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  • Michael Krakovskiy 1:19 pm on May 29, 2011 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Dashi, Ebay, Food additives, , Glutamates, Gustation, Kombu, Monosodium glutamate, Sodium compounds, Taste, ultimate cooking tool, Umami,   

    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.

     
  • Michael Krakovskiy 8:51 pm on January 29, 2011 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Claw, Claw crane, Claw-free permutation, , commanding officer, , Ebay, , , , MIA CTO, , , , Video game arcade cabinet, , Waka Waka   

    The Claw or Playing Not So Hard 

    When I began my career hiring managers still said things like “we work hard, and we play hard”. The “playing hard” usually consisted of drinking tequila shots after work and having either a ping-pong table or an arcade machine or two in the office.

    Free tequila shots were always a crowd pleaser. Not so much with the games. The worst offender was the Packman machine. The silly little tune and “WAKA-WAKA WAKA-WAKA WAKA-WAKA” got old really fast. The ping-pong table was even worse: it’s hard to write code late in the evening in the middle of a death march project while system adminstrators click-clack the celluloid ball for hours. Both were gone quickly.

    The lone “play hard” straggler was the awesome APB arcade machine that was placed near restrooms. “Help, help”, “yeah, yeah” and the awesome mumbling of the commanding officer deeply etched in our collective brains.

    Besides insidious noise pollution, arcade machines make coders burn out even faster: staring into blinking phosphorus is not good after a long and hard day.

    So, how can a startup stay true to the Silicon Alley/Valley cliche? I think I figured out an answer. A claw machine otherwise known as a “skill crane”.

    My co-worker recently got obsessed with an obscure iphone game called Clawzilla. The original purchase price is a bit steep, but it includes free game tokens. The graphics suck big time, but the remote control functionality and responsiveness is top notch. In theory you can even claim toys caught by you by using a claim code and providing a few bucks for shipping, but that part did not really work for me.

    In any case, me an my co-workers somehow rediscovered that claw machines are awesome. I spotted a toy claw machine at a drugstore and could not resist buying it. I cut the wire to the speaker that blasted circus music, but it’s still a bit noisy (but not as bad as the video makes it sound) because of poor gear alignment. We filled it with memory sticks, a titanium spork, minifigs and other geek items, culminating in a business card of our MIA CTO.

    It’s still kind of lame. Unfortunately there are no affordable “real” mid-size claw machines on eBay: they were only created recently for prizes like the iPod. It’s kind of interesting: there’s a claw machine for iphone, and an iphone for a claw machine. In any case, these small machines can only be found brand new and cost several thousand dollars. Meanwhile, eBay is full of fully functional $500 claw machines.

    Those are great. Load it with old phones, unwanted swag for conferences, etc. Use the proceeds from the quarter slots for charity (be it beer for developers or a real charity), and watch your employees and friends unwind trying to grab that lobster harmonica. It’s a dumping ground for swag accumulating in the drawers as well as a way to refocus and rest your eyes.

    The best part? Have your designer make decal featuring local headcounts and localized title card and decorate your machine with them.

     
  • Michael Krakovskiy 5:01 am on January 27, 2010 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Craigslist, Ebay, , , , , Michigan, , ,   

    eBay and The Michigan Deposit Scam 

    eBay is such a horrible hassle these days. I tried selling a few things recently, and between the horrible UI, all the hassles with payments, answering questions and shipping it turned out to be a huge waste of time.

    I am sitting on a small fortune of items I would like to get rid of, but I don’t want to deal with strangers on Craigslist or going through the eBay rigomarole. An ideal solution would have been an eBay drop-off shop, but it seems that these went the way of the Dodo.

    eBay drop-off store is an idea that many have tried, but it turned out mostly like Seinfeld’s Michigan deposit scam.

    In one episode Newman keeps trying to find a way to make a scheme that would bring New York cans and bottles to Michigan, which has a 10 cent deposit instead of New York’s 5 cent one. Kramer keeps telling him that it would not work due to the transportation overhead, but finally Newman figures out a way to get a postal truck for free.

    It seems that the time overhead is so high on running an eBay store is so high, that most of the bigger ones that tried it went out of business.

    In reality the Michigan deposit scam is against the law, but it actully costs the state 14 million a year in lost revenues. It’s doable.

    eBay is showing Twitter-like incompetence in serving its customers. While Google gives its customers huge amounts of storage, email, and software for free, eBay can’t seem to provide free image galleries and other useful services, selling out its customers to an unsavory bunch of third party providers. Image storage is not a very difficult technical problem, and neither is url shortening, but eBay and Twitter are still in the dark about it.

    Instead of making selling on eBay easy, developing drop off stores, and making its service better eBay seems to be focused on buying and selling unrelated busenesses for billions of dollars (and losing money on it).

     
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