Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Ugh

On day three of a chest-cold beatdown. Thinking I'm seeing light at the end of the tunnel finally.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Merry Christmas

I hate to use the cliché, but I lead a charmed life.

It’s this time of year that always gets me thinking about this. For every little thing that comes my way, there are thousands of challenges I have been fortunate enough not to have to confront. There’s a lot of time I forget that. I’m not saying that I routinely have pity parties or anything; I’m just saying that I often neglect to think of all the good things I have.

While most people take Thanksgiving to write out their “I am thankful for” lists, it’s Christmas that gets me really thinking about it. Because, while I still have some ambiguous attitudes about religion, I do believe that we were given a tremendous gift in our Savior. That reminds me of the many other gifts I have been and am being given.

My family. I could never, in my wildest dreams have ever imagined being blessed with such a wonderful wife and three amazing children. I never planned it. It was given to me and I can think of no more wonderful gift than my family. My parents and brother, my cousins and in-laws – I could not choose better people to call family.

My country. I joined the Army in 1994. I served until December 2003. When I joined, I wasn’t thinking about doing my patriotic duty, I was thinking about how I could secure a decent life for myself and my soon-to-be spouse. What I didn’t realize is how innate patriotism was to me. I grew up in a very America-centric household (though I didn’t really comprehend that most of the time) and I am so thankful for that. I am thankful that I have had the opportunity to serve my country in the capacity of a soldier and I’m glad that I get to continue to do so in my capacity as a civil service employee. I don’t just believe that this is the greatest country on the planet, I believe we are blessed.

The many things that have happened that prove to me that someone is out there watching over me and my family. Too many things to mention, but they include my job, my home, our friends, and the way that situations always seem to work out regardless of how much we worry about them.

It’s just a special time of year. A time energized by the joy of children and our belief in the inherent goodness of mankind. I hope we don’t lose any of that – joy, belief or goodness. They sure seem to be easy things to overlook lately.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Lost comments

Haloscan went to a pay system. I lost all my old comments until I figure out how to import them back into Blogger - it that's even possible.

UPDATE: Apparently, I can import old blog entries saved in xml, but not comments. Darn.

Further Food Adventures: Ribs!

Since my last time firing up the grill, I’ve done some research. I wasn’t entirely pleased with how my brisket turned out (though I have been told repeatedly by my wife that I doth protest too much), so I was looking for ways to better control the temps in my grill. Through my many Google searches, I ran across the Minion Method. This single, simple process is probably the greatest thing a charcoal smoker has ever had happen to it.

But the Minion Method was created for a Weber Smoker Mountain, not for a barrel-style grill like I have. So I had to come up with an idea of how to apply the method in my situation. I also had to have an excuse to cook. While I wanted to tackle another brisket, I was also craving some ribs. In a somewhat funny coincidence, I was asked by some friends if I wanted to cook some ribs for a going away dinner last night. I had my excuse! I just needed to focus on execution. I took Friday off to prepare them.

Now, on to the preparation:

Baby backs were the menu item this time. I have no preference when it comes to the cut of ribs, but I do prefer pork over beef. However, our friends did the shopping and I didn’t specify which kind. This is what she bought. I was quite pleased.

I looked at a lot of different sites about a lot of different styles of meat preparation. A common theme seemed to be to rub the meat with a light coat of mustard (though there were variations aplenty). I used regular old yellow mustard and glopped it on rather thick. One note here, if you’re going to rub your meat with mustard USE GLOVES! My hands were yellow for hours.

The mustard’s primary mission is to provide a nice sticky substance for the rub to adhere to the meat. Now, I’ve used rubs for many years and have done plenty of ribs and shoulders doing nothing other than applying the rub directly to the meat. I find that the mustard does let the rub stick the meat much better. However, when you use a rub directly on the meat, there is a little penetration. Here, the rub forms more of a bark. I guess it has a lot to do with preference. Having done both now, I will always be using this method. I liked it that much.

I did stub my toe a little when putting certain spices in the mix. I was a bit heavy handed adding some Tony Chachere’s and chili powder. It was too spicy for some palates though it was by no means what I would call a spicy rub. It was just over the edge of mild but well below what I think of as spicy.

After getting the racks rubs, I wrapped them in plastic wrap and foil and let them sit in the fridge overnight.

Bing, mentioned in the comments of my brisket post that he wasn’t too familiar with the innards of my style grill. So here’s a crappy pic of the inside. The coal grate below can be raised and lowered by a crank, there are vents in the coal area on both sides and on both sides of the lid. You can see from the indentation in the coal grate I always build a fire on the right-hand side. I never fill the coal grate entirely, I can cook directly over the coals on that side, then pull the meat to the far left for indirect cooking. It’s a good system for grilling, but most often too hot or too uncontrollable for long smoking. Until now, that is!

The Minion Method was created for the Weber Smokey Mountain vertical smoker and has been adopted by many to use in a lot of situations, but I didn’t find anything by anyone who’d used one in a barrel grill kind of environment. I knew that my main problem was airflow. There’s just too much of it in the grill and I had to find a way to cut it down. My first thought was to use my cast iron Dutch oven as the coal pan. The problem here is that it would cut down on the air flow too much. I thought that maybe I would just build my fire as normal, directly on the grate, and hope that the Minion Method would compensate. Eventually I figured that I would create a foil “basket” for the coals, with some air holes punched in the bottom. That way I still got my air flow, but it was choked back a bit. As normal, I used my Dutch oven as a water pan/fire break.

I also deviated from my normal style of wood use. I have been using chips in a cast-iron wood box for a long time but switched to chunks for this burn. I chose three fist-sized chunks (using hickory only because I couldn’t find anything else at Walmart) and I did put some apple chips in there as well.

The biggest thing I added to my grill for this cook was to buy a rib rack. I can’t believe I hadn’t done this before now. I was able to cook these six racks of ribs in the space two-and-a-half would normally take. I also decided to smoke a chuck roast just to have some beef on hand as well. Notice how close that beef is to the fire. I had concerns, but everything turned out fine.

It took a while for the temp to get above 200 (the temp at which I put the ribs on the grill). Eventually it hit the 225 area (probably about 45 minutes after putting the ribs on the grill) and sat at 250 for a good long time. The highest the fire ever climbed was 275 and it sat there for about an hour. Closing down some vents helped control the temp. I watched this gauge neurotically – probably checking it every 15 minutes or so.

To be honest, I never expected to have such good temperature control. It shocked me, in a good way. The best thing was that I got a good, long burn out of this. I put the ribs on around 9 a.m. and pulled them around 3:30 p.m. I added about 15 unlit coals about 1 p.m. I also basted them every 30-45 min. with apple juice and water. I sauced the ribs about 45 min before I pulled them off the grill. When they were done, I wrapped them in foil and put them in a towel-lined cooler for about an hour.

When I cook without the foil using the “normal” way of lighting coals, I start with half a bag or more and wind up adding coals about every two hours. I used less than half a bag and got six-and-a-half hours of cook. Just amazing. I’m anxiously waiting getting a Weber Smoker and getting the 12-to-15 cooking times I’ve read about.

The final result was quite good – tender, smoky and flavorful. Of course there are always things to learn. Here’s what I got out this cook:

1. Use a simpler rub. More paprika, less cumin, low to no Chachere’s or chili powder.
2. Make a sauce entirely at home. I started with a base of Kraft Original and came up with a good sauce adding apple juice and Worcestershire, but I’m pretty sure an entirely home-made sauce would have come out better.
3. Less hickory. Three fist-sized chunks was too much. I personally like the flavor, but I understand that it’s considered too smoky by many people. I need to locate apple chunks and do two apple and one hickory next time.
4. Not a rib note, but don’t use a chuck roast. The chuck roast just wasn’t a good one for the smoker. It required a good, sweet sauce after the smoke to be really good. Without the sauce, the beef’s flavor just wasn’t all that good. It was plenty tender – texture-wise it was where I wanted my brisket to be at my last cook.

Good cooking, everyone!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Sad and funny

Last night we went to see The Wizard of Oz play at the Orpheum Theater here in Memphis. It was a great time. Bobo, our four-year-old boy, was very good for the show. He hit his wall after intermission though. Even with that, he still acted well - just laid down on J-mom.

The wee hours of the morning were a different story, though. Bo woke up very early full of snot and crying. He came into our room to sleep because he wasn't feeling well. An hour or so later he woke up crying and says, "The teacher told me I had to get rid of my dog!"

We consoled him that it was just a bad dream and that our dog, Allie, isn't going anywhere. He fell back asleep. J-mom and I had a good laugh afterwards. After all the things that you could be scared about in the Wizard of Oz - the Wicked Witch, flying monkeys, creepy short people - he's worried about giving up his dog.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Disappointing food post about awesome food

Last week I smoked an awesome brisket. Why disappointing though? Because while I started the process thinking I would photograph it and make a big food post a la Bingley, I forgot to take pictures of the cooking and the final product. So, what we have here is the prep.

We held our annual office Christmas party last Friday. We had a summer pool party and I brought some pulled pork. That went over quite well, so this time I decided to step it up a bit and bring a brisket.

I put off my brisket buying until the Tuesday before the event. Rather than shop the big chains, I went to my local meat shop. We have several in the greater Memphis area, but there’s one just down the street from the Navy base and just a few miles from my home. The only brisket they had in stock was a 14 pounder! I initially balked, but I wound up going ahead and picking it up. Turns out that was good idea.

The thing I was most pleased with is that my butcher carried the entire packer’s cut. That way the “flat” and the “point” of the brisket were intact.



Is $2.19 a pound good? I didn’t do any price comparisons. I like supporting my local meat guys and I do know that I get a good deal on most of their other products. They’ve got great deals on steaks.

Anyway …

I decided to marinade the beast rather than rub. I do both and, honestly, it’s all about the same as far as I’m concerned. When it comes to roasts, rubs impart little in the way of flavor beyond the outside crust and marinades don’t penetrate very far into the meat. So, unless you’re injecting or using a vacuum marinade system, your real flavor comes from the smoke.



So, I did a marinade. As you can see, that’s quite a group o’ stuff I got going on there. That’s quite atypical of most of my cooking the past few years. I’ve been on a simpler is better kick, but I messed around with a bunch of stuff a couple of weeks ago for some steaks and they came out so kick ass that I attempted to repeat the marinade for the brisket. I can’t give you a recipe because it’s all “Well, that looks about right” as far as adding stuff and amounts go. I start with a base of vegetable oil, add some red-wine and balsamic vinegars. I add a bunch of Worcestershire sauce, a little soy, some garlic powder (that Kirkland stuff from Costco is awesome), some chopped, dried onions, some Chachere’s, a good bit of cumin and whatever other Southwestern seasoning I can find. Somehow the flavors combine to create a unique but not overpowering blend. After getting the base ingredients together, I fill up the rest of a gallon pitcher with warm water and let it sit.

In the end, I think I should have used a rub instead.

I then got out the brisket to trim the fat.



You can see there’s a monster fat cap on this sucker. There are a couple of schools of thought on fat caps and briskets. Some people think you should just leave it all on. Others believe you should trim it down to about 1/4-inch all around. I did a lot of surfing to get some different opinions and most of the guys who cook competitively trim. I read one guy who said: “All that extra fat just makes it harder for the smoke to penetrate.” That comment alone sold me.

However, you don’t want to trim off too much fat. That fat is one of the greatest things about the brisket. For a “low and slow” style cook, that fat serves to baste the meat.



I easily trimmed two pounds of fat off this bastard, and yet there’s plenty of fat still left to baste and flavor.



Unless you have a huge fridge, getting a monster piece of meat like this into a container and then in the fridge is a nigh-impossible task. So, I took a page from Alton Brown and used a disposable cooler. He did an episode about brining a pork shoulder for BBQ. I didn’t want to brine, just marinade, but the principle is the same. I put the roast in the foam cooler.



Poured in the marinade.



Then covered with enough ice and cool water to completely cover the meat. I let this set for about 24 hours. The cooler sat in my cool garage. When I went to take it out the following evening, hardly any of the ice had melted. This experience and one we had with brining a turkey for Thanksgiving in the same manner has given me a lot of faith in this method.

What you’re not getting to see; the rest of the story:

I have a long grill similar to a barrel style or a large gas grill (This, but in all black). Ideally, it’d have a separate fire box on the side, but it doesn't. So I have to build a fire off to one side and put the meat across the grill. This indirect method of cooking produces very good results, but it’s hard to control the temperature. However, the night I cooked, it was in the mid-to-low 20s and the grill never got above 300 degrees. That was awesome, but still too high to cook a brisket for long periods of time.

I cooked the meat on the grill for about four-and-a-half hours. I used apple and hickory chips for smoke with fantastic results! It was first time using apple and it has earned a place on my permanent barbecue items shelf.

After cooking on the grill, I pulled the brisket and wrapped it in tin foil. I placed it in a large basting pan and finished cooking it in the oven at 230 for about another 14 hours. Figuring 1.5 hours for every pound of meat, accounting for the fat I trimmed, this was just about right. After the cooking time, I pulled it from the oven, drained juices, re-wrapped the meat and put it in a towel-lined cooler to rest for about an hour.

The towel-lined cooler is another trick I picked up from the internets. It’s a wonderful, amazing thing. I kept pork roasts warm and tender for over three hours at Thanksgiving. Some cookers have claimed to keep their meat warm for over five hours using this method. It’s truly a great technique for letting meat rest for extended periods without losing much temperature.

The results were quite good. I received nothing but compliments for it, but I feel the meat was overcooked. It was fall-apart tender and some of the smoke flavor had cooked out. Brisket should be fork-tender – you should be able to slice it easily and it should not fall apart. But mine did. I think if I’d cooked it at 210 or 215 in the oven and reduced the cooking time about two hours, it would have come out better. I could have put it in the towel-lined cooler where it would have kept warm for quite some time.

The last thing I did was to make a sauce out of the brisket juice. This was entirely a swag. I took about 1/2 cup of the juice (which was basically just rendered fat) and a cup of beef broth (cheater-type, I used a bullion cube), a mess load of ketchup (two cups? Three?), some brown sugar and some other spices. I can’t even remember what all I put in there, but my main goal was to cut a good balance between sweet and savory. The juices and broth made quite a savory base and the sugar added plenty of sweet. I did add a bit of soy sauce, a bit of Worcestershire … I can’t remember what else. The result was similar to a barbecue sauce. Very good.

J-mom really wants me to do another. We recently bought a bunch of meat from an acquaintance who had one of their own cattle butchered. I didn’t get a brisket out of the deal, but I have a few shoulder roasts. I think I could get similar results to the brisket. We’ll see. I’ll remember to take more pictures next time and try to use an actual camera and not my phone.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Bullshit

That’s it. Fuck it all. Bring them home.

If you’re not going to get the fuck out of the way and let them do their jobs, let’s just quit pretending.

I’m talking about this story I heard on NPR this morning.

Basically, the gist is that while there are 30K more servicemembers heading into Afghanistan, the rules of engagement have been changed to “reduce civilian casualties.”

I can’t even begin to explain how frustrated and upsetting this is.

Rules of engagement exist precisely to reduce incidents of civilian casualties and to protect our soldiers from breaking any of the laws involving armed conflicts. This new policy being instituted by Gen. McChrystal is not going to, in any way, make our fighting men and women execute their jobs with any more vision or clarity than they have in the past. It is going to make them overly cautious and paranoid about breaking rules. It is going to put them in danger. It is going to get our troops killed.

This is political posturing. I’m not going to hypothesize about who’s responsible for this. I have my ideas, but it’s really not important. The fact is that these stricter regulations are already stifling operations.

So, again, I say, if you’re not going to let our guys do their damn job, bring them the fuck home to refit. This is fucking ridiculous.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Waxing nostalgic

I was thinking about WWII earlier which led me to think about my time on Okinawa. I did a Google Map search to see if I could find our old apartment building. Sure enough: I used to live right where the green arrow is.

We could literally walk downstairs and be on the beach in under a minute. We fell asleep to the sounds of waves crashing. It was by no means a large place, and it had its fair share of faults, but it was also amazing.

In this below image, you're looking south. The apartment in the linked map is just north of this, off the image. Torii Beach is the beach side of Torii Station, where I worked. One of the best beaches on the South China Sea-side of the island.

Losing that landline feeling

We've been wanting to get rid of our landline for some time, but our cell reception in our house is poor. We've got a VOIP line right now, but the special price we had on it is going to go tits up soon. I'd rather not pay the monthly fee.

I’m researching cell phone boosters/repeaters. Something along the lines of this. Does anyone have any experience with these kinds of products? Please let me know.

No snow

Everywhere around us, snow, snow, snow. All we can manage is rain. What the hell?

Thursday, December 03, 2009

WTF Coens

I mean, I like your movies and all, but this is just wrong.

For those who don't RTFA, the Coens are remaking True Grit. Jeff Bridges is slated to star as Rooster Cogburn.

Sure, the dude abides, but does he serve papers? This is just a bad move all around, methinks.


The eyepatch really ties the face together.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Still in food coma



We've still got a ton of leftovers from Thanksgiving. I have pretty much spent the entire time since Thanksgiving day in some form of food coma. It's a blessing and curse, as Monk would say.

It was great to have family come and spend the holiday with us. It's the first time we've hosted Thanksgiving and it was a lot of fun. The pic is my brother's family with mine at our zoo. We love our zoo and it was a great way to get out and walk off some of the holiday tonnage.

Hope everyone had a great weekend and welcome back to the land of work.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving

Sometimes, too many brains is too much of a good thing.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Thanksgiving music #2

Clutch - Wishbone



On the losing end, of the wishbone
And I won't pretend, not to mind

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Monday, November 23, 2009

This isn't new

But it really brightened up my Monday.

Danzig tries to cheer up the tomato baby.

Computer use is a real pain

And I'm not talking figuratively. I use the computer a lot. All day long at the office and many hours in the evening for entertainment. I have developed tendonitis that messes with my wrists, but that's pretty much mitigated now. I have learned how to hold my hands and such that I'm not causing myself to aggravate that pain. However, recently I've developed some sharp pains at the top of my forearm. Just on the interior of the arm, below the bicep, but right at the top of the forearm. It can be pretty harsh. My question to y'all is, have you experienced anything like this? It's almost like I tried to curl too much weight and have pulled/torn a muscle.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

When someone puts a burn notice out on you, you get to assist in reenlistments



Burn Notice stars Bruce "If Chins Could Kill" Campbell and Jeffrey Donovan become even cooler (if that's even possible for Bruce) by assisting a reenlistment during a visit to Iraq.

Via Blackfive.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

I'm reading a lot of Hellboy right now

I have nothing else today. Here are some delicious pancakes:

You see, there's this Hellboy story that takes place when he's just a little boy, er, demon, and he's given some pancakes for the first time. Like any young boy, he says he doesn't like them. But then he tries them and loves them. After eating them, the scene shifts to hell where there is much lamenting. The demonds cry - 'Oh no, he has tried pancakes, surely he is lost to us forever now.' It's a great little story.

Weird commercials: Uncle Lou's

This isn't particularly weird, in fact I'd say it's pretty good for a local commercial. Except all the explosions. They seem a bit out of place.

Uncle Lou's Fried Chicken has been featured on Diners, Drive Ins and Dives and is another Memphis institution. For some reason I find their commercial hilarious. It used to come on every morning when I was getting ready for work. Haven't seen it in a while though. The person who uploaded this video caught a bit of another commercial and Uncle Lou's commercial doesn't start until the 0:14-0:15 mark:



The thing to take away here is that with the right recipe, you can be a general. Keep that in mind military professionals.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Weird commercials: Mister Hats

We've got this store in Memphis called Mister Hats. The commercials come on early in the morning or very late at night.

Anyway, the guy who owns the shop straddles a line between creepy and disaffecting. I can't decide. This video is the only one I could find on YouTube that features the owner (the kind that air every morning). In it, the guy's not too bad. The one's that have been airing lately are far more odd.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Lowered expectations

I was in the shower yesterday and I started thinking. That isn’t to say that I’m prone to deep thinking in the shower. I’m just as apt to be singing Louie, Louie or some Hannah Montana song (if that’s what my kids were listening to on the radio) as I am to think something out. Heck, to be honest, I’m probably more apt to be singing something. So, on this rare occasion, I was thinking.

J-mom had just cut my hair. She did a pretty good job. I mean, anyone that can make this head look decent is doing good things. It was first time cutting an adult’s hair and only her second-ever hair cut. But, in the shower, I started thinking about how, after years of going to barbers, I have an innate sense of what should happen when I get a haircut. Even knowing that my wife had only ever cut my son’s hair prior to mine, there was an expectation there. Because it was there, I found it harder to just be happy that I was getting a free haircut than if I’d just accepted the fact that even if she screwed up badly, I could just shave my head – which was my last haircut.

UPDATE: It was pointed out to me that I might not have been very clear. I am quite happy with the haircut. What is weird is that when an experienced barber cuts your hair, you expect the clippers to move a certain way across your head. It was just a different experience. Not in any way a bad one.

ALSO, I should point out that over the past couple of years I have paid for some pretty lousy haircuts.


Seriously. There's only so much
you can do with this head.



So, I jumped to a conclusion. Self, I hypothesized to myself, it might be a better world if we lived without expectation. Just think how better entertainment would be if we had no preconceived notions about what we were getting into. Think how wonderful and surprising our experiences would be if we didn’t have any expectations guiding our attitudes. Think about how thankful we’d be if we didn’t expect certain things from people.

Yeah, that sounded good for about second. Then I quickly thought about how bad it would be if we didn’t hold certain people to a level of expectations. How bad would car repairs be? How bad would our educational system be (how much worse can it get, I guess)?

So, maybe it wasn’t the most enlightening rabbit trail, but it’s what I was thinking about. Perhaps I’ll just stick to singing for a while.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Legacy

Just came back to work after a five-day weekend. A micro staycation, I guess. Really I was just taking advantage of my regular every-other-Monday-off and this Wednesday’s holiday to get some stuff done around the house. All I had to do was take Tuesday off to get that five-day. Doesn’t happen too often.

Anyway, my family is coming in for Thanksgiving and there are many things to get done. I could have done a lot more, but I’m happy that I got a couple of things accomplished that J-mom’s been wanting me to do for, oh, two years or so. Shelves in the garage. Man, who’da thunk something so relatively simple to do would take me so long to get around to? Well, anyone who knows me pretty well would have to say that they would. But they’re done now and the garage is almost there.

I’m not sure what other projects J-mom has in store for me, but I still have to haul off some things from our back porch and do some general cleanup back there. I’d like to be able to actually move around on my porch while doing Thanksgiving setup/cooking.

As for the title of this post, to prove that I didn’t just throw that out there for no reason, I present to you my office shredder:



Is there something poetic in this or what?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Veteran's Day

To all veterans, past, present and future, those who paved the way for the freedoms we now enjoy, my contemporaries and those I've known, those who've yet to serve - thank you.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Monday, November 02, 2009

On dreams and dairy

I don’t often have vivid dreams, but last night I did. I dreamed I was a contestant on The Next Iron Chef. I guess it’s not terribly odd as I’ve become a pretty big fan of the show and I find myself wanting to become a better cook the more Food Network I watch. What’s weird is how completely sane and average the dream was. I mean, even the rare times I have a vivid dream and it’s about something mundane, fantastic things usually happen. There is often flight or some other kind of superhuman or supernatural goings on. This time, we just cooked.

I also remember what I cooked. I pounded out a chicken and pork cutlet very thin, almost paper thin (guess that’s a bit of fantasy). I then wrapped them around some sliced veggies and a fish stick. Can’t remember what fish I used, but I cut and breaded it myself in the dream. I wrapped the cutlets around the veggies and fish stick and then deep fried the entire thing. I’m almost thinking this isn’t sounding too bad.

Oddly, I was so proud of what I’d came up with. I was sure I had the winning dish. Alas, it wasn’t to be. I was beaten out by Amanda Freitag, who is an actual contestant on the current iteration of the show. Man, I was bummed (even though she’s my favorite to win the actual show). I had to, in my dream, placate myself with an amazing caramel apple cake.

Maybe it was the lortab I had to take yesterday, but that was a damn fine dream.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Memphis is about to float away, y'all


Even the amphibians are seeking shelter. Found this little sucker in our foyer this morning.

So much rain! If it doesn't stop soon we're going to be flushed away and land on top of New Orleans. Which, come to think of it, maybe isn't such a bad thing after all.

Happy 70th anniversary Marvel Comics

Marvel Comics started 70 years ago as Timely Comics. Their first comic, Marvel Comics #1 was released in October 1939. It’s hard to believe that the company has been around this long and has had so much impact on our collective culture. The recent purchase by Disney has many of us long-time fans concerned, but looking at the history of ownership and the crap they’ve put up with, the company should hold up fine.

It’s hard to explain exactly what Marvel Comics means to me. First and foremost they were my comic company of choice. Before I discovered independent companies, I was an X-Man fan. I was a Wolverine fanboy before there were Wolverine fanboys. Of course, my innocent fascination turned to disgust by the later ‘80s when the very comics I turned to to teach me a degree of worldliness displayed the same behavior they had taught me to be cynical of.

While I won’t go as far as to say comics flat-out taught me any great life lessons, they did help me better understand certain things. Being raised in a Christian home, the values of right and wrong were always important. Comics reinforced these concepts while at the same time introducing complex ethical dynamics. Beyond that, though, I think the biggest thing I got from any comic is a yearning for literature. Comics generously lift characters and ideas from all kinds of places. Because I read about Hercules, Thor, Faust, Grendel, and the concepts of Orwell and Huxley in the pages of comic books, I decided to go out and find the original books.

That is not to say that comics aren’t capable of being great literature in their own right. Everyone uses The Watchmen or V for Vendetta as examples, but I’d list Camelot 3000, Stray Toasters, Elektra: Assasin, Maus (more than almost any other), and many others as great examples of the heights to which comics are capable of climbing.

I found it difficult to give up X-Men even though Wolverine was literally showing up in every Marvel title while having two of his own books of one which was bi-weekly. I found a new psycho in First Comics’ The Badger, but it still didn’t have the nostalgic pull of the old-school Marvel comics. I eventually weaned myself off of them when I got into my later teens. I was far more interested in girls and figured that reducing my amount of geekiness would improve my chances. However, I’ve come back to read them time after time and I’m now an avid reader again.

The Times Online has a wonderful list of 70 facts about Marvel comics that you (maybe) don’t know.

The X-Men cover I chose to accompany this post is Uncanny X-Men #216. I chose this issue specifically because there was a full-panel splash page of Wolverine on Page 1 that I traced and drew and drew and drew. That’s how I learned to draw comics tracing and then doing free hand. I never got very good, but, at least for a while, I was able to hold my own. So, thank you Jackson Guice and Dan Green for creating compelling artwork I copied a whole bunch.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

My hardware woes (and a garage update)

The garage progresses. J-mom and our wonderful friend made much headway. I hope to get shelves up on the other side so we can finish it up. Then we can make the kids go play in there.

I am fixing a couple of our computers. One of my laptops has a bad hard drive. I ordered a replacement, but I ordered a SATA instead of PATA. And, of course, Tiger Direct didn't accept returns on the item because it was OEM. I wound up having to order another new hard drive and I decided to buy a USB enclosure for the SATA one so I'll have a handy mobile external hard drive.

My next computer project is causing a bit more grief. For quite some time, I've been getting a CMOS Checksum error when booting up my primary desktop. I thought it was a bad battery, but after replacing it, I still got the error. Much Google-fu later, I came to the conclusion it was the motherboard. I ordered a replacement and went to install it. Everything was going fine until I got to the part where I needed to connect the front-panel items to the motherboard headers. All my devices have 8/10 pin connectors. The new motherboard has 4/5 pin connectors. Now I have to figure out how to make these connections. It's giving me a headache.

I have found tons of information about regarding the various types of motherboard headers. Tons of information about how to make sure you connect the correct wire to the correct header. I've found next to nothing regarding how to connect a 8/10-pin connector to a motherboard with a 4/5-pin header.

Anyone with any information on my latter problem here, please feel free to overshare.

Meant to post this some time ago



A pic of Darth Allie wondering why we must hate her so.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

We've lived here for two years, guess it's time we start acting like we own the place

I am a horrible procrastinator. Nowhere is this more evident than in my attitude toward housework. "Never put off 'til tomorrow what you can put off 'til next month," is my usual approach to getting things done in the homestead. However, yesterday I actually made a bit of headway on a project J-mom and I have been wanting to tackle for a while - the garage.

There will always be yardwork to be done. There's always dishes to clean, floors to sweep and garbage to take out. However, the garage is a huge task that's just overwhelming. I am not exaggerating by any degree when I say it looks like someone backed a dump truck up to my garage and just dumped stuff in it. And that's because when we moved in, we used the garage as a staging area. The furniture and such went right where we knew it would, but a lot of boxes and such were stacked in the garage and we slowly got to sorting them out. Once we had everything we needed, everything else just sat there. Seasonal clothes. Decorations. Who knows? As it remained stacked in boxes and Rubbermaid containers, the detritus of life also accumulated around it. Slowly the garage became unmanageable.

Yesterday I struck a blow against the clutter. I cleared out one side of the garage and built shelves! Perhaps that doesn't sound like much, but it was a huge step forward in regaining use of this space. What's really amazing to me is that it's the first time I've ever attempted to build a project this big. Now, the shelves aren't pretty, but I got up in about four hours and I'm proud of that.

Today, J-mom and a friend are supposed to tackle the rest of the garage, but it's supposed to pour rain all day. Figures. They'll have to reschedule, I'm sure.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The people in the theater during Paranormal Activity

So, yeah, I finally went and saw Paranormal Activity tonight. The short of it is that it's a slow-paced movie that gets increasingly creepy and finishes big. While I think it's probably a best-for-video movie - to the point that I think the film would actually be creepier viewed at home - what you don't see at home are the people who leave the theater because the movie's freaking them out too much.

I went in to the theater knowing pretty much what to expect. If you've seen a full ad the for the movie, then you know what to expect. That's kind of a bad thing. There's not a lot happening in the movie. The majority of the film happens in the couple's bedroom - them sleeping or reacting to the paranormal activity, however. Otherwise you get some pretty stereotypical horror/suspense movie characters. Where the movie really succeeds is in its use of home-video style camera work. I read a while ago about how this use, kind of putting the viewer in the viewfinder, breaks the fourth wall. I don't know if I'd go as far as to say that, but it does make the movie feel more intimate that your average big-budget fare.

Outside of the movie was another thing all together. There were some annoying movie patrons nearby - a couple who wouldn't turn off their cell phone, some who wouldn't stop talking - but I was kind of hoping I would get to witness some reactions like you see in one of the advertisements. I wasn't disappointed. About 15 minutes from the end, a couple left. Then another left. Then another. It was too funny. Some who were left who were obviously close to leaving gave some pretty loud "OH DAMNS!" and interesting screams. That was worth the price of admission.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Thoughts from the non sequitur space

Our dog has started sleeping in my son's bed. I think it's the cutest thing I've ever seen.

She's lazy though. I came home yesterday and she's passed out. Guess it's a good thing she hasn't discovered bon bons.

I've been thinking about building a platform/pedestal bed. I have a simple design in mind. I hope I can get it done before it gets too cold.

I hate the sometimes adversarial relationship between the active-duty and the civilians. There is almost none of it in my office, but there sure is a lot of it on this installation (and at every installation I've ever worked at, honestly).

I wish I was more handy. Or less lazy. Probably the less lazy one would work.

My kids do some pretty funny shit sometimes. I wish I'd remember more of it so I could write about here.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Stargate Universe ...

You're moving too slow. Too little stuff in an episode. Pacing sucks. Pick it up please.

I wish my Blackberry took better photos in the dark

It's my favorite time of year. I like coming into the office and being able to watch the sunrise. The gradiation from deep orange to dark blue is amazing and it not captured anywhere near decent in this photo - but this is my view from one of the windows in my office.

It's a small pleasure, but watching the sun rise while drinking my first cup of joe is something I've learned to enjoy and really look forward to. It doesn't last too long, so I like to soak it up while I can.

Friday, October 16, 2009

BBQ 2

Last night we added a new eatery to our barbeque list. There’s a place just down the road from us called Big Bill’s BBQ and we’ve wanted to try them out for a while. This place isn’t exactly what you’d call nice. It’s definitely on the dive end of the Diner, Drive In and Dive trifecta. But even though the place doesn’t look like much, the food is fantastic. In fact, I may have found my new favorite rib joint.

I uprooted from the cubicle farm early yesterday and we decided to head to the zoo for a couple of hours. We were all ravenous by the time we were done at the zoo and decided to pick up something on the way home. Central BBQ was floated as an option and it was mighty tempting, but in the vein of my earlier post, I suggested we try a new place. So Big Bill’s it was.

Between the four of us we ordered barbeque nachos, ribs and a small order of pulled pork. The nachos were good, but after having the heaven-sent entrée from Central, “good” is all I can say. The pulled pork was also good, but I’ll go a step further and say that it stacks up nicely against the best pork shoulder I’ve had in town. One thing it has going for it was that it was good and moist rather than dried out like some places. Lastly, the ribs! The ribs had such a great flavor. They tasted back-yard barbeque, a charcoal and wood-smoke flavor that’s just unbeatable. And so, so tender. The only bad thing I have to say about them is that our rack had some fatty spots. A little more attention to trimming fat and these could be the best ribs in the region.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

On Memphis BBQ

I read in a local rag that Memphis has been called “The Garden of Eatin’” and I could not agree more. There are so many things here that are so good. Some cities have hot dogs. Some have pizza. Some have both. Some are famous for steaks, some for their seafood. Memphis is famous for food, plain and simple. Now, I’ll admit that most folks think of barbeque when they think of Memphis food and we do seem to have the market cornered in that regard. I’m not saying there aren’t other cities and towns with good barbeque. I’m just saying that there aren’t many other places out there with the barbeque density that we enjoy.

Memphis is barbeque. It is not an exaggeration to say that there’s a barbeque joint on every corner here. If the hype is to be believed (and, in my experience to date, it pretty much is), most are quite good. What’s sad is that with so many different barbeque places in and around town, we should have really hit a few more. But we’ve made some favorites and you don’t always want BBQ, you know.

Today we hit one of the more popular barbeque joints in Memphis – Central BBQ, and that prompted me to write something about our barbeque adventures to date. What’s funny is that in any other town, this might seem like a lot of places, but we haven’t even scratched the surface. I could easily list 10-15 other places we want to try.

In alphabetical order, here are the barbeque places in the Memphis area I’ve eaten at and my impressions of them:

A&R BBQ: A&R is a local chain and we stopped at the Stage Road location. This is the only joint on this list that doesn’t get a favorable review. You know it’s probably not that bad in most other cities, but compared to any other barbeque place in town it just doesn’t stack up. The sauce is bad, the smoke flavor isn’t very strong and they don’t give you as much food as comparable establishments.

Brad’s Bar-BQ: This restaurant is located down the street from one of our very favorite barbeque joints (see Pit-N-Whistle below). In an effort to try different places we stopped at this place once. We were very impressed. It has a down-home Southern kind of feel. We’ve only eaten there once, but it left an impression. We want to go back.

Central BBQ: Today was our first time eating here. It’s often rated one of Memphis’ best barbeque joints and we’ve been told by many that it’s a great place. We weren’t disappointed. So far, I’d have to say it’s the best barbeque we’ve had. Their barbeque nachos are truly amazing. Their pulled pork has a great flavor (though it was a bit dry). Their sauces are really good. I’m sure we’ll be visiting Central any time we’re downtown.

Jim & Nick’s BBQ: Jim & Nick’s is an anomaly. They’re a chain from outside Memphis and it takes some balls to bring your sauce into BBQopolis. Yet here they are and they’re awesome. The barbeque is as good as any average place and the rest of their menu (burgers, etc.) is amazing – probably our very favorite restaurant in town.

Millington Pig (gone – now just Pig on Beale): This was the very first barbecue restaurant we ever ate at in the Memphis area. When we were house-hunting we wanted to try some “real Memphis barbeque!” Unfortunately the Millington Pig was good, but not good enough. They closed down a while ago (they were a spin-off restaurant of their main location on Beale Street) but the BBQ wasn’t too bad. Decent pulled pork and very good sized portions.

Neely’s BBQ: There are several Interstate and Neely’s BBQ restaurants throughout Memphis. The Neely family are Memphis food royalty. We at the location on Jefferson and you could see the effects of their recent Food Network affiliation. There are banners and signs up all over the place, but otherwise, the restaurant feels quite worn in. The food was good, but I guess I was expecting something grander given their Food Network ties. The pulled pork was all right, the sliced brisket was OK, but the sliced turkey was dry. The ribs that I had were wonderful and moist. My parents were with us and there ribs were a bit tough.

Pig-N-Whistle (both locations): Pig-N-Whistle has two locations in and near Memphis. The location in Bartlett is wonderful (despite what the reviews on Google say – don’t know what they’re smoking). I have not had a bad thing on their menu (and I’ve eaten just about everything on it). They offer their ribs in three styles – wet (with sauce), dry (no sauce) or muddy (sauce with dry rub on top). Muddy is favorite. Their barbeque nachos were, until today, my favorite in town. However, there is a location in Millington and their food is nowhere near as good as the Bartlett location. This is sad because it’s a lot closer to us and the building is really cool.

Post Office BBQ: This place is a favorite around the Navy base. Most everyone I work with loves this place and I finally got to go a few months ago when one of the senior enlisted in my shop retired. Truly, this is a fantastic barbecue joint. It probably has the best-tasting meat of any barbecue restaurant I’ve eaten. Their serving sizes are amazing. It comes in a close second to Central.

Rendezvous: Charlie Vergo’s Rendezvous is probably THE place everyone thinks of when they think of Memphis barbeque. It’s a Memphis institution and it has earned its reputation honestly. I ate here for the first time just a couple of months ago when a friend was in town from Long Island. He wanted to eat there so that’s where we went. I think Rendezvous has the most unique rub and finishing style of any other rib joint in town, but I’ve not going to say they’re the best. They’re definitely worth the visit though. If you’re in town and have the chance, definitely stop in – you’re not only getting good food, you’re soaking in Memphis history. But, if you don’t get the chance, don’t sweat it. Go to the joint nearest you; you’ll be fine.

Rum Boogie: This is the first barbeque place we ate at on Beale St. I can’t even remember why we went downtown, but I remember my first pulled pork sandwich there. Until recently, I thought they had the best tasting pork in town. Their sauce is quite good. Portions are, like almost everywhere else, enormous. The greatest thing about Rum Boogie, though, is the atmosphere. Hanging from the ceiling, everywhere, are guitars signed by famous people. Our first time there, I sat under a made-for-metal shredder signed by Dimebag Darrell. A few minutes into lunch, a guy got on the small stage and started playing some acoustic blues. That’s Rum Boogie – great food and good music in a place filled with history.

Tops BBQ: Tops is a huge local chain. There are 14 locations in and around Memphis. Tops does a lot to define Memphis barbeque. They’re not the best, but they offer solid flavors in good portions. Their beans are great. They’re not my first choice, but they’re close to work and offer a solid choice if I need a barbeque fix.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Inspired by prize committees

Obama Size

Wish I was Obama size
Everything moves you
Everyone tries to pull you
Out from your hole
Like a tooth aching a jawbone...

I was made with a heart of stone
To be paid off
With one good bribe
I've seen "The One"
Daily on TV
Talking much with no action done...

It ain't easy living...

I want to be
As "deep"
As "The One"
President Obama

Some people tell me
Home is in the sky
In the sky lives a spy
I want to be more like "The One"
No action
All talking...
No action
All talking...

Ripped off from Jane's Addiction's Ocean Size.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Nah-nah-nah, NSPS goodbye

This is phenomenally good news for DoD civilian employees.

FTA:
The repeal of the National Security Personnel System came as part of a compromise House and Senate members announced in their negotiations over the Defense Department authorization bill. The Defense Department will maintain more performance management and hiring flexibility than other federal agencies, but it must halt NSPS by the start of 2012 and it cannot enact a new pay-for-performance system without submitting detailed proposals to Congress for approval.

There will be many who argue that the removal of "pay for performance" is bad. And I would agree if NSPS had in any fundamental way been about pay for performance. While the system paid lip service to the theory, in practice NSPS was a way to marginalize raises and bonuses and obfuscate the entire pay process.

The major problem with NSPS, outside of its inherent unfairness, is that it was initially created to do things that can be done within the old "GS" system. One of the biggest complaints about the GS system is how hard it is to fire an underperforming employee. And that is a true statement. It is difficult, but not impossible. If managers are willing to follow the rules. Which, in retrospect, wound up being far easier than anything NSPS dumped on the laps of managers DoD-wide. I can add some anecdotal strength to this - our department deputy called me yesterday to tell me about the amount of overtime he's been having to put in just to manage the NSPS paperwork for two or three NSPS employees. The other day he put in seven hours of overtime. One day.

You can talk about the GS system being broke all you want. You will have plenty of valid arguments to make. I have a great dislike for many of the GS hiring practices. However, none of these arguments will cancel out the fact that the NSPS system is horrible. You can't fix something broken with something broken.

The Mighty One Who is the Best in the Show Glee

I didn't want to jump on the bandwagon and talk about Glee like everyone else seems to be doing, but after last night's ep. I feel I must. I mean, it's a good show and all. It's entertaining. It has found a way to take a subject that I would normally have absolutely zero interest in and make it compellingly funny. But all of this would be impossible without Jane Lynch. She makes this show. Sure there are other interesting things going on. Sure the show's supposed to be about the Glee club and the main character's struggles, but, to me, all of this only serves to as backdrop to set up Lynch's character's scenes.

Everyone seems to be talking about Glee the past couple of weeks, but, in my opinion, for all the wrong reasons. Most have talked about the show being enjoyable despite the relative inexperience of most of the young cast. NPR had a good piece on Lynch yesterday, but aside from that, I haven't seen her get much credit for the show she's carrying. I hate to say it like that, but I really do see her has the lynchpin (a ha!) holding the ensemble cast together.

I've been a fan of Lynch's since Christopher Guest's Best in Show, perhaps my favorite of his mockumentaries. If you take a look at her IMDb page you can see how busy she is. And that's good. It's always great when quality actors get so much work. Good for us and for her.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

On snakes

KateP comments in the post below about snakes and I wax poetic thereafter. For informational purposes, this is the kind of snake I believe is hanging out in my yard. I've only ever caught brief glimpses of the snake at all, but the markings are to the top-right photo on the linked page (as I recall). The page says "harmless" like that's supposed to assuage my fears. I think "mostly harmless" would be more apt here in that the photo of the snake climbing the tree is most definitely an assault on my psyche. It makes me wonder if now, since I've gone and destroyed its natural cover/concealment, it's going to try and climb up in our attic or something. Damn paranoia.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Praise the Lawd!

We finally got some yard work done that we've been wanting to do since moving in to our house. Well, we've had a lot of different ideas about what to do, exactly, but the things we've wanted all along have been done.

See, our house has (had, now) these four crape myrtle trees (bushes?) along the front of our house (the Natchez variety, I think). I have nothing against crape myrtles, but they are not the kind of plant you want right against the front of your house. They grow too fast and don't look all that good right there. So, that was priority one: Get rid of crape mytles.

Along one side of my house, there are two big bushes. In between these two bushes, there was a patch of shrub-weed-whoknows that has always been a huge mess AND during the warmer months a haven for snakes. I've seen at least two snakes in that area. So, I've wanted to just yank all that stuff up and get it out. That was priority two: Torched Earth policy between the two bushes.

In the front of my yard, someone had, long ago, made an attempt at some beautification. The problem is that it had long ago turned to ruin. There were two small peach bushes that bore fruit, though very small. There was some other vegetation there, but it was all kind of nasty looking and very hard to trim around. Priority three: Get rid of all of it.

My back can't handle much more than mowing the lawn, so we were blessed to have some friends do the work for us. They were in a tight spot and were looking for some yard/house work to do to help makes ends meet. We were in the rare place where we had a little extra money and were able to help out some. I now have all of my priorities checked off. Things I'd be bitchin' about for years to come if we didn't have someone come and do it.

I am so happy to have all this done and it's only going to get better as the grass grows in and it all melds together into yard. I'll post some pics this afternoon.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Zombieland: More of a review than the pithy comment I left on Facebook

Bottom line: Zombieland is a lot of fun if you can just accept it for what it is - just a fun zombie movie.

Now, Zombieland didn't supplant my all-time favorite zombie movie (Day of the Dead), heck it didn't crack the top 5, but it's still a lot of fun. In my book, any zombie movie is worth ten times its weight in regular action or horror movie fare, so I am biased.

The good about this movie is that it never takes itself too seriously like a Dawn of the Dead or 28 Days Later (both of which I loved and the former holds both spots 2 and 3 [for the remake] on my top-five list). It's almost always light-hearted (with a couple of sentimental moments) and often laugh-out-loud funny. It's got a great soundtrack. The movie opens with some old school Metallica - For Whom the Bell Tolls - and that helps set the mood. The ensemble cast was great. I haven't enjoyed Woody Harrelson this much in a long time. The last, and best IMHO, point is that it didn't try and make any statements. Nothing political or environmental. It just is what it is.

The bad. It drug in the beginning. I was really worried at moments. There was a lot of style - cool text overlays, high-def slow-mo camera tricks - and little substance. However, the story picked up quickly with the introduction of Harrelson's character. The other thing that bugged me, and I didn't think it would, is that this is another "running zombie" movie. I know a lot of people have issues with running zombies. I'm not one of them. I loved the Dawn of the Dead remake and think the fast zombies added a new level of suspense. 28 Days Later? I understand why they were running. This movie though, it just bugged me. I can't explain why.

If you can let certain things be certain things, then you will enjoy this movie better. I can't remember if we get a time frame on how long the zombiepocalypse has been going on, but I kept wondering why they still had electricity. It's something that's always bothered me about end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it movies. Power plants don't run themselves. They require a lot of people to keep 'em running. Small thing, really, but if you get stuck on things like that, this movie will stick you.

Aside from these relatively minor bad points, it was good. I enjoyed it. I'd give it three-and-a-half shambling corpses out of five.

There going to get you Barbara

There are two routes I take to work. One takes me by a funeral home. This morning I drove by the funeral home and saw what I initially thought to be some garbage bags sitting by the side of the road. It was dark and a little hazy, so it was easy to mistake that rather than bags of grass clippings or something like that, it was actually a guy who had a threadbare blanket drapped over him.

It's a tribute to both the time of morning and year that my first thought was that the zombie uprising has started. Of course, I shook that off. However, I'll keep y'all posted.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Happy fiscal new year

It's my favorite month and the beginning of my favorite time of the year. I love the way the air steadily gets crisper and the fact that you don't have to run the a/c all time! I also love that again I finally live in a place where the leaves change colors and there is something approaching four seasons.

Today is also, as we've come to celebrate in my office, fiscal new year. It's kind of an anti-celebration really because it means we don't have any funds until a new budget is signed into law and God knows how long that'll take. It means we can't go anywhere or buy anything and we kind of have to sit around with our collective thumb up our collective fourth point of contact until the government gets on with governing. But it's a way to mark time.

J-mom and I have been batting about the idea of going to Six Flags. Well, really me more than her. During this trip to Disney I got bitten by the amusement park ride bug. I have never had it before. I used to be terrified of these things, and I wouldn't ride even the wimpiest of coaster. Now, I'm pretty psyched to get on them. I loved every ride we did at Disney and we rode all the ones considered intense. Like I said in an earlier post, the Summit Plummet water slide puts all the rides to shame though. That free fall is like nothing I've experienced before. Anyway, we were thinking it over.

We're within 8 hours of three Six Flags parks (technically four, but the New Orleans park is still closed) and season passes are ridiculously cheap. However, it's still money and it still means gas and a hotel and food and, and, and ... So we've decided to shelve the idea for now. This coming Columbus Day weekend is a four-day for me, and I'd kind of thought about going up to the Louisville Six Flags, but now that that idea's off, we're thinking about doing some daddy-kid/mommy-kid dates.

Daddy-kid/Mommy-kid dates are a blast. We usually let the kid pick what to do from a parent-approved list. I've taken Daughter Number One to laser tag and to a movie. Daughter Number Two and I have been shopping, but not much else. We're going to rectify that, I think, with some laser tag. Now the boy's old enough to throw in the mix, we'll have to see what kind of things he wants to do. Should be a great weekend.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Dear SyFy, Discovery, and any other channel out there

For the love of God, please stop it with these freaking stupid, vapid, inane "ghost hunting" shows. I mean, the whole John Edwards, trivial psychic, was bad enough, but these programs are a new low. When I'm couch surfing, I used to be able to rely on SyFy to have some cheesy B-movie or old TV show on, but now I have to contend with some supernatural show that seems to be on every other hour. I may have to see if I can get a cease and desist court order based on the damage suffered by my brain cells every time I have to sit through a commercial for one of these shows.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Developing a plan

For most of my adult life I have held the belief that I will not retire, in the traditional sense of the term. Rather, I'll have to hold steady employment for the rest of my life. Twenty years ago this would probably have sounded a lot sadder than it does today and I'm pretty comfortable with this notion. I'm not sure when it happened exaclty, but the idea that one works until their sixties and then stops seems more fantasy today than anything else.

Working for the government, I figured I would just keep my job until I either passed away or could no longer physically do anything. However, after my recent Disney World jaunt, I am rethinking things. Rather than sit out this job, I'm wondering now if I might actually take a "retirement" at 30 years and then find a retirement job. Many active-duty military retire after 20 - 30 years and go into another career to make ends meet. While I will still have to make ends meet, my goal isn't necessarily to have another career. I just want to get a job at the happiest place on Earth. I think finishing out my years working at Disney World would be a great thing.

Something I noticed walking through the different parks is that many of the park employees are older, retirement-aged folks. The guys checking the bags at the front of every park, a lot of the people staffing the photo booths at the end of many rides, many of the street vendors were all elderly. Of course this set my mind to working. Because I've held the belief that I'd have to keep working until I could no longer do so, I've never developed any kind of retirement plan. Now I'm starting to plot.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Home again

We got in yesterday afternoon and today's my first day back at work. An earlier morning does not exist than the first one after a vacation.

My inbox runneth over. My tasker list is full. The a/c is apparently not working right. Yet I'm happy to be here. Back to the grindstone and all that, but I almost forgot how much I enjoy doing all this stuff. I've got tons of it ready for me; I'll be posting some more vacay photos in the near future.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Some kind of trip report

Not quite home yet, but we made it safe to Biloxi on the first leg of our drive back home. J-Mom's dad and brother accompanied us to Disney World and were a huge help. Disney is running a deal now where military folks and retired military can get into the park for free for five days and get up to five more people in for five days for $99 a person. Since J-Mom's dad is retired Air Farce we were able to make use of this fantastic deal.

We spent Monday at Magic Kingdom and Epcot; did Hollywood Studios on Tuesday; Epcot on Wednesday; Animal Kingdom, Blizzard Beach (see photo) and Magic Kingdom on Thursday, and we did Hollywood Studios again on Friday. We're dead tired but had such an amazingly good time.

We all enjoyed the Toy Story Shootout in Hollywood Studios and my brother-in-law and I got a lot of use out of the Tower of Terror and Rock-n-Roller Coaster. I think the best coaster out of all parks is the Everest ride, but they all pale after you go down the Summit Plummet in Blizzard Beach. The Plummet is a near-vertical drop from 120 feet. I hit 65 MPH my first time. It was the best kind of scary.

Mid-to-late September is one of the best times to go to Disney World. We never waited longer than 30 minutes for any ride! We rode Tower of Terror on Friday three time in a row all in under 45 minutes. We rode Rock-n-Roller Coaster about four times in less than an hour. We did the Everest coaster four times in less than an hour. Best time of the year to go!

So, we had lots of fun, lots of scary, lots of smiles, some tears (Daughter Number One DID NOT like Tower of Terror), and we're already talking about when we're going to do it again. It'll be a few more years, but it will happen.

Tomorrow we head back to Memphis. While it's been an exciting couple of weeks, we're all ready to go home.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Might be posting, might not

Early tomorrow morning, I'm heading out to San Diego to hold a focus group. My family has been in Arizona for the past two-and-a-half weeks and they're driving down to meet me tomorrow. I can hardly wait. From San Diego we're driving(!) to Orlando. We'd made Disney World plans some time ago and this trip to Arizona was unexpected. It's been a while since we've driven this kind of distance, but we've given ourselves plenty of time.

Anyway, reuniting with the family and going to Disney will make for a wonderful experience. Hope you all have a good couple of weeks. Know I am.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Can't believe I'm only finding out about this now


Guitars for Vets. Awesome.

The following is reposted from The Fifth Fret:

SIX STRING BLISS TEAMS WITH PETERSON STROBE TUNERS TO BRING MUSIC TO INJURED AND AILING

CHICAGO, IL (September 1, 2009) – Six-String Bliss, the premier guitar-talk podcast since 2004, has teamed with Peterson Strobe Tuners to raise funds for Guitars For Vets, a non-profit organization that provides musical instruments and education for Veterans.

Six-String Bliss reviewed the Peterson StroboStomp 2 on Episode 164 of their podcast released on August 31st. Thanks to the generosity of Peterson Electro-Musical Products, this piece of gear will be the first step in a fund-raising effort for Guitars For Vets.

“We wanted to do something that would benefit this great cause,” says Six-String Bliss host Andy ‘Pipes’ Piper. “Times are tight, and giving is down for all non-profits. We wanted to give our listeners a way to donate and get some great gear.”

Here’s how the Reviews for Vets program will work: Six-String Bliss reviews a piece of guitar-related equipment from a participating manufacturer. The gear is then placed on eBay through ‘Giving Works’, an online non-profit fundraising tool. The entire selling price of the gear will then be donated to Guitars For Vets.

Six-String Bliss co-host PT Hylton hopes this will be the first of many ‘Reviews for Vets’. “It’s really a win-win situation,” says Hylton. “Our listeners get the chance to bid on a great piece of gear, and a deserving organization gets to receive the raised funds.”

The Peterson StroboStomp 2 auction will start on September 6th and run through September 13th.

____________________________________________

To get involved with the Reviews for Vets program, please contact Andy ‘Pipes’ Piper at pipes@sixstringbliss.com

About Guitars For Vets:Guitars For Vets is a registered 501(c)3 non-profit organization based in Milwaukee, WI, that provides ailing and injured veterens with guitars and instruction. The hope of Guitars For Vets is that self expression through the gift of music will restore the feelings of joy and purpose that can be lost after suffering trauma.

About Peterson:Peterson Electro-Musical Products, Inc. is a Chicago-based, family-owned company that has been manufacturing electronic tuners since 1948. Most commonly recognized for their mechanical strobe tuning products, Peterson also offers a digital line of instrument tuners. The Virtual Strobe™ series was introduced in 2001, followed by the first ever True-Bypass tuner of any kind, the Peterson StroboStomp™ in 2004. StroboSoft™, Peterson's strobe tuning software for PC/Mac, was released in 2005 followed up the major release of StroboSoft 2.0 in 2008. iStroboSoft™ for the iPhone™ and iPod touch® was introduced in 2009.

About Six-String Bliss: Six-String Bliss is the internet’s longest running guitar talk podcast. Since 2004, the Bliss has brought together a worldwide community of passionate guitarists in a weekly discussion designed to share our passion for guitars and delivered directly to our listeners’ computers. Visit them at www.sixstringbliss.com.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Laughin' and Cryin' with the Reverend Horton Heat - FTW!



I have been a fan of the Rev for a long time. They're easily in my top five favorite bands. I'd probably say they're close to first or second place. I just love this band. It's been a while since RHH put out a new album of original material. They did a Christmas album in 2005, and Revival was released in 2004. A pretty long time to go without new stuff from a band that has been cutting new albums about every two years since 1991.

Laughin' and Cryin' is quite worth the wait. With a more country feel than most previous entries, it's a more mature entry. Not that Jim "The Reverend" Heath has lost any of his satirical bite or rockin' attitude, but he seems to have come to understand that you can nuance those things as well (or better) than beating them into your head at 4-4 time.

Heath is no slouch on the guitar. On previous albums he tears up his fretboard with precision licks of which the best shredder would be proud. Tempos slow and solos get more care on Laughin' and it helps set the mood. In fact you have to wait until the last song to get anything much up-tempo but even that entry "Oh By Jingo!" has more of a Chet Atkins feel to it than anything really rocking. And that's not a bad thing.

UPDATE: After 10 or more complete listens, I have concluded that this is the perfect fusion of Chet Atkins, Duane Eddy and Link Wray. It's the mellowest RHH album ever. I'm digging it.

Prime cuts:
Death Metal Guys
Oh God! Doesn't Work in Vegas
Spacewalk
Oh By Jingo!

Here's a great piece on the Rev from a blogger I just discovered.
Here's a piece I wrote about the Rev a while back.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Funny pic Friday

From my silverware drawer:



Rorschach Spoon finds you mildly amusing.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

For lack of timing

I've been trying to do some home recording while the wife and kids are away. My problem is that I haven't played along to music or with a live drummer in so long my timing is horrible. What I've discovered is that I really need to jam along to the original recordings for a while. Which means I won't be doing any recording in the near future.

I have also discovered that I need to find some good drum programming software. I've been scouring the webs and I have found tons of programs, but I find it hard to commit to something. I don't want a drum loop editor, I want to be able to program an entire drum part (or sections) for a song. I used to use a program called Drums!, and it was good for composing but the drum sounds were a bit hollow and weren't easy to edit. I have run across a program called SoundTrek Drummer that looks like it will do the job I want. I don't expect most of my reader(s) to have experience, but if you know anyone who might be able to impart sage advice, I would be highly appreciative.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

My cynicism rises

This post at Wizbang by the always-awesome Lori Byrd made me think of this:



I haven't injured enough brain cells to be Jello Biafra-level paranoid, but this administration makes one think.

The Killer


1. Jerry Lee Lewis is releasing his fist country album since the 1970s later this year.

2. His first single, "Mean Old Man," became available today (I'm assuming on iTunes).

3. Awesome.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Dirty Monday



I've been craving some dirty rice for a few days and finally decided to make it yesterday. I picked up some cheap smoked sausage at Wally World and if there is any one thing I would change is that I would have used better sausage. Still it turned out very good. Here's the deal:

1 1/2 - 2 cups diced smoked sausage
1 cup ground beef
1 cup long-grain white rice
3 cups beef stock
2 1/2 - 3 stalks celery, sliced thin
1 cup diced sweet peppers
1 cup chopped green onions
3 gloves garlic, minced
Several shakes of dried onion flakes

Prepare rice with 2 cups of beef stock.

Brown ground beef and sausage and season to taste. Add garlic and onion flakes. Let simmer together for a few minutes. Add the rest of the veggies and cook until the celery begins to become slightly translucent. Add rice and the rest of the beef stock and simmer until the rest of the liquid is absorbed.

Like I said above, I would have used a better quality sausage if I did it again and I think I would have used a bit more stock. That extra one cup at the end seemed a bit too little. Maybe 4 cups total of beef stock (or you could use chicken). That's the thing I love about these dishes is that you can pretty much throw anything you want in there, it could be a much different tasting dish than someone else's recipe, but it's still the same thing.

Good eats, y'all.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Da winna



Thank you Kate! The wonderful Kate P ran a contest a little while ago and declared me the winner. Her prize to me were the two books pictured which arrived in the mail today. The Mysterious Benedict Society looks like something my oldest is going to devour in a day (maybe two). Daughter Number 2 will like it too, I believe. I Stink looks like the entire family is going to get a kick out of it.

This was very thoughtful and wonderful. Rest assured, they'll get well used.

Take your weak resistance

Throw it in your face.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Pick on them all you want

But GWAR is capable of some downright awesome punk songs.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Unintended bachelor

Things are awfully quiet here in Cullenland. J-mom and the munchkins had to take an emergency trip to Arizona for a family issue and will be gone for a couple of weeks. The reason behind the trip sucks, but it's nice that they get to go out there and see family. It has been years since J-mom has seen some of her family. Bo has never seen many of the family members out there. So, here I am. Just me and the dog.

It was fun for about five hours. Nice and quiet, and I was able to do whatever I wanted to do in peace. Then I started to miss everyone something fierce. No Bo telling me that "I'm right and you're wrong, daddy." No Daughter Number 2 using her favorite form of transportation - the cartwheel. No Daughter Number 3 reading books and fussing at everyone. No J-mom keeping everything in order.



This is the crew at the Petrified Forest near Holbrook, AZ, earlier today. They're still driving to Mesa. And their hoping to make it there by 9 or so tonight. It's day two and I'm already dying without them.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Because I'm All About the Guitar: Guitar Center is awesome

I bought this model guitar a couple of weeks ago from the Memphis Guitar Center. It was broken. Guitar Center replaced it. They rock.

The one I got was a sratch-and-dent special with a couple of cracks in the finish on the top and side of the body. No biggie and barely noticeable. Yet, for a couple of hairline cracks in the finish, the had knocked $150 off the price. I couldn't pass that up.

I played it in the store a bit and just loved the way it played. I picked it up and got a gig bag to go with it.

Getting home I was just loving it. But. But, I notice there's an odd rattle. It's subtle. I didn't notice it in the store. You couldn't hear it and can barely feel it. I think, "Hmm, maybe there's a piece of loose hardware." I began feeling around in the F holes and on the lower one I probed under toward the pickups and felt a piece of wood where there shouldn't have been one. Looking inside, one of the top braces had broken and fallen. The brace had pickup wires attached to it which kept it in place and, in turn, made it barely noticeable.

I called the store about it and they ordered me a replacement. Easy peasy. The first replacement came in last week and it had a cracked neck. No problem though. They just sent it back and got another one - that I picked up last night. Just awesome! This one has no cracks in the finish, the braces are all in place - for all intents and purposes it's a brand new guitar. Hell of deal guys.

As for the product itself, I can't say enough good things about these Ibanez Artcores. I've been wanting a hollow body now for a couple of years. I've been a solid-body guitar player for most of my guitar-playing days. I learned to play on a POS acoustic I found in my grandfather's attic and I've had a grudge against them for a very long time. Only lately have I come around to liking hollow-body electrics and acoustics again. Has a lot to do with my musical tastes growing, but I also think there are many more product lines available today that makes things like a hollow-body archtop accessible to a player like myself who can't afford/doesn't want to shell out the money for a Gretsch or Gibson.

Anyway, the Ibanez fills a nice niche by providing affordable, high-quality semi-hollow and hollow body guitars when the only real options used to be low-end Epiphones. Not that I'm going to diss Epiphone. They make a nice guitar here and there, but they're basic budget line is quite basic and budget. For the price, you get a lot more guitar out of the Ibanez than you do a comparably priced Epiphone. And try to find a full hollowbody for under $500 with a vintage style tremolo/vibrato. Not going to happen outside of these Artcores.

I did play the Gretsch Electromatics that are about $200 - $250 more than this model Ibanez and I got to say, for playability the Gretsch and Ibanez are close. The Gretsch just vibes better though. You can also feel the difference between the Bigsby and Ibanez vibrato units. The Bigsby is just a much more solid and fluid piece of equipment. Plugging them in, the Gretsch again shows its superiority. At least in providing what you expect from a hollow-body archtop. The highs had greater clarity and there was more of that pronounced twang. However, the Ibanez is no slouch. The sound from the Artcore is full and rich and in no way disappointing. And the price point makes it the far better deal. I got my Artcore for $350 (again, $150 off 'cause the scratch-and-dent). The lowest price I can touch a Gretsch Electromatic is for $699. Even at the list price of $499 for the Artcore, it's a bargain. At my price, it was a no brainer. And, if you're really picky about your sound, you can drop a pair of $100 Seymour Duncans in, have everything you'll need, and still come in under the Gretsch's price point.

The guitar comes strung with .10-guage D'Addario strings and if you get crazy on that vibrato, your G string will go flat pretty quickly. I've read that if you string with .11- or .12-guage flatwound jazz strings, you won't have that problem. I'll wait and see. If I keep having the problem, I might have to put some locking tuners on the thing.

I'll let y'all know what I find out. I'll be playing this thing a lot in the future.

UPDATE: Y'all. I can't get over how good this guitar sounds. I finally plugged it in here at home and took it through some clean and dirty paces. All I have here is a little 15W Fender Bullet Reverb amp. It's not much but it has a pretty decent sound. Perfect little home jam amp. But this thing just came alive with this guitar plugged into it. Can't explain how much depth out sound and color I never realized was available until I used this guitar with the amp. Just too awesome.