Friday, May 26, 2017

Cephalopod Coffeehouse: May 2017

Welcome one and all to the Cephalopod Coffeehouse, a cozy gathering of book lovers, meeting to discuss their thoughts regarding the works they enjoyed most over the previous month.  Pull up a chair, order your cappuccino and join in the fun.  If you wish to add your own review to the conversation, please sign on to the link list at the end of my post.

Title: Shark's Fin and Sichuan Pepper:  A Sweet-Sour Memoir of Eating in China
Author: Fuchsia Dunlop
via Amazon
Fuchsia Dunlop's originally went to China in 1994 on a fellowship to study the country's minority populations.  Instead, she fell in love with the food and devoted the next fifteen years of her life (more by now) to eating it, cooking it and writing about it.  No casual traveler, her efforts at self-immersion were bold.  She began her adventure with a dare to herself that she would eat everything put in front of her, no small consideration in China where the concept of what is edible is much broader than it is in Europe, or really most of the world.  Eventually, after bugging every professional cook she could find, she became the first Westerner to enroll at the Sichuan Institute of Higher Cuisine - before she'd even fully mastered the Sichuan dialect!  By the time she finished this memoir, she had already published three Chinese cookbooks in English.  Since, she has put out two more. 

Her main base of operations over the years has been Sichuan province but over the years, she has spent significant time to other parts of the country, much of it in fairly remote regions.  Shark's Fin and Sichuan Pepper includes material about her explorations of Kashgar in the far, central Asian west and Gansu province in the north.  Hunan, Mao's home province, gets a couple of chapters.  Both Hong Kong and Beijing get their due.  Dunlop does not shy from the issues of concern to western sensibilities: exotic or even illegal ingredients, pollution, animal treatment, adulteration, etc.  Reminders of China's troubled modern history are constant.

I enjoyed the book thoroughly, though it did leave me feeling cheated by the Chinese food I've eaten during my life.  The true variety of the cuisine is astonishing, every region boasting its own ancient traditions.  By Dunlop's own admission, there's too much to experience in a single lifetime, let alone one book.  What passes for Chinese food in most of the United States is so predictable and pedestrian compared to even the simplest street food Dunlop describes.  For as much time as I've spent in Asia, I have to this point had minimal interest in China but this book makes me want to go and just eat and eat and eat.

Dunlop also reminded me of the downside of ex-pat life, the lonelier side, the part where you miss people all the time, whether you're at home or abroad.  Mind you she was about 13 years into her chronicle before she started writing about China-fatigue but it was there.  Her book also makes me think about food on our own future travels.  Even mid-range restaurants can take a big chunk out of a family trip budget.  It's important to keep in mind that the most meaningful meals are the ones closest to what the natives are eating, no matter where you go in the world.

Please join us and share your own review of your best read from the past month.  This month's link list is below.  I'll keep it open until the end of the day.  I'll post June's tomorrow.  Meetings are the last Friday of each month.  Next gathering is June 30th.


Tuesday, May 23, 2017

The Clone Wars: The Lawless

Andrew Leon and I are watching Star Wars: The Clone Wars.  Every Tuesday, we will be featuring an episode from the series which began in 2008.

Episode: "The Lawless"
Series: Star Wars: The Clone Wars
Season 5, Episode 16
Original Air Date: February 1, 2013
via Wookieepedia
The Shadow Collective story arc comes to a close.  Using Almec as his prime minister puppet, Darth Maul has gained control of Mandalore.  Bo-Katan and other members of Death Watch, having watched their leader fall last week, switches sides and help Korkie Kryze and his friends spring Dutchess Satine from her cell.  Unfortunately, this prison break doesn't work and upon recapturing the fallen ruler, Maul uses her as bait to lure his old nemesis: Obi-Wan Kenobi.

This final chapter is in many ways the most predictable episode of the arc and also our most Star Warsy story in a while: confrontations between light side and dark side, light (and dark) saber duels, challenges to the Sith pecking order and (SPOILER ALERT) death.  It's not really a Star Wars story until somebody important dies, or at least loses an appendage.  Both sides suffer significant loss in this case. 


I think it's worth another SPOILER to discuss them as both are characters I've particularly enjoyed...

Dutchess Satine is killed by Darth Maul with the dark saber, right before Kenobi's eyes.  Dying in Obi-Wan's arms, she confesses her eternal love for him.  Satine, as the peace-loving leader of her world, is certainly a worthy character in her own right.  The fact that she has added a dimension to Kenobi is a bonus.  She died a martyr, certainly a meaningful end in the Star Wars universe.

Savage Opress is struck down by Palpatine.  I was a big fan of Savage when he first emerged as part of Asajj Ventress's story.  Since he tracked down his long lost brother Darth Maul, his role has diminished to little more than a thug.  I was hoping for more.

END OF SPOILER


via Wookieepedia
Among Satine's rescue party is Amis, a friend of Korkie's from the Royal Academy.  We first met him in "The Academy" back in Season Three.  This episode marks his last appearance in The Clone Wars.   Amis is voiced by Omid Abtahi.
via Wikipedia
Omid Abtahi was born July 12, 1979 in Tehran.  He and his family moved first to Paris when he was five, then Irvine, California when he was ten.  He graduated from Cal State-Fullerton with a double major in advertising and theater.  Professionally, he has been active on both stage and screen.  In the theater, he has performed in Fraulein Else, Your Everyday Typical Romantic Comedy and Urge for Going.  In addition to guest appearances and voice work, Abtahi has had regular television roles on Over There and Sleeper Cell.  He was Homes in the final Hunger Games film: Mockingjay - Part 2.

Next week: "Sabotage."

Friday, May 19, 2017

Squid Eats: Bluebird Barbecue

Bluebird Barbecue in Burlington was our second Vermont Restaurant Week adventure this year.  We went with friends: Mock, Nancy Mock (quickly becoming a local food celebrity), Mock Boy, Blue Liner and Baby Blue Liner (Blue Liner and his wife, let's call her Jello Shots, became parents for the first time last year). 

The special menu for Restaurant Week was a "$30 Barbecue for Two" platter with a choice of meats and appetizers.  For our large group, we ordered three such platters so we could sample everything.  I will admit upfront that it was not the most nuanced restaurant meal I've ever had, more like a boarding house dinner with everyone grabbing what they could.  Some got into testing the different sauces but I was just shoveling in the grub.  Mind you, it was loads of fun - just a lot more eating than critiquing for me.  Among the meats, the smoked chicken was my favorite; among the appetizers, the Red Hen Baking Fat-Tire Toast.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

The Clone Wars: Shades of Reason

Andrew Leon and I are watching Star Wars: The Clone Wars.  Every Tuesday, we will be featuring an episode from the series which began in 2008.

Episode: "Shades of Reason"
Series: Star Wars: The Clone Wars
Season 5, Episode 15
Original Air Date: January 25, 2013
via Wookieepedia
The Maul/Opress/Death Watch story continues.  Darth Maul gets his new underworld buddies, known as the Shadow Collective, to launch simultaneous attacks on Mandalore, undermining Dutchess Satine and allowing Pre Vizsla to usurp her power.  The political intrigue, however, is just beginning.  Apart from being an interesting story in its own right, this tale provides insight into how the Sith, or really anyone with sufficient forethought, might exploit a power struggle on an individual world for their own political gain.  The whole scenario was like something out of Machiavelli.
via Wookieepedia
Ziton Moj, a Falleen working for Black Sun, joined the Shadow Collective last week when Savage Opress killed the rest of Black Sun's leaders.  While this arc marks his introduction and only appearance in The Clone Wars, Moj does feature in subsequent novels and comic books.  He is voiced by Corey Burton.

Next week: "The Lawless."

Friday, May 12, 2017

Squid Eats: Stone Corral Brewery

via Twitter
Vermont Restaurant Week was the last week of April.  The idea is for participating restaurants to offer special prix fixe menus in order to encourage new customers.  We hadn't yet tried Stone Corral Brewery in Richmond so it seemed as good an excuse as any.

Beer is a big deal in Vermont.  Our proud, humble state (yes, it really can be both simultaneously) is home to more breweries per capita than any other in the United States.  Having a small population throws many such distinctions our way.  I believe we have the most tennis courts per capita, too.  Getting back to beer, there were already loads of independent breweries when we first moved here 15 years ago and the industry has only grown since.  Brewpubs are everywhere and in light of the high level of competition, the products are usually pretty darn good. 

Part of Stone Corral's prix fixe was a four-glass beer flight.  My wife and I have different beer preferences.  I'm an IPA man, the hoppier, the better.  She tends more toward a floral or fruity flavor.  A gose is usually a safe choice for her.  She likes Belgian whites, too.  And Guinness.  I'll drink hers and she mine but we tend to our comfort zones given the choice.  As such, getting two flights between us is fun because overlap is unlikely.  The most interesting variety for me at Stone Corral was their bourbon porter.  I love both beer and whiskey and there's really no reason why they can't go together since they're made from the same stuff.  It was like a rich, dark boilermaker.

Mussels are a favorite with us.  In fact, whenever I see mussels on a menu, I just assume my wife will want to order them.  At Stone Corral, they were served with a Thai chile sauce, actually sweeter than what I expected and indeed what one normally sees with mussels.  It was different - not bad, just different.

Dinner was the prelude to a concert, this time the VSO String Quartet's performance at the Shelburne Museum.  The concert was planned in conjunction with the museum's recent exhibition, Backstage Pass: Rock & Roll Photography.   Included in the musical program were works by Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Wonder and the Talking Heads.  The photos were marvelous, too: the Beatles, the Stones, Led Zeppelin, Elvis, just about everybody.  I think my favorite had Eric Clapton sitting by a hotel swimming pool with John Lennon and Yoko Ono.

A most enjoyable evening.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

On the Coffee Table: John le Carré

Title: Call for the Dead
Author: John le Carré
via Amazon
Call for the Dead was John le Carré's first novel and the world's introduction to his best-known character, George Smiley.  Smiley is no James Bond.  He's late middle-aged, short, stout and cuckolded by his beautiful society wife.  As we join his story, his days of international espionage are long behind him and his lack of talent for agency politics has taken its toll on his career.  The higher ups still trot him out from time to time for some dirty work, though, and that's how he stumbles into a mystery story.

Smiley had just run what he considered a routine security check on Samuel Fennon when the man turned up dead, apparently from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.  Smiley is initially baffled as Fennon had essentially come out clean.  Probing into the past - Fennon's, Fennon's wife's and also his own, Smiley discovers a story more complicated than he initially assumed.

My previous exposure to Smiley was only on screen: Alec Guinness in the BBC's Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and Smiley's People and Gary Oldman in the feature film version of TTSS.  It's Guinness's face (without the Kenobi beard) I imagined throughout the book.  I like the character a great deal, though his development is a bit herky jerky, the background essentials laid out matter-of-factly in the first chapter.  Other details emerge more slowly as the story requires, the pattern I would have preferred from the beginning.

Overall, the story has a more earthy feel than Bond.  John le Carré draws from his own career in British intelligence for his work, bringing a strong sense of realism.  I thoroughly enjoyed the story despite figuring out the answer to the mystery before George did.  I am definitely up for more.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

On the Coffee Table: Liar's Poker

Title: Liar's Poker
Author: Michael Lewis
via Amazon
Michael Lewis is that unusual author who has managed to become a star across two genres, in his case business and sports.  So far, three of his books - The Blind Side, Moneyball and The Big Short - have been made into successful films.  Liar's Poker was his debut, a memoir of his own time on the trade floors of Salomon Brothers in the mid-'80s.

High finance was a suddenly glamorous world in the '80s, portrayed most prominently in popular culture through Oliver Stone's film Wall Street and Tom Wolfe's novel The Bonfire of the Vanities, both released in 1987.  Lewis was one of many seeking Wall Street jobs in record numbers.  Salomon Brothers was seen as the best of the best and Lewis fell into his own gig with them essentially through dumb luck.

My own impression of that world is shaped by my experiences temping in New York in the late '90s/early aughts.  Liar's Poker confirms all of my suspicions that traders are vile, ruthless, reptilian life forms devoid of scruples. (Apologies to any of you who are traders or have loved ones in the biz and to any of you with a fondness for reptiles.)  No matter the topic, Lewis is an expert at drawing vivid, memorable characters, even if they're not especially likeable.  To his credit, he doesn't even paint himself as a particularly commendable person, though he does occasionally express regret at screwing over a customer.

As might be expected of an earlier work, Liar's Poker is not as good as The Big Short, though in providing some early history of the mortgage bond market, it does make for an interesting prequel.  Liar's Poker is funny, just not as funny.  I still can't say I understand any better how the markets work but the fly on the wall perspective is entertaining nonetheless.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

The Clone Wars: Eminence

Andrew Leon and I are watching Star Wars: The Clone Wars.  Every Tuesday, we will be featuring an episode from the series which began in 2008.

Episode: "Eminence"
Series: Star Wars: The Clone Wars
Season 5, Episode 14
Original Air Date: January 18, 2013
via Wookieepedia
We don't have too many episodes to go at this point.  There are only six more for Season 5, then the 13 "Lost Missions" episodes.  As we're fairly well along in the broader story, a lot of narrative threads are converging.  My reactions to an individual episode or arc are subject to my feelings about those individual threads.

"Eminence" brings us back to the Savage Opress/Darth Maul story we last visited in "Revival."  For anyone following my episode order, the Netflix order, that was several weeks ago.  For anyone following Andrew's, the DVD order, it was just last week.   I have mixed feelings about the arc.  On the one hand, I like Savage and pretty much all of his background tale.  On the other hand, I am not so keen on the reemergence of Darth Maul.  On yet another hand (or a foot?), "Eminence" brings us back to the Mandalore/Death Watch struggle which I enjoy. 

When we last saw Savage and Maul, they had just gotten away from an encounter with Obi-Wan Kenobi.  This week, we find them adrift and alone in space, but suddenly rescued by Death Watch soldiers, led by our old friends Pre Vizsla and Bo-Katan Kryze.  The two parties form an unlikely alliance, the brothers supplying Sith muscle, Death Watch providing numbers, equipment and supplies.  Neither side is playing straight, though.  We take a nice stroll through Star Wars's underworld, too, as the new partners work to broaden their sphere of influence.
via Wookieepedia
Along the way, the new team of baddies call on the Hutt family.  Among the Grand Hutt Council is Oruba, for whom the meeting goes especially poorly.  "Eminence" is Oruba's third Clone Wars appearance.  He is voiced by Corey Burton.

Next week: "Shades of Reason."

Friday, May 5, 2017

Squid Eats: Michael's on the Hill

via Vermont Restaurant Week
For my recent birthday, we went to Michael's on the Hill for dinner.  Located in Waterbury Center, Michael's is one of the most highly regarded high-end restaurants in Vermont.  It's just barely south of Stowe, a ski resort town. 

The meal was nice.  Unlike another recent adventure (see here), the service was expertly provided by our waitress, sporting a ski goggle tan.  The food was good.  We shared a paté plate and I had the double pork chop for the main course.   It was a pleasant evening.  But here's the big question: was it worth the price?

I don't mean this as a knock against Michael's in particular.  The prices are printed on the menu.  No one is being duped.  Mine is more a question of whether fine dining in general is worth the cost.  I thoroughly enjoyed my meal but was it truly several times better than a kimchi taco at Mad Taco (see here).  My pork was good but I don't salivate thinking about it the way I do those kimchi tacos.  The visceral reaction is certainly reflective of something.

There is one course, though, where fine dining nearly always comes through: dessert!  I had the Cordillera Fair Trade Chocolate Truffle Torte with Mint Julep Sorbet and Preserved Raspberry Sauce.  The sorbet alone was one of the most amazing things I've ever tasted.

With fine dining, you're paying for an overall experience.  The food is the vital component but the quality of service and the general atmosphere are important, too.  I have had meals in my life when I walked away feeling light-headed and tingly - a different sort of visceral response, I suppose.  Michael's on the Hill didn't quite attain that standard for me, but it was good.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

The Clone Wars: Point of No Return

Andrew Leon and I are watching Star Wars: The Clone Wars.  Every Tuesday, we will be featuring an episode from the series which began in 2008.

Episode: "Point of No Return"
Series: Star Wars: The Clone Wars
Season 5, Episode 13
Original Air Date: January 11, 2013
via Wookieepedia
After escaping from the planet Abafar, D-Squad catches up with what they assume is a Republic Star Destroyer.  Naturally, all is not as it seems.  The vessel has been stolen by Confederacy droids and loaded with explosives.  Their target is a Republic Strategy Conference. 

Our friends soon discover a small group of surviving Republic droids aboard the ship, led by Bunny, a rabbit droid.  Now all struggle together to foil the Confederacy's evil plan and get themselves safely off the ship before it detonates.  With this episode, the four-part D-Squad story arc finally comes to a merciful end. 
via Wookieepedia
Bunny is the nickname of BNI-393, a feminine LEP servant droid.  "Point of No Return" marks her only Clone Wars appearance.  She is voiced by Catherine Taber.

Next week: "Eminence."

Saturday, April 29, 2017

The Cephalopod Coffeehouse: May 2017 Blog List

Greetings to all!  I hope you'll join us for the next installment of the Cephalopod Coffeehouse, an online gathering of bloggers who love books.  The next meeting is set for Friday, May 26th.  If you're interested, please sign on to the link list at the end of this post.

The idea is simple: on the last Friday of each month, post about the best book you've finished over the past month while visiting other bloggers doing the same.  In this way, we'll all have the opportunity to share our thoughts with other enthusiastic readers.  Please join us:






Friday, April 28, 2017

Cephalopod Coffeehouse: April 2017

Welcome one and all to the Cephalopod Coffeehouse, a cozy gathering of book lovers, meeting to discuss their thoughts regarding the works they enjoyed most over the previous month.  Pull up a chair, order your cappuccino and join in the fun.  If you wish to add your own review to the conversation, please sign on to the link list at the end of my post.

Title: My Last Supper: 50 Great Chefs and Their Final Meals
Editors: Melanie Dunea
via Amazon
The premise of photographer Dunea's coffee table book is self-explanatory.  She asked 50 famous chefs the same six questions:
  • What would be your last meal on earth?
  • What would be the setting for your meal?
  • What would you drink with your meal?
  • Would there be music?
  • Who would be your dining companions?
  • Who would prepare the meal?
For each, she included the answers along with a full-page (at least) photo.  The responses predictably ranged from the simple to the extravagant.  Quite a few of them wanted sashimi.  The portraits are mostly great, though the nude of Anthony Bourdain is quite disturbing.  All, of course, express a deep intimacy with food.

Naturally, such a book leaves one pondering one's own answers to the questions.  I couldn't resist the exercise...

What would be your last meal on earth?

I imagine a huge, multicultural buffet: pasta, pizza, fried chicken, taco bar, pad kee mao, ice cream and bread pudding for dessert.  I think I could go for some of that sashimi, too.


What would be the setting for your meal?

Stoves in Yokohama.  It was our favorite place when I was an English teacher in Japan.  Long Island Iced Tea was our drink of choice (learn more here).  It's still there, up and running 20 years later.


What would you drink with your meal?

Drinks would be flowing: beer, wine, spirits.  All would be merry, though no one would be drunk.  I wouldn't have to worry about the hangover in the morning but I don't want to be remembered as an idiot.


Would there be music?

The Beatles, all four of them.  Lots of the chefs wished for dead people come back to life, including musicians.  So, I get to have the Beatles, together, all bygones bygone.  Acoustic instruments only.  What would begin as a concert for us, including rousing singalongs, would evolve.  In time, they would forget about us and spend the rest of the evening playing for each other, enjoying one another's company as old friends.  They'd play the old stuff, dribble in the better solo songs.  George would drag out the sitar.  We would be flies on the wall for the greatest rock 'n' roll reunion ever.


Who would be your dining companions?

In the beginning, it would be all of those who have been dear to me during my life.  Most would have no previous connection with each other except through me so it would be a chance for them to know each other, too.  Over the course of the night, though, the crowd would dwindle to an ever more intimate group.  Eventually, it would be just the three of us: wife, daughter and me.  Finally, just my wife and me.

The Fab Four, still mostly oblivious to our presence, would intuitively know which songs I would need at the very end.  They would finish their last set with "Here, There and Everywhere," the world's most perfect tune and, not coincidentally, our wedding song.  Then they, too, would finally pack up and wander off into the night.


Who would prepare the meal?

There would be a team of grandmothers of various nationalities, all snapping at each other in different languages as they jockeyed for position in the kitchen.  But all of the food would be steeped in the love and wisdom of countless generations.  They would turn out all the lights for us after the Beatles left, and return in the morning to make a hearty breakfast for wife and daughter.


How about you?  What would your answers to the questions be?

Please join us and share your own review of your best read from the past month.  This month's link list is below.  I'll keep it open until the end of the day.  I'll post May's tomorrow.  Meetings are the last Friday of each month.  Next gathering is May 26th.


Wednesday, April 26, 2017

On the Coffee Table: Yasser Seirawan

Title: Winning Chess Tactics
Author: Yasser Seirawan with Jeremy Silman
via Amazon
It was through playing chess that I first learned the difference between a strategy and a tactic.  A strategy is a broad plan of action designed to gain a long-term advantage: controlling the middle of the board, for instance.  A tactic is an action intended for short-term gain: forking the king and queen with a knight.  Naturally, the two ideas are closely related and, in fact, often employed in concert but the distinction is important.

Tactics are my greatest weakness as a chess player.  I am good at setting up strong positions (strategic play) but I am not good at seeing the tactical possibilities that will lead to victory.  Even more problematic, I tend to be vulnerable to tactics employed by my opponents.  If I'm ever going to progress as a player, this is the part of my game that needs shoring up.

The Winning Chess series is written by Yasser Seirawan, a Syrian-born U.S. chess champion.  His book on tactics covers all the tricks: forks, pins, skewers, deflections, etc.  He also profiles several of the great tacticians of chess history: Alekhine, Tal and Kasparov among others.  He includes full transcriptions of some of their most famous games, too.  This was my second time reading the book.  It's all fascinating but I think I'll need to refer back to it often for it to help my game.

If you'd care for a game, I'm ikaspiel at Chess.com.  My current rating is 1246.  I hope to improve that in time for my next chess post!

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The Clone Wars: Missing in Action

Andrew Leon and I are watching Star Wars: The Clone Wars.  Every Tuesday, we will be featuring an episode from the series which began in 2008.

Episode: "Missing in Action"
Series: Star Wars: The Clone Wars
Season 5, Episode 12
Original Air Date: January 4, 2013
via The Clone Wars Wiki
If there's one way to save a droid story (part three of four), it's by throwing in an interesting clone trooper story - counterbalance the series at its worst with the series at its best.  This week, D-Squad wanders into Pons Ora, a sketchy town on the desolate world of Abafar.  There, they encounter a dishwasher who goes by the name of Gregor.  Gregor is clearly a clone, though one with amnesia.  Colonel Meebur works to remind him of his past and win him over to their own cause.
via Wookieepedia
Gregor, as it turns out, had been in the Battle of Sarrish.  While in retreat, his transport crash landed on Abafar, his injuries inducing the amnesia.  This episode marks his only appearance in The Clone Wars.  Gregor is voiced by Dee Bradley Baker, as are all of the clones.

Next week: "Point of No Return."

Monday, April 24, 2017

On the Coffee Table: Eric Temple Bell

Title: The Magic of Numbers
Author: Eric Temple Bell
via Amazon
It took me a while to sort out a major in college.  I arrived fully intending to be an English major but then I hated my first lit course.  Then the activist in me thought either sociology or political science (coincidentally my parents' college majors) might fit but the intro classes didn't do much for me.  Eventually, I came around to mathematics.  All through school, math had always been by far my best subject - better than music, even.  I didn't especially enjoy it but it came easily, far more so than subjects like English and history which were considerably more fun.

Part of the problem, I think, is that I'd never gotten caught up in the history of math the way I had with music, for instance.  In kindergarten, I had a wonderful music teacher who introduced us to all of the great composers.  While I certainly enjoyed their work, I also saw them as characters in a captivating story.  I never got that with Pythagoras, Euclid or Galileo.  Math isn't really taught that way.  I enjoyed fiddling with numbers but never got caught up in the history behind them.  That is why I picked up this book, The Magic of Numbers by Eric Temple Bell.

So, that was 25 years ago.  I tried reading it that summer before sophomore year but didn't get too far.  The book has survived on my shelves through several moves and book purges.  Now, I've finally read it.

The book was interesting, though not everything I wanted it to be when I was pondering my future as a college sophomore.  Pythagoras is the star, though Plato has a strong supporting role.  While most of the book is devoted to ancient Greece, the historical path runs all the way to the 1930s.  The intertwining of mathematics and philosophy has been a vital thread for both disciplines so I suppose it shouldn't be surprising to see significant material devoted to Aristotle, Bacon and Kant in addition to Copernicus, Newton, Lobachevsky and Einstein.  There is some mention of the important work in the Arab world, though more would have been historically appropriate. 

Most of the numero-philosophy discussion was over my head though some of it was fun.  I learned about harmonic means for the first time.  You take your numbers, find their reciprocals, average their reciprocals, then reciprocate the average: 2 and 4; 1/2 + 1/4 is 3/4; half of that is 3/8; reciprocal is 8/3.  I love stuff like that.

My most meaningful connection was the discussion of the five regular polyhedra - also known as the Platonic solids - as discovered by the ancient Greeks.  These are the only convex, three-dimensional objects in Euclidean space that are comprised entirely of regular polygons: tetrahedron, cube, octahedron, dodecahedron and icosohedron.  Those of you have devoted significant portions of your life to Dungeons & Dragons know them better as the 4-sided, 6-sided, 8-sided, 12-sided and 20-sided dice.  Those dice were an important part of my childhood and while I always thought they were neat, I never before realized they were the only shapes that were composed of regular polygons.
My own dice, which I've had for closer to 35 years
For the record, there are also four star polyhedra and they're pretty cool, too:
via Dan Elton
The book was worth reading for the D&D dice discovery alone.  The book was intended for non-mathematicians though occasionally, more numbers would have been nice.  Numerology - unfortunately, the driving force in the discipline for centuries - was never fully explained.  I realize it's all hooey but Bell was clearly too disgusted to provide meaningful details of what was so objectionable.

So, 25 years later, I'm still glad I eventually majored in music.  Math might have been more profitable but music has been more fun.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Squid Mixes: Greyhound

A greyhound or a salty dog?
My wife picked up a bottle of grapefruit juice and suggested it might go well with vodka or gin.  That opened a discussion.  I always thought that grapefruit juice with vodka was called a salty dog but my wife insisted it's a greyhound, a name I'd never heard.  As it turns out, while both contain these ingredients, the two are entirely different cocktails.  A salty dog is served in a cocktail glass, salted rim, with equal parts juice and vodka.  A greyhound is served in a collins glass: 2 oz. vodka over ice, topped off with juice.  It's essentially a screwdriver but with grapefruit juice rather than orange.

The greyhound was, in fact, what she wanted so that's what I made.  I got the recipe from American Bar by Charles Schumann.  Here's another question, though.  As I used ruby red grapefruit juice, does that change the name of the drink?  Color matters in mixing.  I found ruby red greyhound recipes online, though all seem to involve additional ingredients.  So, until I learn otherwise, I'll stick with the basic name.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

The Clone Wars: A Sunny Day in the Void

Andrew Leon and I are watching Star Wars: The Clone Wars.  Every Tuesday, we will be featuring an episode from the series which began in 2008.

Episode: "A Sunny Day in the Void"
Series: Star Wars: The Clone Wars
Season 5, Episode 11
Original Air Date: December 7, 2012
via Wookieepedia
This week's episode is the second in a four-part story arc.  D-Squad, led by Colonel Meebur and consisting of five droids including R2-D2, crash land on the planet Afabar.  Determined to complete the mission begun last week, Artoo leads his fellow droids across the wasteland.  Meebur reluctantly tags along.  The most interesting part of the story is an argument between Meebur and droid WAC-47 weighing the value of a soldier's training and intuition against a robot's programming.
via Wookieepedia
WAC-47 is a DUM-series pit droid.  This arc is his only canon appearance.  He is voiced by Ben Diskin.

Next week: "Missing in Action."

Friday, April 14, 2017

Squid Eats: Poor Service

via Toronto Sun
I have a lot of sympathy for those who work in the food service industry.  While I never have done so myself, I have done other customer service work and I know how difficult it can be.  I'd like to believe we are generally easy-going restaurant patrons, too.  We are polite.  We don't make fussy orders.  We almost never send anything back unless there's something obviously wrong.  We tip generously.  For the most part, our kindness earns the like in return.  That's the way the world's supposed to work, right?

Every once in a while, though, you hit a restaurant on an off night.  I've chosen to believe that's what happened to us recently.  I've chosen to believe that a near-universally highly regarded establishment in our northwest corner of Vermont was having an off night when we made our first visit.  As such, I am also choosing not to name said establishment in my post.  They also did right by us at the end of the evening which certainly helped me in feeling forgiving.

There were warning signs early.  The hostess - also the co-owner, we later learned - seated us rather hurriedly.  Then it took a while for our waitress to even come by for a drink order, long enough for my wife to ask if we had a Plan B for dinner.  She got my beer order wrong.  She forgot to tell us the specials, causing some confusion when she finally took our food order.  Little things in themselves, but a pattern was set for the evening.  On the rare occasion when we'd see our waitress, she seemed preoccupied.  Tables near us, serviced by other waitresses, were turning over a lot more quickly.  The food itself wasn't bad and we thought about dessert but as my wife said, "I don't want to give them any more of our money."

Eventually we had to practically tackle another waitress just to get our check and she picked up on our unhappiness.  The hostess came over to make amends and we learned what had happened.  A cook had gotten ill and gone home.  Our waitress, the only member of the waitstaff qualified to help out in the kitchen, was pulling double duty.

It was, to a point, an understandable situation.  Even high-end restaurants get a wrench in the works from time to time.  But especially for the amount of money one puts down for such a meal, the staff should be better able to weather such a storm.  Knowing they were one down, tables could have been reassigned and tips shared.  The hostess herself should have made doubly-, triply-sure we were covered.  It didn't happen.

Once she realized our dissatisfaction, the hostess moved quickly to make it right.  She comped our meal and even gave us a $25 gift card to encourage our return.  It wasn't enough to save the evening but it was perhaps enough to keep us from writing the place off forever.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

The Clone Wars: Secret Weapons

Andrew Leon and I are watching Star Wars: The Clone Wars.  Every Tuesday, we will be featuring an episode from the series which began in 2008.

Episode: "Secret Weapons"
Series: Star Wars: The Clone Wars
Season 5, Episode 10
Original Air Date: November 30, 2012
via Wookieepedia
R2-D2 and three of his astromech droid colleagues have been enlisted for an important mission, capturing a Separatist decoding module from a battleship.  WAC-47, a pit droid, is also part of the team, a good thing for the audience as none of the astromechs are, by human standards, technically verbal.  Their leader is the diminutive Colonel Meebur Gascon.

As a rule, I don't care for the droid episodes and this one is as hokey as all of the others. WAC-47 is especially annoying.  However, I will grant that this story provides a credible narrative premise for focusing on the robots.  The droids are sent on the mission because no one would expect mere service machines to be up to anything suspicious.  They could slip in and out of the enemy ship without anyone paying any attention to them whatsoever.  Indeed, the plan works perfectly.  As an added, geeky bonus, there's a James Bondish scene in which all of the droids are fitted with new gizmos for the job.

Alas, this is not just a droid episode.  It's a four-part droid story arc.  Groan...
via Clone Wars Wiki
Meebur Gascon is a Zilkin.  He is listed on Wookieepedia as 33 cm, small enough to fit into the head of an astromech droid.  His design came from Phantom Menace concept art originally intended for Jar Jar Binks.  This arc marks his only canon appearance.  Gascon is voiced by Stephen Stanton.

Next week: "A Sunny Day in the Void."

Friday, April 7, 2017

Squid Eats: Gaku Ramen

My eternal search for the perfect Ramen shop continues.  Burlington's latest is Gaku Ramen, a hip and sophisticated looking establishment on Church Street.  They're working hard for an authentic atmosphere, the staff yelling "Irrashaimase!" as customers enter, their enthusiasm undercut somewhat by their awkward gaijin pronunciation.  The decor is sort of Pan Asian, including some interesting photos: an Osaka street scene and hyper-magnified noodles.  Anime play on TV screens above the bar, frequently distracting my dining companions.

The food is nice.  We've been, I think, three times now and I've found my go-to order: spicy tonkotsu (slightly funky transliteration - one normally sees the second o as an a but perhaps this suits the Vermont accent better).  I've grown to enjoy spicy ramen in general, something I never experienced in Japan.  The Japanese don't really go in for peppers the way other Asian cultures do. Fusion can certainly be tasty.  I practically licked my bowl clean.

The Burlington location is the first step in a broader mission.  The owners envision more franchises in more New England college towns.  Despite honest efforts, I would say the restaurant falls well short of authentic.  But it's good anyway.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

The Clone Wars: A Necessary Bond

Andrew Leon and I are watching Star Wars: The Clone Wars.  Every Tuesday, we will be featuring an episode from the series which began in 2008.

Episode: "A Necessary Bond"
Series: Star Wars: The Clone Wars
Season 5, Episode 9
Original Air Date: November 23, 2012
via Wookieepedia
War makes strange bedfellows.  At the beginning of this week's episode - the finale of a four-part arc - Ahsoka and her younglings are still in the thick of it with Hondo and his pirates.  But soon Grievous arrives with a droid army in tow.  Faced with a common enemy, Team Ahsoka and Team Hondo join forces.  Once again, in the end we are left wondering what this Hondo guy's really all about.  Sadly, this is the last Clone Wars episode for him (unless you're going in DVD order as Andrew is).  Not to worry, he comes back in Rebels!

Overall, this youngling story is a decent one.  It's great to see some of the Jedi training and Huyang, the lightsaber building droid, is a lot of fun.  It's a good Ahsoka story and, of course, Hondo shows up.  Last week's traveling circus was an unfortunate misstep but overall, Season Five continues to be strong.  Next week, a droid story.  Groan...
via Wookiepedia
Ganodi, a Rodian female, is the best pilot among the younglings so she drives the getaway car... er... ship.  This arc marks her first appearance in the series.  Ganodi is voiced by Georgina Cordova.
via Wookieepedia
Cordova was born January 2, 1980 in Los Angeles.  She also has credits under the name Georgie Kidder, her married name.  She is best known for her voice work on Justice League: War, The Tale of Despereaux, The Lion of Judah and the video games The Sims 3 and X-Men Origins: Wolverine.  She and her husband, actor Ross Kidder, have two children.

Next week: "Secret Weapons."

Saturday, April 1, 2017

The Cephalopod Coffeehouse: April 2017 Blog List

Greetings to all!  I hope you'll join us for the next installment of the Cephalopod Coffeehouse, an online gathering of bloggers who love books.  The next meeting is set for Friday, April 28th.  If you're interested, please sign on to the link list at the end of this post.

The idea is simple: on the last Friday of each month, post about the best book you've finished over the past month while visiting other bloggers doing the same.  In this way, we'll all have the opportunity to share our thoughts with other enthusiastic readers.  Please join us:




Friday, March 31, 2017

Cephalopod Coffeehouse: March 2017

Welcome one and all to the Cephalopod Coffeehouse, a cozy gathering of book lovers, meeting to discuss their thoughts regarding the works they enjoyed most over the previous month.  Pull up a chair, order your cappuccino and join in the fun.  If you wish to add your own review to the conversation, please sign on to the link list at the end of my post.

Title: What We Do Now: Standing Up for Your Values in Trump's America
Editors: Dennis Johnson and Valerie Merians
via Amazon
We're living in interesting times.

My wife's most recent Family Book Swap book for me was What We Do Now, a collection of essays from a range of left-leaning leaders.  Included on the roster are current senators (Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren), a former cabinet secretary (Robert B. Reich), a Nobel laureate (Paul Krugman), leaders of powerful political organizations (David Cole and Cornell William Brooks) and even novelists (Dave Eggers and George Saunders).  Okay, so "left-leaning" is an understatement.  These are the true blues.  All write in response to the current liberal panic: how do we survive a Donald Trump presidency?

As a rule, I avoid discussing politics on the blog.  Here, as in the real world, it's an easy way to lose friends.  But we're living in interesting times and it's becoming darn near impossible to avoid discussing where we suddenly find ourselves on the American cultural journey.  For those of you who visit regularly, my own positions probably aren't too difficult to suss out, though I'm sure this post will resolve any lingering confusion.

The liberal objections to the rise of Trump are both numerous and obvious.  I think it's important, though, to delineate between objections to the Orange One himself and objections to policy shifts that would have occurred with any Republican victory in November.  Narcissism, paranoia, contempt for humanity, lack of experience: that's all Trump and frankly, there are plenty on the right who find those qualities just as terrifying as I do.  (Any bets on which Republican senator will ultimately take him down?  My money's on Lindsey Graham.)  Trump certainly owns the ridiculous Muslim ban, the stupid border wall, his attacks on the press and his way too cozy relationships with white supremacists.  But overturning Obamacare, backslides on race relations, LGBTQ rights, women's rights, climate change?  Those were likely with any White House party switch.

All of the book's essays are well-written.  Unfortunately, not all of them do genuinely offer constructive solutions.  There's a lot of admiring the problems.  Too many of the writers focus too much on their own areas of interest (though to be fair, that's probably exactly what the editors requested of them).  I can't say the book actually made me feel any better, though I do feel I have a better grasp of some of the issues.

I did have one important epiphany after reading: perhaps we, as liberals, have bigger problems than losing one election.  Maybe there are good reasons why our side lost and failing to attend to those matters is why we lost.

Clinton lost the election because she lost three states: Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.  The last Republican to win any of those three was George H.W. Bush in 1988.  The last to win all of them was Reagan in '84.  All three were close.  Trump won Pennsylvania by 68,236 votes, 1.2% of the votes cast.  Wisconsin: 27,257 votes, 1%.  Michigan: 13,080 votes, 0.3%.  All three states have been hit harder than most by the changes in industrial America over the past generation.  As Eggers pointed out in his piece, 110,000 voters in Michigan chose neither presidential candidate in 2016, twice as many as in 2012.  To be clear, these are not people who didn't vote at all.  These are people who dutifully filled out ballots, making their choices in statewide and local races, but left the Clinton/Johnson/Stein/Trump boxes blank.  110,000 people were so disgusted by the choices at the top of the ticket that they chose no one.  110,000 people felt that no candidate was doing anything to address their interests.  If 13,081 of them could have been convinced that Clinton was the best choice, she would have carried the state.

But it's not Clinton's fault.  It really isn't.  Yes, I know all the Bernie supporters (of which I was certainly one) say he would have won and maybe he would have but that's beside the point.  Those 110,000 people in Michigan are right to be disappointed with the Clintons and with the Democratic Party at large.  When you make free trade agreements that help the stockholders but screw the workers, you're going to pay for it at the ballot box.  Sure, the Republicans aren't really offering much help either but the Dems are supposed to be the pro-labor party.  For too many in this country, the Dems dropped the ball.  For those 110,000 people in Michigan and the thousands of others like them in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Ohio, etc., the lesser of two evils isn't good enough.  And it shouldn't be.

For me, it all boils down to this one simple truth: we, as an American society, are not good at dealing with poverty.  Americans see being poor as personal failure, not as an inescapable reality in an economy built on inequities.  We're great at scapegoating.  The inner cities would be better if there weren't so many poor people.  Let's gentrify!  Public schools can be saved by upper middle class parent involvement!  The far right blames minorities, immigrants and labor unions for the problems of the working poor.  Democrats blame Republicans, knowing full well their own campaign coffers are just as dependent on big-moneyed interests.  We on the left would rather blame Trump and what could only be his racist and misogynist supporters or question the validity of the Electoral College than own up to our shortcomings.

Meanwhile, poor people are left to wonder who the hell is actually going to help make their lives better.  No one does so they lose faith in the whole process.  Who can blame them?  Oh, that's right.  We do.  All the time.

Please join us and share your own review of your best read from the past month.  This month's link list is below.  I'll keep it open until the end of the day.  I'll post April's tomorrow.  Meetings are the last Friday of each month.  Next gathering is April 28th.


Tuesday, March 28, 2017

The Clone Wars: Bound for Rescue

Andrew Leon and I are watching Star Wars: The Clone Wars.  Every Tuesday, we will be featuring an episode from the series which began in 2008.

Episode: "Bound for Rescue"
Series: Star Wars: The Clone Wars
Season 5, Episode 8
Original Air Date: November 16, 2012
via Wookieepedia
The Young Jedi arc continues, part three of four.  Ahsoka has been kidnapped by Hondo who apparently intends to sell her for profit.  The Younglings are now on their own with help from the Republic not forthcoming any time soon.  So, they set off to rescue Ahsoka on their own - foolhardy, to be sure, but how else is the story going to move forward?

What has been a strong arc so far, the story goes a bit off the rails as the Younglings join a traveling circus in order to infiltrate the pirate camp.  Now, I realize they have to get in somehow and Force-sensitive children as acrobats is certainly plausible.  It's just hokey.  This episode has a lot of strong elements nonetheless.  The Younglings finally succeed in assembling their lightsabers and the Wookiee Gungi's has a wooden handle - very cool.
Gungi's lightsaber via Wookieepedia
Petro is the hotshot bad boy of the Youngling crew.  He is a human from Corellia.  Hmm, a Corellian with a sneering, rebellious streak.  Where have we met one of those before?  Petro is voiced by Jeff Fischer.
Petro via Wookieepedia
Fischer was born in 1968 in the United States.  He has the usual long list of voiceover roles, most notably a character named after himself in American Dad!  Fischer is also a vintner.  His Habit Winery is based in Santa Barbara, California.
via American Dad Wiki

Next week: "A Necessary Bond."

Friday, March 24, 2017

Squid Eats: East West Cafe

via yelp
Saturday night was Vermont Symphony night for us.  We went to East West Cafe for our pre-concert dinner.  A relatively new Thai place in downtown Burlington, East West is tiny with seating room for maybe 15.  It's popular, too.  We had the place to ourselves when we arrived around six but it was full when we left, with a steady stream of take out customers, too. 

No wonder.  The food was great.  We shared gyoza and duck salad for appetizers.  I had pad kra pow for my main course.  They are not wimpy with the spices!  Mind you, I like heat but this was just short of painful.  I expect we'll definitely be back but I'll request medium spicy next time.  Of course, mango sticky rice for dessert makes everything better.

It was a nice concert, too: the Adagietto from Mahler's 5th, Beethoven's 2nd Piano Concerto and Mozart's "Jupiter" Symphony.  The Mahler was especially lovely.  Joseph Kalichstein was the pianist for the Beethoven.  His is a wonderfully elegant touch.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The Clone Wars: A Test of Strength

Andrew Leon and I are watching Star Wars: The Clone Wars.  Every Tuesday, we will be featuring an episode from the series which began in 2008.

Episode: "A Test of Strength"
Series: Star Wars: The Clone Wars
Season 5, Episode 7
Original Air Date: November 9, 2012
via Wookieepedia
This week's featured episode is the second in a four-part arc following a group of Younglings in their Jedi training.  Having successfully found their Kyber crystals in the previous episode, they now receive instruction from the droid Huyang in how to assemble their lightsabers.  The similarities between Huyang's workshop and Ollivander's Diagon Alley wand shop assuaged my suspicions of a Rowling influence upon this story arc.

In fact, this episode represents a convergence of elements from several science fiction and fantasy idioms.  We've got the Potter thing going with the lightsabers/wands.  The ship they're traveling on gets boarded by Hondo and his band, bringing with them elements of Star Trek (Hondo's voice is modeled after Khan's) and, of course, good old-fashioned pirate tales.  There's one scene with a definite Monty Python flavor to it.  Plus, Huyang's voice seems awfully familiar...
via Wookieepedia
The saber builder droid is voiced by none other than David Tennant, the Tenth Doctor in the Doctor Who series.   Tennant was born David John McDonald on April 18, 1971 in Bathgate, West Lothian, Scotland.   Tennant is a lifelong Whovian, first inspired to become an actor at age three because of the show.
via Wikipedia
At 16, he passed an audition for the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama to become one of their youngest students.  He already had a considerable resume by the time the Doctor gig came his way in 2005 including, wouldn't you know it, an appearance in a Harry Potter film: Barty Crouch Jr. in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.  He's got major Shakespeare cred, too.  With the Royal Shakespeare Company, he was Touchstone in As You Like It, Antipholus of Syracuse in The Comedy of Errors, Captain Jack Absolute in The Rivals and Romeo in Romeo and Juliet.

Doctor Who was the big score.  The role catapulted Tennant to major, international superstardom.  He did plenty for the show, too, as he was easily the most popular Doctor since Tom Baker (#4).  Even two Doctors later, Tennant is still the Doctor for many Whovians, especially those who discovered the show in its 21st century relaunch.

Tennant won a Daytime Emmy for his performance as Huyang, the only acting Emmy for The Clone Wars.

Next week: "Bound for Rescue."

Friday, March 17, 2017

Squid Brews: Rooty Toot Root Beer

Ladies and gentlemen, we have root beer...


Yet another recipe from Homemade Soda by Andrew Schloss, this "Rooty Toot Root Beer" is quite intensely flavorful: not especially sweet, though.  My daughter, while she liked it, even described it as a little bitter.  For me, it was alright but not as satisfying as the orange honey ginger ale from a couple months back.  We still must see if it passes the ultimate root beer test: floats!

The carbonation process is a bit mysterious.  The way it's supposed to work, after you add the yeast and bottle, the plastic bottles sit for a few days.  You know the yeast has done its job when the bottles harden - and they're really supposed to be rock hard.  That worked beautifully for the ginger ale but not as well this time.  They were harder after a few days but not quite what I expected.  I saw bubbles, though, so I figured the soda was, in fact, carbonating.  Once the bottles harden, they go in the fridge for a week to slow the carbonation down.  I took a chance and put them in, hopefully not prematurely.

I needn't have worried.  The bottles were downright explosive when I opened them.  I don't know if it's worth looking into reducing the carbonation.  I have the same issue with the beer.  The mess is a drawback, of course, but I also regret losing so much of the liquid to foam.  On the other hand, I don't exactly understand all of the microbiological processes involved so perhaps best not to tinker until I learn more.