Red Pistachios?

Red pistachios don’t exist anymore – in the US anyway – because of politics.

Pistachios are native to the Middle East, and Iran used to grow about 98% of America’s supply. The traditional method of harvesting them is to cut down the grape-like bunches and store them until needed. But storing “wet” pistachios for more than 24 hours creates an unattractive (but harmless) mottling on the shell, which Middle Easterners “fixed” by staining them that unnatural shade of red.

Not surprisingly, importing Iranian pistachios was banned in 1979 due to the hostage crisis, so California farmers got into pistachios in a big way. Those farmers learned that, if you put the nuts in an industrial dryer within 24 hours of harvesting, the shells didn’t stain, so there was no need to dye them. Some did, at first, because that’s what consumers were used to. But the whole practice soon died out, so Gen Z kids don’t get the Naked Gun joke at all.

"Naked Gun" Pistachios

My Top Albums Of 2021

There was an avalanche of great music in 2021! I could sit here and try to come up with a compelling intro this year… but instead of some long monologue… let’s just get right to it!

Below are my ten favorite albums of 2021. The list comes from my Last.fm stats generally; I reserve the right to tinker with the order. After that are the honorable mentions, followed by some notable albums and EPs. Then there’s the “Song of the Year” and the raw data from Last.fm.

My Top Albums of 2021

10) Theodora – Too Much For One Heart – France’s Theordora is a producer, bassist and singer who has worked with such noted French acts Pi Ja Ma, Fishbach, SAGE and others. And her debut album is really solid! Spotify put “Vagiues Dans La Mer” on one of my playlists, so I checked out the rest of the album and liked it. “Step Into Disorder” is a track I really dug. Not everything is golden here, though: “Go” is a song I could absolutely live without. Still, I look forward to hearing more from her in the near future.

9) Munya – Voyage to Mars– Talk about showing up out of nowhere! Montreal’s Josie Boivin (performing as “Munya”) just kind of blew me out of the water with her debut album! “Voyage” sucked me in immediately, as it reminds me of a Saint Etienne non-album single from 1994. It kicks, and has the odd distinction of starting off in English and finishing in French. But as I listened to the album I was surprised by how many good songs there are here. “Cocoa Beach” is a chill (but thumpin’) pop tune that is just crying out for some hip TV show to put in an episode. “Pour Toi” sounds like something you’d hear in whatever the French version of The Gap is (Petit Bateau? Camaieu?). “Boca Chica” is a lovely throwback to 60s bubblegum pop. Not every song works, and after a while it does tend to get a bit “samey”. But as a fun lil’ album, this is hard not to like!

8) Kraków Loves Adana – Follow the Voice – Let me start by saying I have no idea what happened when KLA left Italians Do It Better. But then Chromatics broke up, which makes me think Johnny Jewel is a control freak. I mention this because I’m one of the few people who prefers the Jewel version of the title track over the one below. And I think Jewel’s presence in the production room was a good thing for the band. But I get it: KLA needed to be free, and they’re now free to make another great album. KLA is such a… dramatic band. I don’t mean that every song is DRAMA or INTENSE. There’s just something so… Streets of Fire about them. Like, every one of their albums is a rock and roll fable. Even though they’re from Freiburg you can almost feel the spirit of Meatloaf with them in the studio. Problem is, for me, this trick eventually wears out its welcome. So KLA albums are rarely something I listen to start to finish. It’s all about individual tracks with these guys. “Follow the Voice” is, of course, fantastic. But so are “I Have to Go”, “See You Shout” and “Taint My Mind”.  In fact, the first 8 tracks hit it pretty hard, it just kind of runs out of gas by the end. Still, a good KLA album is a wonderful thing!

7) Alice et Moi – Drama – French songwriter Alice Vannoorenberghe – mercifully often shortened to just “Alice Vanor” – performs with several session musicians as Alice et Moi. And they’re good. “Je suis fan” (below) sounds like the soundtrack for a cool montage from Killing Eve.  “Mamman m’a dit” is just cool, chill Europop. There’s much to love here, and the thing is, Alice have released an EP and a few singles, so it’s easy to forget that this is a debut LP. She’s proven she can write singles, and this proves she can write a full album. So what’s next? I expect big things from this woman!

6) Videoclub – Euphories – So,  one thing about French synthpop is that… it’s mostly popular in France. So, anything you can find out about these bands is in French. But then, there are just some bands that lack any kind of media following. So I’m told that Videoclub is French duo, formed in 2018 in Nantes by Adèle Castillon and Matthieu Reynaud. They appear to be very young. But the band’s official Insta account seems to feature Castillon almost exclusively, so maybe it’s mostly just her? I dunno. What I do know is that this is good synthpop. It’s not an album I played endlessly… but it’s an album I kept coming back to over and over again throughout the year, finding new songs to love: “Amour plastique”, “Roi”, “Enfance 80”, “SMS”… there are lots of good songs here!

5) Hollie Kenniff – The Quiet Drift – Hollie Kenniff is the “wife” portion of the husband & wife duo that make up my favorite band, Mint Julep (husband Keith also releases music under the names Helios and Goldmund). Hollie, an industrial music fan as a teen, has turned to the ambient side of things, making several gentle, lovely albums such as this. It’s good for what ails ya – if you need to sleep or relax, or just need 5 damn minutes to yourself as you drive to the store, Hollie (and this album) have you covered. Or you can do what I do and bring your Bluetooth headphones with you and make Walmart bearable! Seriously – this is a good album, it’s just something you might not listen to every day.

4) Flunk – History of Everything Ever – Let’s not kid ourselves here. Flunk is chill-out music, nothing more, nothing less. They’re not here to rock you like a hurricane or rave on like circa 1998 Paul Oakenfold. They’re something you put on at a gathering for a hip coffee shop-type atmosphere. This might sound dismissive, but it’s not. I’m just telling you exactly what Flunk is. The opening track – “Down Here/Moon Above” is really insanely great. So is the next track, “Fingertips”, which evokes the carefree Emilíana Torrini of “Unemployed in  Summertime” (which, from me, is a compliment of the highest order). From then on, it gets mellower and mellower. “Midsummer”, “Pullover” and “Fate (Or Coincidence)” are all great songs, but nothing to get the dance floor shaking. But wait – there’s more! The cover of “Ashes to Ashes” on this album is both stripped-down Flunk at their best, but is also over the top in its own lovely way. Also, a hat tip to lead singer Anja Øyen Vister, who officially became “Anja Øyen Vister, MD” this year.

3) Magdalena Bay – Mercurial World – I was immediately sucked into the world of Mag Bay, but I just really couldn’t figure out why. Then I read a review of this album that made it all click: “[Magdalena Bay’s] fuzzy, rococo synthpop confections have a magic power: They sound like whatever you grew up with, whenever that was”. That is SO SPOT ON! Anyone who grew up in the 70s, 80s, 90s, or 00s can find something to love here, and it all lives together in the slightly off-kilter world Mica Tenenbaum and Matthew Lewin have created. Sometimes it’s a bit on the nose (The opening song? “The End”. The closing song? “The Beginning”!). But let’s not pretend that “Secrets (Your Fire)”, “Chaeri” and “Hysterical Us” aren’t straight-up bangers. I think what’s even more impressive here is that Mag Bay actually delivered a great album, despite of the near-constant hype of the Indie Blogosphere. It would have been easy for the band to just throw out whatever knowing Gorilla vs Bear was going to praise it to the heavens regardless. But they didn’t let us down! Awesome!

2) Saint Etienne – I’ve Been Trying to Tell You – So… remember a decade ago, when the cool thing was pop songs that had been slowed down, like, 800 percent and sounded like some weird ambient track? Well, Saint Etienne’s Bob Stanley – author of Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!: The Story of Pop Music from Bill Haley to Beyoncé – was working on another book during the COVID lockdown, and would play these “3 hour version of Harry Styles’ ‘Golden’ slowed down 800%” videos on YouTube, and he came up with the idea of making an album that relied heavily on that sort of sound. But it would be about memory, human memory. It would be a trip back to the 90s with slowed-down songs and samples. It was about looking back on your youth as your own unreliable narrator. And, according to many reviewers, they hit the nail on the head. Like, on a genius level. Problem for me is, I didn’t grow up in England in the 90s, so I can’t relate. All the clever sampling is lost on me. So while I can see this is a hazy trip down memory lane and can appreciate it at some level, the samples and songs that are supposed to evoke this viscerally just don’t trigger anything in me. Although I really like the album (it’s #2 on my list, after all), I also lament that “Pond House” might be the peppiest, most “radio-friendly” track on the album. This generally isn’t something you can throw on at a party. Unless it’s a very specific type of party.

1) Mint Julep – In a Deep & Dreamless Sleep – Congratulations to Mint Julep for becoming my new favorite band and by being the first band on these annual lists with back-to-back albums of the year! And honestly, I know I have a flair for the dramatic at times, but I genuinely don’t know what to say. Earlier this winter I posted this on Facebook, about the first time I heard Cocteau Twins “Lorelei”:

It was gray and misty and drizzly that fall afternoon, and chilly enough to need a jacket… in this case, my sexy 80s maroon and silver Nike windbreaker. There were a couple big empty lots near my house with tall grass and gentle hills that, in my teenage mind, I could combine with the mist and drizzle to imagine that I was in Scotland somewhere.
And then track 8 came on. And it was like getting hit upside the head with a 2×4′ of goosebumps and bells and Australian birds and drum machines and angels singing. It was music like nothing I’d ever even IMAGINED could exist before. It was like being shot head-first out of a cannon, and it fundamentally rewired my brain as to what “music” could be.
Mint Julep manages to do the same thing to me, 35 years later. There’s just this feel to their music. They don’t “sound like” Cocteau Twins or Clan of Xymox or This Mortal Coil… yet they’re so adjacent to those acts. I mean, just listen to this and tell me it doesn’t have “1980s 4AD record” in its DNA:

Out of the gate, Mint Julep is entirely capable of making some of the most beautiful music ever. It’s all so light and delicate and fragile. “Gossamer”, if you want the 50 cent word. But even when they’re not intending to fly at 80,000 feet, there’s this:

One of their great talents is taking some old 80s-style keyboard riff and artfully drowning it in layer after layer of sound, creating a tiny – but perfect –  gem, a hundred-layer cake of sound. An emotional whirlwind. Like another of my favorite bands – the apparently moribund Postiljonen – Mint Julep also have a knack for making music that’s somehow deeply nostalgic, even if you’ve never heard it before.

I won’t say the album’s perfect. I don’t know why, but I feel like a couple songs should be switched in order (“Lure” and “Longboat Drift” for one). But for all intents and purposes, Mint Julep are my favorite new band, so I’m not going to see any flaws in them. I’m a smitten kitten, what else do you want me to say… other than to hang on, because they have another new album coming out soon!

Honorable Mentions

Brijean – Feelings

Charles – Let’s Start a Family Tonight

Clio – L’amour hélas

Drug Store Romeos – The World Within Our Bedrooms

Hoshi – Étoile flippante

Japanese Breakfast – Jubilee

Kero Kero Bonito – Civilisation

Ladyhawke – Time Flies

Men I Trust – Untourable Album

Part-Time Friends – Weddings and Funerals

Requin Chagrin – Bye Bye Baby

EPs, and Other Albums of Note

Bon Entendeur – Minuit
Clara Luciani – Coeur
Coeur de Pirate – Perséides
Hante. – Morning Tsunami
Joon – Dream Again
Somegirl – Both Sharp And Sweet
You, Nothing – Lonely // Lovely
Angèle – Nonante-Cinq (too new to include!)

Leathers – “Reckless” (EP)
Genoux Verner – “Impair” (EP)

Song of the Year

Minimal Schlager’s “FMB” just grabbed a hold of me this year and refused to let go. It is, in many ways, the perfect pop song, and even has a shout-out to Cocteau Twins in it. What’s not to love about this song?

Last.fm Stuff

All data scraped on 12/29/2021.

Overall albums of the year from 01/01/2021 to 12/29/2021, with release year and annual play count:

1) Empathy Test– Monsters (2020, 1168)
2) Mint Julep – Broken Devotion (2016, 1085)
3) Mint Julep – In a Deep and Dreamless Sleep (2021, 732)
4) Hoshi – Étoile flippante (2021, 654)
5) Kraków Loves Adana – Darkest Dreams (2020, 461)
6) Hollie Kenniff – The Quiet Drift (2021, 421)
7) You Drive – You Drive (2018, 371)
8) Hollie Kenniff – The Gathering Dawn (2019, 350)
9) Saint Etienne – I’ve Been Trying to Tell You (2021, 311)
10) Mint Julep – Stray Fantasies (2020, 300)

Adjusted albums of the year, 2021 releases only:

1) Mint Julep – In a Deep and Dreamless Sleep (732)
2) Hoshi – Étoile flippante (654)
3) Hollie Kenniff – The Quiet Drift (421)
4) Saint Etienne – I’ve Been Trying to Tell You (311)
5) Munya – Voyage to Mars (228)
6) Magdalena Bay – Mercurial World (211)
7) Videoclub – Euphories (210)
8) Clara Luciani – Cœur (208)
9) Brijean – Feelings (184)
10) Theodora – Too Much For One Heart (141)

Total plays per artist, 2021

1) Mint Julep (2,690)
2) Empathy Test (1,177)
3) Holllie Kenniff (797)
4) Minimal Schlager (757)
5) Hoshi (755)
6) Cannons (672)
7) Kraków Loves Adana (590)
8) Saint Etienne (573)
9) R. Missing (530)
10) Kid Francescoli (525)

Total plays per artist since joining Last.fm in 2010

1) Marsheaux (5,866)
2) Saint Etienne (3,691)
3) Mint Julep (3,684)
4) You Drive (3,265)
5) Chromatics (2,096)
6) CHVRCHES (1,965)
7) Desire (1,888)
8) Purity Ring (1,830)
9) Burning Peacocks (1,734)
10) Postiljonen (1,723)

Previous “Albums of the Year”

2020: Mint Julep – Stray Fantasies
2019:
Chromatics – Closer to Grey
2018:
You Drive – You Drive
2017: Saint Etienne – Home Counties
2016: Marsheaux – Ath.Lon
2015: Purity Ring – Another Eternity
2014: La Roux – Trouble in Paradise
2013: Marsheaux – Inhale
2012: Beach House – Bloom
2011: The Raveonettes – Raven in the Grave
2010: Katy Perry – Teenage Dream*

* – There was no single choice for “best album” in 2010; the article simply listed my favorite albums that year in no particular order. The choice of Teenage Dream was made ex post facto from that list of albums.

QUICK REVIEW SHOWDOWN! See’s vs. Trader Joe’s

20+ years ago, in a different lifetime, a good friend of mine brought me a tin of See’s Toffee-ettes from one of her trips to Los Angeles. And oh my God, I was instantly in love! On a recent trip to Colorado I was super-excited to learn that my hotel was close to a See’s shop! So of course I dropped in and got a tin of Toffee-ettes. But imagine my surprise when, just a few weeks later, I was at Trader Joe’s and found their almost-identical “English Toffee with nuts”.

Which candy will reign supreme? Let’s find out:

Quick Review Showdown!

The Toffee-ette is shorter but fatter, rounder and more irregular in shape. The almond bits are also much larger than the Trader Joe’s product, which looks like a “log” of toffee that’s cut to size (which, to be fair, probably is how its made, through an extruder, like pasta).

On taste, See’s kills it, you guys! The almond bits are great – with that crunch-forward bite – and then there’s the “candy shop chocolate” taste. You know what I’m talking about. You go to the beach or somewhere with a fresh candy shop… you know what that FRESH CHOCOLATE tastes like! Yeah, that… but then there’s ANOTHER crunch from the toffee, which is straight-up sugary, buttery heaven. The folks at See’s have been doing this for a long time, and they know what the hell they’re doing.

As mentioned, the Trader Joe’s candies have much smaller almonds on the outside. So, much less crunch. In fact, it almost seems like the almonds are there just to keep your fingers from melting the chocolate. Incidentally, I find it curious that almonds are the only nut listed on the ingredients label, but all the packaging just refers to them as “nuts”. You’d think ALMONDS would be a selling point. I mean, See’s mentions almonds TWICE on their label! The chocolate on the Trader Joe’s candy is commercial- grade chocolate – not terrible, not anything to get excited about either. And that’s when I notice a taste I don’t like. It’s a very faint, yet VERY THERE sour taste. It’s not the dreaded “Hershey’s Sour”, but it’s very close. It only lasts a second or two, but it takes me out of the dream. Just then, the sugary toffee hits. And it’s pretty good. Again, nothing to hoot or holler about, and maybe a bit too burnt for my taste? Where See’s toffee is a beautiful café au lait color, Trader Joe’s is quite obviously several shades darker.

But then there’s this: See’s are only available in their own shops (which don’t exist on the east coast) or via Internet. And they’re expensive: $25.99/pound (454g). Trader Joe’s gives you almost twice as much (30 ounces, almost two pounds, 850g) for over 60% less: $10.99.

When it comes to overall flavor, I’m ridin’ and dyin’ with See’s here. I don’t know if this is a year-round Trader Joe’s item (doubt it), but if it is, that could change the equation a bit. Getting a tin of these from my local TJ’s in the dark of February or for my birthday in March would be nice!

Realistically, though, either of these candies are something I’d only buy once or twice a year anyway. If this was going to be an “everyday” candy, I could see TJ’s being the better “bang for the buck” option. But as an annual treat, I say spend the extra for the good stuff.

One (minor) complaint about Toffee-ettes: you better eat them outside or over the sink, ‘cos almond bits are gonna fly everywhere when your teeth hit that toffee!

WINNER: See’s

ISSUE: Firefox and Microsoft Subdomains

UPDATE: According to Bleeping Computer, this should be fixed in Firefox 95.0.1, which should be available now.

So… I’m one of the last 25 people still using Firefox. And over the past couple of days, I haven’t been able to access my Microsoft Rewards dashboard. Any attempt to access rewards.microsoft.com gets me this error:

MS Rewards Error Page

For the search engines and people on mobiles:

Secure Connection Failed

An error occurred during a connection to account.microsoft.com. The OCSP response does not include a status for the certificate being verified.

Error code: MOZILLA_PKIX_ERROR_OCSP_RESPONSE_FOR_CERT_MISSING

  • The page you are trying to view cannot be shown because the authenticity of the received data could not be verified.
  • Please contact the website owners to inform them of this problem.

Learn more…

I did some googling of “OCSP Firefox” and found some bug reports from 2015. They didn’t seem to help much. I tried all the usual stuff, but that didn’t help. On a hunch, I opened Firefox’s hidden settings, changed a setting and.. HOORAH! It worked again!

I normally would have left it at that, except I was reading Google News on my phone a few minutes ago and saw this post by Vishal Gupta at AskVG. He was having the exact same issue with docs.microsoft.com and other Microsoft subdomains. Like me, Vishal tried all the usual fixes: dumping the cache, loading the page in “Troubleshoot Mode”, etc. It worked fine in Chromium Edge, just not Firefox.

Vishal and I had the same idea. He also went to Firefox’s deep settings and  turned off two options. I’m sure he knows far more than I do about it, so I’d hope you’d trust his work over mine. But I only set this setting to false:

security.ssl.enable_ocsp_stapling

And that fixed the issue for me. At least until Microsoft fixes the issue with their cert, or Firefox fixes the bug that’s triggering the warning.

If you’re having this issue, please go to Vishal’s page and read his thorough instructions (if you know what “about:config” does in Firefox, you’re halfway there already).

Local Time

For thousands of years, timekeeping was kind of a loose thing. When the fastest anything can travel is on horseback, exact times aren’t, strictly speaking, necessary. So in England, as in most places across the globe, someone in a village or town – the local priest maybe, or a prominent citizen – would use simple instruments to figure out when the sun was directly overhead (a.k.a. “noon”) and set up a sundial or clock accordingly. And the rest of the town would be synced to that. And if it wasn’t 100% accurate, or if the village 5 miles away decided to make their clocks an hour earlier – or 20 minutes earlier, or 14 minutes later, or whatever… it just didn’t matter all that much.

Then one day the railways came, and it was nigh impossible to schedule trains using every tiny village and town’s version of “local time”. Thus, the concepts of “standard time” and “time zones” were born.  And then the Statutes (Definition of Time) Act 1880 was passed by Parliament, making Greenwich Mean Time the one official time on the island of Great Britain. Because the channel islands are not part of the United Kingdom, GMT wasn’t adopted in the Isle of Man until 1883, Jersey in 1898 and Guernsey in 1913. Ireland, then a British colony, didn’t switch until 1916.

Interestingly, there are a handful of public clocks built in Britain during the transition period between the two systems. The clock pictured behind Victoria and Jimmy on this QI screencap is in Bristol. It has two minute hands. The black hand is for Greenwich Mean Time. The red hand is for the local “Bristol Time”, which was 10 minutes behind GMT:

QI Bristol Time

 

Why the Weird Dates on Windows Drivers?

A Redditor recently asked why Windows Update was trying to install Intel drivers from 1968 on his PC:

Intel Driver Date

There’s actually a good reason for this, and it’s the same reason every Microsoft driver in Device Manager is dated June 21, 2006 – even for devices that were invented long after 2006.

Microsoft’s legendary Raymond Chen explains:

When the system looks for a driver to use for a particular piece of hardware, it ranks them according to various criteria. If a driver provides a perfect match to the hardware ID, then it becomes a top candidate. And if more than one driver provides a perfect match, then the one with the most recent timestamp is chosen. If there is still a tie, then the one with the highest file version number is chosen.

Suppose that the timestamp on the driver matched the build release date. And suppose you had a custom driver provided by the manufacturer. When you installed a new build, the driver provided by Windows will have a newer timestamp than the one provided by the manufacturer. Result: When you install a new build, all your manufacturer-provided drivers get replaced by the Windows drivers. Oops.

Intentionally backdating the drivers avoids this problem. It means that if you have a custom manufacturer-provided driver, it will retain priority over the Windows-provided driver. On the other hand, if your existing driver was the Windows-provided driver from an earlier build, then the third-level selection rule will choose the one with the higher version number, which is the one from the more recent build.

So basically, Windows Update downloads the driver, sees if you have a better one installed, and, if so, either discards the driver or keeps it in its driver library just in case. If not, it installs the driver and waits for a reboot.

But why those specific dates?

In Microsoft’s case, June 21, 2006 is the day Windows Vista was released. This is relevant because Microsoft made major changes to how Windows drivers work in Vista and also (if I’m remembering correctly) required digital signing of drivers, for at least x64 Vista.

As for Intel, July 18, 1968 was the date Intel was founded.

Hope that helps!

 

A Salute to Netgear’s FS105

A shout-out to Netgear for the FS105. Those little switches were BULLETPROOF. It was a beautifully functional steel chassis that people could (and did) walk on. You could drop them on concrete floors, or forget they were there and yank a network cable and slam them into a wall. I had one client where I found an FS105 under a pile of fabric that, as far as anyone knew, hadn’t been touched in years. They just wouldn’t die

They were just built… ya know? We sent almost 650 of those things to clients at one job, and I think we got 1 back as a DOA. There’s no telling how many hundreds of thousands of these are stuck behind bookcases and filing cabinets in offices worldwide, still silently doing their jobs 15 years later. Hell, I noticed that my county’s voting setup still uses FS105s. And why wouldn’t they? If there was ever a device that’ll genuinely work forever, the FS105 beats even some of those late 1990s HP laser printers, or some of those old HP JetDirect boxes.

They’re the Voyager space probes of small office networking.

Netgear FS105

I still proudly use their successors – a 5-port (GS305) and an 8-port (GS308) gigabit switch – on my home network today.

QUICK TAKES: Time Immemorial

“Time immemorial” is usually used poetically today, often in travel shows. So: “men have been fishing in this small Greek village since time immemorial”.

What you might NOT know is that “time immemorial” has an actual start date: June 6, 1189.

The Statute of Westminster of 1275 was the first attempt to codify the laws of England. As part of this, the idea of “time immemorial” was introduced – a time which was declared “the extent of human memory”. The date chosen was Richard I’s accession day. That’s “Richard the Lionheart”, or “Richard Cœur de Lion”, since he spent most of his life in France. The same Richard who left for the Crusades, leaving his brother John to run England… the same King John of Magna Carta and Robin Hood fame.

So the idea was, if there was some kind of land dispute, if a family could find local witnesses to prove that their goats had been grazing on the land since June 5, 1189, then it was generally accepted to be “your land”. You might think of it as a kind of “ultimate statue of limitations”, if you will.