Thursday, November 1, 2007

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Monday, August 27, 2007

The end of summer in Central Square.

First the foreign students and the athletes arrive. Then the first
year students. There are fewer parking spaces. MIT starts early and
we're in that happy period when packets of new arrivals zip around the
02139 internet, discovering Hi Fi Pizza and Economy Hardware. The
comic element includes the short-lived, but long-planned back to school
outfits. A number of the affluent East Asian female students dress up
for the first few days until the pointlessness of it settles in. A lot
of the new MIT guys have Space Camp t-shirts. It is a real place in
Huntsville, Alabama run by NASA. And there are also Nebraska Young
Scholar shirts and other goodies from weekend programs and summer
schools. The arrogant few wear austere shirts that say "Science." You
are supposed to know that "Science" means Bronx High School of. I once
saw a kid wearing a Science varsity jacket. On his sleeve it said
"Math Team." I was afraid.

If you've been out of town then you should know Toscanini's is open
from 8AM to 11 PM. Every day. On Saturday and Sunday we serve
Thalia's Large Breakfast, but not this weekend. Because of the Labor
Day holiday we're going to Rhode Island to visit Dunkin Donut
prototypes. One of my favorite chefs is Stan Frankenthaler and he is
DD's very own Ferran Adria. New things are supposed to be coming our
way and you can visit a few stores and see the future.

The last time I checked DD's coffee cost more than Starbucks, and
wasn't as good. And while the new owners are planning to make billions
Dunkin' Donuts doesn't let you tip their workers. Maybe the investment
groups are just going to divide all the money they get and share it
with all those hourly workers.

You can get Toscanini's delivered if you call Cinderella's Pizza. 617
576-0280. The number of flavors they have is limited but their drivers
are heroic. We also sell to Nantucket Ice Cream on Straight Wharf, and
The Nut House in Provincetown. Provincetown also has the very nice
Angel Food and they sell our pints. We sell to most Whole Foods in New
England, including Portland, Maine. We sell to both Formaggio's. We
sell to Serene Chocolate near Harvard Square and we sell to Serenade
Chocolate in South Station. We sell to the two Biscuits and buy our
weekday baked goods from their main store at the intersection of Beacon
Street and Washington Street.

This is Sam Mehr's last week before returning to Rochester NY. He
studies at Eastman. He just made a wicked good Spicy Plum Sorbet.
Martin Gonzalez is not going back to Berklee. He's working on several
ice creams with pistachio nuts and a better Cinnamon. David Dow has
spent most of August playing with bourbon and black pepper. The
results have been good.

I spent part of the summer hang-gliding. It was a good vacation.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

WBUR reports on Mass. Avenue construction

OMG. A very good report on Cambridge's Little Dig or Big Fuckup or
whatever the ongoing comedy may be called. This article understates
the delays. After years of sidewalk supervising I'm still confused
about whether there are two projects or one project, and whether any of
these projects is actually a city project.

I think there are or were two projects: reconstructing Mass. Avenue,
and rebuiliding the intersection of Mass. Avenue and Main Street, which
is Lafayette Square. The Lafayette Square project is certainly ten
years old. A single wonderful construction company is in charge the
entire craziness.

Construction Delays Drag Out
By Monica Brady-Myerov

Listen to story (Real Audio)

Jordy Yager
BOSTON, Mass - August 23, 2007 - Host Intro: Ahhh the sounds of summer.

(sound of trucks)

Summer construction that it. As the summer comes to an end,
construction on roads, bridges and sidewalks just seems to keep going
on and on. While we've been paying attention to falling bridges and
leaking tunnels, there's another problem on Massachusetts roads and
highways: Construction is taking forever.

Almost half the highway projects now under construction in this state
are behind schedule. Things have gotten so bad, even the state now
concedes that construction is taking much, much too long. Next month a
new state task force will start trying to find ways to speed things up.
WBUR's Monica Brady-Myerov reports.

MONICA BRADY-MYEROV: Orange construction barrels line parts of
Massachusetts Avenue in Cambridge from Central Square to the Charles
River. Work to repave the road, redo the sidewalks and add trees
started three years ago this fall, when MIT professor Fred Moavenzedah
greeted a new class of freshmen. They're now about to become seniors,
but the Mass. Ave. project is only three-quarters complete. The delay
rankles Moanvenzedah, who runs MIT's Center for Construction Research
and Education.

FRED MOAVENZEDAH: This paving of this street could have been done in
less than 6 months rather than 3 years. Because it is a job that is
rather repetitious and they could have done it in 6 months if they had
put sufficient man power and equipment, day in day out night in night

MONICA BRADY-MYEROV: The delays with repaving Mass Ave. are typical. A
WBUR analysis of Mass Highway statistics on its own website show that
43% of the road and highway projects in the construction phase are not
on time. And cost overruns on many projects cost taxpayers $30 million
dollars a year.

LOUISA PAIEWONSKY: We know that construction delays cost us money

MONICA BRADY-MYEROV: Highway Commissioner Louisa Paiewonsky.

LOUISA PAIEWONSKY: But I think it's fair to say while there are often
good reasons for construction delays including environmental, or work
permit restrictions or utility delays that doesn't mean we find that

MONICA BRADY-MYEROV: The delays have gotten so bad that the new
transportation secretary is creating a construction streamlining task
force to ask designers, engineers and contractors how to get things
moving faster.

Excuses about the weather and the need to keep roads open while work is
being done don't account for all the problems, according to
construction experts. First, the cash flow is constantly interrupted,
says John Pourbaix executive director of Construction Industries of
Massachusetts, which represents construction companies.

JOHN POURBAIX: The state can't afford to pay the overtime. They are
putting contracts on limited budget that you can only perform so much
work over a period of time or contracts are stopped because they are
burning thru cash a little quicker than they had anticipated.

MONICA BRADY-MYEROV: In 2006 then Governor Mitt Romney didn't file a
transportation bond bill so as many as a hundred construction projects
stopped. This can drag projects out for years. The biggest project
underway now is the $300 million dollar reconstruction and widening of
nearly 14 miles of Route 128. It includes replacing 22 bridges. Many
parts are behind schedule including work at the 128/95 south
interchange in Canton and the overpass on Route 1 in Dedham.

Often contributing to delays is the way contracts are awarded. They go
to the lowest bidder. But Professor Moavenzedah says the low bids are
often unrealistic.

FRED MOAVENZEDAH: These contractors reduce the cost to bare bone in
order to get the job so obviously you expect some delays or cost over
runs or complication in the future.

MONICA BRADY-MYEROV: Like going out of business. That happened with the
contractor paving Mass Ave. who was also working on two highway
overpasses on 128 and repaving Route 9. The highway department doesn't
see hiring the low bidder as a problem.

The state also doesn't give any incentive for work to be completed
early something John Pourbaix of Construction Industries says could
make projects go faster.

JOHN POURBAIX: Our industry would be delighted to see incentives. We
certainly have penalties. END CUT HERE

MONICA BRADY-MYEROV: But Pourbaix says the contractors are seldom
penalized for delays because it's not their fault if they come across a
problem that wasn't in the design. On most projects, the state hires
one firm to design the project and another to build it. Commissioner
Paiewonsky wants more focus on the design.

LOUISA PAIEWONSKY: Often construction delays are caused years before in
the design process so we are doing an internal exercise looking at
whether we are investing enough in the design phase, whether we are
being comprehensives enough in the design scope.

MONICA BRADY-MYEROV: But what some construction industry experts say is
really holding back progress is the antiquated nature of the
road-building industry itself. Barry Patner is a construction lawyer in
New York City who wrote a forthcoming book on the industry. He says
that because construction companies are small and they don't have the
money to invest in new technologies.

BARRY PATNER: The construction industry amongst all industries in
America is the lowest spending industry in terms of IT spending for
technology and has the lowest per worker productivity of any industry
in the U.S.

MONICA BRADY-MYEROV: Such low worker output could mean millions of
wasted dollars in Massachusetts, which has a back log of a staggering
$8 billion dollars in maintenance projects. And it means more
frustrated drivers like these, who were trying to navigate their way
through Kenmore Square. The subway and bus stop reconstruction is ten
months behind schedule it's already taken longer to rebuild than it
took to construct the entire original subway line.

VOXPOP: #1 Construction is truly a pain.
#2 It's pretty much a shame there's are no bike lanes and there is all
this construction going on right before students move in you can't even
ride your car down it forget a bike.
#3 We're from out of town and the last time we were here it was the
same way and it was horrible.

MONICA BRADY-MYEROV: The highway department hopes its streamlining task
force will find ways to complete projects 10 to 20 percent faster.

For WBRU I'm Monica Brady-Myerov

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Los Angeles Mango Mania,1,4686502.story?

From the Los Angeles Times

Mango mania
Direct from India, the luscious fruit makes its Southern California
debut. Oh, the crowds! Oh, the sticker shock!
By Shuji Sakai
Special to The Times

June 6, 2007

IT may be the most highly anticipated produce debut ever: Mangoes from
India, banned from importation until the U.S. and India reached a trade
agreement last year, have finally hit stores in Southern California.

Why all the excitement?

The mango, in India, is revered for its flavor and texture. "It's
luscious, it's satiny, it's smooth and velvety, and has the most
elegant mixture of sweet with a little sour that you can possibly hope
to find," says Madhur Jaffrey, author of "Climbing the Mango Trees: A
Memoir of a Childhood in India" and other Indian cookbooks.

Though hundreds of mango varieties are grown in India, only three —
Alphonso, Kesar and Banganpalli — will be available in the U.S. this
season. Alphonsos and Kesars were the first to arrive.

Alphonsos, smallish and golden-yellow, are amazingly sweet and
succulent, with floral aromas and a creamy, fiber-free texture. Los
Angeles-based produce wholesaler Melissa's received a shipment the
first week of May, says Robert S. Schueller, director of public
relations for the firm. Although Melissa's distributed them to
retailers in Texas, Pennsylvania and New York, L.A. retailers didn't
bite, Schueller says, thanks to their high price — they sell for $35
for a case of 12.

"We're at the peak of mango season," he says. "You can buy a dozen
mangos of the Ataulfo variety for less than 10 bucks, so most retailers
look at the price and say, 'Oh, it's probably not worth it.' In a
market where you can get two mangos for a dollar, and these are costing
$4 or $5 apiece, it depends on where your priorities are."

Mexican-grown Ataulfo mangos — the only fiberless variety besides the
Indian ones — are available nine months of the year, he says.

But the high price doesn't seem to be deterring Indian mango
aficionados. Devraj Kerai, owner of Pioneer Cash & Carry, a grocery in
Artesia's Little India district, says he wanted to be the first to
carry Indian mangoes in the region. He received 110 cases of Kesars (12
per case) on May 11, he says, and he sold out in three hours. (Since
then he has received three more shipments of Alphonsos and Kesars,
pre-selling them, with a waiting list.)

When I arrived at Pioneer that first day, there was a huge yellow and
orange banner that screamed, "Indian Mangoes Now Available," and the
scene around the mango display was like a scrum. That's not surprising
to anyone who knows Indian culture.

"Mangos are an essential part of every Indian's growing up," says
Jaffrey. "Every party for graduations has mangoes, because that's also
the time of the mango. The minute someone graduates, mangoes are sent,
placed in a bucket of ice (the quickest way to cool a lot of them), and
everyone sits around in a celebratory mood.

"At all our weddings, like a Jewish chuppa, we have a canopy, a mandap,
that the couple stands under. The canopy is made of mango leaves, the
most auspicious of leaves, and you are surrounded by their blessings."

Still, eyes popped when Pioneer customers learned how expensive the
mangoes were. A few snapped up cases, quickly ferrying them away.
Others took a more cautious approach. One couple bought a single fruit
for $3.50 and returned moments later to indulge in just one more. They
had eaten the first one behind the store and couldn't resist buying

Besides the price issue, mango devotees should consider that all
Indian-grown mangoes exported to the U.S. are irradiated. The reason
for the long ban was that they can harbor a pest — the mango seed
weevil — but the weevil is killed with low levels of irradiation.
"Irradiation is recognized as a safe and effective way of providing
insect quarantine treatment," says Christine Bruhn, an expert on
irradiation and director of the Center for Consumer Research at UC
Davis, but the procedure remains controversial.

In any case, I didn't let it bother me: I couldn't wait to taste one.
The Kesars, a bit larger than the Alphonsos, are still green when ripe,
with only a touch of yellowing, if any.

As I peeled the skin down the side of the fruit, a fabulous perfume
wafted up: lime blossom, citrus and spice. I filleted the two "cheeks"
away from the flat oval pit. The flesh was gorgeous, a beautiful, deep
saffron color. ("Kesar" means saffron in Hindi.) I sliced, and tasted.

The flesh was silky and ripe, with a texture almost like tofu. It was
amazingly sweet and deeply flavored, with funky tropical notes and a
touch of bright lime and a gorgeous finish. Not wanting to miss a bit,
I slurped the rest of the fruit over the sink.

Kesars will be available only through late June, and they're not easy
to find: The only stores carrying them in Southern California are a
number of Indian groceries; meanwhile, Melissa's is selling them online
($55 per case, plus shipping).

Banganpallis, grown in the south of India, are on their way says
Pioneer's Kerai; he expects to have them this week.

So are Indian mangoes worth the steep price tag? For Schueller, it's a
close call. His favorite, he says, is the green Keittmango, grown next
to the Salton Sea in the Coachella Valley; they'll come into season in
July. "The Indian mangoes are just as good," he says, "but the price is
so high."

But for me, it was the best $35 I've spent all year.



A wide world of flavor, texture and color

Indian mango varieties

Though there are hundreds of mango varieties grown in India, only three
are available in the U.S.

Alphonso: Sweet, soft-fleshed and nearly fiberless, with golden yellow
skin that may be blushed with red, this variety is well known
throughout India. Harvested from March to June.

Kesar: Small to medium-size, it has a green skin that doesn't
necessarily change color when fully ripe. Check for ripeness with a
delicate squeeze. It takes its name from the Hindi word for saffron,
due to its spicy perfume and orange flesh. It is picked from May to
June in its northern home state of Gujarat.

Banganpalli: Large, oval, and golden yellow, with a distinct aroma.
Peeling its thin, smooth skin reveals a firm, meaty, fiberless, sweet
yellow flesh. Harvested in southern India from April to June.


Mango varieties widely available in the U.S.

Tommy Atkins: Growers favor this large, colorful variety (its "blush"
is mostly red) for good looks, a long shelf life and a fibrous flesh,
which helps it endure global transit. Comparing apples to mangoes, this
Red Delicious of the mango world has only fair flavor but is widely
available through most of the year.

Haden: A descendant of the Tommy Atkins, this yellow-orange to red
fruit is medium to large in size and known for its high sweetness and
moderate fiber. It's available October through June.

Kent: Large, with a greenish yellow skin and a bit of red blush, it has
rich sweetness and nearly no fiber. Available October through April
from South America.

Ataulfo: This small mango has a bright yellow skin and sweet, soft
buttery flesh, and very little seed fiber. It's sometimes called a
Manila or Mexican mango and is also sold under the brand name
Champagne. Available in the spring through early summer; now is peak

Keitt: Harvested green before full maturity, this very large fruit,
developed in Florida, can be used for Asian green mango recipes. It can
also be left to ripen to orange-yellow, for full-on eat-out-of-hand
flavor. The season is May through September.

— Shuji Sakai

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Good things from the LA Times

The LA Times is a big fat paper, about which someone once joked that
"It seems to be edited with a shovel." True but the good stuff is very
good. The Food Section on Wednesday is wonderful and the revived West
Magazine is not as good as it once was but its better than an airline


Bomb Mots
Dan Neil

May 6, 2007

Richard "Mack" Machowicz speaks softly and carries a big laser-guided,
over-the-horizon, armor-penetrating stick. Machowicz is the host of
Discovery Channel's "Future Weapons," a breathless hour of gun love in
which Mack—former Navy SEAL and a keen advocate of peace through
superior firepower—pulls the trigger on some of the most fearsome
hardware ever procured by the Pentagon.

In one episode, he ventilates the night with the fire-spitting 40mm
cannon aboard an AC-130 Spectre gunship. On another, Mack visits with
the men behind the Massive Ordinance Air Blast device (MOAB), a
21,000-pound, mushroom-cloud-forming super-bomb that is the largest
conventional weapon in the Air Force arsenal, thus earning it the
nickname Mother Of All Bombs.

It was the MOAB segment that stayed my remote-control hand. While I'm
no authority on the laws of armed conflict, it seemed to me a weapon
with a lethal blast radius of 400 feet is a tad, well, indiscriminate.
Perhaps glorifying this pseudo-nuke was in some sense ethically

"You can't put it down to the weapon," says Machowicz when I reached
him by phone. "Any weapon is unethical if used improperly." The MOAB
was designed primarily as a psychological weapon, Machowicz says. Also,
the MOAB provides an alternative to battlefield nukes. "Not a good
alternative, but an alternative," he says. The show—promoted as part of
what Discovery calls its "Manday" lineup on Mondays—typically has four
segments, each featuring a high-tech weapon system and each, ideally,
ending in an incandescent gout of destruction that makes you ever so
glad you're not a jihadist in Warizistan. A season-one segment featured
the world's most powerful cluster bomb. Misplace your Jane's Defense
Weekly? That's the CBU-97 Sensor Fuzed Weapon (SFW), which can rain
down molten copper over 600,000 square feet. Another segment explored
ground-penetrating thermobaric weapons, which are an extremely
unpleasant variety of incinerating fuel-air explosive that can be used
to—if I may paraphrase President Bush—smoke them out of their holes.

Who is "they"? Well, who have you got?

"The world is full of bad people, evil people," said Machowicz.
"People who are fundamentally inconsiderate of their actions." Ah,

Cable TV has always had more than a whiff of cordite. Following
Clausewitz's maxim that all history is, at base, military history, the
History Channel offers a steady diet of armed conflict: "Dogfights of
the Middle East," "Man Moment Machine: Patton and the Desperate Tank
Attack," are a couple of current titles. In a charming confluence of
life and art, R. Lee Ermey—a former Marine drill instructor cast as the
martinet in "Full Metal Jacket"—hosts his own show of weapons past,
present and future, called "Mail Call." If that's not enough gear, guns
and guts for you, flip to the Military Channel. They're always storming
the beaches of Normandy and Tarawa over there.

God knows I love to see things blow up. A proper gentleman's education
cannot be considered complete unless he has, at some point, shot a
watermelon with a high-powered rifle. But I have a major problem with a
lot of this programming, the first being its clinical and morally
vacant fascination in killing. You know that familiar wing-camera
footage of white-orange napalm blooming in the jungle canopy in
Vietnam? There are people under there. At the other end of every smart
bomb is some poor dumb bastard who is about to be blown to bits. When I
hear some narrator crow about America's precision bombing, I just
cringe. There is nothing precise about a 1,000-pound bomb.

I had a similar reaction to media coverage of the Defense Advanced
Research Projects Agency's Grand Challenge, DARPA's annual open
competition for auto- nomous ground vehicles. How many people
registered that this was a program to develop robotic weapons? Did
anybody even see "The Terminator"?

It's not about the necessity of armed conflict, or morality of a
particular weapon. All of that is, as they say in the military, above
my pay grade. It's about making glib entertainment out of mechanized
death. You couldn't blame a visitor from another country watching this
program and concluding that Americans have slipped into a nutty
late-Roman fascism.

Mack disagrees. The effect of this technology is, he says, to make
warfare less destructive, to limit collateral damage, to protect our
own forces, and in some cases—such as the Long Range Acoustic Device
(LRAD), a focused sound weapon—to find non-lethal means to achieve
military objectives. "It's about how much responsibility you are trying
to take for the battlefield."

A whisper-voiced bulldog of a man with a head as smooth as an ROTC
drill team helmet, Mack seems like a decent sort of guy. I pressed him
as to whether he thought perhaps his show is just a televised front
porch for the military-industrial complex. He does, after all, have
some amazing access, and he never seems to have met a gold-plated
weapons system he doesn't like.

Good propaganda fools the people who see it. Great propaganda fools
the people who make it.

Copyright 2007 Los Angeles Times

Saturday, March 31, 2007

From our English gardening columnist.

Grow-your-own Viagra craze hits Britain's garden centres
By David Randall
The Independent
Published: 01 April 2007

A chance discovery by a Berkshire allotment-holder that a plant widely
available in garden centres has the same effect on men as Viagra has
been confirmed by experts at one of the world's leading botanical

The plant is winter-flowering heather, and botanists at the Royal
Botanic Gardens, Edinburgh, many of them heather experts who have
recognised the source of its active ingredient, now expect it to be the
next must-have plant in British gardens. Demand is already high.
Nurseries and garden centres in some areas are having trouble finding
sufficient supplies as word spreads of the plant's unexpected

A spokesman for Wyevale Garden Centres, which has 106 UK branches,
said: "At first, it was just a trickle of inquiries, but now stores are
virtually being besieged each weekend. We have had men buying dozens of
the plants and, at one store in Croydon, there were men old enough to
know better fighting over the last remaining trays."

The latest gardening craze was triggered by a discovery by a
55-year-old furniture restorer, Michael Ford, on his allotment. He was
always experimenting with drinks made from different plants and one day
he tried an infusion from his winter-flowering heather. He said: "The
effect was almost immediate. I had to stay in my potting shed for an
hour or so before I could decently walk down the street."

He then contacted the Royal Botanic Gardens, Edinburgh, famous for
their work with the heather family, to see if they could offer an
explanation. They could. Botanist Alan Bennell said: "This first
surfaced when East European chemists reported finding a Viagra-type
chemical in the floral tissues of winter-flowering heaths. They were
able to isolate measurable amounts of material that is an analogue of
the active principle in Viagra."

Winter-flowering heather, he explained, belongs to the genus Erica, a
close relative of our own native heather. He said: "As yet, the active
ingredient has not been found in these British forms, but it is proving
to be most concentrated in many of the widely available hybrids sold as
winter-flowering heather in garden centres. Particularly potent are
forms of Erica carnea, the Alpine heather, whose range extends into the

"The work of these biochemists and physiologists - much of it disrupted
and lost during the ravages of war - is now coming to light."

From the limited amount of information available, it is suggested the
Viagra-analogue is best extracted by steeping the detached small
flowers in neat alcohol. An infusion of about 20g of flowers in 100ml
of fluid liberates the active principle. A quality full-strength vodka
(at least 40 per cent) is also effective. Mr Bennell added: "There is
some confusion whether oral consumption or topical application is more

But not everyone is happy about this new discovery. One woman shopping
at a Wyvales in Dorking yesterday said: "It's amazing. My husband has
never shown any interest in gardening before, but now he's out there
night and day fussing over his heathers. Frankly, I preferred it when
he left the garden to me and wasn't so frisky."