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January 19, 2006

The Hanging Garage — 'Please turn off all cell phones before parking'

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That would be my advice to friends dropping by if I were the owner of this remarkable garage, which hangs from the house above it and takes in all of Los Angeles from within.

It was designed by Marmol Radziner + Associates and was the star of the Acura RL ad which occasioned its appearance in last Sunday's New York Times Magazine.

Talk about finding a great place to park back in high school....

January 19, 2006 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Sprayer Sponge Squeegee

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What a nifty mashup.

The inventor put the 8 oz. spray bottle inside the device's handle and voila, a nifty all–in–one anti–road–bug–kill windshield cleaner.

18"H x 8"W.

$9.95 here (windshield cleaner not included).

But wait a minute — what about all my readers in Winnipeg and Wauwatosa — what's the point of bug cleaner when your windshield's buried under snow?

Good point.

For you, the research team's come up with the Snow De–Icer Brush (below).

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Into the spray bottle compartment goes de–icer: brush off the snow and give your windshield a spritz or ten.

"Seconds later you can squeegee the slush away."

Same capacity and dimensions as the summer iteration.

Same price, too: $9.95 here (de–icer not included).

For everything else you could use your MasterCard but me, I'd pull out the old Ice Dozer.

Full disclosure: I've used mine twice this winter and it does what it says.

January 19, 2006 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

What if bookofjoe were published within an online game?

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Would you still need me?

Would you still read me?

When I'm real no more?

The thought occurred to me just now as I was reading yet another review of Edward Castronova's new book, "Synthetic Worlds: The Business and Culture of Online Games."

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The reviewer, economist Tim Harford writing in last weekend's Financial Times, noted that "today's synthetic economies are dull... largely based on killing monsters, taking their gold, and spending the money to acquire better weapons and armour. There is no technological progress, little gain from specialisation, and no opportunity to invest in capital stock. For me, the interesting moment will come when — if? — a world with the popular appeal of Warcraft or Star Wars Galaxies allows entrepreneurial players to invest and invent."

Or write.

Perhaps my never having played a video game won't matter once bookofvirtualjoe gains traction.

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We shall see.

January 19, 2006 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Ring Thing™ Coffee Filter Fix

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For those of you still using paper filters for your morning adrenaline injection, this device might make things go a little easier for you while you're fumbling around and trying to shake off the cobwebs.

From the website:

    Coffee Filter Fix

    No floppy filters to straighten... no more bitter grounds escaping into your coffee.

    Dishwasher safe, 3.75" diameter stainless steel ring adds a snug brim every time!

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The world's best coffee, brewed fresh every day here at bookofjoe World Headquarters, is filtered by a Krups electroplated gold cone (below).

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For those who you haven't yet made the switch, the stainless steel ring presented here might indeed be of value.

But what's with that name they use for it — "Coffee Filter Fix."

Sounds like something one of my myriad former crack research members might dream up.

Emphasis on "former."

I renamed it the "Ring Thing™."

No charge.

I suspect you could probably walk up and down the aisles at Home Depot or Lowes and find a 3.75" stainless steel ring just like the one shown at the top for a whole lot less than $4.99.

But if you can't be bothered, pay your $4.99 and get it here.

The Krups filter runs about $12 at Bed Bath and Beyond.

I'm not giving you a link because the website is confusing as to sizes (the filter comes in at least three different versions) and I won't have you ordering the wrong one for your set–up.

Best to take a trip with your coffee pot or current filter to the store to get the right one.

Coffee's worth it.

January 19, 2006 at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

The Immutable Law of Chocolate

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One of the immutable laws of life is that eating excellent chocolate never leaves you worse off than you were.*

A corollary to this law is that writing about chocolate is almost always better than choosing any other topic, for the simple reason that sometimes it makes you think you're actually eating the stuff.

So that's why, at 7:33 a.m. today, I decided to post a dispatch, via Molly Moore of the Washington Post, from the kitchen of one Gregory Renard, owner of a tiny Paris shop called Cacao and Macarons.

Renard is "one of 36 certified artisan chocolatiers working in Paris's 100 chocolate shops."

Here's Moore's article, which appeared this past Monday, January 16.

Warning: reading it could cause an uncontrollable urge to acquire and ingest chocolate.

    Seductive Gems From the Kitchen Of an Artisan

    Three Hours With a Paris Chocolatier

    At 11 a.m. on a dismal, gray winter morning, Gregory Renard is rolling balls of smooth almond praline between his palms.

    A glass bowl filled with molten French Valrhona chocolate rests on the counter near his elbow.

    A flawlessly coifed woman bursts through the front door of his tiny shop,

    Cacao and Macarons, and stops dead in her tracks.

    She breathes deeply.

    Her taupe-tinted eyelids flutter in ecstasy.

    "Ahhhhhh," she purrs as a wave of chocolate aromas wraps her in a warm, passionate embrace.

    "Bonjour!" cries Renard, 26 years old and impossibly thin, given that he spends his entire day in the company of some of the world's most seductive chocolate.

    "What do I have the pleasure of offering you?"

    Where to start?

    Platters of bite-size nuggets of chocolate beckon like edible gems: ebony hearts filled with layers of crispy wafer and chocolate ganache, dark chocolate rounds dusted with gold-leaf glitter, almond pistachio logs drenched in milk chocolate crowned with a glazed emerald-green pistachio nut.

    Walking into some of Paris's fanciest chocolate shops is akin to entering a bank vault under the suspicious eye of a guard.

    Stepping into Renard's little store, wedged between a dry cleaner and an underwear shop on rue Saint Dominique near the Eiffel Tower, is like ambling into the family kitchen.

    To be sure, at nearly $40 a pound, his prices would shock a Hershey bar fan.

    But his shop has its homey side too.

    Behind the counter of expensive morsels, Renard pulls plastic tubs of creamy chocolate from a microwave oven inside a cluttered closet.

    "The microwave is very convenient," says Renard, clad in bluejeans and a sweater the color of his Black Infinity -- 99 percent cacao, the purest, most bitter chocolate in the shop.

    "But you have to be very careful. The chocolate can burn in a few seconds."

    Renard -- one of 36 certified artisan chocolatiers working in Paris's 100 chocolate shops -- learned his garrulous people skills from his father, a butcher.

    "I like producing chocolate," says Renard, who wears his dark hair gelled in stylish spikes.

    "But I also like the contact with people."

    At 1:30 p.m., a blast of winter air blows into the shop as one of his regular customers breezes through the door.

    She's dressed for chocolate in velvet pants the shade of bitter cacao and a sequined cashmere sweater set the color of buttery caramel.

    She is beanpole thin.

    Her neck is draped in gold, her wrists are wrapped in gold, her fingers are studded with gold.

    "I'm in a rush," she pants.

    She's come for macarons (not to be confused with coconut macaroons), a specialty in Renard's shop.

    Oh no, not for herself, she explains.

    They are gifts for the housekeepers and cooks at her weekend house in the countryside.

    While Renard packs the puffy, flavor-infused biscuits, the customer plucks a foil-wrapped candied chestnut from the glass platter on the counter.

    She gobbles the sweet in three voracious bites.

    As she paws through a bowl of carmels, she explains: "I wouldn't go to a supermarket. I like small shops. It smells nice, and everything's handmade."

    Renard snips and curls the red ribbons around the boxes and rings up a bill the equivalent of $76.

    No charge for the $2.40 chestnut.

    "It's a game we play," Renard remarks as the door slams behind her.

    "She comes in and helps herself. She knows I won't charge her. She's a good customer."

    It's some Japanese and German tourists who really annoy Renard.

    "They touch the boxes and drop the boxes -- it's very bad for the chocolate," he says.

    "Sometimes they just throw the chocolate in the bottom of their bag. Maybe they ruin the chocolate."

    Renard (who notes that the most polite tourists tend to be Americans and Spaniards) fills his boxes as gently as if his shimmering morsels were eggs.

    No bumping, no bruising, no scratching, no breaking.

    Just after 2 p.m., a heavyset woman hobbles into the shop and sinks into a cane chair just inside the door.

    Outside it has started to rain.

    The customer's doughy face is framed by a plastic, polka-dotted rain cap.

    She's visiting relatives in Paris and is returning home to northern France the next day.

    As Renard prepares her boxes of assorted pieces, he hands her a dark chocolate heart.

    She munches contentedly.

    "I'm going to keep them on the window sill where they will stay cool," she says of her precious purchase.

    Renard nods approvingly. "The older people always want to buy their chocolate in Paris," he explains. "Other places have chocolate, but they think chocolate from Paris is better."

    Don't ask Renard for any of his chocolate-making secrets, however.

    He won't even tell the government, which has issued a new decree that chocolatiers must list all ingredients on their boxes and packets of chocolate.

    Parisian chocolatiers -- who have always treated their formulas like state secrets -- have declined to comply.

    "It would give artisans a bad image," Renard says. "It would make chocolate less magic, less mysterious."

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*The one exception is when you eat so much you make yourself sick — this is more likely to happen when the chocolate is especially exquisite.

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I must note, however, that though I've enjoyed the nonpareil delights of Larry Burdick for many years, since back in the day when he worked out of a hole–in–the–wall in a Manhattan alleyway, I've yet to experience anything other than serotonin–induced nirvana from his creations.

January 19, 2006 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

DetourDVD — Turn your giant flat–screen TV into a window

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Lots of people leave their 65–inch HDTV on the Discovery Channel or the Nature Channel with the sound turned off to try to get this effect.

That's what I hear, anyway.

The trouble is the commercials and promos, which butt in every few minutes to disturb your reverie and chi.

Now comes DetourDVD, a company specializing in slow–motion, no–sound imagery, with DVDs of blooming flowers and 70s–style graphics.

You can watch samples here.

Each costs $24.95.

[via Mitchell Owens and the New York Times]

January 19, 2006 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Skating With Celebrities: A Perfect 10

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Last night I happened to be on my treadmill running for a change when, purely by chance, I saw that next up on Fox — where I happened to be in my channel surfing up and down the 80 million satellite channels DirecTV offers with rarely anything of interest on — was this show.

I've been hearing about this program and its interesting concept — pairing a world–class figure skater with a show business or athletic type of the opposite sex, giving them a month to train together and then have them skate a pairs routine in front of a crowd — it seems like forever, certainly for at least the past month, multiple times during every Fox NFL broadcast.

Long story short: the show was hugely entertaining.

Absorbing way beyond what I'd thought it would be.

Ice skating is not easy.

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I grew up in Milwaukee and spent many happy hours on ice, the great majority of them on the frozen lagoons of Washington Park.

What fun.

For reasons I still don't understand I never played hockey even though I loved every other sport.

Milwaukee had a minor league team — I think it was called the Falcons — that we'd occasionally go to see play at the Milwaukee Arena.

Anyway, I was absolutely dazzled by the skills of the non–skaters on the TV show.

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The rank amateurs were Kristy Swanson, Bruce Jenner, Todd Bridges, Jillian Barberie, Dave Coulier and Deborah Gibson.

Barberie had skated as a girl and Coulier plays hockey in a league with his friends and they were clearly more comfortable on the ice than the others but all the amateurs were surprisingly good and hugely entertaining.

The pros were Nancy Kerrigan, Lloyd Eisler, Jenni Meno, John Zimmerman, Kurt Browning and Tai Babilonia, who even now is as elegant and enchanting as she was back in the day.

The music the pairs chose was great too: Kerrigan and Coulier (below)

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skating to "Soul Man" was a blast.

Scott Hamilton and Summer Sanders (in a bizarre–looking top that wouldn't have been out of place on a gladiator in "Ben Hur" — maybe she thought she might have to skate and wanted to be dressed for the part just in case...) were the hosts and not at all overbearing.

I'm looking forward to next week's concluding segment (8 p.m. EST on Monday, January 23), when the skaters will perform routines with a significantly higher degree of difficulty.

After tonight's first round, Barberie and Zimmerman are in first place with Kerrigan and Coulier a close second.

The Fox website has more, including video clips.

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STOP PRESS — THIS JUST IN:

Tina, webmaster for the great Kurt Browning (Deborah Gibson's partner on Skating With Celebrities, 4–time World Champion, 3–Time Canadian Olympic Team Member and the first man to land a quadruple jump in competition) was checking out Google's results for last night's episode and came upon this morning's post.

She was kind enough to take the trouble to provide the correct time and day of the week for the upcoming episode, which I couldn't find on Fox's website and so assumed would be the same next week as last night.

How many times do I have to learn the hard way not to assume anything?

It's much, much better to leave information that's not verified out than to put it in with the hope that it'll be correct and, if wrong, that no one will notice.

Because someone will.

January 19, 2006 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Pot Stool

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Shades of Marcel Duchamp and Robert Rauschenberg.

From the website:

    One day, Mark and Elan Falvai were going through the nightly routine of washing pots and pans when they put one down to dry and instantly saw in their heads what you see before you now - the perfect kitchen stool.

    It took them over a year to find the perfect pot for their creation, with just the right dimensions for a comfortable and stylish seat.

    Now that they have, though, this "in the hot seat" stool is ready for your kitchen - and ready to act as the perfect seat.

Pot measures 11.5" in diameter.

Base is 30"H x 15"W.

All steel.

I just love the handles.

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$200 here.

January 19, 2006 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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