Up Up Down Down: Side Projects That Give Us Extra Life


I'm very happy to announce Up Up Down Down: Side Projects That Give Us Extra Life, a mini conference-like event I'm putting together in a few weeks at Commonwealth Cambridge. I've been toying with the idea of putting together something like this for a year or two, so I'm excited it's finally coming together. There are currently 3 speakers, Carolyn Sewell, Darius Kazemi, and Chris Piascik, but very shortly more will be announced. The idea of a day of talks dedicated to side projects appeals to me because everything I've got going on is a side project. The projects that make up the bulk of my income still feel like side projects because I'm (luckily) never stuck working on one thing too long. That's how it feels anyway. A lot of the people I know have other stuff going on, and I was lucky enough to convince them to come talk to us.

Whiskey Rebellion is another event I've wanted to do for a long time. It's a showcase of American brown spirits, mostly rye and bourbon, but also some American single malts. Whiskey Rebellion tickets went on sale today and sold out in a few hours, but the first 20 people who buy a ticket to Up Up Down Down will get a free ticket to Whiskey Rebellion, too. UUDD attendees will also get lunch and probably some snacks and/or beer. That's still up in the air.

The UUDD name is a nod to the Konami code and the extra lives the code gets (got) you in Contra. And like most my events, I came up with the name before really having an idea for the format of the event. Thanks to Kevin, Garrett, Sarah, and even Richard, actually to pretty much anyone I talked in the last three months, for helping give shape to UUDD. Special thanks to Andrew Simone for the yeomen web design and to Chris Piascik for the logo.

Please let me know if you have any questions. It would be great if you came out!

General Irony: The Robert Gates Memoir

You can stop reading Robert Gates' memoir now, Dave Weigel found the funniest part.

So: It's the fall of 2010, and Gates is meeting with the president and top brass. "Biden, Mullen, Jones, Donilon, Brennan, and Tony Blinken, the vice president’s national security adviser, were there." The subject: how to be ready if a conflict between Iran and Israel ignites. Gates worries that the particulars have not thought the scenario through, and advises the president to deploy a second aircraft carrier to the Persian Gulf soon, just in case. The meeting ends.

I was put off by the way the president closed the meeting. To his very closest advisers, he said, "For the record, and for those of you writing your memoirs, I am not making any decisions about Israel or Iran. Joe, you be my witness." I was offended by his suspicion that any of us would ever write about such sensitive matters.

Bands that were good, but blew it

The AV Club recently asked Melvin's frontman Buzz Osborne to put together a mix around a specific theme. He chose "bands that were good, but blew it" to hilarious effect.

They started off so promising and ended up so ridiculous. It’s an Elvis scenario: You give any penniless hick $1 million and they’re going to go crazy. I’m sure Metallica is surrounded by sycophant yes men who do nothing but agree with them. Nobody is there to go, “Guys, this is fucking horrible and you guys are acting like idiots!” Although the new bass player has certainly been insulated from that, because he wasn’t around for some of that stuff. I met him and he was a super-nice guy. Those guys from Metallica are nice. I’m just pointing out their failures on a musical and functional level. That’s it—nothing personal.

Via @Seth_Cohen

Tasty Burger vs Shake Shack taste test

Earlier last year, burgeoning Boston hamburger chain Tasty Burger opened a location in Cambridge's Harvard Square. Tasty Burger has a pretty strong pedigree, coming from the same restaurant group as Franklin Cafe and Citizen Public House. Their burgers are tasty. Just this past weekend, NY burger titan Shake Shack continued their Northeast expansion by opening a location right across the Square from Tasty Burger. Within eyesight of each other, the two gourmet fast-food burger joints circle each other warily like two anthropomorphic cheeseburgerboxers (this doesn't really happen, but imagine).

As soon as I heard Shake Shack was going into a space about 100 yards from Tasty Burger, I knew we'd have to do a taste test of some sort. Heavily inspired by this A Hamburger Today Shake Shack vs In-N-Out vs Five Guys bi-coastal taste test, we set up something similar pitting New York upstart Shake Shack against local favorite Tasty Burger. When I say "heavily inspired" I mean, we probably wouldn't have done this without that post. I also mean I borrowed heavily from the format.

Please note: The "Boston vs New York" thing is always fraught with peril, ESPECIALLY the "Boston food vs New York food" debate. We are not getting into any of that here. For the sake of science, we put that aside and endeavored to decide impartially, once and for all, which was a better burger: Tasty Burger or Shake Shack.

The Judges
Imitable illustrator, Chris Piascik
Roxy's Grilled Cheese and Burger owner, James DiSabatino
Flour baker, Keith Brooks
Super friend, Holly Hutchenson

Tasty burger vs shake shack taste test

The Method

At 12:03 PM on Tuesday, January 7th 2014, Keith entered and Tasty Burger Harvard Square to pick up 4 regular cheeseburgers, 1 cheeseburger without sauce (Chris doesn't like white foods like mayo) (I know), and one veggie burger. James entered Shake Shack at 12:05 PM and ordered the same thing. The burgers were then brought to my house in an insulated bag and eaten at 1PM. We used Mexican Coke as a palate cleanser, as you do, even if it isn't really better. There were 6 criteria for rating each burger: The Bun, The Cheese, The Toppings, The Sauce, The Value, and the Meat. In this instance, we didn't weight any of the criteria higher than others. There were also two unweighted criteria: Time to Burger, and 8-month old acceptance. These criteria were recorded, but did not factor in final judgement. In a draw, taste testers were able to award points to both burgers. To be perfectly scientific, we should have eaten the burgers 5 minutes apart to account for Shake Shack's burgers coming off the grill 5 minutes later, but this is cheeseburger science and a fast food burger shouldn't deteriorate if left for 5 extra minutes.

CriteriaShake Shack Tasty Burger
Size:1/4 pound patty1/3 pound patty
How cooked:Flat topGrill
Bun:Potato BunSesame Bun
Cheese:AmericanCheddar American Blend
Toppings:Lettuce, tomato*Lettuce, tomato, pickles, onions
Sauce:Thousand Island**Ketchup, mayo
Value:$4.85 for a cheeseburger. $1.21 per ounce. $5.25 for a cheeseburger. $.98 per ounce.
Meat:"100% all-natural Angus beef, vegetarian fed, humanely raised and source verified. No hormones or antibiotics – EVER.""All natural, Certified Humane®, and NEVER given any growth hormones or antibiotics. The steer are grass fed and finished on a 100% vegetarian grass and grain diet."

*The AHT review above mentions onions and pickles. Our burgers did not have.
**The AHT review above mentions ketchup and mayo. Our burgers did not have.

Reminder, a draw results in a point awarded to both burgers. And sauce only has 4 votes because Chris doesn't like sauce. (I don't know either.)

Shake shack vs tasty burger taste test

The Bun
Score: 4-1 Tasty Burger
Comments on the Tasty Burger bun:
"Love the sesame seeds on Tasty Burger's bun." "It's got a moist, springy texture." "Very sturdy." "Too big." "If I was just eating the two buns on their own, I would like the Tasty Burger bun better."

Comments on the Shake Shack bun
"Perfect burger to bun ratio. It allowed meat to really shine." "I love potato rolls, but the Tasty bun worked better." "I liked the Tasty Burger bun better for the first two bites, and Shake Shack better for last two bites. It soaks up the juices"

The Cheese
Score: 4-4 Tied
Comments on the Tasty Burger cheese
"Tangy. Nice tangy flavor."

Comments on the Shake Shack cheese
"A little more subtle. Not a big American Cheese fan." "Hard to taste anything, it's completely melted into the burger."

The Toppings
Score: 5-4 Shake Shack
Comments on the Tasty Burger toppings
"The way the burger is wrapped to go doesn't give the lettuce much chance to stay strong." "The pickles and onions were a nice touch."

Comments on the Shake Shack toppings
"Is this supposed to have pickles and onions?"

The Sauce
Score 3-1 Tasty Burger
Comments on the Tasty Burger sauce
"Ketchup and mayo, not mixed." "Classic." "Reminded me of backyard burger."

Comments on the Shake Shack sauce
"By itself it tasted good." "Pretty good on first bite around the edges. Not as good in the middle of the burger when it’s concentrated and you get a mouthful." "Is this supposed to have ketchup and mayo?"

The Value
Score: 5-0 Tasty Burger
Comments on the Tasty Burger value
"Pretty even. Both will satisfy. Just price per pound edge goes to Tasty Burger. Tasty Burger is 100% Certified Humane beef. Shake Shack uses 100% no antibiotics no hormones." "More expensive meat, probably. Bigger sandwich. No contest" "Substantial."

Comments on the Shake Shack value
"You wouldn't feel cheated at Shake Shack, it's just Tasty Burger is a bigger sandwich."

The Meat
Score 4-1 Shake Shack
Comments on the Tasty Burger meat
"I like the seasoning, grill taste, and the texture."

Comments on the Shake Shack meat
"Seasoned much better." "A lot more flavor." "Tons of beef flavor." "The first bite was spongy, not in a good way."

Unweighted criteria
Response by an 8 month old to burger meat washed of any sauce: While it appeared the Tasty Burger burger was enjoyed with the Shake Shack burger being spit out immediately, the piece of Tasty Burger burger was found on the floor some time later. This is a draw and I will have to teach my daughter to honor my food preferences.
Veggie Burger: Shake Shack's is two portabello mushrooms fried with cheese in the middle. The Tasty Burger veggie burger is a formed patty that is pleasantly spicy. If you want something that tastes like it might be bad for you, go with Shake Shack, if you want a healthier option, go with Tasty Burger. They were both palatable. This is a draw.
Speed of Service: Tasty Burger took 8 minutes to produce the order, Shake Shack took 10 minutes. Tasty Burger is the clear winner if 2 minutes is important to you.

The Results
If we're just counting the scores on the different criteria above, Tasty Burger won 3-2 with one draw. If you add up all the votes, it's 21-15 Tasty Burger. And for overall burger, judges picked Tasty Burger 4-1. While it's clear from these results Tasty Burger makes a superior burger, everyone was supremely satisfied by the Shake Shack burger. It was not my intention with this taste test to equivocate. I wanted to find a clear winner, which in Tasty Burger, we seem to have done. Before tasting the burgers, I asked all the judges to think about who they expected and/or wanted to win. 4 judges to 1 thought Shake Shack was going to win "because of all the hype." If there was any bias, it was in their favor. Without exception, all the judges agreed Tasty Burger and Shake Shack make a terrific fast food burger.

Tasty Burger's use of Certified Humane® is something to applaud. I advised the judges to not include this fact in their voting in either The Value category or The Meat category. Tasty Burger won The Value vote anyway based on the size to price ratio of the burger, and would have won The Meat category if this factor was considered. All the judges agreed the Certified Humane® label was a reason on its own to choose Tasty Burger.

This cheeseburger taste test was a great afternoon, and all of the judges encourage you to perform your own. In the future some changes to the method might include blind tasting, and judges who haven't previously tried either burger, along with judges from New York.

These final comments do a good job illustrating how close the burgers were in taste and quality:
"Shake Shack isn't just serving meat, they’re serving a complete burger, and when judging the total package, Tasty Burger is just better." "From now on, I’m going to go to Harvard Square and get both." "I'm still going to eat both burgers constantly and switch it up, but if somebody could only go to one place and asked me which, I'd say Tasty Burger." "There's a better chance of coming away fully satisfied at Tasty Burger." "Once I found out the information of the humane beef at Tasty Burger, it would sway my decision to Tasty Burger because of how close the burger experience was between the two of them and how geographically close they are. However, where I live, Five Guys is closer, and is a superior burger to both of them."

Your new favorite football player didn’t play this past season

Late in 2012, you might have discovered your new favorite football player, Minnesota punter Chris Kluwe. He's the football player who unabashedly and fantastically told Maryland politician Emmett Brown to STFU. He's the one that introduced 'lustful cockmonster' into common vernacular.

In any case, Kluwe didn't punt in 2013 after being cut by the Vikings before the season. He recently wrote about the experience of his last season in Deadspin. Despite support from the team's owner for his outspoken defense of marriage equality, Kluwe's bigoted position coach likely got him cut. According to the piece, Kluwe's always been a better than average / top third punter in the league. Although Kluwe had tryouts this year, he didn't catch on with any teams. Good punters can usually hang around the league for a long time, so it should have been easy for Kluwe to get another job. That he didn't likely signals he's been marked as a troublemaker by coaches around the league.

Kind of a sizable block from the end of the piece.

If there's one thing I hope to achieve from sharing this story, it's to make sure that Mike Priefer never holds a coaching position again in the NFL, and ideally never coaches at any level. (According to the Pioneer Press, he is "the only in-house candidate with a chance" at the head-coaching job.) It's inexcusable that someone would use his status as a teacher and a role model to proselytize on behalf of his own doctrine of intolerance, and I hope he never gets another opportunity to pass his example along to anyone else. I also hope that Leslie Frazier and Rick Spielman take a good look in the mirror and ask themselves if they are the people they truly profess themselves to be.

...I wanted to prove I still had the physical ability to compete in the NFL. I can still hit the ball 45 yards outside the numbers with good hangtime, and at the tryouts I've had this year I've gotten praise from the scouts and personnel people on hand, but for whatever reason I cannot find a job. (Side note: My numbers from last year would put me right in the middle of the pack for this year, and I've traditionally been in the middle to top third of punters each year).

However, it's clear to me that no matter how much I want to prove I can play, I will no longer punt in the NFL, especially now that I've written this account. Whether it's my age, my minimum veteran salary, my habit of speaking my mind, or (most likely) a combination of all three, my time as a football player is done. Punters are always replaceable, at least in the minds of those in charge, and I realize that in advocating noisily for social change I only made it easier for them to justify not having me around. So it goes.

Some will ask if the NFL has a problem with institutionalized homophobia. I don't think it does. I think there are homophobic people in the NFL, in all positions, but that's true for society as well, and those people eventually get replaced. All we can do is try to expose their behavior when we see it and call them to account for their actions.

Somewhat related, though take it with two grains of salt because it's Bleacher Report, The Inside Story of How the NFL's Plan for Its First Openly Gay Player Fell Apart.

Gun purity

If you're not one of the Americans that care passionately about guns, you'd think Dick Metcalf was a gun nut. He's got a gun club at his house, a shooting range, and gun manufacturers used to send him their weapons for review. He also had a popular column in Guns & Ammo magazine, from which he was fired after suggesting, that maybe, quite possibly, all rights, even the Second Amendment, should be regulated. "All constitutional rights are regulated, always have been, and need to be" was the line that got Metcalf fired, drew death threats, and caused two major advertisers, Ruger and Remington, to threaten to pull their ads. You can read Metcalf's column here. (PDF)

On the other side of that reasonable statement is Richard Venola, "We are locked in a struggle with powerful forces in this country who will do anything to destroy the Second Amendment. The time for ceding some rational points is gone." Venola recently had murder charges dropped against him after shooting a neighbor during an argument.

In any case, we're all screwed. More guns isn't the answer, and these people are insane, or, I guess if I'm being charitable, unreasonable.

‘And then the handle snapped.’ A gripping lost at sea tale

If you're a fan of the 'lost at sea' #longread (AND I KNOW YOU ARE), you'll like Paul Tough's latest in the NYTimes Magazine. Last July, Montauk fisherman John Aldridge fell overboard into the Atlantic Ocean while the rest of the guys on his lobster boat were asleep. These stories are always gripping, but I think this is the best in a while.

In the weeks after Aldridge’s rescue, I talked to several local fishermen on the docks about the search, and not only did they all admit that they cried when they heard the news that Aldridge was safe, but most of them teared up again, despite themselves, as they were telling me the story. It was hard to say what, exactly, was bringing them to tears. But what seems to go mostly unspoken in their lives is the inescapable risk of their jobs, and the improbable fact that Aldridge hadn’t drowned in the Atlantic somehow underscored that risk for them even more. He’d kept himself alive in a way that few people could, had managed to think and work his way through a situation that, for most of us, would have been immediately and completely overwhelming. And he’d willed himself to live. To be a fisherman and to really know the danger of the sea, and to think of Aldridge in the middle of the ocean for all those hours refusing to go under — maybe that was too much to contain.

Here’s a dumb thing about the beef industry

Cattle ranchers in the US are required to pay $1 per head to the government which then transfers the money to different trade associations intended to promote the beef industry. Most of the money goes to the National Cattleman's Beef Association, which is mostly an insane lobbying group arguing against commonsense regulations. They're the group that is fighting against the labeling of beef that would tell you where beef was from - something many ranchers (humane/organic/sustainable ranchers mostly) want. While the NCBA is a trade organization with membership fees, over 90% of it's revenue comes from that $1 per cattle tax charged to ranchers. Basically, without this "marketing" tax, our food industry in general, and our beef industry specifically would be a lot better off. Washington Monthly wrote about it here. The last couple paragraphs have the most bullshit.

And in the case of the NCBA, the degree of subsidy is particularly extreme. With its membership having shrunk from 40,000 in 1994 to 26,000 today, only 7 percent of the NCBA’s revenue comes from membership dues. That means that most of the cost of its overhead, from the $434,477 it paid its chief executive in 2010 to the cost of keeping the lights on and maintaining its Web site, comes from public money. As such, the comingling of its public money with lobbying activity is inherent and of great value. If the NCBA didn’t have those checkoff funds, says rancher Steve Charter, “they would have a pretty tough time keeping going.” Put another way, without the public money it receives, the NCBA might not even exist, and certainly would not have the lobbying clout it has today.

Boston’s worst slumlord

Chris did some art for the Boston Magazine profile of Boston's worst slumlord. The art's pretty and it actually is an interesting article, too. The guy just does not seem to give a shit about anything except making money.

Over the years, Faisal’s audacious disregard for the agency has become legendary. In 2010, WBZ aired a report concerning a whopping 73 complaints that had been filed against him and his company over an 18-month period. In September 2012, the Boston Globe reported on a basement studio apartment that Alpha had rented to a Northeastern University student at 115 St. Stephens Street. “[C]ity inspectors found evidence of roaches, grime-caked walls and ceilings, exposed wires, and rusty pipes,” the Globe reported. The room had “no windows or other source of ventilation, no working carbon monoxide detector, and no emergency lighting.” In fact, Faisal didn’t even have a permit to use the space for housing—and yet, even when inspectors condemned the apartment, and the tenant’s Realtor returned the finder’s fee, Faisal initially refused to return the requisite first and last month’s rent plus a security deposit totaling $3,670. “We’ve had a problem with Anwar Faisal and his company’s noncompliance with our rental ordinance,” Dion Irish, the former housing inspection commissioner, told the paper. “This is probably one of the worst cases, but the issues we’ve had with him have been systematic.”