The Curated Life: Social Media, Identity, and Image

By Michael W. Harris

The word “curated” or “curation” is perhaps a bit overused these days. We talk a lot about how we “curate” our photos on Instagram or Facebook, or “data curation” for academics and scientists. Or how we might “curate” our collections for display in the home. Believe me, I am just as guilty of these things as the next person, if not more so, and I am not saying this is good or bad (yet). However, what I do believe is that the word itself, “curate,” has become one of those buzzy words, and whenever I heart it I just want to go all Inigo Montoya: “You keep using that word…” Continue reading “The Curated Life: Social Media, Identity, and Image”

A Playlist of Parting -or- Mentally Leaving Virginia

By Michael W. Harris

Note: A playlist of all the songs I discuss here is available on YouTube here. It is also embedded below to listen to while reading.

A few years ago, around the time of the 2016 election, I wrote a post reflecting upon the Japanese principal of mono no aware. Around that same time, about a month before, I also wrote a post on three albums that reflect the mood of fall. In my mind, these two posts are very much linked in spirit even if I do not explicitly link them in writing. The spirit that I speak of in the “Autumnal Playlist” post, the cold fragility, the feeling of passing, is very much the feeling of mono no aware. Which, if you do not click on the link above, is a recognition of the impermanence of all things. An acceptance. And while there is a sadness inherent in that acceptance, there is also joy in it, because in ending is also beginnings. In every death, there is also life.

Such is the mood that I find myself in as I prepare to leave my home of less than a year in Williamsburg, VA, and begin a new life in Memphis, TN. And as I have been mentally reconciling myself with this change, and all that led to it (to be discussed in a more detailed upcoming post), a few tracks have entered heavy rotation in my listening. Continue reading “A Playlist of Parting -or- Mentally Leaving Virginia”

Finding Reservations in Parts Unknown: Anthony Bourdain and the Travelogue (and my own hopeful travels)

By Michael W. Harris

Better late to the game than never

It is much to my detriment that I never really encountered the works of Anthony Bourdain until after his death, but it is a process that happens to me more often than not (I had barely listened to either Prince or David Bowie until after they died). Regardless, my only prior experiences with his work was the graphic novel Get Jiro, which is really fun, and a few episodes of Parts Unknown that a friend sat me down to watch during a visit this year. I really enjoyed these dips in Bourdain’s work and gave me a lot of respect for him and how he approached other cultures. He was upfront with his background, never shied away from who he was, and approached others from a place of respect and eagerness to learn.

As a person who studies cultures other than his own, I have a lot of respect for that. And also as someone who has a healthy disdain for the type of person who adopts the stylings of cultures they study in some forced “rejection” of being American or White or Western (or whatever their background is)—it is refreshing to see someone respect, enjoy, and truly love other food and cultures while also being secure enough in their own identity to just be themselves. Continue reading “Finding Reservations in Parts Unknown: Anthony Bourdain and the Travelogue (and my own hopeful travels)”

Ginology 7: Cadenhead Old Raj Red Label

By Michael W. Harris

Basic Info
Type: Dry Gin
ABV: 46%
Botanicals: Juniper, Coriander, Seville orange peel, liquorice, Angelica root, orris, cinnamon, cassia quills, nutmeg, saffron
Base: Grain Neutral Spirit
Distilling Notes: The saffron is added post-distillation and is what gives Old Raj its distinctive yellow color in the bottle.

Prior to moving to Virginia, Cadenhead’s Old Raj Blue Label was the most expensive bottle of gin I had ever purchased at a hair under $50. In “The Commonwealth,” though, many of the bottles I have purchased have been in the $40-50 range, and if I were able to get Blue Label here, it would likely set me back around $70.

Alas, I am not able to get it, and the gin at hand, Old Raj Red Label (the different is that Blue is bottled at 55% ABV vs. Red’s 46%), had to be purchased in the District of Columbia and transported back to Williamsburg. The Red Label still costs me around $45 plus the tank of gas getting up to DC and back…not to mention the shortened life span I now have having to have driven through DC traffic.

The price premium, though, is well worth it. Old Raj is a wonderful gin to drink in any form. Straight. Rocks. And probably any cocktail you think to mix it in. The taste is not as out there as Dog Fish Head or Monkey 47, and it isn’t as heavy on the citrus as Tanqueray No. 10. However, it is more “interesting” than Beefeater without calling attention to itself.

The distinguishing feature of Old Raj is, of course, its yellow color which comes from the addition of saffron post-distillation, which is also part of what also gives the gin its higher price. In addition to this, it gives the gin its slightly different flavor profile and helps set it apart from the more staid gins without veering into the more out there craft gins that are spurring forward our current gin-revolution. Continue reading “Ginology 7: Cadenhead Old Raj Red Label”

The Return of the World’s Greatest Comic Magazine

By Michael W. Harris

So many memories…

In less than a month, a big part of my childhood and teenage years will be returning to comic book shops across the world. After a too long, three year hiatus, the Fantastic Four will be back and with it a big part of my love of my first and abiding hobby.

The adventures of Reed, Sue, Johnny, Ben, and the other extended members of the First Family (both blood related and not), were not the first comic book I ever read, but it was the one that captured my attention and imagination. The reasons for this are numerous: the crazy sci-fi adventures across time and space that were quite different from the standard supervillain of the month punch-ups that I had read before, the more relatable problems of a family of adventurers and the group dynamics that came with it, and a cast of characters that felt both relatable and real (well, as real as unstable molecules clad superheroes can be).

It is established canon that each of the FF’s individual powers is somehow reflective of their personalities: a woman who feels invisible in a patriarchal society (though who also turns out to be the most powerful of them all…a wonderful twist added by writers in the 1980s), a flame powered hot-headed youth, a rock-solid friend who would stop a bus for you, and the greatest mind on the planet who is constantly reaching and stretching his imagination to ever greater heights. But deeper than that, I also saw something of myself and my life in each of the member of the Fantastic Four, both aspirational and how I felt about and viewed myself.

Let me explain. Continue reading “The Return of the World’s Greatest Comic Magazine”

The Middle Children of Technology: Living [Digital/Analog] in a/n [Analog/Digital] World

By Michael W. Harris

Nostalgia Bomb for my generation. [image found on web, not mine]
I always love seeing the looks I get when I tell people that I have schoolwork COMPUTER files dating back to sixth grade. Now, for some that would not be that remarkable, but for me, sixth grade was 1992-93. The first web browser only went public in 1991. The first version of Windows was released in 1985. And the ubiquitous Apple IIe that was the first computer in my elementary school lab was released in 1983.

These files of mine are not things I created at school, though. They are Word and Excel documents I made at home for school projects. Papers, reports, etc. The odd personal or Boy Scouts project files are also included, but most are school reports. More importantly, though, is that they are still saved and with a little work could be made accessible again (currently the file formats are no longer readable with the newest versions of Office, but there are ways of migrating them). And this is not theoretical. The files are not stored on obsolete media. Yes, they were first saved on 3 ½ inch floppies, but from there they were first migrated en masse to a 100MB (mega…not giga) Zip Disk in 1999 and from there ported to a 128MB jump drive in the early 2000s. And today these files live both on my 200GB microSD card that is my main data archive, with a back-up stored on a 5TB external hard drive (these drives are named “The Library” and “The Matrix of Gallifrey” respectively). Continue reading “The Middle Children of Technology: Living [Digital/Analog] in a/n [Analog/Digital] World”

Of Pens and Gins: My Analog Revival

By Michael W. Harris

I love technology. Let me get that out of the way and established. I can build you a computer, install the OS, and get it on-line and running in just a few days. Need a home theatre system installed but don’t know a coax from HDMI? I can help you with that. Want multiple game consoles running into a single receiver with the ability to record to a PC for streaming your sick [Insert Current Popular Battle Royale Game Here] rounds? I can even get that sorted for you.

This is all to say that I am unafraid and embrace the tech…despite the fact that my most recent game consoles are the PlayStation 2 and the NES and SNES Classics. I have also ditched the home built PCs for a Surface, and my home theatre setup is now a lowly 2.1 system (when I used to have a full 7.1) with a regular TV instead of a projector. And in a sign of what is to come, that system still has a CD player and turntable hooked up.

In many ways, as the technology has gotten easier and less complex to use and install, I have scaled back my own setups—though multiple moves in just three years after living in the same place for seven also has a way of forcing one to scale back. But, in that same time, I have also been drawn to two decidedly older and analog hobbies, or maybe fascinations is a better term: pens (or stationary products in general and fountain pens more precisely) and gins.

I have already talked about the latter at some length, so I will largely set gin aside for now. So instead, let’s talk about the former: pens and paper. Continue reading “Of Pens and Gins: My Analog Revival”

Food So Good It’ll Blow More Than Just Your Socks Off: Shokugeki no Soma

By Michael W. Harris

Yep, this is a show I legit love!

Shokugeki no Soma, aka Food Wars!, is a strange anime. It is a show with its central focus on the world of a gourmet cooking academy in Japan, albeit one with a large, sprawling campus, a huge student base, though also is a school rigorous enough that students are routinely culled in intense examinations and trials. It is categorized as a: comedy anime, a slice of life show (it is essentially a high school series after all), a competition/battle anime (most of its story arcs revolve around the titular “Food War” battles), and also an ecchi series (or semi-erotic/sexy anime, in this case the clothes of various characters are routinely blown off as a way of demonstrating just how intense and flavorful the food is). As with any ecchi series, yes, many of the women are drawn without regard to realistic body proportions, but dammit if the show isn’t a hell of a lot of fun and also funny. And the actual food wars, or shokugeki, are absolutely thrilling and really make me want to do more cooking, or at the very least experiment more in the kitchen.

And it is the food wars that I want to to talk about a bit more here, or one in particular that occurred in the first half of season 3: Yukihira Soma (our main character) vs. Eizan Etsuya (a member of the school’s Elite Ten council of students).

For any of this to make sense, though, I should probably explain a few things first. Continue reading “Food So Good It’ll Blow More Than Just Your Socks Off: Shokugeki no Soma”

Ginology 6: Dogfish Head Compelling Gin

By Michael W. Harris

Basic Info
Type: Dry Gin
ABV: 44%
Botanicals: Juniper, Coriander, Angelica, Black Peppercorn, Lemon Peel, Green Cardamom, Hibiscus, Orris Root, Orange Peel, Lime Peel, Kaffir Lime Leaves, Cinnamon
Base: Grain Neutral Spirit
Distilling Notes: The base is Dogfish Head’s Analog Vodka, which is made from “2-row barley.”

I should start this review off with an apology: most people will not be able to try out this gin and for that, I am sorry because it is truly an experience worth having. As of this writing, Dogfish Head’s Compelling Gin is only available for purchase in Delaware, Maryland, DC, and Virginia. I hope that they will eventually expand nationwide, much like their beer, but for right now, those are the breaks.

There are many interesting things going on to make this a “compelling” gin. First is that Dogfish Head uses their own vodka as the base spirit, which is then infused with their botanical mixture. This simple fact makes me wonder how much of the gin’s unique taste is from the botanicals and how much is in the vodka to begin with. Second is the use of citrus peels, Kaffir Lime leaves (which I had not encountered before), and black pepper. None of these are particularly out there, but this precise mixture seems quite different. In the end, though, while I am not sure that “compelling” is the right appellation for this gin, it certainly is interesting. Let’s dive in. Continue reading “Ginology 6: Dogfish Head Compelling Gin”

Ginology 5: Monkey 47 Schwarzwald Dry Gin

By Michael W. Harris

Basic Info
Type: “Schwarzwald” Dry Gin
ABV: 47%
Botanicals: “47 handpicked ingredients,” which include local cranberries, juniper, citrus, etc. See a complete list on their website in the “Encyclopedia Botanica” section.
Base: Molasses
Distilling Notes: Gin matures in earthenware containers.

Monkey 47’s Schwarzwald Dry Gin is not available in my local Virginia ABC stores, however, after a friend recommended the spirit to me, I happened upon it at a DC liquor store while hunting for a bottle of Cadenhead Old Raj (more on that in a later post). I only picked up a 375ml bottle, though, as it is a rather expensive gin (around $40 for just that small bottle). Unfortunately, for this post at least, I had already drank around half of the bottle prior to beginning this review series.

This is to say that this review will be slightly truncated for now as I ran out of gin before finishing the full three tasting cycle. However, I feel like I got enough of a taste of Monkey 47 (so-called for its 47 botanical mixture), to make a general recommendation.

Before we get to that, though, I want to mention that Monkey 47 has an interesting “history” on its webpage that is worth reading. As with most of these, who knows how much is myth and how much is real, but it is always fun to check out.

Enough preamble, on to the review! Continue reading “Ginology 5: Monkey 47 Schwarzwald Dry Gin”