Mar 18

That barbecue map

An online magazine called Chef’s Pencil (no, I’ve never heard of it before, either) stirred up a cauldron of controversy involving a cuisine that many people have strong opinions about: barbecue. The magazine analyzed TripAdvisor ratings of the barbecue restaurants in America’s 75 largest cities, and compiled a list of what they claim are the ten best cities in the country for barbecue. This was accompanied by a map showing where those cities are, and here it is:

The map, and the analysis that it was based on, made a lot of people angry. This Newsweek article sums up the controversy pretty well.

I won’t try to enumerate all of the things wrong with this map, because many people have already done that. (Matt Mitchell’s video is a good example.) I’ll just point out a couple of things.

The biggest outrage is that Texas is completely ignored. Now, I’m the first to admit that I’m not objective about barbecue. Of course I’m biased: I was raised on Texas-style barbecue because my father was born in Dallas, and he loved to make that kind of barbecue in his backyard grill. He was always tinkering with the sauce recipe and the way he cooked the beef brisket, in the hope of duplicating the sort of barbecue served in east Texas restaurants. He was never completely satisfied with the result, but I certainly enjoyed eating the meals that he produced. So it’s difficult for me to believe that no city in Texas made it into the top ten.

Some of the cities that did make it seem bizarrely inappropriate. Seattle, Newark, and Miami do not come to anyone’s mind when you ask them where they would go for great barbecue. As Matt points out, New Orleans has incredibly good food, but barbecue is not what it’s renowned for.

And Charlotte? Really? I grew up in the Charlotte area, and I’ve eaten in the city’s restaurants countless times. If it has some of the best barbecue in the country, I sure didn’t hear anything about it. And maybe I wouldn’t, but you can bet that Dad would have known about any good barbecue restaurant in Charlotte, and he would have taken the family to eat there. I don’t think that ever happened. (Maybe the excellent barbecue places in Charlotte only appeared after he died. Okay, I’m game. What are their names? I’d love to try them out. Update: According to TripAdvisor, these are the best barbecue restaurants in Charlotte.)

I think this project was doomed from the start, because its methodology was wrong. If you want to find the best barbecue in the country, why would you look only at the biggest cities? It’s not an urban cuisine. In my experience, some of the best barbecue is to be found in small towns and even rural settings. You’re more likely to find great barbecue at an Alabama church potluck than in any metropolis.

I can’t claim to know where the best barbecue in the country is. But the best I’ve ever tasted was at Bodacious Bar-B-Q in Longview, Texas. Longview isn’t a metropolis by any standard; it’s only the 47th largest city in Texas (81,653 residents in 2019). So the Chef’s Pencil analysis would have ignored it completely. And that’s why the map they produced is meaningless. If you’re only looking in big cities for great barbecue, you don’t understand barbecue at all.

Postscript: I notice that the barbecue analysis, including the top ten list and the map, has disappeared from the Chef’s Pencil website. I can understand why.

Jan 16

Winter storm, January 2022

Barbara suggested that I revive this blog and use it to provide updates on my health to family and friends. That is an excellent idea, and I’ll be writing those updates as time permits. But right now, I want to use the blog to provide an update on my status and Mom’s in the current winter storm. (I started writing this as an e-mail, but I realized it would work better as a blog post.)

After Aunt Carol’s visitation, the other Berrys all were safely at home by Friday evening. But my plan was to drive Mom and Pete home on Friday, spend the weekend at her house, and then drive home on Sunday afternoon.

Well, Sunday is here, and ain’t nobody goin’ nowhere.

We drove back to Rock Hill as planned on Friday. Since the route took us through the Columbia area, we stopped at a Lizard’s Thicket for lunch. That was mostly because I never pass up a chance to eat at the Thicket, but also because I wanted to introduce Mom to it. I figured she would like it, and I was right. (She is now lamenting the lack of a Thicket in Rock Hill.) I had country fried steak, mac & cheese, squash casserole, lima beans, cornbread, and sweet tea. Everything was delicious, of course.

We got back to Rock Hill without incident on Friday afternoon and unloaded our stuff from my car. We were both tired, so after a light supper, we both went to bed early. (I had thought I might try to get some work done Friday evening, but postponed that to the next day.)

It wasn’t until Saturday morning that I became aware of the predictions of a major winter storm on Sunday. At that point, I had two options. I could either cut my visit to Rock Hill short and head back to Cary on Saturday. Or I could stay in Rock Hill with the understanding that I would have to delay my return for a day or two. I chose the second option. I had originally planned to visit Rock Hill for Christmas weekend, but I had to cancel those plans because of my illness. This was my second chance to spend a weekend with Mom, and I wasn’t going to give it up if I didn’t have to.

Being forced to extend my stay in Rock Hill did not present much of a problem. I have my work laptop with me, so I can work from Mom’s house as easily as from anywhere else. I’m on multiple medications following my hospital stay, but I loaded up my pill minder last Wednesday before leaving home, so I have all the meds I need through the morning of Wednesday, January 19. As long as I get home by Wednesday evening, I won’t have to miss a dose of anything. I only packed clothes for four days, but Mom is doing laundry this morning and offered to toss in what was in my laundry bag, so that helps.

It also helps that Monday is a holiday for TE Connectivity, the company I work for. (I previously told Bob that it wasn’t but I had misread the list of holidays.) I still plan to do some work, but nobody will be expecting me to deliver anything or respond to e-mails until Tuesday.

On Saturday, we did some grocery shopping and made sure that we have everything we need to weather the storm. I found time to do some work. Then we went to El Cancun for dinner. Everything was delicious there as well, but you already know that if you’ve ever eaten there.

When we woke up Sunday morning, the ground was covered with sleet and snow.

So Mom and I are snowed in for a while, but we have everything we need. The biggest concern is the possibility of a power outage, but the house has two gas fireplaces with pilot lights (meaning that they don’t use electric igniters and will work without power). Even without electricity, we won’t freeze. As long as we do have power, I can work. And we have plenty of food. We’ll be fine.

Looking at the weather forecasts, I think I’ll be able to drive home on Tuesday or Wednesday. In the meantime, I’ll enjoy some extra time with Mom.

We lost power at 2:45 p.m. It was restored less than an hour and a half later, at 4:05 — not even long enough for the house to start feeling cold. Kudos to the Duke Energy repair crews for getting the power back on so quickly. Mom and I had a nice, quiet day, and I even got some work done.

The forecast says Monday will be clear and sunny, with temperatures above freezing from 10:00 a.m. until sunset. No precipitation, which means further power outages are unlikely. Some melting will probably occur, but what’s more important is that the clear and sunny weather will allow the SC Department of Transportation crews to clear the roads and apply salt and sand as needed. I may be able to drive home on Tuesday. We’ll see.

The roads were clear on Tuesday, and I was able to drive home without any difficulty.

Dec 07

Delicious for Chanukah

Author NancyKay Shapiro was shopping in Balducci’s (a grocery store in Greenwich Village) a few days ago when she encountered something odd. It was a display of meat items with signs saying “Delicious for Chanukah.” That’s not unusual this time of year, but the meat items in question were hams.

I know, this sounds like an urban legend. But Shapiro has pictures. And despite what one commenter says, they are not Photoshopped; the Balducci’s website is currently offering an apology for the signs (which have since been changed to “Perfect for the Holidays!”).

UPDATE: As another of Shapiro’s commenters points out, it’s a good thing the sign didn’t say “Delicious for Ramadan”, or there would have been riots.
Source: Don Surber

Sep 10

Tessellate the cheese

Ruth brought this cartoon to my attention:

This reminded me of something from my own experience. When Bob and I were at university together, the main cafeteria at the student center had several serving lines, one of which specialized in Mexican fast food: tacos, burritos, chimichangas, and so forth. The food was pretty good, but the staff didn’t seem to understand burritos. They were folding the tortilla instead of rolling it, so the burritos came out square, which is just plain wrong.

Bob found this greatly annoying. The cafeteria had a suggestion box, so he wrote what was undoubtedly the most detailed suggestion they ever got: a page-long set of instructions on how to roll a burrito properly, complete with diagrams. (This was many years before either of us had any idea that Bob would end up pursuing a career in technical writing.) I don’t think the cafeteria’s burrito-rolling technique showed any improvement as a result, but at least Bob knew that he had done all he could to address the problem.

Since this story is all about Bob, you may wonder why I’m telling it instead of him. Actually, I suggested that he write a blog post about it, but he says he has no memory of the whole thing. Well, I was there, and it really happened, no matter what he says.

UPDATE: Ben points out this Consumerist post: Subway’s Incorrect Use Of Isosceles Cheese Actually A Vast Conspiracy

Feb 20

Wheel of Food

Want to go out for lunch, but can’t decide where? Let the Wheel of Food decide for you! (Or maybe it’s the Wheel of Lunch; the site uses both names in different places.) How does it work? Simple. Enter your ZIP code, then click Proceed. The Wheel is automatically populated with restaurants in your neighborhood and given an initial spin. When it stops, you have a randomly-chosen lunch location, complete with street address (and maybe even a rating from previous diners). If that location doesn’t appeal to you, just grab the Wheel and spin it again.
Source: CNET’s Buzz Out Loud podcast

Sep 02

Java joy

Coffee is good for you! According to a new study, it’s the best source of antioxidants — better than tea, fruits, or vegetables. And when journalist Aaron McKenna tested various methods of overclocking yourself, he found coffee to be the most effective.
In moderation, of course. Too much caffeine will be bad for you. You can even kill yourself with the stuff, if you drink huge amounts of it. Energy Fiend has a handy Death by Caffeine calculator that uses your body weight to determine how much of your favorite caffeinated beverage constitutes a semilethal dose (technically, the LD50). According to the calculator, it would take 56 cups of drip coffee (or 146 cans of Mountain Dew) to kill me.

Jun 06

Sinking the Sub Club

The Subway sandwich chain will phase out its Sub Club promotion during the next few months. (That’s the deal involving the card that you fill up with stamps and then redeem for a free sandwich.) Don’t get mad at Subway for this — they’ve been running the promotion for more than two decades. Blame the thieves and counterfeiters who have forced to Subway to pull the plug.

Mar 15

Coffee update

Monday, February 28, was our moving-in day at the new location in Research Triangle Park. There was plenty of coffee available that morning, because the management had provided coffee urns and trays of danishes to sustain us while we unpacked our stuff and put it away. But that was a one-time thing. On Tuesday morning I went looking for coffee and discovered the horrible truth: the new coffee clubs we were promised did not exist. Not yet, anyway. The only coffee in this building was inside vending machines.
I did my best not to panic. This has to be a temporary state of affairs, I told myself. Access to coffee is one of the fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution. You can’t just cut off the coffee supply to office workers; they’ll scrawl revolutionary slogans on the whiteboards, set fire to the copiers, and eventually rise in open revolt. So I resolved to wait and see.
A week went by. By the following Monday, unrest had reached a level that management could no longer ignore. So an e-mail message was sent out to everyone in the building, announcing the location of the new coffee club facilities. I went immediately to that location with my mug in hand, and found that the message was somewhat premature. Yes, there was a coffee maker in that room. However, it had not even been completely removed from its packaging, and it was not connected to either water or electricity. With a shriek of frustration and rage, I slunk back to my office.
Today, two weeks after the move, I heard a rumor that the coffee club was finally operational. Initially, I was inclined to dismiss it. Then I saw that Brent Sienna had finally ended his coffee abstinence. Shortly after that, I read that a new version of Java has been released. Obviously someone was trying to tell me something.
Although I had seen no official announcement, I went to see if the coffee facilities were up and running. Lo and behold, they were. With trembling hands, I drew my first cup of workplace coffee since arriving in this building, added sweetener and creamer, and carried it back to my office. And it was good. I didn’t drink a triple espresso, so I wasn’t affected quite so dramatically as Brent was. But I wonder if it’s made me a bit hyper. Would I notice if my coherence or attention span were affected?
Dave Barry is famous for (among other things) pointing out that various phrases would make good names for rock bands. Well, lately, I’ve found myself doing something similar: I’ll sometimes look at a phrase and find myself thinking, “That would make a good name for a blog.” For example, wouldn’t “Not in the Face!” be a good blog name?
That particular thought came to me this morning as I was returning to my office from an errand that took me through a fire door to an adjoining building. I had to push it open, and I was careful to comply with the sign on the door that says OPEN SLOWLY, because if I were to fling it open quickly, I could hit someone in the face. On the return trip, I had to pull the door open, and I noticed an identical sign on that side of the door. Which makes sense, because if I were to yank the door open quickly, I might hit myself in the face. I’m sure that happened on a daily basis before the signs were posted.
Um . . . yeah. I’m definitely hyper.
UPDATE: What is it with the bizarre coffee-related coincidences? A few hours after I posted this entry, I got in my car and turned on my radio. The first thing I heard was a financial analyst discussing the stock price of Ciena, a company whose name sounds exactly like Brent Sienna’s surname. Oh, and I was sucking on a coffee-flavored hard candy at the moment this happened. Like I said, somebody is trying to tell me something.

Feb 24

Cold turkey

Tomorrow is moving day. The IBM site where I work in Raleigh is being closed, and everyone here is moving to the main site out at Research Triangle Park. Preparing for the move is no big deal for me; I’ve only been here for two years, so I haven’t accumulated very much stuff. And I have almost no paper files, just half a drawer full. I think I can fit everything I have, apart from my computer, into a single moving box. We’re getting all new office furniture at our new location, so we don’t have to move any of that stuff. This should be effortless.
But not painless. I’m currently going through caffeine withdrawal. Until now, we’ve had voluntary “coffee clubs” operating in all three buildings at this site. You can either pay by the cup or pay a flat monthly fee for unlimited coffee (which is what I did). But in preparation for the move, the existing coffee clubs have shut down. At first, this was a good thing; the coffee in my club has been free as the club used up its remaining stocks of coffee grounds, creamer, sweeteners, and other supplies.
About a week ago, the regular coffee ran out. There’s still some decaf left, but man cannot live on decaf alone. So now I’m stumbling through my day with an empty mug, trying to keep my eyes open. It’s rough. By a strange coincidence, comic strip character Brent Sienna (he’s the one drinking directly from the coffeepot) is going through the same thing.
We do have a coffee vending machine, but if I’m going to get my caffeine fix from a machine, I’ll just buy a Dr. Pepper or a Mountain Dew. Except that I can’t! The drink machines take dollar bills, but all I have is a five-dollar bill, which is useless! I’m going to have to go to the convenience store that’s diagonally across the intersection from here, which means going outside and waiting in the rain for the crossing signal to change. Twice. And then twice more on my way back! Aaarrgghh!!! Okay, gotta calm down. Deep breaths.
We start work at our new offices on Monday, at which point I’ll have access to coffee again. I’m not sure I’m going to make it.
UPDATE: Another strange coincidence. As I was standing on the street corner waiting to cross, a Toyota Sienna drove by right in front of me.
FURTHER UPDATE: About an hour after I posted this, the coffee maker on my floor was dismantled, packed up, and taken away. So now I can’t even have decaf any more. KHAAAN!!!

Jan 30


I have never seen the point of eating chicken wings. In fact, I’m not sure they actually qualify as food. Wings are more accurately described as breaded, seasoned, and deep-fried chicken bones with skin. Yes, there’s a little bit of meat on a wing, but it’s so minuscule and requires so much effort to ingest that it’s really not worthwhile. The increasing popularity of chicken wings is the result of a very successful marketing campaign on the part of the food service industry, which realized that you should never throw away your scraps if you can convince people to buy them. (That’s also the explanation for the breadsticks that pizza delivery places all sell now. Those used to be leftover dough that got thrown away, until some clever marketer realized that you could get people to pay for them.)
I don’t have any real problem with this; if some folks are willing to buy fried bones, that’s their own business. But now things are getting downright bizarre. Appliance maker Rival now offers the Wing-It, a deep-fryer whose only purpose is to enable you to make your own chicken wings. Why in God’s name would anyone want to do that? If you’re going to prepare your own chicken at home, would it not make more sense to buy the chicken parts that actually have meat on them? Why would you go out of your way to buy the most worthless part of the chicken and a special tool for cooking it? Someone please explain this to me.