Umami Paste Review

I am mostly indifferent to sweets, but I absolutely love all things savory, so when I heard about a paste billed as “the ultimate cooking tool to enhance any savoury dish”, and more than that called “taste number 5 umami paste” — well, I had to buy it, even if it meant buying it on eBay and having it shipped from the UK.

taste-no-5-umami-paste

Umami is probably the most highly prized taste in Japanese cousine, the taste of salty meatiness. Interestingly enough in pure form umami can be mostly attributed to monosodium glutamate. Mostly – in the same sense that the addictiveness of cigarettes can be mostly attributed to nicotine. The overall picture is very complicated – there are many amino acids similar to MSG, I suspect just as “sweetness” can’t be attributed to a single molecule.

But back to the umami paste. When compared to dashi broth, which for me is an etalon of complex umami taste, Taste No. 5 is somewhat disappointing in its simplicity. There’s an overpowering taste of tomato – the primary ingredient seems to be tomato paste. The second strongest tasting ingredient is anchovy, which is great, but kind of stale. You can also taste olives, but for whatever reason these flavors fail to harmonize. The paste is a bit too oily as well.

A half-used tube of Taste No 5 sat in my fridge for a good while, but it’s far from a miracle ingredient, and is mildly disappointing. I think the main flaw is the heaviness of tomato taste. I give it 3 out of 5. A high quality tin of anchovies is a much more versatile ingredient, and so is a bag of kombu kelp.

Paid ReviewMe Post: Phone Spam Filter

These days a controversial company RevieMe.com became downright unethical – they make it abundantly clear that they became a link purchasing company. On the other hand Phone Spam Filter is a site I don’t mind sharing Google juice with, so it’s a quick and fun way to add a 50 bucks to my Kindle fund. Here’s my review:

The goal of this site is pretty simple: Phone Spam Filter is asking you to snitch on telemarketers. You search for a phone number that you received a marketing call from and then complain about it. Besides getting a little relief from venting at the phone spammers, you get a bit of satisfaction from knowing that you added them to a blacklist. Nothing good can come out of this for the dinner-interrupting bastards. Meanwhile it’s a good place to find out if mysterious phone numbers that show up on your phone are from run of the mill telemarketers or not.

The even cooler thing is that they have an API that can help you block calls from this blacklist if you have an Asterisk PBX or are willing to install some Windows software and have a modem connected to a phone line. While Asterisk is pretty awesome, running Windows and having a modem connected to a phone line is a horrible idea these days – there are dozens of viruses that want nothing more than make a few 1-900 phonecalls. In the future Phone Spam Filter guys are hoping to add integration with VOIP providers.

The Phonespamfilter technology is not as cool as JWZ-endorsed audio-cock technology (“their computer’s speakers should create some sort of cock-shaped soundwave and plunge it repeatedly through their skulls”), but I guess it’s a start.

They also have sites in Australia, New Zealand, France, and UK

Weegee’s New York: Photographs, 1935-1960

Weegee’s New York: Photographs 1935–1960

Weegee’s legendary camera recorded an unmatched pictorial chronicle of a legendary time. Weegee’s New York is the New York of the thirties and forties, a city marked by the Great Depression, by unemployment and poverty, by mob violence and prostitution. He was the first news photographer allowed a police radio in his car. Racing through Manhattan’s streets after midnight, he often beat the cops to the scene of the crime to shoot the pictures which would scream from the pages of the Daily News and the Daily Mirror next morning. They still jump from the page with a restless immediacy and intense nervousness that has never been surpassed. The 335 photographs collected in this new softcover reprint tell the astonishing story of New York during one of its most violent and exciting periods. The introductory essay is by the former editor of Art Forum, John Coplans.

Essay by Weegee

Weegee (1899-1968),was born Arthur Fellig in what is now a part of Poland and arrived in New York at the age of ten. During his ten years at Manhattan’s police headquarters he published 5,000 photos that made him the most famous of a new breed of hardboiled news photographers. His book Naked City (later made into a film) was published in 1945, followed in 1953 by Naked Hollywood.

John Coplans, born in 1920 in England, immigrated to the US in 1960. In 1962 he founded the periodical Artforum serving as its editor until 1980. He was director of the Art Gallery of University of California at Irvine; senior curator at the Pasadena Art Museum; and director of the Akron Art Museum, Ohio. At age sixty he took up photography full-time.

335 duotone plates.

Freemasons For Dummies (For Dummies (History, Biography & Politics))

At last, a plain-English guide to Freemasonry-the secret society that’s reportedly at the center of Dan Brown’s forthcoming novel The Solomon Key

With Freemasonry featured prominently in The Da Vinci Code as well as the hit movie National Treasure, it’s no wonder that more and more people are curious about this ancient organization, and interest is sure to intensify when Dan Brown’s new blockbuster appears. This balanced, eye-opening guide demystifies Freemasonry, explaining everything from its elaborate rituals and cryptic rites to the veiled symbols and their meanings. The book profiles famous Freemasons throughout history including many of America’s Founding Fathers as well as prominent politicians and business leaders offers a balanced assessment of the many controversies and conspiracy theories that continue to swirl around Freemasonry. For anyone who wants an evenhanded overview of Freemasonry’s past, present, and future, this guide is the key.

Christopher Hodapp (Indianapolis, IN) is a Mason who has traveled extensively reporting on Masonic practices in Great Britain, France, and elsewhere. He is currently a Past Master and a Master of his lodge. Hodapp edits the lodge newsletter and has written for the Grand Lodge magazine, the Indiana Freemason.

“Dear Japanese Newspeople”

“No news is good news” – that’s what one of the old Usenet newsreaders used to say when there weren’t any new articles to read in your subscriptions. Is that a coincidence that CNN, one of the two evil companies that employs Lord Vader himself as its mouthpiece, is so obsessed with violent, fiery death? Cartoonist Jeffery Rowland even felt that he needed a special new word coined for this phenomenon.

CNN.com is a news site that I frequently visit, mostly because the url is so much nicer than http://news.bbc.co.uk, which is superior in all regards to CNN. As far as news goes, I am mostly interested in what’s happening in five countries: the US, Russia, Ukraine, Turkmenistan, Israel and Japan. Why Turkmenistan? Because of the Great Serdar, of course. In any case, not many interesting things happen in Canada or the UK, and I could not care less for France, Germany and the rest of the Snootyland. Communist China and North Korea do not let out any interesting news and news from the entire African continent are usually too depressing.

Japan, on the other hand, is very close to my heart. Recently I found an outstanding English language Japanese news source, MSN Mainichi Daily News. There’s even an RSS feed for it.

What’s different in Japanese news? Well, first of all there’s a lot more sex-related news. American news are heavy on violence, but light on sex. MSN Mainichi Daily News are full of headlines very much in the spirit of one famous hacker’s “Dear Japanese People” posts.

Right now, the headlines are full of stories about a 57 year old fortune teller living with a “harem” of “about 10 women.” An older popular news story featured an embezzling accountant who spent stolen money on 17 mistresses.

Swimwear photo specials are frequent and highly detailed. Booth bunnies also get photo coverage. Sadly, Japan Swimsuit Association does not have its own website.

There’s some coverage about “maid cafes” for “otaku” in Akihabara (you can see Kitya’s post for photos.

Unhealthy Japanese obsession with schoolgirls is clearly present in the news: not a day goes by when there isn’t a schoolgirl sex-related article on Mainichi. Here’s a typical one:

“A man who licked the tongues of more than 30 young girls after making them open their mouths, telling them he was checking for tooth decay, has been arrested, police said”.

It gets more complicated than that:

“The two 18-year-old, third-year high school girls, whose names are being withheld under the Juvenile Law, threatened on Dec. 29 to reveal that the 19-year-old private 1st class had sex with one of them unless he handed over 2 million yen, local police said.

They forced a 21-year-old lance corporal who was accompanying the private to withdraw 400,000 yen from an automatic teller machine at a convenience store in Sasebo and received the money from him.

The girls subsequently demanded 1.6 million yen from the GSDF soldiers. However, the soldiers consulted police, who arrested the two girls.

A fisherman and two other men were earlier arrested for giving the girls advice on how to extort money from the victim.”

US military men are frequently in the news for murder, rape, tresspassing, and robbery. This is not good, and mostly unreported here, in the US.

Japanese news agencies are no stranger to violence. A particularly unsettling trend that I noticed is an abundance of stories about family violence in Japan: “Man stabbed parents because they wouldn’t drink his miso soup“, “Man arrested for leaving bed-ridden, elderly mother to die“, “Woman nabbed for fatally kicking boyfriend“. It gets weirder, too: “Jobless man sets fire to futon in house after mom refuses to buy him dolls.” Overall, all these stories feature jobless people.

Violent (“Homeless man stabs abusive youth in stomach“) and non-violent homeless people (“Homeless man can officially register a public park where he lives as his residence, a court has said“) are often in the news.

We all think about how safe life in Japan is, but according to the news that I see, if the jobless, the homeless and the US servicemen won’t get you, train crashes, heavy snow, natural gas or sticky rice cakes will: “4 die after train blown off tracks in Yamagata“, “Elderly woman trapped in heavy snow freezes to death“, “Natural gas kills mother and children at hot spring“, “4 Kanto residents choke to death on sticky rice cakes“.

All those people got killed in heavy snow, yet mount Fuji was missing it’s snow cap last year. Strange.

The conflict of Japanese whalers and Greenpeace activists gets a lot of coverage: for some reason I’ve never seen this picture of a Greenpeace dude nearly harpooned to death anywhere else.

Two Japan-specific stories that don’t get much play in the US news is the Livedoor scandal and the badly constructed “twin” condo buildings. The Livedoor news get funny sometimes: “Convenience store chain am/pm Japan has decided to pull an energy drink developed by former Livedoor President Takafumi Horie off its shelves because it doesn’t want to sell items associated with scandal-tainted people, it has been learned“.

New Year’s cards (“nengajo“) are apparently a very serious business in Japan. From what I understand, they are supposed to be delivered exactly on January 1st. There was a flurry of news items like “Feces in 2 mailboxes stain 140 New Year cards“, “Post office to redeliver New Year’s postcards that arrived too early“, “Post office in Osaka to deliver 35 New Year’s cards a year late“. Big whoop. By the way, while we are on the subject, check out Japanese New Year’s prints by master woodblock printmaker David Bull.

There’s a section called “WaiWai“(with its own RSS feed). I am not sure what it means, as Wikipedia tells me that “Wai Wai” is a noodle snack.

The headline writers for Mainichi are prone to using puns and old-fashioned American slang, although not always very smoothly: they really overuse the words “nab”, “pinch”, “clink” (prison). Sometimes it feels like you are reading an old detective story.

This quote also is kind of unsettling:

Foreign sex workers get dirty digging for Japanese roots: “Gentlemen may well prefer blondes, but Japan’s not-so-gentle men seem to, as well, sparking a rapid increase in the number of South American sex workers with more yam than Yamato running through their veins to claim Japanese heritage, according to Spa!”

“More yam than Yamato”? What the hell?

Happy New Year!

I created some postcards to send out via email, but my contact list is messy, some of the emails are old. I am hungry and thirsty (there’s a bottle of Veuve Clicquot and some Vietnamese food waiting for me), so if you did not get a postcard, here they are:


I have to admit that the I copied the idea from a postcard that was sent to me by Reneka – the maker of my coffee machine. I’ve made this latte art pattern with their machine – no Photoshop, so I am hoping they are not going to hold this plagiarism against me. The postcard they sent features a cup with “05” in it – I added a pine tree looking rosette.

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.

Shaker and Baker or Gaudi, not Gaudy

When I was in my teens, I wanted to become an architect. I read books about architecture, and one of my favorite pastimes was trying to tell the architectural style of any buildings I saw. I did that in my native city of Odessa, Ukraine and on the trips to Moscow, Leningrad and Kiev. For a while I really favored the Gothic style. I really liked the soaring feeling of gothic churches. But then I’ve seen a rather plain building with rounded, yet also soaring shapes. The only decoration on the building were relief plaques. The building was rather old, yet depicted on the plaques were an airplane, a light bulb, a telegraph key and I think a radio. My dad explained to me about Art Deco style.

Here, in America, I learned about different art movements of the beginning of the century. It gets pretty complicated. There is Art Deco, Art Modern, Art Nouveau, Arts and Crafts and Shaker style. Why I like these styles? Well, it’s because I think that they have just the right proportion of beauty and utility. This is a sort of a mental cheat sheet that I have (embellished with links, of course):

Shaker Style: Shakers are a now mostly extinct religious sect. In fact they are a splinter of the Quaker movement, and were called shaking Quakers because their praying during which they shook. I can’t distinguish Shaker Style from Arts and Crafts, and indeed they are very similar. Genuine Shaker items are very expensive, but these days many manufacturers make shaker style furniture and kitchen cabinets. Although great designers and craftsmen, there are very few Shakers remaining. I bet it’s all because they are supposed to be celibate.

Arts and Crafts: Started in Great Britain. A bunch of designers and architects were pissed off by the poor quality and gaudiness of early mass produced things. Their motto was something to the tune of “turn artists into craftsmen and craftsmen into artists”. Simple bordering on austere designs, natural materials, muted colors, handmade look. The radically new idea was to take away most of decoration, but at the same time turn structural elements into decorations. Instead of hiding beams, supports, joins and other elements of construction, the designers would instead show them off. The solidity, strength are considered virtues. The proportions are usually more down to earth, not meant to dwarf a person. Think Frank Lloyd Wright and Newcomb College Pottery. Basically heavy duty, expensive hand made crap for rich people with good taste.

Art Nouveau: Started in France. The name is derived from the name of some gallery or exhibition or something like that. The idea was to create a whole new style for the new century. Just to be different. The designs are organic (meaning that things looked as if they were grown, not built), proportions – elongated. Not a single sharp edge to be seen. Think Aubrey Beardsley, Tiffany (who names their son Louis Comfort?), Gaudi and what he did in Barcelona. I would also call H.R. Ggiger’s stuff modern Art Nouveau, although I don’t know if that’s correct. In general a style for eccentric rich people.

Art Deco: Very similar to Arts and Crafts and Art Nouveau. The major difference is that instead of making things look hand made, the fact that things are made by machines now is celebrated. Elements of the design are very industrial, proportions – soaring. There is a wide variety in colors used – sometimes they are muted, even dark, sometimes – absolutely outrageous. Shining stainless steel is not out of place, and neither is polished black lacquer. Think Chrysler Building, Empire State Building and other New York skyscrapers, early Polaroid cameras, bakelite rotary phones (in fact anything made out of bakelite), cathedral radios, turn of the century cars.

The thing is, Art Deco is easily corrupted. There is a style that is sometimes derogatively referred to as “Bronx Modern” or “Flatbush Renaissance”. Gaudy, ugly stuff. Like much of Italian furniture sold in Brooklyn. Or like Joey Tribbiani’s apartment in “Friends”. Such perverted Art Deco is rather common. Do not confuse it with true, beautiful Art Deco.

ACH! BONJOURRRRRR! You Cheese-Eating Surrender Monkeys!

A while back I finished an absolutely amazing book about Lockheed Martin Skunk Works. It’s by Ben Rich and it’s called “Skunk Works: A Personal Memoir of My Years at Lockheed“. I’ll write more about that book later.

Here’s an amusing little anecdote from Lt. Colonel William Burk Jr., an SR-71 Blackbird pilot.

“In the fall of ’82, I flew from Mildenhall on a mission o Lebanon in response to the Marine barrack bombing. President Reagan ordered photo coverage of ill the terrorist bases in the region. The French refused to allow us to overfly, so our mission was to refuel off the south coast of England.”

“We completed our pass over Beirut and turned toward Malta, when I got a warning low-oil-pressure light on my right engine. Even though the engine was running fine I slowed down and lowered our altitude and made a direct line for England. We decided to cross France without clearance instead of going the roundabout way. We made it almost across, when I looked out the left window and saw a French Mirage III sitting ten feet off my left wing. He came up on our frequency and asked us for our Diplomatic Clearance Number. I had no idea what he was talking about, so I told him to stand by. I asked my backseater, who said, “Don’t worry about it. I just gave it to him.” What he had given him was “the bird’ with his middle finger. I lit the afterbumers and left that Mirage standing still. Two minutes later, we were crossing the Channel. ”

Meanwhile in the Dreamspace…

I’ve had a dream tonight. On my way to work I typed it up on my Blackberry.

I learn that my grandfather, for his work on the Manhattan project, was given a castle in England. I go there to take a look.

From the outside the castle looks like a bigger version of some of those cute Tudor style houses in Brooklyn. When I go inside, I meet a housekeeper, who tells me that she is very happy, because she was able to rent an apartment in a castle across the street.

Thinking about why she would want to rent an apartment in another castle, I proceed. Now I see why she wanted another apartment: even though it seemed to be made of brick on the outside, on the inside my grandfather’s castle is made of wooden boards. I’ve seen boards like that on the New Yankee Workshop: they are huge, very old and not produced anymore. Furniture makers pay a fortune for them.

I start going up to the second floor when I notice a weird thing: even though every floor is solid, there are no ceilings.

I reach the last floor (third) and enter a room. Surprisingly it has a ceiling. I meet my dad there. I tell him about my doubts about the structural integrity of the castle.

In order to demonstrate me how strong the castle is, he shakes the entire structure. It feels kind of how the Manhattan Bridge sways when huge trucks cross over it, but stronger. Meanwhile, I turn out to be standing over a void in the boards of the floor and almost fall down.

After this demonstration dad tells me that there are ropes connected to the walls of the castle that are tied to a ring in the middle of the house. That ring nexus is what reinforces the building.

Then I had a secondary dream about typing this up in my LiveJournal.