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


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 entrĂ©e 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.

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.