Happy Chinese new year — Year of the Ram!

by Joey deVilla on February 19, 2015

happy chinese new year

I was born in the year of this Chinese zodiac animal, the only sign for which there seems to be some disagreement on the name. That’s because the symbol for this zodiac sign,  (yáng), could refer to either “goat”, which the Chinese call the shānyáng  or “mountain goat”, or “sheep”, which they call miányáng“or cotton goat”. The Vietnamese unambiguously use their word for “goat” in their zodiac, the Japanese insist that it’s a sheep, and like English speakers, Koreans and Mongolians say it could go either way.

I prefer go with the most badass-sounding interpretation: Year of the Ram.

As the 8th sign in the Chinese zodiac, it’s an auspicious one, what with 8 being the lucky number in Chinse culture. For the year 2015, the element is wood, which means that if you play Settlers of Catan, the old joke “I have wood for sheep” is going to be the catchphrase of the year. Consider yourself warned.

If you were born in any one of the Years of the Ram — 2003, 1991, 1979, 1967 (my birth year), 1955, 1943, 1931 or 1919 (hey, I could have a reader that old) — you’re in good company. Along with me, there are:

  • Literary Rams: Charles Dickens, Mark Twain,
  • Tough Guy Rams: Hulk Hogan, Chow Yun Fat, Bruce Willis, Christopher Walken, Zhang Ziyi (c’mon, she kicked ass in Crouching Tiger!)
  • Renaissance Rams: da Vinci, Michelangelo
  • Musician Rams: Franz Liszt, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Harry Connick Jr., Joni Mitchell, Billy Idol
  • and of course, Geek Rams: Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, William Shatner (not just the original Captain Kirk, but the one who also single-handedly invented software testing)

joey and inflatable sheep

If 1991 and 2003 are any indication, the Year of the Ram is generally a good one for me. Both involved recovery from some rough times.

In 1991, after getting ejected from Crazy Go Nuts University for academic reasons, I got back in thanks to learning how to negotiate, schmooze, and cajole — a skill that has served me well to this day — and on the strength of my computer science marks. I returned to what were the best years of my colorful, Van Wilder-esque university career and landed that computer science degree. That piece of paper turned out to be useful as late as last year, as it was a key part in my getting TN-1 status, allowing me to work in the US and move in with this lady:

In 2003, after barely eking out an existence as an independent consultant in the post-dot-com-bubble burst and some relationship weirdness earlier in the year, I went on to attend a gathering with Doc Searls that ended up kick-starting my career as a tech evangelist: first at Tucows, then on to Microsoft and Shopify. As with my degree that I earned after getting back into school in the previous Year of the Ram, the experience I gained from that Year of the Ram also played a part in bringing me here, to Florida, just over two weeks away from getting married.

2003 is also the year of the Best Accordion Picture Ever:

This Year of the Ram sees me having paid off credit card debt acquired from working on a business that paid next to nothing, but at the same time hooked me up with my current employer, GSG. It will be my second year living in Tampa, my first year married to Anitra, and the start of a new life in many, many sense. It looks as though the pattern of the upward path during Ram Years will hold, so I’m looking forward to the coming year! I hope you are too.

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Meanwhile, up north…

by Joey deVilla on February 18, 2015

snow roof

Personally, I think beer would enhance this experience.

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The incredible, edible store-bought rotisserie chicken

by Joey deVilla on February 16, 2015

gloria in excelsis pollo

In “I have NO ONE to love!”, my recent post on the heartbroken guy at the grocery store near me on Valentine’s Day, I mentioned that the two items in his cart were a six-pack of beer and a store-bought rotisserie chicken. I linked to a Bloomberg article by Megan McArdle titled Everyone Wins When You Buy a Rotisserie Chicken, in which she links to Cat Vasko’s article for KCET, Grocery Store Economics: Why are Rotisserie Chickens So Cheap?, which sets out to answer its titular question.

Enough readers told me that they were surprised by the facts about these tasty bundles of joy that I decided the grocery store rotisserie chicken deserved its own blog entry.

walmart chicken

Vasko’s answer to the mystery of why fully-prepped store-bought chicken is cheaper than buying a raw chicken and then putting in the time to cooking it can be summed in a single word: economics. Here’s how she explains it:

…much like hunters who strive to use every part of the animal, grocery stores attempt to sell every modicum of fresh food they stock. Produce past its prime is chopped up for the salad bar; meat that’s overdue for sale is cooked up and sold hot. Some mega-grocers like Costco have dedicated rotisserie chicken programs, but employees report that standard supermarkets routinely pop unsold chickens from the butcher into the ol’ rotisserie oven.

Rotisserie chickens aren’t even the end of the line. When unsold, fresh meats, fruits and veggies that have passed their sell-by points can be “cooked up for in-store deli and salad counters before they spoil,” per no less a source than a consultant to the supermarket industry.

sell-by date

At this point, you might be concerned that the chickens are cheap because you’re buying rotten food. That’s not the case. The datestamps you see on food products, often called the “sell-by”, “use-by”, and “best before” dates, aren’t safety indicators, but a general ballpark figure to give you a hint of when the food will be at its best. The sell-by date is often based on how long it takes for the product to change noticeably in appearance — not its safety — when stored properly. That’s why most of the time, food that’s a few days or more past its sell-by date won’t make you ill or kill you. In fact, sell-by dates are scaring people into throwing perfectly good food away.

In the end, your own good sense and education (or, if need be, a friend or family member’s good sense and education) is your best guide. You can augment your good sense and education at StillTasty.com. If you want to get the most bang for your grocery buck, bookmark this site!

rotisseriechickenoriginal1

In a world where buying something at a ridiculously cheap price means that something bad happened, the grocery store rotisserie chicken is a shining beacon of virtue. You get a cheap dinner, the grocery store wastes less food, the grocery store can sell fresh raw food at lower prices — everybody wins, except for the chicken!

I love what McArdle has to say about the importance of the store-prepped chicken:

This is the sort of thing that no one talks about when they talk about innovation –and yet, it’s a major way in which our economy has become more efficient over the last few decades. Reducing spoilage means grocery stores can sell us raw chickens at lower prices — and that we can get fresh, delicious prepared food at even lower prices. It’s a win for the grocer and the consumer.

So the next time you hear someone talk about the innovation economy, don’t just think of Facebook or Google. The folks who spit-roast chickens, streamline factory production, or think up any of a million ways to save a little money here and there are just as important in improving our standard of living. Especially when it’s five minutes to 7 and you still haven’t made anything for dinner.

(And in my opinion, it’s the chicken’s own damn fault. As an omnivore, I’ve always said that if animals don’t want to be eaten, they should vote.)

costco chicken prep

When the conversation topic turns to store-bought rotisserie chicken — it happens more often than you think, at least in the circles in which I move — the ones you can get at Costco eventually come up. At the time of this writing, the price of a tasty, roasted whole bird is still $4.99, which is less than most combos at a food court. When they reported some disappointing financial results (not big losses, but tiny gains) back in 2013, Costco’s CFO urged investors to think of their “incredible, giant” rotisserie chickens when they thought of Costco, and their stock price bounced back quickly. The birds get discussed by the foodies on Chow, covered in pieces in the Washington Post, and debated over in bodybuilding forums (“Emergency muscle food, brah!“). Costco maintains a Facebook page for their rotisserie chickens, and you can easily find fans on Pinterest.

best rotisserie chicken recipes

While rotisserie chickens are great as-is, they’re also excellent starters for your own recipes, and since they’ve already been cooked, you’ll save time. Since I work from home and The Missus commutes, I’m usually on the hook for making dinner, so I’ve picked up a collection of go-to places for all sorts of meals. Here are mine for store-bought rotisserie chicken:

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Happy 50th birthday, Canadian flag!

by Joey deVilla on February 15, 2015

happy 50th birthday canadian flag

While Canada is closing in on its 150th birthday, its current flag turns a mere 50 years old today. This fine bit of design — praised by vexillologists for its clean, clear design that works even at a distance — was a long time coming.

From 1867 to 1965, the flag that Canadians flew was either the Union Jack or some variant of the Red Ensign, the last one looking like this:

There were several attempts to get an official flag made throughout the previous century, which led to the Great Canadian Flag Debate. It began in earnest in June 1964 when then-Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson (after whom Toronto’s airport is named) proposed plans for a new flag. He wanted a flag that embodied Canadian history and tradition, and he also didn’t want it to have a Union Jack. It’s that latter bit that got people, including former Prime Minister John Diefenbaker, riled.

Here’s Pearson’s preferred flag:

pearson preferred flag

The three maple leaves are straight from the design on the Red Ensign, and the blue fields represent the Pacific and Atlantic oceans.

The Great Flag Debate is commemorated in this painting by Rex Woods, who could very well be Canada’s answer to Norman Rockwell. This painting can be found in one of the ground floor meeting rooms of the Toronto offices of Rogers, one of the big Canadian telecommunications companies:

Click the photo to see it at full size.

Of the designs in the painting, I’m kind of fond of the psychedelic one:

I think it would make a stunning poster or mural.

A number of designs for a new Canadian flag were submitted during the time of the debate, and the National Post features a selection of notable ones in an article that looks at the flags Canada could’ve had. Among them is this too-busy, too-literal one:

too busy flag

…and this one, which uses a stylized aurora borealis to represent the ten provinces:

aurora

…and this one featuring St. George’s Cross for English Canada, the fleur-de-lys for French Canada, and the Beatles for rock and roll Canada:

beatles flag

Happy 50th birthday, Canadian flag! May you continue to fly high and end up in places you’d never expect to be:

Former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer borrowed my Canadian flag hat for this shot.

Worth checking out

flag design

Give episode 140 of the design-focused podcast, 99% Invisible, a listen. It’s titled Vexillonaire, and it’s all about designing kickass flags.

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“I have NO ONE to love!”

by Joey deVilla on February 15, 2015

store rotisserie chicken

There’s a reason why these are so cheap — and for once, it’s not a bad one.
Click the photo to find out why everyone (except the chicken) wins when you buy one of these.

Yesterday, after picking up the last parts of Valentine’s Day dinner, I got in line at the cashier behind a guy who had just finished paying. I have no idea what happened just prior to my arrival, so I caught only the very last thing he said to the woman at the cash register:

“I have no one to love!” he exclaimed.

He immediately grabbed his two items — one of those store-cooked rotisserie chickens that for reasons unknown to most people are always cheaper to buy than make yourself, and a six-pack of beer — and hustled out of the store at top speed. He moved so quickly and the exit was so close that I didn’t even have a chance to say “It gets better,” or something similar.

It was now my turn at the cashier. From my basket, I pulled out two kinds of pate and a chocolate bear holding a big red heart.

You have someone to love,” the cashier said.

“Maybe these are for me,” I said with a smile. “Maybe I love myself a lot…like Kanye.”

She gave me a concerned look.

“No, I’ve got someone. Getting married next month.”

The chocolate bear I bought.

The Valentine’s bear I bought.

I hope that he’s just having a bad post-breakup moment, which we’ve all had, and not in need of more serious help. I hope he’ll be all right.

Take it from me, dude. It gets better.

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Happy Valentine’s Day with Kanye West!

by Joey deVilla on February 14, 2015

kanye valentine 1

Happy Valentine’s Day! If you need a last-minute card for a special someone, try these ones, starring the rapper who knows love like no one else…Kanye West!

kanye valentine 2

kanye valentine 3

kanye valentine 4

kanye valentine 5

kanye valentine 6

kanye valentine 7

kanye valentine 8

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i kicked sun news networks ass

I just had to put this out there, because I can. This calls for a song by an appropriately-named band:

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