Monday, June 29, 2009

You can learn a lot from Looney Toons

It started when Daffy Duck introduced Porky Pig to Hymie, his invisible kangaroo pal, in the classic short Daffy Duck Slept Here.

Porky’s response (or so I thought): “You’re pixelated. There’s no kangaroo here.”

Wait a minute. I though pixelate was one of those new, techie words – like debug, Firewire and gigaflop. Yet here’s Porky uttering the word back in 1948, before many of the folks who refined digital imagery pixels were in diapers.

After a bit of research, I realized I was wrong. Porky’s was the older version: pixilated.

Notice the small spelling difference. Pixelate, is derived from pixel, a portmanteau blend of picture (pix) and element coined in 1969 to describe the individual elements of a TV picture. In 1948, pixilate had one meaning and one spelling, with an i. It’s derived from the root word pixie and is used to describe somebody acting drunk or goofy.

The thing I love about this little bit of language trivia is that a digital image can be described as pixelated when low resolution lets the individual pixels show through for a blocky, blurry effect.

Not unlike what you might see when pixilated.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Beware the Beer Scams

Miller's newest piece of advertising dreck inspired this post. It's "Triple Hops Brewed" says its new ad agency, BBH-New York. Miller gives them $150 million a year. And that's the best they can come up with? Pathetic.

It's probably not the most egregious. But it's gotta be in the top 10. And since it's the scam that ticked me off most recently, figured I'd wax poetic about some of my favorite examples of big-brew/big-agency beerhype:

1. Triple Hops Brewed: What a crock of you-know-what. It refers to how many times hops are added during the "brewing" phase, when "wort" the unfermented, sweet beer is being boiled in the kettle. The oils in hops are not soluble in wort. So they have to be boiled long and hard to get them to dissolve out. Then we can taste them in the finished beer.

If you hop early in the brew, you get mostly bitterness in the finished beer. But long boiling destroys some flavor and aroma components. So brewers hop both early and late, to coax different characteristics from the hops. Hopping a beer three times is so common it's not even worth mentioning, let alone making it the centerpiece of an entire multi-million dollar national ad campaign.

A barrel of Miller lite has about as much hops as my little finger. The issue is not when they add the hops, it's how little they add.

2. Beechwood Aging: This is a crock that actually has roots in truth. The Czech/Bohemian brewers of the 19th century discovered this trick. Beechwood is used as a traditional "fining" agent in European pilsner - the lightly colored, well-hopped, bottom-fermenting lagers made famous by such labels as Budweiser-Budvar (the original Bud) and Pilsner Urquell.

When people started drinking beer from glass vessels, brewers started looking for ways to make the beer look better. Before the development of filtering, fining agents were used to remove solids from the beer. They mostly go after dissolved proteins that tend to become solid at serving temperature, lending a cloudy appearance to the brew served in glass. Subjecting the beer to wood chips will help. Millions of microscopic nooks and crannies in the beechwood serve as places to trap solid particles. And unlike its cousin, oak, beechwood is relatively inert in liquid - it does not impart any significant flavor components.

America's King of Beers, Budweiser, is beechwood aged. No problem. But then, like all mass-market beer, it's cold-filtered. Cold-filtering removes any and all particulates in the beer, rendering the beechwood aging completely irrelevant. It's done out of a sense of tradition, only. Advertising it as a real benefit is misinformed at best and disingenuous at worst.

3. Cold Filtering
You probably recognized that term earlier, because it's another piece of crap that beer ad agencies have been foisting on the populace for years. If a beer is filtered, it's cold-filtered. On his worst day, a brewer would never filter beer warm. Filtering is pointless unless you have something to filter. Remember those dissolved solids from the beechwood aging example? They stay in solution unless you chill the beer. Chill the beer, solidify the solids. Now you can filter them out. See? It ain't rocket science. And it does not make one beer stand out against another.

And there's an even bigger scam at work here. Cold filtering isn't done for you, it's done for them, because Mass Market Model-T beer is made to be packaged. Like pasteurization, filtering makes the beer more stable for sitting on room-temperature shelves for who-knows-how-long. And, like pasteurization, it does little or no good for beer flavor.

Recommendation: drink beer that insults neither your taste buds nor your intelligence.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Conflicted about motorcycle inspection

It was going to be an hour wait, which is pretty odd for the 10th of the month. Turns out there was only one lane open. New Jersey is retrofitting all its vehicle inspection stations with lift equipment that will enable checking wheels off the ground. I wasn't too concerned. I was caught up with work, it was a beautiful spring day and mercifully the mosquitoes were bothering somebody else.

I packed up my jacket, removed my helmet and settled down to enjoy the breeze. I had been in line scarcely 10 minutes when a remarkably friendly inspector walked over to me and told me to get out of line and roll to the side of the building, where he would inspect the bike pronto. Sweet!

I sustained quite a few looks of envy (and a few of hostility) from the hot and frustrated cage drivers as I rolled past. I waited at that assigned spot for only another five minutes or so before the inspector reappeared and completed the inspection.

First he checked my headlight. Then my turn signals, which are not even required on motorcycles in the Garden State. (I've always thought this was kind of odd, but there you have it.) That was it. He went back into the building and reemerged with my sticker after another 10 minutes or so.

Here's the conflicted part. I was really grateful for the preferential treatment - but puzzled by the inspection itself, which seemed a complete waste of time. They didn't check the brakes, tires, wheels, chain, helmet or any other essential bit of gear. Just the lights. OK, NJ. Whatever floats your boat. Ya gotta love government contractors.

Not complaining, I'm good for two years. (Maybe I'll be as lucky next time.)