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Archive for January, 2009

Can I Recommend a Good Wine?

January 27, 2009 2 comments

I get the above question very often, and 99% of the time the question of from people with very little exposure to wine.  There is no real answer to this question.  I don’t like to think of wines and “good” and “bad” but more a matter of taste.  I know what I like;  big new-world Cabs and Syrah/Shiraz, but I don’t have your taste buds so can’t possibly assume to know what you would like and by extension recommend a good wine for you.

05_egme_200x200The problem with wine, or rather the remarkable thing about wine, is there is so much difference from one to the next.  I really believe anyone can find “their” wine.  Everyone likes their own “thing” from big reds, to sweet ice wine and oaky white.  So when faced with the above question I can make recommendations as to what I like but really, my best advice is to try some wines and determine what tastes you like, don’t listen to me, don’t listen to wine reviewers until you know what characteristics of wine you like.  This isn’t about recommending a wine per se, but tastes and finding wines to match those tastes.

The best way to hone in on your wine palate is to taste, taste, taste.  The single best advice I can give anyone is to try as much wine as you can possible get into your mouth, doesn’t matter if it’s white, red, pink, purple or black, just drink it.   We learn from experience.

Take notes about what you’re drinking, identify the regions and varietals that make you say “Hey! I like that.”  Take pictures of the bottles if you can, a picture speaks 1000 words as they say, and with the proliferation of camera phones and Blackberry you can easily take a picture and upload a mini review to Flickr or Facebook to catalog your tastes.  I started to catalog all my wine on Facebook and recently moved to Flickr so I could include more notes with each picture.  You can see some of the wines I’ve tried in the last 2 years in my Flickr wine set here.

Drink with a friend, this is how I first started getting into wine.  Comparing notes with someone, describing what you are tasting can be very enlightening for both, or all, of you.  You might not even have the same tastes, but just talking about the wine helps immensely.  

To someone new to wine the whole process seems quite overwhelming, so many countries, so many different varietals (grapes), different regions in each country, white, red; the list goes on and on.  Here are some tips on making sense of it all:

Red and white tend to have very different favours and you’ll quickly identify if you like both, or favour either white or red in particular.  Word to the wise, don’t write anything off completely, always go back to what you don’t like.  Take Merlot, I’ve never been a Merlot fan, something about the taste of every Merlot I’ve tried, I’ve tried dozens, never really meshed well with my palate.  My world changed one faithful day in 2007 while at the Duckhorn winery in Napa, California.  Duckhorn is known for their Merlot, and like I said previously, you’ve got to go back to what you don’t like to see if your tastes are changing, because change they do.  The Duckhorn Merlot was wonderful, I can’t say for sure if it was the wine or the atmosphere, regardless I found a Merlot I like and that’s what this is all about, experimentation.

New Word vs Old World.  To a non-wine drinker this isn’t something that makes a ton of sense, but I’ll give you the “Coles Notes” version. When one says “old world” when referring to wine they are typically making reference to wine make in Europe and quite typically the wine powerhouses of France and Italy.  When one says “new world” they’re typically talking the United States, Australia, Canada, Chile and a few other nations.  Every region that grows wine tends to favour a particular varietal (grape) or style.   You can get a Cabernet from a winery in Napa, California and one from France but the two can and typically do taste two worlds apart.  You’ll hear words like “elegant” used to describe old-world style wines and “big” or “fat” to describe new-world wines.  It is with tasting you’ll soon realize what this means, but don’t get too caught up in the words.

Read read read.  Until you’ve developed a little of sense of what you like try and stay away from wine reviews, read about wine itself.  If you do read wine reviews don’t pay much attention to the score, like I said before, no one can tell you what you like until you know what you like.  Eventually you’ll find a wine reviewer that shares your taste.  Be weary though as sometimes the reviewer doesn’t know themselves what a “good” wine is.  Read about the different types of grapes, regions, and wine makers.  The more you read the more you’ll pick up on the lingo.

All this said we’re not trying to make you the next writer for Wine Spectator, simply trying to expose your palate to what you like and the rest will fall into place.  After you’ve tried some wine and can better articulate what you like, feel free to ask me to recommend something specific, perhaps a New World Syrah from Washington State or spicy Shiraz from McLaren Vale, Australia?

Categories: Wine Tags:

Back to the Kitchen

January 18, 2009 Leave a comment

steak

I’m a bonafide foodie and love to cook; more than just cooking I know how to select a good piece of meat. When I want something special I will go out of my way to butchers like Cumbrae’s in Toronto so that the meat I cook at home is every bit as good as the meat I can get in a restaurant. While I don’t have a Montague Broiler at home, I do take grilling steak seriously. My steak of choice is typically a Rib Eye; you could say I’m something of aRib Eye expert, but I am a sucker for a bone-in fillet too. I do have a good grill at home and have been complimented on my steaks by more than just family. For the record my Prime Rib roast and Roast turkey have received raves too. 😉

Knowing how to cook and select meat does mean that I have high standards. This does have some disadvantages, I tend to be rather picky on how my food is prepared. I’ll eat anything, but if it isn’t prepared correctly, and I’m in a restaurant, I will send it back. I hate sending food back, but I am the customer, I don’t like doing this but it does happen. Last night I was out with the family for a nice meal at The Keg where I ordered one of my favorites, a Rib Eye, the steak was tough. Sure The Keg isn’t Harbour 60, or Jacob’s Steakhouse that said the steaks at The Keg are still good value and I’m seldom disappointed. This steak wasn’t just tough to the touch the big steak knives at The Keg really struggled with cutting it. How a restaurant handles themselves when you send something back tells you a great deal about the restaurant.

Last night I would rate The Keg a 7.50/10 for how the handled my particular situation. There were no complaints by the staff and they quickly whisked the steak away, and in fact the only thing preventing a 10/10 had nothing to do with the steak and everything to do with the sides. When my plate returned my steak was perfectly tender, which I could tell by both the “poke check” and cutting; exactly as I would expect it. The problem was the “onion straws” they weren’t replaced along with the steak, neither was the potato, and while the potato I can let slide the onion straws once sitting for a while tend to lose their crispness and “steam” and go soft, and that’s exactly what happened to mine. So my steak was perfect, but one of my sides was ruined. Hence 7.5/10.

This experience is nowhere as bad as an experience a couple of years ago at Via Allegro, a high end restaurant in Etobicoke. I sent my steak back to the kitchen and the waiter returned 2 minutes later and said “Chef suggests you choose a different cut of meat, as the Rib Eye tends to be a tougher cut perhaps a Fillet would be more to your liking?” I was beside myself that the waiter would even think this let alone say it. I’m sure they cut into the steak in the kitchen, they may have only done the “poke check” on it. Regardless the customer told them it was tough, and I assure you it was, and their response wasn’t what it should have been. The replacement steak was perfect.

Sending something back doesn’t just apply to food, but wine too, ~8 percent of all wine is “corked” and while you don’t want to be wrong, you sholdn’t feel bad sending something back that isn’t right. When it comes to wine not everyone can tell that wine is corked, assuming you’re eating in a higher-end restaurant simply ask for the Sommelier he’ll know for sure.

As a patron in a restaurant you have to feel comfortable sending food back to the kitchen, you’re spending your hard earned dollars for something, it should be prepared correctly.

Categories: Food Tags: , , ,

System Scalability: Database and Storage “Sharding”

January 17, 2009 Leave a comment

I’ve been fortunate enough in my career to be involved and lead some very large projects.  Scalability and HA are two topics I deal with on a virtually endless basis.  As most of the services, systems and platforms I’ve been involved in and responsible for are deployed for service providers, scalability tends to exist in a realm unlike other industries.   An average enterprise can usually use off the shelf products and ideas for their systems, the scalability demands of an on-line service provider means “shrink wrapped” solutions seldom scale to the levels needed.  There aren’t many “regular” companies that have web applications that need to scale to hundreds of thousands, millions, or hundreds of millions of users.  As with anything there are exceptions.  Add the fact that the application itself IS the actual business of  “on-line service providers” and you’ve got a complex environment where scalability and high availability are paramount concerns and challenges.

Techniques to address some of these issues have pretty much become commodities, load balancing a web serving or application serving farm for example is pretty much a done deal.  Other aspects of the application, particularly databases and storage tend to offer more significant scalability challenges than their web serving or non-stateful brethren.  The key here is the stateful nature of database and storage.  

I tend to shy away from separating databases and file systems, at the end of the day a file system is a database, it might not be relational, that is coming, but it is a database nonetheless.  I believe scalability in the area of database and enterprise storage is where most applications make or break their scalability goals, where the rubber meets the road so to speak.  The current buzz in database scalability revolves around database sharding; the idea is pretty simple.  Take the database tables and split them into shards or peices ideally across multiple database servers and ideally have the database shards reside on different storage systems.   There are many ways to “shard” your database, at the application level, with a database proxy (Mysql Proxy/Hscale), or depending on database you are using, within the database itself.  

Interestingly database sharding is not unlike the techniques used to scale storage.  Typical enterprise storage system use controllers with disk systems connected to them, with throughput limited to the capability of the controller and number of disks connected.  However this design has become pretty much old hat.  New systems and projects have hit the market in the last few years allowing for multiple controllers to handle a portion of the overall filesystem.  In other words parts of the data is being served by different parts of the infrastructure, what I like to call storage sharding.  Companies like Isilon, Netapp, EMC’s Atmos, and HP’s PolyServe and others all have or are rolling out systems that distribute the “file system” across multiple controllers, effectively “sharding” the file system.  I won’t get into the specifics of how they’re doing this, as with everyting they all have their own methods, pros and cons.

There is more to come in this space, particularly at the file system level.  Many of the challenges I’ve faced in the past tend to involve the underlying file system itself, more specifically the file system metadata.  Typically a file system is written to provide something to everyone and isn’t necessarily developed for your specific application, but what if you could tailor and pull information from a file system for your specific application, a sort of “file system” API?  That would be game changing, and I assure you, it is coming.

2009 F1 Car Design

January 15, 2009 Leave a comment

The next season of F1 is around the corner and the cars are starting to roll out of their respective garages.  The changes with the F1 cars for 2009 are well documented, smaller rear wings, KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery System), larger front wings, and the return of slick tires (About time!),  I’m not going to cover everything.  What I did feel needed some discussion is specifically the new aero package.  With Ferrari and Toyota now releasing pictures of their 2009 contenders we can start to compare the cars and identify various aspects of the design and compare it to 2008.

Below are the 2009 cars from both Ferrari and Toyota, 2008 on the right, 2009 on the left.

ferrari-2008ferrari

The most striking difference is obviously the smaller rear wing and much wider front wing.  These changes were done for one reason, passing, or at least that’s what is hopped will come from this.  The problem with 2008, and car from previous years was they generated a great deal of disturbed air off the rear of the car.  This turbulent air had a negative impact on any car trying to pass, as the turbulence caused the front of the car to lift, causing under steer and making it virtually impossible to pass.   Let’s hope the smaller rear wing and larger front wing work, I’m not very optimistic.

The reason I have my doubts over this new design, and I’m no aerodynamicist, related to the changes in the mirrors.  Notice how the 2008 had angled uprights holding the mirrors to the body of the car.  The 2009 has gone with more upright design harking back to the banned x-wings of years ago.  I suspect that this may counteract any turbulence reduction that the smaller rear wing will generate.  Notice too that the 2009 “x-wing” is out from the rear wing, effectively the Ferrari designers are trying to make up for the loss of rear wing by trying to turn the mirrors into wings.  Will this generate as much down force as a larger rear wing?  Of course not. But if one can get some down force benefit and mix that with disturbing the air off the back of the car it makes it harder for an opponent to pass.  Would I suggest that car designers would look for ways to disturb the air off the car?  Of course they would so long as it didn’t upset their car.  Ferrari, still up to their sneaky ways?  Who knows.

The Toyota images below, again 2008 left, 2009 right, show that Toyota has remained with a mirror side pod setup similar to their 2009 contender.  Too bad we can’t convince Ferrari to publish a CFD analysis of the car to see if I’m correct in my assumptions, we’ll see in a few weeks. I can’t wait!

 

toyota_f1_2008toyota-f1

Categories: F1 Tags:

Tattoo Idea

January 15, 2009 Leave a comment

eyeI’ve been musing for years about getting another tattoo.  A friend of mine recently started talking about getting her first tattoo, in conversation with her, it started me thinking more in the here and now about my next.  

I’ve literally been developing this tattoo in my head for 7 years.  This one is going to be far more personal, and as such I wasn’t going to rush into it.  The idea started as a simple tattoo of my daughter’s names, but found that a little too “plain” for my liking.  Being the computer geek that I am, I was thinking of getting their names encoded in either binary, hashed with MD5 or encryped with RSA, Blowfish or some other cipher.  After some thought I just though the idea was a little too “geek” for me. 😉

Slowly the idea started to morph to include other things that are important to me; this idea had some legs and resulted in some ideas of a design that looked like a coat of arms; but it still wasn’t right.  A Coat of Arms is very flat, and while I had some good ideas, I just couldn’t see them as a tattoo.

My recent idea, which I believe hits what I’ve trying to accomplish perfectly, is a montage of sorts.  The main focus would be an eye, much like the image you see here with this post.  In the eye would be the reflection of the things I care about, pay no attention to the skull in the image to the right, it was the best eye I could find.  So far the reflected images would represent my kids, family, my love of things like wine and food, racing and computers too.  It isn’t a perfect idea yet, but it’s coming along.

Problem I see if how real I want this to look.  I don’t want the eye to look like a tattoo, it has to look completely real.  Likewise I don’t want it to have to be too big but I want the “reflections” to be clear.  Finally I need to find an artist who can actually pull this off, that I think might be the hardest part of all of this.

Hopefully with a bit of luck I’ll finally get this tattoo.

Categories: Personal Tags:

Awful FreeBSD Write Performance Under VMWare Server 2.0

January 7, 2009 2 comments

I can’t say for sure if this is just in VMWare Server 2.0, but the write performance of FreeBSD under VMWare has been AWFUL.  I currently use FreeNAS as my NAS and media server at home; I’ve always found it full featured but a little slow under VMWare.  I’ve done all the recommended tuning changes:

  1. Don’t use the lnc network driver, but the Intel e1000, put ethernet0.virtualDev=”e1000″ in the virtual hosts VMX file
  2. Reduce  kern.hz in loader.conf:  kern.hz=100
  3. Use SCSI Virtual Disks

My home network is GigE using an 8 port Linksys SRW208P, the virtual machine host running VMWare server 2.0 is Linux Ubuntu Server running on an Intel Quad core with 4GB RAM and two (2) Software mirrored LVMed hard drives.

My very non-scientific benchmark, copying a 660MB file using SMB between Linux and FreeBSD

Read = Copying from VM to Windows Machine

Write = Copying to VM from Windows Machine

  • FreeBSD 6.4-RC2 (FreeNAS) Guest: Read: 43s Write: 87s
  • FreeBSD 7.0-Release: Read Guest: 37s Write: 147s
  • Ubuntu Linux 2.6.24-19-virtual Guest: Read: 36s Write: 29s
  • Ubuntu Linux 2.6.27-7-server Host: Read: 29s Write: 31s
As you can see above the write performance to the FreeBSD VMs is AWFUL.  I did some previous testing with FTP and other protocols as a means to eliminate Samba on BSD as the source of the performance issues, this didn’t make any significant difference.  I must admitt that one would expect to see a gagabit network performing better than this; I chalk this up to an old Intel P4 Windows XP machine, pretty junky cabling that all is “pre-GigE” CAT5.  For example, I know that my laptop which is a newer DELL unit is 20% faster than the above “benchmark” times when connected directly to the Linksys switch.

So the question is, why does FreeBSD suck so bad under VMWare?  I can’t say for sure.  There is no doubt that Linux benefits from having VMWare tools vmnet interfaces, those drivers aren’t available for FreeBSD; yet it has to be more than that.  Unfortunately I don’t have an extra PC kicking around to test FreeBSD on bare metal, but I can’t possibly imagine the FreeBSD team releasing two different version that have such glaring performance issues so it must be something to do with FreeBSD under VMWare.

I’ve searched Google extensively regarding this issue have have come up with virtualy nothing.   My next test, Linux with the e1000 driver and no VMWare tools vmnet interfaces…

[Update]: I’m going to try Linux without VMWare tools and see how it perfoms when I get a chance, most likely tomorrow night.

 

 

 

Washing machine hacked to tweet when the load’s done: @maytag, you listening? – Engadget

January 6, 2009 Leave a comment

Washing machine hacked to tweet when the load’s done: @maytag, you listening? – Engadget.

I’m a huge fan of taking “old tech” like a washing machine, particularly something as old as this one, and leveraging the communications ability that the Internet provides.  Twitter and a washing machine, or any other long running appliance such as a dish washer or dryer, is a great match.  When you team up twitter with a cell phone or other mobile device you have a match made in heaven.  That said, the public nature of this isn’t necessarily the best way to do this, an email may have sufficed.

I think we’ll see this level of integration becoming more and more common.  Buzzers or bells are so 2008.

Categories: Web 2.0 Tags: