Saturday, December 30, 2006

What IS in a name?

One fun way to play with the internet is to pick your favorite search engine, type in your own name, press the “search” button, and then see what happens.

I know, it is a shockingly brazen and unsophisticated way to use this remarkable technology….whatever. And yes, I am already aware that it is called a “vanity search” and that is what it is when you are fishing around for your own identity, but that’s not really what I’m suggesting. No. What is far more interesting is finding out how many people in the virtual world share your name and then checking out what they are up to.

Personally, I think almost everybody has done this type of search…I know for a fact, from my Sitemeter reports, that a couple of you, my own virtual namesakes, are definitely interested in what the other Barry Pike's of the world are up to. So, just for grins, here are what a few of you are doing:

This guy is extremely successful in the corporate world. Like me, his background is in sales, it seems, but he is now the CEO of a major player in the high-tech digital media services industry. He’s Canadian, so he is probably a hockey fan…hey, we’ve got that in common.

There is an Englishman with my name who is an editor of a literary periodical, The Bottle Sreet Gazette, which is devoted to the work and life of Margery Allingham (1904-1966), the famous British mystery and crime novelist of yesteryear. He is also an authority on classic radio dramas produced by the BBC.

Then, there is this distinguished looking gentleman from California. He is a Starship Trooper. Well, more accurately, he is a Sith Lord. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

And this guy is a professional drummer, somebody I am sure I could relate to. He is also English and played with Fumble, a very successful rock-and-roll band on that side of the ocean who has performed with Bill Haley, Chuck Berry, David Bowie and many others. Very cool.

That's great, guys. Keep up the good work.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Warning: Geeky post about Internet Radio, music, and audio in general

This is a very interesting new product. First shown at last year's Consumer Electronics Show, the InFusion portable internet radio from Torian began shipping in November.

It is a battery-powered, fully portable, WiFi-driven media playback device. It also functions as an MP3 recorder/player and a regular FM radio. The cool thing about it is that it is designed to access the gazillion internet radio resources without the need for a computer. All it requires is WiFi. As WiFi becomes more and more ubiquitous, accessories like this will be increasingly practical. Not only will you be able to tune in at the local coffee shop, but even at home, it will be possible to listen to your favorite Ivory Coast alternative-rock channel as you mow the yard, fix supper, or clean the garage.

I love exploring the obscure and bizarre creative corners of our musical world through the many internet radio portals that exist today. For more info on this, check out this very helpful Wikipedia entry for details and links to explore. The only drawbacks so far have been that I have to listen to it on my computer, can't easily record the streaming audio, and therefore I can't take it with me.

This type of device or a variant should and will likely become standard equipment on home stereo component equipment. In addition to the buttons that allow you to select CD/DVD, FM, AM, and Cable TV, will be a button that says IP or somesuch, which will then allow you to tune in to the amazing programming choices that exist on the internet. Obviously, broadband internet access will be required, but that, too, is becoming more available with each passing day.

Audio quality continues to be an issue with every IP audio device. While I expect the InFusion sounds as good as most of the other internet-based players, I have yet to hear any consumer online-driven audio source that sounds as good as a compact disc through a decent conventional player. MP3's offer incredible convenience and access, but the fidelity is greatly inferior to the CD, DVD, or other fixed digital playback systems. In general, audio playback quality has suffered tremendously the last few years because the industries that drive the technology shifted their focus from prioritizing high-fidelity sound to high-quantity delivery methods. There are a host of issues, technical and aesthetic at play and I'm not going to get into it here. My hope and expectation is that the quality of the sound will soon catch back up with the wonderful freedom that we now have to listen to programming available from all over the planet.

The InFusion at first seems a little pricey at $229 and it is only available via special order through their site. But it is cheaper than most IPOD's and many other MP3 players. I think the idea is way more interesting than satellite radio, although, obviously, where there is no WiFi, there will be very little fun to be had. Yes, I want one.

h/t RadioWorld Online

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Notes in passing...

We had a wonderful Christmas, and thanks so much to those who have sent their greetings here and elsewhere.

It has been great having my brother and his family in from Virginia this week. We were hoping to get out and do some pistol-shooting this week, but its just a little to chilly for that to be much fun for long. It has been great, though, just to hang out with them, share Christmas, play games, etc.

I'm having a lot of fun with my new lap steel. It is a great-sounding instrument and I am really enjoying it. Not easy to play, by any means, but within my reach. I already speak the language, I just need to work on the dialect.

One of the many joys this time of year brings is some time in which to read. I just finished John Scalzi's Ghost Brigade, which I got for Christmas, and it was excellent. Scalzi creates a fascinating universe that is at once alien and bizarre, yet at the same time absorbing and believable. If you like sci-fi, you should check it out. I'm hoping for a 3rd book in a similar vein, although it seems he got distracted and wrote something new and unrelated. It is very likely to be good, too.

At church this weekend we are having a guest artist lead our worship services. Lee Behnken has been a friend of our church's for many years. He is a gifted writer and performer of considerable international renown and a great guy. I'll be backing him up on acoustic with his band, I think, which will be fun and different since I really am an electric guitarist primarily. But it is always fun to play new music with new people and learn new things.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Tyropita! (No, I'm not Greek, I'm just here for the food.)

I haven’t written much, if anything, about one of my favorite things: cooking. I am actually the primary cook at our house and have been since the mid-80’s. There are a number of reasons for this, including, as we joke around here, the primal need to stave off starvation. But, really, my wife has never really enjoyed cooking, didn’t do much of it in her formative years, and is not particularly interested in doing so now. There are a handful of things she enjoys making and can do very well…like microwave popcorn, macaroni & cheese, and toast. And she makes great coffee, which is perfect since around here, that is a primary food group. Early in our marriage, we tried cooking together and that worked about as well as two people trying to drive the same car at the same time. Early on, we did learn to make our now legendary Walnut Chicken with Rice together, and we still enjoy it now, nearly a score of years later. But generally speaking, two cooks in the same kitchen sounds like a recipe for divorce (heh).

Anyway, I didn’t marry her for her cooking – what’s that mean, anyway?

My brother, an excellent cook, and I learned the basics of cooking from our mother. As my father tells it, Mom wasn’t always a great cook, though. Evidently her Tuna Noodle Casserole nearly killed him in their early years. But by the time I came along, she seemed to have gotten it down pretty good because I still like that dish…once a year or so. Anyway, he didn’t marry her for her cooking either, evidently. Besides, she became a master cook and certainly still is. In addition to hosting the headquarters for most of our traditional holiday family gatherings, she is still learning to cook new things all the time and teaching her grandkids to cook, as well as continuing to make the staples that we all enjoy.

Seasonal holiday fare is really not my thing, so, unless your family is pretty peculiar, what follows is really not much like a traditional Christmas treat at all. I enjoy a lot of diverse kinds of food, but one of my favorites is Mediterranean cuisine. So here is a really easy recipe for what, to most Americans, will be an exotic dish but is, in fact, a staple in Greece. This recipe is a functional amalgam of several others, none original. It is slightly Americanized, but it works, its very easy, and its really, really, good.

It is called Tyropita, which means “cheese pie” in Greek. Here is the recipe:

---1 roll of phyllo dough (I use Athens Foods. 1 box comes with 2 rolls – freeze the remainder)
---1 lb of feta cheese
---1 ¼” cup of cottage cheese
---1 stick of butter or the margarine equivalent.
---Pam or some other cooking oil spray
---6 eggs
---fresh ground black pepper (to taste)

Phyllo dough is found in the frozen foods aisle at your grocery. It is that paper-thin, multi-layered dough that is used to make baklava and other tasty treats.

Defrost the phyllo dough as instructed on the package. When it is thawed, you are ready to start. First, carefully unroll the dough. The only tricky part about this recipe is the fragility of the sheets of dough. Try not to tear them.

In a large bowl crumble the feta cheese, add the cottage cheese and the eggs and mix it well. Melt the butter in either a saucepan on the stove, or with a microwave in a bowl.

Spray the Pam liberally on the bottom and sides of a 9x13” casserole pan. Glass may work fine, who knows? Mine is metal…I don’t know why. Now is the time to preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Carefully lay the first sheet of dough on the bottom of the pan. With a soft bristled cooking brush, apply some of the clarified butter to the sheet. Lay a second sheet on top of the first and then brush on more butter. It doesn’t have to be too thick, but you should be sure it is spread across most of the sheet. Do this until you have a total of 8 layers of buttered phyllo sheets, which should be about half of your roll.

Spoon the cheese mixture into the pan, spreading it evenly across the phyllo dough. Then add the rest of the dough sheets and more butter until you are out of dough, probably 8 or 9 more sheets.

It is difficult to slice this dish into portions after its done baking without destroying it, so let it bake in the oven for about 10 minutes or so, then remove. With a very sharp knife, cut through the top layers of dough down to the filling…you can cut it in squares (easy), triangles (traditional), or diamonds (fancy). Return to the oven and cook for another 50 minutes or so, or until the top is a beautiful crispy, golden brown color. Upon removal, finish slicing to the bottom of the pan and then serve.

These are great hot or cold and are perfect with soup or stew. The feta cheese brings the attitude, but really, it’s just a cheese sandwich with a kick.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006


Well today we saw a milestone come and go. We breached the 1000 hit mark on our trusty sitemeter. Nevermind that 90% or so were Google drive-by's...we take our satisfaction where we can find it. Nevermind, too, that the 1000th visit happened to be from our brother in Virginia. We hasten to inform him that, though his faithful patronage is gratefully acknowledged, that there is, in fact, no prize but this cheap praise for his effort.

Tomorrow, please come back for something heretofore unseen on this site. We will share some observations on cuisine and family, and will feature a simple and very tasty Greek recipe that is in no way related to Christmas or to any other holiday of which we are aware. We attempted to post it earlier today and would have but for the fact that the requisite accompanying photograph failed to meet even the meager standards enforced by the management of this so-called blog.

We will now, at this time, cease referring to ourselves in the third person because we find it tedious and annoying.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Sliding Into Christmas

I know, the last post was especially obnoxious since it gave nothing and it took from you the one thing in this life that you can't ever get enough of...chocolate. No wait, I mean time. I stole a few seconds of time...but not from many of you, after all. From less than a dozen or so, in fact, according to my site meter, but nevertheless. Well, sorry about that.

And now, by way of abrupt transition, this.

I happen to know what one of my Christmas gifts is and it is totally, unbelievably great. I know what it is because I got to pick it out. My beloved wife is giving me this:

This is an Artisan EA-1 Lap Steel Guitar. But it is not just any lap steel guitar. It is this great blue color, first of all, and then there's the really cool part: It is autographed by Robert Randolph. He is the burning hot, brilliant young blues rock steel player that you may have seen and heard as recently as last night on Late Night with David Letterman.

Here is a closeup:

The previous owner won it in a radio station promo contest, and decided to sell it. I've been wanting one of these for a while, but this one is especially nice.

Lap steel guitars are simple instruments and not typically expensive. The EA-1 is a basic model, but completely usable in a performance setting. It is a 6-string instrument, usually tuned to an open tuning, and is equipped with one single-coil pickup. It is played by moving a slide up and down the strings with the left hand while the right hand, equipped with a thumbpick and 2 or 3 fingerpicks, strums and picks. The slide is, in my case, a Dunlop stainless steel bar designed for this purpose. The instrument lays flat in one's lap, or can be mounted on the supplied telescoping legs to adjust it to standing level, if preferred.

The lap steel is adaptable to many different styles of music, but its roots lie in the country blues traditions. Depending on how it is played and amplified, its tone can be a restless blues wail, a deep-throated rock-and-roll snarl, a gentle, plaintive country moan, or a sweet, velvety gospel tenor. The slide action of the left hand makes it an especially intuitive, expressive instrument.

In accordance with the common laws of Western Civilization, I do not get possession of this gem until Christmas Day, which is as it should be. But I can scarcely contain my excitement. It is going to be some serious FUN!

Thursday, December 07, 2006

A Whimsical Musing on Advertising and Materialism

There are so many things in this world that do not function as advertised. Products and services often fall far short of expectations and promises. The purpose of advertising, obviously, is to compel or inspire people to buy something, to make us believe that our lives will be enhanced if we acquire this newfound item or capability. Often, we are disappointed.

I am certain that, in realms where money is no object, a tiny percentage of the planet’s population is able to afford and enjoy the very best of whatever is available to satisfy their desires for luxury, comfort, and convenience. While I in no way begrudge them their satisfaction, it is nevertheless not surprising, for example, to find that a Porsche Carrera GT may brings its owner a high degree of satisfaction and thrill. Anyone will appreciate the beauty of form, the engineering, and the technical excellence that goes into this kind of accomplishment as well. And it is very good that in every industry, it seems, there are some few individuals and companies whose passion is to achieve the very best quality, rather than to be the most popular or the most sold.

But it is even more remarkable when similar success occurs in much less rarified fields of endeavor. There is a gentle satisfaction, even delight, that settles over me for a time when I encounter something that really does what it is supposed to do, or which actually exceeds the claims of its advertising. I am especially impressed when this success occurs in fulfilling a common everyday need. The simpler and more mundane it is, the more I appreciate it. Things like ...SHAVESECRET!

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Happy Birthday!

A birthday is a happy thing. And tomorrow is mine! My family celebrated today with a wonderful feasting and very generous gifting. As for the cake, Texas Sheet Cake has been my favorite for a very long time, preferably made with real buttermilk by my Mom.

Here is what I got:

First, of course, the Music:
Bare Naked Ladies (the band, by which I mean, their most recent CD), Are Me
Charles Mingus, The Very Best Of...
Newsboys, Go
John Coltrane, Blue Train (One of the best classic jazz albums ever.)

A new pair of Wolverine boots! This is my footwear of choice year round, pretty much.

A Radial Engineering ProDI, which is kind of a geeky technical device, but a thing of beauty nonetheless. This company makes, among other things, the best direct boxes available. For the curious and/or perplexed, this is a device that will allow me to interface my acoustic/electric guitar to a PA system or studio environment with an extraordinarily high degree of quality and goodness. What I like about RE is that they take a relatively basic device that really serves a pretty pedestrian function and apply high scientific and engineering values to its design and manufacture. I just like it because, for what it is, it is the best possible example that exists on the market today. I am very pleased.

A very generous cash gift from my beloved Grandmother

A gift certificate to a local retailer.

The American Heritage Pictorial History of the Civil War, which well satisfies my enjoyment of both history and art.

Many thanks to all!

Oh...that picture above is a random scan from the Bare Naked Ladies cover art...pretty groovy. And the music is great.