Revolution in Kiev

A few days ago I had the opportunity to witness a revolution. Despite assuring my wife that I wouldn't be anywhere near the protests in Kiev, on Wednesday night I found myself in the heart of Independence square, the epicentre of the Ukraine's latest political struggle.

The shame of screw cap wine, now in cork.

Bust open a screw top wine at your next dinner party and your guests might assume you've nipped across the road to the gas station for the evening's plonk. But does the screw cap deserve its reputation as the cheap and cheerful counterpart to the cork? Not so fast, bucko.

...the screw cap not only avoids the problem of tainted cork, it forms a tighter seal. Most critics say that this guarantees a better flavour for all but the more expensive wines (which may age better with more oxygen).

"We prefer seals that ensure the wine is not going to be faulty," says Ewan Murray, spokesman for the Wine Society. "Wines that are ready to drink young are always going to be fresher under a screw cap."

Wine experts and critics from across the spectrum, even Robert Parker, freely admit that from a pure technical perspective, a screw cap is a much more effective method of preserving the contents of a bottle, and it entirely removes the possibility of wine becoming "corked".

But for a lot of people, the cork is so much more than just a device designed to keep the wine in the bottle. It's an experience.

...for wine lovers, the distinctive creak and pop means something good is happening. It triggers associations - social intimacy, relaxation, nuanced aromas, celebration - that go far beyond just a slug of alcohol.

So a large bottling company and a cork conglomerate teamed up to make a handscrew cork. All the ceremony of a cork with the convenience of a screw cap. Clever compromise.

What do you think of screw cap wine?

via BBC News - Why the snobbery over corks?.

United Airlines' Men-Only Flights

  In the 1950s United Airlines had "men-only" flights between New York and Chicago. Manly cities, you see. The flights had everything the 1950s man could want; steak dinners, closing stock market numbers as you board, a pipe and slippers, and a card table in the dedicated in-flight lounge.

I remember seeing this ad in the wonderful San Francisco Airport museum and wondering how long the service lasted and what prompted its demise. God help an airline if they tried to implement something like this today.

American Beer: from guardrail to guardrail


American beer has always been a little bit of a joke. And rightly so.

To international tastebuds, it meant bottled lagers like Budweiser, Miller or Coors - commonly regarded by self-respecting drinkers as bland, corporate and lacking in credibility.

But the explosion in "craft beers" has lead to quite a revolution in the American beer industry. It's actually pretty good stuff and for some weird reason very fashionable.

Somehow, beer from the United States has become not just widely respected, but achingly fashionable.

Visit a chrome-surfaced bar in London, Stockholm or Amsterdam and you're likely to find Brooklyn Lager, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale or Odell's porter on tap.

"There's a hipster cachet to it," says Melissa Cole, ale expert and author of Let Me Tell You About Beer. "Craft beer is seen as sexy right now, there's no doubt about it."

But in my mind it's all gone a bit too far. When you go into a pub or bar in any beer drinking country, you can always find an array of very cold lagers. Simple, refreshing, no pretense. This is basically all American beer was for decades. Very cold Bud lights, Coors, etc. But try going into a "beer works" or "ale house" or some other equally pretentiously-named establishment and try and get a cold lager. Nope. I went into one of these places last summer that was very proud of the fact that it had 24 beers on tap and more than twice that in the bottle, all proudly displayed on a huge chalkboard above the bar. When the waitress came to take my order, I asked for a cold lager, didn't care which one. "A lager? I don't think we have that brand." I could have had any type of nut ale, chocolate stout, coffee IPA, blueberry bock or some other weird concoction (as well as some damn fine ales, don't get me wrong.) But the reliable simplicity of a cold lager has been entirely eschewed in favour of boutique beers. It's like going to a burger joint that serves potatoes wedges instead of fries.

Meanwhile the big beer makers aren't refining their core lager product to appeal to the thirsty, hot beer drinker of today. No they're creating monstrosities like Bud Light and Clamato. For shame.

I'm delighted to see American beer is getting the respect that it deserves overseas, but let's not throw the baby out with the beer water. via BBC News - US craft beer: How it inspired British brewers.

Transatlantic flights are going to get a lot bumpier

For someone who crosses the Atlantic several times a year, I thought this was interesting. As they noted in the article, the winds across the Atlantic are already stronger and now areas of turbulence will be stronger and more widespread. Indeed on several eastbound transatlantic flights I've taken recently, the NYC-LON flight time was less than westbound transcontinental US flights (e.g. NYC - SFO). In other words, because of stronger winds, I could go from NYC to London faster than I could go from NYC to San Francisco.

Modelling suggested the average strength of transatlantic turbulence could increase by between 10% and 40%, and the amount of airspace likely to contain significant turbulence by between 40% and 170%, where the most likely outcome is around 100%. In other words, a doubling of the amount of airspace affected.

"The probability of moderate or greater turbulence increases by 10.8%," said Dr Williams.

"'Moderate or greater turbulence' has a specific definition in aviation. It is turbulence that is strong enough to bounce the aircraft around with an acceleration of five metres per second squared, which is half of a g-force. For that, the seatbelt sign would certainly be on; it would be difficult to walk; drinks would get knocked over; you'd feel strain against your seatbelt."

Besides passenger comfort, there's also a business consideration here:

"It's certainly plausible that if flights get diverted more to fly around turbulence rather than through it then the amount of fuel that needs to be burnt will increase," he told BBC News.

"Fuel costs money, which airlines have to pay, and ultimately it could of course be passengers buying their tickets who see the prices go up."

Pilots never knowingly fly into or stay in areas of sustained moderate (or greater) turbulence, not because it's dangerous but because it's not fun for the passengers or the cabin crew. So if they have to go further and further north or south to avoid it, then they burn more fuel. And those increased costs will inevitably get passed onto the flying public.

via BBC News - Transatlantic flights 'to get more turbulent'.

What the Bay Area looked like from space yesterday


Canadian astronaut Commander Chris Hadfield is a prolific tweeter. Not an interesting fact in isolation but there's one important detail; he's currently in command of the International Space Station. He tweets several times a day often with stunning photos taken from his vantage point 250 miles above the earth. Yesterday he posted this beautiful shot of the entire Bay Area at night, each of the valleys clearly visible.

My neighbor, the walled city of Kowloon

When I was growing up in Hong Kong I spent a year at (the now closed) Boundary Junior School. It was a unique experience for a 10 year old, going from a suburban Californian elementary school to an international school populated with every nationality and culture under the sun. But that wasn't what made BJS so unique - it was the location that made it truly memorable. Crammed into the concrete jungle of Kowloon, BJS was right under the flight path of the legendary Kai Tak airport. Every 90 seconds a plane would roar over our heads as we sat in assembly or played downball in the playground. And we're not talking about several thousand feet here, we're talking LOW. As each plane came over, the teacher would pause, wait for the plane to pass, and carry on with the lesson. It became as second nature as breathing or blinking.

Kai Tak Approach

While looking for a photo of the Kai Tak approach I stumbled across an infographic on one of Boundary Junior School's more infamous neighbors - the Walled City of Kowloon.

The walled city, located not far from the Kai Tak airport, was remarkable high-rise squatter camp that by the 1980s had 50,000 residents. A historical accident of colonial Hong Kong, it existed in a lawless vacuum until it became an embarrassment for Britain.

Each resident had about 40 ft.² of space, and because it fell outside of the jurisdiction of any Hong Kong authority or municipal service, including rubbish collection, garbage was hauled to the roof and just left.

But within its dark and squalid walls a micro-economy emerged. Metal fabrication shops, grocery stores, and even kindergartens and schools all had a place within the "City of Darkness".

The infographic below tells a  quite extraordinary tale of an architectural and urban anomaly. Unauthorised, unplanned, and unregulated but yet, like the rest of Hong Kong, efficient, thriving and successful in its own unique way.

Click on the image below for the full version.

City of Anarchy via the South China Morning Post.

In praise of the humble donut

My favourite magazine in the world is Saveur. I like to refer to it as the National Geographic of food. A recent issue was dedicated entirely to a food that doesn't always get the love it deserves. The Donut.

The genus of donuts is broad and extremely varied, with each species attracting fiercely loyal advocates, and God help you if you question their donut style of choice. What most people think of when they think "donut" is the Krispy Kreme style, yeast risen, fluffy donut which is often found on this side of the pond, occasionally filled with jelly or jam. I never been a huge fan of these but I know people all over the world go absolutely nuts for Krispy Kreme, and it can be an irresistible allure first thing in the morning.

But Saveur reserves special prayers for my favorite type of donut, the donut I was brought up, the doughnut I will knock over an old lady to get to...

Then there are cake donuts, the sturdiest of the bunch; prime examples are dense chocolate donuts or substantial old-fashioneds. Made with a chemical leavener, such as baking powder, the dough doesn't need time to rise and can be fried immediately. These are the dunkers of the donut world, the ones with heft, a satisfying crust, and a moist interior. Unlike yeast donuts, they're still pretty good on day two…assuming you have the willpower to keep them around.

In California you can't walk a city block without stumbling across an independent donut shop, usually still resplendent it's 1960s decor and generally populated by slow talking retirees. Row upon row of every conceivable type of donuts, cruller, Bearclaw, and fritter. But the wonderfully dense cake doughnut is what I will always reach for.

via Deciphering the Donut -

Live in the UK, die young*

A recent study came out comparing the general health and life expectancy of 19 countries of similar affluence, including the UK. It concluded that:

The British are less likely to live long and healthy lives than the inhabitants of most European countries – and we also trail Australia and Canada, whose people are more likely to be dancing a jig at a lively old age than we are.

One wonders where we'd be without the NHS, of course, but according to the study "how long and healthily we live is not so much about how hospitals look after us – medical care contributes only about 20% to our healthy lifespans – as how we care for ourselves before we get there."

The Guardian, in interpreting this data, offered up 10 ways to live longer which include moving to Japan. Japan has the highest life expectancy in the world not just because of diet but also because:

 "Japanese people give attention to hygiene in all aspects of their daily life. This attitude might partly be attributable to a complex interaction of culture, education, climate [eg humidity, temperature], environment [eg having plenty of water and being a rice-eating nation] and the old Shinto tradition of purifying the body and mind before meeting others."

The rest of the tips are pretty obvious (don't smoke, move more, eat better, don't stress, etc) but this one is a damning indictment of the north-south divide:

A major study published by the British Medical Journal in 2011 found that people who live in the north of England are 20% more likely to die before the age of 75 than those in the south. The researchers from Manchester University said the gap had reached its widest point for 40 years. The reasons are complex. The researchers said that "socioeconomic, environmental, educational, genetic and lifestyle factors" needed to be looked at – as did the reasons why government efforts to bridge the gap fail. On the other hand, it is far easier to find a stunning and uncrowded beach for a jog on the north-east coast – but swerve the fish-and-chip restaurants and make do with a packet of unsalted peanuts.


*compared to our neighbours and allies, anyway.

via Ten ways to live longer | Life and style | The Guardian.

Virgin Atlantic launching a UK domestic airline

Virgin Atlantic to launch regional carrier | ATWOnline Virgin Atlantic are launching a new UK domestic carrier at the end of this month. They announced the service last year but have finally released details about the new subsidiary. It will carry the Virgin Atlantic titles and livery but will be referred to as Little Red. Of course the airline nerds are up in arms about this but a) it's sub brand that will get little usage and b) what the hell do they know? They could have called it Uncle Richard's Fantabulous Flying Machines for all I care.

Managed properly, this could be a shot in the arm for an airline that has struggled recently. It's being squeezed from all angles from Middle Eastern Carriers, budget carriers, and stronger alliances. Indeed this airline was borne out of remedy slots granted to Virgin Atlantic after BA gobbled up BMI, something which Uncle Richard should have done when he had the opportunity, in my opinion.

The new carrier, which will use four Airbus A320s leased from Aer Lingus, will offer 26 daily flights between London Heathrow and Manchester, Edinburgh and Aberdeen.

Virgin Atlantic is taking over the routes as remedy slots that British Airways was forced to cede to maintain competition on UK domestic sectors after its parent company International Airlines Group took over bmi.

Virgin Atlantic to launch regional carrier | ATWOnline.

US Airways and American Airlines Merge to form the world's worst airline.

So American Airlines and US airways have finally tied the knot. This has been coming for a number of months now and is a sad final chapter in the otherwise illustrious history of American Airlines. They've suffered from at least a decade of atrocious management and union bullying that has turned them from one of the global elite airlines into frankly a bit of a joke. Recent high-profile horror stories of flights delayed by days (not hours), seats detaching in mid flight, and disastrous union negotiations have made a bad situation for American even worse. Even a mediocre rebranding effort couldn't take the focus away from a Legacy airline that was drowning in its own mediocrity. But what about plucky US Airways? Remember, US Airways is in fact America West, the latter acquiring the former several years ago. US airways (and former America West) CEO Doug Parker seems to have a knack for pushing these massive merger deals through on a seemingly regular basis. I can't understate how extraordinary it is that America West gobbled up US Airways and now American Airlines, one of the most storied brands in travel history. I never been a fan of US Airways but they've managed to make this recent merger work and I think the spirit of America West still trickles into the product from time to time.

What remains to be seen is if Parker has the wherewithal to steer American Airlines out of its current dilemma or whether he just took a massive gulp from a very poisoned chalice – only time will tell.

Consumer won't see any change for very long time. These types of acquisitions have to go through all types of regulatory redtape before they can even begin to consider how to integrate products, frequent flyer programs, fleets, etc. But I can tell you know that I would rather slam my fingers and adore over and over again that be the project manager on that little endeavor.


American Airlines' parent company filed for bankruptcy protection more than a year ago.

With a history stretching back 80 years, five years' ago, American had grown to be the world's biggest airline.

It was a pioneer of the loyalty programme for frequent fliers and also brought in the system of sliding prices according to demand.

But deep losses pushed the company into bankruptcy, with the company blaming labour costs and the unions blaming poor management.

US Airways, by contrast, has been profitable in recent years.

The two companies have been in discussions since last August when they signed an agreement to exchange confidential information.

The carrier will be run under the American Airlines brand, but the chief executive is expected to be the current US Airways boss, Doug Parker.

Not including affiliates, it will have around 900 aircraft and run more than 3,000 flights, employing 100,000 people.

via BBC News - American Airlines and US Airways poised 'to merge'.

Paring red wine and chocolate = wrong.

Well there's a long-held believe down the drain. Of course you can pair wine with whatever the hell you want but it seems that pairing chocolate and red wine does a disservice to both. Serious Eats breaks down the reasons why they don't work together as well as suggesting the types of chocolates that work with specific wines. (Hint: Port.)

Here's why the combination of red wine and chocolate is never going to truly taste good. Sugar. A sip of dry red wine without any perceptible sweetness will turn bitter and sour when taken with sweetened chocolate. Unless you're munching on plain roasted cocoa nibs, back away from the Cabernet, please.

Pairing wine and chocolate isn't hard, though—look for a wine with some sweetness, and the whole thing can come together beautifully. Don't let the word "sweetness" or the phrase "dessert wine" scare you away. We're not talking about wine coolers here. A proper dessert wine, when paired with a sweet food, will taste less sweet than it might on its own. Think of the wine as the raspberry syrup drizzled across your molten chocolate cake: it adds the contrasting flavor to make the chocolate pop.

via Please Stop Pairing Red Wine and Chocolate | Serious Eats: Drinks.

Why buying local can hurt small farmers

I've been fascinated by this push-pull argument of "shops should source locally." I think it's a flawed, over-simplified view that doesn't take into account massive variations in regional and seasonal growing conditions. Of course you can source locally year round in California but could you do the same in Missouri...or England for that matter? Absolutely not. And applying blanket "sourced locally" policies seems to be hurting local farmers.

During the summer and fall, nearly everything Farris delivers is grown in Missouri. That's Wal-Mart's definition of "local" — produce grown and sold in the same state. In winter, it's a bit tougher to source locally.

In 2010, Wal-Mart pledged to double its local produce sales from 4 to 9 percent by 2015, as part of a new sustainability program and a commitment to support small businesses. While the chain has exceeded that goal – it says 11 percent of its produce sold nationwide comes from local farms — there's little evidence of small farmers benefiting, at least in the Midwest.

Of the eight farms highlighted on Wal-Mart's locally grown web site, five are very large farms by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's definition, with annual sales in the millions of dollars.

via Small Farmers Aren't Cashing In With Wal-Mart : The Salt : NPR.

How do you solve a problem like Tokyo demolition?

Japan Demolition This is a quite extraordinary piece of engineering. Modern Japan has had to solve many architectural challenges, from earthquake damping to wind resistance. But how do you solve the problem of demolition in a city as densely populated as Tokyo? Explosives and other traditional demolition techniques would cause unacceptable disruption and debris, so a company in Japan has developed a way to compress a building down to a manageable size. The video is a must-see.

BBC News - Japan's incredible shrinking building.

An ode to Grand Central Station, 100 years old this month.

Grand Central Station is 100 years old this month.

At the time of its construction, Grand Central was acclaimed as an engineering marvel. In the subterranean depths of Manhattan, a huge space was carved out, where trains could be boarded from platforms at two different levels, which were approached by gently sloping ramps rather than inconvenient stairs, and in terms of lighting and power, it was one of the first railroad stations to be all-electric.

But Grand Central was also architecturally magnificent.

Above ground there arose a spectacular beaux arts creation, all marble and chandeliers and sculpture and glass, the centrepiece of which was a huge and lofty passenger concourse, which drew the eyes of awe-struck passengers heavenwards, where they could marvel at a vast, barrelled ceiling, painted blue and decorated with the signs of the zodiac.

via BBC News - A Point of View: Grand Central, the world's loveliest station.

Drug Cartels Now Have Private Mobile Phone Networks

Necessity is the mother of invention but this really is quite extraordinary. The cartels have a history of innovation to try and thwart the efforts of the DEA and Mexican authorities, my favourite creation being the smuggling submarines. But what's incredible about this is the level of investment in infrastructure. They're clearly long term.

A network that was dismantled just last week provided cartel members with cellphone and radio communications across four northeastern states. The network had coverage along almost 500 miles of the Texas border and extended nearly another 500 miles into Mexico's interior.

Soldiers seized 167 antennas, more than 150 repeaters and thousands of cellphones and radios that operated on the system. Some of the remote antennas and relay stations were powered with solar panels.

via Mexico Busts Drug Cartels Private Phone Networks : NPR.

Google is building an $82 Million dollar private hangar at San Jose Airport

The Google boys love their planes so I guess this makes sense. They currently have a hangar at Moffett Field and there was talk of redeveloping the old "Hangar One" but this probably means those plans have died on the vine.

According to a San Jose Mercury News story, Google's top three executives have at least eight jets, including a twin-aisle Boeing 767 passenger jet that is commonly used by airlines for transcontinental flights.

via San Jose airport lobbies for $82-million hangar for Google jets -

Apple's Biggest Problem is Keeping Good People

When you can sell your AAPL stock for bank and the project you've been working on for 7 years is on its 5th iteration, there's little motivation to stick around. And you don't have Steve Jobs around anymore to send defensive emails to people poaching Apple's talent.

Ultimately, the retention of talent will be Apple’s Achilles’ heel.

The smartest people will always want to be working on the smartest thing. Sometimes that comes together in one amazing project. iOS has been that project for this decade.

via kickingbear» Blog Archive » Three Things That Should Trouble Apple.

Kevin Rose Reigns As The Zen Master Of Silicon Valley Chatter

This is a great profile of Kevin Rose, someone I like to consider a friend. The below really sums up his enthusiasm and excitement for ideas in their purest form. His enthusiasm is utterly infectious.

"I have so many random ideas," he says. "They're great little lifestyle businesses where you could make a couple hundred thousand a year. But they're not necessarily the things that you'd ever invest in or spend the next four or five years of your life battling for the market." So he gives them away--constantly.

via Kevin Rose Reigns As The Zen Master Of Silicon Valley Chatter | Fast Company.