooo, a shiny now toy!  Look, it can do all these really pretty things! That's pretty much how the kids look at their new toys, but the toys that end up sticking around are the ones that are well built underneath, are custom made (or customizable), don't have unnecessary bits that can break easily, and wherever possible can be used in different or more complex ways as the child also grows. The same should go for UI design.

Steve Jobs always said he wanted Apple's UI to get out of the way, but I've found that Apple products love to get in my way: for instance, iTunes takes my carefully curated file folders of songs and mashes them into some order that it wants. This is getting in my way. Windows has tried to do the same thing with its documents system: oh, you downloaded something? Then it's in your Downloads folder. Even if it has absolutely nothing to do with anything else in that folder. Fortunately this is currently turn-offable, but I fear that soon we will be held under the tyranny of having our files stored the way someone else wants.

And yes, I do love Linux, but Adobe stubbornly refuses to support it. Also, the command line is not great UI (sorry, command line friends, but I can double click into a folder faster than you can type into it). 

So, in the end, this is my plea to my fellow designers: stop making things shiny (animated, marquee, blink, parallax scrolling, using the latest and greatest visual tricks) just because you can. Let the UI get out of the user's way and let them do what they want to do, make it easy for them to do so, and try not to dictate what it is that they are allowed to do.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Saturday Happy Hour - Pink Squirrel

Yeah, it really looked like this.
I had a hard time writing this entry. I'll get to why in a bit.

I was introduced to the Pink Squirrel at the Peppermill in Santa Clara. The Peppermill was like a little bit of early 1970's Las Vegas in the middle of the Silicon Valley. It was ridiculous, over the top, with fake indoor trees and neon and the water and fireplace. It was also ridiculously cheesy fun, and the drink list included many over the top drinks that went out of favor with the era that the decor represented.

One of those was the Pink Squirrel.

It was actually invented closer to my current home, in Milwaukee at Bryant's Cocktail Lounge. Now comes where I had a problem. The original recipe called for 1 part creme de noyaux, 1 part creme de cacao, and 2 parts ice cream. I started here, and almost completely stopped here. Overly sweet doesn't begin to describe the horror. We drank it, but I couldn't recommend it. So, moving on, I looked at other recipes, and saw that they called for unsweetened cream or half and half instead. This is the recipe I finally ended up enjoying the most. Many people talked about the difficulty of procuring creme de noyaux, but apparently WI residents like the stuff as I didn't have any problem getting a hold of it.

Ingredients:
  • 1 oz creme de cacao
  • 1 oz creme de noyaux
  • 2 oz half and half
  • Several ice cubes
Combine ingredients in blender and blend until smooth. Pour into large martini glasses.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Thursday Kiddie Cocktail - Maple Not Toddy

As it seems like we've suddenly been plunged into late fall, I thought I'd do a hot Kiddie Cocktail. Presenting the Maple Not Toddy. It's great for opening up the sinuses, and you can play with what tea you use to get different flavors.
  • 1/2 oz lemon juice
  • 1 oz maple syrup
  • 1 cup black or oolong tea
Mix and serve hot.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Design vs Art vs Craft

No idea if this is art or craft or design.
I'm still proud of it.
I was asked the other day what the difference between art and craft was. Being snarky, I answered "How snooty you are." It is an interesting question, however, and I'd like to get some of my thoughts on the subject down. Of course, this is all IMHO, and if you ask someone else you'll get a totally different answer - which is ok.

I think that there's a great deal of overlap between design, art, and craft. In their very pure forms, I believe that design is a process of planning and creating, art is a creation which doesn't necessarily have a purpose beyond itself, and craft is a creation with a function beyond just existing.

But there are so many fuzzy grey areas. Does this mean that a newspaper photograph (which ostensibly has the purpose of documenting an event) cannot be a piece of art? Or that a handmade, hand embroidered corset is just craft? Or how about the amazing bit of unasked for mural (sometimes called graffiti), is that art or craft or design or all or none? What is the stuff I make?

Who makes the rules about any of these things?

When it comes down to it: it doesn't friggin' matter. Did someone personally put work and thought and sweat and love into it? Then it is awesome.

Monday, September 08, 2014

Once there was a daisy: songs that get forgotten

Photo courtesy Kathy Kimpel
There was a song that my grandmother sang to me when I was young. It went:

Once there was a daisy
who raised her pretty head
"Robin, robin redbreast," this is what she said,
"Oh I am so thirsty, robin robin dear,
And all day the sun shines, in the skies so clear."
Then dear robin redbreast called the raindrops down.
Patter, patter raindrops on the daisy's crown.
Said the daisy "Thank you!" o'er and o'er again,
And dear robin redbreast
Sang out in the rain.

Now, I have no idea where this song came from; I never knew anyone else besides my mom who knew it. I sing it to my kids in the hopes that someday they will sing it to their children.

I was interested to find out more about this song, but in all the boundless information that is online, this song doesn't seem to exist. I wanted to put this here so that it'll be available in case anyone else ever looks for it. Maybe someday I'll learn more.

Until then I'll think of this as a folk song that almost everyone forgot.