October 2002

National holiday

by Michael Alderete on 10/27/2002

Today is my favorite holiday — the return to Pacific Standard Time. An extra hour to sleep.

Today’s paper had some depressing article about how getting that extra hour back doesn’t really help, and probably hurts you, and went on to explain how most people are habitually sleep-deprived.

Whatever. All I know is I slept in this morning, and didn’t start the day in the hole, time-wise. Not that I haven’t squandered that extra hour, and then some, surfing the net, but that’s a relaxing Sunday.

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Punchie and Pikachu

by Michael Alderete on 10/22/2002

This is the funniest thing I have seen in a very long time. Worth the download time.

Rated PG, but if your co-workers are easily offended, you might not want them to see it. Then again, it’ll be hard to keep them away, you’ll be laughing so hard.

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by Michael Alderete on 10/22/2002

This last weekend Rochelle and I went to visit friends who moved to Las Vegas four months ago. While they’re still looking for permanent work so they can apply for home loans, and settle in permanently, they’ve definitely scoped out the lesser-known parts of the city.

One of our evenings included visiting the Double Down, an infamous bar where no one ever gets thrown out. (We have two friends who have managed to do it anyway, including one of our hosts.) They serve a drink with a bad reputation, “ass juice”, which is basically the dregs of all their bottles. $1 a shot, and it’s different (tasting, color, etc.) every night. It’s vile and evil, and I wouldn’t drink anything else when I’m there.

When we awoke the next day, we wanted to burn the clothes we’d worn the night before — the smell of cigarette smoke had penetrated them so deeply we thought we were back in the bar. Rochelle and I have a bet whether it ever comes out.

The best find was Makino, an all-you-can-eat sushi place. Normally these unlimited sushi buffets are horrible, with minimal amounts of the good sushi, which is snapped up in seconds when it’s put out. Not so Makino; we were awed by the quantity, quality, and variety of the sushi. My first plate alone had more than $15 worth of sushi on it; I ate two more after that (those were smaller, though). The photos are up, you can see for yourself.

Most disappointing was the champagne bar in Paris (the casino). You would think they’d be able to get it right — the place cost millions of dollars to build — but no. In reality, most of their customers probably aren’t that discriminating, and the connoisseurs go to a good restaurant. Our tasting flights were not cold enough, and several of the champagnes were somewhat flat. Completely unacceptable, if you care about these things. By way of comparison, in France we almost always were served from freshly opened bottles, and even watched some hosts pour bottles down the sink rather than serve them past their peak.

We decided that if we ever went there again (they did have a nice selection of champagnes by the glass), we would sit at the bar, to supervise the pouring of our glasses and push back the unacceptable ones.

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The Final Deadline

by Michael Alderete on 10/22/2002

So, I’ve written about my collection of mostly defunct BeBoxes, and how I acquired them. My big plan was to refurbish those that could be made to run, and sell all but one on eBay. I should end up with substantially more cash than it cost to buy the lot.

Well, that was the theory.

The reality is more like, I’m working a lot, taking classes at night, and doing lots of things on my regular computer — Mac OS X on a dual 800MHz G4 with 512 megs of RAM is a lot more fun than BeOS Release 4.5 on a dual 66MHz BeBox with 32 megs of RAM. As JLG used to say, fast hardware covers a lot of sins.

In other words, I’m not working on the BeBoxes. What’s worse, Rochelle is now tired (really, really tired) of the BeBox Graveyard that was our parlor.

So, tonight came the ultimatum: If I haven’t completed the refurb project by the one year anniversary of bringing them home, they go out on the street.

And when I agreed, she said “You have to put that in your blog right now!”

So, here it is, a public commitment to my wife. Ask me how I did on January 17, 2003.

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Dinner at L’Assiette Champenoise

by Michael Alderete on 10/15/2002

We had originally intended to have dinner at the restaurant in our hotel only once, on our first full day in France, but had ended up eating there our first night because we were too tired to go elsewhere.

So when we arrived for dinner for which we had actual reservations, we were greeted even more warmly than the previous evening. We also knew the champagne was excellent, and immediately ordered a glass as an aperitif.

Our meal lasted five courses, at the end of which we were stuffed. The photos will show you we ate well, though I can tell you they don’t do justice to the food at all.

One thing we didn’t take a photo of was the most expensive item for the meal: a bottle of Roederer Cristal. A very good price at a store in the US is $100; in a restaurant it’s quite a bit more expensive. In France the damage isn’t quite as bad, and we got to drink it at the store price instead of the restaurant price. Nevertheless, while we enjoyed it, we decided it wasn’t for us. We drank many champagnes we liked better while in France, most of them one-fifth the price, or less.

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Piper Heidsieck and Maxim’s

by Michael Alderete on 10/14/2002

After we toured Taittinger, we visited Piper Heidsieck and Maxim’s. Our tour at Piper was sort of like the rides at Disneyland, where you are in a car on a track, and you visit various tableau, with commentary as you go. Except ours was unintentionally funny, when the sound went out on the car we were in; we didn’t get the commentary, just the visuals and sound effects which, without a context, were mostly baffling.

Our mild disappointment quickly turned to pleasure, when we arrived at the end, and they refunded our money, but still let us do our tastings, three glasses of champagne, two of which were quite good. The folks at Piper were unfailingly cheerful, and dressed smartly in red and black, the Piper colors. We ended up spending quite a bit of time in the gift shop, which included a very rare bottle of champagne in a Fabergé case, but ended up buying only a few small items.

As it was getting on in the afternoon, we rushed to Maxim’s, to find that we’d missed the day’s last tour. Once again, disappointment was averted; we were able to do just the tastings (at the same price). This was actually nice, because we’d just done two tours (and four glasses of champagne each), and didn’t feel up to a third. The tasting, we could handle.

And then it was time to go back to our hotel, and dinner.
Champagne Rare de Piper Heidsieck

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by Michael Alderete on 10/8/2002

Our first Maison de Champagne, or House of Champagne, was Taittinger. “Maison” is a term generally reserved for the larger champagne producers, and while Taittinger is far from the largest, they’re still huge, producing about 5 million bottles of champagne a year.

Taittinger is one of the many houses to take advantage of the chalk quarries dug by the Romans for building material in and under what became Reims. These quarry pits follow a formula, and are remarkably similar from house to house. The pits are connected by tunnels, and have additional galleries added, where racks upon racks of champagne are stored. The excavations, or caves de champagne, are quite cool (virtually every tour guide had a cloak to wear when visiting the caves) and humid, which creates the perfect conditions for aging champagne.

Champagne is aged in the bottle, for varying lengths of time depending on the house, and while Taittinger produces about 5 million bottles in a single year, at any given time the tunnels, pits, and galleries hold nearly 20 million bottles. Most of the major houses give tours of their extensive tunnels, and take justifiable pride in them. Our tour at Taittinger was fascinating, descending into the tunnels and seeing more champagne than we ever imagined in one place at a time.

In the photos we took you can see some of the features of the caves, and the use to which the maisons now make of them, as well as ancient carvings in the chalk, which pre-date the maisons by centuries (see the photos).

One of the most interesting photos is of the various sized vessels in which champagne is bottled. Rochelle is in the photo for scale, and you can plainly see that the largest bottle is nearly as big as she is!

Here’s an interesting tidbit: the best size bottle to buy champagne in is the magnum (1500 milliliters, or the size of two regular bottles); the volume inside the bottle is larger compared to the area out which the gasses which make champagne sparkling can escape. It stays more sparkly than champagne in smaller bottles.

You would think that would mean that the larger the bottle the better, but no, most houses don’t normally bottle champagne in sizes larger than the magnum, because they are too large and heavy to handle, require special machinery, etc. When they need to fill larger bottles for a special order, they actually decant magnums into the larger vessel, which obviously causes some of the fizz to dissipate.

It’s still pretty damn good; when I worked at Be we opened a giant bottle of Veuve Clicquot at one summer picnic, shortly after we went public, and while I drank my share, others did not, which surfaces another problem with these big damn bottles: what do you do if you don’t finish it? (The answer: don’t open it if your guests won’t finish it, because it’s impossible to preserve.)
Taittinger (Photos)
Champagne Bottles (Photo)

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The cathedral

by Michael Alderete on 10/1/2002

A quick update that the photos of our trip to France are starting to come online. I’ll try to upload them in sync with the weblog postings. The first ones are of the Cathedral of Reims.

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Our first real day

October 1, 2002

Our first real day in France began when the cleaning folks came into our room, because we forgot to put up the Do Not Disturb sign. We quickly got up, showered, dressed, and fled the hotel in search of food and fun.

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