Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Sam Adams Utopias - Extreem Brewing Hit

[Photo Courtesy Zengrrl via Flickr]
[Update 12/31] Today realized a few ounces still in the bottle. It's been closed since Friday the 26th. The extra few days exposed to air has aged the flavors just a bit. I now get a nose of honey after pouring a taste. The taste has become a bit bolder, with a strong smokey maple syrup flavor. Interesting.
Last night we hosted a beer tasting party, entry requirements were to bring a unique beer that you wouldn't have expected others to have tried before. In total, there were nine friends that showed up for a delightful evening. It was so good we didn't even mind skipping the obligatory football viewing in this bowl season.

One of the beers I had been anxious to try, and the inspiration of the party, was a 2007 bottle of Sam Adams Utopias (Bottle #2950 for anyone interested). This had been a bit of a splurge last fall when the release reached limited stores in the area. I had called around and found that Total Wine in Central Park had a few bottles, one of which had not been reserved beforehand.
To be fare, this is no ordinary beer. Some of this wonderful elixir started it's fermenting process thirteen years before being bottled. It's only sold every other year, and it's very limited production. The brewing requires a special yeast that can withstand the high alcohol content. The 2007 is a 27% alcohol brew, that could be classified as a barley wine. It's aged in bourbon, sherry, brandy and cognac casks, resulting in a variety of smells and tastes. It arrives in this unique bottle that looks like a brewing kettle. This is not a beer that you use pint glass.

The pour looked liked a cognac. The initial sniff revealed the scent of a sweet chocolate liquor. We asked around on what people were smelling. I said fermenting peaches, a friend said toffee, another said caramel. All of these were there at the same time. The first sip brought the often quoted statement "this is beer?" It seems to be closer in taste to a liqueur. The malted toffee flavors meld with the bitterness of the malts. A hint of a sweet fruit is there, along with various flavors from the casks. The tongue tingles both on the sweet receptors at the end, and at the back from the bitterness. Unlike liqueurs, this is a very smooth drink. It is hard to pick out that this started out with typical beer makings. There is a medium finish, not too long, not too short. Even my wife, who is not one to venture too far into the unknown, asked for a second sample.

You might be tempted to ask what to pair with a beer like this - nothing - this beer stands on it's own. We had it as a before dinner drink, an aperitif. It might make an equally good after dinner drink, but I wouldn't suggest having a lot to drink, as you want to have very active taste buds.

First Night Fredericksburg Events

Please accept my sincere appology for not publishing this post earlier. For those late revelers, looking for something to do tonight to ring in the new years, here are some of the bigger events around town.

For $8 a person, pick up your button at the visitors center (also WaWa and the libraries), and enjoy a variety of family friendly indoor activities at First Night Fredericksburg. 21 different locations from 6:30pm until Midnight host all types of events. Children under 3 are free.

For FREE (with drink and/or food), visit Kybecca for live Jazz 9:30 until Midnight.
For FREE, visit Capital Ale of Fredericksburg for live music.

For live music with a cover, The Loft (cover includes champagne toast), Yak-A-Doos , Brocks, & Fredericksburg Hospitality House are sure to have something fun.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

So Long Bella Boutique Silver

Today I was picking up some fixings for a little get together Friday night, and decided to stop in Bella Boutique, Silver & Accessories to see if there was a good pickup for a last minute stocking stuffer. While there, another customer asked the owner why one item was $39, when a heavier silver piece was about half that price. The more expensive piece didn't have a price tag, that was the price the owner gave the customer off the top of her head. When the customer started asking why it was so expensive, the owner had the audacity to state "well that's just the price".

A couple of pointers for this businesswoman
a) You're CLOSING, sayonara, adios, You can either let the customer bargain and sell the piece, or you can piss off the customer and get $0. In down times, haggling is part of the sale (see news story here).
b) You don't laugh about the customer after they leave, especially if there is another customer in the store.
c) One unhappy customer equals ten missed sales. Well, obviously we see why you're closing.

For years, a prosperous economy has made it relatively easy on certain owners. Regardless of how they treated customers, there was always someone to take their place. Gouging prices was common place, and service was all but forgotten.

Welp, guess what, it's crunch time. Cya. I feel really bad for businesses that are hurting and do understand the way to keep customers. But for those businesses like Bella Boutique, I suggest taking a few business and marketing classes, and working on customer service. See you in the next bubble.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Robo Cop Taking Christmas & New Years Off

Autochalk aka "Robo Cop" is taking a few days vacation this year at Christmas and New Years, so feel free to violate the 2 hour parking rules on the following days:
December 24, 25, 26 (2008) and January 1 & 2nd 2009.

Quote from the website:
"Note: the two-hour parking restrictions downtown will be suspended on December 24, 25, and 26 as well as January 1 and 2. "

Friday, December 19, 2008

Win the Credit APR War

I just got off of the phone with Citibank, the issuer of my Citi Dividend MasterCard. For years this has been my go to (non American Express) card. Most of the benefit comes from the 1-5% cash back. It was nice getting a check with every $50 in savings. Last week I received a letter stating that my 8.99% APR was about to go to 15.99%. Now a little background, credit card companies don't like me because I always pay off balances. However, in the event that something happens, I want to have the best rate possible. Note that nothing much in my credit has changed in recent years, which was validated when I spoke to the cust. service rep who said the card in general was going to a 1 yr only intro rate of 8.99. This new policy is almost DOUBLE the earlier rate.

Everyone, and I mean everyone should choose to OPT-OUT. Why is this? Because EVERYONE who doesn't is going to almost IMMEDIATELY get the increased rate. But by opting out, they have locked in my 8.99% rate for the remaining time on my card. At this point, my card doesn't expire until 01/2010. I have a WHOLE YEAR to go find a better rewards card. Hell, by that point Citi might have a new option available to me.

Lets see, I could have done even better. If this happened to you, you have until Jan 31, 2009 to opt-out of the citi rate increase. FIRST, call customer service and tell them you accidentally mutilated your card (maybe thinking of how much you hate credit card companies). Usually, credit card companies issue cards for 3 years. This should move out your expiration date. When you get your card, call in and then opt out. You'll be locked in until your card expires.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Day Trip to Williamsburg

I thought it worthy of a post to mention how nice it was to visit old town Williamsburg on Sunday. It seemed that the 2 person 15 minute version of A Christmas Carol was the hit of the day. Often we forget how quick is to take day trips around the state. A quick 1.5 hours and we were there.

A note to urban planners, if you have a unique draw, people will put up with bad parking. W'burg has a mix of paid, free 1 hour and free 2 hour parking. Non was overly convenient, but we all managed!

I apologize for the low quality cell photo.

[ original post at ]

Wegmans Progress

Unfortunately no news on an early opening for those of us wanting a better selection of foods. According to the Wegmans website, our store is slated to open June 21st 2009. Progress at the site has made leaps and bounds. Even the new stoplight in Celebrate VA is working with auto sensors. The grass is lush, the parking lot is paved minus the top 2inches. The clock tower is almost complete, and the building now has siding. A definite upgrade from the yellow styrofoam that had dominated the past few months. I snapped the pic below so that you can get an idea of what it will all look like.

According to city council minutes from november, the building is ahead of schedule. We will have to see what that means for opening if anything. Originally the project had an expected opening of Feb 2009 as reported in the fls.

[ original post at ]

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Not your ordinary Christmas Music

The FLS weekender ran an article today about the upcoming Trans-Siberian Orchestra concert coming to DC this weekend. We went with friends last year and had the best time. I'm not one for all the normal Christmas tunes, but this isn't your ordinary Christmas concert either. Please read the article here, and if you're free on Sunday, I highly recommend the show. Go dressed as you please, even though the name is Orchestra, this is a modern rock band, and jeans are perfectly ok.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Fredericksburg's Commonwealths Attorney Race

I received this letter from Eric Olsen this morning, and thought I would pass it along. He has been working as a prosecutor for 19 years, much longer than anyone else running in the race. He also points to an interesting stat about successful prosecutions in his letter below. Read for yourself, and don't forget to vote in the special election Dec 16th.

Dear Friends and Neighbors,

As most of you know, I am a candidate for Fredericksburg Commonwealth ’s Attorney at the Special Election on December 16th to fill the vacancy created by Charlie Sharp’s judicial appointment.

The issue in this election is who has the experience and the skills to handle all of the challenges of this job. The answer is contained in the accomplishments of my 19 years as a prosecutor.

Distinguished Commonwealth Attorney of the Year – Awarded annually to the one prosecutor selected by his or her fellow prosecutors from across the state, the Von Schuch Distinguished Assistant Award is the highest award that any assistant Commonwealth Attorney can receive. I received the award in 2008.

Child Abuse Prosecutions – The easiest thing for a prosecutor to do is not prosecute the most difficult cases we face as commonwealth’s attorneys, the physical and sexual abuse of children. Many times the abuser is a family or household member, the child has no voice, and these challenging cases are quietly not pursued. Most people do not realize that for many child abuse cases the mother of the child is on the side of the abuser and does not want the case prosecuted. I have spoken for these children for two decades. I am a tenacious advocate for holding those who would hurt a child accountable and have developed the skills to prosecute these cases and bring justice to the victims.

Domestic Violence – I have found that the way cases are handled by the prosecutor has a profound effect on deterring future violence. I developed Stafford ’s Domestic Violence Response Policy in 1990 and the results are remarkable. In 2001 the Free Lance Star did a comprehensive review of Domestic Violence prosecutions in Spotsylvania, Fredericksburg and Stafford . That review showed that among these localities the conviction rate was:

Spotsylvania 26 %
Fredericksburg 24%
Stafford 57% (Not only is the highest in the area, it is the highest in the state of Virginia )

Drunk Driving – I have handled too many manslaughter cases where someone was killed at the hands of a drunk driver. In some cases the victim was killed as a passenger in a car driven by a family member or friend. In some, a complete stranger destroyed lives. As you can imagine, the type of justice sought by the surviving friends and family varies depending on the relationship of the offender to the victim. However, they all want the same thing, the one thing that no one can give them. They all want it never to have happened. Deterrence is the key to drunk driving prosecutions. I am on the permanent faculty of Virginia ’s Advanced DWI Investigation and Prosecution training program. I have been training other prosecutors to successfully prosecute these cases for years and I will bring these skills to Fredericksburg . A Drunk Driving case will not be dropped because of who defendant is or who his lawyer is. A case will not be lost because the prosecutor is not up for the job. This happens too often across the state and it will not happen when I am Fredericksburg ’s Commonwealth Attorney.

Murder Cases – As distressing as it seems, we cannot ignore the fact that Fredericksburg ’s prosecutor will face the same challenges in the future that have been faced in the past, about one or two murders a year. Whether it is a crime of gun violence or a child who has been shaken to death, your prosecutor needs to have the skills to try a murder case rather than make a plea bargain. From 2002 to 2005 I tried four murder cases. Erin George shot her husband to death, Cynthia Welch starved her baby to death, Alphonso Bennett killed a college student in a home-invasion robbery and Charles Reed used a sawed-off shotgun in a drug related killing. The only thing that these murderers had in common was that they all pleaded not guilty, they were all tried in front of a jury and they were all prosecuted by me. There are times when it is appropriate to make a plea agreement in a case. That will never happen because I am outmatched, overwhelmed or inexperienced.

Public Servant – I proudly call myself a career prosecutor. For 19 years I have served the public by giving voice to those victims whose voice is never heard and by improving the quality of life for countless citizens. I do this because of the passion I have for this job and the respect I have for the rule of law. With the experience of over 200 jury trials, I have been tested where it matters most, in the courtroom, and can say, without hesitation, that Fredericksburg will benefit from my expertise and my experience. As a lifelong resident of Fredericksburg I know this city as well as most, and I know this job better than anybody. I ask for your vote on December 16.

Eric L. Olsen

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Blackberry Storm update 1.1

On Friday 12/5, RIM and Verizon released software version for the Blackberry Storm. I consider this release 1.1 (maybe closer to 1.0 with the unit shipping with a late beta). Already, I can tell you this:

  • The screen rotation is MUCH faster. It doesn't get locked into portrait or landscape like it did before.
  • Clicking on links in the browser is MUCH more accurate. Before when I would try to click, about 50% of the time it zoomed in (which is normally done when you double tap the screen)
  • The GPS registered 5 satellites sitting INSIDE my house much faster than before. Next week I'll try it out on the train which it seems to give the unit more trouble. The train windows must be thicker than the house.
  • The upgrade was faster than I expected. I had upgraded the software on my 7130e once, and it took hours. This took about 45 minutes start to finish, maybe an hour if you count the time it took for me to download the update to my PC. (It's 102MB download.)
  • Rumor is that battery life is better after the update. I'll come back and update this post in a few days. Before the update, commuting an hour each way on the train, using the browser and media functions, plus use during the day, would result in about 2 bars left on the battery. Pretty poor performance compared to the iPhone (however, the battery is replaceable on the Storm). Hopefully this update will improve that.

A few notes. I had to log onto the Verizon website and actually download the update. Some people that only use BIS (blackberry internet service) are able to get this over the air. For those that don't know, you can go into Options -> Advanced Options -> Wireless Update and select check for updates.

My berry was originally BIS, but when we were bought out by another company, I had them activate me on their BES server. So I have both BIS checking emails, and Enterprise access to my work email, calendar, etc. I had to wait for them to post a download file, and use the Blackberry desktop software to perform the update. It took about an hour after the update completed to finish the enterprise activation.

I will also note that not ALL application settings are saved and restored. My favorite RSS reader Viigo didn't save my account login info. The update DID preserve all of my 3rd party apps though, so that saved me hours of time.

Because of my enterprise activation, and the combination of service books and calendars, it seems that I now have duplicates of many meetings. In the past, this has either cleared up, or I sync and delete the duplicates. This same problem occurred on my 7130e last year.

And finally they haven't fixed the shutter lag on the camera...

One last note. In a week, other berry users have played with the device, and a number of iPhone users have too. The iPhone users like to point out that the interface is much like the old blackberries, rather than migrating everything to the touchscreen. For those of us upgrading from a blackberry, this is a huge benefit actually. The familiarity with the interface is a benefit, plus the addition of a full screen keyboard makes it a winner. I expect to see more improvements though that add touchscreen shortcuts for menu items. The bb Storm has by my count, 11 buttons (4 bottom, two configurable side buttons, lock, mute, vol up, vol down, and the screen press). That gives developers an awful lot to work with.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

I'm voting for experience Dec 16th

On the night of Dec 3rd, several area hone owner associations held a forum for the three candidates for Fredericksburg commonwealth attorney. The discussion became interesting toward the end, when it became clear there were different levels of experience.

LaBravia Jenkins wanted to point out the inexperience of Joseph Hicks, who has never prosecuted a case. Yet she inadvertently left the door open for Eric Olsen to emphasize his 19 years in Stafford to her limited 8 here in the city. Promotion from within has some benefits, but having outside experience is invaluable to building better processes! And look at the differences in experience.

I was also greatly impressed by Mr. Olsen's plan to assign a prosecutor to each of the city's wards. As small a city as we are, there are differences in the diverse areas of the city. I spoke to Eric after and he stated there is already staff to do this without additional cost.

The forum was very well attended, with about 80 people filling council chambers.

Don't forget to vote in the special election for the City of Fredericksburg Commonwealth's Attorney on Dec 16th.

Brad Ellis's Comments Against the Courts Complex

The City of Fredericksburg is embarking on a potential upgrade to our courts. Brad Ellis made the statement in his run for the Ward 1 seat, that he was creating a website instead of a blog so that he could interact with the public. I hate to break it to him, but with out an RSS feed, and no comments section, he's severely limiting his 'interaction'.

So to help him out, I'm going to quote his website right here on this blog. He can come here and comment along with the rest of the public. His comments are definitely against starting this project now (which I agree with to some degree). He also brings up an interesting analysis of the cost per sq foot. He fails to mention that if they do start, he supports the $7M parking garage. I have not had the chance to ask him if this garage would be revenue supported, or if it's yet another addition to our tax payer supported bond package.

From (Brad Ellis, Ward 1 Council Member), spelling errors included:

Court House Complex - A copy of the Court Facility Feasibility Study is available here. Simply put, the City cannot afford to undergo this project during the next fiscal year. We are entering the next budget cycle with a $4M shortfall. The funding required to build this complex depends upon the chosen alternative and ranges, in cost, from $45M to $65M. This translates to a tax rate increase of $0.080 to $0.115, which, in my opinion, cannot be justified during these difficult economic times.

  • Indeed, the City is facing a potential Judicial directive to build a new court house facility, HOWEVER, we are not being told to build this facility next year. It is also important to note that this project will consume all the marginal revenue growth in the General Fund starting in Fiscal Year 2011. For these reasons, I cannot support moving forward with constructing the court house complex at this time.
  • What I am willing to support is an in-depth review of a the costs and benefits of constructing a joint-use facility located near the Regional jail complex. I understand the potential economic impact of having our courts downtown and feel it is possible to still use our historic court house (with modifications to improve security and technology) for all civil case trials. A Regional Courts Facility would therefore be used for all trials involving criminal cases; located where the criminals are actually incarcerated. This approach would have the added benefit of freeing-up City police from needing to transport criminals back and forth to their holding cells.
  • I realize there has been a lot of preliminary work performed by the City and to change course at this point seems counterintuitive. However, the fact is, the City cannot afford this courts complex at this point in time and it is unfair to put other projects on hold and / or raise taxes to fund this project. A more attractive course of action would be to use the next year to serisouly consider the costs and benefits of a joint-use facility while still maintaining our historic courthouse for civial trials. As responsible stewards of our City's resources we owe the residents a true analysis of this approach.
  • Further notes on the cost of this project: The Operations & Maintenance costs for this complex are estimated to be $200,000 per year. The cost, per square foot of this complex will range from $619 (for a$47M facility) to $769 (for a $60M facility). This price tag is UNACCEPTABLE in my book. I work in the IT field and the cost per square foot to build a data center completely equipped with inside/outside cabling plant, robust security features, and very substantial heating and air conditioning capabilities, and raised floor space costs, on average, $600 per square foot. Furthermore, Quantico Corporate Center was recently constructed in Stafford to be compliant with Homeland Security requirements (much more stringent than those for our proposed court house complex) for around $150 per square foot. We should not move forward with this project under the terms laid out in the Feasibility Study at any time...we are going to get ripped-off if we pay these prices.

  • Sustainability of the Proposed New Courts Complex: I find it very interesting that if we were to embark upon this project and finance it over 30 years that we will have outgrown it 20 years into our occupancy based off of the City's projected growth rate. Our current court house has been operational since 1852; shouldn't we at least embark upon a project that will prove useful for at least the next 100 years?

  • I encourage everyone to ponder the details I've put forth and speak-out publicly and in writing to ALL of your elected officials. THIS IS NOT A GOOD DEAL FOR THE CITY.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Romance Under The Lights

So, stuck on what to get your special someone for Christmas?
Other good lead off sentences:
- Want to impress your wife (girlfriend, special someone, partner)?
- Want to take it to the next level?
- Want to check out the city as a slower pace?
- Want to show off your carriage riding skills to 11 of your closest friends?
(there are more that just keep coming)
Of course I'm talking about the Holiday Lights tours downtown by Olde Towne Carriages.

From the city events page:

Enjoy the Holidays with an old fashioned horse-drawn carriage ride through
Historic Fredericksburg during the Christmas lights season. The carriages can
accommodate 2-12 people, or multiple carriages for larger groups. Carriages
depart from the Fredericksburg Visitor's Center each evening Sun-Fri (6pm &
7pm) and Sat (6pm, 7pm & 9pm). Call for Reservations. (540) 371-0094

You can check out Olde Towne Carriages and see all the specials they have for not only the Christmas lights in December, but also for a New Years night package.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Park and Shop Update

Mike, over at the new college terrace blog, posted some interesting new facts on park and shop. If you subscribe to you have already seen thw article. If not, check it out here.

Looks like construction starts in Feb.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Verizon Blackberry Storm Review

Since Friday I have been using my new Verizon Blackberry Storm (Verizon 9530). A little background first. For the past 28 months I've been using a Verizon Blackberry 7130e. Not the most modern blackberry, but a suretype device that is a good prep for the portrait version of the keyboard on the storm.

First impressions:

+Velvet touch. I don't know how else to describe it, but that's it. Nice reaction to presses.

+Speedy! Wow, lots better even on the old network (not 3G). Probably more due to the new OS and browser.

+Nice landscape keyboard. I've got to learn to use my left hand though when trying to type a T. Apparently the screen compensates for whether it expects you to be a little left or right of the characters based on the side of the keyboard.

+Beautiful screen. That picture in the photo is pretty close on the vividness. Again, it could be because of my 'old' phone's poor color.

-Need to be able to fully configure the side buttons. I really want a TAB key for navigating web pages.

-Doesn't ship with a holster or pouch.

-Doesn't use the same USB charger as older berrys. Instead of the more universal mini-usb, it uses the micro usb format.

-Many apps aren't fully supporting the touch interface - OK, this is way ahead of the game, but I said first impressions didn't I?

Biggest Gripe - Verizon is starting to upsell other services through the storm. Right on the main screen is an icon for Visual Voice Mail and VCast Music by Rhapsody. Both very interesting services, but VVM is $2.99 a month, and VCast is $14.99 a month, this on top of already having to pay for a $45 a month data plan.

If you are currently a Verizon customer, and eligible for an upgrade, be sure to order through your Verizon online account. It will knock another $50 off the price. Not to mention, you can keep your current plan, which in my case saved an additional $5 a month. This is because Verizon has recently upped the unlimited data plans.

If you're thinking of an alternative to the iPhone, you should definitely pick up a Storm and play around. It isn't as slick an interface (I still consider this rev 1.0), but it's fully supported by BES and many enterprises.

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