October 29, 2004

Cube

On the misguided recommendation of a local, I went to Cube for dinner last night. The restaurant is in one of a gaggle of new boutique hotels that have sprung up in the Old Montreal/Downtown area. As soon as I walked in, I knew I should have turned around and walked out -- the place was loud and chock full of women who looked like they didn't eat at all. But it was already late and I was starving, so I stuck it out.

The meal and service were both instantly forgetable, although they did have a decent selection of interesting wines by the glass, including an excellent white Sicilian meritage. But the highlight of the meal was learning that the restaurant had been hoisted on its own hipster petard.

The place had clearly been Designed. After sitting at my table for a while, I noticed that a strip of wood that ran down the center of the table, which at first appeared to be an inlay, was actually removable. You could lift this patchwork of dark wooden squares, each about 1"x1", straight out of the table.

When I asked the waiter about this, he explained the tables actually had a light embedded inside of them. The light was designed to shine up through small holes in between the wooden squares and create, in his words, "a nice ambience". He went on to explain that many of the plates in the restaurant had been designed to take advantage of this light -- transparent or translucent affairs that would reflect and refract the light around the food.

Unfortunately, no one had bothered to make sure that the batteries that powered the lights could last an entire dinner service. Immediately after opening, the wait staff discovered they were changing batteries in the tables twice or three times a night. Eventually it descended into finger pointing (Waiter A: "You were supposed to change the battery!" Waiter B: "No, I did it yesterday, it's your turn!!" Customer: "Excuse me, could I get something to eat?"). So, now the tables at Cube are dark.

What's the moral of this story? I'm not sure. But spare yourself a trip to Cube if you are ever in Montreal.

Posted by pmk at 7:07 PM | Comments (3)

October 28, 2004

Name Confusion

The name of my consulting firm has, from time to time, engendered confusion with both would-be and existing customers. Typically, though, folks figure out that we don't, actually walk dogs.

So, imagine my surprise when I received the following email in my sales inbox this evening:


    Subject: Lenny

    Dear sirs:

    I have a Jack Russell cross Staffordshire terrier that is lovely but very energetic and I have been busy working at home recently , which has meant he's starting to run round the walls.

    can we arrange something , perhaps one of your guys would be able to pop round and give him a half hour on the beach a couple of times a week.

    I am in Suffolk , England.... do you have local branches? ... does 'we deliver' mean you come out or would I have to get him to you:?

    with kind thanks, in advance.

    Theo

Update: I couldn't stop myself from replying:


    Subject: lenny

    Theo:

    While we have branches in Chicago and Tokyo, we do not yet have any
    offices in Great Britain. Also, sadly we do not offer dog walking
    services, but rather enterprise systems consultation.

    I apologize that we cannot be of more help in this matter.

    My best to you and Lenny,
    --
    Patrick Michael Kane
    We Also Walk Dogs

Posted by pmk at 7:27 PM | Comments (0)

October 27, 2004

You Know You're In Canada When...

Fancy flower arrangements feature deer antlers.

I may go back to get a picture, since I didn't have my .jp cameraphone with me at the time.

Posted by pmk at 11:47 AM | Comments (3)

October 21, 2004

Travel Access Point

When I travel, I almost always take my Vonage box with me. Since I almost always stay at properties that have broadband, this gives me US dialtone in my room, wherever I happen to be, and I can avoid paying egregious hotel long distance charges.

Most hotels only offer a single Ethernet jack, though. Since I'd like to be able to make phone calls and use the Internet from my laptop at the same time, this presents a bit of a problem. Until now, I've lugged around a Linksys or Netgear wireless router/access point, which I would plug into the hotel-provided Ethernet jack. This worked great, but meant that I was lugging around a fairly large piece of gear everywhere I went. I already carry enough crap around with me, thank you very much.

There have been a number of so-called "travel" access points (APs) introduced over the past few months. All of them only have a single wired Ethernet port, though, which means I could use the Internet wirelessly from my laptop, but couldn't hook up my Vonage box

Enter the, ahem, WiFlyer. It has two Ethernet ports and a modem, should I ever be trapped in a hotel without broadband. The device is about the size of an old Palm Pilot, but slightly thicker.

I received the unit yesterday, and despite a few problems, am happy with it. It is the perfect size -- it will fit easily in the little "random cables and crap" mesh bag that I carry in my backpack. It uses a wall wart for power, but the wart is tiny and only takes up a single jack in a powerstrip.

WiFi range seems good -- easily covering my decent-sized hotel room. Vonage seems happy -- I've been making and receiving phone calls without a problem.

Small complaints include the fact that to switch from using dialup to broadband for Internet access you have to swap the unit's firmware. This is a fairly simple process, but since a power failure during a firmware swap could turn the AP into an expensive little brick, this does not seem like the best setup. The manufacturer promises a single firmware image for both dialup and broadband access by the end of the year.

I would also love it if the AP could be used to bridge a wireless Ethernet connection to a wired device. Sometimes, I'll find myself without in-room Internet access, but with plenty of open WiFi networks around. If the device could bridge a wireless Ethernet connection to a wired device, as some travel APs can, it would let me connect my Vonage box to that network. The WiFlyer would be especially suited for this, since it supports an external antenna. With a a cantenna and a hotel room with a view, you're almost always going to be able to find connectivity.



WiFlyer w/ wall wart and cell phone for scale

Posted by pmk at 9:22 AM | Comments (7)

October 20, 2004

Toque!

I had dinner last night at Toque! (I wish my folks would have included some mandatory punctuation in my name. Maybe Patrick^), thanks to a generous birthday gift from colleageus (thanks guys!). The restaurant has been around for a almost a decade, but recently moved into a larger space. The facade of the restaurant is a bright, cheery alien flowerpot of some kind. The interior has a clubby feel to it: red and magenta tones in both the plush carpet and the wall hangings, well-spaced tables and translucent white/pink flattened oval lamps hanging from the ceiling like little UFOs. The center of the dining room is dominated by a glass-encased wine cellar -- servers trod up and down the stairs inside this fishbowl, surrounded by bottles of wine floating atop brushed metal poles. One of the waiters told me that all of the wines on display were not on the wine list and bottles are rotated every three weeks, since both the temperature and the vertical position of the bottle is bad for the wine.

While Toque's (sorry, Toque!'s just looks too weird) menu does offer ala carte options, their six course blind tasting menu seemed the way to go. Although I don't typically eat any meat besides fish, I figured I would let the kitchen cook for me, without letting my weird culinary proclivities get in the way. They also offer optional wine pairings with the tasting menu, which I had.

The amuse was a sardine, served with "fresh cream cheese" (which turned out to be, amusingly enough, craime freche -- apparently the language laws, which made Schwartz's Jewish Deli into Chez Schwartz Charcuterie Hébraïque de Montréal, have an unconscious impact on reverse translation as well) and a red pepper reduction. Over the past several years, the fresh sardine (and other small, oily fish) have made a welcome return to many restaurant menus. The sardine was good, but not incredible. The accompaniments seemed detached from the fish; tasty on their own, but not really complimenting the sardine. The French white it was served with, opening up minerality in the wine that was hidden before

The first course, razor clam on parsley root puree with a clam juice foam (yes, you can apparently foam clam juice), was a standout. The razor calm, apparently a bit of an exotic food in land-locked Montreal, was fresh and cooked perfectly -- each bite gave the slightest resistance before succumbing with a burst of the sea. The parsley root puree, an incredibly comforting root vegetable with a hint of vanilla, played off the Alsatian Viognier well.

The next course, seared duck foie gras, was, in many respects, a traditional composition. The liver was served with flavors of apples: apple sauce, minced stewed apple and dried apple slices, along with matsutake mushrooms. The matsutake is a highly prized mushroom in Japan. Small boxes of fresh matsutake will routinely retail for over $100. The mushrooms have been cultivated in the Pacific Northwest, both in the US and Canada, as well. While the matsutake served with the fois gras lacked the full heady fragrance of a truly great Japanese matsutake, it was a welcome surprise, especially since I will miss the majority of the matsutake season in Japan.

The next course was a single pork ravioli, served in a bit of pork broth and diced wild mushroom. Pork and I are not the best of friends, so I did not enjoy this course as much as I probably should have.

The main course was venison, from Quebec, served with lobster mushrooms, caramelized onions and a foie emulsion. It was a generous portion -- easily more meat than I've eaten in years -- cooked rare to avoid toughening the naturally lean meat. It was not gamey at all; it was mostly a textural foil for the venison reduction, mushrooms and onions.

For the cheese course, Toque! offered a choice of 5 Quebecois cheeses and 1 French. I tried all 5 local cheeses and was impressed by a local cheddar (a semi-hard cheese with a great tang) and a hard blue. None of the local cheeses could compete on an international stage, but they were all very enjoyable.

For dessert, two small, local apples, one filled with creme brulee and enhulled in caramel, the second filled with crumble. The apples were accompanied by an incredibly light thyme-flavored milk ice. Each spoonful dissolved on the tongue almost instantly, It was an excellent end to a very enjoyable meal.

The service was attentive and correct, without being overbearing. I had some minor nits with the wine program and service, but nothing too terrible.

The biggest compliment I can pay Toque is that I'll be going back next Tuesday on my own dime. The GM promised me a totally different menu, so maybe I'll do a quick followup.

Posted by pmk at 5:10 PM | Comments (1)

October 15, 2004

Adobe Strikes Back

I got a call from a graphic designer friend this week who, for reasons that will become clear, wishes to remain anonymous. At my embarrassed friend's request, I'll refer to him as "Tasty Biscuit".

Tasty Biscuit was working on a "blah-a-day" calendar project in Adobe InDesign. 365+ separate pages of layout, each page craftily tweaked for maximum visual impact. His copy of InDesign, however, was not exactly legal. He'd gotten it from a former employee who had gotten it from who knows where.

When Tasty Biscuit finally finished his weeks of work on the calendar, he shipped it off to the printer. Hours later, the printer called to tell him that his copy of InDesign refused to open the file. Since the file opened fine on his computer, he decided to try on another PC in the office, that had a different version of InDesign on it.

That machine wouldn't open the file either. He compared the versions of the two pieces of software against each other and discovered, to his surprise, that the version he had been working in was a beta copy.

When he googled for the problem, he discovered a universe of people with the same problem.

As it turns out, Adobe is well aware that software from their beta programs regularly gets pirated and passed around. So, before they released InDesign 2.0, they made sure that the final version would not open files created in the betas. Official beta testers with files they needed access to could send them to Adobe for conversion. Everyone else was out of luck.

Imagine the terror of having put weeks of work into something, only to find out that you were going to have to recreate the whole thing from scratch, since your software was not properly licensed. Tasty Biscuit lucked out and was able to convert the file into PDF and convince the printer to print from that, but I have a sneaking suspicion that he'll be spending some time in the near future making sure that all of his software is legitimate.

I have mixed feelings about this sort of "copy protection". On one hand, if more companies took approaches like this, it would probably encourage businesses to get compliant on their licenses very quickly. Not being able to exchange data with your clients and vendors is a pretty effective motivater. Adobe has used the user's personal and professional network as a way to sell more software.

On the other hand, if you follow this approach to its logical conclusion, an application that thinks it has been pirated should just nuke your PC to punish you for your misbehavior.

It must be interesting to be the tech support guy at Adobe who fields the sobbing phone calls from designers with files that are essentially useless.

Posted by pmk at 11:19 AM | Comments (1)

October 10, 2004

Finished.

Literally and figuratively. Ran the marathon much slower than I would have liked, but just crossing the finish line felt good.

Best marathon moment: Joking with my brother, who I ran it together with, around mile 9 that "Maybe we should have trained for this thing..." and seeing the horrified looks from the runners around us.

Update:

Now featuring before and after photos:

Posted by pmk at 4:07 PM | Comments (3)