jamesq: (An actual picture of me.)
My uncle Tim is a scrounger. One of those guys who can sniff out deals from here and there. The whole family got together a few weeks ago after my brother died, and we ended up chatting about that.

Tim told me the tale of Vince and Vince's stuff. Vince (I never learned his last name, despite an interesting hour reading obituaries) never had a social insurance number, but over his life went from basically poor, to being the salvage king of Calgary. When he died, he left his widow a bunch of property, several million dollars, and a warehouse full of personal crap. You see, in addition to being a self-trained salvage expert, Vince was also a hoarder. A very rich, very well-organised hoarder. Which is to say, there was a ton of random stuff, but it was fairly well-labeled and properly stored.

The widow, being set for life, not having any children to worry about, and not wanting to deal with a warehouse full of constant reminders, decided to simply get rid of it. So she contacted a bunch of people who had worked for her husband and told them to come help themselves. These guys were all contractors (like Tim), so they weren't afraid of hard work. They also were the people most likely to appreciate Vince's stuff, and most importantly, had big pickup trucks.

Tim came and got a bunch of stuff. Amongst his haul:
  • Over a thousand dollars worth of scrap copper. Tim, feeling a little guilty, offered to split the cash with her, but she wouldn't have any of it. She was already rich.
  • Tons of well-maintained vintage hand tools.
  • An electron microscope. He ended up selling it to a high-school science teacher, who spent several hours in Tim's garage confirming that it worked.
  • A barrel of liquor.
Which bring us to the crux of this story.

Tim and another fellow figured the barrels would be worth something, so they started to empty them into the toilet. Tim realized right away, from the colour and the smell, that this wasn't something that should be poured away, and they ended up scrounging every empty bottle they could find in the warehouse, to decant what turns out to be really good port. Well, technically fortified wine, since you can't call it port, unless it was made in Portugal. That said, I'm just going to call it port. Fuck the EU.

Subsequent investigations revealed that Vince had made the port himself, and it had been sitting in that barrel since somewhere between 1955 and 1960. Most likely 1959. Tim and the other contractor decanted it in 2011. At a minimum, it was in that barrel for at least 51 years, and possibly 56. Because I like round numbers, I'm going to call it 50-year old.

He also thinks it's somewhere in the vicinity of 30% alcohol. Tim has long since hit the age where drinking is often more trouble than it's worth, so has more than he can personally use.

Unrelated, I'm thinking about having a bathroom renovation done (depending on whether my laneway house project proceeds or not), so I invite Tim over later in the week to have a look.

"When you come over, I'll trade you some peanut butter squares for a bottle of that port."
"Deal."
Having divvied up the existing peanut butter squares, I figure, I'll make a fresh batch. I figured, if he gave me a wee bottle, he'd get a quarter or a half of the batch. He brought me a gallon; 160 fluid ounces; Over four litres! I just gave him the whole damn batch, and if he asks for more, it's his. I priced out 50-year old port that's available commercially. That stuff is dear.

Since I didn't want to keep all my port on one huge-ass bottle, I've split it up. All told, I filled 2x750ml, 1x650ml, 2x500ml, 2x375ml and (unshown) 1x200ml bottle. [livejournal.com profile] nosarious and I were getting high off the fumes.

Left: the big-ass jug. Right: seven bottles of awesomeness!

So how is it? It's easily the best port I've ever tasted. Hell, you can get drunk off the fumes, and it's smooth. As friends describe something this easy-drinking, "it tastes like waking up in a field." I think I'm going to be very popular when I bring some to a cocktail party.
jamesq: (An actual picture of me.)
About two weeks before the trip, [livejournal.com profile] wackynephews mentioned a charity event at Pixar Studios. Put on by the Cartoon Art museum, it was to be a day at Pixar. And it was on the Saturday I was going to be in the Bay Area!

Now the cost was quite a bit more than I usually pay for such things - 500 dollars! However, the more I thought about it, the more I figured that this was one of those things I'd regret not doing a lot more than I'd regret spending the money. As I get older and my regrets pile up behind me, I indulge in these things more and more.

So was it worth the money? In the sense that it was for a good cause, yes. For the entertainment provided? Maybe, but only because the time of the creators who did the one hour talk in the middle was very expensive. It was like those charity dinners where people will pay thousands of dollars to hear some politician speak - the chicken dinner isn't why you spent the money.

I took BART across the bay and walked about a mile to get to the Pixar campus in Emeryville. Reaching the site I discovered I was just about the only person who walked it. Everyone else drove their expensive cars to go there. Mostly the other people there were like me - fairly affluent nerds. Some were very affluent indeed, since they forked out for multiple tickets for the whole family. This is what the Technorati do with their money.

I got a few complements on this tee-shirt. I wish I had a smoking jacket to go with it.

So what did i get for my donation? Well for two hours it was mostly wandering around a portion of the main building. I have pictures, but I'll save them for the last part of the post, since they're really not part of my narrative. The main lobby of the main building had numerous murals and statues in it. There was also a gift shop doing roaring good business. I picked up an Incredibles tee-shirt and a coffee table book.

We also got to wander about 1/3 of the way into each of the buildings two wings. No photography was allowed, which is too bad because this was where the really good art was. The east wing was assorted pre-production art for Monsters University. The west wing had assorted personal artwork from the many talented artists who work at Pixar. Most of it had little to do with animated movies. There was sculpture, paintings, a lot of portrait photography. It was fascinating stuff and, as is the usual with such things, made me feel like a fumble-fingered caveman.

One of the things advertised was "seeing Pixar staff at work". This was a misnomer - none of the people with offices in the section we had access to were at work that day. What we did have was a handful of staff doing presentations in the meeting rooms. Sadly, I missed out on those (they filled the rooms fast, and it sort of depended on you being in the vicinity when one of them started.

Next up was the main event - a talk about the tenth anniversary of my favourite Pixar movie - and favourite super hero movie, The Incredibles. The talk was with the director Brad Bird, and a half-dozen of the lead animators/creators. Some of the talk was the usual bits of how it was pitched and made and the impact it had. There was also a lot on the collaborative software that was developed for the movie. Fascinating stuff for this software geek.

Afterwards it was off to another building for drinks, hors d'oeuvres and an auction. You always want free booze at a charity auction - it loosens up the wallet. I set a rather high limit for myself for this, but my one unbreakable rule for auctions is to not bid over your maximum. If it hits that level, stop. No matter what. I followed my rule, but it was so hard. Glad I did though. The two items I wanted were a print of the Parrs in action, and a signed one-sheet of The Incredibles that was very evocative of early James Bond posters. Instead, I bought a reproduction when I got home for twenty bucks.

The whole air of the evening was that of a proper cocktail party for nerds. It felt good, even if I was my usual wall-flower self.

At this point I'd like to say that it must be nice being a dot-com-millionaire. I couldn't believe the price that some of those pieces went for. Even if I had that kind of money (I don't, despite being there), I'd feel down right guilty forking over $10K for these pieces. Were they worth it? For the talent that went into it, and being for charity, yes. And yet, I'd still feel guilty. In the end, I'd have to spend that money twice: once for the piece itself, and once again to the food bank so that I could hang it in my house without feeling like total ass.

Anyway, Pixar put on a nice fĂȘte. I quite enjoyed it, and I might consider doing it again if they celebrate the right movie. Brave (or Incredibles 2) would get me in the door. Cars, not so much.

As an aside, I've recently discovered that I effective paid more for the evening then all those rich folk. It's tax deductible, but it's not for this Canadian. Heh.

And now, on to the pictures! )
jamesq: (An actual picture of me.)
We could have saved the Earth but we were too damned cheap. - Kurt Vonnegut.
A friend's FB mentioned that the Swiss were going to vote on a providing a basic income.

Switzerland will hold a vote on whether to introduce a basic income for all adults, in a further sign of growing public activism over pay inequality since the financial crisis.

A grassroots committee is calling for all adults in Switzerland to receive an unconditional income of 2,500 Swiss francs ($2,800) per month from the state, with the aim of providing a financial safety net for the population.
Source.

On its basic level, I can certainly agree with this scheme - a basic income is provided for families to make sure that their needs are met. Make the administration simple and trust the majority of families to know what their needs are. Other social services could take deal with the abusive parents, victims of addiction and the mentally ill.

It turns out that Canada experimented with this back in the 70's and it was mostly good. The Dauphin Mincome experiment did show a slight disincentive to work, but it was mostly among groups you don't want working anyway (new moms and teens). And even if the disincentive was greater, I think we need to measure it against all the positives that such a scheme provides. It's like how you don't judge a program solely on it's costs. Firefighters are expensive, but we don't simply say that's wasted money - we measure against people not dying in fires all the time, which is, I hope, a completely uncontroversial social good.

And I think the biggest social good is that people are now free from economic coercion. You're boss can't treat you like shit because you need a job. You're not stuck with an abusive spouse because they're providing for your children. You can pursue an education because you're not living hand to fist. In short it gives people options.

And honestly, the amount of people who would sit around eating Cheetos and watching porn all day isn't that high. People will still work, they'll just engage in work that they think is worthwhile. Ultimately people want to work.

Current thinking is that we're transitioning into a world where there will be a permanent unemployable underclass. That automation and overpopulation are creating a world where there's a huge welfare class that we'll need to cordon off and keep entertained with bread and circuses. I don't agree with this assessment - I think there is plenty of things that need doing in the 21st century, they're just not things that a corporation will think they can make a quarterly profit on. We need to remember that corporations aren't the be-all and end-all of society - in fact, corporations should serve the good of society, not vice versa.

I'd like to see a basic income instituted all over. I'd also like to see something like the WPA instituted too, exactly to give people worthwhile work to do, that needs doing, that corporations aren't doing. These would be seperate - a basic income to cover needs and a higher level of pay to actually do something "useful" (and I define useful very broadly - remember, artists worked for the WPA too. Orson Welles' work, for example, probably paid back the whole WPA budget for artists.

This will, of course, cost money. I'm OK with that provided we don't beggar ourselves. I think Mincome (and the Swiss proposition, provided it passes) will show us that we won't. Of course a lot of people consider even one red cent more in taxes as too much. Hell, it might cost us less (by increasing systemic efficiency - more people doing useful work, less money to the bureaucracy trying to find "cheaters"), but a lot of people still won't like it. They'd rather hurt themselves than see someone else "get away with something". Me? I'd rather give the heroin addict an income rather than have them busting into my car. If Rat Park has any application to humans, I think the incidence of addiction will decrease.

First order of business for people who want to make more than the basic income? Work to make your local community better. Once they've done that, you've got a bunch of people with experience and pride in making better communities that you can use making other places better.

I hope it works. I like the idea of a better world, full of people doing rewarding work, not starving.
jamesq: (Default)
The space age began 50 years ago today. Thankfully some people haven't forgotten that mankind went to the moon. We're going to go back someday!

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