Monday, March 30, 2009

Great Ideas: Grolsch Guitar Strap Holder

These two pieces of minor-key music memorabilia were retrieved from the stage of San Francisco's Great American Music Hall after a Tindersticks gig on 15 March.

A British roadie, on-hand for helpful observations, pointed out that the plectrum is of a type available at pretty much any music store "for pennies." But that was kind of missing the point: thanks to an accident of circumstance, this particular piece of grey plastic had become more valuable - at least to me.

However, the other item is definitely the more interesting of the two. Originally a seal from a traditional ceramic Grolsch bottletop, musicians the world over use these little pieces of rubber to help keep their guitar straps fixed to their guitars. (This isn't so much of a problem when straps are new, but as they age the leather ends become softer and more pliable, and therefore more prone to coming unfixed).

Of course, you can buy much more elaborate metal or plastic devices to lock your strap in place but, like the aforementioned plectrum, this version is both cheap and easy to get hold of.

Originally published at

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Hero Worship: MacGyver

Forget your A-Team movie ideas, cancel that rubbish Knight Rider rehash (oops, too late), and please don't give these geeks any more reason to discuss what kind of helicopter should be cast in the title role of an Airwolf remake. Instead, it's time to stock up on chewing gum and get your Swiss army knife ready. That's right kids, a real hero of Eighties television is returning: MacGyver.

The only mystery is what took him so long. Despite his occasional use of non-ecofriendly ingredients (that pesticide, soap flakes and tile cleaner smokescreen in season one, episode 16, for example), his improvised gadgets introduced a whole generation of impressionable youngsters to the principles of recycling. And it's probably no coincidence that, as they've grown up, a thriving subculture has emerged surrounding the MacGyver-esque use of household objects in all kinds of DIY gizmos and projects, as exemplified by the Maker Faire, and magazines like Make and ReadyMade (the latter even features a monthly competition called the MacGyver Challenge).

So welcome back, Mac - at last, the world is ready for a sustainable action hero.

Originally published at

Monday, March 9, 2009

Chow: Kenclucky Fried Chicken

Fast-food fowl that won't upset the Colonel's lawyers.

So you want to run a fried chicken joint, but you don't want to have to go through all the hassle and expense of operating a fully fledged KFC franchise? No problem. In London, an entire subgenre of Southern-style chicken fast-food joints has slipped out from under the shadow of Colonel Sanders's wing. Just follow a few simple rules when it comes to choosing your restaurant's name (to avoid any retribution from clucking lawyers), and then watch low-cost, greasy, breaded bird parts fly out the door.

Restaurants across the British capital claim to have culinary roots in Southern states such as Tennessee, Mississippi, Texas, and Carolina, as well as not-so-Southern places including Chicago, New York, and even California. Pretty much anywhere American, in fact, except Kentucky.

Now this curious phenomenon has given rise to a book, Chicken: Low Art, High Calorie by Siâron Hughes, which celebrates the chicken-inspired designs and branding of these cheeky restaurants. It also reveals a startling truth: Nearly all of their brightly lit plastic signs and logos are the work of just one sign-maker, naturally known as "Mr Chicken."

We just hope he wasn't responsible for creating the slightly painful pun that graces the front of Kent's Tuck Inn Fried Chicken. Ouch.

By Keith Laidlaw. Read this article in its original setting here.

Chow: Your New Kitchen Tool Has a Motherboard

The maker of the new Touch Book, a miniature netbook-style laptop, says it boasts many attractive features: affordable price, very portable dimensions, excellent battery life, and “always on” instant startup. So far, impressively techie. But why are we talking about it here?

Well, this little laptop has a secret: You can detach the keyboard to create an even smaller, screen-only tablet PC that is controlled via touchscreen technology. Better still, the designers have made the display half of the device magnetic, which means that you can stick it to the fridge while you’re using it. So now you’ll be able to browse CHOW for recipes and ideas in the kitchen without losing valuable counter space or risk spilling stuff on your computer.

Touch Book, $299 (screen only) or $399 with keyboard, available for pre-order now and due to start shipping May or June.

By Keith Laidlaw. Read this article in its original setting here.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Chow: Foie Gras for Grown-Ups

San Francisco restaurateur refuses to pander to knee-jerk food fanaticism.

Sadly it seems that too many debates surrounding food ethics are dominated by the shrill voices of nut jobs on the fringes. Sure, important issues and difficult problems engender strong opinions and passionate argument—but shouts, insults, and even threats are unlikely to help anyone to find solutions.

Thank heavens then for people like Mark Pastore, the owner of San Francisco’s Incanto restaurant. He has published an open letter on the topic of food sustainability in general and foie gras in particular that is both eloquent and mature. You may not agree with his point of view—a fact he openly acknowledges—but his firm repudiation of the scare tactics being used by some extremist campaigners is much harder to find fault with.

Thanks to the Noe Valley, SF blog for bringing Pastore’s letter to our attention.

By Keith Laidlaw. Read this article in its original setting here.