2015 Favorite Tracks

•December 30, 2015 • Leave a Comment

I haven’t written here in a long time, but I’m back! I want to talk about this year in music. I know that no one gives a damn, but how is that any different from the other times I open my mouth.

2015 was an interesting year in music for me. I started playing drums in October, and feel like I got more aware of the local music scene through my drum instructor. It made me really begin to listen to music in a different way, paying more attention to the pieces that make up each song, instead of simply the entirety as a whole.

In no particular order, my top 25 tracks of 2015 are:

Dreams – Beck : Beck is fucking weird. I’m still not sure if he’s weird in a good way or not, but damn do I love some of his music. This tune makes me tap my foot every time I hear it.

S.O.B. – Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats : This song is like your drunk Uncle took you to a secret barn dance in the Kentucky woods. That sentence means nothing, but describes the feel of this song so well. The greatest song about getting the DTs from alcoholism I’ve ever heard, with an old school hum and stomp that just plain makes me want to dance.

The Next Storm – Frank Turner : Frank Turner’s new album is entitled Positive Songs for Negative People, and you can’t get more apt. I like to put this on when I’m feeling like a horrible fat man; it reminds me that it can get better tomorrow (because we’re not dead yet, to steal from another song of his.) Open the shutters, raise up the mast, rejoice, rebuild, the storm has passed!

The Party Line – Belle and Sebastian :  Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance is a pretty typical Belle and Sebastian album in that it’s good and it’s twee, but this time they brought some dance to it and stretched out a bit. I think they do this best on The Party Line, which is a little funky if you can imagine funky Belle and Sebastian.

Black Lake – Björk : I almost went with Lionsong here, but something about Black Lake hits me harder. Vulnicura is all about the loss of her relationship, but to me nothing brings that feeling of being stripped out of the warm protection of a relationship quite like this song.

Gray Duck – Doomtree : I really love this local hip hop crew, and this song displays them very well. Spitting and rolling, this brings it from start and never stops running.

Motherfucker – Faith No More : I’m sure part of this is nostalgia for having back a favorite band of my youth, but hearing this as the first single just made it stick in my head. It’s so damned good I don’t give a fuck. The entire album is a return to their old form, while maintaining a reflection of all the changes that the band went through in the intervening years.

Laughing in the Sugar Bowl – Veruca Salt : While we’re on the subject of nostalgia…Veruca Salt. Back after all these years. I loved their stuff in the 90’s, for no good reason whatsoever. It’s good to have them back, sugar sweet harmonies, growly guitars, and all.

Random Name Generator – Wilco : Wilco have been a longtime companion of mine, always in my play rotation. They’re consistently good, without ever really doing anything so grossly standout that you can take it to someone and have them understand what you’re so excited about with a single play. They continue that string of quiet excellence with the hilariously named Star Wars album. Listen to it, if you’ve not already done so.

Wide Open – The Chemical Brothers featuring Beck : The Chemical Brothers continue to do things with crazy noises in a computer that make me want to dance around. This time they bring Beck along for the ride, who seems to have brought along some of the zany swooping feel he had in Dreams that makes Wide Open feel like it really does encompass acres of space.

Can’t Feel My Face – The Weeknd : Usually the really big pop chart songs slide right past me unnoticed, but this one caught. I’ve no desire to try cocaine, and if it’s as easy to get hooked on as this song that’s for the best.

Phone in a Pool – Ben Folds with yMusic : I’m an unabashed Ben Folds fan. Something about his tired everyman songwriting appeals to me. It really comes through with Phone in a Pool, which is sort of the diary entry of the everyman songwriter getting so tired of it all that he just had to tell us about it.

Never Ending Circles – CHVRCHES : This band just hits it out of the park with album openers. The Mother We Share was a knockout, and here Never Ending Circles does it again. I never tire of Lauren Mayberry’s voice and the sense of urgency all their songs carry.

The Answer – Savages : Savages always live up to their name, with anger and a rollicking raw edge. Here they tell us about the savage side of love and what it brings. I can’t wait for the new album.

I Feel Love (Every Million Miles) – The Dead Weather : I love Jack White as a drummer. I know a lot of people dislike him for a variety of reasons, but I just love to listen to him. I also still think Alison Mosshart needs to eat a damned sandwich.

The Audience – Coheed and Cambria : As someone who loves progressive rock, comic books, and sci fi stories, I was destined to love Coheed and Cambria. On their new album they break out of the story they’ve been telling for over a decade and just write some music, and in this song they talk about their relationship with their audience – the love, the hate, the comments. It’s well done, and a great listen.

A New Wave – Sleater-Kinney : Welcome back Sleater-Kinney! Man oh man did I miss you. That growly-girl voice paired with that spooling guitar sound never gets old, and their lyrics keep it fresh.

Saint Cecilia – Foo Fighters : Dave Grohl and the Foo Fighters are like a well worn rock blanket. It’s safe and warm and cuddly, but sometimes that’s exactly what you want. I loved them last year with Sonic Highhways, and they keep that feeling rolling. Also, I can listen to Taylor Hawkins all day, and he’s not even the best drummer in the band. (That is so not fair.)

Raise a Wreck – Skinny Lister : Half punk rock, half sea shanty. That really sort of sums up Skinny Lister, and the nautical undercurrent of the song’s lyric just brings it to mind even more.

Sedona – Houndmouth : I’ve been to Little Hollywood myself (for work) and this song sums up the feel of the place perfectly. Trying to be bigger than it is so badly, the town loses all the things that makes it special. Bright but sleepy, the red sandstone and glitter surrounds you.

Love Me – The 1975 : This band is so well named. The first time I heard this song, I thought they were some kind of Talking Heads clone band. That may be closer to the truth than they want to hear, but they certainly do it well.

Downtown – Macklemore and Ryan Lewis featuring Eric Nally, Melle Mel, and Kool Moe Dee : This song is just plain stupid, and I absolutely admit that I love it and sing along every time it comes on.

High By The Beach – Lana Del Rey : Despite being a sort of one trick pony, with her sultry voice and dreamy arrangements, I still like Lana Del Rey songs, and this year I especially liked this one.The lyrics are pretty good, and it’s somehow not trite. Well, not too trite.

Lady of Stone – The Vitrolum Republic : The other side of the dreamy arrangement coin, The Vitrolum Republic make lush and smooth sound like the most genuine thing you could ever imagine.

Blackstar – David Bowie : Finally, David Bowie brings the whole year home with a song that’s almost indescribable. Textural experiments that call upon everything he’s done since the mid-70’s make for the greatest thing Bowie has done since Warszawa. Fantastic.

If you’d like this entire playlist (On Google’s Play music service) it’s available here.

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A silly bot

•August 1, 2013 • Leave a Comment

So, I decided the other day to make a Reddit bot. I wanted to learn a bit about the Reddit API, so I dug around a bit and found PRAW.

The Python Reddit API Wrapper is pretty fabulous. All the API handling is already there, and it made writing a bot fantastically easy. 

The best way to figuring something like this out, in my mind, is to pick a problem to tackle. The problem is chose is xxRECKONERxx.

Reckoner is pretty well known on r/cigars. His “fans” love to downvote everything he does, to the point that Downvote became his nickname when we were on the Drew Estate Cigar Safari. So, I wrote a bot to show him some love.

The bot follows his every move on Reddit, and upvotes his comments and submissions. For any it upvotes, it then comments with a semi random comment.

After looking around a bit, I decided to host the bot itself on RamNode. Plenty cheap, and gave me everything I needed.

If you want to see how the bot looks, check it out on GitHub.

Drew Estate’s Cigar Safari

•April 20, 2013 • 1 Comment

I know I haven’t written here in a long time. My life has been a busy place. With business and productivity comes an increased need for downtime. I recently took some in the form of a vacation.

On April 13th, (my wife Kelly’s birthday) I left for Managua, Nicaragua, for a tour of the Drew Estate cigar factory. On leaving Minneapolis, it looked like this:

What I Left

30 degrees, and a few inches of snow. Snow! in April. Minnesota doesn’t seem to believe in spring this year.

On my arrival in Nicaragua, it was more like this:

What I Went To

That’s the courtyard in my hotel in Managua. We’ll get to that in a moment.

I hooked up with champster29 from Reddit in Atlanta. We grabbed lunch in the terminal, then headed to the Delta sky lounge to weather the rest of our long layover. There we were joined by Speedgeek, also of Reddit, passing through on his way to Houston to see the rest of the crew that we’d be meeting for the safari! What a small world. It was great to meet Speed in person and share a drink.

The first overnight in Managua was nice. After being crowded by begging children at the airport, we got on the shuttle to El Camino Real, a hotel down the street, and shared a pleasant night. A late dinner, and a later cigar (we just shared two Baccarat “The Game” I’d brought along while poolside) we were pumped for the goings-on of the next day. We crashed, ready to face the awesomeness of the morrow.

The next morning we were back to the airport to meet up with rest of the safari. Shortly after our arrival, Willy Herrera approached us to ask if we were there for the safari, and we were pulled over to meet the rest of the crew.

It was here we met Pedro Gomez.

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Let me tell you about Pedro. He’s an incredible guy. He grew up in Esteli, when the city was torn by war and violence. Later in life, he got a scholarship, went to Iowa to study, and went back home. He’s intelligent, educated, and exceedingly patient. He can juggle 40 things at once, and somehow make sure everything gets done. he can see to the needs of 18 crazy gringos and jonathan Drew, all at the same time, and do it with a smile. Pedro was the first hint I got of the real ethos of Drew Estate as a business.

Here, I must tell you a tale of woe. I took many pictures that first day, and I have none of them. The flash card they were on died a horrible death later that night, and has proven to be irrecoverable. I’ll use my inferior words to tell you the goings on of that first day.

As a group, we got on the bus, getting to know each other. Cigars were passed out, and much joking and conversation broke out everywhere as we rolled into the heart of Managua. We stopped at El Tiscapa for one of the best lunches I’ve had in my life!

I’ll break here again for a moment to tell you about the food in Nicaragua. The food we had here easily deserves its own blog. At El Tiscapa I had the best steak I’d had in years. We were introduced to everyone’s favorite Nicaraguan appetizer, Queso Frito, a cube of fried cheese served on a fried plantain chip. We feasted on steak and rum drinks, and in the midst of all this Jonathan Drew and Jessi Flores rolled in to join us.

My first meeting with JD was incredible. For a man of his fame, he’s very humble. He took time to talk to every one of us, joked around with us for a bit, and continued conversations as lunch resumed.

I was nearly as excited to meet Jessi Flores, and was right to be. Jessi is probably the reason I got into cigar smoking in the first place. Although the romance of cigar smoking had its appeal, I’d always seen it as too stodgy for someone like me. Through his graffiti art, his dirty rat designs, and his taking Joey Drew’s iconic art and placing it on everything he could get his hands on, Jessi brought cigar smoking into a place I could relate to it. The hobby of cigar smoking has probably brought more friends and connections into my life than any other, and in many ways I have Jessi to thank for that. Jessi’s a thoughtful and quiet guy, but he’ll get talking once you bring something up to him. The rest of the time you can see him gazing at the world around him. I imagine he’s mentally covering everything in sight with tags, reworking the world a into place of vibrant words and images in his mind.

After lunch we jumped back on the bus, heading to Lake Nicaragua for a boat tour. JD was on the bus with us, chatting up a storm. We smoked and talked, and took a zillion photos of the beautiful countryside. As you know, I sadly have none of them.

At Lake Nicaragua, we jumped on some boats and went for a tour. The breeze was refreshing, and the lake is beautiful. It’s one of the few places on earth with freshwater sharks. We saw egrets and cranes, and monkeys everywhere. Fabulous islands are all throughout the lake, with beautiful houses on many of them, a few of which are available for rent. Jessi and I sat in the back of our boat, cigar-free, since we were about 2 feet from a bunch of gasoline containers.

After the boat tour, we went to our hotel in Granada, the Hotel Colonial. The overall atmosphere of Granada is excellent. The colonial architecture is beautiful, and the people are friendly. We spent some time wandering the open air market in the central square, after which we went to dinner.

Dinner was at a restaurant whose name I do not recall, but was delicious. Even better was the conversation! I was seated with Tom Navarro Sr, Willy Herrera, and Gary (JD’s dad). We talked about a multitude of topics, and the conversation made the night.

Next morning was the bus ride to Esteli. Conversation ran rampant. Talk ranged from firearms to scotch (I was passing around my flask of Balvenie 12 Doublewood) to Chocolate Milk (at a refuel stop, JD bought a half gallon of milk with fresh cacao nibs blended into it. It was like chocolate heaven) to every cigar you could imagine. Time flew by.

In Esteli, drove in to the DE Factory compound. On getting off the bus, we were greeted with this:

The Wall

That’s the wall of the factory. You can’t even see it all here, it’s a huge hand-painted mural done by Jessi and his crew. It’s beautiful.

Here we are getting off the bus:

The Crew

And here’s the entrance to Subculture Studios:

Subculture Studios

From there we were introduced to the place we’d be staying for a few days. Here’s the view:

View from Drew Estate

Some of the Reddit crew by the pool:

Some Crew

That’s litui, champster29, and downvote…I mean xXReckonerXx.

The poolside hang. Many a cigar was smoked, a delicious meal was had, and a game of Cards Against Humanity was played.

La Hacienda

Tom Navarro Sr and Anna Taylor on the patio:

Tom and Anna

The Undercrown Imperial IPA shade sign:

La Hacienda Screen

We then ate another phenomenal meal and headed to the Joya de Nicaragua factory, to see a traditional cigar factory in action.

The Joya de Nicaragua Factory

There JD introduced us to Mario from Joya de Nicaragua. Mario is a wealth of knowledge on traditional cigar making.

JD and Mario

Here’s the floor as we walked into the factory:

Joya de Nic Floor

Here Mario dissects a cigar for us, going over the differences between wrapper, binder, and filler:

Cigar Dissection

He then went into the different types of tobacco used for filler. The three types are Seco, Viso, and Ligero. Mario went into what traditionally differs between these tobacco types. We’d find out later this is only partly true.

Mario and Tabac

A close-up of the three types:

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Mario talked at length about different tobacco regions, growth types, and soil types. His knowledge was excellent, and he was always open to questions.

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Here’s what a new opened bale of tobacco in the factory looks like as it’s readied to be sorted:

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Here’s me on the Joya floor. Special thanks to JD for snapping this shot!

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The tobacco is then sorted in a few different ways. The tobacco sorters check each leaf after it’s been prepped.

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The tobacco then heads to the floor for the buncheros to do their thing. Here are some torpedos being made:

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After being hand rolled, they’re placed in the mold to be pressed and shaped.

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They then go to the rolleros to have the wrapper and cap placed.

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They’re then bundled in half wheels..

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After that, they go through a number of quality control steps. They’re weighed in the half wheels, and if they’re outside spec, each cigar is then weighed individually.

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The half wheels are then moved to a resting room, where John Krump manhandles them, as seen below:

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On the way out of the resting room, we saw this, a box for a cigar for European release.

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After not much persuading, Mario broke the box open and gave us each one! It’s a Flor de Nicaragua Ventus Aurum, the Flower of Nicaragua Gold Wind. I have it resting in my humidor even now.

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The half wheels are then moved to the packaging floor.

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As seen above, they’re sorted by color, banded, boxed, and packed for shipping.

After that, we headed to a Joya de Nicaragua blending session. I was so excited I forgot to take much in the way of pictures. I blended a light cigar for kelly for her Birthday, since she was kind enough to let me go on the trip when leaving on her birthday.

My Joya Blending Sheet.

Giovanni Zelko selects his tobaccos:

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The old Joya sign as we left the factory:

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We then went back to Casa de Drew for dinner. Along the way we stopped at a local leather shop. Many leather goods were purchased!

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Rooms were assigned on our return to Drew Estate, and I was given the Chateau Real room. Each room is themed after a different DE Cigar. The art on the walls in mine was cool.

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Then over dinner JD had a surprise for us! A local mariachi band played for us over dinner, entertaining us with fabulous music! I have recordings, but sadly this blog won’t allow me to upload them. Hopefully someone else can get them up on youtube for sharing.

After dinner, a rum tasting! Ron Flor de Cana is the most famous Nicaraguan rum, and we went through a full flight of rums, from Extra Light, 5 year, 7 year, 12 year, and 18 year. My favorite was the 7 year for it’s full body and more subtle flavors, but we had rather a lot of each of them.

After the rum tasting, we were shown a pre-finish version of Giovanni’s film, The Algerian. If you get a chance to see this film on its release, do so. With a solid script and some good acting, it’s well worth it. Most importantly it brings up some good societal concerns in an entertaining way.

I stayed up entirely too late hanging with Josh Mandle, Derek Stewart, and Matt Zeigler smoking cigars. You guys made my night, many thanks!

After a short sleep, breakfast, and a smoke we headed to the tobacco fields.

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Pedro and JD gave us the lowdown on growing tobacco. JD gave us a lot of good info on what differentiates the different tobacco growing regions, and what makes each have different flavors and aromas.

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As with any plant, the soil is the key. Soil, water, sun, wind.

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Pedro lays the knowledge on us:

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We also met the guy who runs this particular farm:

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Then we were off to the curing barns.

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They have netted windows that can be opened to help regulate humidity. They use a mix of drying fires, opening and closing windows, and wetting the floors.

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Inside the curing barns, the tobacco is prepped, going from green to yellow to brown to red-brown. It’s moved from place to place in the barn to maintain consistent humidity and temperature.

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The tobacco leaves are sewn back to back before being hung, and ribbons are used to differentiate between the different tobacco primings and leaf types.

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After base curing in the barn, the tobacco moves to holding warehouses where it’s aged.

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Fermentation is completed in pilons, where it’s important to hold the tobacco until it is ready.

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JD gave us a ton of great info here. We went into a lot of the business side of cigars over the course of the day. It’s always important to remember that yield and quality are the two main desires of the cigar manufacturer. I won’t go into great detail here, but JD’s passion and knowledge really shined through over this day.

Here’s a completed pilon.

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We got to place our hand inside a pilon, and feel the yeast at work. The temperature inside these can get quite high.

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The temperature and aging time of each pilon is carefully tracked.

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Then we had lunch, and we were off to La Gran Fabrica!

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Inside administration, we met the accounting team. As with any manufacturing facility, there are entirely too many things to count.

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We also got to meet Marvin (we think, no one can come to a consensus on his name. Shame on me.) , who runs the administration offices there. I had dinner with him that evening, and he was very nice to speak with. Everyone I came across in Nicaragua was exceedingly friendly.

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We toured the factory, seeing many of the same steps we’d seen at Joya de Nicaragua. I must say, though, the feeling and atmosphere at the Drew Estate factory is entirely different.

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We started in packaging. Art adorns every wall throughout the factory. Lighting is brighter, and people seem happier.

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It is my absolute belief that this tour showed the true ethos of Drew Estate, which centers on its employees. JD seems to believe that if he surrounds himself with great people, DE will be a great company. I’ve always believed this is the best way to achieve greatness as a business, and I’m glad to see it in my favorite cigar company. It shows through in every DE employee I’ve spoken with, and in how they speak of the company. It shows through in JD’s belief that middle management and efficiency will bring profit to the company.

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After that we headed to one of the resting rooms. We began in a rest room for Tabak Especial, Java, and Isla del Sol, all coffee infused cigars. It was an orgasm for the nose. The scent was incredible!

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Even in each resting room, art adorns the walls.

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The artwork continues in the factory.

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JD is big on putting people to work in places where they can do what they do best. In many cases those traditionally considered handicapped are great at certain things. The blind may work in quality control, hand weighing each cigar without a scale. If you have a good attitude and a willingness to work you may have a place at Drew Estate.

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Here’s shipping and receiving. I can’t wait for some DE swag with this MUWAT design on it to be mine.

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Here bands and boxes are stored, waiting to be used.

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The theme of art everywhere is continued.

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As we toured the factory, I felt like although people were working hard, they seemed happy. Having worked in a few factories over the years, I know that’s a hard thing to bring to a factory floor. It’s impressive.

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JD, Willy Herrera, and JD’s dad, Gary. Litui’s on the right, but we all know he doesn’t count. 😉

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After touring more of the factory, we headed to the new construction across the street. Hard hats required.

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As (seemingly) seen in this photo, JD is so grand, the hard hat is not allowed to touch his head. Pedro carries it just above his crown, in case.

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First built was the new cafeteria. JD takes care of his employees, again showing how he believes great people build a great company.

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Also under construction is a new aging/sorting facility. When completed in a few months, this will allow DE to no longer have to rent space for long term aging storage for their pilons.

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Then it was back to the factory!

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We toured through the rolling floors, seeing Ligas of all kinda being made, along with all the other DE brands and blends. It was a fabulous experience.

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Drew Estate’s use of technology is pretty impressive. Bar code scanning is used for each step of manufacturing, so if quality issues arise during any step of production they can be backtracked and resolved.

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Angry young men are wield barcode scanners everywhere.

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Not really. He gave me a grin and a big thumbs up after I thanked him for letting me take his picture.

We then headed to the tobacco staging area. It seems a huge facility for storing bales of tobacco from around the world, but in reality it holds 6 to 8 weeks of tobacco for the facility. They churn through it damned quick, and they still can’t meet demand.

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Matt Zeigler lets his freak flag fly in front of one of the giant cooling fans.

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Tobacco everywhere! The entire experience was incredible. The smells, the sounds, the heat. If you get the chance, you need to do a cigar safari.

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Here JD shows us how the tobacco is prepped for use by being dipped in water, shook, and stacked, so it reabsorbs humidity and becomes pliable. This is necessary for it to be worked at all stages in the factory.

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Here, behind JD, we see the new way of prepping the tobacco. It’s hung from these racks, and moved around a room with a Texas Cooler in it, which gently humidifies the leaves. This results in 3-4% less loss of tobacco due to damage.

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We then moved to Drew Estate quality control. DE QC is pretty strict, with the sticks undergoing quality checks all along the way.

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JD showed us some of the common things that can occur that cause quality problems, how they check for them, and what they do in each case.

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The chart behind him shows some of the quality vs production goals of the company.

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We then went to the blending room for the Drew Estate blending session. before that took place, though, JD pulled out another surprise!

The inestimable John Krump had supplied JD with a gift of an old German cigar mold earlier in the week. Before hanging it on the wall in the factory, JD used it to make a special limited edition cigar.

Behold, the Liga K-9 Krump!

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13.5″ long, with a tweaked version of the Liga #9 filler and the wrapper of a Herrera Esteli. Only 20 were made.

We then got into our blending. I’d like to especially thank Willy Herrera for some insight into the blending process. Again, not many pictures were taken, I was just too busy.

We did have a good time rolling up leaves of specific types and giving them a quick smoke, though.

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I went with the blend below:

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Mine was similar to but different from Matt Zeigler’s. I have to say, having tasted his, if mine is even half as delicious I’ll consider it a win. Check out the KFC in my blend. Craziness!

We then went back to Casa de Drew for dinner. I decided to wind down with a smoke.

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We then finished out the night with drinks, smokes, and conversation. It was one hell of a party! A great game of Cards Against Humanity showed that despite his ruggedly handsome exterior, john Brooke of Drew Estate is corrupt like a Chicago politician on the inside.

Special thanks to Marielos, John Krump, Aaron Taylor, Matt Zeigler, Giovanni Zelkos, John Reiner, Greg Shahbazian of Hollywood Smoke and Tom Navarro Sr for the conversations and music of that evening! You made the night great.

The next morning, the last of the Safari, we toured Subculture Studios with the rockstar Jessi Flores. I’ll let his art speak for itself.

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Remember folks, it’s all about the technics. Art can be anywhere. If you don’t think it can be where you’re looking, Jessi can show you otherwise.

Me and the man hisself.

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I even got to see inside his office! Caution, many of the images below are NSFW.

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Here are the other beer themed doors from inside subculture studios.These beers don’t exist. The original designs are Joey Drew’s (originating from a conversation about what each of the Liga sticks would be if they were beers), but as a homebrewer I will be making these and getting some to the DE crew. They deserve a good beer (or six).

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The car outside on our exit:

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Hanging with MJZ before we all had to split:

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Leaving the DE compound:

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What I returned with:

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Even more importantly, of course, I have memories and thoughts. I have friends and stories. `The cigar safari was an incredible experience. It showed what kind of man Jonathan Drew and his friends and employees are, and the type of company they’ve built. They have passion, integrity, style, and joy. They instill those feelings in their customers as they bring them together through the shared love of cigars.

Truly, they are cigars reborn.

I’d like to throw out a special thanks to every person on the safari! Jonathan Drew, Johnny Brooke, Pedro Gomez, Marielos, Jessi Flores, Willy Herrera, Gary Drew, Tom Navarro, Gloria Navarro, Thomas Adams, Matthew Zeigler, Derek Stewart, Josh Mandle, John Krump, Aaron Taylor, Anna Taylor, Andrew Pete, Tom Clune, Derek Matthews, Aron/litui(Did I ever hear your last name? Sneaky bastid), Giovanni Zelko, and Greg Shahbazian, you made this trip an incredible and delightful experience. I cannot thank you enough. (Did I miss someone? I missed someone.)

My flight home involved hours of delays and rebookings. I got in at 2am, and the next morning it looked like this:

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I still had a smile on my face. It was that damned good.

For any who want to see even more photos, full photobooks are being placed up at my IMGUR page by many. Stop on over and take a look!

Textsearch, a python script for looking through way too much crap

•July 6, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Not too long ago, a friend of mine had one of their hard drives “accidentally erased” and they had no backup.

I kindly applied some Scalpel knowledge to it, and got back almost everything they had lost. Pictures, songs, .pdf documents, the works.

Two things gave some trouble. The first problem was text documents. This person had stored their recipes as text documents, and setting scalpel to pull them out of a 500GB hard drive found roughly 10k text documents.

The other issue was the .pdfs. Most of them were stuff she could care less about, but the others were tax documents that she really needed. She had over 500 .pdf documents found through scalpel.

Although there may well be something better already written, I solved the problem with Python.

This script will open and look through documents of whatever kind you like for the strings you set. I have it so it can look for ANY of your search terms, or it can look for only documents with ALL of them. (This is because when I first ran it to look for recipes, I figured the one common word for all recipes she might have would be “cups” not realizing she had been running Linux. OH HAI, Common Unix Printing System files, logfiles, mentions, and the like. There are rather a lot of you.) So, you can run this on Scalpeled files to find what you need. You could upload it to popped boxes you are pentesting and search for unencrypted file content of some kind. You can do whatever you like with it.

In case it might be useful for forensics or pentesting, I played it safe and had it open all files as read only. Rather than moving them, it simply makes a copy of the file to wherever you tell it.

Here’s hoping you can put it to use.

As always, if you have any comments or questions regarding my Python programming, or see ways I can do things better, please let me know!

textsearch.py

Google+ invites…round two.

•July 2, 2011 • Leave a Comment

I actually got an offline comment from someone regarding my blog post yesterday. They asked why I hadn’t mentioned actual hackers who collect email addresses for phishing schemes.

While I actually thought my subtle coverage of this subject by capitalizing random letters throughout the early paragraphs of the post to spell out the word PHISHING had this taken care of, with my postscript adding to it, I guess not all five people who read my blog caught it.

So, I thought I’d cover the thing in a less subtle way, to let my thoughts be known.

Publishing your email address on the internet does not make you more likely, in any way, to be the victim of a phishing or spearphishing scheme. In this case, since you requested the Google+ invitation, it would be spearphishing.

Your policy of clicking on links in any email you get makes you subject to phishing attacks.

In my earlier analogy, I compared your email address to being like your house address in the physical world.

People knowing your address does not make you more vulnerable to people coming into your house. If you have a policy of letting anyone who knocks on your door into the foyer, though, that’s a different matter.

So, I was well aware that phishing attacks were going on using Google+ invites as their entry gambit.

All I’m saying is that publishing your email address isn’t what makes those attacks effective. Clicking links in email does. In my opinion HTML does not belong in email. If you get an email about a Google+ invite, or anything else for that matter, go to the site yourself. Sign in on their verified HTTPS page, and see if the invite is waiting for you on your account. If it’s not…well, you might want to look at that email a little harder.

Google+: Get Your Invites….oh wait.

•June 30, 2011 • Leave a Comment

I just want to address something I’ve seen before when new invite only Internet services start up, and am seeing once more.

As Google+ oPened up invites, and people began giving tHem away, I saw numerous people screamIng to otherS not to give out tHeIr email addreSs to strangers, because “They’re probably just a hacker collectING email addresses.”

People, hackers don’t collect email addresses. They hack things.

I’m not going into the good hacker/bad hacker thing. That argument has been done to death. No matter what side you fall on, we can all agree that being branded a hacker at least signifies some modicum of elite knowledge.

People who collect email addresses are doing one of two things:

1. Spamming. This makes them spammers. getting access to Google+ requires a google email address, and although many people feel differently about google and their services, most people agree they handle spam really really well.

2. Trying to gain access to the account by guessing/cracking the password. This is the equivalent of walking the movie theater parking lot to see who left their car doors unlocked. If you have a guessable/crackable password or security question on your account, you left your car unlocked. Don’t do that.

Neither of those groups of idiots are hackers.

That said, there’s no reason not to give out your email address. It’s your public internet address. People can contact you at it, which is why you have it in the first damn place. Communication is what we built this series of tubes for, right?

If you were throwing a party, and people asked for directions to get there, you wouldn’t claim to have removed the address from the front of your house so thieves and junk mail senders can’t find it. Same goes for your email address. Ensure the password to it is different from all your other passwords, and hand it out like mad. You never know who might send you something grand.

It might even be a Google+ invitation.

PS: Have you been socially engineered lately?

Longpork, a python Snort, PulledPork, Barnyard2 installer for Ubuntu v1.1 release

•June 16, 2011 • 3 Comments

So, it’s not really a ‘release’, it’s just a Python script. And this isn’t a giant update over the first version I put up a bit ago. The functionality has not essentially changed.

That said, if you want to look at the actual python code, it’s a heck of a lot better. I learned a fair amount this past month while I look for work, and decided today to go ahead and put it to use. I updated the parts of this script that were truly UGLY. The Snort version it pulls is now the newest as well. I added more data validation to the Snort rule creator, and did it in a way that involved code I wrote, rather than a cookbook script. So, outside of 1 single recipe (which is noted in the code) any horribleness you see here is all me.

The script has again been tested on Ubuntu 10.04, 10.04.2, and 11.04, and it works well. Older versions of Ubuntu may or may not work.

If you want a version for a Linux distro rather than Ubuntu, let me know. It wouldn’t take much to whip one up for you, and I could use the practice.

My next plan is to change the Rule Creator into something more interactive that updates the starting SID number based on rules already in your local rules file, and asks what fields you want to include, asking you to input info for each field. We’ll see where that goes, as I have time.

Have tips, questions, or comments on my code? Hit me up! Leave a comment! Rail at my inedptitude! Chances are good it will make me better.

Download Longpork