Paying for Past PC Sins

The performance of a computer degrades over time and most experts will advise re-installing the operating system and restoring the machine to its factory settings as a matter of habit. They also tell us to backup regularly and floss our teeth, but who has time?

My 2010 Thinkpad is a perfectly nice run of the mill T410s with a Intel i5 3450s 2.8 GHz processor and 4 GB of RAM, a 128 GB harddisk, and built in Intel graphics. It’s rugged, it’s black, it has a trackpoint, and it does what it is supposed to be, albeit more slowly lately and with all the lethargic signs of a laptop that either needs to be replaced or revived.

The machine had some issues over the course of its life. A known defect in the display required a return to the service depot, and last summer I was so sick of constant overheating issues and black screen reboots that I sent it back with a week remaining on the warranty to have the motherboard and keyboard replaced.

Now it is just slow and sucky and needs a second life. The new keyboard means it is in top form physically, it’s just anemic and needs a cheap set of upgrades.

So the plan was:

  1. Install a solid state harddrive – SDD — because that will probably deliver the biggest performance increase, especially for fast booting and application launches.
  2. Re-install Windows 7 — but install a 64-bit version  because …
  3. I can get 8 GB of cheap memory from Crucial for $38 and only 64-bit Windows can take advantage of any ram over 4 GB.

Here’s the problem:

  1. The machine only accepts a 1.8″ SDD and prices for that weird form factor are almost as much as a new laptop in some cases. I am scouring the usual suspects — Newegg, Crucial, Amazon, eBay — but so far can’t find a cheap 64 GB SDD in the 1.8″ size other than a $117 64GB drive from Kingston. (Other option is a Thinkpad UltraBay HDD tray that will permit a standard 2.5″ drive, but that does away with my extra battery and/or DVD optical. 64 GB is fine given my complete embrace of Dropbox for my document storage and Amazon MP3s for my music storage up there in the cumulus.
  2. Microsoft won’t permit a 32-bit to 64-bit Windows upgrade online.  In the end I need to pay $70 for the retail version of the Windows 8 Professional Upgrade as that contains both versions. Thanks to Paul Thurrott I found that answer. Microsoft makes it nigh impossible to figure out with their overengineered “update” wizard tool that drives a $40 download of the 32-bit version.
  3. The RAM was ordered, installed, and sits awaiting some more headroom from the 64-bit Win8.
When done, I’m looking at spending $117+$70+$40 for a total of $230  to recharge an old and faithful machine with a lot of years left in it. I have absolutely zero inclination to invest in a new Windows machine, hate Macs, think $250 for a Chromebook is a foolish buy, and in the end, realize I am looking for a portable kickass keyboard, screen and wireless connection so I can be productive with my documents in the cloud. So why buy when I have one of the classic Thinkpads to come out of my buddy David Hill’s design organization in Japan and North Carolina. I know the X1 Carbon is the flagship, and friends who have purchased sing its praises, but the keyboard is a departure to the new “island” keys” and I can’t get over the cost-benefit hump.
As for the past-sins referred to in the title — SDDs were still a bit new and raw when I bought the machine during the summer of 2010, and being new they were a very expensive (like $500 for 64GB) option. I paid top price for this, even with the employee discount program, but should have gone 64-bit then and added the extra RAM, and also should have paid more attention to the bad graphics specs and the strange hard disk form factor. In the end, it has been a great machine, slim enough, rugged enough, but just frustrating enough to make me resent it from time to time.
Waxing philosophically on the state of the personal computing world in this year of tablet/Android/Win8/Surface upheaval — there will always remain a market for a machine with a QWERTY keyboard for people who work, write, create, etc.  It may be a tablet screen with a bluetooth keyboard, it may be a continuation of the classic laptop clamshell, it may be something unforeseen….but what will endure is a keyboard in one form or another. Just please god don’t make it a Dell.




Colonial Theraflu: Hot Buttered Rum

Last summer I dusted off my bartender’s chops and made a deep dive into the artisinal cocktail craze with a specific focus on Tiki drinks and Italian apertos and vegetals. This fall my focus is on stuff the American colonists drank.

I majored in American History, and two of the best two courses were David Brion Davis‘ course on Jacksonian Democracy and Michael Coe’s seminar on colonial archaeology. Both featured a focus on the important place alcohol had in early America and taken together I got a great introduction into American’s domestic life between 1600 and 1850. Everyone knows the old timers were big drinkers.  Really big drinkers. I mean these people drank alcohol the way modern fat people drink Fanta. The per capita consumption was huge — primarily beer and rum, the latter being the basis of the three-legged Salem slave trade that had New England merchants carrying slaves from West Africa to the West Indies and then molasses from the islands to distilleries around Boston.

“Colonists … enjoyed alcoholic beverages with such names as Rattle-Skull, Stonewall, Bogus, Blackstrap, Bombo, Mimbo, Whistle Belly, Syllabub, Sling, Toddy, and Flip. If they indulged too much, then they had dozens of words to describe drunkenness. Benjamin Franklin collected more than 200 such terms, including addled, afflicted, biggy, boozy, busky, buzzey, cherubimical, cracked, and “halfway to Concord.” Drinking in America: Colonial Williamsburg.

The origins of the first “cocktail” is attributed to antebellum New Orleans, and has something to do with French bitters, absinthe and American rye whiskey, resulting in the classic Sazerac. In the publick houses and taverns of New England, the drinks were mainly rum based and often served hot. Now they are being revived and the result is kind of interesting, basically like drinking stuff that tastes like liquified pumpkin pie with a kick.

In September, shortly before the end of the yachting season, I was mooring the boat after the sunset when the person helping me forgot to tie off the painter (nautical term for “rope attached to the bow of a small boat for purposes of securing it) to the motorboat (you know who you are Marta).  As I furled the sail I looked up to see the motorboat drifting away towards North Bay. I stripped off my shirt, flexed my muscled torso for the benefit of the ladies, and plunged into the autumnal seas with a gonad-shrinking gasp. The boat was returned, all was well, but I “caught a chill” — code for “I need a drink”  — and at the restaurant that evening, while waiting at the bar for a table, I saw that the drink special that had been chalked on the blackboard was a Hot Buttered Rum.

I was cold.

The drink was hot.

I had become cold while sailing.

Sailors drink rum.

I was tempted but ….

… Bad memories of hot buttered rum gave me pause. I had made them for customers at the Balboa Cafe in San Francisco in the early 80s.  Like a grand total of two of them. The pre-made “mix” was a brown paste that came in a plastic cottage cheese kind of container. It was disgusting stuff. A dollop was spooned into an irish coffee glass, hot water was added to a shot of dark rum, everything got a quick muddle to break it up and melt it and the steaming mess was shoved in the direction of the weirdo who ordered it. No one ordered hot buttered rum. Ever. So the brown paste was of some dubious vintage and I never took a test sip to confirm that it was horrible. It smelled like the basket of dried flowers my mother put on the back of the toilet tank to cover up bad odors.  This is odd because the Balboa was, I argue, the first bar in America to kick off the artisinal cocktail movement – no mixes were uses, all juices were carefully squeezed as needed, and bartenders like me were expected not only to know complex classics, but expected to make them perfectly. The fact we phoned in hot buttered rum was lost on me until this fall when the bartender at Mashpee’s Trevi showed me how it’s supposed to be done.

This was the same bar that turned me onto the evil French 75 earlier in the summer, so with some trust in my heart I ordered one. The bartender built it from scratch. A tablespoon of good butter, a couple tablespoons of dark brown sugar, some fresh grated nutmeg, ground cloves, ground cinnamon, a shot of really dark Kraken rum, then a trip to the steam nozzle on the espresso machine to get it boiling. He garnished it with a slice of lemon and a cinnamon stick.

It was awesome. It was the perfect drink. I felt like I was wearing shoes with pewter buckles, white panty hose, a big white floppy bow tie and a stove pipe Pilgrim hat. I was ready to join Thomas Paine and Ben Franklin and throw frozen dog poop snowballs at the Red Coats in front of the old Statehouse, toss some tea into the harbor, and plot some Manifest Destiny.  I shared it. One person said, “It’s Theraflu for Pilgrims.” That seemed appropriate, especially since the prior Theraflu analogy has been applied to the complimentary lemoncello that restaurants in Florence like to pour at the end of every meal but missed the fact that Theraflu is generally served in a mug of hot water.

It was so good I had to recreate it. I spent some time online searching out recipes. I made a batch and thought it pretty good (but not as good as the one at Trevi). I was biased because I made it, but no one else hanging around my kitchen was exactly clamoring for one, so I guess it falls into the category of acquired taste or total failure.

The hipster artisanal cocktail subculture has seized on reviving the classics from the golden age of cocktails, and with all obsessive (and bloggable) fads, that subculture is spawning branches into Tiki cocktails (Mai Tais, Fog Cutters, Zombies, etc.), vegetals (homemade nocino, Cynar, Aperol, etc.), boutique distilled gin, etc. etc. etc. etc.  The colonial branch in the mixology fad is focused on punches, flips, Bishops, shandy’s, cobblers, mulled ciders, wines,  etc..  This list of new bars from the New York Times caught my eye, primarily because of the news that a new place is opening on Broad Street, the Dead Rabbit:

DEAD RABBIT Sean Muldoon and Jack McGarry, veterans of the Merchant Hotel bar in Belfast, and Danny McDonald, who owns the Manhattan bars Puck Fair and Swift, collaborate on this historically minded three-story cocktail bar just around the corner from Fraunces Tavern in the financial district. The ambitious spot (named after a notorious 19th-century street gang) intends to combine two of the area’s bygone drinking destinations: the sort of taproom patronized by immigrants and a sporting man’s cocktail lounge. Expect punch, bishops, flips, cups and cobblers, and food. (Late November): 30 Water Street (Broad Street).”

And yes, hot pokers were used to heat up these things, but having converted the fireplace into a gas insert, I am not planning on brandishing any red-hot pokers around my glassware any time soon. This guy made his own, which I think is awesome:

The full story is at


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