From Reviews

Roland TD-6V Drum Module with Rock Band 3: It works!

Roland TD-6

I’ve had a Roland TD-6V electronic drum module for a few years now, so when the new MadCatz PS3 MIDI adapter for Rock Band 3 came out, I was excited to try out my set with it. My friend Tim was able to track one of the hard-to-find adapters down, and he brought it over for us to try this past weekend (on a related note, he also got one of the real-string Squier Strats that are sold for RB3 Pro Guitar use, but after some testing, that device clearly fell short of expectations and is getting returned).

I hooked up the module to the MIDI cable provided with the adapter, checked all the options (except Lefty Mode) in the Pro Drum options, and tried out a song, just to see what would happen. I figured that some customization would be necessary (actually, I was pretty certain after our experience with the guitar that it wouldn’t work at all), but to my surprise all 3 extra cymbals worked perfectly without any additional configuration. There was also an option to enable the hi-hat pedal, which I did, but I didn’t really see any difference in sound caused by pressing down on the pedal. Rather, if the hi-hat sounds were muted in the song, that’s how they sounded, even if I lifted the hi-hat pedal up. Still, being able to use actual cymbals instead of 4 pads was an awesome experience.

One thing that is a bit annoying is that the cymbal notes, despite having clearly distinct cymbal shapes, use the same colors as notes played on the regular 4-piece RB3 set. In other words, the green cymbal, which is correctly aliased to the crash cymbal directly above the snare, is represented by a note on the far right of the screen. This takes a little getting used to, but once you do, playing Pro Drums is a truly exciting part of RB3, and a feature that I’ll definitely be making use of more in the future.

I’ll also be connecting my Roland EP-7 electric piano to RB3 to see how it works on Pro Keyboard. I’ll have another review of that once I’ve tried it out.

Vegetarian porcini mushroom fettucine

Last week, my wife mentioned that we haven’t tried any sort of pasta since I began my Epicurious.com-based cooking experiment. I added a couple of noodle recipes into the queue, and tonight made the Fettucine with Porcini Mushroom recipe.

It’s a nice and simple recipe with just a few ingredients, and it’s quite easy to prepare. I had a bit of trouble finding the shallots at my local Hannaford, but they were worth the hunt. They give the sauce a real ‘French onion soup’ kind of taste that makes salt unnecessary. The porcini mushrooms were definitely not cheap ($5.99 for a 1 oz package), but the flavor is excellent.

One thing about the recipe that was surprising is how important a nice, sharp Parmesan is to making the dish work. I used a shredded Italian cheese blend, but the mozzarella and other cheeses reduced the bite that it was clear the Parmesan was supposed to provide. It left the dish a little more bland than I would have liked, but with a good aged Parmesan, this would be absolutely delicious.

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WPTouch: WordPress theming for mobile devices that just works

[simage=153,288,y,left,]I just installed WPTouch, the WordPress plugin that serves up a clean and simple mobile version of your site to visitors using smartphones and other mobile devices. A couple of years back, I tried to do the same thing with a different WP plugin, but at that point things just weren’t ready (for one thing, there were so many different devices and user agent strings that detection was iffy at best), and I ended up having to remove the plugin. WPTouch, on the other hand, was pretty much ready to go right out of the box.

[simage=154,288,y,right,]Immediately after downloading and installing the plugin, I tried to load the page on my Motorola Droid. Everything looked good without any customization. The layout is nice and clean, and the additional functionality for touchscreen phones is nice. For example, there’s a menu system that allows navigation by tag and category that’s very well suited to a mobile phone screen, and is a nice replacement for the wide and JavaScript-heavy popup navigation on the main version of this site.

[simage=155,288,y,left,]After initial testing, I enabled Google AdSense for Mobile, which was as simple as pasting in my publisher ID. The ads show up fine on a stock Motorola Droid and an iPhone emulator, but failed to appear on my Droid, which is running Bugless Beast 0.6. I’m not too worried about that, though, as I suspect the hacked browser might have an ad-blocker in there, and either way, I don’t see the Bugless Beast user community as being a source of significant ad revenue for me, so I’m holding off on investigating the issue further. For now, I’m just glad that there’s finally a plugin like WPTouch out there, that just works like it claims it does.

A little old-school chicken and dumplings

For my latest dinner creation, I decided to try some traditional comfort food: chicken and dumplings. There’s really nothing as satisfying on a cold winter day (we’ve had several recently) as a bowl of hot chicken soup, filled with some nice chewy dumplings to thicken the mixture.

I picked the simplest of the many chicken and dumpling recipes on Epicurious. The neat thing about making this recipe is that I realized how quick it is to make–less than an hour from start to finish. Once I added the dumplings, the chicken-broth based stock thickened right up, and the end result was a stew-like consistency, and absolutely filling and delicious. Given that there’s 1 3/4 cups of heavy cream in the dumplings, this isn’t exactly health food, but it’s certainly simple and wholesome.

One note: when the recipe calls for a ‘wide pot’ it’s not kidding; the dumplings expand a lot during cooking, and they’ll get stuck together into a hideous mass if there’s not enough room for them to float around separate from their fellow dumplings.

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Z: The last letter in Manchester dining?

A couple of weekends ago, I was looking for a place to book for dinner in the Manchester, NH area. Since it was actually New Year’s Day, the selection of restaurants was somewhat limited, and I ended up booking a reservation at Z, a relatively new bistro on Elm Street. While Google has some decent reviews of the place, I really knew nothing about it, and I was quite pleasantly surprised at the overall high quality of the experience.

The menu at Z is a nice happy medium between overly simplistic and limited bistro menus and the ridiculously over-the-top tomes offered in Manchester’s stuffier high-end eateries. What’s really cool about the place is that some of the dishes that sound mediocre at best are actually surprisingly good. For example, we ordered some Asian Nachos for the table, curious about the taste but not overwhelmingly optimistic about how good they’d be. Despite our reservations, the nachos, which are billed as “crisp won tons, grilled chicken, jack cheese, sesame peanut sauce, wasabi sour cream, daikon sprouts,” actually worked as a tasty appetizer, not just as an item that was unique or intentionally different.

Since it was a holiday, the restaurant was out of Top Sirloin, which two of us had ordered. The server was glad to bring us the sides that were served with that dish, however, including the Yukon gold mashed potatoes, which were absolutely delicious. In fact, the food that was delivered to the table was so good that I’ll be planning a return trip, just to try the sirloin.

It’s worth a note about the ambiance: for a trendy and relatively swanky place, Z didn’t have overwhelming or annoying dance music blasting; instead, there was a jazz pianist playing live music throughout the evening, at a reasonable volume level. All in all, this is the kind of place that appeals to a wide demographic of diners, and everything from the lighting to the service was pleasant and made me want to go back. I feel lucky that the first couple of restaurants that I called for a reservation were closed, or I might never have found Z.

Sautéed Beef with White Wine and Rosemary

One of the neat features of epicurious.com is the ‘quick and easy’ section of the recipe list, which offers simple recipes that involve easy preparation and few ingredients. Today I tried the Sautéed Beef with White Wine and Rosemary recipe, which was certainly quick and easy to prepare. I served the beef over rice pilaf, and the recipe would’ve been great, except for the fact that, as written, it’s pretty incredibly salty. The next time I make this, I think I’ll use just a pinch of salt in both the dry rub and in the white wine sauce, rather than the much larger amount specified in the recipe. Between the garlic, the wine, and the rosemary, there’s plenty of flavor in this dish, so the excessive salt isn’t necessary.

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Spicy Blackened Catfish

Today I tried something a little different in terms of meal planning. Instead of picking a recipe and getting things at the store, I just grabbed some catfish filets and left. Then I looked for a recipe that at least somewhat matched what I had in my kitchen, and I ended up with Spicy Blackened Catfish. The recipe’s pretty simply; basically, it’s just pan-fried catfish with a dry rub. Since I’ve got a pretty well-stocked spice rack, this recipe won out. I paired the catfish with some Near East Mushroom Rice Pilaf, because I feel it’s worth the 50 cents extra it costs compared to Rice-a-Roni. One note about the recipe: it tells you to ‘discard’ the garlic after using it to season the olive oil, which I think is both a travesty and a damn shame. So, instead of throwing it away, I put it aside and used it to top the filets, which ended up working out pretty well.

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The Concord, NH BestBuy is a good example of why I usually shop online

[simage=146,288,y,left,]My wife and I went down to the Concord, NH BestBuy today (1/9/11) at around 6pm to exchange some Christmas gifts. There were about 15 employees working on the floor, but only one was at the checkout. About 12 others were ambling about, either talking on cell phones or in one case, congregating in a group around an employee riding an electric scooter around the store.

When it came time for us to check out, the line for the one clerk was about 10 people long, yet the other dozen employees continued to stand around talking. When I went over to customer service to ask if I could checkout there, we discovered a $10 price discrepancy on an item, which the clerk needed manager approval to correct. After the manager was paged twice, guess who finally showed up: the employee on the scooter!

Now, I have no problem with employees enjoying a little downtime, but the manager let his whole staff down and angered a lot of customers in line, because he felt it appropriate to to be driving a product around the store instead of listening to when he was paged by his staff. When I confronted the manager about the fact that we’d been waiting for 5 minutes while he rode around the store, he was rude and unapologetic, and told me the process of overriding was easy, and it was ‘no big deal’ that I’d had to wait for him to show up after his joyride. I really felt bad for the customer service rep, who was one of two people (along with the checkout cashier) really busting their butts to keep the store going while management goofed off in the back of the store.

One of the most positive things about BestBuy is its high-quality customer service, but this branch is a bad example for the chain. I’ll certainly never shop at this BestBuy again, and I’ll be looking elsewhere first for electronics from now on. More importantly, this is an example of why I usually shop online: because the prices are cheaper, and the service is better…which is sad, because its provided by a machine.

Salmon with Sweet Chili Glaze

The lastest result of my standing around in a grocery store fumbling with my cell phone was Salmon with Sweet Chili Glaze. I used some wild-caught Sockeye salmon filets from Hannaford, mostly because they looked a lot better than the standard 6oz servings of ‘salmon’ you get in most supermarkets. Despite having some really nice salmon, the store seemed to be out of snap peas, and the pea shoots called for in the recipe were definitely not to be found. I substituted a healthy serving of snow peas instead, which worked pretty well, although their slightly bitter taste was a bit stronger than I would’ve liked. All in all, this was pretty tasty (the salmon glaze is really delicious), but I think I’ll wait until spring when tasty salmon and a wide range of veggies are both available before I make it again.

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Chicken Curry in a Hurry

Tonight’s selection from the awesome Epicurious Droid app was ‘Chicken Curry in a Hurry,’ which quite honestly wasn’t all that quick to make. It was, however, absolutely delicious. I also learned that cardamom is incredibly expensive ($15 for a 2-ounce container), and apparently wasn’t necessary to make the curry taste good (I actually substituted chili powder for both it and the cumin). I’ll definitely be making this one again.

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