Los Blancos Primos Habana Criollo Rosado

Los Blancos Primos Habana Criollo RosadoIs it just me, or has time been flying by at Concorde speeds the past couple of months? Every time I turn around, it seems like another week has gone by, and the post I just wrote is now an ancient internet relic. And just now I’m realizing I almost didn’t write anything at all this week! (I also notice I seem to have had this Tuesday thing going. You probably thought I planned it that way. I’m willing to let you keep believing that.) So it’s time for a new post. And why not make it a cigar review post?

The cigars I smoked for this review I knew very little about while I was smoking them. The sum of my knowledge regarding these smokes was the “Primos” part of the name, and a sense of gratitude to Tex Cigars for sending them to me. According to some schools of thought, that may make for a more honest review. Of course, I messed all that up by doing a little research. The Primos Habana Criollo Rosado is a bundled cigar put out by Los Blancos. According to the website, the cigar is on the fuller side of medium, and full of subtle nuances that “the discerning palate will enjoy.” Discerning palate? Hey, that’s me! (Isn’t it?) But enough of what the folks in the Los Blancos marketing department think of the cigar, let’s see what I think.

Cigar Stats:
Size: 6 x 52 (toro)
Wrapper: Nicaragua
Binder: Nicaragua
Filler: Honduras, Nicaragua, Peru
Smoking Time: 1 hour 45 minutes
Beverage: Water
Price: ~$2.50 (buy ‘em here)

The Pre-Smoke
As you would expect from the name, the cigar does have a bit of a reddish look to the wrapper. But when I took a closer look, I noticed some interesting things. A couple of small spots with a greenish hue and the darkened imprints of the binder veins in the wrapper. On one cigar, these darkened vein-rubbings kinda looked to me like Kanji. (Which you gotta admit is kind of cool.)

And if you think I’m crazy to liken the darker spots in the cigars wrapper to Kanji, just wait until I tell you about the band. It looks to be full of Masonic symbols! (OK, I admit it, I went to see National Treasure last night, and I’m convinced that an elaborate set of obscure clues will lead me to untold riches, beginning with this cigar band.) Well, almost. Instead of a square forming a ‘V’, you have swords. And then there’s the five hands clasping together in a star shape over a scroll of paper. Hey, this can mean only one thing: Los Blancos are the super secret descendants of the Knights Templar. But before I embark on an tale of international intrigue, I better finish this review.

The scent of the wrapper was a light sweet barnyard that became richer and more chocolatey at the foot. After testing and finding the cigar to be pretty consistently firm, I clipped the cigar with my flamboyantly-red (and increasingly dull) Xikar to take a cold taste. I tasted a rich dark chocolate.

The Burn
In the three cigars I smoked for this review, I found a fairly consistent burn scenario. The cigar starts off burning even, but starts to lose the plot a bit by the latter point of the second third. Generally speaking, one side burns faster toward the end of the second third, and requires a bit of correction. But once corrected, the rest of the cigar burns a bit more evenly.

In two of the three sticks, the draw was irreproachable. As for the third, it started off tighter than I prefer, but loosened into an acceptable draw. Even at it’s tightest, it wasn’t bad enough that for a minute I considered tossing it out. It was only a slight irritation.

The Flavor
The cigars opened up with a earthy, nutty couple of puffs before becoming woodier and spicier in flavor. The spiced didn’t last long though, and shorty I was tasting toffee, caramel and sweet coffee. In one cigar, I noted that it tasted very much like brown sugar. These sweet flavors carried the cigar through the first third.

In the second third the cigar became creamier, and I detected at different intervals more brown sugar, berries, cinnamon and a sweet grain flavor that I’ve been trying to name for a while now. Having toured a brewery or two in my time, I think it reminds me of some of the grains used to make beer, because every time I taste this sweet grain flavor, I immediately think of beer. (Either that, or I need to join AA pretty soon.)

Some of the sweetness and the vegetal and grainy flavors remained in the final third. I also noted some chocolate as the body picked up a bit. But by the final third, I had the distinct impression that the show was over, and smoking the last half of the last third was like sitting in crowded parking lot after the game waiting to get out. Well, that’s probably over stating it a bit. I didn’t find the final third to be unpleasant, it was just obvious that the magic was gone.

Speaking of the body, I’d say that this cigar is pretty solidly medium in body, but I hesitate to say medium-full as shown on the official website. But of course, I’m an intentionally slow smoker. Faster smokers may find that the added speed brings the cigar into the medium-full range.

The Price
Who can complain about a two and a half buck stick? Thomas Marshal (who should be portrayed in a movie by William H. Macy), Woodrow Wilson’s Vice President famously said, “what this country needs is a good five-cent cigar.” With inflation taken into consideration, I think we have a candidate for the title here in the Primos Habana Criollo Rosado! (Did I just give away the verdict?)

The Verdict
As the saying goes, this cigar is a bargain at twice the price. It definitely exceeded my expectations of a bundled cigar, and I can see why Jarrod from Tex Cigars started carrying them. To paraphrase what he told me, he smoked one, and without even knowing what it was or who make it, he knew he had to carry it. Good call, sez I. Anyway, I owe them a big thanks for sending the cigars my way to review, and ask that if you’re interested in trying these out for yourself that you consider buying them from my friends over at Tex Cigars!

And don’t be afraid to let me know what you think of them! From time to time, readers leave mini reviews in the comments, and I welcome that!

Liked It: Yes
Buy It Again: Yes
Recommend It: Yes

The Cigar In Action
Here like one of them new-fangled movin’ picture things is the cigar in action.

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Standercizing: The New Workout Craze

Heed the sage words of Brian!I’m writing this standing up. That’s right, standing up. Why the heck am I doing that, you ask? Well the latest word from the ever changing, constantly surprising medical research community is that standing up may be every bit as important in determining the size of your waist line as regular exercise. Seriously! But don’t take my word for it, here’s an except of the stunning revelation:

“In most cases, exercise alone, according to a team of scientists at the University of Missouri, isn’t enough to take off those added pounds. The problem, they say, is that all the stuff we’ve heard the last few years about weight control left one key factor out of the equation. When we sit, the researchers found, the enzymes that are responsible for burning fat just shut down… [In tests] After the animals remained seated for several hours, ‘the enzyme was suppressed down to 10 percent of normal,’ Hamilton said. ‘It’s just virtually shut off.’

That’s right, sitting on your posterior may be why that jelly donut you had in the break room is now taking out a mortgage on a lovely little 4 bedroom, 2 bathroom cellulite ripple on your thighs. (The thighs is one place the subprime mortgage crisis hasn’t reached yet.)

But could losing pounds be as simple as standing around like an angst-filled, high schooler in the mall? I’ve decided to check it out in the days since I read the article. Instead of vegging out in the evening on the couch wasting my time watching crummy television programming, I’ve been standing up, wasting my time watching crummy television programming. And you know what? I have noticed a few subtle differences. To begin with, there’s no convenient place to stand and watch the boob tube in my living room.

After the end of first evening, I noticed my lower back and my neck were aching. That wasn’t terribly surprising. Part of my IT geek union membership involves an aptitude for endurance slouching. (The union better not find out about all this standing and good posture, they may revoke my membership.) More importantly, I slept like a log that night. Petrified wood. We’re talking some seriously awesome sleep. The kind of sleep that makes waking feel like crawling out of a warm, deep, fuzzy hole. The only problem with sleep like that is you gotta wake up sometime. If it weren’t for work, I think I had another four hours in me.

In the following days, I also notice the scale seemed to be reading slightly lower figures than normal. However, I don’t know if I can attribute it to standing or to lack of exercise. Due to a recent case of illness, my work out regimen was temporarily put on hold. And as you probably know with muscles, if you don’t use ‘em you lose ‘em. So it’s a toss up. And it probably doesn’t matter anyway, because a boozy weekend virtually erased any losses in the weight department. In either case, my sleep continued to be great.

Another interesting thing happens when you exercise the erectus ability we inherited from homo erectus. You tend to move around a lot. Before you know it, you be absentmindedly doing little chores that you would normally ignore whilst crashed on the couch. Even if you’re in the zombie-coma state that often accompanies a day spent in front of a computer screen swigging coffee, I noticed that after about 10 or 15 minutes, you kinda wake up and feel a bit more energetic. This also makes sense. I noticed when putting together the stats for my post on the exercise prospects of the Nintendo Wii that my heart rate sitting down was as much as 20 BPM less than it was while standing.

So is standing up the new Atkins Diet? I’m gonna go out on a limb and say no. Though I am trying to come up with an entire line of gimmicky products to sell to gullible people who slavishly follow fad diets. (Got any ideas?) I’m calling these people “Standercizers”. (I’m willing to license the term “Standercize” for a small fee! Hell, I’ll even throw in some neon 80′s leg warmers!) Seriously though, while I don’t see standing up a realistic way of losing weight or gaining fitness, I’m going to keep doing it as long as I keep getting the awesome sleep.

The more important issue here is not whether or not standing will actually make you lose weight. It’s about how incredibly fat and lazy have people have to be to not spend any time standing up during the day. When doctors have to advise you to stand up, much less work out, there’s a problem. (I’m envisioning a gym full of large sweaty people on recumbent exercise bikes here, and it isn’t pleasant!) Stand up people! Wait, don’t just stand, Standercize!

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On Boot-Licking, Name-Dropping And Success

Tom Presenting Brian Autographed Haint PosterIn a recent cigar review, a reader left a comment oozing scorn that accused me of licking the boots of cigar industry insiders and dropping names. You could just feel the pulsing, jealous ire of said reader, as he commanded me to never again review anything but average cigars that are always available, inexpensively priced and widely smoked. If he couldn’t find it or afford it, I shouldn’t smoke it and write about it.

Wow. All I can say is… Awesome! I’ve gotten the blogging world’s equivalent of hate mail! As you probably are well aware, it’s very easy to write things that people don’t care about and don’t read. It’s slightly more difficult to write things that people will read and find pretty good. But to bring somebody to a twitching, teeth-gnashing rage without discussing obvious things like politics and religion (and sometimes the Great Pumpkin), well that just takes skill! To celebrate, I’m going to light up the rarest, most expensive cigar that a person with a famous name handed to me for free. (I’m having trouble coming up with which cigar that’d be, as I don’t actually mingle all that much with people are well known. I guess that RTDA Stradivarius might do the trick. Mmmm… 34 dollar cigar I didn’t pay for…)

Seriously though, I make a point of finding cigars that are either new, or new to me and reviewing them. And when I can get my hands on a pre-release cigar, even better. One of the great things about the cigar industry is that it’s growing. In fact, I’ve heard that the cigar industry is now at around 80% of its size during the boom of 1990′s. New things are coming out all the time, and from completely new cigar manufacturers. Isn’t it useful to be able to read about these cigars before you buy them? I know I search for cigar reviews all the time before pulling the trigger on a “deal” I come across to make sure it’s actually a deal. Also, how are you going to find out about new cigars out there if nobody ever reviews anything new or unusual? Just because you can’t find a cigar right now, doesn’t mean it won’t be in every store in a month or two! And just because a cigar is out of your price range doesn’t mean it’s out of everyone’s price range. (You aren’t everyone, no matter how big your waist size gets!)

As to the name dropping aspect of the tirade, I find that even more surprising. The thing I like the most about the cigar industry (well, after the cigars, that is), is that it’s full of unpretentious, friendly, down-to-earth people, that are very accessible. I mean, how the hell else would I have met so many of them? The heads of cigar companies come to herfs and cigar promotions to meet their customers and talk about their cigars. They mingle, they shake hands, they walk, they talk, they breath… Oh my god, I think they’re people just like you and me! And they’re not behind bullet-proof glass, or surrounded by secret service! If you’re reading this, and you haven’t met a cigar “celebrity” (if that word even applies), I recommend checking out the event calendar at your local brick and mortar. (Or check out this list on Cigar Cylopedia.) They will be there, will you?

So in summary, I’ve met at least a dozen famous cigar people, including such names as Kinky Friedman, Jose Oliva, Lito Gomez, Carlos Torano and Tim Ozgener, by going to cigar events. (I’ve never yet had a cigar celeb travel anywhere just to meet me.) I have a bunch of cigars that I didn’t have to pay for, but will spend hours of my own time to smoke and document for your reference for no reimbursement whatsoever. Please leave your hate mail in the comments below.

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Weekend Realizations

Brian's Random Thoughts: No nutritional value, but tasty!Though I do my very best to avoid it, I found my self thinking this weekend. My wife hadn’t realized I had a free moment to myself, and my mind wandered. And these are the random things that came to mind.

Advertising is sucking the meaning out of our words. I came to this realization as I watched a ridiculous feel-good commercial for some boring product or business. The lyrics to the background music featured the phrase “just another ordinary day miracle“. I’m sorry, but weren’t “miracles” supposed to be rare, amazing occurrences that were difficult, if not impossible to explain using rational or scientific means? I’m sorry, your underdog hockey team winning a prestigious game is not a miracle. It’s just unlikely. And it’s probably the plot for fifty unimaginative sports movies.

I’m seeing this in the cigar world too. At one point, a “premium” cigar would have been a top dollar, high quality cigar, full of rare and well-aged tobacco. Now almost any cigar that’s made by hand with long filler claims the word. So what is a really great cigar to do to distinguish itself in the “premium” forest? The only thing that can be done is to stack up increasingly meaningless words. Hence the new labels “super-premium” and “ultra premium”. If I ever come out with a cigar line, I’m gonna slap “hot-fucking-damn premium cigar” on the label, and outline the words with fire. And since I can’t count on any of those words conveying the desired meaning, I’ll also have a Navy Seal fist-fighting a dragon in front of a massive explosion on the cigar band. (Anybody see the move Idiocracy? I’m totally thinking about it right now.)

If pot is a “gateway drug”, the Nintendo Wii is a gateway activity. Suckered in by the lower price tag and fake scarcity of the Wii, I finally took the plunge and bought one. Holy crap, I love it. It’s the first new game console I’ve purchased in years. And I do mean years. The last brand new console I purchased was a Super Nintendo! I feel a review coming on. But that will have to wait until I’ve given it a good workout. (Or vice versa.)

But it’s dangerous. After a weekend of playing tennis and fishing I’m reminded of when I actually did these things. For real. Outside. And I kinda want to do them again. Its scary to think that around the country there might be chubby, pasty white guys remembering what it was like to be physically active. And emerging from their basements to fish, play baseball and tennis! It been like a zombie movie, only with more mountain dew. That can’t be good for video game sales.

The tasks my wife has for me multiply to fit the my available hours. As I’ve been scaling my weekly work hours down to something that doesn’t make me want to light myself on fire and leap from a freeway overpass, my wife is ramping up the random tasks she expects me to get done. They’re multiplying like guppies unattended. (Or attended. I don’t think presence of an audience makes a difference.) It’s simply not possible to accomplish even half of them, but when I start working on one, she gets excited. She gets a look in her like she’s won an expenses-paid shopping spree. So while I’m trying to complete one task, she’ll rattle off fifteen more that I really must remember to do.

Sound irritating? It is. But the good news is that even she can’t remember all the random chores she comes up with in the heat of the moment. (It really is like blood in the water for a shark.) To maintain sanity, I try to forget them all. The ones I can’t forget are probably the ones that really need doing. Or the ones my wife keeps bringing up. So yeah, the ones that really need doing. I find a similar approach often works in the office. (Use at your own risk.)

It’s been a week since I put up a post. It’s also been a week since I started this post. I really need to get adjusted to the new schedule. This new job is so absorbing that it’s easy to work longer than normal hours. And the convenience of working from home just magnifies that. That’s the danger of working from home: Because you can work anytime, you may just start working all the time!

OK, I’ve got some cigars to smoke, and some reviews to write. And it I think I hear the footsteps of my wife coming heading this way…

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Alabama Mussels Flex, Atlanta Gets All Pruney

Happy Shootin’ DudeWhat do fresh water mussels on the coastal shore of Alabama have to do with Atlanta? The first answer that comes to mind is “who cares?” A slightly more accurate, and possibly less interesting answer is, a lot. Right now the shellfish on the gulf coast of Alabama are lazily soaking a constant flow of three billion gallons of fresh, Georgia drinking water, compliments of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and a very parched, very unwilling state of Georgia. That’s three billion gallons a day.

Still doesn’t add up? Well, the story is that Georgia is going through a record dry spell. The majority of Georgia’s drinking water is held in a huge man-made reservoir named Lake Lanier. What makes things interesting is that Georgia isn’t actually in control of this lake. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is running the show there. And they’ve determined that the endangered Fat Threeridge and Purple Bankclimber mussels on the gulf shore need constant flow of fresh water from the state of Georgia to keep them healthy. To accomplish this, they are draining billions of gallons of water from Lake Lanier, which is already at historic lows. (Don’t ask me exactly how the water is getting all the way down there, the process involves at least three different rivers that are a bit difficult to track on Google maps. There’s an explanation of it in this article on the AJC website.)

Up until today, I was among the ranks of the populace that takes things like watering restrictions and stories about drought with a grain of salt. “Our clean water being dumped by the ton in the sea for snails during a drought? Meh, typical government idiocy,” I thought with a shrug. This isn’t the first dry year I’ve seen in my short history in the area. And since I don’t have any greenery to maintain, the watering restrictions aren’t relevant to me. Every time I turn on the faucet, I get water, no problem. But then I heard that Atlanta has about 150 days worth of water left before people turn on the tap and hear it give a dry sputter. Holy crap! I like drinking water. I tolerate bathing. I’m kind of used to both!

And then I heard something else. While Georgia has instituted a complete ban on outdoor water activities and is asking it’s residents to find ways to reduce consumption, Florida and Alabama is doing nothing. Nothing! It seems they have no official process in place to handle drought conditions. That’s right, people in the regions slurping down billions of Atlanta’s drinking water to keep a handful of Mollusks nicely moist are still out there washing their Cameros and splashing about on their Slip ‘n Slides. Memo from Georgia: Take care of your own damn shellfish!

As if that weren’t bad enough, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has recently admitted to a colossal screw-up. In the early days of the drought, they drained off too much water. Way too much water. Billions of gallons of water. Officially, a faulty gauge is being blamed for a loss of two feet of water from the lake, though the truth of the matter is that local residents repeatedly warned them, and the Corps ignored the warnings.

Unbelievable, huh? What if I told you the story isn’t finished? No way! You say. Way, sez I. Apparently the state of Georgia has taken the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to court to get them to stop pissing away our water. That’s right. This very moment countless gallons are still coursing their way toward ungrateful slimy critters in shells. And those stupid mussels too. (I kid, I kid! I couldn’t help myself! I like Florida. And Alabama… well, hey!) And you know how rebellious us Southerners can be (I guess I’m guilty by proximity), there’s even talk about seizing control of the dam on the lake from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Damn, all this writing is making me thirsty. I guess its time to stockpile bottled water.

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Ancient Nazis and Random Swastika Buildings

Crazy Swastika-Shaped Navy BaseYou may have heard about it by now, but it looks like Atlanta is the secret home to a former Nazi S.S. Agent. Man, just when Hollywood seems to finally be abandoning the very, very tired Nazi-as-arch-villain plot, this happens! Seriously, does anybody else throw up their hands when the secret bad guy in a movie or a TV show turn out to be a really, really old Nazi? Are we that short on plausible villains?

But I digress. 85-year old Paul Henss is said to have been a former guard at a concentration camp, and a trainer of vicious attack/guard dogs and dog handlers. Apparently when he filled out his immigration papers back in 1955, he conveniently forgot to mention his former evil employer. (He has the memory of a politician!) In the video footage I’ve seen, he denies that he had any knowledge of the massacres taking place with his assistance.

The issue being debated now is whether or not to deport Henss back to Germany. It’s a tough call. The guy has lived here for 52 years, and up until now has never been anything but a normal citizen. It’s also possible that he really didn’t do anything intentionally evil as a 19 year old guard. As Henss himself stated, the even the Pope was part of the Hitler youth. It wasn’t exactly something you could avoid back in the day. And well, he’s just old and his poor wife is devastated. The deportation process just might kill him, her or both.

On the other hand, he did lie on his immigration papers. And it’s just as likely he’s at least bending the facts a bit now when he defends what his service entailed. If he really was directly, and knowingly involved with any atrocities, he deserves no sympathy. And it’s not as though he’s being brought up on charges (at least not yet), he’s just being sent home. What do you think?

What I really want to know is how they managed to track down Henss after all these years. As a Law and Order: Criminal Intent junkie, I really want to see the detective work. Heck, I’ll even let Hollywood run with this one, last, secret Nazi story just to find out. (I promise not to throw my hands up in the hair!) Because apparently, even Frau Henss had no idea about his dubious past.

In the process of reading up on this unusual story, I came across something even crazier. And, as you know, I have a weak spot for crazy stuff. It seems that there is a swastika-shaped US Navy base in Coronado, California. Seriously! And get this, the building was built in the sixties! Yep, well after the swastika was firmly established as a symbol of evil in the western world.

Apparently because the design is only visible from the air, it wasn’t deemed to be a problem when they discovered what one hopes was just an unfortunate coincidence. (You can see what it looks like from street level in this picture-happy post.) And it probably would have continued to not be a problem, if it wasn’t for those pesky Google Earth/Maps kids. Now that the secret is out, there are plans in place to alter the buildings to remove the swastika resemblance.

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1 Pound of Beans + 15 Hours = A Month Of Joe

Toddy Coffee Maker In ActionI just spent fifteen hours making a pot of coffee. That really doesn’t sound like something anyone should brag about, does it? Unless maybe you’re waiting in line to hop on the short bus. No, as you’ve probably guessed, I didn’t spend the last fifteen hours waving jazz-hands in the air yelling “coffee’s brewin’! coffee’s brewin’!” while pouring thimbles of water on coffee grounds. Quite the contrary. In that period of time I watched a movie, smoked a couple of cigars, slept, scanned a few websites and even forgot to shower. Not a lot of coffee-related activity, you’ll notice.

At this point, you must be intrigued. “Why on earth haven’t you taken a shower yet? And what sort of coffee takes fifteen hours to brew?” You must be asking. Ignoring the first question (‘cuz that’s none of your beeswax), it isn’t the coffee that’s particularly special. It’s an interesting Starbucks blend named Arabian Mocha Sanani that I selected because it’s extra bold and happens to be a variety I haven’t tried before.

The special bit is the brewing method. I cold brewed a pound of coffee. That’s right, I brewed an entire pound of coffee. All at once. In a big white bucket with cold, filtered water.

Essentially this is what I did:

  1. Add water to bucket.
  2. Add coffee to bucket.
  3. Repeat until all the coffee is in the bucket, or the bucket is full. Don’t pour coffee or water on floor or counter. (My wife’s addition to the instructions.)
  4. Wait 12 hours. (I always mess this one up, both because it’s easy to do and because waiting longer results in more potent coffee.)
  5. Pop the cork in the bottom of the bucket and drain tasty dark nectar into a carafe.

Sounds simple, huh? And because I’m withholding information, it probably sounds decadent and wasteful. “One whole pound of coffee in one shot,” you think. “Dear god, Brian, that makes my venti-froo-froo-frappucino look cheap!” And while I think nothing lights a $20 cigar quite like a fifty-dollar bill, what I’ve actually made here is the ultimate lazy cheapskate’s coffee. (And I was kidding about the fifty. We all know Benjamin burns better than Grant.)

I’ll explain. What this process produces is a coffee concentrate, not something you want to drink straight. A cup of this stuff is a express train to Heart Explosion City, with a single stop in the twin cities of Diarrheaville and Yack City. It’s not a train you want to ride. Anyway! What you have at the end of this twelve plus hour process is enough coffee concentrate for around a month’s worth of coffee drinking. (Your results may vary, of course).

A big selling point of brewing coffee this way is that it’s less wasteful than your traditional drip coffee pot. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve brewed an entire pot of coffee only to let the drain drink half the pot. You make this coffee one cup at a time. Which means that you don’t make anything you won’t be drinking. Immediately, the caffeine elite will point out that there are special funnel-shaped brewing cones that will allow you to make a cup at a time also. I know, I have one of those too. They’re OK, but kind of a hassle. (And of course, there’s also those spendy “pod” coffee makers out there.) But the main difference here is the smoothness of the coffee.

The biggest selling point, and the reason I originally bought this “Toddy” coffee maker, is it makes incredibly smooth, low-acid coffee without the need of a chemistry set and without sacrificing the flavor of the coffee. I went through an annoying period of time last year where my stomach was constantly in an uproar about everything and anything I ate or drank. Suspecting the culprit might be strongly acidic coffee, I went in search of an alternative. I tried my dad’s secret trick of sprinkling a little bit of salt on top of your coffee grounds just before brewing them, and unsurprisingly I wound up with salty coffee. And then finally I tracked down the Toddy Coffee Maker, which I’d heard rumors about for a while. And it helped. It didn’t fix the problem, but it helped. (It turns out I wasn’t the coffee, and it wasn’t food allergies. I was eating too much fiber. Yes, you can overdo it. My doctor still thinks I’m nuts.)

And I’ve used it ever since. It’s convenient, the coffee’s smooth and tasty, and you can even drink it when you’re hung over. If you’re looking for an alternative to your normal cup of joe, or you have digestive issues, I’d recommend picking one of these up. (Alternately, Toddy sells pre-made concentrate at their online store, so you can try the result out before you buy it.) I still have a soft spot in my heart for my French press and for Americanos, but the Toddy is hard to beat when it comes to convenience.

The only real drawback to the Toddy is that you will have to buy new filters from time to time. They are reusable, but eventually the little fibrous discs get gunked up and stop working. They aren’t that expensive (you can get two of them for about four dollars), but I’d really prefer to have a permanent filter. Because they’re specialized filters, I do have some concern that should the company eventually go out of business, I’ll be stuck with a coffee maker I can’t use. For now that doesn’t appear to be a likely, as they’ve received a lot of major press coverage, and are sold at the Seattle’s Best Coffee shop in my local Border’s. And at $37.50 for the whole system, if I’ve probably already gotten my money’s worth out of it!

Oh yes, and another thing, I wasn’t paid or bribed to write this review. (Though I did try to see if I could get some swag or coffee if I wrote a review for them. No dice. Hey, you can’t blame me for tryin’!) I just want them to continue to do well so I can keep buying my coffee filters!

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Jury Duty: Pauly Shore Not Included

Happy Shootin’ DudeIf my wife was less organized, there might have been a warrant out for my arrest today. On Monday I was sitting in the office doing the things I do for money and my phone rang. It was my wife with some bad news. “Hey, you have jury duty, remember? You need to call this number after 5:00 PM for instructions,” she said and gave me the number. This seriously couldn’t come at the worst time. I’m juggling two jobs, two blogs and trying to beat a business paperwork deadline at the same time. And I think I might be coming down with a cold. And that’s really gonna make my next cigar review difficult.

Crap. Not only do I not have time to watch a bitter couple slug it out in divorce proceedings or listen to a irresponsible booze hound trying to weasel out of a DUI, I don’t have time to do anything about it. So I was told at the juror check in desk. If I had been on top of things, I could have written in for a deferment.

So I spent the morning weighing my options. I’m not 70 or older and I didn’t bring a wig and a walker with me. Looking around, I don’t see any walkers or people wearing gray wigs, so that’s out. I’m not pregnant, and as much fun as that’d be to fake, I’m not committed enough to shave the goatee to pull it off. No kids either, though don’t people make up kids all the time for tax purposes? I wonder how they do that. (That might come in handy now and then again at tax time. Fake kids: the gift that keeps on giving.) OK, short of pleading with the judge, should I get selected as a juror, I’m stuck here in the jury pool stable, crossing my fingers, and waiting on the roll of some mysterious computerized dice.

At that point, the question became, can I get the entire room to participate in a highly coreographed song and dance routine? Looking around I figured my odds were fifty-fifty. I might make it as far as croud surfing while singing the chorus of Cuban Pete before an angry group of potential jurors give me the beating they’ve wanted to give Pauly Shore for well over a decade. The “chick-chicky boom” would be the sounds of peoples sensible shoes digging into my ribs at high velocity. The odds were better than even that I’d deserve it for that.

So that pretty much left me blogging on my crackberry, feeling irritable and drinking coffee. Speaking of irritability and coffee, I have one big beef with this jury duty thing. I had to pay for coffee while I was there. We’re not talking about fifty cents here, we’re talking Starbucks rates. A buck fifty for a cup of dark water? Gas station quality at best, and none of the froo-froo additives? C’mon! The least you can do is provide us with some caffeine so we can stay awake for all this nonsense. Newsflash, some of us don’t function well at 8 AM without some joe. (For me it’s a lot like being in a different time zone.)

If your going to deprive us of our ability to earn our living for the day, you can at least set up a coffee pot in that huge room I like to call the “juror stable”. Am I really asking too much? Don’t you just hate it when you help someone out and are forced to pay expenses that arise from the effort? “Thanks for showing up! Coffee? Yes, we have some I can sell you!” It’s kind of like asking your friends to come over to help you move, and then when everybody’s worn out and hungry from moving your crap all day, you sell them pizza and beer. With a steep mark-up.

And while we’re discussing things that irritate Brian, here’s another pet peeve. We were informed that we’re not allowed to make or receive phone calls in the juror stable. That means that the ringers should be turned off. And if that weren’t completely obvious, they told us that they should be. No excuses. Of course within 30 seconds of the announcement several phones rang back-to-back at full volume. Within ten minutes the lady behind me answered the phone to say “I can’t talk right now” and proceeded have a short conversation anyway. People, if you really can’t talk, press the damn button that sends the call to voicemail. Don’t answer it, because that means you can talk. It’s not a crime to let a call go to voicemail! You’re paying for it, use it. People will understand! This sort of brainlessness isn’t limited to the action-packed world of jury selection, I’ve seen (well, heard) the same brilliance in meetings and in movie theaters. Is it too late to implement an IQ test as part of the requirements of getting a cellphone?

And for the love of God, when a phone rings, do something about it. Either answer it or send it to voicemail. Please, please do something to make that obnoxious noise go away. Don’t just sit there staring at the phone, trying to puzzling out where it’s coming from (“Hmm… Is the 541 area code Tuscaloosa? That reminds me I should call Bob…”) while the ringer blares Barbie Girl. Worse still, do not dance to that ringtone you foolishly paid four bucks to download. We don’t want to hear it, we don’t want to see you jam, make it go away, or we’ll make the phone go away. I won’t tell you where, but I can promise you’ll spend a lot more time standing in the future.

Let me tell you, the end of the day could not come soon enough. The good news is that by 3 PM, my civic duty had been fulfilled, and I walked out of the court house a free man, with a slight case of caffeine withdrawal, a headache and cigar in my teeth. But I was happy. I paid good money for this unexpected afternoon of freedom. It cost me eight hours of pay. But I was off the grid, and I was going to make the most of it.

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No, It Wasn’t As Good For Me As It Was For You

Happy Shootin’ DudeSunday afternoon I took a what I thought would be a quick break from my on-the-side I.T. consulting gig to pick my wife up from the grocery store. I didn’t want to be gone too long, because I had plenty of work to do and not a great deal of time to get it done in. So I rushed out to the car, hopped in and started driving away without even bothering to light up my customary short-trip Sancho Panza cigarillo. I didn’t get five feet from my parking spot before I felt it. My vehicle was waddling. Yep, shaking it’s hind-quarters like it was a giant, 6-cylinder fiberglass duck.

Some of you have probably already guessed what’s wrong. But my mind was elsewhere. I checked the dash for the emergency break light. It wasn’t lit. But to be sure, I engaged the emergency break and then released it. I drive a few more feet, and nope, that wasn’t it. My vehicle is still wiggling its butt like the driveway was a catwalk. So I try putting it back in park and then putting it back in drive. A few more feet. Nope, more waddling.

Then a scary thought occurs to me. I might have run over something and somehow got it caught between the tire and the car’s body. It could even now be tearing healthy chunks out of the side of my car. (For that thought alone, I’m adding the “crackpot theories” tag to this post.) My car is no beauty, but it’s no red-neck body-by-Bondo affront to the car gods either. And I’d like to keep it nondescriptly normal.

As I walk around the car, I breathe a sigh of relief. No car chunks on the ground. And then I see the culprit: A flat tire. I was literally driving on the rim of the back passenger-side wheel. I’ve changed flats before. In fact I changed a flat on a large rental van in a gravel parking lot in the rain once. No kidding. But I’ve never changed any flat without a jack before, so I went the easy route. I called Triple A (AAA), and asked a neighbor to pick up my wife.

With nothing better to do, I fire up 5 Vegas Gold and wait for the AAA guy to show up. And if there’s one thing to learn from this little anecdote, it’s that you should smoke a cigar while you’re waiting for AAA. You will have the time to finish it! No matter what they say, it will be at least an hour before they show. Don’t sweat it, smoke it. (Another one for the Quotable Brian!) True to form, about five minutes after I finish that mild, but tasty little robusto, the guy drives up.

Fast forward ahead about an hour and a half. I’m at a local shop having the tire looked at. It doesn’t take long for me to spot a little metallic glint near the outward edge of the tread. I’d been nailed. It had to have been the sloppy bastards working on the condo construction next door. When I drove back from the herf the night before, I must have picked up a little present they left in the middle of the road. So the tire guy starts extracting the nail. Inch by inch. And it just keeps coming! And suddenly, it’s threaded! I hadn’t been nailed, I’d been screwed! And despite the evidence to the contrary (the cigar), I wasn’t enjoying this!

But actually, it all worked out as well as you could ask. Everything was sorted out by 7 that evening. Hey, if you’re going to get screwed, what better time than Saturday night? And what better place than at home? And can you beat thirty bucks to cover all the costs? Sure, the rubber broke, but we were able to plug it up just fine before any real damage was caused. OK, I’m out of innuendos (or in-your-end-o’s as a friend of mine used to say), so I’ll leave it there before this post just gets creepy. How was your weekend?

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Toilets And The Crap We Put Up With

Happy Shootin’ DudeDon’t ask me why. For some reason, I’ve been thinking a lot about toilets. I might have something to do with the leaky, finicky Kohler crapper in our master bathroom. (The linked model looks like ours, but probably isn’t the same one.) The one that sounds like a balloon slowly loosing air. Or a snake in a permanent state of hiss. Of course, this means it has a broken part.

Broken parts are understandable and an acceptable part of doing business with daily-use machinery. Things break, we fix them and move on. But what isn’t acceptable is a defective product right out of the box. Ladies and gentleman, I’m convinced that 99% of us are shelling out $300 plus dollars on defective products. That’s right, I’m saying that porcelain throne in the tucked away in the corner of your home isn’t worth the cheeks that press up against it or the matter left behind in it.

“What on earth are you talking about, Brian?” you ask. Well, let’s look at it this way. What is a toilet’s primary function? Is it to look nice? No. When was the last time you invited somebody into your bathroom to have a look at your crap cruiser? A water bowl for the dog? No. (Well, maybe, I guess it depends on the number of cars you have on blocks in the front yard.) A place to read the paper? No. No the sole purpose of is of a toilet is to make crap disappear.

“And isn’t that what it does?” Yes and no. Slim, spritely vegetarians may live their entire life and never comprehend the true failure of the western world’s toilets the way hefty steak-and-potatoes people do. What I’m saying is that the our toilets are marvelous when it comes to whisking away bird droppings, but absolute failures when it comes to processing the end result of a hearty meal.

“But it’s better than using an outhouse!” That may be so, but better than bad does not equal good. But wait, is it actually better? Sure it’s indoors and climate controlled, and you’re not likely to get a splinter, but when was the last time an outhouse backed up? Unless the countryside is flooding, you’re not going to have a problem until it’s time to dig another hole. And no matter how bad that breakfast burrito was, you’re not going to smell up half the house when you’re ridding yourself of it.

So here’s what needs to be done. For ages Asia has had some fantastic all-in-one johns; virtual spas for the backside. I understand the cultural reluctance to embrace something like that, to be honest, they kind of creep me out too. So that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about improving the existing toilet of the western world so it reliably does its job. No toilet should ever again clog up. Ever. If it does, it’s broken and in need of repair or replacement. Think of the garbage disposal. It has a very similar function, does it plug up every other time you use it? And when it does gunk up and stop working, it’s a good sign that it’s in need of repair. That’s what I’m talking about.

I know there’s a push for less water consumption in toilets, and I don’t think this is a limiting factor. Manufacturers need to look at other options. Motors. Pumps. Grinders. Pressure, suction and vacuums. Guppies with frickin’ laser beams attached to their heads. The answer is out there, and it’s time we had a decent toilet! For what we pay, we deserve to be able to push the lever, let it go (without holding it down!) and see the ghost of dinner past swept on it’s way. Every single time. Our bathroom floors and cabinets should be free of the filthy toilet-crutch, the plunger. I should be able to dump an entire bag of potting soil in the bowl hit the lever and see a sparkling bowl 30 seconds later. Damn it, it’s time we had an actual toilet!

(I bet you’re wishing I was still talking about cigars right about now, huh?)

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