Saturday, April 22, 2017

Borussia

Well!

So it turns out that the horrible bombing attack on the Borussia Dortmund football team was in fact NOT Islamic terrorists at all.

Rather, it was something much more banal: One man’s greed behind Dortmund attack, after all

Not many -if any- had seen this coming… Something more than a week after the triple bomb attack that targeted Borussia Dortmund and led to their Champions League game against Monaco being delayed by 24 hours, police have announced that the motive behind the whole incident was pure financial greed.
The accused bought 15,000 put-options regarding the shares of Borussia Dortmund on April 11. Those options were running until June 17, 2017 and were bought with the ID of the hotel L’Arrivee (Dortmund’s team hotel)
a prosecutor made known, through a written statement, after the police arrested a 28-year-old man

The Beeb has (a bit) more: Borussia Dortmund bombs: 'Speculator' charged with bus attack

Rather than having links to radical Islamism, he was a market trader hoping to make money if the price of shares in the team fell, prosecutors say.

The suspect has been charged with attempted murder, triggering explosions and causing serious physical injury.

He has been identified only as Sergej W, and was staying in the team's hotel overlooking the scene of the attack.

There was, I should think, more than just greed involved, as clearly the man was quite mentally ill:

He was staying at the team's L'Arrivée hotel in Dortmund on the day of the attack and had moved to a room on the top floor, overlooking the street where it took place, prosecutors say.

The suspect placed the bet on 11 April using an IP address traced to the hotel, after taking out a loan for the money.

That's somewhere bordering on stalker-level obsession, I'd say.

Very sad.

But I'm glad the German police were level-headed and careful and thorough and dug down to the underlying facts of the matter.

And SHAME on all those trashy publications that threw horrid terror speculations out there.

Yes, I'm looking at you, The Sun, and The Express, and The NY Post, and Fox News and The Star, and ...

You know who you were. Shame on you all.

Three Junes: a very short review.

Julia Glass's Three Junes tells the story of an (extended) Scottish family across multiple generations, mostly set during the later decades of the 20 century.

It is beautifully written and quite emotional at times.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

A break in the rain

It was a beautiful day in the city, so I wandered over to the border between Chinatown and North Beach and hooked up with some old friends for a wonderful lunch.

Thanks, all!

Cop stories

I'll read almost everything; I'm pretty voracious that way.

But certainly a good police procedural is always right up my alley.

So, two recommendations, one old, and one new:

  • The Fairy Gunmother

    Pennac's novel is set in a post-imperial Paris of the mid-1980's, rich with the complexities that entails, and benefits from a truly superb translation by Ian Monk. The result is laugh-out-loud funny while still being atmospheric and compelling.

  • Leviathan Wakes

    Although you'll find this on your Science Fiction shelves at the local bookstore (hah! is there such a thing?), it's really a police procedural set in the future, in space, as more-than-haggard Detective Miller is trying to unravel why a simple missing persons case appears to be much, much deeper than it first seemed.

Each of these is "Book 1 of a series".

And I'll be reading more of each series, straightaway.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Blue Apron

We're entering our third month as regular Blue Apron customers.

If you have no idea what Blue Apron is, here's a nice introduction which takes a business perspective but covers the overall service quite well: Inside Blue Apron’s Meal Kit Machine

Each month, Blue Apron delivers about 8 million meal kits to Americans who like to cook but would rather not waste time shopping or searching for recipes. Blue Apron boxes include cooking instructions for meals and suggested wine parings—shiitake mushroom burgers with a Santa Barbara Highlands Vineyard Grenache, for example. The raw ingredients, which include such exotica as romanesco cauliflower and fairy tale eggplants, are sourced from family farms and artisans. Then they're sorted, chopped and packaged in giant fulfillment centers and delivered to homes around the country.

It's still early days for us as Blue Apron consumers, but here are some of my impressions:

  • The ingredients are high-quality, and fresh.

    This was our primary concern, since we're both rather picky shoppers. But in every meal to date, the meat has been very high quality, the produce has been equally good (and quite fresh), and we've not once been disappointed in the ingredients.

  • The service is reliable and accurate.

    The weekly carton arrives on time, with the meals as promised, precisely. Everything is clearly marked; everything is present. The little individual packages of ingredients are right-sized, even if the amount of packaging does bum me out a bit.

  • The proportions and quanties are right.

    We take the "meal for two" service. We never have too much overall, and we never have too little overall. And the individual ingredient amounts are appropriate, too. We don't find ourselves saying "there weren't enough carrots," or whatever.

  • The recipes are clear, accurate, easy to follow, and acceptably quick.

    If the meal says: "prep time 10 minutes, overall time 35 minutes," it turns out to be quite close to that. We haven't yet found ourselves confused, halfway through a recipe, by a missing step. The recipes are printed on stiff paper which stands up nicely in front of you while you're chopping and mixing. The recipes have nice pictures which illustrate the important steps.

    And, as an pleasant touch, they almost always end with a little bit of elegance, showing you how to "plate your dish" for visual appeal, and encouraging you to "enjoy!"

  • The recipes have just enough variety to be entertaining.

    We've been introduced to some ingredients we don't typically use (freekeh, farro, za'atar, labneh, etc.), and some techniques we had never even considered. For a "chicken under a brick" recipe, Blue Apron walked us through how to cook a half-chicken with a large pot of water balanced on TOP of the chicken, pressing down on it as it cooked. It worked startlingly well.

  • The recipes are fun to follow.

    At the end of a long day, you can be tired, and cranky, and not in the mood for failure. These recipes are straightforward, yet they often contain just enough new-ness, whether that be a different ingredient that you haven't used before, or a different technique, or whatever, to make the whole experience fun. Put on a nice album on the stereo, crack open the Blue Apron recipe, unwind, and make dinner together. That's pretty great.

My one complaint, so far, is that the recipes are a bit too liberal with "season with salt and pepper to taste." It's become a bit of a running joke in our house as we prepare a meal, noting that nearly every step in the instructions contains that phrase. Oh, what a nit-picker I am.

And, overall, they aren't the super-fanciest of recipes. You end up making chicken and carrots and potatoes a lot, although dressed up nicely so there's pleasant variety. But you don't end up making something you'd find at a two-star Michelin restaurant. How could you, in just 30 minutes, after all? I guess what I'm saying is that I doubt that people who deliberately set out to entertain would think to themselves to choose one of these recipes. But that's not what they're for.

My wife loves to cook, and typically prefers to cook meals from scratch, so at first she was rather uncertain how she'd feel about this service. But I'd say, overall, she's as happy with it as I am.

I guess I'm not certain if it will actually survive, however; I have this feeling that it is doing well in these relatively prosperous times, with unemployment low and people feeling relatively optimistic and willing to spend on the convenience factor.

The real trick will be, if the economy should take a downturn, whether Blue Apron can endure.

But for now, we're quite pleased.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

News "flash"

Sadly, the folks who tend the Jacquie Lawson website haven't yet heard about how old technology is, eventually, abandoned.

Hopefully, they will update their site before too long, because it IS a really nice site.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

A tree grows in the city

This might be the best opening line of a news article that I've read in years:

The trees are trucked to the Transbay Transit Center in the dead of night.

It's from this fascinating piece in the S.F. Chronicle: Transbay Transit Center rooftop turning into 5.4-acre City Park.

I can look down from the window in the kitchen area of my office and see (some of) the trees; specifically, I can see the area marked on the map as "Palm Garden".

I love the variety:

There are Chinese elms from Rainbow in northern San Diego County, and olive trees from Farmington in San Joaquin County. From Gilroy come island oaks, while Escondido was the source for five or six cork oaks. A Columnar Hornbeam came from a nursery outside Portland, while a rare torpedo-shaped Chilean wine palm was tracked down near San Diego.

I was particularly interested in the fact that the trees have been staged at the Valley Crest nursery in Sunol, because I know that nursery well: we drive past it on our way to Sunol Regional Wilderness, one of our favorite East Bay Regional Parks.

And, it's no doubt, the last few times we went out to the park, we were both astonished at the number and the size of the trees in the nursery.

Well, it turns out it's not just the Transbay Center that's been making use of the nursery to prep their trees: A look at Apple’s insanely ambitious tree-planting plans for its new spaceship campus.

In a cluster of East Bay nurseries, Apple has been growing more than 4,600 trees, which are nestled in large, wooden boxes. Some time later this year, Apple’s team of arborists will start shipping these trees two or three at time to Cupertino, where they will be painstakingly planted as part of the broader landscaping plan.

...

“Today, about 20 percent of the space is landscaping, most of it is big asphalt parking lots,” cofounder Steve Jobs said when first presenting the plans to the Cupertino City Council. “We want to completely change this and make 80 percent of it landscaping. And the way we’re going to do this – we’re going to put most of the parking underground. And you can see what we have in mind. Today there are 3,700 trees on the property, we’d like to almost double that.”

For Jobs, who grew up in the region, it was a chance to recapture the lost feel of an area that was once mostly open spaces and fruit orchards before it gave way to low-slung, drab office buildings.

“The landscape design of meadows and woodlands will create an ecologically rich oak savanna reminiscent of the early Santa Clara Valley,” Apple said in its proposal. “It will incorporate both young and mature trees, and native and drought tolerant plants that will thrive in Santa Clara County with minimal water consumption. The increase in permeable surfaces will promote natural drainage and improve water quality in Calabazas Creek. The thoughtful and extensive landscaping will recall Cupertino’s pre-agricultural and agricultural past.”

I don't know when I'll make it down to the Apple campus; it's a LONG way from my house, probably a 2.5 hour drive (each way) during a normal weekday.

But hopefully I'll get the chance, one day.

And, in the meantime, I can't wait to walk through the "mini botanical garden right downtown" when the Transbay Center opens later this summer.