Oktoberfest 2010 – The Best Birthday Layover Ever

Enjoying a Beer at Oktoberfest 2010
Enjoying a Beer at the 200th Annual Oktoberfest

6 years ago for my birthday, Emily and I visited our good friend Charles in München for Oktoberfest. It was a ton of fun with beer to be had, arms to be linked and songs to be sung.

This year, en route to my birthday trip to Italy, we planned our layover to be in München, where we once again met up with Charles.

After meeting us at baggage claim with a Lebkuchen for Emily and a Glückskäfer with chocolate for me, Charles informed us that there was a 40 minute express train to Oktoberfest from the airport and we’d have just enough time to leave the airport, enjoy a beer or two and get back in time for our flight to Pisa. Continue reading “Oktoberfest 2010 – The Best Birthday Layover Ever”

Festa dell’Uva in Impruneta: The Annual Grape Festival

Float with a huge bottle of Chainti
A gigantic bottle of Chianti on a float

Every year since 1926, Impruneta, a small town in the heart of the Chianti area of Tuscany, has it’s annual “Festa dell’Uva” or “Grape Festival” which I can only think to compare to the opening ceremonies of the Olympics.

Before our trip, I poked around online to find out about any events that would be going on during our visit and found a random site that listed the festival, which from the looks of it seemed like just a fun thing to do on a Sunday. I envisioned something like an Italian farmer’s market, with perhaps a heavy focus on grapes. Boy was I in for a surprise…

As we followed a rural side road off of already rural SR 222, we noticed that the sides of the narrow back country twisty road were starting to fill with parked cars. There were no signs for any event, or any indication of what was up ahead.

After we found parking, scaled a grassy hill and took a foot path into town, we hopped a fence and found ourselves smack dab in the middle of the event. Continue reading “Festa dell’Uva in Impruneta: The Annual Grape Festival”

NavDroyd for Android Review

Driving Directions on NavDroyd

After reviewing a bunch of options for “offline” GPS use on my Android phone, I settled on NavDroyd, a paid, albeit powerful looking application that didn’t need to be online for anything.

Using just the built-in GPS and offline Open Street Map data that you download and update from their servers for free from within the app, you can do all the normal GPS functions like look for points of interest, get driving directions, have it read out turn by turn directions while showing you on the map, etc…

There wasn’t a good way to test how it would work in Italy, so I downloaded all the maps and data for Italy (under 100MB in their compressed form), played around, simulated drives, and got comfortable with the interface.

Continue reading “NavDroyd for Android Review”

Offline Maps for Android

Offline Maps and Navigation for Android
Offline Navigation with NavDroyd

After August’s 2 week trip to Africa and not having net access with my Incredible (running Android), I wanted to find a solution that let me pull maps and have them cached offline. With my upcoming trip to Italy, now seems like a good time to test a solution.

There are a ton of paid options, but I’m looking for a free offline map option. The best one so far seems to be MyDroid which is currently downloading maps onto my phone.

At first glance, the maps seem great, but there’s no search or routing options available. Seems good for finding yourself on a map and navigating the old school way, but not much more.

MyDroyd is their companion product that does some routing, but is limited to certain published cities. Boo.

NavDroyd, another companion product that is currently €4.99, that seems to offer turn-by-turn, offline, driving and walking directions. This might be the win.

Oddly, the apps don’t share the same map data, so you have to store multiple copies of maps for apps from the same company – and the map files are BIG! (Italy is 68MB alone)

After I return from Italy, I’ll post on how it all worked out. In the mean time, any suggestions for alternate apps?

Vegan Black Bean Burgers

Vegan Black Bean Burger
Vegan Black Bean Burger

As summer gives way to fall and the hot nights of August give way to the cooler evenings of September, I found myself not quite ready to let go of the Summer BBQ. Thank goodness we live in sunny California and can BBQ almost all year round!

With that in mind, we cracked open Veganomicon and searched for a delicious BBQ like recipe and found an easy enough looking recipe for Black Bean Burgers. As usual, we modified the recipe a bit and ended up with fresh off the grill burgers and two extra to toss in the freezer for next time.

Even though the recipe says that the yield is 6, I say it’s more like 3 or 4.

I also made a few modifications as follows:

  1. Grill ’em: The recipe says to cook them in a heavy pan with oil. Instead, I grilled the burgers after putting some olive oil on each side.
  2. Forget the buns: Even though burgers are usually done on a bun, there’s something delicious and healthy about serving a burger on a bed of greens. Emily sauteed up some spinach (briefly as we still wanted some leafy structure) in lemon juice, olive oil, garlic (or “gahlic” as we say, being from Massachusetts and all) and fresh ground black pepper.

Ingredients:

  • 1 can (15oz) of black beans (You can also use 2 cups of cooked black beans) drained and rinsed
  • 1/2 cup vital wheat gluten
  • 1/2 cup plain whole wheat bread crumbs (we used crushed corn flakes, just cuz)
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 tbsp ketchup (or tomato paste)
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped cilantro (or freezer cilantro)
  • 2 cloves garlic (or 2 cubes of freezer garlic)
  • 1/2 small onion (be brave! we used a whole one)
  • 3 tbsp olive oil

Prep:

  1. Pre-heat (and clean) your grill
  2. Mash the beans up with a fork in a mixing bowl so that they aren’t any whole beans left, but you still have some half beans in the mix.
  3. Add all the rest of the ingredients in and mix with a fork. If you’re using fresh garlic, grate it with a micro plane. If you have a box grater, grate the onion using the larger slots on the grater. We just threw the onion into our Magic Bullet and let it do the heavy lifting.
  4. Kneed the “dough” with your hands for a minute or two until everything is well combined.
  5. Divide the dough in half and in half again so you have four balls of dough
  6. Pat each piece into a burger patty the size and shape of your dreams
  7. Pour the olive oil in a small flat plate and touch each side of the burger in the oil
  8. Put some fresh oil on the grill, and cook the burgers. I like to turn them 90° for cross hatch grill lines, but that’s just for style. Flip and continue cooking on the other side. If you undercook the burgers, they’ll be soft and gooey in the middle which is not a pleasant texture. The oil gives you the freedom to cook these a little longer to make sure you don’t get that.
  9. Serve and plate however you like! Buns, beds of greens, etc…

Some Tips:

  • A clean grill is a happy grill. Clean before and after use and always apply some fresh oil before cooking. This prevents food from sticking and makes everything you grill all the more nomnom.
  • Veganomicon specifically says NOT to manipulate the mix until ALL the ingredients are in there. Heed this warning. Mixing before everything is in (oops) results in super doughy, tack, gluteny, tough “dough” that you don’t want. I made this mistake as I kept forgetting ingredients.
  • Experiment with other ingredients. Next time we make these, I plan to throw some corn in, shredded carrot, maybe even potato and rice! The most perfect vegan burger ever is from The Counter and I seek to get close to their mastery.

In the end, we had a delicious and healthy dinner paired with a glass bottle of our favorite True Red from Fenestra Winery.

How to Remove Someone from a Skype Chat

Ever created a group chat and then had to remove someone from the conversation?

Sure, you can just start a new chat and leave them out of the invite, but now you have two chat histories, two chat groups with the same topic, and more.

Turns out that Skype has some hidden commands that you can use ala IRC.

Specifically, to boot someone from a group chat, type:

/kickban skypeusername

This will remove the specified skyper user from the group chat and prevent them from getting back in. Please note that you need to type their username, not their display name. You can find their username by hovering over their display name in the contact list or viewing their profile.

Everyone in the chat – including the person you just booted – will see a message that you have ejected and banned said user, so it’s not a secret, but it does the job.

Restarting the Dock on OS X

Everyone once in a while things go awry for me on OS X.

Symptoms often include hot corners suddenly no longer working, and spaces not switching when I switch applications.

Turns out the restarting your dock can fix this in a jiffy.

I’m a command line kind of guy, so open up terminal and type this in to restart the dock:

killall -KILL Dock

It looks pretty scary (“Kill! KILL!”), but all it’s doing is telling OS X to kill the Dock process for you, which it will auto-restart. Your dock will disappear for a moment and then come back in working order.

Google Analytics Custom Variable Tracking Code Using The _gaq Global Object

Google Analytics Custom Variable Tracking Code
Google Analytics

This evening I was experimenting with adding custom variables to my Google Analytics tracking code, but when I checked Google’s custom variable documentation, it didn’t match the analytics code that I had.

Google Analytics changes their code for you to copy and paste quite often, seemingly every time I setup a new site to track.

The latest version of the analytics code that I was given used a new format, notably:

var _gaq = _gaq || [];
 _gaq.push(['_setAccount', 'youridhere']);
 _gaq.push(['_trackPageview']);
(function() {
 var ga = document.createElement('script');
 ga.type = 'text/javascript';
 ga.async = true;
 ga.src = ('https:' == document.location.protocol ? 'https://ssl' :
          'http://www') + '.google-analytics.com/ga.js';
 var s = document.getElementsByTagName('script')[0];
 s.parentNode.insertBefore(ga, s);
 })();

The docs say to put the _setCustomVar code in before pageTracker._trackPageview() … but I no longer have that older style setup.

After a bit of digging around, I came up with a solution from documentation on the _gaq Global Object. The _setCustomVar code can be added as follows:

_gaq.push(['_setCustomVar', index, name, value, opt_scope]);

Just put this after the last push line up top and you’re good to go.

Hopefully Google Analytics will update their docs to reflect the newer code style using _gaq, but in the mean time, this is working for me.

Delicious Vegan Pancake Recipe

Vegan Pancakes! (Not my photo, though)

One of our most favorite weekend breakfast foods for entertaining is pancakes and we’ve looked high and low for a killer vegan recipe.

In our pre-vegan days, our hands down favorite was Alton Brown’s “instant” pancake recipe and we always had home “instant” mix on hand in the pantry.

Today, we had the family over for brunch and I looked high and low for a winning recipe that vegans and non-vegans alike would enjoy.

Most vegan pancake recipes call for egg substitutes that just don’t cut it or end up creating runny pancakes.

Enter Food.com with an egg free, dairy free, simple to make, all vegan, all delicious pancake recipe.

I made a few slight modifications and ended up with family pleasing vegan pancakes.

Change #1: Use coconut oil instead of vegetable oil. Remember you need to warm the jar in warm water and then pour out the amount you need.

Change #2: Add chocolate chips. We use Ghiradelli semi-sweet chocolate chips.

Change #3: We used almond milk instead of soy milk, just cuz.

So, without further ado, here’s the revised recipe that’ll feed 2-3 adults.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 tablespoons baking powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup almond milk
  • 2 tablespoons coconut oil
  • 1 cup chocolate chips

Cooking them is easy, too:

  1. Preheat a non stick pan over medium heat.
  2. Combine the 4 dry ingredients (flour, sugar, baking powder, salt) in a bowl.
  3. Add the almond milk and coconut oil to your mixture.
  4. Mix until smooth.
  5. Now the pan should be ready for your batter, so pour four pancakes into the pan.
  6. As soon as you are done pouring the batter, put chocolate chips on each pancake, press in with finger and smooth batter over the top of the chips so they’re INSIDE.
  7. Flip [carefully] when you see bubbles in the middle of the pancake, or if the edges are looking stiffened.
  8. Repeat until the batter is gone, and try not to eat them all while you’re cooking them.

Enjoy!

Streaming Music from OS X to Android

AndroidIt seems like streaming music from iTunes, or any desktop app of sorts, to my android phone over my local WiFi network shouldn’t be anything new different or difficult, but I can’t seem to find a great way to do it.

If you know of a good option, please comment below. When I figure it out, I’ll update this post, too. 🙂

September 4, 2010 Updates:

From Diane Patterson: “It is to be hoped after iOS 4.2 is released that AirPlay will solve this problem: http://www.apple.com/itunes/airplay/