Saturday, August 30, 2008

Lest ye be judged.

I got to be a beer judge today.

A local homebrewing club had its annual brewing competition this weekend. They were expecting something on the order of 80 or 90 entries. They actually got over 150. The organizers kind of panicked, and sent the word out that they needed more judges for the competition, and it really didn't matter how much experience the new judges had.

So someone thought of me.

It was a lot of fun. Well, not the "show up at 9 a.m." part, because I'm not all that fond of beer as a breakfast beverage. Even when it's the middle of summer, and a weekend.

They break it up so that a table of three judges would deal with, say, eight to 12 beers. You get a two- or three-ounce pour of a beer, judge it against specific style (e.g., Vienna Lager) definitions, and come up with a numerical score. No, you don't have to drink all of the pour you're given, and you really don't want to drink it all, if you're going to get through ten 3-ounce pours in three hours. At 9 a.m.

A single beer from the group of 8 to 12 would advance to the "best of show" round, where it would be re-judged by a different group of judges.

As it turns out, the best beer from my table - a Munich Helles - eventually won the gold medal for Best in Show.

All in all, great fun.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Doom and gloom.

It's like I brought a little bit of Seattle back with me.

Yesterday, we had a high of 68 degrees, low gray clouds, drizzle and gentle rain off and on all day long. No thunder, no lightning. Really dark, low clouds rolled in around 7 pm, so you'd have needed headlights even if it weren't raining.

These photos really were taken at 7 pm - an hour and a half before sunset - in downtown Richmond, near where I work.

And today? A bit more traditional August rainstorms - rain so hard that you couldn't see beyond the windshield wipers, a lot more lightning and thunder, large ponds of water covering the road. Not quite up to the standard of hot summer afternoon thunderboomers, thankfully. (And, naturally, it stopped as soon as I got to the office.) Still, it was 3 inches of rain in 3 or 4 hours, so there's flash flooding around the area. These are the remnants of tropical storm Fay, so three inches of rain is a whole lot better than some areas around the country got.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

West coast trip.

Okay, I'm back. Back from a one-week trip to the Seattle area. Somewhat rejuvenated (although a two- or three-week trip would have been better in that regard), although it's amazing how tired you become from sitting in a slightly-padded seat all day long on the return flights.

I can report that the Space Needle really does exist, something I could not honestly say after my previous visit to Seattle 12 years ago. Oh, sure, on that trip I was able to see the bottom 50 feet of it. But no more than that.

I ate a lot of salmon, which tastes a lot better when it's served fresh, near where it was caught, than when it's frozen and shipped across the continent. And I played a lot with my new camera, the results of which you're seeing here. (Well, a selective excerpt of the results: I took almost 600 photos on my trip.)

I got to see some spectacular sunsets. This has the Olympic National Park in the background, and the Hood Canal in the foreground.

I even got to see a sunrise, painful as that usually is for me to consider. I was watching a triathlon, and this is a pre-race photo, with the kayak volunteers getting into position to assist any swimmers needing aid. I can assure you: it's better to see a West Coast sunrise when your body is still on East Coast time.

I did a few touristy things in Seattle: I walked by the base of the Space Needle (going up it will have to wait for a later visit), I rode the monorail, I went on the Seattle Underground tour. The most fun thing I did, though, was going to a performance of the pre-Broadway tour of Shrek: The Musical. Great fun, and very well done; the actress cast as Princess Fiona has a wonderful voice. I'm not entirely sure that a musical needed to be done, but if so, this production fills the bill.

All in all, I had a great time. I'm ready to go back.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Between the covers.

Part of the reason I haven't been posting much lately is that I've been reading. (Well, okay - that's not the only reason. But it's a lot more satisifying to say that I've been doing something productive like reading than to admit I've been doing my impression of a sloth.)

One book I've liked is Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions, an examination of motivations that lead us to make the wrong choice when we know better, such as the power of "free" items. The author is a behavioral economist who teaches at Duke and MIT, and I heard him speak earlier this summer at a Richmond Fuqua alumni event. Pretty interesting material, although not entirely new to me.

In the area of wine, I enjoyed To Cork or Not To Cork: Tradition, Romance, Science, and the Battle for the Wine Bottle, a very thorough discussion of the problems with corks and the limited success of various alternatives. I had thought I had a good understanding of the issue, but reading this made me realize that the various solutions aren't quite as good as I had thought.

And I've been reading some fiction lately, too. Joe Haldeman's The Accidental Time Machine is some of the best science fiction I've read lately, not that I've been reading all that much science fiction in the past ten years. Among fiction, I've probably read more mysteries than anything else. But Haldeman's latest doesn't disappoint.

I'm now in the middle of Sunshine - a delightful vampire tale. Pretty good escapist, summertime reading.

I happily recommend all of them.

O Henry, 1996 - 2008.

O Henry passed away last week. She had cancer, and passed peacefully.

She started out as a stray, and was adopted by my mother by the time she was one year old or so. She made the move from Florida to Virginia about two and a half years ago, when she and Sami came up here.

She was a very sweet cat, always sleeping on my bed at night. She was also the matriarch of the household, keeping all the other cats in line, usually by grabbing them and licking their heads until they submitted. What was great fun was when she'd approach me while I was sleeping and lick my head. Not sure I ever submitted to her authority, exactly, but I'm sure there are those who will tell you that I have been very thoroughly trained to do all of my cats' bidding, including hers.