Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs in Apples. CC Entertailion, flickr

Steve Jobs was a great man who invented some amazing devices that have changed the way we interact with technology. Today we’ve changed our look, (inspired by boingboing.net) to a retro mac theme in his memory. I never knew Jobs, and never thought I’d get the chance, but he was an inspiring public speaker, an innovator, and a businessman not afraid to make insanely great products. His genius, his commitment to greatness, near perfection and thinking different, left a mark on global technology and industrial design that will far outlast his mortality.

Thanks, Steve. Rest in Peace.

Stay Hungry.

Mount Vernon: An Ode to Dedicated Trails

A couple weeks ago Danielle and I joined a couple of my new classmates on a ride out to Mount Vernon. The beautiful trail winds its way along the Potomac from the Washington estate past Alexandria, where it is briefly interrupted, DCA , the National Cemetery, and Fort Meyers, terminating finally in Rosslyn at the Key Bridge. Almost all of it is off-street trail much like what I was used to in Minneapolis. In general it is quite a nice trail; smooth pavement, except for some boardwalks here and there, beautiful scenery (can’t get much better than the monuments), even a place where you can get so close to landing aircrafts that you can almost touch them. With all that, though, the trail lacks some surprising features I’ve seen other places.

Most prominently in Lake Park, Korea, exist speed-segregated trails. All the way around the lake were walking paths, “fast walking” or running paths, and bike or really fast running paths. Even when the paths converged, they did so only in that there was no physical barrier between the three; occasionally the walking and running paths would join forces. In a park as busy as Lake Park was, it was hard to imagine not having these trails separated out. Even during the slow periods there were dozens of people sharing the path with you, after all it was the biggest, and only real outdoor recreation area for a city of a million. Sure there were other bike paths, but they almost all pass through the park at some point, and if you are terrified of the traffic on the streets (as I should have been) Lake Park is the longest stretch of uninterrupted trail. The segregated trails exist back home, too, in Minneapolis.

Though not so rigid as the Ilsanite park, the Minneapolitan Grand Rounds Scenic Byway is almost all split into “wheeled traffic” and “biped” traffic. There are signs around the lakeshore bike trails telling walkers, “If you don’t have wheels under your feet, you’re on the wrong trail.” It’s a friendly convenience both to bikers and pedestrians. The trails are supposed to be speed limited to 10mph, but even at that speed, crashing into a walker or runner who can’t hear you shout “left side!” is going to do some damage to someone. Thus the separation allows bikers to only worry about slow pokes weaving around the bikeway in a carelessly unpredictable manner with iPods loudly obstructing their hearing, and there is almost always an opportunity to safely pass such nuisance bikers.

On the Vernon trail there is no segregation, a perfect union where all ambulation is created equal, with no special treatment or exclusion. Want to walk very slowly down the middle of the path with headphones on so you can’t hear people telling you to get out of your way? Go for it! This is America, you have that right. And so, I make my first argument in favor of segregation, but only as it applies to speed and mode of travel. It is not as though there is no space for a second two-way trail for walkers. Throughout most of the Mt. Vernon Trail there is plenty of room for separate trails, and the congestion certainly merits it. As an example of the benefits, I present my experience riding this weekend.

For some reason Saturday was the day everyone decided to wander aimlessly down the trail without really paying attention to their surroundings. I was coming up quickly behind a runner who had headphones on and shouted “left side!” from a good distance. Her reaction was to stop in her tracks and say, “where, what side!?” I’m not sure how she could be confused by “left side.” A reasonable person should assume the person saying it is behind (answering the “where”), and coming up on the left side (answering the “what side”) and then get to the right, or at least not be spooked by the biker whizzing past. To her credit, at least she heard me, dozens of others think it is perfectly acceptable to throw in the headphones and tune everything out, as the old Atmosphere line goes, “put my headphones on for this world I ignore.”

Bikers can shout “left side” at these people all we want but they won’t hear us, and sometimes will get spooked, and if they do something dangerous (like stop, or move to the left instead of the right) someone could get hurt. The point is, with segregated trails this shouldn’t happen, or is at least limited to the few points where trails merge or biped traffic meandering onto the wrong trail.

Washington and Arlington are great places to bike, but especially during busy times and around tourist attractions (which are everywhere in this town) the trails can become overly congested and therefore inconvenient and dangerous. I suspect it will be a long time before it happens, but I hope there are plans for expanding the trails around here to separate the wheeled from the non-wheeled.

Bring on the Good Beers

Andre Francisco at Just a Rough Draft (and recently at POGO as well) and I could drone on for hours lamenting a common and serious problem with fine dining establishments: the beer list.

Andre Francisco and I could drone on for hours lamenting a common and serious problem with fine dining establishments: the beer list. It is all too common for restaurants to have extensive wine lists, and servers knowledgable about which wines will pair well with which dishes, but have only rancid, tasteless mass market brews like Heineken, Budweiser and Miller Genuine Draft in bottles at ridiculous prices. Beer remains for many restaurants a cheaper, less sophisticated drink, when there are many beers crafted with just as much care and sophistication as a vinter puts into an expensive wine.

To illustrate, Danielle and I lunched at Ristorante Piccolo in Georgetown as part of DC’s Restaurant Week. The food was delicious, and all the beverages expensive. House Wine was $8, and while there were several pages of reds, whites, rosés and champagnes, there were eleven beers on the entire menu. Among them were two Italian lagers, Miller Lite, and a healthy offering from InBev and SABMiller, all between $6-8 for a bottle. This is absurd. It’s like selling boxed wine for $6 a glass, and Three Buck Chuck for $8; no wine drinker would tolerate that. At Piccolo they even misspell the name of their best beer, Sam Adams as “Sam Adam,” it may seem like a small detail, but it’s but one in a collection of double standards and gourmet oversights.

More than the selection of beer, the presentation at these restaurants is also upsetting. While wines at these restaurants are typically delivered in the correct glass, beers are delivered in a pint glass, the same one they serve in college bars and greasy spoons. Here again, a double standard. For wine it is important for the glass to facilitate the wine’s flavor, a glass acceptable for wine drinkers; for beer, just some glass.

That tweet from Andre above pretty much sums up this whole post. Imagine a server dumping wine from the bottle into a glass, aerating it all over the place, maybe even dribbling a little on the table cloth, and in the wrong glass to boot. They would be gone faster than you could say, “Careful, man, there’s a beverage here!” Yet beer gets treated like Coca-Cola: something people drink when they don’t like, or can’t drink wine.

A tripel should be served in a goblet. They look fancy because they are fancy. As BeerAdvocate’s Alström Bros say, the Tripel is “a pretty damn fascinating style of beer to say the least. If crafted and served correctly, it is a beverage of great awe.” They are brewed in a specific kind of monastery in Belgium called a “Trappist,” and by law only Trappists may brew it. Typically are extraordinarily alcoholic—think 10%—because they are brewed with three times (get it, triple?) the amount of malt normally used in an ale.

For all the same reasons why its important to serve wine properly it is also important to serve beer properly. The average drinker might not tell the difference between an India Pale Ale and an Extra Pale Ale, but an informed palate will be able to distinguish not just between the different types, but what makes one brewery’s IPA better than others. Every part of the brew process influences the flavor of the beer, and not just the ingredients, but also how they are used. The shape of the glass, and the temperature it is served at can sometimes greatly alter a beer’s flavor, just like wine.

This is not to say there are not places to get a good brew. There are, in many cities around the world, excellent restaurants with gourmet food and beers to match. For DC Beer Week (the same week as Restaurant Week) Andre, Danielle and I ventured out to Big Hunt in Dupont Circle and enjoyed half price bombers. We also went to Churchkey where we all shared a pint of Heavy Seas’s Siren Noire, a stout that tastes like the best hot chocolate I’ve ever had and the best bourbon I’ve yet to have, folded gently into an amazingly heavy and smooth stout. A must try for anyone jumping into the specialty beer foray.

No, this is just to say, that with the explosion of craft brewing across this country there are more and more people going to restaurants these days who know the difference between good and bad beers. Given the price difference, there may actually be more of us than people who can tell from wines, and it’s time restaurants gave the beer drinkers a decent option. Brewers know this, beer drinkers know it, it’s time the chefs started to pay attention. So, bring on the good beer.