Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Morte de Mortimer

My pet has met its timely end. Checked the trap this morning and was greeted to one demised mouse.

Image hosted by Photobucket.comHere is an establishing shot to give you an idea of the area we're talking about. Look closely in the circle and you can see a little tail and leg.

On closer inspection, the trap was flipped over and you could only see part of poor Mortimer hanging out.

I didn't want to disappoint my viewing public, so I did flip the trap over so you could see those innocent little, dead eyes.

Okay, I should warn you that the two hypertext links take you to images of a dead mouse. Consider yourself warned if such a thing makes you sick or something.

The Uzzman returneth

Uzz, who I mentioned in an earlier post was down, is back up again at a new URL.

Go and check him out at: http://uzzman.typepad.com/

He is also updated on my blogroll.

Monday, November 28, 2005

I have a pet

So, I'm typing here not more than 15 minutes ago -- tyyping a response to WunderKraut, in fact -- when I hear an odd noise. A sound not unlike the noise your monitor makes when you turn it on, a slight rustling noise. I'm thinking, "Oh crap. Here goes my monitor."

A couple of more minutes of typing and out of the corner of my eye, I think I see something dart by my keyboard. I back my chair away slowly and get down to look under my monitor. Low and behold, there's a cute little mouse underneath the warm monitor, with the ravages of Halloween candy strewn about.

Next to my desk, on a supply table, we had a small candy bin with leftover Halloween candy it in. Well, young mouse purloined several pieces and decided that underneath my monitor was a great spot to eat them.

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Here you can see his leavings. Although I have nothing personal against Mortimer, I had to clean up the mess and call the base exterminator. We'll see tomorrow which is smarter, mouse or trap.

Oh, to add more humor to this, the damn mouse was under my monitor for quite some time as I sat here and typed -- after I discovered it. It didn't run away until I took the picture and the flash fired.

UPDATE: The A/O has been cleaned and a trap is now back behind my monitor. Mortimer has made a couple of more appearances -- poking his head out and dashing across my desk to find his stash gone. I'm sure it was heartbreaking for the little guy.

Mopey Monday

Man, I hate going back to work after a holiday weekend. I especially hate it when said weekend wasn't all that relaxing.

We had family staying with us for Thanksgiving. My brother-in-law, his wife and three kids. I don't want to give the wrong impression here, so I'll start by saying that I love my brother-in-law and his family. I think they're great and loving people. However, cramming my family plus theirs into my apartment is in no way a good thing.

A day, maybe two, is bearable. Three-plus was difficult. I don't handle lots of people in enlosed spaces very well, so it's trying. I also realize that being around me during these times can be difficult. I let my discomfort be known -- to other people's discomfort.

But, hey, it's over. We had some good times going out and doing some things I wouldn't have normally done -- homebody that I am.

One big holiday down, one big holiday to go.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Uzz is on the fritz

One of my daily stops: View to an Uzz is currently down (clicking on the link will show you an error message). I've contacted Uzz and have been informed that he has somehow exceeded his traffic for the month.

All is well, and I'll keep you informed if any new developments arise.

Thursday Wednesday Travelogue: The Trip I Never Took

I have no doubt that I'll be out of the net all day tomorrow, so I'm running my Travelogue a day early.

So tell me if any of you have ever wondered this: At what point did I finally start understanding the world around me? By that question, I mean, at what point did I stop getting silly notions in my mind that were inescapably true to me and start realizing cold reality?

This event from my past has me thinking about it.

I grew up an Air Force brat, moving all around States. The one thing I never got to do, as an Air Force dependent, was travel anywhere overseas. I had friends who did. I knew a wealth of people who Germany, England, and one person who'd been to the elusive station -- in Australia!

I met this person when we were stationed in Colorado Springs at Peterson AFB. I was in sixth grade and we were getting close to the time that we moved again. To me, the idea of moving had always been a good thing. New places, new people, new things to do -- I always enjoyed going to new places. Somehow Australia, the idea having been planted in my mind by that one person, seemed more exotic than any other place we could go. More unknown or strange or something. This was before Crocodile Dundee, so it wasn't that. I'm not sure why I latched on to the idea, but it became a passion, an obsession.

I went as far as asking my dad if it was possible for us to get stationed there. He made the mistake of telling me yes. From that point it was solved in my mind -- we were going to Australia. No ifs, ands or buts. I had deemed it so!

Here's the part that makes me wonder -- why didn't I have any nagging doubts about the possibility of going elsewhere? Why didn't I understand that we were, in all likelyhood going somewhere else? I think I wanted to believe it so much that I simply shut out any other possibilities. I'm serious about this -- going to Australia was like a mantra to me. I would talk about it all the time. Our classroom had a huge world map on it and I would spend unhealthy amounts of time looking at that damn island continent.

So, in the end, we moved to Mississippi. Biloxi. It didn't sound as exotic as Australia. It wasn't foreign. But I got over it. However, Australia, the idea of it has always held some fascination to me and I would love to go sometime. Hopefully, someday, I'll be able to take the family. And I'm sure I'll complain about it the entire time.

What I'm wondering, is when did I lose this ... innocence, I guess it is? Was the transition subtle or sudden? I don't remember. I can look back and clearly see this young kid blindly enamored with ideas, and I can look not quite so far back and see a cynical pre-teen.

I miss being so enamored with ideas, but I don't miss being that blind to the world around me.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

A Tuesday Funny

Top 11 worst sci-fi jobs. I've done #11 on a voluntary basis.

11. Vogon Poetry Focus Group Member
10. Borg Rebel
9. Alien Invasion Cleanup Crew
8. Klingon Personal Injury Lawyer
7. Alien Surrogate/Host Parent
6. Telephone Sanitizer
5. Thunderdome "Foam Finger" Vendor
4. Terminator Test Target
3. Matter Transporter Guinea Pig
2. Blue Pill Tester
1. Jar-Jar's Speech Therapist

Visit the Top 11 index for more funny lists.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire: A quick review

Just got back from the cinema seeing the new Harry Potter. Must say that I was quite impressed. AND, most shockingly, I didn't know that David Tenant was in it. Great surprise that.

Overall, my feelings are that this was the best Potter adaptation to date. Not the closest to the book, mind you. In fact, there were some wild adaptations and some things that were left out -- including a major character! But the movie succeeded in ways that Prisoner of Azkaban did not.

While PoA cut things and changed things for pace, the whole movie seemed ... rushed. It just felt like it was going along at lightening speed and never gave you a moment to chill into the flick. It was good, but just not up to par with the other films. This movie, however, while cutting out quite a bit of stuff, still has a huge amount of ground to cover and does it without feeling rushed. The pace of the movie is good and although it is a two-and-a-half-hour movie, it's a solid two-and-a-half hours. There are some artisitic cutaways, maybe not integral to the plot, but needed. There are some fantastic segues.

All in all, highly recommended.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Because I'm All About the Guitar Pt. 7: John Petrucci

Image hosted by Photobucket.comI simply cannot say enough about John Petrucci. He is one of my favorite (if not THE favorite) guitarists. His compositions are complex, his knowledge is immense, his technique is amazingly clean and he is a chameleon of style. You name it, he can play it -- sometimes within the same song.

Dream Theater is packed with amazing musicians who are all at the top of their field, but JP really signifies to me someone who is a consumate professional. I simply cannot plug his stuff enough. If you have never heard Dream Theater, you should first slap yourself. Then you should take the most expedient course possible to acquire some of their stuff. Even if it's not your bag, you cannot deny the amazing levels of virtuosity in their music.

Also available is the G3 Live in Tokyo performance that Petrucci did with Satriani and Vai earlier this year. I have not heard it yet, but I shall soon. Visit his website for more info.

Superhero or Super Cleaner?

This is a cool little quiz.

My results:
You scored 16 out of 20.
Excellent job. I dub thee Captain Cleanser.

I am a super geek.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

The message bears repeating

Got this link from the good folks at Coalition of the Swilling.

A Patton-esque message to those who are balking on the War on Terror.

WARNING: There are some pretty intense images (Al-Qaeda video of atrocities) in this Flash video.

Actor of the day: Dean Cameron

Image hosted by Photobucket.comThanks to the wonderful retroCRUSH, I have been reintroduced to the wonderful Dean Cameron. A man who proves that there's a great degree of right place/right time to Hollywood. This guy's so funny and all of his "B" movies are wonderful. Check out Summer School (which they are remaking, proving, in Dean's words that "Hollywood has no ideas left") or Ski School. He's always funny and is the kind of actor that should have been cast in lots of things.

I can think of a few actors who owe him a thing or two. The Wilson brothers (Owen and Luke, that is) seem to borrow a lot of style from him. Jason Swartzman too. He just has such a cool presence.

He's also responsible for this site's new title quote. Check out his interview at retroCRUSH or his homepage. Well worth your time.

I wish I was a better friend

I'm supposed to be writing a travel piece for Thursday, but I don't have anything prepared. With the holidays and holiday things upon us, I'm probably not going to have a lot of time to prepare too much. I might have a travel piece up next week or the week after. But I can't say that with any confidence. Time sucks. Oh, I also didn't really want to write one today, I have other things on my mind.

Last night was hectic. We're having a potluck luncheon thingy in my building at work today. So I was busy getting dinner ready and making a broccoli cashew salad for the event today. An aside: It's a great recipe but the cost and the preparation time is prohibitive. I shan't be taking this dish to any more food events.

So, as I'm busily chopping broccoli, I get a phone call. I should preface this by saying that I'd gotten about 6 phone calls already within the span of an hour and a half or so. My wife does lots of church stuff and her sister calls often. I fielded each call in turn, progressively getting a tad more upset as every time I get ready to do something else the demon phone rings. I was just getting into chopping up some bacon and the phone rings again. DAMMIT!

Wiping off bacon-greased hands, I grab the phone expecting another "Hello is [my wife] there?" but instead get "Hello, Cullen?" Floored me. Unexpected. One of my oldest friends, currently living in the great state of Misery is on the line.

Of course we get the whole "catching up" taken care of, but more importantly I got to reconnect to a pal. At a time that I've been feeling the need to do so. See, I'm a cyclic contact person. My old friends and I go through periods of extreme contact where there will be tons of email and phone messages. We'll plan and plot and create and have fun. This lasts a year or so. And then nothing. Contact doesn't really taper off as much as just ends. Sometimes I initiate the re-connect. Sometimes he. It's odd. What's more odd is that I'm like this with all of my old friends that I am still in contact with.

But to continue ... I wish that I was better in staying in contact with my buds on a more constant basis. I do not phone. I refuse to own a cell phone for a variety of reasons, but that hampers modern-day contact. And at home (given the example stated above) you can tell I'm not a big phone person, regardless of how much I might actually enjoy the conversation (don't take that as a cue not to call me, people who call me. I do appreciate it, I just expect it to be one of the multitude calling for the missus).

What's really cool about it though is that it's nice to know there are people outside of your normal sphere on contact that think about you. There will be more on this in the future, I can assure you. We act as creative inspirations for one another and tend to produce some neat ideas. Hopefully we can actually get something tangible out some day. We'll see.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

One man anti-terror task force

It took a genius liks Kim Jong Il's son Kim Jong Chol to make us realize the obvious: If you really want to get rid of terror, you should use the most terrifying force on the planet -- Jean Claude Van Damme!

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According to Chol: "I'd not allow weapons or atom bombs any more. I'd destroy all terrorists with the Hollywood star Jean-Claude Van Damme."

And to think we were worried what about the stability of North Korea. How could our gov't have neglected the Van Damme factor? Dumb Asses!

EDIT: It was deemed TOO offensive. Darn it.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Another quiz

Busy-ness is running me down. So, I'm probably going to just be posting quizzes or other fun stuff for the next day or two.

Check out the Where Have I Seen That Guy quiz.

I scored 6, Minion of Media Mastery: Serious student of useless knowledge but there's room for improvement.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Because I'm All About the Guitar Pt. 6: Chingon

Yes, yes, it's late. It was supposed to be posted last Friday. Well, Vet's Day and other things crept all up on me and kind of sapped my blogging time from me. So, here's the delayed BIAAtG post; this week I focus on Hispanic-American director/musician Robert Rodriguez's band, Chingon.

Image hosted by Photobucket.comChingon was formed by Robert Rodriguez so he would have a ready resource for soundtrack work in his movies. He sold his band to Quentin Tarantino by offering to do the soundtrack to Kill Bill Vol. 2 for free. Those who have seen the movie can attest to the fact that the soundtrack both fits and helps set the mood for the movie.

I first became aware of the band because of the KBV2 DVD where, in the special features, Chingon performs a couple of tunes. I was so amazed at what was there that I immediately jumped on the Web to track 'em down and pre-ordered the CD. Now, that's been a while. Probably about a year, but I'm probably only now really beginning to appreciate them. Not that I didn't like them, but I guess I just never gave them the critical listen they deserved. My recent listening has involved a good bit of Reverend Horton Heat and I guess that has kind of primed me for Chingon.

Image hosted by Photobucket.comTheir music is definitely fueled by Latin influences, but there is a good bit of rockabilly overtones there. Admittedly, my favorite tracks are the faster-paced rockin' numbers where the musicians really get to showcase their talents (who knew Rodriguez could play this well?), but the slow numbers are good also (featuring a number with Salma Hayek on vox). If you visit their website, you can get a taste of their sound.

I am particularly fond of the Latin-style guitar runs; the scales sound excellent within a rockabilly foundation and the fretboard dexterity showcased by Rodriguez and the other guitarists is amazing. It's like listening to Santana in that it's Latin flavored and has a high-caliber of musicianship, but there are differences. Chief among them is that Chingon's music is fun. You can hear it in their licks and feel it in the upbeat. This band isn't any of these guy's main job and this is a way for them to have a good time, and you can tell. Give 'em a listen!

Image hosted by Photobucket.comBTW, nothing to do with Chingon the band, but when I Googled to find some pix for this piece, this photo popped up. I thought it was too funny, so I needed to include it. Chingon means badass in Spanish, so I guess this makes sense.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Conservative humor

CosmicConservative has a very funny post up Lefty Moonbats and the Holy Grail.

I don't want to give too much away, but I love this bit:

MCCAIN: Tell me, what do you do with liars?
REID: Impeach!
CROWD: Impeach, Impeach them!
MCCAIN: And what do you impeach apart from liars?
RATHER: More liars!

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Busy weekend

So, if you're like me this weekend, you don't have a ton of time for blogging. So, post a quiz:


I scored: 32.74162% - Total Geek

Friday, November 11, 2005

Veteran's Day

Remembering those who have sacrificed all they had to secure our way of life.

Veterans' Day (formerly Armistice Day)
November 11, is the anniversary of the Armistice which was signed in the Forest of Compiegne by the Allies and the Germans in 1918, ending World War I, after four years of conflict.

At 5 A.M. on Monday, November 11, 1918 the Germans signed the Armistice, an order was issued for all firing to cease; so the hostilities of the First World War ended. This day began with the laying down of arms, blowing of whistles, impromptu parades, closing of places of business. All over the globe there were many demonstrations; no doubt the world has never before witnessed such rejoicing.


In Emporia, Kansas, on November 11, 1953, instead of an Armistice Day program, there was a Veterans' Day observance. Ed Rees, of Emporia, was so impressed that he introduced a bill into the House to change the name to Veterans' Day. After this passed, Mr. Rees wrote to all state governors and asked for their approval and cooperation in observing the changed holiday. The name was changed to Veterans' Day by Act of Congress on May 24, 1954. In October of that year, President Eisenhower called on all citizens to observe the day by remembering the sacrifices of all those who fought so gallantly, and through rededication to the task of promoting an enduring peace. The President referred to the change of name to Veterans' Day in honor of the servicemen of all America's wars.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

The USMC Birthday

UPDATE: Wow, linked by Michelle Malkin! Thank you and thanks to Mike for the pimpin'.

Happy 230th Birthday U.S. Marine Corps!!!

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A grand service with a very rich history. So follow this link for an abbreviated version of one of the coolest stories you can read.

I have come to work for the Marines rather recently. Most of you know I’m a former soldier in the U.S. Army and am very proud of my service. But you just can’t knock the Corps. As much as you pick on ‘em for being “jarheads” and “devil puppies,” they among the most elite, mobile and highly lethal forces in the world.

Take a moment today, please, to recognize the Devil Dogs as they are going about their duties securing peace.


Travelouge Thursday: A trip through time

Being that this is the U.S. Marine Corps' birthday, I would like to focus on something Marine-specific. Since my exposure was minor, I have limited resources to pull from. But I dug up a story I wrote about six years ago and have decided to present that.

It's a bit of a stretch as it's more of a trip through time than a literal trip somewhere. Bear with me as it's an interesting story and deserves to be said, again:

Veteran Recalls Navajo Code Talkers' War in the Pacific
By Cpl. Cullen, USA
Special to American Forces Information Service

FORT HUACHUCA, Ariz. -- America's World War II island-hopping campaign in the Pacific was about to start in 1942, and the U.S. military still didn't have something it desperately needed -- a communications code the Japanese couldn't break.

Photo caption: Navajo code talkers on Bouganville. John Goodluck is in the bottom row, second from right. (U.S. Marine Corps archive photo)

Then, Philip Johnston had a revolutionary idea: Use the native language of the Navajo Indians. Johnston, the son of a missionary to the Navajos, was one of the few outsiders who could speak the tribe's tongue fluently. The language is unique to the Navajos and had no written form at that time, so a person who didn't know the oral vocabulary was helpless.

Johnston tried several times to convince the Navy his idea had merit, but failed. It was a call to then-President Franklin D. Roosevelt that finally convinced the Navy to give his idea a shot, said John Goodluck Sr., a Marine Corps Navajo code talker during the war.

For the test, he said, the military set radios 300-400 yards apart and sent coded messages using both Navajo code talkers and regular Morse code machines. "The code talkers deciphered the message in under a minute, the machine took an hour," Goodluck said. After military approval, the Navajo council had to decide whether to
support the idea.

"Everyone on the council was for it except for one. They slept on it for a night and decided to do it -- they said it was good and important to support it," he said. Goodluck and others went to Camp Pendleton, Calif., for Marine Corps basic training and code-talking school and then headed to the Pacific. Eventually, 379 code talkers would serve.

"Some say there were 400, but many failed," Goodluck said. "You had to understand both Navajo and English."

Photo caption: Navajo code talkers marching in formation at Camp Pendleton, Calif. (U.S. Marine Corps archive photo)

Code talkers' messages were strings of seemingly unrelated Navajo words. They would translate each word into English, and then decipher the message by using only the first letter of each English word. For example, several Navajo words could be used to represent the letter "a" -- "wol-la-chee" (ant), "be-la-sana" (apple) and "tse-nill" (ax). The code was unbreakable so long as an eavesdropper didn't know the oral vocabulary.

While the Navajos used more than one word to represent letters, about 450 common military terms had no equivalent and were assigned code words. For example, "division" was "ashih-hi" (salt); "America" was "Ne-he-mah" (Our mother); "fighter plane" was "da-he-tih-hi" (hummingbird); "submarine" became "besh-lo"(iron fish); and "tank destroyer" was "chay-da-gahi-nail-tsaidi"(tortoise killer).

Just by speaking their language, the Navajos could easily transmit information on tactics and troop movements, orders and other vital battlefield communications over telephones and radios. "We were always on the radio. We would see a ship or airplane and tell them what we saw," Goodluck said.

Goodluck said he served in the 3rd Marine Division from March 1943 to December 1945 and participated in the invasions of Guadalcanal and Bougainville in the Solomon Islands, Guam and Iwo Jima.

After the war, Goodluck returned to Arizona and worked for the U.S. Public Health Service as a truck driver, ambulance driver and translator for English-speaking physicians on the reservations. "They didn't have doctors or clinics on the reservations when I first started. The nurses had to carry these huge bags and would give the shots to people in the areas we visited," he recalled.

The Department of Defense officially and openly honored its Native American code talkers in 1992. The services enlisted code talkers from many tribes during the war. While their purpose was a kind of open secret then, their contributions were still largely unknown to the public. Now, however, the Navajo code talker exhibit is a regular stop on the Pentagon tour.

(Cpl. Cullen is a staff writer for the Scout newspaper at
Fort Huachuca, Ariz.)

Related Sites of Interest:

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Coffee porn

UPDATE: Holy crap! How am I only finding out about this site now?!!?

Oh man, this subject has been posted and posted and posted about on the net. There are thousands of pages on subject if you Google coffee and on Flickr, where I got the below image from, there are nearly 19,000 results for searching "coffee." It's an important subject to me, which is why I'm retreading ground that has already been so well trod. But it's telling to me that there's so much out there about it. It's obviously a very important issue to others.

Just look at this:

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This image is one of many by Tonx on Flickr. Beautiful stuff and you can find tons of gorgeous coffee photos there.

There's a culture to coffee. You can see it in where you buy your brew. That is not to say that different coffee drinkers don't break from their mold occasionally, or even often, but by and large they fit into a certain mold.

There are the coffee shop drinkers. Those that speak coffee as grande and vente. They don't blink at spending $5 for a cup because they treat it like an exotic cocktail from a bar. It's aroma is savored and its flavor cherished. And, regardless of how much they deny it, it's quite fashionable also.

There are the home brewers. Those that may prefer a high-end cup, but don't like paying a high-end price at the shop. They realize that with a little investment, they can brew quality sauce at discount prices. Relatively, of course. The straddle the lines between coffee shop and mom and pop. If they buy coffee on the road, it's usually somewhere they're ensured a good brew.

There are those who prefer their coffee one certain way, seldom stray and have a place they regularly get it from. It's usually a mom and pop place they've frequented for years. They know the workers by name and use coffee lingo like "Joe" and "Java," but not in the cheesy fashionable way that the coffee shop patron does. It is with complete sincerity they ask for "black caffeine juice."

Lastly, there is the occasional coffee drinker. To me, these people range from the person who drinks one or two cups a day to the person who drinks a cup every few days. The speak very little coffee language and know exactly what they want in a cup. It's usually a means to an end -- a pick-me-up or a non-alcoholic apertif.

There are those who don't drink coffee and we don't hold it against them. But we don't usually mention it in polite company either.

A couple of other neat coffee sets/individual shots can be found here and here.

Stay caffeinated.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Oh say can't you say

I have been reluctant to post anything here or in comments on other blogs about the Paris riots. The truth is that I'm not well educated on them. Most of the stories you read about it read like doublespeak. Something feels obfuscated and I walk away feeling more confused than before.

But, if I am to understand it correctly, a bunch of folks from the ghetto have gotten out-of-proportionally upset over a nasty incident involving the death of some guys who were running from the police and wound up electrocuting themselves. Please correct me if that statement is wrong.

Regardless of reason, I think the riots in Paris speak of a disturbing trend. A trend where folks get way more upset than a situation calls for. And I think the environment is ripe across Europe for these kinds of riots. An environment where people are constantly on edge about any offense, real or perceived, that may be thrown their way. Heck, their neighbor's cat's way.

There could be a study done. It's a very complex issue, but I wonder how much the PC police have to do it? My belief is that they're the chief reason behind this highly offense susceptable environment. And I find their overeactive offense offensive.

People try and take a partisan approach to this, but both ideologies are equally guilty. For every left-wing goodie-goodie that throws a book out because it contains racial epithets, there's a conservative Christian who throws one out because it contains "witchcraft."

They're ideas. And no one should try and take ideas away from anyone. Sure, they are powerful things. But how can one know how to react to them if there's never been any exposure? The truth is that an idea is only as powerful as any action it inspires. That can be tempered by education and exposure, and I always thought that's what school was supposed to be doing.

I kind of rambled and could have gone on a couple of different issues a bit longer, but I've made my point. Please, discuss.

P.S. This post was kind of inspired by some comments at Sheila's in a post about dangerous ideas and a failed experiment.

Oh, and I'd be remiss if I didn't add the Coalition of the Swilling as they've been running a good list of posts on the Paris events.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Another movie post: Preconceived Notions

I try very hard to not overthink movies. I also try not to have any feelings, pro or con, about a movie I'm about to watch. But, regardless of how much effort you put into it, there are times you are going to buy into the hype, get turned off or have some other feelings about a movie based on the advertising or something you heard/read somewhere.

I can think of several movies where I had a notion that it was going to be good, only to have my hopes dashed at the performance. Ang Lee does The Hulk??? That should be awesome! EEEEEERRRRRRRNT! Wrong answer. What I am having a hard time thinking of are movies I thought were going to suck and wound up being quite good.

Anyone else?

Actor fatigue

I kind of chilled out some this weekend on the blog. I didn't have much of anything to see and I wanted the guitar post to have the spotlight. I was reading through some of my regular stops this morning and saw this post at Sheila's regarding The Weather Man.

I have very mixed emotions about the movie. On the one hand, it looks good and I'm pretty good at seeing through the advertising hype that Sheila describes in her post. And because of what she says, I'm positive this one's gonna be a must rent. However, I'm also experiencing some fatigue on Nicolas Cage. I have always liked him, but there's just been too much of him lately. Well, maybe not immediately lately, but in the past few years. Maybe it's like an allergy and my Cage immune system is wearing down. He's grating on my nerves lately.

There are other, I'm sure. I bet Brad Pitt is going to be on that list soon, as will Jennifer Anniston, Angelina Jolie, Jennifer Garner (and that one's painful), and others.

What I'm kind of curious about though, it at what point actor fatigue sets in? Does it have something to do with how much they're in the media, or how much we find out about their personal lives? Does the magic go away because we begin to find out too much about them as a person? I'm not sure.

I love watching all the behind the scenes on DVDs. I love makings of. To me, it doesn't diminish the magic of the movies. I have a pretty healthy suspension of disbelief. However, something about an actor being in my living room through their films, the news, the various entertainment programs ad naseam ... it begins to wear on you.

Why Nic Cage? I'm not sure exactly. But it's happened.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Because I’m All About the Guitar Pt. 5: Home recording on the cheapity cheap

UPDATE: Welcome, pals from the Douglas Adams Continuum forums. The links to the song are at the very bottom of the article. Read through for good details.

Shortly before I deployed to Afghanistan, I got a wild hair about doing some home recording. There is and was a lot of information on the Web about how to do it right and economically. Well, I had issues with them.

First, I couldn’t afford to buy any of the equipment they suggested. I couldn’t afford a new sound card, an external input device or really nice recording software like Acid or Pro Tools. Secondly, not only could I not afford to set up a real cheap home studio, I didn’t really want to either. I wanted to see if I could overcome the obstacles given the equipment I had on hand.

Image hosted by Photobucket.comWhat did I have: A computer with the regular accoutrements (a Celeron 400MHz, so no barn burner, though this was 2002), an Ibanez Gi0 guitar, a Dean Playmate bass, a Fender Bullet Reverb practice amp, and Cool Edit Pro multi-track recording software (I also have a Rogue bass amp, but didn’t use it).

So, I had tools. Not great tools, but enough to accomplish the task. For those who are interested in playing around with multi-track recording and don’t have any real experience, Cool Edit is a neat program to use. It’s very user friendly and easy to learn. It’s not very powerful, but it’s cheap (I’m linking to a free download -- may be demo ware -- at the bottom). Cool Edit is now Adobe Audition, but the old 2.1 version is still readily available. But, there are lots of free audio editing programs out there if you go through Tucows or something.Image hosted by Photobucket.com

Before I tackled the problem of getting sound into the computer, I decided I needed to find a way to lay down a drum track. It was important to me to get the most realistic sounding drums I could without paying any money for software. I wound up running across a program called DRUMS. I used the demo version (linked at the bottom of the article). It’s a VERY time consuming process to lay down a drum track. BUT, I did discover the ability to copy and paste bars, which sped up the process a bit. If you’re doing a pretty simple song, it’s not that hard. I couldn’t imagine doing something really complex though.

So, I had a drum program, the ability to record the drums (if you have the demo version, you have to play the drum track and record it using an audio recorder on your computer; with the full version you can export directly to WAV), so I decided to play around with the program a bit. I found some neat sample drum beats and quickly laid down a simple pattern with repetitive fills. I used it as a click track to play guitar along with it, and decided I should attempt to lay down guitar and bass tracks.

This created a completely new dilemma. The little Fender has an export port. And I tried to run a line from the “External Speakers” jack into the computer’s Aux. Input and Microphone input. However, I can only assume that the amp’s line must act like a pre-amp or something, because I could never get a usable guitar sound going this route. There was either too much feedback or the signal was not loud enough to be usable.

I had to think around this problem. How could I get a signal that sounds as good as the amp (and that little Fender amp does sound good) into the computer? Then I started looking at the computer’s microphone (the standard one that came with the computer). And I had a moment of inspiration. “What if I mic’d the amp?” I thought.

Image hosted by Photobucket.comHaving a little bit of an idea of acoustics (not much though), I wound up taking a large box and putting the amp into it. I further put two pillows and a quilt in the box to absorb any echo and put the mic barely in the box at a corner opposite the amp. Image hosted by Photobucket.comThis setup, as white-trash fabulous as it may be, worked quite well. I was able to lay down guitar and bass tracks this way and synch it all up in Cool Edit. Took about an hour to do all this (after the drum track was already done). I am not linking to this experiment because it sucks donkey balls. But it proved to me the process was sound.

Now I was cooking. I might have been cooking with an MRE heater, but it was still a form of cooking. I was at a point where I had to decide what I wanted to record. It had to be something simple (because I can play nothing but), but something I liked also. After a few different ideas, I decided on Some Kind of Hate by The Misfits. I chose the song primarily because the drum track was very easy.

Regardless of ease on the drums, it was still a time-consuming process. The demo version of DRUMS does not allow you to save, so if you commit to it, you have to do the whole song at once. I believe it took me two or three hours to get it down. But once I did, the rest of the process was pretty easy.

I did this all at night, after the wife and kids went to bed … this is an important note for later.

After setting all the equipment up (pretty quick when you leave everything prepped, it took maybe 10 minutes) I recorded the guitar track. It’s important to note that you have to keep track of your input and outputs (via your computer’s audio control panel). ‘Cause if you want to use the drum track as a click track, you cannot have to mute the record portion of that input, which I think would be wave. The mic would be Line In or microphone, depending on what all inputs you have.

Amazingly, I got the bass done in one take and it only took two or three takes to get the guitar down. Simple songs are lovely.

I mixed down the guitars and drums and came up with a good sounding instrumental track. I normalized everything and that was a mistake. The short little solo in the middle lost it’s punch and I had to play around with crap for a while to get it right. I finally got it punched up enough, but it never sounded quite right after that. I also added some Chorus and a little more distortion to the track via Cool Edit’s effects. CE’s chorus effects are awesome. I can think of very little music that can’t benefit from Chorus.

Image hosted by Photobucket.comNow came a new problem … vocals. I have a real Nady mic I was going to try to use, but because of the bad sound card, I could get nothing useable. What I did not think of, and, in retrospect I wish I had, was to run the vox through my practice amp. But, I wound up singing dry directly into the computer mic. This didn’t work out very well. Singing through the amp I could have “heard” myself better, not so this way. Plus, it was about 2 or 3 in the morning and I was trying to keep my voice down. So the vox turned out like crap.

I tried a lot of things to punch up the vox, but regardless of what I did, I couldn’t fix the fact that I was flat and lacked dynamic range because I wasn’t singing at my normal volume. So I turned down the vox in the mix and let it ride.

Here is the finished product. It’s in MP3 format and is about 2MB. If you’re not familiar with the song, it’s punk, but this song’s SFW.

The sad thing is, I did this to prove that I could get a decent-sounding recording given pretty standard equipment that any musician would have. After proving that to myself, I haven’t done any more recording and I wish I would.

Here is the link to the Cool Edit Pro 2.1 I talked about.

Here’s the link to the Drums! Demo I talked about.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Those Co$ers and their wacky pre-nups:

Katie Holmes' happiness bubble finally burst recently when, a source says, her fiancĂ© — Tom Cruise, the man she's dreamed of marrying since she was a teenager — asked her to sign a prenup.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Travelogue Thursday: The Naha Tug-of-War

One of the most amazing sights you can ever see is hundreds of thousands of people together to watch and participate in the world's largest tug of war.

Naha, Okinawa's largest and capital city, hosts this mind-boggling event annually. It's part of a larger festival and pits the east side of the city against the west. It is said that if the east side (facing the ocean) wins, there will be an abundant catch for the year. If the west side wins, there will be an abundant harvest.

This is, of course the history of the event, but the reality is that it's a HUGE party steeped in really cool heritage and a lot of traditional costumes. When I first heard about it, I thought it was a joke. "A huge tug of war? What could that possibly be like?" I wondered. Well, it is amazing.

The following shots were taken in 1997, the first year Naha won the Guinness World Record for the largest tug-of-war. As always, click on the images for a larger view.

The event starts with two sides of the rope split. One side on the east, the other on the west. There are huge loops at each end of the rope, to bring them together. Once in place, they are secured with a 10-foot wooden post. There is a large square in the middle of the streets and a huge ceremony preceeds the tug-of-war. There are martial arts demonstrations, as well as dancing and the reading of proclamations.

Image hosted by Photobucket.comThis year, as I said, the Guinness people were on hand. Here, a Guinness representative presents the mayor of Naha with the World Record certification. These events always took two to three times longer because of the dual language nature. Having such a large English-speaking presence, the Okinawans were mindful to have everything translated both ways. Thoughtful of 'em, I thought.

Image hosted by Photobucket.comYou know the tug of war was getting close when you saw these guys. They stood on platforms that were carried above the sides of the rope and were brought to the center. Each represented a side of the city.

Image hosted by Photobucket.comI thought I had a better picture of the gold guy, but I couldn't find it. All these pics were hard copy and I had to scan them in. The purple guy is awesome though. Sometimes I remind myself that I'm decent at this photography thing now and then.

It's quite a thing to see them just kind of "float" down the line. I believe they are supposed to represent the shoguns of the respective sides of the city. Shogun being the warrior ruler. Today I guess we'd call them rival gang lords or something. But more official. Notice the distinct colors. Those ancient Okinawans knew how to represent.

Image hosted by Photobucket.comSo, once these guys made it to the end of their respective sides, they would then yell at each other and do all kinds of martial arts kata.

Japanese-style smackdown. It is interesting to note that Okinawa was the home of some of the most respected forms of karate: shotokan, shorin ryu, uechi ryu and others. They were influenced both by Japanese karate and Chinese martial arts. They incorporated their own weapons (farm instruments mainly). Very neat stuff.

Image hosted by Photobucket.comOnce the shogun are done they bow and back away. The the ropes are moved to the center of the square to be put together. This process is amazingly time consuming and takes hundreds of people. You can see in the photo they use these long, pointed poles to push the rope hundreds of feet to be joined together.

Oh did I mention that this thing weights about 40 tons total? So, 20 tons a side. Being pushed with a stick. How cool is that?

Image hosted by Photobucket.comAfter the considerable effort to get them to the center, then they have a considerable effort to get the two loops lined up to get the post through them.

But, they push and they pull and the move it and nudge and talk about it and say "Hai!" a lot and push and pull some more.
Image hosted by Photobucket.comEventually they get the thing where they want it and can get that damn huge post through both loops.

Image hosted by Photobucket.comAs you can see, once all that effort is done and the two old guys give each other the high-five, it's Miller Time! Kampai! Oh wait, no, there's still a tug-of-war to take care of. Okay, the saki and Asahi can wait.

Image hosted by Photobucket.comAnd then they're off. The guys standing on the ropes act as coaches and get the folks to yank on the ropes? How? Well, as the photo shows, there are a bunch of little ropes hanging off of it. Look at the guy in the lower right on the photo. See that face ... he's working it. Like his extra effort is gonna help move that 40 tons. Funny stuff. What's really neat, I think, is the multi-cultural nature of this thing. You see American miliary mixed in with the Okinawans, but it's also a huge tourist event so there are Australians, Chinese, mainland Japanese, folks from Hawaii ... it's really, really a huge event.

Image hosted by Photobucket.comThis crowd shot gives you an idea of the depth and breadth of the crowds. The year prior, I shot the entire event from the top of one of the buildings on the square. I got some good overall shots and I wish I copies of those photos. But for getting right up in the face of event, I was glad to be on the ground.

Oh, I'd also like to point out that to get this shot, I had to just hold the camera way over my head and trust auto focus. Pretty nifty, if I do say so myself.

I hope you liked all the shots and the neat slice of culture I presented here. This was a more timely piece than I realized. The 2005 festival was held Oct. 9.

For more information on the Tug-of-war, here's an article from JapanUpdate.com. For some quick info on the city of Naha, here's the Wikipedia entry.

Caption madness

WunderKraut is having a caption contest, on the following photo (which is my entry):

Go visit him and contribute!

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Whetting your appetite for tomorrow's travelogue

Okay, I spent a lot of time last Thursday on my travel piece and tomorrow's not going to be any different. In fact, I have A LOT more photos this time around. However, it is time consuming and I have to take care of my real work, so I'm not sure when I'm going to get around to posting the Travelouge.

So, here are a few shots, some near topic. As always, click on the photos for larger images:

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This is me circa 1991. I'm posting this because I promised Mike at WunderKraut that I'd post a mullet-era picture of a non-mullet me. See the super long hippie hair. Man, if I ran across this me today, I'd kick my own ass.

Goodness ... look at that Raiders shirt. And those glasses. Crud. I look like I'm about to go to an Anthrax concert and get stomped by the Pubilc Enemy fans. I'm glad Korn didn't exist then or I would have probably had to have cut my hair and/or shaved to kill the Jonathan Davies-esque thing I had going on. And I thought I looked so Chris Cornell -- hah!

Image hosted by Photobucket.comFlash forward about 5 years, and this is me, as a young private first class sitting at my desk in Okinawa.

Notice how studious I look. Or is that boredom?

Also notice the stool upon which there is a cup of coffee. There are a couple of important things going on here. First of all, that stool's only mission in life was to provide a pedestal for my coffee mug of the moment. Secondly, alluded to in my last comment, somewhere off frame, I had about 6 or 7 coffee mugs in various states of uncleanliness. This is how a journalists desk should look. Never be fooled by cleanliness. Cleanliness on an editor or journalists desk speaks of their incompetence. Sure, they may have organizational skills, but if they're spending all that time organizing, what's happening to the stories?

Image hosted by Photobucket.comSo, my topic tomorrow is going to have something to do with Okinawa. This shot was taken from the balcony of my apartment when we lived off-base. We were literally right on the beach and the sounds of the waves rocked us to sleep every night. It was amazing. But it's about the only thing about the apartment I miss. It was tiny, with paper-thin walls and on the fourth floor with only stairs. But we still had some great times out there. Great scenery. I'd go back in a moment if given the chance (within reason, of course).

Image hosted by Photobucket.comThis has always been one of my favorite shots. I wish I'd shot it with a little slower shutter speed to get more movement in the helicopter blades, but I'm proud of it nontheless. What's going on here, an MP from our post is guiding in helicopters from another base. I think they were Navy, but it's been a long, long time.

I wish these shots were in better shape. Of course, they're all scans I just did from hard copies and the hard copies aren't in that good of shape. I did a lot of my own developing in Okinawa at our Arts and Crafts shop on post. Unfortunately, I didn't develop/fix the photos as long as I should have in most cases since I was only using them for the paper and then throwing them in a drawer. So, now, a lot of these old B&Ws are getting purply and fading.

Such is life.

Bad or interesting recipes

Ripped off directly from FARK, post your bad, horrible or interesting recipes!

Here's my contribution:

Butterflied Turkey Nuts

3 pounds of fresh turkey nuts
1 pound of flour
Salt & Pepper

Heat fryer to 350-degrees.
Rinse nuts under cold running water and pat them dry with a paper towel. Make a lengthwise slit in your nuts, almost cutting in half but not going all the way through (butterfly). Dredge in the seasoned flour and fry immediately. Have a platter with a towel to drain your nuts on. Serve your nuts with your favorite sauce.

I'm regressing!

Apparently I have gone from a Flappy Bird to a Slithering Reptile.

Crap. I need better content.

A meme, again.

I am stealing this meme from Sheila, who got it from Kathy who got it from the Llama Butcher Boys.

-- Eats peanut butter at least once a week - At least. I may not eat it ever week, but the other times make up for it. I averages out.

-- Prefers smooth peanut butter over chunky - Yes.

-- Can name all Three Stooges - NIAGRA FALLS! Slowly I turned ...

-- Lives within a 20-minute drive of a Wal-Mart - You know it. But I hate going there. So time consuming.

-- Eats at McDonald’s at least once a year. With kids around, oh yeah. But I prefer not to. If I'm going to eat fast food, of an equal quality to McD's, then I'd rather eat Burger King.

-- Takes a shower for approximately 10.4 minutes a day. Oh, I'm sure. I take pretty long showers.

-- Never sings in the shower. I seldom sing in the shower. The timing (first thing in the morning) and my state of mind are usually not condusive to singing.

-- Lives in a house, not an apartment or condominium. Nope. Renting. Want to buy a house though.

-- Has a home valued between $100,000 and $300,000. See above.

-- Has fired a gun. No, I have not fired a gun. Oh yes. In a combat zone, no less. Though not at anyone, just fired it at a range in a combat zone.

-- Is between 5 feet and 6 feet tall- Yes. I am 5' 10".

-- Weighs 135 to 205 pounds. No.

-- Is between the ages of 18 and 53 Yes.

-- Believes gambling is an acceptable entertainment option. I, like Sheila, have mixed emotions about gambling. I participated in it some when I was young and wasted too much money doing so. I've seen the good they can do in a community, and also the bad. If people choose to do so, I have no problems with it. But I also believe that gambling institutions should be responsible for providing funds for some kind of gambling addiction rehab. There is a lot of it out there.

-- Grew up within 50 miles of current home. Nope. Moved all around as a child.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

I have nothing to say ...

Man. Some days you just don't have much to say. I mean, there's a lot going on. There's plenty of stuff TO talk about, but guys like Dean Esmay, Will Franklin and the folks at File it Under have already said most of it.

So, instead of treading ground already well-trod, I present Zladko:

2004 Eurovision entry

2005 Eurovision entry

Take the time to watch the videos. They are well worth it. Also look around and find out useful information about the country of Molvania: A Land Untouched by Modern Dentistry.