Over the last few weeks I've started to write this article quite a few times and then have to wait when another new bluetooth audio device shows up for me to review. From tabletop speakers to truly wireless earbuds, and over-ear headphones to ultra-portable speakers. We've received devices at every price point and quality level. $250 on ear headphones from European manufacturers that launched via Indigogo and $70 special edition travel speaker sets from newly established powerhouse Anker.Read More
There are days that are important in life. Days that matter. Days that stick out in our past that we will never forget no matter what else we experience in the future. Today didn't feel like one of those days when I woke up, but as I'm writing this I know that it is.
Some of those important days in my past I had to endure rather than celebrate, like the first time I celebrated a birthday without my dad. Some of them I didn't know were important milestones until weeks or months after they had passed like the day I met my amazing wife. Rarely but thankfully some of them I have recognized as special as they were happening, and that meant I could capture them in detail and save a piece of that day forever.
As I sat with my wife and family watching my son enter the gym of his High School in his cap and gown this afternoon the importance of the day hit me full force. I experienced something that connected me to what my parents felt 22 years ago when I made a similar journey into a similar gymnasium 60 miles from here. I flashed back in that instant to the moment eleven years and fifty-one weeks ago when my son walked with my daughter out of their foster home to our car for their first overnight visit to our home. I recalled all the visits to school principals, counsellors, IEP meetings, and case workers. My son has come so far from the lonely broken little boy we adopted that some of those memories shocked me to think about.
When we met with his first grade teacher we were told our son had severe learning issues and radical social interaction problems. We were cautioned that he was more than 18 months behind his peers academically and he might never catch up in a traditional classroom environment. Carrie and I agonized over what to do, but after a lot of prayer and counsel decided we would hold him back a year but not let them give up and move him into special education classes.
There are many of those moments from my past I'm proud of, and many more I'm not. There is nothing that gives me more pride than seeing what my boy was able to accomplish today. It wasn't easy for him. He had to work hard and find his own ways to make sense of the world around him. He had to study harder than I did at his age because things didn't come as easily to him. He never backed down. Never quit trying. Never let anyone tell him something was beyond his ability. And today that little boy they said needed special education graduated with honors.
So it's one of those days, and I couldn't be happier.
Earlier this month when Amazon announced that they were releasing a new addition to the Kindle lineup current owners were worried rather than excited. Never before have I seen a group of owners so rapidly insisting that their devices were perfect the way they were.Read More
In August of last year a group of former Holga camera employees from Hong Kong decided to launch a Kickstarter campaign to launch a digital version of the beloved asian toy camera. The original Holga debuted in 1982, and has since become a favorite of many artists due to the lack of complexity and flexibility. Their goal was to get the $50,000 dollars needed to begin production, but demand was so great that they exceeded that goal in just 4 days. Ultimately the project exceeded $300,000 and more than 2500 backers during the 60 days it was active on Kickstarter and they continue to get orders via Indiegogo here.
The camera is as low tech as a digital camera can get, owing very much to its roots as a toy camera. With a manual shutter lever, exposure time is as flexible as possible and hard to gauge. In addition, the only selections possible are a switch on the bottom to toggle between BW and Color modes, and the power dial on top allowing you to select between simulating 135 or 120 film. You additionally have the option of attaching the flash or not via the hot shoe on top. Everything else is done by feel and experience alone. As you can see from the sample images below even with very little automatic control the camera provides decent quality and good dynamic range.
The second camera I received is the Lytro Illum, an extremely advanced camera using what is called Light Field imaging to capture all of the available light in each pixel. This not only provides superior dynamic range, but allows for what Lytro calls "living pictures" because by capturing all of the light in the lenses field of view you have the ability to change the depth of field and point of focus after acquiring the image data. In addition, the technology allows the camera to export 3D images. With manual focus, 8x optical zoom, and dynamic range equivalent to 80-3200ISO it is perhaps the most advanced still camera ever built with a single lens.
As you can see from the linked pictures below, you can share images that the viewer can choose a point of focus in on demand, a feature unique to Light Field technology. At an MSRP of $1300 this is an amazingly expensive camera, but incredibly fun to use. If it could shoot video as well it could be the perfect all around camera. Fortunately, Lytro has moved on to trying to change cinematography and as result the camera can be found on Amazon for $387 dollars from some vendors.
Last year when music gear giant Marshall announced their first line of headphones music lovers took notice in a big way, and weren't disappointed by the quality of either the construction or the sound. This year they announced that they were going to release a Bluetooth wireless version of the same Major design and I knew I had to give them a try.Read More
The one accessory we wear to make a statement is a wristwatch. Sometimes flashy if dressed up, sometimes monolithic and durable if worn daily for work. We wear different types of bands to match clothing or environment. So I guess it isn't surprising that one of the biggest categories of new Kickstarter projects is companies trying to reinvent something that was invented in the 1800s.Read More
When my buddy Keith asked if I wanted to get together to catch up on life this week I started thinking about what whiskey I was going to take with me. When the forecast called for a dry warm spring evening (rare here in Oregon) I knew we would be sitting around the fire.
I decided on two different whiskeys, one that I had tasted but never reviewed and a new and exciting single malt that says fire pit and barbecue the minute you taste it. I.W. Harper is an old brand recently relaunched after being pulled from the shelves of U.S. stores in 1980 when Bourbon was losing popularity to scotch and other liquors to preserve it's brand identity in Japan. Once the most famous bourbon in the world, by 1966 it was available in 110 countries and the best selling bourbon worldwide, becoming immortalized as the drink of 007 in Ian Fleming's 1963 novel "In Her Majesty's Secret Service". 35 years later I.W. Harper is back, and once again being distilled at the old Bernheim Distillery in Louisville, KY. In contrast we have the Colkegan from Sante Fe Spirits in Sante Fe, NM. Sante Fe Spirits has a unique process, and it's best to use the information from their website to describe it:
"Like its Scottish single malt cousins, Santa Fe Spirits’ Colkegan Single Malt Whiskey is made entirely from malted barley, carefully distilled, and aged and finished in various oak casks to enhance the complex flavors inherent to true single malt whiskey. But there are key differences that set this remarkable spirit apart from its Scottish relatives.
While peat-smoked malt has always been a key ingredient in many well known Scotch whiskies, Santa Fe Spirits’ Colkegan Single Malt Whiskey’s wonderfully complex flavor profile benefits from a very different type of smoked malt utilized by no other distillery in the world. The result is a smooth, mellow, mysteriously balanced hint of smoky complexity unique to Santa Fe Spirits.
Santa Fe Spirits’ Colkegan Single Malt Whiskey’s unique barrel aging process also separates it from its low-altitude relatives. Santa Fe Spirits is located 7,000 feet above sea level in the high desert and utilizes a climate-controlled barrel warehouse with temperatures ranging from freezing cold to swelteringly hot, and humidities ranging from bone dry to unbelievably damp. A strict regimen of climate changes yields a spirit with amazing complexity unrivaled by more temperate warehouses."
The I.W. Harper is a full bodied and complex whiskey. The nose is sweet, with strong notes of caramel and honey. It starts with that same sweetness on the front of the palate, followed quickly by a faint leather and wood flavor, finishing smoothly in sweet honey and green grass bordering on citrus. A wonderful whiskey to sip any time, and a quick hit with everyone tasting this night.
The Colkegan is an interesting taste. On the nose it is remarkably sweet. Caramel and almost butterscotch tempt you to taste. Once you do you are quickly surprised by the unique smoke that sets Sante Fe's process apart: rather than smoking the malted barley with peat they use what is available in the desert southwest, mesquite. The amazingly full flavored smokiness of the whiskey dominates, and quickly fades leaving a vague sweet honey aftertaste that you never fully taste on the palate. This is the perfect whisky to sip in front of the fireplace or even better around the campfire on a summer night.
The folks at Caskers.com came through again, and I look forward to more time with friends sitting around and sipping great whiskey.
Short ribs also have a ton of flavor, so they are a personal favorite of mine. They also are usually pretty inexpensive (today they were less per pound than ground beef at Safeway). If I have a busy day I throw them in the crock pot, but if I have the time there is no better way to cook them than a nice slow braise. You can use any liquid to braise meat with, from broth to beer to water. I prefer something that is going to add to the flavor of the meat, so I use beer most often. Coating the meat with seasoned flour allows the flavor of the spices to stay on the meat, and the flour thickens up the braising liquid over the cooking time to make a nice tight topping. I hope you enjoy as much as we did.Read More
I received a box that I wasn't expecting from Amazon this morning, and opened it to find three new Bluetooth headsets inside. One of them, the Mini from Rowkin I have been wanting to check out since it was announced, but the other two I had never heard of before.Read More
They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so these are worth a few days worth of writing I guess. Some great stuff this month, and some things that will be going to the kids too. Have a look, and make sure to subscribe to these great services if you like what you see.
Sometimes a kickstarter project comes along and just makes you say "How the hell do people think of these things?". The SharkTooth was initially one of them for me, but now that I have it in hand it makes total sense. A simple laser cut pendant at first glance, upon closer inspection it is easy to see how useful this tiny tool could be. Besides the ten wrenches cut into the center it is easy to see the saw blade on one edge and knife edge opposite. Harder to see until you hold it is the shape of the point besides being able to sharpen into a spear or arrow point also has a diamond shape which makes it usable as a Phillips head screw driver.
Designed by the minds at Archwing LLC. in Madison, WI as part of what they are calling their Tactical Apparel venture, it really is a marvelous design. They will soon be available for order from this website.
Seventeen years ago today my life was a lot different than it is now, and what I thought my life would end up looking like bears no resemblance to current circumstances. I was living in the house I grew up in down in Woodburn, OR back then. I worked as a Tier 2 support representative for Dell computers and had just broken up with a long distance girl friend who lived in New Jersey. The breakup had been rough enough on me that I was thinking leaving my job and becoming a monk at the Mt. Angel Abbey might be a good way for me to put my years of religious study to use.
One year to the day later would find me waking up in a hotel room with my little brother the day before my wedding. It was the kind of change only God could bring into reality. I had met an amazing woman, my career had taken off and I was now managing technical support team I was part of the year before. Carrie and I would be moving into the first home I would ever own instead of rent. And still, on that day I had the audacity to think I knew what my future might hold. Kids, career growth, I was thinking this was a sign it was all going to get better from here.
Fast forward four years and life hasn't been what that 24 year old dreamed and planned for the day before his wedding. We bought a new house to be closer to my job and I was later off a month later. My dad went in for an angiogram and never made it out of the hospital after bypass surgery led to a fatal secondary infection. The kids we had hoped would come right away doctors are telling us will never come. The difference is now I'm not alone, I have an amazing wife, and we are resolved to follow the path God puts us on instead of worrying about what we don't have that we had anticipated and dreamed of.
So 12 years ago today Carrie and I were in the hotel room she had booked for a romantic weekend to celebrate our 4th Anniversary. Instead of celebrating we were pouring through hundreds of pages of case files, praying about whether a young brother and sister were supposed to be our kids. One year to the day later, a process the State DFS worker told us takes 18-24 months was finished and a family court judge signed the papers changing their names and making them ours forever.
Fast forward 11 years and our lives have certainly changed and been stretched by these two amazing additions to our family. That cute little boy, who came to us with reports from school that he had a hard time learning is about to graduate from High School with a better than 3.0 GPA. His little sister, who we were warned had more severe learning issues and may always need occupational therapy starts her first job in 2 hours and will graduate next year. Carrie is in LA today, but is flying all night to make it home so that we can celebrate our 16th wedding anniversary tomorrow.
Tonight, I get to take my son and daughter to dinner to celebrate another Adoption Day.
How many times have you been at dinner with your partner or family and spent more time looking at the phone screen than the person across the table from you.
Hiatus Box wants to serve as a playful yet functional reminder for us to take time to unplug and stay focused on life. A timer and magnetic sidelocks built into the lid mean you can set a time limit to ensure uninterrupted time with those you love. Rewards are fairly easy to earn. https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/856608334/the-hiatus-box-bringing-back-real-facetime
I'm not a big sneaker head, but Nike chose this weekend to blow the shoe game to pieces twice. First with the new Jordan's pictured here. Dubbed Horizon Premium they are a cross between a classic Jordan design and hand beaded Native American moccasins. Truly the most unique and creative design to ever ship under the Jordan brand.
Then, they release a new app just for sneaker heads called SNKRS, a combination storefront and online community promising access to the latest dropping shoes.
Portland native Carra Stasney launched a Kickstarter project to fund the most original album idea I've seen in a long time, and I am so impressed that I have to get you all to help.
The idea is to reimagine Willie Nelson's amazing "Red Headed Stranger" from the standpoint of his mother. I can't wait to see what she does with the idea, and am amazed that no one tried it before this.
You can find her project here, please think about helping it along.
This time of year is different for everyone I guess. How we feel about the the "Holiday Season" is shaped pretty strongly by our past experiences, our childhood memories, and in some cases unfortunately family drama. My Christmas memories are pretty full of all three to be honest, but it has always been a time of year when I was excited. I was eager to see if I made the right gift choice for a loved one. I was anticipating vacation time with the family, even if it just meant more time sitting home playing games or watching TV together. I couldn't wait for the feast that was Christmas Dinner, and the traditions that came with it like my Mom's ambrosia salad or my Uncle's Strudel.
This year the holidays are here, and it doesn't feel like I'm two days before Christmas. We've got the tree up, but at this point we haven't even gotten any presents under it. Carrie and I have gotten some of what we wanted to get for the kids this year, but have been so busy with critical issues over the last few weeks that shopping has fallen off the radar.
Christmas dinner, a Fat Boy's holy meal holds no promise this year with a restricted diet eliminating 75% of the food I would be looking forward to on our dinner table. If I was feeling better for it I probably wouldn't sound so resentful saying that, but after a week the digestive problems restrictions are supposed to be solving aren't improved and even more foods are being eliminated from my diet.
Old friends and family are still grieving the loss of a close friend from my school days who's decline started around Thanksgiving and whom passed on December 4th. As I write this my Mother-in-law is asleep in a chair at the hospital bedside of her husband, and I'm getting ready to head back to the hospital to join them while we try to find answers as to why my father-in-law who really has become "Dad" in the 16 years of my marriage had a series of seizures last night after several strokes in the last couple of months.
With his condition as serious as it is I've spent much of the last two days preparing myself that he might not make it to Christmas. I've had to hold volunteers together at the pantry we run as a family and church body, weighing keeping volunteers (who have become like family to all of us) informed, against the immediate family's need for SOME privacy and the need to keep things on track so that the more than 200 families that depend on is for food every week aren't adding food to their list of burdens this Christmas week.
With all of this going on its easy to justify why the "Joy of the Season" seems to be in short supply. Please keep our family in your thoughts and prayers this week. I'm heading back to the hospital, you have a Merry Christmas everyone.
There are some things that you learn in bourbon country that don't happen anywhere else. There are bourbons that you can only find there like Kentucky Spirit and Ancient Ancient Age. You also learn that for more than 75 years most of the state has relied on a local bottling company called Ale-8-1 for its primary mixer, not the international brands. It's a brand so much a part of the bluegrass tradition that the name isn't enunciated any more, it's called "A Late One" instead.
So I guess it shouldn't come as a surprise that a beverage that is loved this much arrived with sweaters. And not just sweaters, but sweaters that were knit with the sodas name and a winter design.
I gotta tell you, I've always loved ginger ale with whiskey. Until the first time a bartender handed me "a late one and rye". When the label described it as "Crisp, clean, real Ginger with a hint of Citrus" they are under selling the difference it makes. Now ginger ale just won't cut it.
It isn't widely known or distributed, but thanks to the miracle that is the internet you can buy it online direct from the company.
Do yourself a favor and keep some stocked in your fridge or wet bar.
I said goodbye to an old friend yesterday. In some ways it was exactly what I thought it would be. Not much has changed in the funeral mass of the Catholic Church since the 2nd Vatican council approved the move to an English mass after all.
Other things (mostly people), surprised me. People who I never would have bet against making it were missing for a variety of reasons. People I don't remember having a kind words for Packy in High School were crying like it was their son and not Tom and Sally's first born that was taken much too young.
I understand no one knows what to say all the time at these things. I knew his mother just needed a lot of hugs, because she reached for one any time I was within arm's reach. She also needed to know she wasn't losing all contact with us just because he was gone. One thing I have come to realize over the years since high school is that there are some relationships that just ARE. I had not seen Sally in more than twenty years when I walked into that church yesterday, but the hug I received and the obvious thankfulness that I had made it there to be with the family didn't need explanation.
With his Dad, who had lost his firstborn son and with whom I should have been able to empathize, I know I came off sounding like a freshman on one of his intro to journalism classes. We had a strong student-teacher dynamic in school but it wasn't very deep or personal. Why is the first thing we ask "How are you doing?" Or "Are you ok?"???? Shouldn't we know the answers to those two questions without opening our mouths and looking like morons? We say them anyway, especially or maybe because we don't know what else to say when we know Ok is at a minimum weeks away, and there is still a lot of shock and grief for us all to work through before we can really know how we are coping with this loss.
On one side of the gymnasium we had a family clearly grieving. Sisters, brothers, aunts, and uncles. Among them were a scattering of good friends that either now or at various times in the past felt like part of the family. We were standing around sharing stories about Patrick that made us laugh or cry. Often stories that needed to be protected and remembered but not amplified by the PA system. From this group came a stream of people to the microphone to share stories with a wider audience about the amazing and complex person who the world had lost.
On the other side of the room were a lot of Packy's former classmates, probably some friends and associates from work. Those who felt for whatever reason socially obligated to be there. They hit the buffet line, and milled around in the corner furthest from the PA so there was less chance anyone would ask them to say a few words.
We're all supposed to be adults now. All around forty (some much older) with lives, jobs, and many of us with kids of our own. Yet to hear half of the conversation my peers had today you would think they were still living in fraternity houses. The number of people talking about parties I threw in the early '90s shocked me, and some of the best parts were my knowledge that the guy talking was no where near my party that night. I hate to reduce myself to a variation on a pop culture reference that will be dated before most people read this post, but - Do you even funeral bro??
As things were winding down I was going to get together with some of the guys for some drinks and reality intruded. My daughter started texting me about power flickering and water dripping from the ceiling.
I get home and the dogs are barking, and product is waiting in boxes to be reviewed. I opened the first and it's candy, and in my mood that works great. It is a sample pack from a local confectionery we have reviewed before, The Candy Basket. This sampler contains Red Velvet Fudge, Pecan Rolls, and Divinity. All are done to perfection, and arrived fresh and soft to my door.. I can also confirm that they all pair well with both Teeling Irish Whiskey and Barterhouse 20yo Bourbon from the Orphan Barrel Collection that I also have sitting there needing to review. I know, I have a hard job sometimes.
The Teeling you've probably seen reviewed here before. It is by far my favorite everyday Irish Whiskey and for good reason. The sweetness it gains from its time in Caribbean rum casks truly set it apart.
The Barterhouse Orphan Barrel release is something that you don't find every day, and I am telling you right now, you better start looking. Several barrels were found in the back corner of an old rickhouse outside of Tullahoma, KY after sitting forgotten for almost twenty years. What begins on the nose as honey and biscuits along side faint hints of buttercream opens up into bold roasted grain, mellow toasted tobacco and marshmallow to compliment the subtle smoke from the barrel and finishes with hints of nutmeg and brown sugar. Never have I tasted a bourbon that was at once as complex and as smooth, especially after twenty some years in the barrel. I'm going to have to hunt some more down, because I don't want ever reach for this and find the bottle empty.
So, that was another day in Fat Boy Heaven. Sorry if it started a little bit too personal and uncomfortable. I've decided that the only way I can write is to actually engage my mind, that means sometimes the truth as I know it might hit your screen.
My love, prayers, condolences, and thanks go out to the Eichsteadt/Mitcheltree clan. We all shared in the joy and happiness Patrick brought into our lives, thank you again for allowing us to join you in saying goodbye.
Here in the Pacific northwest it's another wet and windy night in a time of year known for wet and wind. The weather isn't what is keeping me up tonight though. I'm not worried about the wife and kids any more than usual. They are all asleep, the wife 3000 some miles away until tomorrow night.
What's keeping me awake tonight are thoughts of a good friend from high school that somehow I let time and distance sweep out of my life. We lost him last week, and family and friends are poised to gather tomorrow morning to say goodbye. Not past 40 years old and gone. The medical cause of death is complicated, but the bottom line is addiction and his personal demons lost their fight with his better angels.
I know he had better angels. We grew up close to each other in a town that wasn't very big anyway. His dad taught our journalism class in high school. His mom was one of our youth leaders at church. Something happened though. Where I was able to wander in and out of party life in high school, and drink whisky all night tonight and not need a drink in the morning he couldn't.
I know it's insensitive and politically incorrect for me to be sitting here drinking a bottle of Irish whisky while I talk about losing a friend to alcohol, but it's my website. I didn't know this was the direction my words would take me when I poured the drink and started writing.
What I did know is that losing Patrick drove home that even the best of us can be lost in the blink of an eye. He was a gentle soul who loved art and photography for all that he tried to talk rough sometimes in school. It also made me wonder what is it that has made some relationships hold on over time and some fade into the background.
Twenty-one years ago when we graduated I never would have bet that Packy and I would go almost twenty years without talking to or even seeing each other. Of course three years before I graduated I would have bet against making it to 25 myself. Time can change your life and your priorities.
So tonight I think about the unfortunate twists and turns that separated friends, and lift a few glasses of my favorite Irish whisky while I wish an old friend was here to share it with me.
The folks at Invincible Audio have less than 24 hours left to reach their funding goals for their B.R.O. Ball, and a project that I think deserves to get the green light. The basic concept is a 4th generation Bluetooth speaker inside a functional football suitable for outdoor play at the beach or the field.
Featuring not just the aerodynamics you would expect from a football but also sound, the ability to charge your phone from the internal battery and glowing lines that will let the game keep going after the sun goes down.
If you are interested, please jump in and help them reach their goals.