Crawl of the Concordes

A couple of days ago I went to Floyd Bennett Field to once again renew my fishing license. On the way in I noticed a familiar plane standing next to the new Aviator Sports Center.

I went by to take some pictures, and a rather unfriendly security guard explained to me how this worked: I needed to go inside, buy some food and then I could take all the pictures I wanted and even get a tour of the inside of the plane.

Don’t you hate it when security guards jump out of nowhere and will not leave you alone unless they can make you comply with their wishes? Or the way they repeatedly call you “sir”, but they pronounce “sir” as they would “jerkoff”? Anyway, despite the unpleasant tone in which this information was conveyed, it was a pretty good deal. Last time when I wanted to see the same Concord, I had to pay 15 bucks or so and stand in a long line. The inside tour was, and still is not very interesting. The chairs are not original (the real ones were auctioned off) and they don’t let you into the pilot’s cabin. Sitting down and imagining how it would have been to fly on a Concord would have been interesting.

Despite that, the experience that I’ve had is even weirder. At the Floyd Bennett Field the Concorde is tied down to several concrete blocks and basically serves as a giant shade over several picnic tables. Eating cafeteria food under the mighty engines is rather unique. I ate and remembered how every fishing trip that I took out of Sheepshead Bay I waited for the loud whine that announced the streamlined needle that propelled the rich on their way to London or Paris and the sonic boom that followed a little later. Also, I remembered seeing the horrible pictures of a Concorde on fire and imagining what it must have been like for its passengers on their way to New York.

The whine of the Concorde engines over Jamaica Bay always stuck with me, and made me especially appreciate the airplane sound in Darren Aranovskiy’s “Requiem for a Dream” sequences. There’s something about that sound, the promise of a larger world, of a possible escape, of bigger, better things in life, and also of the danger of losing everything is a giant ball of fire.

The butt of the Concorde looks like a cheery 60s robot:

Avast, Me Hearties!

Happy International Talk Like a Pirate Day, Ye Scientists, Naugty Wenches, Sea Dogs, Cheese-eating Surrender-pirates, Gothpirates, Scurvy Lubbers and Assorted Bilgerats!

P.S. Would a real pirate drive a Honda?


The first book is from the founders of Talk Like a Pirate Day. A good read. Why TLAPD is not a national holiday is beyond me.

From the book cover: “Gideon Defoe, who lives in London, is twenty-eight. He wrote The Pirates! to convince a woman to leave her boyfriend for him. She didn’t.” Gideon Defoe is also rumored to be a relative of _that_ Defoe. In any case, I really don’t see why that woman did not leave her boyfriend, as Mr. Defoe is a genius.

The Naked Barrista

I haven’t written about one of my very expensive but ultimately rewarding hobbies for a while, so I will try to correct this. You see, I like espresso and espresso based drinks. One of these days I’ll write a long post about everything that I ever learned about making them, but for now, here’s a short progress report.

There are hundreds of cooking shows these days. Even the British, famous for their indigestible cuisine, field two awesome shows: The Naked Chef and Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares. All of a sudden, London is referred to “City of Chefs.” In any case, I am sure that both Jamie Oliver and Gordon Ramsay prepare very tasty meals in their restaurants. But I am also pretty sure that if you order an espresso or a cappuccino there, you’ll get the undrinkable crud. Jamie Oliver, for instance has a FrancisFrancis! – a beautifully designed, but highly mediocre espresso machine in his home kitchen. Would one show about coffee and coffee training for celebrity chefs and their restaurant staff be too much to ask for?

As my financial means increased, I’ve progressed through a series of espresso machines. For a year or so I’ve been a proud owner of a Reneka Techno. It’s a common choice amongst espresso enthusiasts who always wanted a La Marzocco machine, but finally gave up, as new ones cost too much (around 6K) and used ones are hard to come by and troublesome. The scarcity of used La Marzocco machines is a mystery to me – Starbucks replaced almost all machines that it used to own with superautomatics of unknown to me make, reportedly forcing the closure of the US La Marzocco factory. Where did they all go?

Anyway, strange as it is, but a French company, not an Italian one is making a machine that mostly replicates a La Marzocco for home users. So, what separates this machine from hundreds of competing espresso makers?

Well, for starters it uses a rotary pump instead of the most common vibratory one. Rotary pumps give a steady pressure, unlike vibratory ones that provide the same pressure in a series of very rapid pulses. This is similar to analogue vs. digital sound, and just slightly less controversial, as the results are easier to compare. For the record, I like analog sound better too.

The second highly desirable feature is the separate high powered steam/water boilers. Add to that a digital temperature control circuit tunable to 1F and you got yourself a great machine. With this little bit of digital trickery you get in-boiler temperature stability that the bigger machines get through great size and painstaking adjustment. The temperature stability at the group (the coffee holder) is another question altogether, but it’s not bad there too.

Of course, to get all that you have to suffer some difficulties – like having a 220V outlet installed. This is not too difficult – you just need to have access to two 120V lines on a different phase and have your electrician put in a special circuit breaker. You also need a direct water connection, as rotary pump machines don’t have water tanks and need to take in water at water line pressure. This is not too difficult as well – you need to have your plumber to lead a flexible copper water line from the sink. If you install the machine near the sink, you can also tie the coffee machine’s drain into the sink drain. I am not as lucky – my machine drains into a big vase.

Here is my Reneka Techno with the side cover removed. You can see the pump as well as the badly placed pressure gauge. Pressure is adjustable, mine is set at about Schomer-recommended 8.5 bar.

A new trend in espresso shot-pulling is the so-called naked portafilters. Techno came with an extra portafilter, which I had modified at for only $25. The idea is that you get to see the cream formation and flow of espresso though the filter bottom, noting the evenness of extraction. Also, crema touches fewer surfaces, ending up mostly in the cup.

I’ve ordered some coffee from Victorola, this is a shot of their Streamline Espresso. The crema looks a little light, but espresso did not taste sour at all. Is that the mysterious “tiger flecking“? I don’t know. In any case, this was a trial shot, I’ll keep playing with my new toy and new coffees from Victorola.

I am sad to announce my continuing suckage at the fine craft of latte art. Look and laugh at this misshapen rosetta. Ewww. Well, practice makes perfect.

Serious espresso making requires serious reading. David Shomer’s book is a classic that must be read by every aspiring barrista. Espresso Coffee : The Science of Quality by Rinantonio Viani, Andrea Illy (yes, that Illy) is a sophisticated scientific and scholarly work about espresso. It’s expensive at seventy something dollars. But when you spend that much on coffee machines, coffee accessories and coffee, what’s 70-80 bucks more for a good book?

There’s No Cleopatra And There’s No Needle

Central Park contains an amazing artifact commonly referred to as “Cleopatra’s Needle”. It’s one of the many Egyptian obelisks scattered all around the world, and one of the two that used to stand in front of the Sun temple in Heliopolis. A second obelisk is located in London these days.

In general, Egyptian obelisks were moved around the globe by different governments kind of like a college statues by drunken frat boys. The Romans moved the two Cleopatra’s Needles to Alexandria, and then as gifts from the Egyptians to the Great Britain and the US, the were moved by British and American engineers to their current locations. Overall the moves turned out to be amazing feats of engineering, especially with the British overcomplicated scheme of building a pontoon around the obelisk and towing it with another ship.

You can find it right across from the Met, on the 5th Ave. side approximately between 81st and 82nd.

The pillar does not give an impression of being an element of the Sun god’s temple. The 3500 year old monolith is gloomy, foreboding and downright Lovecraftian. The shadow play at sunset is especially spooky (that’s what I tried to capture in the above picture).

Cleopatra has very little to do with either obelisks. They were built by king Tuthmosis III (well, the king probably had some help from his slaves). Later everybody’s favorite pharaoh, Ramses II, seeing how there was a lot of space left on the obelisks added some of his own “press releases” to it:

The writing looks like a story of an alien abduction (with the flying saucers and wavy tractor beams), but as it turns out these are normal hieroglyphics. “Bird , Bird , Giant Eye … Cat Head , guy doing this” and so forth. I thought that there were thousands of glyphs, but it turns out that they are just an alphabet. So the flying saucers on the picture are “R” sounds, and the “tractor beam” is an “H”.

I was surprised to see the pharaoh being referred to as “Lord of the Two Lands, User-maat-ra”. What was he a user of? Well, as it turns out all pharaohs have ridiculous system of 5 different names. I mean, come on, a Horus name and the Golden Horus Name!? (Horus happens to be the Sun god, the one with the falcon head ) User-maat-ra happens to be the throne name, the one that one that the Greeks transcribed as Ozymandias.

So he’s the king from Percy Shelly’s “Ozymandias” sonnet. Yup, good ol’ Ramses was kind of like Donald Trump – liked to build things and put his names on things. Also, like a rockstar or an NBA superstar he had sex with hundreds of women, siring hundreds of children as Durex Ramses condoms were apparently not available back then. Last but not least he was apparently the “7 cows dream” and “let my people go” pharaoh of the Bible.


Here’s something that my dream reminded me of. “Cat’s eye ” tube.

When I was little, my dad used to have this huge vacuum tube radio. I think, actually this is it:

I think that’s what a Twonky would look like.

I am not sure of the model though, but there it is as I remember it. That was probably the device that introduced me to “radio buttons”. It’s tuning scale was a bit misleading – it was marked with names of different cities that you could supposedly get on the short-wave band. Prague, London, Paris, New York. Riiight.
It had one very interesting detail – a “cat’s eye” tuning tube.

“Cat’s eye” is a really amazing device. Basically it’s a tiny little CRT in a vacuum tube. It usually served as a tuning indicator. When you would turn a tuning knob, the pattern displayed on the tube would change. Here’s a more detailed article.

There were several names these tubes were known under. “Cat’s eye”, “magic eye”, “electronic eye” and just plain “tuning tube”. They were (and still are) a bit pricey, so they usually were included only on high end radios.

Here are just a few examples of such tubes from this amazing collection:

Besides being amazingly pretty, IMHO they are actually very user friendly. It’s just that in modern solid state device there is little need for actual “tuning”, but they would make wonderful sound level indicators. It’s a great visual feedback mechanism.

I am probably saying this just because I am into this whole glowing vacuum tube aesthetic though. Also these tubes make amazing blinkenlights.