The Grotto wine bar, Shaker Square

The Grotto is a two-week-old, expensively renovated wine bar in Shaker Square. The menu is Italian and looks interesting enough to reward repeat visits, but they seem to be aiming to serve more drinks than food.

The space used to be an Ann Taylor clothing store and a bank. The ceilings are about 30 feet high at a guess; about half the floor seating is at dining height and the other half are high-boys (bar tables). That's a bar-heavy mix, but they do bill themselves as "a place to start your evening, or to finish your evening". The ambience is lovely with dark wood paneling and stonework on the walls, though I thought the flat-panel TVs didn't quite fit in with the cave aesthetic.

We went for the beef cheek ravioli, but were told they couldn't get the beef cheeks. I believe them, because I spent last weekend asking every butcher in the West Side Market for them, and got a lot of blank stares. Alice had had Lola's beef cheek pierogies and raved about them, so we're looking forward to trying Grotto's version.

Mini Clubman: the eighth Hummer

By linear extrapolation, I have identified the Mini Clubman as the eighth vehicle in the Hummer line.

Data table (
Hummer H1, 7154 lb, length 184.5"
Hummer H2, 6400 lb, length 189.8"
Hummer H3, 5850 lb, length 186.7"
Mini Cooper Clubman, 2723 lb, length 155"

Below, the 2006 Hummer H3, H1, and H2:
And the Mini Cooper Clubman, aka the Hummer H8:
I'm tempted to assign all box-shaped vehicles a Hummer Index value.

For reference, here is the original military-issue Humvee:

Meatloaf, yes, meatloaf. OMG

Dinner last night started out with 1.72 lbs of ground beef, pork, and veal, and a vague notion of meatloaf. I looked up a recipe from Gourmet on epicurious and adapted it to the ingredients at hand. It was good enough to share.
1 cup bread crumbs
1/3 cup 2% milk
1/2 large onion, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 celery rib, finely chopped
3 long thin carrots, finely chopped
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1 3/4 lb combined ground beef, pork, and veal (grocery stores often package them this way)
2 eggs
1/3 cup dried parsley (I didn't have fresh)
We were out of bread crumbs, so I took a heel of rosemary-olive loaf and ground it up. The food processor wasn't up to the task - dried bread is too tough. The blender worked great, though. I'll have to remember that.

The recipe calls for sauteeing the onion, garlic, celery, and carrot (basically mirepoix) in butter and then putting the lid on until the carrots are tender. Meatloaf should not be crunchy. I found that the loaf reached 155 degrees in the middle in much less than an hour, but then, maybe I made a flatter, thinner loaf than they suggest.

I skipped the bacon and prunes; with them, the whole thing would have had some sweetness to balance out the slight saltiness, and it would have been richer. I liked it the way it was - it was tender, perfectly seasoned, and not too oily. Gourmet can sometimes go a little over the top with the fats, but this was a winner.

How scientists identify each other

I surprised myself last night by the way I picked up on a tiny conversational cue and identified a fellow scientist. Bill Callahan, when I asked, described himself as a social scientist. We met at Americano for the Cleveland Weblogger Meetup Group.

We were playing a round of Thinkrs & Drinkrs, with some profound questions and some less so, and this question came up: why to people in Cleveland drive so slow? On the face of it, the question seems frivolous, but on the other hand, there's got to be a reason, right? (My first thought was that it's the potholes.) Bill's response was that most people are probably depressed about layoffs at work, and depressed about their post-holiday finances at home, so they--and I forget the exact work he used--expand the time they spend in their cars between the two places.

One of the things that gets hammered into a scientist's mind during their technical training is the idea of incompressibility - certain things don't grow or shrink, they just move around or change form. The laws of conservation of energy, conservation of momentum, and thermodynamics embody this principle. I hadn't thought about it until now, but time, too, is incompressible. If you take time out of one activity, you have to put it into another one. The way Bill put it is exactly the way a physicist would.

To address Bill's meaning as well as his delivery, the theory is somewhat at odds with my idea of slowness as engagement. Depressed people should drive faster so they don't have time to think, right? But maybe just driving the car is enough. With the radio on.


By the way, next time you're at Americano, have Carla make you her French 75. It's gin, red vermouth, lemon syrup, and champagne, with a twist. Really nice.

Scientists for Dummies

Things that Annoy Scientists:
1. Saying "silicone" when you mean "silicon" or vice versa
2. People who don't believe in astronomy
3. Explosions

Things that Comfort Scientists:
1. Buzzing and whirring noises, LEDs, concrete
2. The smell of bleach
3. Fire

Things Scientists Don't Give a Damn About:
1. Food, clothing
2. Other people's opinions
3. Smoke

What fashion and finance have in common

In finance, as in fashion, products are constantly redefined by freshly enveloping layers of abstraction. To succeed, one must keep up to date. And this is no accident.

James Surowiecki's writing on finance in the New Yorker has been concise and understandable. Modern financial instruments are as abstract as all hell. Remember, we started out trading concrete objects - bananas for coconuts, that sort of thing. Then somebody invented money. Then corporations, then stocks, then index funds, futures, mark-to-market accounting, etc., ad nauseam. The people making the most money are those on the cutting edge of abstraction.

This line of thinking came to me as I looked at my car's steering wheel. It's wrapped with perforated leather. Why? Aren't there a dozen synthetic materials that would be better functional choices? But leather means luxury; in fashion, a material or a shape derives its meaning from a historical reference that was probably functional at one time. Fur was warmth. Leather was tough. Plastic still suffers from 'bakelite syndrome', the aura of cheapness it got from the early products made from brittle polymers. So why perforated leather? In the last 5-10 years, luxury cars have been shipping with seats that are both heated and cooled. The cooling is accomplished by blowing refrigerated air into a bladder inside the seat, then through the perforations on the surface. So perforated leather seats became the next signifier of luxury. And that's why they wrapped my steering wheel with it - not because it actually needed to be ventilated, but because the perforations had become an abstract representation of state-of-the-art technology.

The abstractions in fashion and finance evolve at a rate that creates an exclusive club for the leaders in the field. It preserves their advantage because nobody else has the time to understand as much as they do. A person's understanding of the meanings within fashion gives them social capital. And it's pretty clear what mastery of financial instruments provides.

Thermoelectric lighthouses

The Soviet nuclear lighthouses discussed at Dinosaurs & Robots were powered by the thermoelectric effect - my current professional field.

Thermoelectric devices use electrical power to move heat, or use the movement of heat to produce electricity. The vast majority of thermoelectric devices sold today are for cooling; they can chill something to below ambient temperature (which you can't do with a fan) and they can be made much smaller than a compressor-based refrigerator.

In the early days of thermoelectricity, however, the main interest was power generation. As early as 1961, NASA launched a satellite powered by a Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator. It's easy to forget that radioactive materials are said to be "hot" because their temperatures are high, even when they're just sitting there. Such materials are used to heat one side of a thermoelectric device, while the other side is cooled by fins. The heat flowing through the device is converted (partially) to electricity. The Wikipedia article linked to above lists the RTGs used in those Soviet lighthouses.

Thermoelectric power generation has experienced something of a renaissance since the early 1990s, when funding from U.S. military R&D programs brought more academics into the field. Today, as we face declining world oil reserves, energy efficiency is once again on the public's mind. TEs are a leading contender, for example, among proposals to make use of the waste heat coming out of your car's tailpipe. BMW built a prototype last year.

The opposite of a bureaucrat

I've been thinking about the difference between a life lived by seeking pleasure and one lived by avoiding pain. Avoiding pain is reactive; it removes something from your life. Maybe something bad, but still, you end up with less. Do nothing but avoid pain day after day and you will end up with nothing. It's a death by sublimation.

There's a corollary in careers: avoiding unpleasant tasks might make any given workday tolerable, but it doesn't build a career, it creates a bureaucrat. To build a career, you have to find something in your job that you *want* to do really well, and make it happen. This is not necessarily ambition; it is seeking accomplishment.

Seeking pleasure in your life means first identifying what you have passion for, and then suffering the inconveniences and struggles in the process of achieving it. It is proactive. It adds. I'm not sure if there's a word for the kind of person it creates, the opposite of a bureaucrat, but maybe if there is, our society should be using that word more often.

There is no plan. Yet.

Though I haven't read the book, I'm told these ideas are discussed in Tim Ferriss' book The Four Hour Workweek (not our Tim Ferris).

Bar Jokes

Guy walks into a bar with his German Shepherd. Bartender says, "No dogs allowed in this bar. Guy says, "This is my seeing eye dog." Bartender sighs, and says, "What'll you have." Guy drinks it, leaves.

On the street, he runs into a second guy, who's walking his Chihuahua. Second guy says, "Hey, how'd you get your dog into that no-dogs-allowed bar?" First guy says, "I told the bartender it was my seeing-eye dog." Second guy says, "I'm gonna try that." First guy looks at the Chihuahua and says, "I dunno - but good luck."

Second guy walks into the bar. Bartender says, "No dogs allowed in here." Second guy says, "This is my seeing-eye dog." Bartender says, "That's been pulled on me once today; and besides, that ain't no seeing-eye dog." Second guy says, "Huh? What'd they give me?"


Two guys are out drinking, and they're really hitting it hard. After the fifth or sixth drink, one of the guys pukes all over the front of his suit.

"Oh, no, my wife is gonna kill me," he groans.

His buddy says, "No, here's what you do. Got $20? OK, stick the bill in your jacket pocket. Then when you get home, tell your wife that some guy puked on you in the bar and gave you twenty bucks to cover the dry cleaning."

The problem solved, they really tied one on.

The guy comes staggering home at 3 in the morning, and his wife meets him at the door.

"You're disgusting! What a pathetic human being!" she shouts.

"No, no, you don't understand," he says. "Some guy puked on me in the bar and gave me twenty bucks to cover the dry cleaning. Look in my pocket."

She reaches in and pulls out the money.

"There's $40 here," she says.

"Oh, yeah," the man says. "He pissed in my pants, too."


Bathroom graffiti:

Line 1, your standard, uninspired scribble:


Line 2, in a different pen:



A couple of young women, one with a baby stroler, came in to a winery tasting room. The bartender poured them a couple of tastes and, refering to the baby, said, "Should I pour some for the baby, too? He won't be driving for a while."


There were two couples at a winery's tasting room and while they were tasting a big cabernet the younger of the women says, "This one's got balls!" She was a little tipsy by then and she goes, "Oops! did I say something wrong?"

The pourer said, "No, but you could have said it's masculine. We often refer to wines as masculine or feminine. Of course if it is feminine you probably shouldn't mention any body parts."

Then one of the guys says, "Unless it's a jug wine."


A Physicist, a Mathematician and a Biologist are sitting in a bar. They are looking out the window at a derelict house across the street. After a few minutes two people walk into the house. A few minutes pass, then they see three people leave the house.

The Biologist says that the people must have reproduced.

The Physicist says that the original measurement must have contained an inaccuracy.

The Mathematician says that now, if one more person enters the house it will be empty again.


This one's true:

The other day at work a customer asked me where they came up with the word, proof, for alcohol content.

I didn't know so I asked our resident punster. He thought for a second and then came up with, "... the bourbon of proof?"


I was told this joke when I complained about chapped lips one winter:

Cowboy rides up to a bar and gets off his horse. Ties it to the hitch, lifts the horse's tail, kisses its asshole. Then he walks into the bar and orders a beer.

The bartender, who'd observed his entrance, silently serves him the beer. Then he says, "excuse me sir. I couldn't help but notice that you have a ... special relationship with your horse. Do you know something I don't know?"

The guy replies, "it reminds me not to lick my lips."


A man leaves a bar, gets into his car, and weaves his way down the road. A female officer stops him for drunk driving.

She says, "Sir, you have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be held against you."

The drunk looks at her chest and says, "Tits."


"A woman walks into a bar and asks the barman for a double entendre, so he gives it to her."


How many Freudians does it take to change a lightbulb?

Two - one to change the lightbulb and one to hold the penis.


Old conversations and new ones

Last night I went to Arts Collinwood's gallery for the opening of Photography for New Conversations, and I left feeling completely recharged, as I often do from these kinds of events. I got a chance to talk more with some people I know, and meet some people I didn't know yet. As Jack pointed out to me, art openings are more about the people than the art on the walls. That must be true, because when I walked in, everybody was standing facing inwards....

Jack's photographs have great color and minute detail. I was delighted by Maurice's photos of bugs and other plant dwellers. I don't know if Maurice has a flickr photostream (Jack does) but my favorite photo of the night was Maurice's image of a translucent white slug on a fist-sized chunk of quartz. The contrasts between animal and mineral made my head spin, and besides, it was beautiful.


Everybody's talking about the weather. OK, it's colder than a Slurpee enema here. Get over it. Instead of griping about the roads or the shoveling, I'd like to call your attention to the sounds.

This morning I carried a rubber squeegee outside to scrape a windshield, and it made a noise against the glass, HONK, that it doesn't make any other time. The crunch of the show has a high-pitched metallic ring to it, like a thousand tiny brittle cries.

Peculiar things happen below zero degrees Fahrenheit. Noises carry farther and reflect perfectly off distant objects. I felt a little like an astronaut this morning, and I forgot about the cold for a few moments to enjoy the unearthliness of it.

The Internet goes local

I was surprised to notice recently that the majority of my internet usage is now local. In the mid-90s, the great promise of the net was that it could bring together like-minded people from all over the globe. But now I find that most of the people I want to hear from are in Cleveland. Why? Because there are some things that just have to be done face-to-face.

Back in the heady days when every September came with a fresh crop of net newbies, all you had to do to find something cool was click links at random. Remember "surfing"? I used to log a couple hours a day on Salon's TableTalk forum with users scattered all over the world. Even now I have a moment of cognitive dissonance when somebody on The WELL asks if anybody knows a good plumber. (The WELL has been online since 1985, but its membership is still concentrated around San Francisco.)

Today, locally, I use six networks:, the local blogs (including mine), Cleveland Social Media Club, Local Food Cleveland, DailyCleveland, and Midtown Brews. Each of these solves some kind of problem for me. In some cases, it's as simple as getting out and having a good time. Others help me eat better or contribute to the community. When spring comes and I want to find people to go biking with, who am I going to ask? Salon - or Cleveland?

There are a couple of things at work here. First, creating face-to-face social networks takes effort. The local internet can help, but the global internet can hurt - by taking your attention away from the connections you need to make. All that cool stuff encourages people to spectate rather than get involved.

That's the second point: involvement. When you wake up and realize you've read every newspaper and watched every YouTube video, you still have to cook dinner. The local net is pure involvement - it is all user-generated, and nobody thinks their content is so hot that they can charge a subscription fee for it. There's involvement on the global net too: Maker sites, recipe sites, etc., but they have the same second-tier status that home improvement channels do on cable television compared to the big networks.

The internet is a tool--a highly flexible one. People are using it to make their hands-on lives better, not just as a second television.

Cooking equipment we'd like to see

Did you ever wander through Williams-Sonoma and think, well, an electric crepe maker is all well and good, but what have you got for the person who can't steam vegetables without smoking up the house?

1. Burnt Grilled Cheese Sandwich Scraper
This combination table knife and dustbuster simultaneously scrapes the blackened layer off your sandwich and vacuums up the soot! No more waving the sandwich over the sink and blowing the crumbs off.

2. Sauce Glue
When you make a sauce that has both oils and water in it, and it's supposed to be creamy but instead it "breaks" into, well, oil and water, this secret ingredient magically glues the sauce molecules back together. Brought to you by the same team of scientists who invented Silly Putty!

3. Blenderbuss
Never again will you have to wear your frozen margarita or clean your protein shake off the cat. The Blenderbuss is a foolproof system for combining and delivering liquids. Simply pour the ingredients into the muzzle, point it at the diner's mouth, and squeeze the trigger! Note: opening package constitutes agreement to terms of waiver. As a side note, some users find the product more effective if it's pointed directly at the toilet, eliminating the middleman.

4. Fireman-B-Gon
Broil steak without fear. This mixture of garlic, vegemite, and durian, when spread around your property line, repels public servants. So effective you could burn your house to the ground and people would actually applaud!

Databases and filing and avoiding intimacy

I'm starting to see more clearly that the time-consuming information-centric hobbies I used to pursue aren't really constructive on a personal level. They're justifiable, of course--it's good to be able to find things in your files--but they interfere with making connections.

During the more restful days of the holiday break, I worked on a few of these projects that I'd been neglecting for most of 2008. I organized our music collection, put the addresses of our favorite restaurants into a couple of electronic devices, and did the same with some recipes so we could pick out ingredients at the grocery store. It felt odd. These are very isolating activities; they felt natural when I led a more solitary lifestyle, but I've become more social. It felt odd, but also restful, so I decided to go with it.

Alice has a favorite saying: "the easiest way to avoid intimacy is to stay busy." Think of the classic type-A personality. Many of these people become workaholics (and the reference to addiction is appropriate here) as an acceptable way to avoid having to deal with personal matters. It applies in smaller ways too.

Some years ago I created a spreadsheet database of my music collection. If I tell it what album I'm listening to, it suggests a good segue that might be from a different genre - sort of a serendipity generator. As you might imagine, it took a lot of work to build it, and also to maintain it. It feels strange now to think back to the guy that created it. I couldn't do that now--I wouldn't choose to spend that much of my time that way. I can see that I had been letting it fill up time I should have been using to get other people's perspectives.

So when I spent part of the break diddling with restaurant addresses and recipes, I felt the urge return, like an addiction. It's easier to do those things than to navigate relationships. I had to pull myself back. This is 2009 ... not 2007.

Best burgers in town: Red Robin

I've been on a bit of a hamburger tear for the last couple months (no puns on my name, please) so I've had a lot of pub burgers. I like real blue cheese burgers without bacon. My all-time favorite, actually, is the peppercorn burger Champps used to make.

Happy hour at the Bier Markt presents a very good basic burger for $6. Brew Kettle out on the west side has a pretty good burger special for lunch, on Wednesdays I think. Fox & Hound (near 271 and Mayfield Heights road) has a few good burgers on the menu. The City Grill at 6416 Detroit makes burgers that remind me of the ones from Dairy Queen, which has its own special charm. Last year, one slid out of the bun and landed on my plate. And of course there's Winking Lizard.

The one that beats them all for an affordable all-around burger, though, is Red Robin. The one I go to is southeast, on the frontage road along 271 near the Chagrin Road exit. There's probably a dozen and a half specialty burgers on the menu, but the ordinary cheeseburger works for me - it's delicious. And the service is about twice as good as I'd expect at a burger joint. Give 'em a visit.


In related news, I share Eating Cleveland's enthusiasm for DiBella's Subs on Richmond. Delicious - but we won't be back for a while. The last time Alice and I went there, we were both ill the next day, and DiBella's was the only thing we both ate. When we came in, there was a guy on a ladder behind the counter, cleaning a ceiling ventilation grate with a wire brush--over the food prep counter. Against my better judgement, we ordered anyway. My mistake.

Claiming adulthood: a stake in the ground

This is my first post in a couple weeks because of the holiday. We had a fair amount of chaos and also just laying around gasping for air, recovering. While other bloggers have written about reflecting on 2008 and planning for 2009, I think I already spent most of 2008 doing some pretty heavy reflection and planning. I fully expect 2009 to be similar, though hopefully less intense.

We didn't travel for the holidays this year. In the past, as we were the couple with no kids living far from our families, we've always been the ones to drive. One year we visited five households in three states in two days. Now I love my family, but that was exhausting. To be honest, we got sick of it. It's hard on us and hard on our dogs. We can kennel them--which is insanely expensive and requires booking way in advance--or drive with them in the back seat. Did I mention one of the dogs throws up every time he gets in the car, even if we drug him? Yeah, that's an issue.

We're forty(ish) years old. We're adults now. We've lived in Cleveland for over two years, and hardly any of our relatives have seen our house. So this year we pounded a stake in the ground and said this is our home: if you want to see us, come visit. Stay the weekend, we've got room.

I feel bad about those of our relatives who can't travel, but we have to make a stand. I'm not trying to be spiteful, I'm looking forwards: we have to build a life here.