April 2005
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Month April 2005

Syncline 2004 Grenache Rose

Cooking today for a dinner tonight, so the "prep wine" is the just-released 2004 Syncline Grenache Rose from Columbia Valley.  Last year’s vintage was terrific, but I stupidly put off buying a case until no more was left in Seattle.  Only a small amount is produced – 198 cases (if I recall) of the 2004 vintage.  So find it quick if you love rose.

The wine is deeply colored, not at all pink but really a light transparent garnet.  It smells of strawberries and has a terrific herbal quality on the palate, just like a good Grenache should.  Basically, this is a Washington "Tavel," and IMHO it deserves the comparison.  Syncline did something interesting this year and released the wine with "Stelvin" screw caps rather than corks.  This is controversial stuff among those who market and buy wine, but I’m firmly on the side of the screw-caps.  Sure, there’s something less than traditional about cracking the cap on a bottle of good wine, but the first time you open an expensive and corked bottle of wine, the argument becomes more than simply academic.  By the time you’ve opened dozens of corked, expensive and hard-to-find wines in your tasting career, it’s hard not to be a complete convert.  I don’t buy wine because of the sealing mechanism – I buy it for what’s in the bottle.   So kudos to Syncline for leading the charge.

The packaging aside, Syncline has produced a superb and affordable ($13.00 retail at McCarthy and Schiering in Seattle) rose in the best style and tradition of the Southern Rhone.  I recommend it highly.

Domaine Sorin 2000 Cuvee Tradition Cotes de Provence

The Domaine Sorin was quite the surprise – I’d met friends for a Friday after-work stop at Tarragona on Capitol Hill. Tarragona is a small wine and food shop, run by Paula and Michael Hatch, and they’re running a series of themed tastings. The theme was the Rhone, with several affordable white, rose, and red wines. The standout, in my book, was the 2000 Sorin Tradition, which is a dead ringer for a decent Bandol. Which makes sense, being produced just outside the appellation boundary in St. Cyr-Sur-Mer (the village next door to Bandol on the Mediterranean).

The wine has a deep, dark fruit nose, with a big load of Mourvedre “leather and mineral” stink but no “barnyard.” My friend Vinny calls this “tree bark” as well, which is an apt description but one that doesn’t immediately come to mind for me (I guess I spend less time snuffling trees than he does). The Sorin has a decent though not deep palate, and a reasonable finish. The best part is that it retailed for $10/bottle, about right for having at the house for everyday dinners, etc. And a much better wine than anything you’ll find domestically for the same price.

Real’s new Rhapsody release…not ready for prime time

I hate to say this, since I’m an alumnus of RealNetworks from the early days and still have a soft spot for them, but the new Rhapsody release is seriously, egregiously buggy.   It looks great, and it seemed to represent a step towards unifying all my digital music (everything except DRM-controlled iTunes files and my iPod), but it began crashing shortly after installation.  Then, for awhile today, Rhapsody was failing logins – according to my friend Carl, who called Real, they had some "server" data synch issues.   The upshot is that I’m looking to downgrade again until Real works this out.   But not a particularly auspicious rollout for a product designed to lure people away from iTunes…

Book #24: Free Culture: The Nature and Future of Creativity, by Lawrence Lessig

Free Culture is an important book, well worth reading by anyone concerned by how digital media will affect free expression, inquiry, and culture. Although I came to Lessig after long use of, and involvement with, open source software, his arguments in favor of a cultural commons (what used to be called the “public domain”) should be compelling even without this background.

Lessig demostrates how the seemingly simple concept of a right to control copying of one’s work has been vastly extended in scope, and in the post-Internet world, threatens to erode more traditional concepts of “fair use” and the public domain. Most importantly, Lessig describes how this threat to traditional cultural freedom is fueled by an over-reaction among content owners over the possible effects of digital technologies to their current business models. The latter, I think, is the most important point – while traditionally our society has chosen to protect culture and leave the protection of business models to the operation of the market, in the war over copyright we’re allowing ourselves to protect business models to the detriment of culture.

And this is an issue where true free-market enthusiasts can make common cause with more traditional liberals. Current copyright law and legislation on digital media are protectionist of companies, not more fundamental economic rights. In other words, the MPAA and RIAA have succeeded in pushing protectionism for the pre-1995 business models of the content industries; furthermore, they’ve managed to go beyond protectionism and make digital copyright violations felonious in a way that older, “analog” violations usually were not.

True believers in free markets should abhor this kind of special-interest protectionism, and should welcome increased freedom for fair use and the public domain. These are, after all, the uncontrolled spaces in which innovation and unstructured competition can occur and thus for markets to periodically restructure themselves.

Traditional liberals, concerned about liberty and the threat that private media concentration creates for honest public debate, should welcome a vibrant and free public domain and ample “fair use” rights. These are, after all, the uncontrolled spaces in which dissent and social innovation can occur, and thus for social change to truly emerge out of deliberative and democratic efforts, rather than being focus-grouped, programmed, and stage-managed as is much of our current politics.

Naturally, radical free marketeers and traditional civil-rights liberals often have little common ground to discuss, and I’m not suggesting that this issue is the basis for a lasting alliance. But it is important to recognize those occasions when both groups could join together in opposition to fight government by lobbyist – a mode of political life that one imagines is causing James Madison to spin rapidly in his Montpelier tomb.

@%!# laptop batteries…

Why, oh why are we stuck with such terrible power technology for laptops?  No matter how many $120 laptop batteries you buy, they end up the same way with a bit of travel and a lot of usage – lying through their lithium-ion teeth about how much time you really have, as if the promise of around two hours fully charged was enough in the first place.  But the current battery in my Dell 8500 has developed a fairly nasty decay curve; long about the time it should have 1/4 power left, it plunges rapidly and no power.  I’m comfortable here at the Allegro(1), and in a mood to write, and the battery icon is beginning its one-way trip to oblivion, and I forgot to bring the charger. 

My kingdom for a truly capacious battery or – dare we dream…a fuel cell? 

(1)  The Allegro is Seattle’s oldest coffeehouse, given the demise of the Last Exit, and my office away from the office since 1983.  It’s between University Avenue and 15th, overlooking the new law school and Denny Hall, adjacent to the UW campus.  Highly recommended:  the single short latte, which is "old school" – good balance between coffee and milk, fairly thick and bitter.  Before it was renamed about (five?) years ago, the Allegro referred to this by its proper name:  "au lait."

Book #23: Toast, by Charles Stross

I’ve got a bit of a backlog to post about; after returning from New Haven I went fairly heads-down at work doing something I rarely get to do anymore: be a full time engineer. Much of my time at Network Clarity is spent doing a variety of things, as often happens to founders at startup companies – a bit of sales here, a bit of dev management there, throw in some financing activity occasionally, documentation, internal IT tasks, product management, and very occasionally, I work on some aspects of the product itself.

So I’ve been writing code and thoroughly enjoying myself, mostly because it’s a change of pace. This has meant less writing of late, but I certainly do have things to write about. At the moment, I want to comment on Stross’s story collection, Toast. Stross is quickly becoming one of my favorite contemporary science fiction authors, combining as he does an intense geek sensibility with some fairly serious physics and a keen political eye. The real gem in Toast is “Big Brother Iron,” a truly amazing look at the world of Orwell’s 1984 in its third generation of Party leadership and well into the computer age. The story is far more than just entertainment; Stross continues Orwell’s story in a way that perhaps Orwell himself would not have been capable, given his relative lack of scientific sophistication. In the world of Big Brother Iron, the third generation of leadership has rotted from the inside, with Inner Party members (and many of the technologists upon whom the Inner Party now depends) belonging to a shadowy “Organization” which is little more than an organized crime family. Faced with the choice of continuing the ideological purity of the first and second generations of Party leadership, or working seriously to change their society, many in the Inner Party have chosen a third path – lives of quiet corruption and luxury. This softening and corruption has also led to a far more robust Resistance than existed during Orwell’s depiction of the “young” Oceania and Party, and predictably the Resistance and Organization vie for control over power (each to their own ends) by jockeying for control over technology – over information itself. Given that I was reading Larry Lessig concurrently, I didn’t know whether to be amused or frightened.

Other stories well worth reading in this collection are “Antibodies” and the whimsically caffeinated “Extracts from the Club Diary.” Not all of the stories are up to Stross’s current standards, but this is worth owning simply for “Big Brother Iron.”