The many versions of Scott Pilgrim: The Game from Limited Run

Paola got me into the classic movie Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010) a few years back. It’s a superhero epic centered around an average 20-something from Toronto in a rock band. It has themes pulled from video games and Japanese manga and anime.

Around the same the movie was released they came out with a 16-bit style video game following the movie and the graphic novel series by Bryan Lee O’Malley that inspired it. It was available for a while digitally then it wasn’t, then it was again.

Earlier this year, Limited Run rereleased the game as a physical cartridge with a few different editions and covers. The three editions are:

  • The Game
  • The Game: Complete Edition
  • The Game: K.O. Edition
The three editions of the Scott Pilgrim game from Limited Run’s site

This game was Limited Run’s most successful release to date and like many people we missed the original order window for the special editions. Luckily for us the Complete Edition shipped last week and we were able to find a copy at a local shop.

Best Buy also has a cartridge-only version of the release above, also labeled Complete Edition and also from Limited Run, but the cover is different and its only extras are two trading cards. I believe it’s reversible to get the cover above but we never opened our copy as we were able to get one of the special editions.

One of the most confusing parts of searching online was the proliferation of versions and cover art. It turns out there aren’t that many variations, but the product itself has many elements. So to help others, here are photos of the various covers, alternate covers, and included items:

Complete Edition cardboard wrap cover
Complete Edition cardboard wrap back cover
Interior of Sega Genesis-style case holding Switch game
Side by side of Genesis case, Complete Edition Switch case, Best Buy edition Switch case (L-R)
Exterior of Sega Genesis-style case
Ephemera packaged in Genesis-style case behind Switch game
Flip side alternate label for Sega Genesis-style case
Contents of Switch case

Panam, Mexico’s most Mexican sneakers

When I first saw a pair of vintage-inspired Panam sneakers on my first trip to Mexico, I wanted a pair for myself. The only issue was I couldn’t find my size anywhere! While it’s very common for shoes in Mexico to not reach my size, it reinforced the shoe’s unattainability and local cache. So when I was given a pair in my size several years later, I was hooked.

It turns out this model, Panam’s most recognizable, is the 084 Campeón. Originally designed in the 1960s, it became the de-facto sneaker for a generation of Mexican children. From my research, its popularity came from a shift to more casual footwear around the time of the 1968 Mexico City Olympics and the Campeón’s status as footwear for gym classes nationwide.

Its heavy unpadded rubber sole is combined with a flexible nylon fabric upper, leading to an odd combination of slip-on comfort and occasional foot pain when walking on pavement. Coming from a company that touts its classic designs and 100% Mexican supply chain, I would guess the odd design is a result of using the same molds, designs, and suppliers since the shoe’s inception, which, incidentally, is still made in Estado de Mexico for a fraction of the price of foreign imports like Adidas and Nike.

Despite its shortcomings, the 084 in Mexican size 29 fits my 11 US feet like a glove and its retro good looks have yet to be changed by updates as happens constantly with other brands. As a result, I’m on my sixth pair. For the price, which is between 350-550 MXN ($17-27), I don’t mind when they wear out and need to be replaced.

From what I’ve found, Panam nearly went out of business following the NAFTA-induced shakeup to the local shoe industry. In recent years, they’ve doubled down on their retro appeal while making inexpensive copies of famous models like Air Force 1 and Air Jordan. Some of these copies are quality, the Air Force 1 clones seem decent, while others are heavy with odd synthetic materials, though given that they’re 700 MXN ($35) vs. $100 or more for the real deal, they have gained significant market share.

For me, I keep going back to their 084 for its Mexican cred, and I’m not the only one. Panam famously did a collab edition of the 084 with Mexican punk band Molotov years ago and have recently done special editions for Jarritos, Cafe Cielito, Cerveza Indio, Frida Kahlo, Los Autenticos Decadentes, and a shoe commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Mexico City Metro. They’ve even done a special art installation in the Metro commemorating individual Metro stations using the colors and logos of those stations (see gallery below).

In a big commercial move compared to their Mexican street cred-inspired limited editions, they’ve launched a major collab series with Marvel, including a great Spider-Man edition. The company also recently opened its first US store, in San Diego.

How to road trip to Canada since the lifting of Covid travel restrictions

Last month we returned from a nearly two week road trip to Canada as tourists. We entered on August 9, the first day Americans were allowed into Canada for tourism and without quarantine. Travelers from the rest of the world will be allowed in under the same conditions starting on September 9.

This post will be about the process for entry, what we experienced while there, and the experience coming back. 

Before we left

Canada allows for a waiver to its post-arrival testing and quarantine requirements if arrivals:

  • Are fully vaccinated by a Canada-approved vaccine
  • Have waited 14 days since final shot
  • Have completed and received a negative PCR test within 3 days of entry and have the results in hand

All vaccines given in the US are in Canada’s approved list, though the Russian and Chinese vaccines given to some in México and elsewhere are not. 

So on a Friday afternoon, in preparation for our Monday departure to Canada, we each took a PCR test. Results were expected back within 24 hours, while ours arrived a bit slower, but still by the end of the following day. 

In preparation for arrival we downloaded the ArriveCAN app on our phones and entered all our vaccination and arrival information, including photos of our vaccination cards, time of arrival, and port of entry. We crossed in the small city of Ogdensburg, NY after checking wait times. Once we arrived to the front of the line, we handed our confirmation code and paper copies of our negative PCR tests to the border agent and we were on our way in less than 5 minutes. 

The only glitch in this process was that since it requires date of arrival, you have to fill out at least part of the form en route and some of the vaccination data we had previously entered didn’t save between sessions and had to be reentered.

Note: Some border crossings that were formerly 24 hours have been closed after 8pm or earlier. To avoid issues at off-hours, cross at larger ports of entry and check hours before departing.

In Canada

Traveling around Canada was nearly identical to a summer US road trip (besides the road signs being in kilometers). The standard Covid-related policies in New York are on display in Canada, namely contact information when dining-in and timed entry for museums. Now that New York City is requiring proof of vaccination for indoor dining, Canada is actually more lax. Some restaurants in Montreal still had restrictions on indoor dining but there was plenty of outdoor dining space.

I want to keep this short and on-topic, so I’ll follow up with a post on our itinerary later. Suffice to say we were not inconvenienced in any way during our trip and we even had the odd sensation of being the only non-locals in many of the places we visited.

Coming back

Returning to the US by land, you do not need to take a negative Covid test. This was such a confusing point to clarify that I even called US Customs and Border Protection to verify. As of the date of this post, if you travel by air you do need to take a test within 3 days of returning, even if you are fully vaccinated.

Currently, only the following individuals are allowed to cross into the US by land:

  • US citizens and residents repatriating to the US, or
  • Those traveling for essential reasons

The following link lists the valid reasons for crossing the border by land.

On our way back into the US, we crossed in North Troy, a small town in northern Vermont. Given the sleepy crossing and that Americans are only allowed into the US by land as repatriation, we were questioned longer than normal by the border agent. We were likely the first tourists he had seen in over a year, so his caution made sense.

[Not] crossing the land border as a non-American

At the time of this post, foreigners or US visa holders are not currently allowed into the US by land for tourism (they are however allowed in by air). This has created a strange situation where Americans are allowed to drive into Canada for tourism or discretionary reasons, but the same is not true in the opposite direction. This means that if you are a foreigner working or visiting the US, you may be allowed into Canada but not back into the US if you return by land.

I hope this post will be useful to others that plan to visit Canada in the next few months and will save some others the hassle or confusion that we had during the planning of our trip. Safe travels!

Developing my simple Vietnamese and iced coffee recipes

My last post was about Vietnamese iced coffee and searching for that ideal restaurant-style recipe. I bought a phin, which is a metal drip brewer, and I found some Trung Nguyen coffee in Chinatown.

My first stop was the recipe on the coffee can, which suggested a 3:25:1 water to coffee ratio. I think in the end, I ended up with roughly 4:1 or 6:1. It took roughly 10-15 minutes to drain. Then you mix in a big spoonful of sweetened condensed milk before pouring it over ice in a pint glass. Upon trying it, it’s straight gasoline. It’s not bad, it’s just way too strong, even at lower strength and over ice. It could half done with maybe half a glass of milk to further dilute the flavor.

Getting it right

My second recipe was roughly 30g of Ethiopian coffee, ground medium. I had some sitting around and decided to see if the long drain time was from the coffee brand or my approach. Since the phin holds roughly 240g of water, that’s an 8:1 ratio. After 10 minutes it made a strong but less abrasive coffee that I then poured over ice and added half and half. Given the amount of coffee and the brew time, I expected more flavor, but it was a light roast, so it’s not surprising.

My third try was 24g of Trung Nguyen coffee. Other sites have suggested a 10:1 ratio. Hario, the Japanese brand, suggests 11:1 in its Japanese iced recipe, so there’s a precedent there. It made a strong coffee, ready for sweetened condensed milk and ice.

Recipes

From this experience, I’ve developed two recipes, a modified Vietnamese coffee recipe and a standard iced coffee recipe for use with any coffee.

The Vietnamese recipe is spot-on and mostly measurement-free and the iced coffee recipe is great for a lazy day that you don’t want to do precise pour-over or use a paper filter.

Modified Vietnamese coffee recipe

  1. Wet inside of phin
  2. Add 24-30g Trung Nguyen coffee, roughly 4 even tablespoons, and place top filter
  3. Add a splash of boiling water roughly equal to the amount of coffee
  4. Wait 30 seconds then fill water to top of phin, place cover on phin
  5. Once handle on top filter is not submerged, lift it to encourage quicker draining (if you’d like)
  6. Once dripping is complete, add one big spoonful of sweetened condensed milk and stir to dissolve
  7. Pour coffee and condensed milk into a pint glass full of ice and stir to chill coffee.

Iced coffee recipe

  • Follow steps 1-5 above, using 30g of freshly ground coffee of any type.
  • If grind is correct, coffee should drain in under 10 minutes. If it doesn’t, adjust grind slightly coarser, aiming for 6-8 minutes.
  • Once dripping is complete, pour coffee over ice in a pint glass (16 oz) and add half and half or milk, stirring to chill coffee quickly.

How to make real Vietnamese coffee

To top off a refreshing plate of Vietnamese food on a hot day, we often go for a Vietnamese iced coffee. It’s the perfect sweet and cool complement for a bowl of pho, vermicelli, or a banh mi sandwich. With the temperatures hitting the 80s and 90s this week in New York City, I’ve been wondering how to replicate that particular deep, sweet, and viscous restaurant taste at home during the work week.

It’s not exactly a secret, but it requires a few inexpensive items. The three things you’ll need are:

  • A phin, which is a metal Vietnamese coffee dripper
  • The right coffee
  • Sweetened condensed milk

Here’s a short explanation of each item:

Phin (Vietnamese filter brewer)
This classic Vietnamese filter dripper includes a lid, a cup, and a kind of perforated metal tamper. I bought a Long Cam brand phin, which is made in Vietnam, at KK Discount in Chinatown (78 Mulberry Street, 9am-6pm).

The smallest, single-serving size is around 4 oz at $5, while the 9Q, which was the only larger option in stock, brews ~10 oz and was $11.

When you’re making Vietnamese coffee, go for “Made in Vietnam”

Coffee
This whole Vietnamese coffee thing started off for me when I purchased some Nguyen Coffee at Essex Market on the Lower East Side. They have great graphic design, a cool website, and are roasted in Brooklyn. Finding their product inspired me to try making my own coffee. The problem is their True Grit peaberry robusta that I bought is rough. It’s strong, vegetal-smelling, and hard on the stomach, plus it doesn’t taste like the right blend for a true Vietnamese coffee. If I had to pick again, I’d go with their Loyalty robusta/arabica blend, which promises to be smoother and more balanced.

Next I tried Trung Nguyen Premium Blend, which was recommended by many as the prototypical Vietnamese coffee. It comes pre-ground for the phin and even prints its recipe on the label. I assume that some of its distinctiveness comes from the addition of chocolate flavors to its roast. I bought it at Tan Ting Hung Supermarket (121 Bowery, 9am-6pm), $8.75 for 15 oz. They were incredibly helpful, letting me sneak in right at closing time and helping me find everything I needed.

Trung Nguyen Premium Blend

In its distinctive orange cans, Cafe Du Monde from New Orleans is also popular, though interestingly it is an American Southern-style roast with chicory and not a Vietnamese brand. It owes its popularity in this recipe to the Vietnamese community that settled in New Orleans following the Vietnam War. I’ll have to do a taste test between the two soon since these are the two most popular brands for Vietnamese coffee here in the US.

Recipe
Here is the recipe for preparing Vietnamese filter coffee, courtesy of the Trung Nguyen brand:

  1. Put 3 tbsp of coffee (about 20g) into the filter. Gently shake and lock the coffee press.
  2. Pour 20 ml boiling water (205-212 F / 90-100 C) into the filter. Wait until the coffee has fully absorbed water. Add 45 ml of boiling water into the filter.
  3. Place the cap. Wait 5-7 minutes for the coffee to drip through the grinds. Note that the coffee must drip slowly to capture the pure coffee essence. Add sugar or condensed milk to taste.
Credit for the recipe goes to this coffee can

Tip: It’s been recommended elsewhere to wet the inside bottom of the phin before adding the coffee so that the first grounds don’t fall through the perforations.

Final Thoughts
For the coffee nerds like me, the Trung Nguyen recipe above is a 1:1 bloom, total water to coffee ratio of 3.25:1, which is crazy, particularly when considering that a strong cup of specialty pour-over is a 16:1 ratio. I have seen other recipes recommend up to a 10:1 ratio for the same cup and elsewhere I’ve seen a bloom of up to 5 minutes recommended to really draw out the flavor of the cup.

I assume that the high dose of coffee is useful to compensate for putting the coffee on ice, as well as getting that true, ultra-condensed flavor. Looking forward to experimenting more to get closest to that true taste.

Shortwave spy stations, still transmitting years after the Cold War

I’ve been reading a number of John Le Carré books lately, which are mostly fictional thrillers about Cold War spies. The Spy Who Came in from the Cold is a particularly good one. So in that vein, I’ve been reading about ’60s spycraft, including how they used to communicate.

In the pre-internet days, these spies used shortwave radios to receive orders from “numbers stations”, which are radio repeaters transmitting coded signals over the open airwaves, only at ranges higher than AM and FM music stations. Used together with a “one-time pad”, these encoded transmissions traveled around the world on open airwaves but were unbreakable if you didn’t have the code.

I decided to see if these “number stations” were still around, as I had heard that they are still on the air. Tech seems to go obsolete these days very quickly, so I was skeptical. Short answer, they are still broadcasting!

There’s a whole subculture of people that track these stations and there’s even a schedule that shows expected repeat transmissions. They’ve given them names based on their quirks, “The Pip”, “The Airhorn”, “The Buzzer”, all of these transmit audible sounds when inactive. When they are active, a voice reads numbers or letters from the military alphabet.

They transmit in English, Spanish, Russian, and Morse code, which gives a hint at how widely they are employed. What we don’t know is if these stations are in active use or “mothballed”, though given their level of activity, they’re at least kept in a state of readiness and have been for many years. This may be due to extreme caution on the part of spy agencies: changes in frequency of transmissions or other details might inadvertently reveal operational details. In that vein, as if a carryover from a past era, several of these transmissions are still done manually by radio operators.

Moments after I checked the Priyom.org page above, a station labeled “M12”, for Morse code, began transmitting: “TTT 531 531 531 TTT”. Twenty minutes later, the same message on a different “M12” channel. Who knows what this means? There’s a good chance the answer to that lies behind the former Iron Curtain.

The Cold War lives on, on shortwave radio

After reading a few too many John Le Carre spy novels, I decided to see whether the shortwave radio spies in the Cold War used is still a “thing” and whether there’s any point to buying one. I tapped into a lively nest of hobbyists and websites documenting these international airwaves online, with no need for a separate device. In short, if you have the internet and just want to play around, there’s no reason to buy a radio.

These hobbyists’ primary tool was something called a SDR or software-defined radio. The University of Twente in Enschede, Netherlands has the most famous iteration. This nifty tool is a radio that scans the airwaves and transmits constantly via a web interface. It can be used simultaneously by multiple users. It even includes a labeled waveform that shows known stations and spots of recent activity, and it can record and save audio.

I’ve spent several hours scanning the airwaves. From what I can tell, the main players are Chinese, Korean (North and South), the BBC World Service, Voice of America (VOA), and a smattering of religious channels. South Korea has a channel called “Echo of Hope”, while North Korea has “Echo of Unification” and Voice of Korea. In addition to VOA, the US government operates “Radio Free Asia” in multiple languages. Radio Taiwan International reports from Taiwan. The Chinese government reportedly jams all of the above channels from time to time . The Cuban government operates Radio Habana. Iran operates Voice of the Islamic Republic. The list goes on.

It’s like the Cold War is still being fought on the airwaves, and honestly it’s pretty boring and lo-fi. You’d be better off visiting their web presence, unless you live in a totalitarian dictatorship, in which case you’re not reading a blog in English, so I suppose a radio could be useful.
If you happen to speak Korean or Mandarin, there may be a world out there waiting to be discovered, though to be fair, both China and North Korea maintain native and English language broadcasts at different hours.

This site has a comprehensive list of stations worldwide, which you can even filter by language.

Giorgio Moroder’s “From Here to Eternity” (1977)

Giorgio Moroder is most famous these days for being “that guy from the Daft Punk song”, referring to his cameo on Random Access Memories. Prior to 2012 or so, he was known as the producer of Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love”. He had mostly faded into obscurity unless you were into ‘80s movie soundtracks (Scarface, American Gigolo, Midnight Express) or disco music.

On the strength of his newfound Daft Punk cred and “I Feel Love”, I had my eye on picking up one of his albums. This wasn’t one of those “must haves”, but it was on my mind as I sifted through several stacks of records at Giovanni’s Room thrift shop in Philly the weekend before last.

Lucky for me, Giovanni’s Room has a policy of marking down by half any records that sit for more than six months. This one slipped under the radar and was tagged $3. Best find of the weekend.

When you listen to this album, the first thing you notice is that it sounds a lot like you know who. The vintage drum machine and vocoder sound is what our generation associates with the robot duo or Kanye’s 808s and Heartbreak, but it’s clearly borrowed from Moroder and his contemporaries and reinvented for a new generation.

The nice bit about Moroder’s sound being so imitated today is that this album listens like a lost Daft Punk album. It doesn’t sound dated at all. It’s got a cohesive house music beat that goes well in the background while you’re doing other things, but you could easily turn up the volume and get a dance party started.

Kinokuniya Books, one of our favorite places

Kinokuniya Books next to Bryant Park in Manhattan is really great. It’s full of all sorts of books, magazines, and stationery that you won’t find anywhere else, at least outside of Japan. It’s inspiring to go there because you’ll always find something new to catch your eye.

Their first floor is full of English language novels, some Japanese cookbooks in English, and some unique graphic design books and things, but I’m going to skip over all that for now, since it’s stuff that you can mostly find in the library or another bookstore.

The basement is full of really unique magazines. Compared to your usual bookstore, they have a ton of options with a guy’s aesthetic, on topics from music, to fashion, to interior design.

The basement floor has books for learning Japanese and Japanese culture. There’s also books in Japanese for learning foreign languages.

The top floor is Japanese and English language manga, graphic novels, and books on illustration. They also have a Studio Ghibli section, as well as those collectible anime figurines, if that’s your thing.

If you’re a frequent customer, they have a $20 annual membership that gives you 10% off purchases and access to periodic 20% off members only events. It includes periodic gift certificate “rebates” and in our case has already paid for itself.

“Matrix” engravings next to the label on vinyl records

When I first started buying records, I noticed that they often had hand-etched letters and numbers in the blank space between the last song and the label. At the time, not knowing anything about how records are made, I figured they were etched by hand onto each record by the company and denoted a numbered order of production, like a limited edition artist print. That would be a lot of writing! I chalked it up as another reason why new vinyl is so expensive.

When I discovered I could use Discogs.com to catalogue our records, I searched for some kind of identifying mark on the record itself and found that the etched alphanumeric string is called a matrix or run-out code. They do not count “up” with each new record produced. 

The first part of the number generally matches up with the catalogue number of the record and will also be on the label. The other information records the A/B side, the “cut” of the record stamper, and often the pressing plant or the mastering studio / engineer. Most have numbers or letters and dashes, but I even have one with a tiny flower, one that says “Porky”, and Paola has a green vinyl with a miniature signature!

The Beatles first US album label
Beatles hand-etched matrix code matching the 63-3402 code on the label
More matrix markings
Dylan’s Basement Tapes stamped matrix code
Coleman Hawkins USSR stamped matrix code