Archive for 2009

New Texas License Plates Are Ugly

New 2009 Texas License Plate

Fugly. The other choices. I would’ve chosen the current one we have, My Texas, or the Traditional Texas. We’re not some foofoo flowery pansy state. We’re talking Texas here. Get a manly plate design. Not this piece of crap. Can’t believe it was the overwhelming favorite. I plan on getting a custom plate next time with random letters. Blue letters on plain white background.

Texas Personalized License Plate

Here’s a link to Texas plates through the years.

Edit: After reading more about it,  I too think that it’s a ploy to get more people to spend on customized plates. I remember reading about custom plate penetration rates awhile back. Looks like Texas had the lowest rate (0.56%). Bastards are trying to raise it. I guess I’ll chime in and blame it on Rick Perry as well :-p.

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More Google Voice Goodies - Voicemail Forwarding

Ever been one of those without AT&T’s visual voicemail? Think the voicemail transcribing and redirection based on rules are cool features of Google voice? Have a calling plan with a GSM based provider? Now you can forward your voicemails to Google Voice and have all those cool features. From your phone’s keypad enter the following and press the call button:

*61*123456789# (when you don’t pick up)
*62*123456789# (when you decline the call)
*67*123456789# (when you’re on another call already)

where 123456789 is your 10 digit GV number.

To cancel:

##61#
##62#
##67#

Found it here. (Dunno if the pingback worked…)

Additional GSM code links:

http://www.geckobeach.com/cellular/secrets/gsmcodes.php

http://web.telia.com/~u47904776/gsmkode.htm

T-Mobile commands:

http://www.maxoutput.com/djdj/t-mobile_commands.html

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Interesting Google Voice Musings

My friend Andrew and I were testing out the backend of Google voice today. Here are a few of our findings. (And please let me know if any of this is incorrect.)

  • SMS Relay - GV is smart somewhat smart. If Party A txts Party B’s GV number from a non-GV number that’s associated with a GV number, it will show up in Party B’s phone/GV as Party A’s GV number. If Party A releases the association, then the txt appears from one of google’s 406 area code numbers.
    • Basically, all txts from others without a GV association will have a 406 area code and not be known to you — unsolicited behavior. It will however append the body of the message with the caller id of the sender. (Clever)
    • But, if you send a txt from the GV web interface to a number, any response will have the proper sender ID. Because GV now has a hook since you solicited the txt. If you send a txt from the GV web interface, any reply may have the same area code as the recipient, but it will not be the same number. In this case, the receiver’s name will be appended onto the body of the msg — solicited behavior.
    • The above two bullet points apply to numbers that you’ve never allowed GV to know about. I believe if there is past sms or calling activity to a number from within the GV website, it will remember that and use that caller ID instead of the 406 area coded number.
    • One more point. The reason everything is still routed through a Google owned number is so that they can keep a log of all your conversations. Only txts that originate from somewhere they do not know about (from your cell phone to another cell phone) will not be recorded.
  • Calling the 406 number - (i’m not as sure on this) everyone has a 406 number associated with their GV that redirects the call or txt to the number that was chosen when you sign up for GV. It acts as an intermediary that intercepts all incoming transmissions and sends them to the GV number or the other numbers associated with the GV.
    • Just like the SMS relay, if you use a phone that is associated with a GV and you call the 406 number, it will go to that person’s cell.
    • HOWEVER, if your physical phone number is deleted (not just unchecked from being forwarded) in GV, you will get a “this call cannot be completed as dialed” message and will not be able to connect.
  • Calling a number from within the GV website will ring your phone of choice first, then call the number you wish to reach.
  • When calling a GV number via cell phone, your call timer starts immediately when you hear the first ring tone. This is a clue to tell you the number is being routed through GV because your actual cell/provider starts charging the moment routing begins.

A couple of other notables:

  • Calls made through the GV website that connect to your cell phone still cost you money even though it’s an incoming call. This is unfortunately the way US cell service works right now. In Europe, incoming calls are free (caller pays).
  • There is no mechanism to call from your computer. You must have a phone associated that you can use as a terminal.

Edited 2009-08-07 09:56 CST: Added more info on the SMS caller ID relay.

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The NBA sucks shit.

I am not a Brad Miller fan at all, but this is clearly a flagrant foul that the league says stands as called on the floor. Bullshit. Stu Jackson and David Stern, you are both fucking idiots. The NBA can do no wrong eh? Dwight Howard gets suspended a game for an elbow, but this is allowed? Just bullshit. Rondo was clearly going for his head and not the ball. Such inconsistent calls. The NBA has no integrity.

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Adventures in Grilling #3: Mussels, Chicken, Lamb, and Vegs

For Good Friday, I decided to have some friends over and cook up a fun meal. The menu was as follows:

  • Tuscan-Style Artichokes
  • Cast Iron Mussels
  • Teriyaki Chicken Wings and Drums
  • Garlic Roasted Potatoes on Rosemary Skewers
  • Grilled Asparagus
  • Double Cut Lamb Chops and Cucumber sauce

Shopping

We bought most of the ingredients at Costco. The mussels came in 5# sacks at the special kiosks they set out Fridays and Saturdays. I asked the lady about it and typically the seafood is flown in on Friday and most of it is sold out by Saturday mid-afternoon. Pretty neat, and makes me feel that their stuff is really fresh. I took a look at the lot tag on the mussels and it said that they were harvested the day before which only impressed me further. The wings we got from the fridge section and they were in 6 packs ready to be frozen. I got both a pack of wings and drumsticks thinking we’d need both. Lamb was the usual racks. Got three of em.

Preperation

Back at home, I took the mussels out of the bag and put them in a mixing bowl and put a moistened towel over it and placed a bag of ice over that. You never want to submerge shellfish in water as that will kill them very quickly. While prepping the chicken, I learned that the wing actually contains three sections — the tip, winglet and drumlet. I prepped them for marinating by separating them into the wings and drums and discarding the tips. The marinade recipe came from the Weber book and sat in the fridge for about 1.5hours.  The rest of the prep work was fairly straight forward and consisted of cleaning and mixing together other marinades.

Cooking/Grilling

For the mussels, I fired up the gas burner and put the cast iron skillet on it to heat up on high for about 5 min. After giving the mussels a quick rinse under water, I put a decent portion in a wok and tossed in chopped garlic, kosher salt and a good portion of oil. Tossed it a couple of times and put it on the smoking hot skillet. I then used the wok to cover the skillet and let the mussels cook and steam in their own juices. About 2-3 min later, they were opened up and the flavors succulently concentrated. IMO this was the best dish of the night. I got this idea from the cast iron mussels appetizer that was at a local Italian restaurant. They served it on a cast iron plate similar to a fajita plate. The chicken and potatoes I handed over to a friend to cook on the grill while I was doing the 3 batches of mussels. Later, I cooked up the lamb which were double cut portions. First time around they were undercooked (which is better than overcooked as you can always cook more but not cook less). And underseasoned. So the second round, I added some kosher salt and turned up the heat. After a couple of minutes I opened the lid and saw a flame on the catch pan underneath. Apparently the drippings from previous sessions combined with the fat of the lamb caused a fire to spew forth. I finished the lamb and poured the salt over the fire to put it out. Lesson learned — don’t neglect the catch pan. It should be cleaned every 5 times or so. Totally my fault.

Evaluation

As I said earlier, the mussels were probably my favorite. I suspect my guests liked it the most too. Next time I’ll have to find a way to keep the skillet clean for the subsequent batches as it was difficult to clean the juices that burned onto the pan and keep it from adding a stronger and stronger char to the next batches. I might add shallots next time and hit it with a shot of clarified butter just as i’m taking it off the pan to impart some more flavor.

The artichokes were a good idea, however it turned out to be undercooked and tougher than I wanted. I think parboiling then marinating then grilling would be a better route next time.

The chicken marinade was great and it turned out really well. No complaints here. The potatoes however, might benefit from a par boiling to make them moister or perhaps cooking at a lower temperature next time.

The lamb meat itself was good, but I spoiled it by not salting it enough. Probably going to utilize a meat thermometer next time until I can get the doneness down by feeling the meat (like I can with a steak). Gonna stay away from marinades and just go with garlic, salt, pepper, rosemary/other herb. And maybe try a leg of lamb instead.

Asparagus was ruined by a bad recipe. Way too much acidity. The reviews all gave it 5. Perhaps they have different tastes.

When I was planning out the menu, I didn’t want to just have everything be salt/pepper, but after the meal, I think it would’ve been a good way to go as each ingredient still has it’s own flavor that the salt and pepper merely enhance instead of homoginize. All in all, i’d give myself a C+/B- rating as nothing was burned or overcooked.

Postscript:

I added a link in the food reference section on mussels. The way I cooked the mussels is referred to as La Cagouille style. A very versatile ingredient with lots of flavor.

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Adventures in Grilling #2: PIZZA!

Kristine invited a few of her friends over and we pre-decided on grilling pizzas. Dough from scratch and toppings mostly from scratch as well.

I learned that the best way to keep the grates and the interior of the grill box clean is to use a pre-cooking burnoff. You turn the burners all the way up and let it burn for 10-15min. The elevated temperatures will turn the drippings from last time into ash, both on the deflectors (flavorizer bars in Weber speak) and the grates. Then you can use your steel brush and brush away the ash. For stubborn stuff, it’s recommended to dip it in water before scrubbing to get some steam clean action.

Back to the pies: I placed the 14″? stone directly on the grates and let the whole thing preheat to an indicated 500°F, basically as high as it would go. The pizzas were made with a basic flour, sugar, and instant yeast recipe that rested for a few hours. We ended up making 12 pizzas total, including 2 dessert ones and 2 to-go orders. They were approximately 8-9″ in diameter. Thin crust. One thing that helped a lot was using cornmeal on the peel to keep the dough from sticking. Another thing is to occassionally brush burnt cabonized leftovers off of the pizza stone. Otherwise you get some unwanted burnt bits on the bottom of the crust. Each pie took about 5 min, depending on how many toppings were on it. They turned out well. Grilling the pizzas outdoors also keeps the A/C bill down during the hot summer months where you don’t want to run an oven at full blast for 2 hours. Pictures to come soon.

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New Adventures in Grilling #1

For someone who eats because they love food, it’s strange that I didn’t have a food category (or perhaps entry?) until today.

Recently got my first grill, a Weber Genesis with uncoated cast iron grates. I hope this thing will last me the next decade at least. I was at Home Depot looking for work items as I do almost every week and the grill was on display. I walked up to get a closer look as I’ve been contemplating a gas grill for a few weeks now. It’s discounted by $180 so I decide to jump on it. I bring it back and get it assembled that night and then a friend tells me he has a 10% off coupon from Lowes. Home Depot honors competitor coupons, so I gave it a try to get another 10% off. I was pleasant and amicable with the returns manager and she said “You know I’m not supposed to do this but I’ll let it slide this time”, and I told her “thanks!” And walked away with another $55 in my pocket. Nice friend eh? I owe him some grilled ribeye in the future.

So last Sunday, I fired it up for the first time and cooked the following:

  • 2 ribeyes, one marinated (a la Houston’s Hawaiian ribeye, thanks to the girlfriend’s marinating skills) and one with salt and pepper.
  • 12 80/20 ground chuck hamburger patties
  • 4 boudin links, most likely boudin blanc
  • 48 ounces of marinated flank steak
  • 6 fresh bratuwurst links (Central Market)

A lot for a first grilling. The grill’s ability to heat evenly and the built in thermometer helped immensely. After grilling on several other gas grills through the years where it was difficult to maintain the heat, encountering hot/cool-spot problems, having the burner not stay lit, this was great! Granted, it is the first time it’s been fired up, but from what I’ve read about Weber’s — their longevity and great customer support, I’m expecting it to continue down this path.

I’ve been trying to read up on grilling and Webers and came across a few forums and weblogs. You can see the weblog links in the food reference entry. Following in the style that one of them uses, I’m going to not so discretely copy the numerical format. I hope to improve my food (and general) photography skills as well. There are some really nice photos there.

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