Tuesday, September 26, 2023

SFGate shows Semifreddi's some love

My favorite bakery is a local outfit that's been in business for nearly 40 years. Here's a great article about a great local business: This 40-year old Bay Area bakery makes 190,000 loaves every week

At the center of the active bread-making operation is Semifreddi’s CEO Tom Frainier, who prefers to be called the “chief bootlicker,” and chief creative officer Mike Rose, who is best known by his 126 employees as Semifeddi’s “mad scientist.” Among the many hats they wear, the co-owners are Semifreddi’s official taste-testers for the 45 breads and baked goods the 39-year-old bakery produces.

The story has great details of how a business gets created.

By 1988, Barbara gained two new business partners with unconventional backgrounds: her husband and Frainier (her brother). Unlike Barbara, Rose and Frainier’s professional backgrounds couldn’t be further from the culinary world. For the previous 10 years, Rose had worked as a sales representative at import company Albert Kessler. He said Barbara helped him learn the ropes at the bakery while he devoured the fundamentals of baking in cookbooks in his spare time. Nevertheless, it was no piece of cake.

“It was a learning process,” Rose recalls of his early days. “Bread is simple yet challenging and complicated. I had some beginner’s luck but not enough humility at first.”

A crucial observation was that the owners deliberately decided not to grow beyond the size they felt they could handle.

Around the bakery’s 20th anniversary in 2004, Rose and Frainier turned down an investor who urged them to open a Semifreddi’s outpost in Los Angeles. Years later, they don’t regret the decision. They preferred to err on the side of caution to keep Semifreddi’s a local treasure and avoid the route of becoming a frozen food aisle item.

Friday, September 15, 2023

There are FAQs, and then there are FAQs

Simple and yet at the same time clear and precise, may I (without permission) share with you the FAQ with which dvd.com closes its doors after 25 years and says goodbye.

Our Final Season

Frequently Asked Questions

Q. When is the last day you'll ship out discs?
A. On April 18th, we announced that after 25 years of shipping DVDs, this will be our Final Season, and we'll ship our last disc on September 29th, 2023.

Q. Do I need to return any remaining discs after the last shipping day?
A. You will not be charged for any unreturned discs - please enjoy them for as long as you like! If you do choose to return the disc, we will continue to accept returns until October 27th, 2023.

Q. Can I purchase discs from DVD Netflix?
A. We are unable to sell discs from our rental inventory.

Q. What if my last disc shipment gets lost or has an issue?
A. September 29th is our last day of shipping operations, so we will not be able to ship replacement discs after September 29th. Make sure you prioritize your must-watch titles in your queue so they can ship with some time to spare.

Q. When will I stop being billed?
A. Your last bill was in August. After your August payment, you will continue to receive service until our final shipping day, September 29th.

Q. Can I keep a copy of the data related to my DVD subscription?
A. Many of our members have years of movie-watching memories with DVD Netflix, so we are providing a downloadable PDF copy of your data with information about your queue, rental history, ratings, and reviews in our Data Download.

At any time up until Oct 27, 2023 a current DVD subscriber or former DVD customer whose DVD subscription was canceled within the past 9 months may download their data, via our Data Download (https://dvd.netflix.com/Download), which includes:

  • Your queue
  • Your rental history
  • Your ratings
  • Your reviews

Per our privacy policy, you may request a report of your personal data currently stored by Netflix via: https://www.netflix.com/account/getmyinfo.

Q. What if I have both streaming and DVD subscriptions?
A. Your current streaming subscription will not be impacted. Your DVD subscription will automatically be canceled on the last shipping day.

Q. If I keep my account active until you shut down, is there anything special I have to do to close out my account?
A. You do not need to take any action. After the final shipping date, your DVD subscription will be automatically canceled.

Q. What will happen to my personal information related to my DVD subscription?
A. Most personal information related to DVD subscriptions will be deleted at the end of the DVD subscription service, no earlier than Oct 27, 2023 and no later than Jan 1, 2024. The data include:

Mailing address(es)

  • Queue
  • Rental/shipping history
  • Ratings
  • Reviews
  • Taste preferences / genre ratings

Data which will be preserved after that time include:

  • Name and login information
  • DVD billing history (including tax data)
  • Charges for unreturned discs (including tax data)
Data related to your streaming subscription will not be impacted.

Q. When is the last day I can sign up for a DVD plan?
A. You are no longer able to sign up for a DVD plan.

Q. When is the last day I can change my plan?
A. You are no longer able to change your DVD plan.

Q. Why are you closing?
A. After an incredible 25 year run, we've made the difficult decision to wind down at the end of September. Our goal has always been to provide the best service for our members, but as the DVD business continues to shrink, that's going to become increasingly difficult. Making 2023 our Final Season allows us to maintain our quality of service through the last day and go out on a high note.

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

Fascinating food chain safety article from Undark Magazine

I happened upon this Undark Magazine article about food safety challenges in turmeric markets in Bangladesh: The Vice of Spice: Confronting Lead-Tainted Turmeric.

It discusses a problem I was wholly unfamiliar with.

The article talks about a practice of some turmeric traders: they can make their product sell better if the spice looks better.

While processing raw turmeric to powder, he added a chemical called lead chromate to get the tubers to glow yellow. Sheikh and the locals refer to the compound as peuri — and nearly all the farmers and traders at the market are familiar with it. Lead chromate is a chemical used in paints to, for instance, make school buses yellow, and it can enhance the radiance of turmeric roots, making them more attractive to buyers.

This is a nearly universal fact of buying and selling food: food that looks better sells better.

But lead, of course, is a horrible poison when ingested, and so this was resulting in terrible consequences, both within Bangladesh and even beyond.

Studies conducted in Boston, New York City, North Carolina, Colorado, and Washington have all found a connection between consumption of lead-tainted turmeric (mostly procured from markets overseas) and elevated blood-lead levels.

The article notes that the problem may even spread beyond just turmeric to other food products.

Many of the turmeric wholesalers selling in Shyambazar have been at it for more than 30 years. Law enforcement, they said, had only showed up for the turmeric. No other spices, they noted, have ever come under scrutiny.

The article also points out that this is a global problem, and extremely challenging:

Ending food fraud entirely for any commodity is a huge challenge, said Roberts, the food fraud expert from UCLA. Regulatory agencies in different countries need to set clear standards, enable constant testing and surveillance, and be willing to enforce penalties when someone has committed fraud.

It's a well-written article, and worth reading the entire thing.

Wednesday, September 6, 2023

Gloomhaven Cragheart rules question (warning some spoilers)

So we were playing Gloomhaven (digital edition) and we were playing scenario 43, Drake Nest.

I was playing Cragheart at a fairly high level, and I had the level 3 card Clear the Way equipped.

We were in the mid- to late-scenario, and I felt it was a good time to use the bottom of Clear the Way. (It was the first time I'd ever activated the bottom half of Clear the Way, so this was a new experience for me.)

Time for some pictures!

First, here's "Clear the Way".

And here's the Drake Nest map.

I want you to focus on the top room in the map, the one with the treasure chest in it.

The entrance door to that room is at the bottom center of the treasure chest room, and it connects to the top center of the main central room in the map. And that entrance door, as you can clearly see in the picture, is ringed by 3 STUN traps, arranged in a semi-circle just before you reach the door.

My Cragheart character started the round standing in the doorway at the top left of the main central room, the door which connects to the narrow left-hand-side room with the 3 gold piles and the 6 drakes. That door was open; in fact Cragheart had just finished motoring through that left-hand-side room, together with one of the other characters in our party, having dealt with the 6 drakes.

As I said, it was mid- to late-scenario, and we'd cleared most of the rooms, and we felt it was time to enter the treasure chest room and engage those 5 monsters in battle.

But those traps were annoying! We knew that if any of our weakened, late-game characters triggered one of those traps, and was then stunned until the end of the next round, it'd be a sitting duck!

So here's where I came up with a plan to use the bottom half of Clear the Way. Notice that Clear the Way's bottom half reads:

  • Move 5
  • Jump
  • Destroy all obstacles and disarm all traps moved through.

So when my turn came, I revealed Clear the Way and began my movement. I moved 3 hexes, and on the third hex I moved into the left-most of the three traps. But of course the trap did nothing because my card caused me to disarm it.

Then for my 4th hex of movement, I moved onto the closed door and opened it. This revealed the treasure chest room and all its monsters, and it drew cards for those monsters.

Then I took my 5th hex of movement, and I moved into the rightmost of the three traps.

At that point, the game sprung the trap, and told me I was now STUN-ned, and ended my turn at that point.

And Cragheart was stunned, and all those 5 monsters immediately came and attacked Cragheart, and then Cragheart was still stunned the next round, and had to long rest, and it was only by the narrowest of margins that the Tinkerer was able to race over and use 3 healing actions in a row to keep Cragheart alive through the deluge of monster attacks.

So now here's the rules question:

I don't understand! Why didn't my card disarm the second trap, the one that I moved through with my 5th movement point?

Is it because when I opened the door, and revealed the monsters, the positive effects on Clear the Way ceased to operate?

Or is it a bug in the digital version of the game, did it misinterpret the powers of the bottom half of the Clear the Way card?

Or was it because I was misunderstanding what it meant to move through a trap, and hence I only moved "through" a trap on my 3rd hex of movement; on my 5th hex of movement I instead moved "into" to a trap, but not "through" it? That is, ending my turn on a trap didn't benefit from the power of the card, but traps in movement hexes 1-4 did. (If that's the case, that was a subtle use of the word "through", a word which is not used anywhere in the "Traps" section of the rulebook, and one that would have benefited from some extra clarity in the card.)

Tuesday, September 5, 2023

Why is the bridge there?

Oh, you surely must go read this lovely citizen history report about an (apparently) useless pedestrian bridge built in 1959 in suburban Minneapolis, Minnesota: The Mystery of the Bloomfield Bridge

Come for the initial mystery; stay for the great presentation and lovely old pictures and documents; enjoy the patient dedication of our historian; and celebrate the climax:

The best search terms were not road names, they were people's names.

Monday, September 4, 2023

The World Beneath Their Feet: a very short review

Scott Ellsworth's The World Beneath Their Feet was a fun summer read. I suppose I'd call it "sports history", and it indeed has a little of both (sports and history) sprinkled together.

Ellsworth picks an approximately 20 year period, from the early 1930's up through 1953, to focus on, and he manages to cover a lot of story telling in a fairly compact 300 or so pages (plus some nice sections of notes and references at the end).

The mountaineering parts were fun for me, and drew me to the book in the first place, but to be honest I found some of the history parts more interesting. For example, there was a sizable discussion of how the rise of the Nazi Party in Germany dramatically affected the mountaineering world, as Munich changed from being the gateway to the Alps into being the birthplace of National Socialism.

The old Munich was also gone.

While waitresses in dirndls still served massive joints of Schweinebraten at the Augustiner, the city that had once charmed visitors as different as Mark Twain and Wassily Kandinsky was no more. It had been swept away by a tidal wave of hate-filled speeches and miliary parades, poison-pen editorials and spit-shined jackboots. It had gone up in smoke and kerosene, in piles of books set ablaze on ancient cobblestone streets, or with the click of a revolver behind a locked jailhouse door. And it had simply vanished, with a pink slip set upon one's desk, the neighbor who no longer said hello, or a knock upon the door in the middle of the night.

More interesting to me was the discussion of how mountaineering changed central Asia, specifically the people and communities of places like Nepal, Bhutan, Tibet, Sikkim, Baltistan, Kashmir, and more.

Darjeeling had the feel of a way station placed midway between heaven and earth. [...] Founded as a seasonal retreat for colonial administrators and army officers seeking to escape the blazing heat of Indian summers, the British transformed the remote hill station, accessible by a fifty-mile small-gauge railroad, into a slice of home. Cotswold cottages and Tudor mansions sprouted along the hillsides, complete with rose gardens in the back and Wedgwood teapots and soup tureens nestled in mahogany china cabinets. [...] But Darjeeling was a Nepali town as well. When British planters ventured that the lush, dripping, and often cloud-covered hills nearby might be a good place to grow tea, they hit the jackpot. [...] And as the word leaked out among the Sherpa communities in Nepal that good wages could be earned by lugging heavy boxes and daypacks up the slopes of the Himalayas for the British, the Germans, and others, members of the Sherpa enclave on the backside of Darjeeling began to utter quiet prayers in the smoky air of a nearby Buddhist monastery and keep their ears peeled for news of another expedition.

And a particularly important contribution of the book is to help tell the story of how the end of Colonalism eventually changed the relationships between the British and their former subjects, and how mountaineering in particular helped to accelerate that change.

The underlying issues, of course, went much deeper. And nobody knew that quite as well as Tenzing. "With the Swiss and the French I had been treated as a comrade, and equal, in a way that is not possible for the British," he said. The Raj was gone, and the Empire was soon to follow. [...] Both Hillary and Tenzing had been keeping their eyes out for a potential climbing partner, and they were impressed by what they observed in each other. [...] Tenzing later recalled, "What was important was that, as we climbed together and became used to each other, we were becoming a strong and confident team." [...] Later, in camp, Hillary told some of the other climbers, "Without Tenzing I would have been finished today."

Back and forth the book meanders, roughly chronologically, interspersing rousing tales of mountain adventures with interludes of social and political change (as well as some technological change). Ellsworth is effective in this technique, keeping multiple story lines afloat and never wandering too far from his core characters, the hundred or so extreme adventurers who obsessively returned to the mountains again and again to try to reach the top.

I particularly enjoyed two selections of old photographs, some of them nearly a hundred years old, which helped bring life to the stories. Don't miss the wonderful picture of Tenzing and Hillary from June 6, 1953, just eight days after reaching the summit of Everest! However, some of the pictures worked better than others. I thought the pictures of the Sherpas, Baltis, and other mountain dwellers were far more interesting than the pictures of wealthy British expeditioneers. And the picture of Leni Riefenstahl posed on a slope in the Alps seemed entirely gratuitious, as The World Beneath Their Feet found almost nothing to say about her beyond a single one-sentence reference to a "sultry, twenty-four-year-old former dancer".

Though I didn't learn very much new from The World Beneath Their Feet, I enjoyed many of the stories of these adventuresome days, and recommend it to anyone who wants to learn more about the early days of climbing in the Himalayas.

Saturday, September 2, 2023

A lovely interview with Vishy Anand

Anand always was my favorite player, even though I grew up in the age of Fischer. Fischer got me interested in chess, but Anand got me to love chess.

Anyway, here's a lovely interview with him talking to Tyler Cowen, the brilliant economist (and polymath).

Watch the video or just read the transcript; either way it's great!