Thursday, February 26, 2009

Five Best Electronics

Here is a short list for the best electronics out there today. I'm thinking more home office users when I put this list together, so don't be PO ed if you're a network engineer or something.

Number 5.

The iPhone 3G
Few phones get it right. iPhone happens to have had a little time with their first generation and nailed it with the 3G. Its sleek style has been cloned in the Blackberry Storm, the LG Dare and the Samsung Omnia (which are decent phones for Verizon users). No one is near the place though that Apple is in offering applications (15,000 to date). One future pitfall though will be Apple's Nazi restrictions to application creation, which might affect its versatility. Not only that, but they have become very proprietary lately (not going to a universal charger). That kind of business philosophy may hinder their sales as competition flattens out across the world.

Number 4.

The Sonos music system
This one gets a D- for cost, but makes up with an A++ for everything else. I've talked about this one in previous posts, so 'nough said.

Number 3

The Epson Workforce 600 AIO wireless printer
Set up is a flash, WiFi networking doesn't let you down and the versatility is great. It is not clunky like many HP printers and the wireless capabilities are rated good to excellent.

Number 2

The Nuvi 265WT by Garmin.
This is the best all around GPS navigator available on the market. It isn't very pricey, but has a nice wide screen and turn by turn directions. Verizon's VZ navigator should just quit. For the price of a one year subscription you have this little dandy paid for and the best part is you don't have to look at your little phone screen. While number 5 on this list does include GPS, it doesn't have the great interface that Garmin does. Trust me, if you ever want to go geocaching or get up to date traffic with auto recalculating directions, this is it. Not only does it have the traffic updates, but it has blue tooth, songs and even picture capabilities. It doesn't get much better than this one without significantly increasing in price.

Number 1

The Linksys WRT 160N Wireless Router
You want something that has the power to get it done? Well look no further than this beauty. Want NAS (networked attached storage)? Well utilize its built in USB port you can power one, or with a USB hub, many external hard drives. Now you and your significant other don't have to worry about which files you stored on the laptop or on your desktop. Oh, and by the way, this router is backwards convertible, meaning you can run your old WiFi (G and B) network devices on it, no problems. When you are ready you can begin getting other things that can fully take advantage of the speed and versatility of an "N" type network.

Number 1A

OK, I lied. There are more than five on this list. The last one is a bonus, hence I call it 1A. It is the Logitech Harmony One Remote. Its the best fix for the five remotes that you have laying around your house. Its also miles beyond the universal remote that you have to find the code for your TV and half the time it doesn't work. Check it out on-line for more information, but it is super sweet and is programmed using your computer. For the ultimate is universal experiences, check out the entire line of Logitech Harmony remotes. I guarantee you won't ever worry about that remote boat ever again. Why is it so great? Well just use your computer to program what you use to watch a DVD with and your remote does the rest. Ready to watch, press the "watch DVD" button on the LCD screen and your TV will turn on, change to the correct input; your DVD player will turn on and open the tray; your sound system will change to the correct component; all you have to do is physically put the DVD in, close the tray and away you go. Plus, if you have an XBox this works with that too. XBox might have made the list too, but CNET did such a good job with it's latest Prizefight where it pitted XBox against PS3. Check it out if you have the time.

That about sums it up. Given today's economy, I wouldn't suggest going out and purchasing everything on this list because the total would be somewhere around $1650 and that's utilizing the saving power of Amazon.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Wine Party

My beautiful bride and I are planning a wine party for this weekend and picked up the wine tonight. Its a unique party in that we are serving Minnesota wines exclusively. So, I thought I might give you a virtual experience.

The picture shows all the varieties that we will offer for the tasting. I'll go through the wines individually as well as some background on the vineyards they come from.

From top to bottom:
  1. The first sampling is a cranberry wine from Winehaven. As the name indicates it is fruit wine, made with Wisconsin cranberries and is one of the winery's most popular bottles.
  2. The second is a red from Cannon River Winery, called GoGo Red. Its a fun variety crafted from Sabrevois and Frontenac (true MN grapes). It was apparently inspired by Grandma "GoGo" who grew up through the depression, WWII and always had great stories to share. Its a sweet red (no doubt inspired by Grandma) and has won multiple international wine awards
  3. Third in the photo is another from Cannon River; an unusual variety known as Sogn Blanc. Its named after the valley that produces the grape Edelweiss. This is another Minnesota grape that's hardy enough to live through the frigid winters and thrives in the sweltering heat of the summers. Sogn Blanc is also a winner of multiple international wine awards.
  4. Fourth in the picture will actually be last in the tasting. It is a port called Hastings Reserve from the Alexis Bailly Vineyard. It is a "ruby" port made from a variety of native Minnesota grapes and aged 2 to 8 years to achieve perfection.
  5. At the bottom left hand side of the picture is our third and final from Cannon River and that is the West 7th wine. I must admit that I was initially attracted only by the name; west 7th has been a landmark in downtown St. Paul for over 100 years. It used to be the trolley way, once housed the classic Schmidt's brewery and many Winter Carnival torchlight parade...not to mention the 7 corners hardware store. This is also the house white for Mancini's Char House which is one of the best Italian steakhouses in the region.
  6. Last, but certainly not least is the Winehaven Honeywine Mead. Otherwise known as honey mead, this wine-ish drink has been served since before Elizabeth held court in England. This is the signature wine of Winehaven and actually the original variety they produced. Winehaven began as a honey farm, which began to dabble in making honey mead. Well, honey mead is such a complex beverage to craft that it makes wine seem easy. It wasn't long before the business expanded into other types of wine. This wine was actually presented to Sweden's King and Queen during their Minnesota visit in 1996. This is definitely a beverage meant for royalty.
Well, if you received an invite to the wine tasting then I hope this will get you excited. If not, I hope that this might inspire you to do your own Minnesota wine themed party. It wasn't difficult at all to plan and there are certainly a variety of wineries to choose from (over 30 in MN, I have heard).

Whether its wine or ice fishing, I encourage you to go try something distinctively Minnesota or wherever you come from. Some of the best things to do are in your own backyard, all you have to do is look for them like you would if you were on vacation. Enjoy your own state for a cheap trip this year!

Lasagna for a crowd

Sit back and loosen those belts for this tummy pleaser.

Primo Lasagna

  • 1 lb sweet Italian sausage
  • 3/4 lb lean ground beef
  • 1/2 cup minced onion (1 small)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 - 28oz can of crushed tomatoes
  • 2 - 6oz cans tomato paste
  • 2 - 6.5oz cans tomato sauce
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 Tbs sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp dried basil
  • 1/2 tsp fennel seeds
  • 1 tsp Italian seasoning
  • 1 Tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
  • 4 Tbs chopped fresh parsley (or 1/2 the amount dried)
  • 12 lasagna noodles
  • 16oz ricotta cheese
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 tsp salt (a divided amount, not from above)
  • 3/4 lb mozzarella cheese, sliced (I recommend getting a real buffalo variety)
  • 3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  1. In a Dutch oven, cook sausage, ground beef, onion and garlic over medium heat until well browned. Stir in crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, tomato sauce, and water. Season with sugar, basil, fennel seeds, Italian seasoning, 1 tablespoon salt, pepper and 2 tablespoons parsley. Simmer, covered for about 1 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally.
  2. Bring a large pot of lightly salted and oiled water to a boil. Cook lasagna noodles according to package directions (for about 10 minutes). Drain noodles, and rinse in cold water. In a mixing bowl, combine ricotta cheese with egg, remaining parsley, and 1/2 teaspoon salt.
  3. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C).
  4. To assemble, spread 1 1/2 cups of meat sauce in the bottom of a 9x13 inch baking dish. Arrange 6 noodles lengthwise over meat sauce. Spread with one half of the ricotta cheese mixture. Top with one third of mozzarella cheese slices. Spoon 1 1/2 cups meat sauce over mozzarella and sprinkle with 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese. Repeat layers, ending with the remaining mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses. Cover with foil; prevent the sticking, either spray foil with cooking spray or try to make sure the foil does not touch the cheese. Go with the former as the later is practically impossible. Also, this fills the pan, so put some foil down beneath the oven rack to catch the spillage.
  5. Bake in preheated oven for 25 minutes. Remove foil and bake an additional 25 minutes. Cool for at least 15 minutes before serving.
Serves 12
Prep time: 30 minutes
Cooking time: 2 hours and 30 minutes
Total time: 3 hours and 15 minutes

Fair Trade Coffee

So while I was trekking the Twin Cities looking for the best coffee houses I kept running into signs advertising for "Fair Trade Coffee." Time to de-mystify that term.

Lets start with a definition of fair trade. Fair trade is an organizational process undertaken by many in the agricultural industry to promote a fair price for raw goods. The general philosophy is to help protect the interests of smaller producers that tend to be marginalized by global companies. Fair trade has grown to become a booming multi-billion dollar industry that grew by 47% year after year (once it caught on that is). Most would argue that success is indicative of the poor times that were experienced by produces prior to organization. While its difficult to surmise what a "fair" price really is in a mostly free market economy, one must admit that fair trade has become something of a marketing phenomenon.

Now lets turn to coffee. Coffee is an agricultural product. As with most ag products, it is raised largely by independent owners and purchased by (in coffee's case) roaster co-ops, speculators, and investors as a commodity. Growing up as a dairy farmer, I can tell you that the economics of supply and demand don't work out very well on a farmer-by-farmer basis. Typically the middle man makes the most money. That could be anyone from a speculator on the New York Mercantile Exchange to Starbucks.

Then, lets combine the two. Fair trade coffee originated with a Dutch company by the name of Max Havelaar Foundation. It was a labeling campaign, meant to enlighten coffee drinkers to the plight of the small time coffee farmer. Well its introduction was of tremendous success, so much so that today, major coffee lines are beginning to carry Fair Trade coffee. Even independent research has shown that fair trade coffee, which seeks to give farmers a negotiated pre-harvest price, has improved the lives of many farm families.

In essence Fair Trade coffee doesn't taste better (necessarily), it isn't better for you, but it may be better for the farmers producing it and that may be a humanitarian effort worth backing.

Ironically, in these hard times one of the first pieces of financial advice is to cut down on consumption (which further depresses markets, leading to a tail spin effect...roughly speaking). One of those items on the cutting board is the $6 Turtle Mocha each morning before work. How do you reconcile that price with poor farmers? The answer is obvious once you know it. The farmers don't get the bulk of that money. In fact, most of that cash is made off of greedy speculation - essentially paper trade. Little if nothing has to do with the actual coffee, the roaster or the Batista that serves it. A lot has to do with selling short and buying long in the commodities trade.

What then is the compromise? How can I look out for my fellow global citizen without breaking the bank? You can certainly look for the fair trade label on products and begin brewing a cup or two of coffee each morning. That will save a ton off the "half-caf, no whip, mocha latte with soy" that essentially is coffee with soy milk and a little cocoa powder. Try it out, you may be surprised how easy it is to get your own self-brewed cup of fantastic coffee.

Now you can ask the question "Is this fair trade?" not for the sake of sounding vogue, but for the sake of helping out a small coffee farmer somewhere in the world.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Twelve Best Coffee Houses in the Twin Cities

After the relative robustness of my last "Twelve Best" I had to delve into the rest of my foodie bliss and review something new. I chose coffee. To some it is a pleasurable distraction and to others it is a second source of life. Well to me its one of the most enjoyable and controversially steeped drinks of the time. It has taken me longer than I thought, but with no further ado, here you go.

I have a friend that roasts and sells his own coffee. His customers often ask if the coffee is free-trade to which he usually responds, "What is free-trade?" Its become the buzz word surrounding coffee, but does anyone really know what free trade is? I'll discuss that and much more as I take a look at the twelve best coffee houses in the Twin Cities.

Before I begin my review let me make a comment. This was a true sacrifice to go around trying coffee at anything from the "hole-in-the-wall" joints to Starbucks, j/k. I encourage you to make your own coffee pilgrimage around the cities. Its a fairly cheep way to see the scene around Minneapolis and St. Paul. Also, this list is not made in order from best to worst. Its just the way I wrote it out. Any of these places are great and they really are the twelve best of the cities.

  1. Black Dog Cafe, located near the St. Paul farmers market is a full cafe offering both wine and beer. First off the coffee was extraordinarily smooth. It had the best aroma I've smelled in quite a while. The only odd thing was that my dark roast was served up in a pint glass. I kept looking down and thinking I was drinking a Guinness very early in the morning. The atmosphere was intriguing. The Black Dog is housed in a renovated warehouse that still had the original wooden beams. This was mixed with WiFi and acrylics painted by local artists. Although if you go the one of the back corners you'll see some paintings heavily steeped in the macabre. The coffeehouse smelled like and aromatic antiques joint. You could see the history of this place, even though the bright colors that the owners have painted it.
  2. Nina's Coffee Cafe: Located in the Cathedral hill area of St.Paul, this coffee house plays upstairs to Garrison Keillor's book store. You'll find an odd collection of miss-matched tables and a good listing of coffee. The brews are solid, meaning they don't skimp on the beans. I think the best part of this place though is buying some coffee, going downstairs and finding a little hole in the book store to hide in for an hour or two. Believe me too, the book store is great at having little spots to snuggle into and read. It reminds me of some old English bookstore, that has so many nooks and crannies that no one really knows where everything is. But, I digress... the coffee is very satisfying here.
  3. Dunn Brothers: Yup, I didn't think I would have a chain in my list either, but golly, this is just a good place. I would recommend them over Caribou or Starbucks any day, any where.
  4. Muddy Water: Come for the atmosphere and the malted mocha...holy cow! You've got to love the half cup mugs glued to the wall. Come here for the people watching atmosphere and you won't be let down. Of course freeWiFi (comes standard with most coffee shops today) and one cool, laid back place.
  5. Bob's Java Hut: Well, if you like to have a strong coffee without the yuppie flair, then this is the place for you. The music is loud and the beans are louder...what does that even mean? Well anyway, not a place to sit and ponder things, but if you need to get energized quick, here you go.
  6. Uncommon Grounds : Toted as one of the sheik-est places to grab a mug of coffee; although here we would refer to it in the proper English as a cup. Great Victorian atmosphere, but don't come here without a loaded wallet. The service is very good, but they try to feel more hip than they are. They should just embrace their classiness and go with it. As far as the coffee goes, its very good.
  7. Coffee News Cafe: This hole in the wall place is located by Macalester college. There was a heavily political, Andy Warhol inspired interior decorating theme. My favorite painting was "W-Mart" referring to Mr. Bush. Though it tried to pull a very hippie vibe, the place only had six drinks on the menu. The house blend was bland with a dull aroma. It was vaguely like drinking coffee, but I don't know what to call it. I was disappointed too that the delicious looking New York style cheesecakes were not made in-house, but rather from a bakery down the road. The hot chocolate was pretty good though. I guess I could sum up my experience by letting you know that the Dunn Brother's down the road was at least twice as busy when I left. I could not find a website for this coffeehouse. Apparently the owners are Luddites...
  8. Gingko Coffeehouse, located in St. Paul along historic Snelling Ave. offers one of the richest bohemian atmospheres around. Taking coffee in house is always best because it offers a chance to start conversations and have aGrande in a house mug. While me and the misses were there a local folk singer pointed us out and sang what he said was the "most romantic song" he had ever heard.
  9. Sister Sludge Coffee Cafe, great mochas and very good service. All the workers there are great. They are close to a few lakes and here is one of the best parts; they are dog friendly. If you go there I suggest the Turtle Mocha.
  10. Jitters, the coffee is pretty good, but the true reason to savor Jitters is the music. Jazz, blues, soul, R&B. Also, one of the best kept secrets is the 99cent comedy hour on Wednesday nights.
  11. Spyhouse Espresso Bar and Gallery, this is a very hipster place where your servers are known as baristas. They have, as the name implies, some neat art on the walls. If you want to feel like a real up and coming try this place out. The only thing is be prepared for a similar kind of attitude in the service.
  12. Urban Bean Coffee Shop is a delightfully sunny place with a vibrant ambiance. The signature drink is the Furley Freak, named after the Don Knott's character in Three's Company. Its a chilled drink that will be both refreshing and energizing. Its a great place to sit back and gets some blogging done. It can be dog friendly and offers free Milk Bones, but in my research I learned that you may be asked to leave if you dog so much as yelps. I have had better coffee elsewhere though.
I hope you will your enjoy your own exploration of the coffeehouses in the Twin Cities. Maybe this list will afford you an easier start in getting great coffee.

Monday, February 23, 2009


One last post on the Music-ie theme. There are tons of places out there for you to look into new music. Of course there are links in Windows Media Player and of course you have the iTunes store with the Genius sidebar, intended to get you to purchase as much music as is possible. Some of the interfaces are quite intelligently done. For example, the Genius feature in iTunes is dedicated to telling you what kind of music is similar to your own and offering it up for your convenience.

With most on line music stores you can listen to snipits of music to see if you like it or not, but wouldn't it be great if there was a place you could explore music? To listen to it before you buy it. To find songs and artists of similar styles and be able to customize your listening and potentially purchasing experience?

Well such a place exists. It is It is a hybrid interent radio, music store experience. It has all the benefits of any online radio station although much more versatile. On Pandora, you create your own stations. Just type in an artist, song or multiple ones of each and you will get a music experience that is tailor made. It has all been made available thanks to the Music Genome Project. Check it out for more details, but essentially they pair up similar kinds of music. So, say you start a Jason Mraz station. Well the kind folks at Pandora will populate it not only with songs by Mraz, but also songs and artists that have a similar sound.

Now comes the hybrid portion of Pandora. While you are listening to Pandora you can "tag" songs or artists that you like. Say for instance you're listening to your Jason Mraz station and you hear Adele singing Cold Shoulder. You like it, so you tag it. That song is then stored for you, allowing you to go back at any time and purchase it either in an MP3 format via Amazon or on the iTunes music store (if you must). The cool thing about the Amazon MP3 store (which I highly recommend if you want to buy music online) is that through Pandora, you can buy all the songs you've taged with one quick stroke of the button.

Oh, one last thing. Systems like Squeezebox and Sonos can play Pandora directly. I don't know if you can use them to tag songs though, but if you could that would be awesome!

Sunday, February 22, 2009


Ok, we have talked about the different types of files, the two types of meta-files and what how listening to either of them varies. The question now, is since we know so much about our options, how do we take advantage of them?

The answer is dBpoweramp. First things first, I'm not sponsored by them or anything. I've just been doing enough research to realize they are likely the most versatile option out there. I have also been using it to create a digital back up of my music collection and to convert it all into a portable file as well.

What's neat about it? Well it is super customizable. So much so that you might want to read carefully at first until you get the hang of using it. Like any piece of software, it can be easy or difficult depending on how much of it you utilize. It connects to virtually every single meta data server available (to pull album art and other CD info) plus it will convert all your music to any codec you want. I've been ripping all my music to FLAC files (which the creater of dBpoweramp suggests to be the best and has the data to back his claim up). One word of advice, if you are going to rip your music to any lossless format, utilize an external hard drive or have a LOT of memory on your computer. There are NAS solutions that are especially made for music. One such type is RipNAS (see photo above). These actually have a CD drive built into them, making ripping music a super easy experience.

What else is cool about dBpoweramp? Well you can convert small amounts of music to various codecs or you can utilize the Batch converter to do multiple files at once. They also offer a CD burning tool as well, but I haven't looked into that.

Once you have gone over to the lossless ripping, you can lay your dusty collection of CDs to Rest In Peace, back on the shelf that is. No need to get them down. No worries about loosing the integrity of your collection through overuse. Plus, no need to listen to sub-par music again.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Music Players

Now that you are better informed on the types of music files that exist out there (don't get to head-strong, we barely did a beginners course), we can talk about the music players that are available. How many kinds are they you may ask? About like the number of fish in the sea. Well, not really, but you get the point.

I'm not going to talk much about the software that's out there. It all boils down to your preference. Are you an iPod - name brand - kind of person or a Zune - break out - kind of person? Use whatever feels good on your computer, it's completely up to you. What I really want to talk about are network players.

Network players are independent devices that play music off of your home network. Now, allow me to step back a little and fill in any possible gaps for you.

Your home network is all set up on a router. You may have a combination router/modum for internet connectivity. Either way, you have a router that has more or less outputs depending on the model. I would suggest getting an "N" type router preferrably the Linksys WRT160N. Anyway, get your network set up and then look to add music to it.

As I mentioned in the original post of this series there are a few players such as:
  1. Sonos
  2. Squeezebox
  3. Grace
  4. Sangean
  5. And many more (check out Crutchfield)
These players sync up to the wireless or wired network and pull music from your devices such as computers or NAS - network attached storage (external hard drives connected via USB or stand-alone devices). No need to load your music on them, although a few do offer that option. Mostly they will pull together all the different music you have, in all the various spots and play it all.

In doing research my personal favorite is the sqeezebox, offered by Logitech (also pictured at top of this post). It's relatively inexpensive and comes with its own controller with an LCD screen to help navigate between not only all your music files, but tons of internet radio and the ever popular Pandora or Rhapsody. Another benefit of the squeezebox is that it naturally plays FLAC formated files - for the best sound experience you can get. The cool thing is you can add multiple receivers around your house, plug in speakers (or get the boombox option) and listen to any music anywhere in your house, any time. The only caveate, is you need to have the source turned on (computer or NAS).

Now, if you've got a large house or a lot of money to burn and you want the very best go with Sonos. It's got everything squeezebox does and a little more. Again, you will be paying out for it though.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Compressed Music

No, I'm not talking about listening to a lot of music in a little (compressed) amount of time. I'm talking about the difference between lossless and lossy file types. Last post in the "Music-ie" forum, I talked about the various codecs or file types there are for music. This post will talk about the two "meta-formats" of music, as well as the pros and cons of each.
  1. First - Lossless. This type of file is exactly as the name suggests; nothing is lost. A lossless file will have every piece of date that is contained on the original CD. It will also be a considerably large file. Most lossless files will include the meta tag, or ID tag on the CD that contains the album art, the track names and what not. I'm not going to go into how the true CD mix-masters put this all together. For now, it will be sufficient to say that lossless has lost nothing of the original CD.
  2. Second - Lossy. The name is also indicative of the type of file here. Lossy types of files have lost some data in the quest for a more manageable sized file. These are the .mp3, .m4a, .wma files that we are all more familiar with. With these files, a ripping program gets ride of parts of the original file via compression. Its what allows a 16G iPod hold as much as it does. Without compression, our mobile media players would have to be like external hard drives to hold all that raw data. Compression is the bare bones data and can suffer slightly for it.
Of course, as with every giant company, the music industry has tried to muddy the waters as much as they can. Now Apple and Microsoft have their own types of not only Lossy formats, but Lossless too. Can you blame them? They saw a trend towards digitized CD collections and have tried to get their fingers in the pie. I mean, its tough times right?

That brings me to my final point for this post, why would you want lossless as opposed to lossy, since it is the later that plays on you iPod (or Zune, or Sony player)? Well, there has been a movement lately to have a true digital back up for music collections. Most of us have a music library on our computer and most of our music was ripped off CDs (granted a lot of downloads have "threatened" the CD market lately). All of that music is in a compressed format though. Unless you have taken the time to use software the rips in a loss CDs indefinitely.

Remember how you used to get a CD, play the heck out of it for a few weeks and then notice after time it started to skip as the track qualities diminished with use? Well, ripping a CD with a lossless format is the answer to that problem. You then have all the raw data on the CD and the best part is you can then the best part is you can convert copies of it into whatever codec you want...virtually forever without losing a single kB of data. In fact tests have been done where individual converted files between the various types of lossless (.FLAC, .WAVE, .APE, etc.) and the file size is the exact same as the original. The other benefit... you want to have an apple file (.mp4) or a windows file (.wma) no prob... or better yet, jut have a copy of the .mp3 that works with virtually everything. The big deal here is that it doesn't matter what you want to convert a copy to, either now or in the future. You will have ALL the data to use at your discretion.

Monday, February 16, 2009

iTunes and the use of Codecs

The first article in my series entitled "Music-ie" deals with codecs. What is a codec? The short answer is it is a file type. If you have the newest version of Office you will know that new word documents are saved as .docx file types where as older versions were stored as .doc only. The same applies to music files, there is just WAY more of them to deal with. Here are just a few:
  1. .mp3
  2. .wav
  3. .wma
  4. .wmv
  5. .m4a
  6. .mp4
  7. .mpp
  8. .ogg
  9. .ra
  10. .rm
If you want to go to a site that has an even bigger list visit: codec central.

So, now you can start to understand the predicament of finding a code that is universally accepted. For example, .mp4 is a type of codec used by Apple Inc. for their iTunes music player and the ever popular iPod. However, .wmv is Microsoft's codec for their Windows Media Player and the lesser known Zune. Are they compatible? Short answer - sort of, but don't count on it.

For example, if you like to watch Netflix on your home computer, you will need to download Windows Media Player. Then if you have an iPod, you can't beat the powerful playlists and organization of iTunes. To add a further degree of complexity if you have a smart phone you made need one or the other of the above or even a completely different piece of software to load songs on it. Then, if you have a Sonos or Squeezebox system at home, well there you go. You now have a lot of players, that take a lot of different codecs. How do you keep it all straight?

Short answer - with a lot of work. However, there is a way to sort thru it all. The good news is that .mp3 is probably the most universally recognized codec (format) of any compressed music. With a music converter you can make sure all your files are .mp3, giving you the greatest degree of flexibility between players. However, going this way has its draw backs and you need to make a life decision here. When you download music from say iTunes store (for example) it is usually locked up with a little tag that prevents you from converting it. That's why you have to "authorize" your computer to play the music. Apple has started to sell some music that doesn't have this though. However, if you must buy online, try Amazon. Their music store sells in the ever popular .mp3 format. The one problem...mp3 doesn't necessarily sound the best. The solution, buy the CD. CDs are still the best sound out there. Why? Because they are not compressed...more on that next post

Sunday, February 15, 2009


Chili has gotten a bad rap through the years. To many deli lines seem to fill their vats with a tomato-bean goop during the winter time. Well gosh darn it, can't someone make a good pot of chili? As it turns out, I've found a recipe that has topped my old standby, the Better Homes and Garden chili... I don't recall where I ended up getting the recipe (sorry creators), but it is excellent. One thing to note: its home-made, from scratch so prepare for a long ingredients list. Here goes:

  1. 2 lbs ground beef chuck
  2. 1 lb Italian sausage (not in casings)
  3. 3 (15 oz) cans of chili beans, drained
  4. 1 (15 oz) can of chili beans in spicy sauce
  5. 2 (28 oz) can diced tomatoes in their juice
  6. 1 (6 oz) can tomato paste
  7. 1 large yellow onion
  8. 3 stalks of celery, chopped
  9. 1 medium green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
  10. 1 medium red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
  11. 2 jalapeno peppers, seeded and chopped
  12. 1 strip of cooked bacon (or 1 Tbs bacon bits)
  13. 4 cubes beef bullion
  14. 1/2 cup beef (use something good here)
  15. 1/4 cup chili powder
  16. 1 Tbs Worcestershire sauce (easier written than said)
  17. 1 Tbs minced garlic (3-4 fresh cloves)
  18. 1 Tbs dried oregano
  19. 2 tsp ground cumin
  20. 2 tsp hot pepper sauce (Tabasco for example)
  21. 1 tsp dried basil
  22. 1 tsp salt
  23. 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  24. 1 tsp cayenne pepper
  25. 1 tsp paprika
  26. 1 tsp white sugar
  1. Heat a LARGE stock pot over medium-high heat. Crumble the ground chuck and sausage into the hot pan. Cook until evenly browned. Drain off any excess fat (makes the recipe healthier...).
  2. Throw in the rest. I could spell it out for you, but I won't bother. Let it simmer over low heat for at least 2 hours, stirring every so often.
  3. After 2 hours, taste and adjust the salt, pepper and chili powder if you feel like it. The longer it cooks the better. Even better, make it ahead, take it off the stove, refrigerate over night and serve the next day... it will be amazing.
  4. Serve with cheese and Fritos on top.
Recipe says it makes enough for 10, but those would have to be pretty big people. Cut the recipe in half or save it for a big party.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

"Music - ie"

I've heard the word "foodie" tossed around in conjunction with my name before and I have to admit that people are probably right. I wonder though, since I've gotten my new computer (which can actually run multiple programs at once, unlike my old one), if people will start using the word "music-ie." Ok, so its not a word (yet) but I would like to think it refers to some form of music snobbery.

How did I get to the point that I want to be a music snob? Well it all started as I prepared to update to the aforementioned new computer. I was transferring all of my music files over to an external hard drive and I started to notice the different file formats. I started to wonder whats the difference between MP3 and M4U and MP4 and WMA? So I googled music formats. There weren't that many good online articles that could help me out. So, I struggled to figure out what it all meant. I knew that some file types were propriatary (only worked with some software/hardware) and I also learned that some types were "locked" or secure tags. In other words, a company (in my case Apple) had attached a little file that locked the music down and forced me to use only certain types of software. As I found out, it also limited what I could do with my music.

I began to think of the Sony debacle a few years ago. The Sony company tried to hinder music sharing back then by placing multiple "layers" on a CD. Those multiple layers could be read by a CD player, but computers didn't naturally read through them. This effectually made the CD quality poorer on a computer and made ripping difficult.

While I was digging through the online archieves I kept finding one word repeated...dBpoweramp. So, being a good little "gen Y-er" I googled that too. Turns out dBpoweramp is a pretty comprehensive CD burning/converting/ripping software tool. I began learning about "codecs" and the difference between lossless and lossy file types. At about this same time I was looking into wireless music players and found one by Logitech that caught my eye - "Squeezebox." I happen to really like Logitech products and kept researching their networked WiFi player. I found it worked naturally with a codec (file type) of FLAC. I immediately said to myself... "Don't give me no FLAC son!" Sorry, bad joke. Anyway, this post begins the series "Music-ie" where I will attempt to share my new found knowledge of the music ripping and encoding world. I'll go through the different codecs out there, what players they work well with, the difference between lossless and lossy formats, the benefits of both and how you can be a music snob in general.

I know that there are many out there that are probably bigger music snobs than me. Please comment on areas that you are knowledgable about and we can have a great music forum of fantasic snobbery... made available to regular folks like you and me :-)

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Pasta with Broccoli and Sausage

Here's a real twist on fettuccine alfredo.

1 lb fresh broccoli, cut into flowerets
1 9-ounce package of refrigerated fettuccine
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup sliced fresh mushrooms (optional)
1 clove of garlic
1 lb smoked sausage, sliced
3 large eggs
3/4 cup whipped cream
3/4 teaspoon pepper
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese

  1. Cook broccoli and fettuccine in boiling water to cover in a dutch oven 4 minutes or until broccoli is crisp-tender; drain. Rinse in cold water; drain. Place in a large bowl.
  2. Melt butter in a large heavy skillet; add mushrooms and garlic. Saute 3 minutes or until tender. Add to fettuccine mixture.
  3. Brown sausage in skillet over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, 5 minutes; drain and add to fettuccine mixture. Wipe skillet clean with a paper towel.
  4. Stir together eggs, whipping cream, and pepper in skillet until blended. Add fettuccine mixture; toss well. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, 3 to 5 minutes or until thickened. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and toss. Serve immediately.
The serving size is about 4 on this.


Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Staying Healthy

Everywhere you look there is a new diet that promises to trim the fat in weeks. There's the west coast diet, Atkins's diet, low carb diet, low sodium diet, Mediterranean diet, Japanese diet, egg white diet, and so on. How is a person to cut through all the "expert" advice out there to get to the heart of things? Well, this non-expert can answer that for you.

Have you noticed a change in your dishes? That's right, a change in your dishes. Next time you find yourself at a restaurant take note of the size of the dish. They should look familiar to you. They are the same size as a serving platter in your home china hutch. Why the size? Well as Americans we have become enamored with bigger meals.

Lets explore the history, briefly. Think of the saying "bigger is better", now think of the great American SUV. What about the "great frontier" or the great American railway. As a culture we have always had a preference for the extreme. Extreme sports, supercharged Ford Mustangs and now the supercharged meal. First we had a 1/4 pounder, then a 1/3 pounder followed by a 1/2 pound burger.

I don't want to comment on American ego here, I just want to point out that we like our "money's worth" when it comes to things and food is no exception. Eating a balanced diet is great, if and only if you don't eat a double balanced diet, or if you opted for the "extra value sized" balanced diet.

Want the secret to healthy living? Everything in moderation. Don't go back for seconds, in fact don't even finish your firsts. If you want a sure fire way of cutting your meals back, purchase smaller plates. In that way, your psychological experience will still be a full plate, but your waist-line will thank you for it.

Out side of that, stay active. It used to be we all had to "work" for a living. Now days we have to expend even more time in our busy day just to stay active. Here is an added bonus piece of advice, start small but stick to it. Once you have any pattern developed its 100 times easier to expand it than if you started big and then failed. Set yourself up for success - anyone with a pragmatic business mind should appreciate that.

Good luck!

Sunday, February 1, 2009


If you are a fan of the "good-life," then you would be a fan of Stogies on Grand in St. Paul. There are other GREAT stores out there that offer a small selection of premium tobacco, Heimies Haberdashery also in St. Paul, but few places (none other that I know of) offer a smoking lounge to get you through those cold winter days or hot summer ones at that!

My father-in-law and I sat down yesterday in the Diamond Crown Lounge at Stogies and played a tournament of cribbage. The best part of this, other than almost skunking my dad twice in a row, were the cigars. I warmed up to a Hoyo de Monterry and my dad had an Olivia. Both scored over 92 in Cigar Aficionado. It was the epitome of living it up and I am going to have to make this a regular thing.

Now, in case you're thinking of starting your own cigar shop and lounge I should warn you. As my dad and I were leaving, we stopped to talk over the idea of getting one of these shops in Forest Lake. Well, we were informed that it takes roughly between $300,000 and $500,000 to start one up. I guess real estate, equipment and inventory is still pretty pricey! The racking if Cuba by hurricanes hasn't helped things either. Perhaps President Obama can include lifting sanctions on Cuba to help fuel the economy by bringing more quality cigars into the states.

Ah, cigars. Now if we can only get fedoras to come back into style...