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January 22, 2006

Samorost: A Gentle Delight

It's come to my attention that there are still some of you out there who haven't heard of Samorost, one of the prettiest delights I've ever come across in surfing the web. Samorost is a sometimes surreal, sometimes cute, always beautiful little puzzle/story told via interactive Flash movies using photographs of tree boles, moss, driftwood, rusty old metal parts, and delightful animated figures. Produced by Czech firm Amanita Design, this gentle tale begins with our plucky little hero discovering, to his horror, that his beautifully spaceworthy piece of driftwood is fatally threatened by collision with a second, oddly very birdlike, driftwood world. He quickly flies over to the approaching threat in his rusty drink-can shuttle pod to see if he can prevent the imminent disaster, and that's where you come in, helping him make his way through one strange, quiet adventure after another.

The gameplay of Samorost is clever, but not too difficult, and fun for players of all ages. Make sure, though, that you're playing on a computer with a sound card; the music and sound design for Samorost is so wonderful and so well integrated into the rest of the experience that it'd be a great shame to miss it.

After you've finished off Samorost, you can take heart; all is not over: Samorost 2 has been published now, and it's twice as long as the original while retaining all of its beauty, humor, and fun. Fair warning, though: Samorost 2 comes in two chapters, only the first of which is free; you'll need to buy the "full version" of the game for playing locally on your Windows or Mac computer to access the second chapter; it's only $9.50, though, and these folks certainly deserve that much for the magic they've given us already.

Finally, after you've made your way through all of the Samorost saga, head on over to the main Amanita Design website where you can sample their other animations and Flash games, the best of which is "The Polyphonic Spree - The Quest for the Rest", a Samorost-like experience celebrating and accompanied by the music of the Dallas symphonic pop band The Polyphonic Spree.

As you can tell, I really love this kind of quiet, beautiful puzzle exploration. If you know of more such, please add a comment telling all of us about it!

January 10, 2006

Kitchen remodeling pictures

Melissa adds a comment to my blog, demanding pictures of our kitchen remodel, and I must obey!

I've just finished adding titles and descriptions to a little slideshow of pictures on my Flickr site, showing highlights of the the remodeling process we've undergone over the past four months. There's still a lengthy punch list of issues to be worked through, and the master bathroom is still waiting for its limestone countertops and shower surround before it can be finished off, but we've certainly come a long way since last September and it's a good time to look back on it all.

January 08, 2006

A stirring tale, infused with tea

I drink a fair amount of tea at work. I have a long line-up of cylindrical Republic of Tea cans on the sill of my window, and I usually enjoy at least one, and up to three or four cups of tea each day. Mostly, I indulge in black teas infused with fruit flavors, such as RoT's fine Ginger Peach variety. I'm not much of a tea connoisseur, but I know what I like, and that includes the convenience of using tea bags. I do, however, have a couple of favorite loose teas in the office (RoT's Cardamon Cinnamon and a Keemun Black that I picked up one night at the Herbfarm) and I've been looking for maximally convenient (or, perhaps better, minimally inconvenient) ways to enjoy them. I've tried tea balls, and have found them invariably a pain; they leak tea bits, which is annoying, and they're often tricky to clean properly.

Just before Christmas, my good friend Lilly bought me a fancy new tea-steeping device she'd seen described somewhere. "If you don't like it, I'll take it," she said, which is just the kind of low-pressure tactic that works remarkably well on me.

The Teastick, from the Gamil Design company, is a well-designed tea infuser, both in form and in function. This stainless steel device is about five inches long, elegantly hooked at the top, and smoothly morphing into a hollow cylinder at the bottom, open on one side to act as a kind of scoop. It features a cylindrical mesh screen that slides down to firmly seal in the tea leaves while allowing the hot water to pass through. There's room for enough tea to brew up a 10-14 ounce cup, and the sides of the scoop portion are cut just right for measuring out a proper-sized portion of dried tea.

Most tea cups are too small to allow the hook to actually engage the brim; instead, the Teastick is intended to gently rock back and forth in your cup as the tea steeps. You can easily stir the cup with the stick to speed the steeping and, eventually, remove it when it's ready for drinking. Cleanup is perhaps a bit easier than with a traditional tea ball; I've found that the fineness of the screen mesh leads to fewer stuck tea bits when rinsing out the device.

Overall, in comparison to a tea ball, the Teastick is less finicky, less leaky, and less bulky in my cup. Compared to tea bags, of course, the Teastick is less convenient to clean up. I had been using store-bought empty tea bags (themselves a relatively recent revelation to me) for my loose teas, but the Teastick takes up much less room in the cup, making it possible to add milk and sugar during the steeping process, something that was an ugly process with the bags. Once again, life is a matter of balancing one set of advantages against another. How annoying...

Bottom line: I will use my new Teastick (thanks, Lilly, but I think I'll keep it) for all loose teas that want added milk or sugar, and I'll "stick" with store-bought bags for all my other loose-tea needs. The Teastick is elegant to look at, and functional in my teacup.