The Dirty Vodka Martini


I’ll never forget my first martini, which happened to be a dirty vodka martini.  I was in an upscale restaurant and the bartender really knew her stuff.   The martini was extra dry, ice cold and had a hint of olive.  The vodka didn’t overpower the drink nor did the olive take center stage.  It was smooth going down and pleasant to taste.

I’ll also never forget the first time I tried to duplicate that perfect martini at home.  Not knowing the slightest thing about vodka (or how to concoct a martini for that matter), I went out and got a bottle of Absolut.  I then grabbed the first bottle of vermouth I saw and grabbed a jar of “martini” olives, soaked in vermouth.  Reading some recipe found in one of those “bartender” guides you see in TJ Maxx for $1.99, I carefully measured 2 oz. vodka and about ½ oz. of vermouth.  I then added five olives …more is better, right?!  Well, the martini was not even drinkable.  One taste and I was sickened.  The vermouth overpowered the drink and the vodka was harsh and cheap.  Then I got hit with the brininess of the vermouth-soaked olives.  Yech!

Years later, I like to think that I have learned a thing or two about how to make the proper dirty vodka martini.  Better than the first one I had, I have tweaked my own recipe over the years.  Here’s a general description of how I do it:

First, start with some good vodka.  My friend loves the extol the virtues of potato based vodka, and to some extent I agree with him that premium potato vodkas are excellent.  But the bottom line is that you need to shell out enough cash to get a premium vodka that works for you.  However, finding the one particular vodka that is right for you requires serious (read: expensive) experimentation.

Next…what good is a premium vodka if you are going to add cheap or old vermouth?  A bottle of Martini & Rossi Extra Dry from your local supermarket is not exactly a bad vermouth…but it is not a good one either!  Gallo?  Nah…still cheap.  Martini Bianco?  Nope.  Cinzano?  Getting there…  Lillet Blanc?  Not really a vermouth…so not really a martini!    Noilly Prat?  Now we’re talking.  Vya?  Very nice.  And guess what?  Vermouth doesn’t last forever…it goes bad…and you need to replace it!  (Hint: Store in refrigerator)

Ok…so you went out and got some premium vodka and some top shelf dry vermouth.  Now what?  Olives.  My ideal pick is the feta-stuffed olives from Whole Foods.  At around $7.99 for 12 olive oil cured gems, they aren’t cheap.  But again, why add cheap ingredients to premium vodka?  For the brine, I tend to like the Santa Barbara olives (unstuffed)….but any olive brine will do.

Now that you have all the ingredients…time to make the dirty martini.  Fill a cocktail shaker (a stainless steel one) with good ice (not that white refrigerator ice-maker stuff).  Add 2 oz. vodka and about to ¼ tsp. dry vermouth.  Add about 1 tsp. olive brine.  Shake vigorously.  Immediately pour into a chilled martini glass.  Spear one olive of your choice and add it to the martini.  Now go savor the martini…preferably away from any kind of stressful situation (such as spouses, kids, etc.)

Like gin martinis?  Bombay is great stuff…but go try Hendrick’s and repeat the above recipe, replacing the vodka with the gin.  Enjoy!

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The Free Car/iPad scam at Airport Chrysler/Dodge/Jeep


My wife got the mail 4 days ago and one of the letters was from Airport Chrysler Dodge Jeep in Orlando.  The letter referred to a contest the dealership was running.  Simply match the provided number to one of three scratch off numbers and you are ‘guaranteed’ to win one of four prizes: a $250 gift card, a PT Cruiser, an iPad, or $100 cash.  I usually throw these things away, but in this case, I decided to take the time to read the fine print.  Amazingly, the fine print did not have any of the usual caveats.

Back in the day, the local news had an investigative consumer fraud reporter named Ellen McFarlane.  One of Ellen’s basic tenets was “If something sounds too good to be true…it probably is.”  One thing Ellen was passionate about was fighting scams that promised something for nothing.  With that in mind, I wanted to see just how shady and manipulative this dishonest car dealer could be…I decided to “take the bait.”

Upon arriving at the dealer,   the first thing that struck me was that you have to go through a whole layer of salespeople just to get into the showroom, only to then be harassed by another several layers of dealers.  And once you make it past these dealers, you can look at the vehicles.  Armed with the letter, we went in.  We went straight to the information desk, but got tackled by the young “Angelo” who was (you guessed it!) “new” on the job.

I produced the letter.  I showed it to Angelo.  He didn’t even break a smile.  He whisked us straightaway to a “conference” table.  At the table, he was matter-of-fact.  “Are you even in the market for a car?”  My answer: “Not really.  We came in for the letter.”  “No problem” he said.  He took us over to a large display board.  “So what this letter is about is you get a $2900 check to put towards a new car.  And you can compare against the dealer board to see if you’ve won something.”  And of course, we didn’t win the car, nor the iPad.  Nor the $100 cash.  But we did “win” the $250 gift card.

Now let me stop here for a moment.  So far, according to the terms of the flyer, we DID win something. And according to the dealer, we DID win something.  So far, everything seemed legal to me.  And as an aside, I was really prepared to duke it out with them, thinking the whole thing was a scam, but more on that later.

According to Angelo, the next step toward claiming the prize was to “have a look around” at some of the cars.  Angelo was green.  He had no idea how to sell a car.  No idea how to motivate a buyer.  He just sort of walked about, showing me Jeep Laredo’s when I asked to see SUVs and Trucks.  But whatever…I didn’t mind seeing them.  After looking at a few nice vehicles, we decided to go claim the prize.  Angelo did the right thing and got us some flyers and contact information.  After that, he said “let me go get your prize.”  Shortly thereafter, he came back with the gift card.  He said “Simply log on to the website listed on the card to claim your prize.”

When we got home, I went to the card’s website, entered the username and PIN.  We were then told that we had “$250 to spend.”  The problem:  everything to choose from on the site was pure junk.  These were items that the dollar store would reject!  Undeterred, I still decided to get a few pen sets for emergency gift reserves.  At $99.99 each, I got 2 pen sets.  Then I went to check out.  The checkout process said I needed to pay $39.99 shipping.  No problem, I thought.  The GC had $50 left on it… Unfortunately, the website said “gift card value cannot be used to pay for shipping.  Shipping must be via a major credit card.”

So that’s the scam.  Lure you in and have you “win” a $250 gift card.  Then find out that the $250 can only be redeemed for worthless junk IF you pay upwards of $40 of your own money for “shipping and handling.”

So what did I learn?  Like Ellen said – you can’t get something for nothing.  I also solidified my belief that this car dealer is unfair.  They are the worst lot of people, pun intended.  I bet these scoundrels would sell their own mothers for profit.  And guess what:  I will NEVER, EVER do business with them.  Imagine that…give a man a raw deal and then expect his future business!  That $250 gift card just cost them untold amounts of money on a future purchase + service calls.  The last laugh is on me.

And guess what…I am not finished with them yet.  My original mission was to expose their scam.  So I have forwarded a report to all of the major news stations – consumer fraud department.  There may not be a legal leg to stand on here…but there certainly is an ethical one.

Manatees are still prevalent in Blue Spring


We took a ride up to Blue Spring in Orange City this weekend to see the manatees.  We were not disappointed!  There were around 80 manatees in the spring on the cold Sunday afternoon, and the park was quite full.  In fact, we had to park in the auxillery parking lot and fight crowds to see the majestic sea cows.

Most of the manatees were at the river-end of the run, but there were some of them in the boil itself and along the run.  Most of them had deep scars, and there were a few young ones too. 

We took Lilly to see them (who is 4)…she was excited to see them and had many questions.  I hope she will be able to see them when she grows up.

One manatee in particular was very curious about us and very friendly.  He was marked “A6”.  I don’t know what that marking refers to or who is tracking the animal.  Perhaps it cross-references to a name and point of origin. 

Top Ten Things I Hate About Air Travel


I travel fairly frequently, mostly within the continental US.  Here is a listing of 10 things that really get my goat about air travel:

  1. Unruly children.  We have all seen them.  Kids running amok in the airport, disturbing other passengers, screaming, hollering and otherwise acting out of control.  On my last trip, I watched in horror as one 8 year old child kept slamming the airport terminal window with an umbrella.  His mother then gave him a 64 ounce gutbuster coke which he consumed over the next 20 minutes.  By the time we were ready to depart, the kid was uncontrollable and the mother was demanding the flight crew to set aside federal law so he could go to the restroom on takeoff.
  2. Drunks.  The airport is no place to get wasted.  However, that doesn’t stop the fat bellied rednecks that like to saturate themselves internally and externally with alcohol prior to flying.  Then they act like imbiciles on the plane.
  3. Drinking a 64 ounce gutbuster soda prior to flying.  I touched on it in item #1.  What is the point of drinking all that sugar and carbonated water, then getting in a tizzy when the single working lavatory is in use, or the fasten seatbelts sign is lit?
  4. Reclining your seat.  Let’s face it.  On flights such as Southwest, if you recline your seat, you mess up the poor SOB behind you who then has a seat in their face and no room to maneuver.  Consideration is obviously a thing of the past for these mindless slugs.
  5. Last minute people.  I get to the airport at least 1 hour early, if not more.  Why hold everyone up while you make a mad last second dash to the gate?
  6. Carry on bag size.  I saw a woman bring on a 26″ upright which was overpacked.  She tried to stuff it in the overhead, partially crushing my bag in the process.  The flight attendant actually took her side, and proceeded to partially crush my stuff.  Check your bags you sorry, lazy dopes!
  7. That annoying person who talks too loud or too much.  On a 9:20PM flight home, I don’t want to hear some stupid dork taking at the top of their lungs for 4+ hours, nor do I want to hear them laughing with an annoying laugh for hours on end.  Consideration.  What the hell happened to it?
  8. Lack of Info.  Some pilots provide useful information.  Some simply say “Welcome to XYZ”.  I prefer some information along the way, such as “we now have 850 miles to go…”
  9. Guilty until proven innocent.  I recently forgot I had a water bottle in my carry-on bag.  You would think the world had ended…the amount of grief they gave me. 
  10. Shrinking cabin sizes.  I am getting bigger, yes.  But the seats, leg room and overhead bin space is shrinking too. 

Ted the Caver Mystery


I came across an interesting story the other day…a story which starts off rather innocuously as “Ted’s Caving Page“.

Ted Caving Page is an early blog-type series of pages which chronicle a spelunkers’ discovery of a virgin cave passage in some unknown location in the US.  The story, presented as Ted’s personal journal of discovery and back-thoughts is intriguing..and creepy.  All in all, it seems a lot like the Blair Witch story…believable characters up against an unseen force that has evil intent.  Overall, I found it to be rather captivating and believable.

Since the story ends rather abruptly, it left me frustrated and seeking closure.  However, in retrospect, the lack of ending ends up being the perfect ending, as the reader is left dangling, wanting more.   This element of the unknown lends even more suspense and credibility to the story.  In short, it leaves you guessing, and activates your imagination. Continue reading “Ted the Caver Mystery”

Lost Libraries of Atlantis


I admit it…I like to loosely follow Atlantean lore.  I also like stories of buried or lost treasure, such as Atlantis Rising’s recent article on Oak Island.  Fairly recently, which means in the last several months, I was given a book called “Tayos Gold,” written by Stan Hall.  The book was a quick read, and reads a lot like a personal biographical journal.  Here is an Amazon.com product description:

Continue reading “Lost Libraries of Atlantis”

The Art of Stitching Photos


Ever wondered how people get those photos that are very wide – much wider than could be achieved with a standard point & shoot lens?  Ever wonder how people get those expansive shots of the horizon?  Some of the newer digital camera models have panoramic modes which do the stitching for you, but most of them require precisely framed shots with little to no deviation in movement, which is tough to achieve without a moderately high end tripod.  There is a much, much easier way.  Autostitch.

With this simple to use program, you just open up the images you want to stitch together, and it does the rest for you.  Is it perfect?  No…it can produce results that are not desirable, but as all first year comp sci students hear in those beginning classes…Garbage in, Garbage out.  The better your input images, the better the stitched output will be.  The really good part is that this program is small.  Unzipped, it is only 1.40MB, and it does not require obtrusive installation on a PC platform…just unzip and run.  There are even sample images for you to play with.

Here is a very small example of how I recently used this program to produce a composite image.  It has some flaws, but should indicate the utility of this program.

First, the input pics:

Image OneImage TwoImage ThreeImage Four

Note how the images are not precisely lined up, and also note the differing brightness and contrast levels.  Also note that the images are completely out of order.  Now here is the image that I ran through Autostitch…

Finished Image, Stitched

Not bad, huh?  The only image anomoly is the lamp post, which I could have easily corrected through further manipulation of settings.  There you have it…a quick and easy way to stitch a complex series of photos…