Saturday, December 29, 2012

On the completeness of the New Testament canon

Suppose you were offered to take part in a fake discovery of the New Testament literature. A whole team of experts has gathered together and has told you that they already have a site in Egypt where the purported discovery would take place, that they already have fake parchments and ink that have zero chance of being detected as anything other than genuine, and that they have several linguists and experts in old tongues ready to convey whatever text into proper old script and style; in fact, the handful of pros that could derail the falsification, are already in the know and very willing  and able to go along. They only need you to come up with the text.What would you write?

Saturday, December 22, 2012

De-essing part 5: software

There is one final solution that can potentially solve all your problems when trying to de-ess a LP: going digital.

Digitizing your music from analog is not only the way to go for archival purposes on the cheap, but it also allows you to tweak with the resulting data in literally, hundreds of ways. A free, or very low-cost program can reduce or eliminate  hisses and scratchings and can be very good with dealing with the constant noise wave.

The program I have been using for years is the Magix Audio Cleaning Lab. Apparently, they have dropped the version number so the latest one is labeled MX. My old version 11 works so well that I have not seen the need to update it. Broadly speaking, the program lets you import your music from various sources,  including your turntable, process it, and save it or export it into different file formats or optical media. The processing stage is the meatiest one and it can automatically analyze the data for a recommended set of adjustments; alternatively, if you're so inclined, you can choose from many presets or fiddle with the various processing tools as you would with rack hardware. Generally the results are very good. Not all offending sounds can be eliminated, but close enough.

In regards with de-essing, there are at least a couple of tools that can help you. One is a dedicated de-Esser plug-in and the other is a preset in the multimax tool. Oh, there are also a couple of free VST plug-ins:  Spitfish ( and  the Tonman deesser ( . They pull a mighty effort at cleaning, but if the source is too far gone, they will still leave noticeable traces. In my informal tests the
Tonmann performed best out of the free tools. There are surely some other paid plug-ins out there.

So, is this the way to go? If you don't care whether your music is analog or digital, then getting this kind of software and using it concurrently with other solutions, such as the ones we have already discussed, will solve most of your problems. If you do care about keeping your LP music analog, using software is not an option for regular listening.

More on de-essing: 

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Chess Endgames by Polgar review: Endgames 2

If you have been playing chess for a while, you might probably have come across Laszlo Polgar's huge volume Chess: 5333+1. At least one member of any chess team or club seems to have one at hand. Unbeknownst to many, Polgar released similarly sized volumes on the middlegame, reform chess and the endgame. When I finally found the latter in a bookstore, there was a big stack of them. I promptly bought three copies for around $20 each, and would have bought more, had I had an extra chance.

Endgames is an absolutely beautiful book. Hardcover, sewn spine, attractive dust jacket, cream-colored pages and so on. I even like the smell. Like its siblings, it has six diagrams per page and encourages solving.

It is also very large and heavy book, weighing over 3 pounds and that's its downfall. If you only want it to ogle over it, it's fine. It looks superbly on the coffee table or on a shelf. But if you really want to sit down and go over the problems, it is a hassle. The solutions are at the end of the book and you have to turn several hundred weighty pages to find the one for the problem you're working on. And the solutions are not single moves like most from 5333+1; these are full-fledged, sporting variations and sometimes sub variations, some so long, that can fill a whole column  making it also easy to lose your place. Annotations are in the universal informant sign language with no other clarifying text. In view of this, you have to set the position on a chessboard and somehow fit the book on the same table at the same time. This arrangement is not limited to this volume as it also applies to the middlegames book. An accompanying electronic version would solve many of these problems, but there isn't any; and I have checked thoroughly on the net. I had to make do with preparing my own digital versions (positions and chess engine support in Chessbase format and solutions on PDF) for the first two sections and I am plowing through these now.

The contents are diverse and range from the very basic to the odd. In fact, there are 171 themes all told. No endgame enthusiast would be disappointed in the selection. Most of the problems lean towards hard.

Nowadays, this is a rare book. I think the publisher, K├Ânemann,  has gone under. The few copies that can be obtained at sites like Amazon or eBay start around $80 and it is not uncommon to see them over $100. As far as I can tell, no republishing is in the works. Cheaper units can still be purchased at Amazon's French site,, and shipped to America (this is in fact what I did when I got the middlegames volume around 2004).

Wrapping up: As an object or as a collectible, this book is not really a must have, but it is certainly very attractive. If you happen to find it in mint condition and at a respectable price, snatch it. For challenge, look no further. For instruction, look somewhere else.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Harney and Sons Chocolate Mint tea review

The aroma of perfumed teas can sometimes be intense. At other times it can be the tea's most distinctive quality. Both cases bloom together in the  Harney & Sons chocolate mint black tea which is the most aromatic perfumed tea that I have come across. No other even comes close. One can understandably be suspicious when faced with so heavy perfumes: who knows what they could be masking. As said, the aroma is strong. In fact, you could detect it from a yard away, with your eyes closed and with the tin sealed. Opening the tin is an experience in itself: the full force of the smell fills the airways in an instant. The surprising fact is that it isn't unpleasant at all; one would think that the manufacturer overstepped all bounds; this isn't the case.

What you see inside our small flakes of peppermint leaves and regular black tea in about equal proportions.

For brewing, this one is ready in about 4 min. The taste is somewhat strong but not overbearing. As with the smell, it really does taste like mint chocolate: liquid mint chocolate sans sugar. I cannot determine what gives the chocolate flavor to the duo. Unlike other perfumed teas, the black tea itself does peer through the flavoring without having to look for it and in fact, the black tea tastes better than average. The result is well balanced.

Now, I tried to think up with what food it would mix well, but couldn't come up with anything. With what would you pair real chocolate mint anyway? Neither spicy or blander foods seem right. Pastries… maybe, if they're moist enough. Other sweets feel like compounding… I can only conclude that this one works best as an after meal drink.  I also get a feeling that this one would go down well with insomniacs as its, so to speak, dark components would be welcome to pass the time with in the wee hours of the morning. It is specially pleasing at home in cold weather.

Not tried it as iced tea. I don't think that its strength and taste would give good results cold.

If you're a chocolate mint fan, you should definitely get this one. Also, I would recommend to offer it to guests as an intro to tea in general.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Inflation calculator for Mexico

How much was worth it?
It really doesn't bother me, but it is somewhat annoying.
From time to time I come across monetary figures in books & texts. Nothing wrong with that, especially since X number of dollars is X number of dollars. Having spent a fair amount of those I can relate to what the figures mean. As you can guess, this is only true for relatively recent figures. Inflation messes perception up and if the figures you're reading about are somewhat dated, it gets difficult to get a sense of what they actually amount to. Were, say, five 1962 dollars a princely amount or were they something you could walk by without a second glance were you to find them lying on the street? How can one tell?
Calculator & gold coins; source:; by Benjamin MillerThere are formulas that solve this problem by bringing, so to speak, any amount to the present by reflecting the inflation of intervening years; though not overly complicated, these nevertheless cannot be applied in a jiffy. That's why I decided to write my own inflation calculator. I quickly found out that there were already a number of those on the net for the US dollar. Not wanting to duplicate them, I decided to switch to the Mexican peso. To that end, I researched the consumer price data and taught myself some HTML (too basic perhaps, as the page looks dated) and Perl language for the CGI programming. The hardest part was to get the Perl and the HTML talk to each other, but after some trial and error I got it working. This was back, around 2006 or 2007 and I have been updating it with the latest data since.

Here goes:
If you have to deal with the Mexican peso, the calculator has some nice features. Firstly, it goes back to 1878, which is way farther back than what the Mexico's central bank provides for its own online calculator. Secondly, it is easier to input information. Thirdly, it outputs more than just two decimal points. Fourthly, it not only gives you the accumulated inflation for the given period, but also the average inflation for said period. Fifthly, it lets you enter whatever amount, for example, 1,000,000, and reflecting the inflation to that amount, not just the raw inflation percentage increase. What I believe to be it lacking is getting from it monthly, rather than yearly information. I did not integrate this feature because it's more difficult for the user to input the monthly data (and for me, to get the records).

For the future, if I can get hold of the data, I might rewrite the calculator for use with other currencies.

Update 9/25/14: Boosted my HTML and CSS powers with this and now the page looks less ancient.

Update 1/23/15: Added an Easter egg to the calculator a couple of weeks ago. Working on another.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Ghosts by Llewelyn review

Llewelyn has an impressive catalog to his credit. A casual overview of his output reveals that he leans heavily to the healing/relax/contemplative/New Age. Such diversity can make someone suspicious. How can he write so much? Is it all good? I cannot answer these questions, but I will give my endorsement to one album that deviates from the rest.
"1939"; Owner: Jim Smith; source: burningwell.orgGhosts appropriately deals with hauntings. I cannot entirely decide if the music here belongs to ambient or mood; I think it may be both. It is played with electronic instruments and is very mellow. The music all throughout feels like a soundtrack for a movie, but not a sad or scary one. Rather, it gives the listener images of lonely, mysterious places on moonlit nights with tendrils of fog creeping all round. Sometimes, when I have to wake very early in the morning to finish some work, I find it a very suitable companion, as, at those hours, I feel like a ghost myself and what better to have music to fit in?

On the cover it says that it is music inspired by ghost stories of the British Isles. The track names reflect this with some of the most popular stories, some, that you might already know.

I don't know if this one is intended for relaxation, but if you find plain vanilla relaxation music boring, you might give this one a go. It might even be good for playing before sleep, just don't play it night after night, because it's charm would wear off.

Originally downloaded this at e-music, but I'm sure that you can easily get it on any digital music store. Recommended.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

De-essing Part 4: Laser turntable

Source:; Owner: Steven KreuzerWe have seen some ways to de-ess a turntable. Most of the problems arise from the way the needle rides the grooves. If one could only have something that could read and play the disc optically…

There is such a device: a laser turntable. Developed in the US and marketed and sold in Japan by the ELP Corporation, this turntable works by shining lasers on the vinyl record and reading information from the scattering. Advantages quickly pop up into mind: perfect groove ride, the ability to skip to individual tracks, use of a remote control, continuous replay of a single track, the elimination of guesswork and frustration on the selection of cartridges and needles, plus, the possibility  keep your records in pristine condition indefinitely; in fact, one of the mottos of the company is "no contact, no wear". Micron level precision also allows the reduction of noise by scratches, warping and wear, and, having the lasers always aligned by default, harsh ess sounds, which is our subject matter. Oh, and the signal stays analog all throughout.

Such a cool piece of technology has an insurmountable problem for all but the rich though: it is outrageously expensive. The most basic model, that plays only 33 RPMs, goes for around $9000. Admittedly, the prices have declined over the years, but, as you can see, they are still prohibitively high.

Uncorroborated (by me at least)  hearsay around the net also indicates that getting one fixed is a hassle and  expensive and slow to boot. Also that the records must be squeaky clean to get good results.

Apparently the patents for this technology have expired and it is only possible that some other company brings to market a more affordable player.

More on de-essing:

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Sandboxie: Core programs #3

Remember those boxes of crayons that were all shiny and the crayons themselves so neatly ordered by color rainbowlike? Back in the day, I think I coveted those. Unfortunately, I was not so neat myself and after some use, the crayons would turn ugly and unsightly, each smudged with pieces of its neighbors. Some people were more careful, mostly girls, and could keep them tidy even after prolonged use.
source: taken by Bryan Oliver
Something similar happens with computers. When you first get them running, they are all fast and zippy and the program menus and desktop uncluttered. But then, as you install programs and stuff, things begin to slow down, viruses to creep in and experience to go down. Sure, you could keep your computer in a pristine condition by not installing anything or connecting it to the net, but that's a no go. Could one, so to speak, have her cake and eat it too? Sandboxie could be your easiest solution.

Sandboxie is a program that places your web browser inside the virtual sandbox. The theory is that anything that happens inside the sandbox is stopped from making permanent changes to your computer, and still run as normal. What happens in the sandbox, stays in the sandbox. After each use, or every time she wishes to, the user can just wipe or delete the contents of the sandbox and start afresh. The capability of running the web browser inside the sandbox is not limited to that program only. Once installed, the user can run many , not all, programs within the sandbox. This lets her try new programs, and if she doesn't like them, remove them completely. No traces left behind.

The main focus of the program is security. If something harmful were to happen, the damage is contained inside the sandbox, so surfing is rendered safer. Theoretically, it is not 100% malware proof, but it is of great help nonetheless. Mixing sensitive sites, such as online banking, and regular surfing is still not recommended inside the same sandbox.

In my experience, some complex programs and others that require restarting the computer for installation cannot run correctly, so the user has to try another idea from her toolbox such as a virtual machine which I'll review next.

It is available for free at:

If you wish more about its security aspects there is a Security Now! podcast episode (#172) on:

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Tea podcasts: review

source:freestockphotos.bizSince 2008 I have dabbled in the tea podcast offerings out there and I decided to take a closer look on them just a month or two ago. I'll review here four shows, sticking only to those that have audio-only streams because when I listen to my iPod, my gaze is on other business. I'm not dissing on video shows, I just don't have the patience to watch for long. Oddly enough, all four shows that I review here have not been updated in a long while.

This one mainly reviews teas live. The listeners get the double benefit of checking their own experiences against the tea reviews and getting very honest, on the spot descriptions. The hosts typically, or at least on the shows that I have listened to, taste the tea of the day at differing steeping points and give their impressions. On the downside, the unscripted nature of the show makes it drag a bit. The older shows also have not so good audio quality, but you can hear what they have to say most of the time. There is also a flagship video version.

The Tea Lover's Room with the Tea Lover Chic

My first love. This one focuses more on tea rooms and tea parties. Settled in Sacramento, the host is adorable and feels like as if she were your favorite aunt. The show has different sections and starts with the basics, explaining everything, but avoiding undue detail. As the episodes progress, the show evolves to include other aspects. The piano music theme never fails to get me jolly. As with the rest, it has not been updated for many years. I hope she's all right, and will be back soon to offer us more of her love for tea.

Lainie sips

In this one Lainie gives us quick and precise reviews of different teas. She also deals with certain aspects of the tea drinking experience, such as using more than one pot and the virtue, or sin of flavored teas. Listener calls are also common which gives us the opportunity to hear what other people are enjoying. Finally, Lainie has an active blog at


Of all four, this is the one that caters to the highest point of expertise. What I mean is that this one is less for beginners and more for pros, or those that have years of experience on their backs. It may not be intended to be that, but the result is beyond what occasional drinkers may be interested in. It has interviews, general topics, the business of tea and more. Unfortunately, this one also has the lowest audio quality and often it is difficult to discern the words from the female host. Notwithstanding, you may want to check out one or two episodes, especially the one that deals with the science of tea.

To wrap it up, if you're a beginner in tea, start with The Tea Lover's Room and then move up to Lainie sips. Also, compare your experiences with the reviews at Leave Teacast for last.

Update May-13

Since I wrote the previous words there have common into my radar screen a couple more tea podcasts. Best part of both is that they have been recently active.

Tea Rage

To me, the host feels like the AVGN of tea. The most snobbish of the bunch, he expresses his rage at the incongruities of the tea world. Fun,  likeable, not over the top, and recommended.

Verdant Tea

Unlike the rest. This one goes back to the source of tea. Of particular interest are the second and third episodes. Last word I heard is that the host is on the field and that more episodes are on the way.

Finally, i just wanted to mention that the Tea Lover's Room episodes are still available at or at the wayback machine

Update Jul-15:

Tea Rage & Verdant have also gone into dormant state; however here are some new ones that have popped-up over the last year:

Year of Tea

The likable host is trying to review a different tea each day for the whole year and throws everything but the sink for flash examination: black, green, flavored, chamomile, mate and the odd mix. You're bound to find something available to you here.


A very specialized show focusing on the Japanese Tea Ceremony and the most structured of them all. I like the anecdotes section and Marius' soothing voice.

World Tea Podcast

As far I've listened into, it goes mostly for the production and general business side of things. Has about half a dozen episodes on the Tea expo. What kind of brings it down are the subpar audio (though not as bad as teacast) & the volume levels between the hosts and guests.

Talking Tea

Interviews with different experts around the tea arena.

So far my two recommendations still stand: Try to find the episodes of the Tea Lover's Room Podcast for their charm and for their introduction to the tea world and Tea Rage for the entertainment and the purist view.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Essay on Lovecraft

Sun Rays inside Ruins of Church; source: ; taken by:Robert & Mihaela VicolI'm trying to read all the Britannica Great Books and I am now over half of the way there. I just finished Montaigne's Essays and I have to say they're not only full of wit, but many are disquieting as he humbly goes against the current. What strikes me most at this point, nonetheless, is how he goes about writing them. Sure, an essay is supposed to be a free, unconstrained text, but Montaigne's go beyond what I expected. His essays are nothing like your usual high school assignments. He doesn't have a structure that I can point my finger at, or build a case around whatever he's writing about, much less get to a conclusion. He just lets himself go with the flow and keep on writing on and on until he feels he has exhausted the topic. He could easily stop at any point and no one would be the wiser. Length is no impediment whatsoever; a couple of his essays could fill a volume each by themselves. I do not mean to limit myself, but I feel that I couldn't write like that, firstly, because I lack his knowledge, wisdom and style; and secondly, because I do feel the need to get somewhere with whatever I'm writing about; if I'm going to take pen and paper, or more likely keyboard and text processor, I better give the reader something that is worth her while, that is, getting to the point I want to get across. The absence of the point, or kicker, bothers me. Notwithstanding, I'm going to give it a go right here, right now and see what it's like.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

How I beat back pain

Second (and probably last) in the series of solved physical troubles. Back pain is probably the most difficult challenge that I have faced. This is partly because of the uncertainty and doubts of any given treatment, but mostly because results take a long while to show up. Of course, the pain itself  is nothing to scoff at. First, the usual disclaimer that what follows should not be taken as medical advice and that you should consult your doctor. Now, to give you an idea of what I felt extend your hand palm down and pinch with your other hand the fleshy part between the thumb and the index finger; if you're averagely strong, aim for three quarters of your strength. Now, mentally place the sensation on your lower back and you'll know what I felt.

Doctors ruled out herniated discs or degenerative diseases and surgery was never considered.

  • What didn't help me:

  • Long-term anti-inflammatory drugs.

  • Staying put and trying to reduce movement. It is counterintuitive, but if  I stayed put, negative thoughts began to creep in with a pain increase following

  • Chairs with lumbar support. These  supposedly give support to your lumbar area, but after trying them I have to agree with someone who accurately described the sensation as having "someone's F** elbow jabbing you on your back"

  • What helped me:

  • Cold, then warmth applied to the area. Just for some minutes. After some months I reduced the cold component and then entirely dropped it.

  • Some physical therapy. One should be wary though, because many therapists expect you to get well right away with their treatment, even if you are not out of the woods yet

  • Swimming. Great exercise, makes you move all the muscles in your body and it is pretty tame. I still do it.

  • Getting up and moving around at least once every half an hour

  • Regular stretching exercises. The trick is to find which ones to do.

  • Overcome Back Pain by Kit Loughlin. Only Incorporated five or six exercises from the first part and by then I was already well, so I didn't push for more.

  • Relaxation recordings. I may talk of these in a later post.

  • What I am uncertain if it helped or not:

  • The Herman Miller Areon chair. In desperation I got one. The back support in this one is in the sacral area rather than the lumbar and can also be tweaked.

  • Placing a pillow under my knees while sleeping or lying down

  • What I didn't try, but could have:

  • Healing Back Pain by Dr. John Sarno. This one came to my attention too late to play a role. I would encourage you to check it out nonetheless if your initial treatment does not work, the pain moves around your body (i.e. from the right side to the left side), or if you have been suffering for more than a month. Also, good alternative is Rapid Recovery from Back and Neck Pain by Fred Amir, which includes a treatment plan.

  • Acupuncture

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Sacking of Rome: Community Service

What follows is the sequence of events from the death of Theodosius leading to the sacking of Rome by Alaric. This was extracted from Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Thought this list might come handy to someone who is doing research and in a hurry.

Theodosius dies in January. Honorius crowned as the Western Emperor
Goth revolt in autumn. Low subsidies & Rufinus incitation. Alaric demands title and command.
Pillage of Greece. Oversight of Corinth and the Thermopylae
Stilicho navigates to Greece. The Goths besieged. They escape
Constantinople asks for the exit of Stilicho
Constantinople honors Alaric, gives him authority
Alaric arms himself in Greece. May have been reinforced at the Danube
Alaric enters Italy. Stilicho defeats him. Alan and English garrison as Imperial reinforcements.
Stilicho pacts peace (403?).
The Huns enter Germany
Radagaisus enters Italy. 200K versus 30K/40K
Stilicho encircles and defeats Radagaisus at Florence
Radagasius' allies overcome the Franks at Gaul
Revolt at England. Constantine rival Emperor
Constantine takes parts of Gaul, Spain
Attack from Italy to Gaul
Alaric demands presents from Ravenna for alliance
Stilicho intercedes in favor of Alaric before the Senate. This approves
Commoners, soldiers, Honorius (thanks to Olympus) suspect Stilicho
Officials executed by Olympus. Stilicho executed
Family members of the executed auxiliary units join the Goths. 30K
Alaric enters Italy a second time. Embassy from the Senate. Ransom paid
Slave (40K) and Hun (10K), reinforcements
Renewed demands for gifts (land, title and subsidies) are rejected by Olympus
Alaric's threats make the Senate crown Atalus
Veterans reinforce Ravenna. Failed African expedition. Attalus disgraced
Negotiations between Alaric and the Emperor break down when the former is attacked by auxiliaries
The city of Rome falls when its doors are opened. 410

Saturday, September 29, 2012

How to limit cpu use in windows

Two ways to deal with your CPU running at 100%

Some programs are known to be resource hogs.  Nowadays, these have become less of a problem thanks to multicore and multithreaded hardware, but they can still become bothersome as they can drain your laptop's battery or simply not let you to do anything else while their process is running.  Here are two solutions that limit the CPU usage of a program:

1) lower the priority of your program

(Copied this from another source some years ago; don't remember where)

 write this on a text editor:

cmd /c start /low appname.exe

and save it as a .bat file and put it in the same folder as your application.  Now run your program by double-clicking it or make a shortcut linking to it.  Each time you run the program, it will take a lower priority to your other processes.  It will still run at 100 percent but will give way when other programs needs it.

2) limit the CPU usage to a desired amount
To do this download a program named Battle Encoder Shirase, which, if I remember rightly, is freeware.  With  BES you can make a target program run to a maximum CPU percentage of your choice.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Negotiauctions book review

Last year, I worked as a supplier for a German company. Cost reductions hit said company and my services were subject to revision. All of a sudden my offers were pitted against those of  other purveyors by the purchasing manager. Caught off guard, I could not effectively draw up a winning proposal and was outbid. I had been in the center of a negotiauction and had played badly. I vowed this would never happen to me again.

Somewhere in the back of my mind I recognized the situation for what it was. I remembered having read about it in Negotiation Genius. Sure enough, when I checked back later, there was a mention about it and  found that there was a book by the person who coined the term, which I promptly ordered. Negotiauctions by Subramanian is the book.

A negotiauction is the murky middle between pure negotiation and a pure auction. Sharing traits from both, negotiauctions are a completely different animal and strategies are needed to play them effectively both as a process setter and taker. This book, probably the first in the field, sets itself to deal with them. First, we get an introduction to negotiauctions, which describes them and illustrate the ways they differ from old, regular negotiations and auctions. The author, in fact goes so far as to hint that most "negotiations" nowadays, are in fact negotiauctions. The rest of the book is divided into two parts. The first one, describes the existing theory of both negotiations, and auctions taken separately and the strategies to treat/confront them.

The second part deals with negotiauctions proper. One of the characteristics of negotiauctions that makes them special, is that rules are more flexible than the pure extremes, which lend themselves to better deals, that is, more value extraction, if the situation is played well. This means that not only the process setter, who is generally thought to have the upper hand, can end up with a better deal, but also the process taker, if she plays her hand well. Throughout the book, there are very handy charts, which easily let the reader see if she is in fact in a negotiauction, and what steps she can take from both sides of the table to arrive to a safe harbor. The strategies described in the book are not a surefire approach to always winning. Rather, they are sensible ways to dealing with the situation, permit the reader a good shot at the table, and reduce the downside risks.

Examples from real life are given by the author, but I found them a bit complex on my first read, so I had to take pen and paper to disentangle them. Once done, they became clear.

It surprises me that this book hasn't had more impact, judging from the small number of reviews at Amazon. However, if you choose to read it, this may come to your advantage, as you'll have an edge at the negotiating table, while the other side may still be groping in the dark.

Totally recommended if you're a supplier or purchase manager.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Yamamotoyama teas review

I have heard tea being compared to wine. One aspect of the comparison is all too true: premium teas can go way beyond what normal people are willing to pay, much the same way as in some wine bottles. Wouldn't it be wonderful to get readily available great tea for low prices?

The Yamamotoyama brand of teas grants this wish. If you can look past the pre-packaging of their products, you find in their teas very high value. My first acquaintance with them was with their jasmine tea teabags some years ago, and have been a fan ever since. The flavor in that case is very pleasant and can be very intense if you oversteep it. That is not a problem because it allows you to stretch it over many cups; I can get five 16 oz. cups out of just one teabag.

Another great tea I have found from them is their hojicha roasted green tea. This comes in loose leaf form. Even though I bought the cheapest family pack I got a very drinkable tea. The flavor can be intense to the point of unpleasantness if you oversteep it or if you use too much of it, but with just a bit of restraint you can get excellent results. To my palate it tastes just like the seaweed used for sushi making; if you're anything like me, you might not want to compound the flavor by having both at the same time. I have also found that it leaves my mind fresh and that it can be had an hour before bedtime with no ill effect on my sleep.

In the same family pack category there is also the genmai, which is green tea with brown rice. I skipped it the first time I saw it in the store shelves not knowing what it was about, but in the interim I listened to a review of it in that Tea Lover's Room podcast and decided to try it out. The podcast's host, the Tea Lover Chic, didn't like the tea blend that much (I believe that it was not Yamamotoyama), but that didn't deter me; in fact, I so trusted the brand by now, that I went on. The results were wonderful! I found this tea even better than the aforementioned hojicha. Only one word can I use to describe its taste: toasted. I can add that it is very, very pleasantly so. I do not know what device of ingenuity they used to get to this Goldilocks flavor, but they nailed it precisely. In my palate, this flavor does overpower, or more accurately, cloak, the grassiness of the green tea; for me this is not a bad result. The actual rice flavor undertone stayed low and did not become unpleasant, even after prolonged steeping. I found that this one needs about the double of leaf as the hojicha to reach the same brew strength and that it doesn't retain enough flavor for re-steeping.

Although I am not too much a green tea fan, the pure sencha is also commendable. Once it has cooled enough to drink, I get the taste of something akin to a rich vegetable broth. I find that I have to watch this one more closely than the others, because it can easily get bitter if time runs away from me. About 4 to 4 1/2 min. of infusion does the trick. A second steeping can be pulled off, but all the good  flavor from the first go falls down to about one fourth and the bitterness now shows, so I do not recommend it. Dust or fannings that fall through the tea basket's mesh are something to watch for because, for, if they remain in the teapot, they can still make the brew bitter after a while.

All of these teas are very cheap in price too. 7 ounces or about 200 g of loose leaf can be bought for about $4-$5 which to me, it's a steal. This does not mean that you have to stock up when given the chance. It is so readily available, that there is no reason to buy more than one packet at a time of the ones you like or wish to taste.

I am sorry to see that they do not have oolong in loose leaf, as I would like to taste it from them, though they do have it in teabags. There appears also to be not one but two lines of higher grade offerings, especially of the sencha, at higher prices. These I have not tasted as of yet. The family packs easily  score  on my uncouth taste buds. Finally, it appears that also there is matcha from this company. Since it looks that it is too much of a bother to prepare, I have skipped it. This is not to mean that I will not take a look into them if given the chance. If so, I'll let you know.

The Yamamotoyama teas are the best value that I have found so far.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

De-essing part 3: AT440mla review

Rather than offering a review per se, I will let some pictures speak for themselves. The AT440mla has a finer needle than what's generally available. A finer needle results in a closer and deeper tracking of the groove and that impacts in the quality of reproduction as the inner, deeper parts are in better condition than the outer ones. At least, that's the theory. I bought this one, for about $200 in my attempts to de-ess my turntable. The runner-up in this occasion was the Ortofon red, but I settled on the Audio Technica because other people had had good results trying to solve the same problem as I. What you see next is the comparison between my previous setup consisting of a 681 EEE cartridge with a 6800EEE MK III needle, and the AT440mla needle and cartridge.

Red circles contain s vocals. Screenshots of Magix Audio Cleaning Lab. No processing.

Wave 1st disc

Spectral 680ee ~0:58s

Spectral AT440mla ~0:58s
Wave 2nd disc

Update 12/07/2016:

Here are a couple of microscope photos of the needle with around 120-150 hours of use (just a guess!):

More on de-essing: