Monday, March 30, 2009

Battery disposal tips


•Common Name: Coppertop, Alkaline
•Examples of Use: Flashlights, calculators, toys, clocks, smoke alarms, remote controls
•Disposal classification: These batteries are classified by the federal government as non-hazardous waste.
•Proper Disposal: Place in the trash with normal municipal waste, except in California, which requires non-households to dispose of these batteries in accordance with the California Universal Waste Rules.


•Common Name: Mercuric Oxide, Silver Oxide, Lithium, Alkaline, Zinc-Air
•Examples of Use: Watches, hearing aids, toys, greeting cards, remote controls
•Disposal classification: Hazardous waste
•Proper Disposal: Contact your municipality for the nearest Household HazardousWaste Collection Site.

Carbon Zinc

•Common Name: "Classic", Heavy Duty, General Purpose, All Purpose, Power Cell
•Examples of Use: Flashlights, calculators, toys, clocks, smoke alarms, remote controls, transistor radios, garage door openers
•Disposal classification: These batteries are classified by the federal government as non-hazardous waste.
•Proper Disposal: Place in the trash with normal municipal waste.
•Exceptions: California requires non-households to dispose of these batteries in accordance with the California Universal Waste Rules. Also, Minnesota (Hennipen County only) requires these batteries be disposed as a hazardous waste.

Lithium and Lithium Ion

•Common Name: Usually has "lithium" label on the battery
•Examples of Use: Cameras, calculators, computer memory back-up, tennis shoes
•Disposal classification: These batteries are classified by the federal government as non-hazardous waste
•Proper Disposal: They can be recycled. To find a center near you go to:

Nickel-Cadmium (Rechargeable)

◦Common Name: Either unlabeled or labeled "Ni-Cd"
◦Examples of Use: Flashlights, toys, cellular phones, power tools, computer packs
◦Disposal classification: Hazardous waste
◦Proper Disposal: They can be recycled. To find a center near you go to:

Nickel Metal Hydride (Rechargeable)

■Common Name: Either unlabeled or labeled "Ni-Li" or "Ni-Hydride"
■Examples of Use: Flashlights, toys, cellular phones, power tools, computer packs
■Disposal classification: non-hazardous waste, except in California, which requires Non-households to dispose of these batteries in accordance with the California Universal Waste Rules.
■Proper Disposal: Safe for disposal in the normal municipal waste stream. They can also be recycled. To find a center near you go to:

Reusable Alkaline Manganese (Rechargeable)

■Common Name: Renewal
■Examples of Use: Flashlights, calculators, toys, clocks, radios, remote controls
■Disposal classification: Non-hazardous waste,
■Proper Disposal: Safe for disposal in the normal municipal waste stream.

Sealed Lead Acid (Rechargeable)

■Common Name: "Gel," VRB, AGM, Cyclone, El Power, Dynasty, Gates, Lithonia, Saft, Yuasa
■Examples of Use: Video cameras, power tools, wheelchairs, ATV’s, metal detectors, clocks, cameras
■Disposal classification: Hazardous waste
■Proper Disposal: Contact your municipality for the nearest Household HazardousWaste Collection Site

Silver Oxide

■Common Name: Panasonic Silver Oxide
■Examples of Use: Watches, hearing aids, toys, greeting cards, remote controls
■Disposal classification: hazardous waste
■Proper Disposal: Non-consumers must dispose of these batteries in full compliance with the hazardous waste rules. Consumers are covered by the Household exemption under RCRA which allows for these batteries to be disposed of into the municipal waste stream, but hey can be recycled. To find a center near you go to: (info from TWICE)

Friday, March 27, 2009

And now, something for the ladies in the audience

I get tons of spam email, at least 100 each day. In addition to the Nigerian princes who want to help me to get rich, and the discount Canadian pharmacies, and warnings from religious fanatics, I get a lot of sex stuff.

The spam senders are getting much more sophisticated. In the past I got an equal amount of promos for penis enlargement and for breast enlargement, but lately the spammers are about 90% correct in their gender assumptions.

Nevertheless, yesterday I got an email intended for the ladies. The product seems to make sense, so I'll pass it on.

I've always been a selective neat freak. I have no problem working with a messy desk, but I hate seeing messy, snarled, over-long electrical cords. I also don't like seeing bra straps. Actually, I don't mind seeing the straps on the bra of a well-built lady -- unless she's wearing something over the bra.

Now, in the era of hybrid cars, flat-screen TVs and VoIP, science has a solution. StrapPerfect, "the ultimate bra strap solution," is supposed to hide the straps, improve posture, give cleavage "a firm and youthful lift," and increase the apparent cup size by at least one letter. Sounds good to me.
Note: I have not personally tested this product.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

On-demand video games will even work with slow PCs and TVs

A technology company owned by veteran entrepreneur Steve Perlman is starting a new on-demand service that it says will let users play fast-action games without having to buy game consoles or high-end PCs.

Rearden LLC said it has developed technology that allows advanced games to be run remotely on servers and played over the Internet. The technology can quickly compress and decompress large amounts of data for transmission over standard home broadband networks, helping entry-level personal computers and specially equipped televisions play the sophisticated software.

The technology is being applied first to a new video game service that is expected to launch in late 2009. The service, operated by a new company called OnLive Inc., says it has signed up nine software publishers -- including Electronic Arts, Take-Two Interactive Software and THQ -- which have agreed to offer their newest game titles through the service.

Game software now runs on PCs and game consoles, which have special graphics circuitry to create fast action and realistic settings. But games on OnLive will be run on high-end servers hosted by the company, Perlman said, so they can be played on home systems without much computational power.

Though video services like YouTube already allow users to access content that is stored elsewhere, OnLive says services that allow graphics-rich fast-action games to be played from a central server remotely are not currently possible -- in large part because current technology can't provide the instantaneous two-way response time they require. Perlman said his company has worked seven years on that problem, and has solved it.

"For the first time, you can get any game, any time, anywhere," said Perlman in an interview, where he demonstrated the technology with the game Crysis, published by EA. "Getting the latest games won't mean getting the latest PC or console."

For consumers, the advantage would be that they could play advanced games without having to buy consoles such as PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 or a computer with a powerful graphics chip. Televisions are expected be able to access the service by connecting to a small Internet-capable device dubbed the OnLive MicroConsole.

Publishers could benefit because they would be spared the cost of distributing physical software and it could eliminate software piracy since users would access rather than own the games. It could also cut down on used game sales for the same reason.

Perlman is best known for the set-top box company WebTV Networks, which was acquired by Microsoft in the 1990s. He started Rearden with a small team of engineers.

Two years ago, the firm developed technology that can create digital reproductions of the human body that are as accurate as photographs. That technology was used in the movie "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" about a man who ages in reverse.

Perlman declined to comment on specifics about the service such as pricing. Some of the features of the service include an ability for many people to remotely watch somebody else play a game. Players can also hit a button to record the last 15 seconds of game-play, so they can record memorable moments to share with friends. (info from The Wall Street Journal)

Monday, March 23, 2009

Classic movie DVDs available from Warner Bros.

As part of a plan to squeeze all it can out of its film library, Warner Bros. Entertainment will sell vintage movies previously unreleased on DVD directly to the public for $19.95 each.

"Once Upon a Honeymoon," the 1942 movie with Cary Grant and Ginger Rogers, and "Possessed," the 1931 movie with Clark Gable and Joan Crawford, are among the titles consumers can buy directly from the Website of the Warner Archive Collection, starting today.

Many of the titles were among a group the studio originally planned to release through regular retail channels, but as retail space devoted to DVDs declines, the studio decided to try a new approach. Remastering the movies for DVD release took anywhere between a few weeks to two years, with the older, silent films requiring the most work because they are on highly fragile nitrate film.

To keep down costs associated with creating and warehousing DVDs, Warner has licensed an independent company to produce each DVD on demand. The customer will get the disc by mail, complete with cover art, within five days. Alternatively, customers can purchase a digital download of the movie for $14.95.

DVDs have experienced declining sales in recent years. Warner hopes to tap into an unfilled demand for classic titles that haven't been available on DVD. Many titles, such as 1949's "John Loves Mary" with Ronald Reagan and 1951's "Goodbye My Fancy" with Joan Crawford, weren't on VHS tape either. But a few titles are available on pirate Web sites that sell bootleg DVDs, likely made from television screenings of the movies, giving Warner all the more incentive to cut itself in on the action.

The studio's feature-film library contains about 6,800 films, of which only 1,200 have been released on DVD and 4,100 on VHS tape.

The service aims squarely at the over-40 set who enjoy building up physical collections of DVDs and will be familiar with the titles. A few titles might appeal to younger groups, such as the 1975 action film "Doc Savage," which has comic-book crossover appeal. The service is launching with 150 titles, and will add 20 or so each month. (info from The Wall Street Journal)

Friday, March 20, 2009

Seven years to pay for a DVD recorder

Jennifer Ann Logan of Dallas accepted a seven-year prison sentence following her arrest after an incident in which a dog in her vehicle was commanded to bite a Wal-Mart employee who accused her of stealing a DVD recorder.

According to police, on June 23, 2007 Logan took a $298 DVD recorder from Wal-Mart and left the store through the garden department. She was followed to her Ford Escape by a store employee, who grabbed Logan to keep her from leaving. A man sitting in the Escape told a dog in the vehicle to “Get him” and motioned at the employee.

The dog jumped out of the SUV and bit the employee on the buttocks and leg.

Logan, the man in the SUV and the dog fled with the DVD recorder. The employee later identified Logan in a photo lineup. (info from The Waco Tribune)

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Finally, a cellphone you can go swimming with

The photo at the left, taken in 2006, shows your humble blogmeister interrupting his dog-paddling to accept an urgent call on a water-resistant cordless phone made by Uniden.

The photo at the right shows the new Samsung B2100 Xplorer cellphone, which can survive submersion in water up to one meter deep for a half hour without sucking in tiny fish or going belly-up like a dead fish. It also complies with "MIL-STD-810F" for use in harsh outdoor conditions over prolonged periods of time.

Built to be dust-proof and sand-proof, other features include a 1.77-inch TFT display, 1.3 mega pixel camera with built-in LED flash, MP3 music player, stereo FM radio with RDS, microSD memory card expansion supporting up to 8GB and Blueto0th v2.1 with A2DP. It also has a noise cancellation microphone, speakers, flashlight, video capture at 15fps, and support for JAVA.

It should be great for hiking, making war, going to the beach, floating in the pool, or fraternity parties.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

More than 100 new features for iPhone and iPod Touch

Yesterday Apple announced over 100 new features that will be available to iPhone and iPod touch users this summer. They include: cut, copy and paste which can be done within or across applications; MMS to send and receive photos, contacts, audio files and locations with the Messages app; stereo Bluetooth; syncing Notes to the Mac and PC; shake to shuffle; parental controls for TV shows, movies and apps from the App Store; automatic login at Wi-Fi hot spots, and the ability to capture and send audio recordings on the go with the new Voice Memo app. Landscape view will be available for Mail, Text and Notes. Search capabilities will be expanded, allowing customers to search within Mail, iPod and Notes or search across all key apps by typing a key word or phrase into the new Spotlight search, conveniently accessed from the Home screen.

The updated Stock app will add the ability to display recent company news and current trading information like opening or average price, trading volume or Market Cap, and will offer a landscape view to see a full screen of any stock chart. Customers will also be able to view shared calendars right on their iPhone with CalDAV support and sync their calendars with iCal®, Yahoo, Google and Oracle.

iPhone customers will be able to download the new iPhone OS 3.0 software for free summer and iPod touch customers will be able to purchase a software update for $9.95.

Apple also announced the immediate availability of a beta software release to registered developers. The iPhone OS 3.0 beta release includes an updated Software Development Kit (SDK) with over 1,000 new Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) including In-App Purchases; Peer-to-Peer connections; an app interface for accessories; access to the iPod music library; a new Maps API and Push Notifications.

Included in these APIs is the ability to leverage the App Store within apps. In-App Purchases will allow developers to offer subscription content and provide the ability to sell new content and features in a simple and secure process. Developers can also more easily create peer-to-peer games for iPhone and iPod touch by using Bluetooth.

Another key developer feature in the iPhone OS 3.0 beta software is the ability for apps to interface with hardware accessories, creating a new element of control for iPhone and iPod touch accessory developers as well as a new ecosystem of solutions for customers. Developers will also be able to use Apple’s new Maps API to integrate Google Mobile Maps services within their apps which will offer Google Map tiles, current location, custom annotations and geocoding. The iPhone OS 3.0 beta software includes the Apple Push Notification service which provides developers with a mechanism to alert users with sounds, text or a badge.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Super-thin, super-expensive laptop from Dell

Dell is entering the ultra-thin notebook business with the Adamo, from the Latin for "to fall in love with."

The aluminum-body laptop costs $2,000 or more and comes in two colors, "onyx" and "pearl." It has a 13-inch screen and, with a depth of less than 0.67-inch, is thinner than both Apple's 0.76-inch MacBook Air ($1,800 and up) and Hewlett-Packard Co.'s 0.7-inch Voodoo Envy notebook (from $1,900).

Even the customer support package goes upscale. Dell will guarantee the same team of service representatives for $99 for a year or $349 for three.

Dell, known for affordable, no-frills computers, leaned toward the seductive imagery of couture as it designed a marketing campaign to fit the Adamo. The leap Dell is asking consumers to make from its core brand would be a risk in any economy, let alone the worst recession of the personal-computer age. PC sales are sliding and the lone bright spot in the market appears to be small, inexpensive "netbooks," Adamo's polar opposite.

CLICK for more info. (Info from The Associated Press, photo from

Friday, March 13, 2009

Live TV and Sirius XM comintg to iPhones and iPods

MobiTV and CBS Sports will stream live video of the NCAA March Madness basketball tournament to the iPhone and iPod Touch via Wi-Fi to people who buy a $4.99 application from the Apple iTunes App Store.

The application’s official name is “CBS Sports Mobile: NCAA March Madness On Demand.”

MobiTV already supplies live TV over cellular radio to other cellphones in the US but not to the iPhone. MobiTV expects to provide other TV content to Apple devices in the future.

The MobiTV-powered Wi-Fi application will feature live Wi-Fi video of all 63 games of the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship from March 19 through April 6. Live audio of each game, however, can be streamed via the iPhone’s cellular 3G and EDGE technologies as well as live updates, stats and video-on-demand highlights of games.

The application delivers a “clickable” tournament bracket showing all tournament teams and allows users to touch any current game to launch live TV of the game.

Sirius XM plans to offer an iPhone/iPod Touch application in the second quarter.

The app would stream Sirius XM to iPhones and iPod Touch devices and will permit an estimated users to access Sirius XM content if they are paid subscribers. New subscribers won’t have to purchase a new radio. (info from TWICE)

Thursday, March 12, 2009

New iPod is small enough to shove up your ass, and it speaks 14 languages.

Yesterday Apple introduced their latest iPod shuffle (they spell it with a lower-case "s"). Apparently it's the world’s smallest music player at nearly half the size of the previous model. If you don't have to endure a cavity search, you can smuggle it into a prison.

It's also the first music player that talks to you.

The new VoiceOver feature enables iPod shuffle to speak your song titles, artists and playlist names, and battery power.

The unit is smaller than a AA battery, holds up to 1,000 songs and all of the controls except the power switch are in a small pod on the earbud cord. With the press of a button, you can play, pause, adjust volume, switch playlists and hear the name of the song and artist. iPod shuffle has an aluminum case available in black or silver, with a built-in stainless steel clip that makes it easy to wear.

The iPod shuffle is based on Apple’s shuffle feature, which randomly selects songs from your music library. And when you can’t remember the name of a song or an artist playing, with the press of a button iPod shuffle tells you the name of the song and artist.

The tiny robot can even tell you status information, such as battery life. With the ability to hold up to 1,000 songs and the VoiceOver feature, you can now easily switch between multiple playlists on your iPod shuffle. iPod shuffle can speak 14 languages including English, Czech, Dutch, French, German, Greek, Italian, Japanese, Mandarin Chinese, Polish, Portuguese, Spanish, Swedish and Turkish.

It's said to have up to 10 hours of battery life.

The new third generation 4GB iPod shuffle is now available, with a suggested price of $79.
This is a preview, not a review.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Save 25% on mini widescreen TV at RadioShack

Apparently this is a one-day special, so act fast if you're interested.

Small battery-powered TVs are nice to have in the car, and in the office or around the house, and while traveling.

I've used them to monitor a security camera that observes my driveway, and even to watch one TV show with a headset in bed while my beloved bride watched some shitty show on the big HDTV. I also use one to keep busy in a parking lot while waiting for her to get out of the supermarket. And I sometimes use one while traveling to watch in an airport, or in a hotel or motel that doesn't have TVs where I want them to be,

The Shacks's Acurian Model #16-454 has a 7" 16:9 aspect ratio widescreen LCD display and its NTSC/ATSC TV tuner lets you watch both analog and digital TV broadcasts. An A/V input lets you connect external audio and video sources. The built-in rod antenna can be positioned for the best possible reception. It has an "F" coax connector so you can connect an external antenna if needed (often important in a car) or to Cable TV service.

Included accessories include a remote control with battery, audio/video cable, AC adapter, car power adapter, F connector.

Regular price is $199.99. Sale price is $50 less. CLICK

Monday, March 9, 2009

Digital TV converter coupons available again

This is probably not important news to the ultra-techies who usually read this blog, but it might affect some low-tech people you know.

The government agency that distributes coupons for digital TV converter boxes expects to eliminate its waiting list by the end of March.

Helped by $650 million from the economic stimulus package, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration has started to mail out coupons to the 2.3 million households on the list.

The fund that pays for the $40 coupons reached its spending limit in early January. The NTIA was still able to mail out coupons, but only as old ones expired, 90 days after being issued.

The NTIA now expects to change its rules so that people who received coupons before but let them expire can now apply for new ones.

Coupons are now being mailed "first class." The government had been criticized for mailing the coupons "standard mail," which can take weeks.

The converter boxes allow older TVs to receive new digital broadcast signals. American full-power TV stations were scheduled to turn off their ancient analog signals on Feb. 17, but because of the coupon backlog, the deadline was extended to June 12. About a quarter of stations shut down in mid-February anyway, but most of them are in small markets. (info from The Associated Press)

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Today is the last day to shop at Circuit City.

Today is your official last chance to go to a CC store to buy what other bargain-hunters passed over because it was over-priced, useless, defective, ugly or all four.

In a few weeks, however, the dregs, remnants and gleanings should be in the dollar stores and on eBay.

Friday, March 6, 2009

New book about phone equipment and services

(press release about my own book)

A hundred years ago, telephones were simple. If you wanted to call someone, you picked up the receiver, cranked the crank, and waited for the nice lady to say, “Operator, may I help you?” Then you said something like, “I want to talk to Daddy,” or “I need the doctor;” and in a few seconds you were connected. You didn’t even need to know the phone numbers.

For equipment, maybe you could choose between an oak box on the kitchen wall, or a metal candlestick model on the hall table. If you lived in a high-tech area, maybe you could get a dial instead of a crank.

Regardless of the telephone style, you would pay to rent it month after month, and there was just one company in your town that you could do business with, and that company owned “your” phone.

Today the choices seem endless. Phones can be analog or digital, rotary or touch-tone, plain or fancy, corded, cordless, or cellular. You can connect through a local phone company, a national phone company, an international phone company, a TV company, a satellite company, a cellular company, or a VoIP company. Phone companies sell TV service. Cable television companies sell phone service. They both sell Internet service.

You can get a phone or phone system or a phone gadget from hundreds of sources, and buy it, rent it, lease it or may-be get a freebie. You can pay someone to install it, you can install it yourself, or you can get something that needs no installation.

An authoritative but easy-to-understand new book, “Phone Systems & Phones for Small Business and Home” by Michael N. Marcus helps people sort out their options. It covers basic phones, multi-line phone systems, add-ons like headsets, music-on-hold, paging systems, backup power and fax equipment — for professional offices, businesses and homes. There are sections on technology trends, telecommunications terminology, tools, wiring, troubleshooting, and much more.

The book will help people pick out the right size phone system, to minimize initial cost, and provide room to grow. It even deals with the important items that people really do need in a phone system, but are often left off sellers’ bids and proposals.

The book also sorts out the various technologies for making phone calls and accessing the Internet: conventional dial tone, ISDN, DSL, cable, fiber, T1 and VoIP.

Marcus’s book includes about 40 detailed hands-on product reviews. Recommendations range from a $12.99 home phone to complex multi-thousand-dollar business phone systems, plus a wide array of add-one to improve communications.

It will help readers avoid the worst mistakes of phone system buyers, and can help them decide if they can save money by installing their own home or business phones. The book will also help people quickly diagnose many common telecom troubles, and often fix them easily and inexpensively or maybe even for free.

Marcus says, “But even if you don’t plan to do your own phone work, by understanding what has to be done, you’re more likely to get the right thing done, and pay the right price. You could save much more than the price of this book.”

Some reader comments:

• Outstanding! An entertaining and sometimes humorous thorough education on phones and telecommunications. It’s a must-read for shoppers as well as salespeople.

• I’ve been in telecommunications for nearly 30 years, but I still learned a lot from this informative and entertaining book.

• After just three minutes I learned that a really annoying telephone problem could be cured for $4, instead of nearly $400. This book belongs in every office and many homes.

• This delightful book makes phones ultra-useful for people who run mini-Fortune 500 companies. Highly recommended.

The illustrated book has 396 pages. It is available from and other booksellers.

This is the third book on communications equipment written by Michael N. Marcus, a writer who has specialized in electronics and telecommunications for over 30 years. Marcus is a successful and popular explainer, known for mixing technology and humor. His humorous memoir “I Only Flunk My Brightest Students: stories from school and real life” was published in December.

If you get a new credit card, you can get a $30 certificate to pay for the book.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Good news and sad news at Sam's Club

I normally love Costco, and approve of almost everything they do.

I got really pissed off at them last year when they replaced my beloved Austin Toasty Crackers With Peanut Butter Filling with the much-too-salty Lance's brand.

Fortunately, by driving about three miles farther, I could get to my usually-much-less-loved Sam's Club, and buy Austin there.

Yesterday I was shocked to find that Sam's, too, had replaced Austin with Lance's.

Depressed and dejected, I headed for the exit.

My mood quickly changed when I saw an item that had been missing from Sam's for about a year: a FOUR-POUND PILLSBURY CHOCOLATE CHUNK FUDGE BROWNIE.

Technically, it's a 4-lb. slab that could be cut into 42 normal size brownies, but it's much more fun to think of it as just one giant brownie.

Apparently the Austin crackers have been removed because of the peanut-salmonella scare.

Kellogg makes crackers under the Keebler and Austin brands and says it gets some of its peanut butter paste from the Peanut Corporation of America -- the same company linked to tainted peanut butter that has sickened people across the country.

Kellogg says they did not recall the crackers but issued a "precautionary hold...until the company can determined if any of its products are linked to the tainted peanut butter."

So far, the Keebler and Austin brand peanut butter crackers are not linked to any illnesses....and the company is telling customers to hold onto the crackers, but don't eat them, for now.

I still have a few Austin packs I stashed at home. To make them last longer, I'll alternate them with my brownies.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Amazon will provide e-books for iPhones and iPods plans to release a program today for reading electronic books on Apple iPhones, extending Amazon's sales of digital books to devices beyond its own Kindle e-book reader.

Amazon's software application, which can be downloaded for free, allows iPhone and iPod Touch users to read books or periodicals purchased on the Web or through their dedicated Kindle device, usually for $9.99. Using a service that Amazon calls whispersync, the program keeps track of a readers' latest page in any given book across both a Kindle and iPhone.

"There are times when you're going to be in a place where you happen to have your iPhone but not your Kindle," said Ian Freed, an Amazon vice president. "If I get stuck in line at the grocery store, I can pick up where I was reading with my iPhone."

Other e-book providers, such as Indigo Books and Music Inc.'s Shortcovers, already allow users to buy and read books on the iPhone. Amazon also faces competition from Google, which allows users to read e-books via a Web site optimized for the iPhone screen.

Freed said he is "not at all concerned" that making e-books available on other devices will cannibalize sales of the $359 Kindle. Instead, it will increase sales of digital books and the Kindle, he says. Amazon says it plans to release applications to read Kindle books on other devices, but declined to specify which ones.

Freed expects that users of the iPhone application would read their books for 20 to 30 minutes at most, after which eye strain or battery life might become a problem. (info from The Wall Street Journal)

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

In honor of Arthur, an updated rerun from 2007.

SHOCK: Frozen pizza can taste like pizza

I grew up in New Haven, CT, and returned to the area in 2001 after a 37-year absence. New Haven and the surrounding towns have a huge number of Italian-Americans. New Haven is probably the second place in the US where pizza was served. New Haveners are fanatical about pizza, which is spelled apizza, pronounced ah-beetz and sometimes called tomato pie.

When I was in college, I sometimes arranged for friendly Allegheny Airlines stewardesses to carry fresh New Haven tomato pies on the plane and meet me at the airport in Allentown.

The geographic, historical and emotional center of New Haven pizza-making is Wooster Street, still an Italian enclave after about 100 years. On weekend evenings, there are long lines of the faithful outside the doors of the two traditional rivals, Sally's and Pepe's.

"Traditional" New Haven pizzas are baked in brick ovens with coal fires. They're thin, oddly shaped, partly charred, oily, sloppy, and delicious. No two slices are the same size, and there is minimal handle for gripping a slice. A "plain" New Haven pie is served without mozzarella ("no mootz"). They're also available with toppings like clam chunks, that you are unlikely to find at Domino's or Pizza Hut.

Cousin Dave, also a pizza maven and probably a fair representation of local attitude, says PH's food is edible, if you don't think of it as pizza. "It's not pizza," he explains, "it's pizza hut."

Although the national pizza chains have done notoriously poorly in this center of authentic Italian cuisine, new apizza joints seem to sprout up every couple of days (only a slight exaggeration). Within a few miles of where I'm typing this, there have been five recent debuts, and the sixth one to be announced is within a few blocks of four others. Some local folks make quite good pizza at home. My neighbor Connie (nee Concetta, and daughter of a professional pizza-maker), even makes great pizza on her barbecue grill.

One big problem with pizza, or apizza, is portability. My favorite local pizzeria (Papa's in Milford) has two outdoor picnic tables, but no indoor tables. I can't eat there in the winter or when it's raining; and even if I drive a fast Ferrari, the pie is cold by the time I get it home. A local caterer operates The Big Green Pizza Truck. They'll bake incredibly good wood-fired pizzas in my own driveway, but the minimum fee for even one pie is about 1000 bucks.

Another pizza problem is availability. Most pizzerias are closed for at least a few hours a day -- maybe the hours when you have the strongest urge for pizza. When I lived in Scarsdale NY, I was thrilled to learn that a nearby jazz club served pizza until 2AM. As a test, I went there at 1:45 one morning. The music was great. Alas, the pizza sucked.

Here is Southern Connecticut, the pizza capo-di-tutti-capi has decreed that no pizzeria can be open for business on Monday. The sensory deprivation is like having Lent or Yom Kippur every week.

A while ago, at my local Costco, I inhaled a familiar smell. PIZZA. It was not the usual cardboard-and-grease combo served at the snack bar, but something that smelled and looked remarkably like what I might get at Wooster street or from the Big Green Truck.

A company called Aliki Foods was doing a road show -- a special event a manufacturer stages to enable Costco members to sample a new product line, and perhaps convince Costco management to stock the product.

The Aliki folks had a bunch of miniature electric ovens stacked up under an indoor tent top, and were churning out magnificent personal-size pizzas every few minutes. I stayed there, wide-eyed, wide-mouthed, in love, mesmerized, imobilized, captivated and salivating. (If I drooled on you, I hereby apologize.)

I sampled every thin-crust gem they made over a 20-minute period. I even tried toppings like sausage that I normally don't eat, and a chicken fajita variety that was decidedly un-Italian, but decidedly delicious. Every pie was spectacular. I pigged-out, but I was not the only pig. I bought a box of three Margherita pizzas (tomato, basil, garlic and three kinds of cheese) for my own freezer, for $9.99.

The package is 10 inches wide, and fits just fine in the freezer side of a side-by-side. Estimated cooking time is 8 - 11 minutes, at 425 degrees.

Strangely, when I originally posted this blog entry, pizza was not even on the Aliki website (where they had lots of other Italian foods, and even Philly cheese steaks and mac-and-cheese), so it must have been really new; and my lucky readers were among the first to know about it. You owe it to your bellies to pester your nearby food sellers to stock this treasure.

Also strangely, the boss of Aliki is Michael Pappas, a Greek-American, not an Italian-American. Most Greek pizza is kind of like Pizza Hut pizza: maybe OK, if you don't think of it as pizza (the dough is too thick and fluffy, and there's not enough tomato sauce).

There's no one thing that makes Aliki pizzas so special; it's the combination of multiple good decisions, and perfect execution. The crust has the right mix of chewiness and crunchiness, and tastes like it came from an ancient brick oven on Wooster Street. Michael says "the flour we use is very high quality and the crust is hand stretched and goes through a lengthy proofing and dough retardation process for a rich flavor." The sauce is made from Michael's grandmother's recipe, which is securely locked up in a secret location, and protected by armed guards with sharp-toothed dogs. Aliki uses only fresh toppings, and highest quality cheeses that Michael can find.

The pizza varieties represent several ethnicities, including Italian, Greek, Mexican, and even WolfgangPuckian. You can get Four Cheese, Pepperoni, Margherita, Spinach & Feta Cheese, Sausage Delizioso, Chicken Fajita, or Grilled Chicken & Goat Cheese.

Aliki's pizzas are being slowly rolled out across the country, generally in warehouse clubs including Costco and BJ's, not supermarkets.

Michael Pappas credits his Greek grandparents for inspiring his great Italian foods: "I was blessed to have a grandmother who made the best food you could imagine, all from scratch. Many of the ingredients came from my grandfather’s magnificent vegetable garden. Whenever I visited them, my grandmother would always make an irresistable dish with her oven-baked bread, fresh vegetables from the garden, and spices from the old country. It always smelled so good walking into her kitchen, I can still smell all of the delightful aromas."

Michael has maintained the tradition, and recently, thanks to him, even Costco smelled delightful. Aliki Foods has the right recipe and terrific technique. The company is based in Old Lyme, CT -- not exactly New Haven, but close enough to have picked up the proper vibes.

Unless you live really close to a first-class pizzeria, Aliki makes the best pizza you will ever eat at home. GO GET SOME!
UPDATE: When you heat your Aliki pizza in your oven at home, just put it on the oven rack, NOT on a piece of foil on the rack. It's better to have to clean up the bottom of the oven, than to have a crust that's not fully cooked.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Pizza you can eat while you drive,
from Dunkin' Donuts

I'm probably the only regular customer of Dunkin' Donuts who has never tasted their coffee. Actually I've never tasted anybody's coffee. I was once accidentally served coffee ice cream and I hated it, and that was close enough. My mother has never tasted coffee either. Her mother drank about 14 gallons each day, so maybe mom was rebelling against grandma. My wife tasted coffee once and hated it and never tasted it again. Maybe she married me because she knew she'd never have to make coffee for me.

I've heard that Dunk makes great coffee and there's a Dunk conveniently next door to my office. The coffee smells good, but I've never been tempted to try it. On the other hand, Dunk does make the world's best hot chocolate, which I drink every morning in cold weather.

It's infinitely better than the too-sweet, too-thin crap they serve at Starbucks. I was in an airport recently at breakfast time and Starbucks hot chocolate was my only warm beverage option. I hated having to to say grande instead of medium. If English was good enough for Moses and Jesus (grin), it's good enough for me. Grande is Starbucks-Italian for medium. In Italian-Italian, however, grande means large and medio means medium. Dunk lets you order in good old American English.

Anyway, back in February '08, Dunkin' Donuts, which calls itself "the world's largest coffee and baked goods chain," officially launched its all-day Oven-Toasted menu. The new program is an effort to get people to spend money at the chain after breakfast, and includes easy-to-hold-and-eat Flatbread Sandwiches, Hash Browns, and Personal Pizzas.

Having grown up in New Haven, the spiritual heartland (or maybe the bellyland) of American pizza culture, I have very high standards for pizza. I regard white pizza as heresy, and what most Americans consider to be good pizza -- whether it comes from neighborhood independents or national chains like Domino's or Sbarro -- I think is barely above the level of cardboard with ketchup and American cheese.

Pizza Hut is in a special category. Fellow pizza maven Cynical Cousin Dave and I are willing to eat it and simply don't compare it to the genuine article. We've put PH in it's own classification. As we say, "It's not pizza, it's pizza Hut."

The new Dunkin' Donuts Personal Pizzas are five inches in diameter, a tad bigger than a CD or a DVD. They're basically clones of the Pizza Hut Personal Pan Pizza. You can select three varieties: Supreme (sausage, pepperoni plus green and red peppers); Pepperoni (with mozzarella); and Cheese (four varieties blended.) Some Dunks may not have all of the pizza varieties.

The first time I got one, I was surprised at its DVD size and assumed I would want a second; but found it both filling and satisfying. Although I hate green peppers, I ordered the Supreme, and didn't bother picking out the peppers. They didn't kill me. I've had about 20 more since then. That's a good sign.

After my plane landed from the trp with the shitty Starbucks hot chocolate, I drove to a Dunk near the airport and picked up a pizza to eat as I drove. When I got near my office, I got in line at the Dunk drive-up window, put the empty pizza box in their trash can, and bought a hot chocolate. Maybe I should buy some stock as well as food.

As with PH pizza, a Dunk pizza is not "real" pizza. But it's cooked much faster, available much closer, costs much less, is tasty, and can be carried, opened and eaten with one hand, and it's NEAT.

There's no way I could drive a car while eating a slice from Sally's, Pepe's or Papa's. The sauce, mootz, oil and clams would be all over the upholstery, dashboard and carpet.

Just as Mickey Dee's Egg McMuffin turned out to be the perfect one-handed mobile breakfast, Dunkin' Donuts has devised the perfect one-handed mobile pizza. It might even provide some McMuffin competition, because you can get it in the morning, or any time.

Bravo! Dunkin' Donuts. Bravo! When can I get a pizza grande?