The (once) underground pepper

a can of chipotles (packed in adobo sauce)A while ago on one of my favorite cooking shows the chef made a dish with chipotle peppers. She extoled their unique flavor as “bacon for vegetarians.” With a description like that, I couldn’t resist trying a bunch of different recipes laden with these mysterious peppers.

Chipotle (pronounced chee-POHT-lay) peppers are simply smoked red jalapenos, a fact I didn’t know until I had eaten them many times. The process of smoking changes the flavor completely, which along with the ‘adobo sauce’ they are typically packed in, makes them a flavorful alternative as a spicy condiment; as suggested, they have an aroma that suggests bacon or jerky. Once I started eating them, I became obsessed, maybe even addicted to the flavor. I have an open can of chipotles in my refridgerator at all times

I just recently discovered that my addiction is not unique. The name has started to pop up everywhere, from the Cheescake Factory to Tabasco; everywhere I turn I’m confronted with this word I don’t ever remember noticing before this year. Some are proclaiming 2003 the Year of the Chipotle, its popularity sealed by acceptance in the popular market. Paul McIlhenny, president of the Tabasco enterprise thinks their new chipotle sauce will supercede habanero, garlic, and green to become their number two sauce.

How can something nearly a thousand years old emerge in one year as a taste of the year? Is it the product of good marketing, or did its diffusion just reach epidemic proportions? As a researcher in this sort of thing, it’s hard to tell. Americans have been diversifying their tastes like crazy over the past decade, and it might have just been a matter of time before people were ready for it. I wonder what other sneaky, radically good ingredients are just around the corner. It’s like an element of the periodic table of tastes that has just been discovered. If you know of any others, sound off..

Honky tonk, GA

In David Cross’ recent stand up album, Shut up you fucking baby, he talks about his childhood in Atlanta, being the only Jew on the block, and most importantly about the misconception that hicks are actually from the south. This past weekend, I tested his hypothesis, and went with a few new friends to the Dixie Speedway weekend races in Woodstock, GA (a.k.a. Home of the Champions). Here are some photos I brought home with me:

White trash outing: the Dixie Speedway road trip

a future race driverI grew up in the small town of Yreka in very far Northern California (the term we have to use to disinguish ourselves from those Northern Californians from central California), which might be labeled podunk, hick, or even white trash by some. Going to Woodstock, GA was almost like taking a trip home, given the style of dress, social norms, racial diversity and manner of speech that we found there, even though these two towns are 3,000 miles apart. Truth be told, for anyone from rural America to feel comfortable, all they need to do is drive for an hour outside the city and they’ll find themselves among friends.

We all share the common bond of bucking ranch animals, cheap beer, and cars demolishing each other. We hicks hold these joys to be self-evident.

Sneaky sneaky

I’ve heard of these shenanigans before, but never been so lucky as to be personally involved. I just received an official looking email with return address [email protected] asking people to verify their account information to cut down on fraud:

Your As part of our continuing commitment to protect your account and to reduce the instance of fraud on our website, we are undertaking a period review of our member accounts. You are requested to visit our site by following the link given below :
https://www.paypal.com/cgi-bin/webscr?cmd=verification

Please fill in the required information.
This is required for us to continue to offer you a safe and risk free
environment to send and receive money, and maintain the PayPal Experience.

Of course the barely-trained eye notices that the link points to the site exme.us, and not the assumed paypal.com. The horror! Who is responsible for this preposterous event? The WHOIS database points the finger at some guy named Tim Carey from Wisconsin:

Registrant:
tim (EXME-ORG-DOM)
carey
n9170 jordan st
appleton, US 54915
US
920 733-8254
[email protected]

Of course it’s suspicious that a person whose homepage links to friends in lithuania (.lt = lithuania) would also have a lithuanian email address and live in Appleton, WI. Googling this email address returns one webpage (I’m feeling lucky), which is to a user account on an IRC scripts website. Oh my lord, what a surprise! Our friend isn’t actually from Appleton, WI, but in fact from Lithuania, and a ripe 17 years old he is. Doing a reverse DNS lookup on his IRC server of choice (212.122.68.56) gives the hostname exme.skynet.lt, some sort of media network as far as I can tell.. my Lithuanian is a bit shaky. Likely story: our friend here works for skynet.lt, or has friends who do.

Our friend’s guestbook shows that other people are doing their own sleuthing. What’s the point of this whole exercise? I’m interested in how long it will take PayPal to recognize this idiot and silence him. I’m putting my money on less than 5 days. But how many PayPal accounts must die in the process?

Update: Less than 12 hours later, the site is down and PayPal has responded to my inquiries. Read the comments for the details.

Enter the crunk

In the past week I made my way down to Atlanta for a summer position at the CDC (more on that later). It was an arrangement of amazing serendipity that came together at the last minute, and I’m very thankful for the opportunity. Everyone needs a regular influx of ideas as well as breaks from the monotony of living in one place. Last year was New York, this year is the ATL

I’ve been a bit off the weblogging tip for the past week because I’ve been busy acclimating myself to the ATL lifestyle. One cannot assume to understand the state of being crunk overnight. I’ve finally started to decypher the meandering side-streets and confusing sprawl that is my drive to work. At the risk of sounding like a hick away from home, it’s quite different here, and it takes some getting used to. Let me share one of my first observations here in the city:

Shortly after arriving and unpacking my rental car (which fits nicely in the 40 car parking lot behind my apartment building), I sat down to take a load off in the “sun room” (which is an enclosed porch on the front of my apartment). Looking out at the coutyard that separates my building from the next, I noticed another tenant walking out of his building, Blockbuster DVD in hand. He then proceeded to enter his car (a shiny gold Saturn), drive 0.75 blocks to the local Blockbuster, return the DVD, then drive 0.75 blocks back to his parking space. It’s quite different here.

Besides the peculiar geography and pervasive car culture, Atlanta is a great place to live. My neighborhood (Virginia-Highlands) is full of commercial distraction and interesting people, and everywhere you turn there are lush parks and neat old buildings. Beware: my weblog posts might be less frequent, longer winded, and more meandering for the next 2.5 months, but that’s the South just taking hold of my mind.

The science of wine

a wine glassA story I posted last year purported that wine experts were easily hornswoggled into thinking white wine is red. This seems to confirm many peoples’ suspicions that wine tasting is an entirely subjective experience, or at least that the visual component is much more important than we would predict.

A recent study shows that wine actually attacks more parts of the brain than just those used for taste and smell. In a connoisseur, wine tasting triggers mid-frontal cortex activity, the same area used for language and recognition. For those in the trade, this adds to the argument that tasting can be a highly objective experience:

“This is fantastic,” says Andrea Sturniolo, one of the sommeliers who participated in the study. He feels that it vindicates the skill of “breaking down the many tastes of a wine”.

My mother works for a winery in Carmel Valley (Bernardus, for those interested), which along with every other wine company is pandering to the results cast down by the Wine Spectator. Until recently, it was believed that their scores were highly subjective and political even. But a company by the name of Enologix has taken the process of score prediction to a scientific front.

Using chemical data from past wines and their complementary Wine Spectator scores, Enologix has trained some machine learning system to predict the outcome of new wines. They claim upwards of 90% accuracy in scoring any wine sample, which suggests, along the recent psychological study, that the tasters at the Spectator are recognizing good wine based on some objective measures. Wine makers use the Enologix system to score their wines while still in the barrel, allowing them to optimally blend for the best possible score.

Ananova: Wine experts fooled into thinking white wine is red
Nature: Wine tasting takes brains
Enologix: QMS Reports

Salt ‘n peppa debate

some shakersI recently became aware of an interesting debate over what I thought was common sense. Until I started asking around, I never would have thought this was so contentious (i.e. I thought I was right, goddammit). The question is over which spice goes in which shaker. Here’s the beef:

Flavor Camp: Salt goes in the shaker with more holes because people use salt more often, and in greater amounts. This equalizes the need, making one shake roughly the same for either spice.

Flow Camp: Pepper goes in the shaker with more holes because it consists of larger chunks than salt. This equalizes the flow, making one shake roughly the same for either spice.

I have always been in the flow camp, and assumed it to be a tautology, but perhaps this is like the great soda/pop/coke debacle, reflecting regional preference. No one I have talked to (including chefs, cooking store clerks, and moms) has been able to provide a convincing answer for either, and have been roughly divided between the two camps. Help?

Weblogs and political influence

I just received a call for papers for a conference entitled Politics and Information Systems: Technologies and Applications (PISTA ’03) which is hosted, not ironically with the International Conference on Computer, Communication and Control Technologies in Orlando Florida this fall. I think there is a fascinating paper on weblogs and the microcontent influence on politics.

Weblogs certainly have an influence on the political system in America, first through their effect on the mass media (which sucks off their ideas like a bottom feeder), and second through their democratizing effect on readers (see Joi Ito on Emergent Democracy). If I can come up with a good number of examples, I’ll try to throw together an extended abstract by June 15th. Let me know if you can think of anything pertinent.

Eat, drink and be healthy

So it’s definitely not SARS. For the past few days I’ve been bedridden with some mysterious virus, perhaps the first EVER summer malady in my life. And of course I did what I always do when I get stuck with a tough cold: consume. In the past three days I’ve gone through two gallons of OJ, four movies, one box of tissue brand tissue, five cups of tea, and two new yorkers, among other things.

It’s all that one can do when the body is debilitated. I feel like most of my life is spent in input/output or even just output mode. Writing email, talking on the phone, cooking dinner, writing code, having meetings.. BLAH! I think getting sick is one of the best things I’ve done in a long time. Input only. Pure, unadulterated, lazier-than-thou input. And I feel great now. Er.. I think I’m still sick. I’ll get back to you on that in the morning.