Sunday, February 28, 2010

Got Nordic Heritage?

Got Nordic Heritage?
On a sunny Seattle Sunday morning jog from the Locks to Golden Gardens we came upon the Leif Erikson statue at Shilshole. The statue is an impressive 17 feet tall in an equally impressive setting of runes. The statue is a tribute to the Scandinavian (Danes, Finns, Icelanders, Norwegians, and Swedes) immigrants to this area, particular Ballard, unveiled originally in 1962 for the World’s Fair. The recent refurb was the brainchild of the Leif Erikson International Foundation (LEIF). For more of the story (saga is appropriate here) see the LEIF website. Leif Erikson (c. 970 – c. 1020) was a Norse explorer considered the first European to set foot in North America. Who first set foot in North America seems to be an open question. However, LEIF’s promotion of Leif has got legs, much as the statue does.
Plaque Description
Leif Erikson Has Got Legs
Leif Erikson Front

Saturday, February 27, 2010

EMP: Homeworld

EMP SF Logo
To beat some Saturday mid winter blues we headed to the Experience Music Project (EMP) Science Fiction (SF) Museum (empsfm.org). I have to say we were pleasantly surprised at the Science Fiction Museum. The SF part is very book-centric which wasn’t what we were expecting, but we appreciated it. The EMP presentation “style” - memorabilia behind glass cases – is largely how the SF part is set up as well. In particular, in the exhibit called Homeworld books have the main stage. You literally walk through and get a sense of several dozen or more key science fiction works. The works are grouped together by theme and short information plaques describe each work in a nutshell. After this, you go to the lower floor for the exhibit called Fantastic Voyages where books are less key, but still featured. After going through through these exhibits I wrote down a list of a dozen or so books that looked interesting that I’d never heard of before.

On this particular visit we also caught the fun exhibit Gelatine Lux (November 21, 2009 – April 11, 2010) featuring Italian glass artist Maria Grazia Rosin. In this exhibit, glass, sound, light, and video come together in 20 suspended sculptures reassembling marine and microscopic life.
Book Display at EMP SFItalian Movie Poster for the movie the Fantastic Journey
Gelatine Lux
Gelatine Lux

Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Year of the FLAC


“She comes out of the sun in a silk dress running like a watercolour in the rain. Don’t bother asking for explanations, she’ll just tell you that she came, in the year of the cat.” Al Stewart.

What does that have to do with this post? Nothing really, other than I think in lyrics too much and this post is about FLAC and I think of 2010 as the year of the FLAC. FLAC stands for Free Lossless Audio Codec. FLAC is a format for storing music digitally that does not lose any of the quality of the music. FLAC is a mathematically lossless format. Most common formats (like MP3s you buy at Amazon) are such that some of the audio quality of the recording is lost. With MP3s we tradeoff a little music quality for smaller file sizes. Most users of digital music don’t mind the tradeoff or won’t be able to tell, especially if playback devices (like computers speakers or an iPod with so-so headphones) are not that great. But, for others the loss of audio quality is annoying and they may want to store music digitally in a format that is the same quality as the audio CD. FLAC can do this.

The FLAC format naturally requires more storage than the common formats (like MP3 or WMA) but still less than what full CD track would. For example, the track by Klaatu Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft stored as WMA (Windows Media Audio) at 128kbs (average quality) takes up 6.9 MB. The same track stored in FLAC format is 49.6 MB or about 8 times bigger. But hey, it’s just storage. The real goal is to have all these FLAC tracks available for our friend Sonos.

So far we are about 500+ CDs into a 3,000 CD chore. We are using dBpoweramp to help. Uh, can we just buy these again? At the current rate it will really take a year and it is rightly so the year of the FLAC.

Update 2010-10-12: the conclusion of the project is discussed here.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Valentine’s Day – The Movie

Valentine's Day - The Movie
We were prepared to sit back (in our plushy seats at Gold Class Cinemas) and hate this movie last night, but, we ended up liking it. It helped that we went with friends (a birthday celebration of sorts) and food and drink were involved – as is always the case. The movie in a nutshell follows the intertwined stories of old, new, and spurned lovers in Los Angeles with a happy ending for all. Afterwards, we headed west, back over the bridge, to Sambar for pommes frites and cocktails. Now, that is an even happier ending.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Special Quesadilla

Special Quesadilla and Two Tacos at Celias in El Centro California
On our way out of the Imperial Valley on Sunday we stopped at Celia’s Restaurant in El Centro (location) for a special quesadilla. A special quesadilla is a deep-fried flour tortilla, crimped like an empanada and filled with quesadilla cheese. Apparently the recipe originated in this area but never really spread further much to the chagrin of people with fond memories of them and who now live elsewhere. I heard this second hand: the idea of deep fried, cheese-filled quesadilla is really the product formed at the intersection of Mexican and American culture as occurred and continues to occur in this area.

And the verdict on the taste of the special quesadilla? Very good. You can order one and one or two tacos and be satiated. The other spot to snag a special quesadilla that keeps coming up is at the Mt. Signal Café* named after the nearby Mt. Signal. There is always the next visit.
Special Quesadilla Inside
* from Anonymous 2010-05-25: "Sorry dude, but Mt. Signal has been closed for about two years. Camacho's though has the best special quesadillas around. Just ignore the roaches on the walls! "

Update 2011-06-02
:  We tried a special quesadilla a Camacho’s Place discussed here.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

The Desert View Tower - Jacumba CA

Desert View Tower
The Desert View Tower is the kind of roadside attraction that if you would never visit if you lived nearby. But being out of town gives me liberty to make touristic demands to see quirky attractions like this. And so we took a break from the white-knuckle driving of I-8 and the watchful eyes of the numerous US Border Patrol along the highway and pulled off on In-Ko-Pah County Road and drove a few miles to the Desert View Tower.

The 70 foot stone tower provides panoramic views east over the Imperial Valley. A couple of bucks per adult gets you into a curiosity shop of items surrounding the base of the tower, a climb up the tower, and then access to Boulder Park behind the museum. We all agreed that while the view from the tower was nice, the Boulder Park with its twisting paths and carved figures hidden in the boulders was really the more interesting part.

The tower was built by Bert Vaughan in the 1920s as a roadside attraction appealing to those who stopped to give their vehicles a rest after climbing west up out of the valley on their way to San Diego. Back when the first road opened from San Diego to the Imperial Valley cars needed the rest. The I-8 highway is unusual for its steep grade (4,000 feet in 11 miles) and the fact that when you descend into Imperial Valley (going east) you go from a few thousand feet to 52 feet below sea level at El Centro. Going below sea level makes one hungry for Johnny’s. It’s a fact.
Boulder Park at Desert View Tower

Johnny’s Burritos – Imperial Valley


½ of Travelmarx grew up in the Imperial Valley and has fond memories of Johnny’s Burritos. So today on a swing through the valley we stopped. For today’s lunch it was burritos, taquitos, tostadas, and menudo, a tripe (cow stomach) soup. Delicious (even for the ½ of Travelmarx who didn’t grow up in the valley.) You can join Johnny’s Facebook page here. There are two Johnny’s locations: Brawley and a second location in Imperial.
Menudao at Johnny's Burritos