Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Old Home Night

So, I'm browsing around the web, as is my wont; and I found out two kinda interesting things.

One, a girl I went to high school with is apparently a slightly famous actress.

Natalie Ramsey... I don't really remember too much about her. She was cute, a little dumb but did well in school, and her younger brother Derek was a bit... odd...

Anyway, she's now one of the stars of an apparently successful teen soap opera type TV show that I've never heard of: Beyond the Break

I've only ever seen one thing she's been in; she had a minor role in "Pleasantville" (an excellent movie)... If I remember right she was the "nice girl gone bad" character, but I haven't seen it in years. I have it on the tivo so I'll have to watch it again to check.

She apparently has a fansite too. Other than the tan and either a boob job or a lot of padding; she looks pretty much the same.

So then I look up my home towns page on Wikipedia to see what's been updated since the last time I checked; and I find out Money magazine has rated Milton the seventh best place in America to live in.

Kinda cool really. Other than being in Massachusetts and directly bordering Boston (and all that implies), I can tell you it really was a great place to grow up.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Recipes for REAL Women, Volume 22 - Full Fat, Full Dairy, All Killer, No Filler

It's about a hundred and a zillion degrees out these days, and naturally ones thoughts turn to chilling down.

Ones thoughts turn to... I scream, you scream... You know the rest.

Ice cream is probably the dessert treat Americans most identify with. Sure it's mom, the flag, and apple pie; but that apple pie has a big'ol scoop of vanilla goodness on top (apple pie and cream is for the Irish - who put cream on every dessert god bless'em -, apple pie and cheese is for the English, and midwesterners).

I mean really, is there any situation in your life that cannot be made better with Ice Cream? I know... you've all seen 9-1/2 weeks... but I digress.

Real ice cream for the home market is loosely marketed in two basic styles, Plain Style Ice Cream (or Philadelphia Style), and Custard Style Ice Cream; which are differentiated by the techniques used in preparation of their cream base, and in their protein content (custard style has a fair amount of egg protein in it, in a custard base).

Along with style, are are a few loose grades, defined by their butterfat content (how much cream), and their overrun (how much air is whipped into them). The more fat, the better, the less air the better. Air adds volume, but alters the texture (in good and bad ways), and melting characteristics (all bad).

"Low fat" and "light ice cream? Ice Milk? Frozen Yogurt?

No.

No, no, no...

I actually LIKE frozen yogurt; but it's not ice cream.

Any Ice Cream like substances with less than 10% milkfat, less than 9% milk solid, and more than 50% overrun, are not by law allowed to be called ice cream (nor should they be). They are a "frozen dairy dessert" or something similar.

Between 10% and 12% milkfat, 9 to 11% milk solids, and 40% to 50% over run; you have your run of the mill ice cream. This is the same supermarket stuff they've been selling since home refrigeration became all the rage.

13% milkfat or above, and 12% milk solids or above, with less than 30% overrun, and you've got "premium" ice cream. Fat and milk solid contents can vary greatly across various recipes and styles. Given this, the primary difference between premium and "super premium" is the overrun. Super premiums typically only have between 5% and 15% overrun.

...Well that, and the cost (and the taste of course). A typical grocery store gallon of ice cream costs under $5 (on sale), but super premium ice cream can cost $3 a pint or more (8 pints to the gallon); 4-5 times as much.

Of course as I showed in this example, ice cream is generally sold by volume not by weight; and the discount store ice cream is up to 50% air by volume, whereas the super premium may be only 5% air. A gallon of super premium ice cream may cost 4 times as much as the discount brand; but it may also have twice as much actual "stuff" in it.

Then of course there's the actual "stuff" involved:

Discount store ice cream is generally made with milk byproducts, whey, added reconstituted milkfat and milk solids, partially hydrogenated vegetable oil , emulsifiers, stabilizers, high fructose corn syrup, artificial flavors, and food dyes.

Super premium ice cream is generally made with cream, milk, eggs (maybe), vanilla, salt, sugar, natural fruit or flavorings, and maybe carrageenan (a seaweed extract that acts as an emulsifier, aids in texture, and helps prevent large ice crystal formation).

Guess which set of ingredients cost more? Guess which tastes better?

Ok, so we know what's in it, how do you make it?

Well, if you just tried to mix up an ice cream base, and freeze it like popsicles... well that's pretty much what you'd get. Not an ice cream bar or a fudgesicle either, but an actual block, of most likely crumbly ice. Because ice crystals push aside anything dissolved or suspended in water when they freeze (unless they freeze VERY quickly); just freezing the base will make the fats, solids, flavors etc... all separate out, and nobody wants to eat that (nobody sane anyway).

What you need then, is an ice cream maker.

There used to be a wide variety of different ice cream maker designs out there; from hand cranked salt and ice buckets, to large self freezing rotating drum machines. No matter what the detail design though, they all work on the same principle: Freeze the cream base quickly to avoid the excessive formation of crystals; while smoothly the base smoothly to further retard crystallization, add air, and refine the texture.

The old ice bucket churns do it pretty much the same way as modern home machines. Pour the cream base into a container surrounded by a chilling agent (in this case ice and salt mixed together, which gets down to about 19 degrees Fahrenheit), then churn the mixture with paddles (called a dasher), either by rotating them with a crank, or rotating the cream bucket around a fixed dasher.

Of course this is the modern electric age; so the hand crank has been replaced by electric motors; and ice and salt have mostly gone by the wayside. Oh, you can still buy the old fashioned machines if you want, or even electrified versions that still use the ice and salt, but do the churning for you; but the new machines have much cleaner methods... though surprisingly, generally not as fast (the ice and salt does a pretty good job of cooling things down quickly).

There are machines that include their own refrigeration mechanism, but they are bulky, expensive, slow, and have a relatively small capacity. Most modern home ice cream makers have chosen to use a cold sleeve that you put in your freezer for several hours before making your ice cream, to replace the ice and salt; but they still either churn the cream base with a rotating paddle, or rotate the freezing sleeve full of yummy yummy cream base around a fixed paddle.

For example, we have this 2 quart Cuisinart:

and as you can see in this picture, it does the latter, taking about 30 minutes to do the job:

Typical home machine prices vary from around $40 to over $300, but you can pick up a decent machine in the $60 to $120 range (yes I know, still a broad range), depending primarily on capacity, features, and brand name. Theres even an ice cream maker attachment for the god of kitchen small appliances, the KitchenAid Stand Mixer (actually, it's a damn good deal if you've got a KitchenAid... and we do - and so should you- but we got our Cuisinart on a very deep discount).

So, for all of you who are itching for premium ice cream without the premium (and rising) price, grab your ice cream makers and chill your sleeves. No ice cream you can buy, is better than what you've made at home with fresh ingredients, no fillers, and as much pure sugar and cream as you can stand.

So, pretty much all actual ice cream (as opposed to a sorbet or gelato which are a bit different) starts out with a basic vanilla. From there, you can add as many flavors, add ins, and combinations as you can fit in the bowl (welll... not quite, but we'll get into the limitations later).

The variations are pretty nearly endless, but it all begins with this:

Basic Vanilla Ice Cream

Ingredients:

3 cups half-and-half (or 1 1/2 cups whole milk, 1 1/2 cups cream)
1 cup white sugar (finer sugars will dissolve easier - use vanilla sugar if you've got it)
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 1/2 tbsp vanilla extract
1 vanilla bean, pulped and scraped (optional - only if scalding cream)
1 large pinch salt (about a half teaspoon)

Preparation:

When the ingredients go into the ice cream maker, they should be as cold as you can conveniently make them without actually freezing. You can do this by mixing cold, straight out of the fridge and it makes great, quick, and surprisingly cheap ice cream.

If you have the time and ernergy though, there's a more flavorful way.

For extra flavor and better texture (but much longer preparation time) you can scald the cream base (all the milk and cream) before cooling it down. This will change the structure of the milk proteins and give a better mouth feel, as well as intensifying the flavor of the cream base.

Oh, and if you're really ambitious you can stew a vanilla bean (or beans if you are so inclined; but one will provide a LOT of flavor, and they are rather expensive) in the cream while you're scalding it. It's not necessary, but it has a truly wonderful additional aroma and flavor over the extract.

If you're going to do the scalding; you want to be very careful to not overdo it. If you don't know how to scald cream, just mix the thing cold. If you DO however; you'll want to mix the sugar in while the cream base is still hot (it dissolves better), then cool the base down quickly in an ice bath, and add the vanilla extract when cold (only use real vanilla, and don't add alcohol based extracts to hot dairy base; it can cause problems with the proteins); then strain the mixture through a fine sieve to remove the largest bits of vanilla, and any coagulated milk proteins.

From there, follow your ice cream makers instructions on churning.

Basic Vanilla Custard Ice Cream

Ingredients:

2 1/2 cups half-and-half (or 1 1/4 cup whole milk, 1 1/4 cups cream)
1 cup white sugar (finer sugars will dissolve easier - use vanilla sugar if you've got it)
8 egg yolks
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 1/2 tbsp vanilla extract
2 vanilla beans, pulped and scraped (optional)
1 large pinch salt (about a half teaspoon)

Preparation:

This is the OTHER basic variation on ice cream; the custard style, or French style. It's ingredients are very similar to those of a plain (Philadelphia style) ice cream, but instead of a cream base, you use a custard cream (creme anglaise) base. This results in a smother, richer texture; but it's also heavier, more sensitive to temperature variations and mix-in varieties, and requires a bit more prep work.

For this recipe, scalding the cream is absolutely necessary; because scalded cream is the basis of the custard.

First, beat your egg yolks (you can also use 5-6 whole eggs instead of 8 yolks if you want a lighter, stiffer ice cream). Then beat the sugar and vanilla into them, and set aside. You want the eggs to be at room temperature or a bit warmer.

Next, carefully scald your cream; preferably with your vanilla beans in it. You want to scrape the beans down and add the pulp to the mix, then stew the husks in the cream until just before scalding (pull them out, scraping them down into the pot again before you reach the scald stage, or you can extract unwanted bitter flavors from the husk)

Take the cream off the heat, and allow it to begin to cool, and then CAREFULLY temper the cream and egg mixture together. Once tempered, return the mixture to low heat, and cook until the custard will coat the back of a spoon.

Once the custard reaches this stage, immediately take it off the heat, strain it to remove any coagulated milk proteins, large vanilla bits, and egg colease. Then cool the custard base as quickly as possible in an ice bath, until it is as cold as possible without actually freezing. It's important to do this quickly, because you don't want the custard to set up fully before the freezing process can begin.

From there, follow your ice cream makers instructions on churning. If you are going to add mix-ins you'll want to watch this one carefully, because the custard style ice creams can flash over from too loose to too stiff very quickly.

Cream Cheese Ice Cream

This is a recipe I adapted from another recipe in order to make an ice cream worthy of being layered into a special dessert (which I'll list in another recipe post).

It has a mild, creamy, rich, sweet, slightly sour (just like cheesecake should be) but "not-vanilla" flavor; that goes well with fruit, chocolate... well, pretty much everything.

The best thing though, is that it's quick and easy to make. All you really need is 5 minutes of prep time, and an ice cream maker at the ready.

Ingredients:

1 quart (4 cups) half-and-half, or 2 cups each milk and cream
16oz full-fat cream cheese, softened
1 1/2 cups white sugar
1/3 cup triple sec (or other liqueurs, aromatics, or flavorful liquors)
1 1/2 tbsp natural vanilla extract
1 pinch salt

Preparation:

Cream together the sugar and cream cheese until well combined and smooth. In this case, you don't want them to be cold, because the cream cheese needs to be very soft. If you want to, you can use whipped cream cheese here, but make sure you're measuring by weight, and not by volume. Also, wouldn't recommend using most flavored cream cheeses unless they are fresh craftmade styles, because the commercial flavored versions use additives that don't work well in ice cream.

From here, you can again mix cold; or you can scald the cream base beforehand. If you scald the cream base, mix the cream cheese and sugar in while the base is still warm enough to melt the cream cheese; then stir gently, but frequently, as you cool it down in the ice bath.

Once the mixture is chilled, add your flavorful liqueur. Triple sec (a sweet and sour orange liqueur) is traditional for cheesecakes, but others will do jsut fine. I'm particularly fond of Irish Cream, Butterscotch Schnapps, and Hazlenut Liqueurs like Frangelico. If you are going to use a sweet cream or nut liqueur like Frangelico though (anything without a fair bit of acidity), you'll want to add a couple tablespoons of lemon juice to the mix at this point.

It is important however, to not add too much alcohol, or alcohol that is too strong. You don't generally want to use anything much stronger than 80 proof, because it will retard gelling action and change the crystal formation in the ice cream as it freezes; and you don't want more than a shot or two per quart of ice cream. Absolutely, never add more or stronger alcohol to a custard based ice cream, or it WILL cause texture problems.

Again, once the chilled ingredients are mixed thoroughly; churn as per the manufacturers instructions for your ice cream maker.

Variations

As we said above, all ice cream starts with a vanilla base, and then things are added to it to make the various flavors.

Chocolate ice cream can be created by the simple addition of good-quality cocoa to the basic vanilla recipe; much as a chocolate cake is simply a white cake with chocolate added. There is no set amount of cocoa to use; just mix to taste.

The easiest variation is to add, subtract, or substitute the alcohol you use. Liqueurs are best for a variety of reasons: they are already sweet so they don't detract from the flavor, they are very concentrated and deliver a lot of flavor, and they generally don't react badly with dairy. This is especially true of cream-based liqueurs; Bailey's is absolutely heavenly.

Again, let me repeat my warning about not using too much, or too strong alcohol though. Much more than two shots per quart of 80 proof liquor, and you won't have ice cream; you'll have a half gelled, half ice, mess.

Also, don't judge how much alcohol you need by tasting the mixture before churning: freezing makes the alcohol taste much stronger. If you need to add more, add near the end of churning while you're adding mix-ins.

If you are sensitive to alcohol taste but still want the added flavors (or if you want to use a very high alcoholic content liquor), you can partially boil off the alcohol in a small sauce pan before chilling it and adding it to the mix. Let me note however, you don't want to boil off all the alcohol, because you don't just add alcohol for the flavor of the liquor; other flavorings are enhanced by being in solution with alcohol as well, especially vanilla.

Now all that said about the plusses and minuses of alcohol in ice cream, imagine doing a variant on the custard vanilla above, with maple syrup instead of sugar, bourbon, and candied pecans.... Oh my.

Ah yes, that brings us to mix-ins. Fruit, chopped nuts, chocolate, pretty much anything you want so long as it isn't too heavy t be suspended in the ice cream, or too liquid to freeze up; can be added 5-10 minutes before the ice cream is done (or a bit earlier for powdered ingredients that need to blend a bit more).

We've personally done all of the above, but the absolute best ice cream we've ever made was just plain vanilla ice cream with Bailey's Caramel liqueur, 4 tbsp Schokinag Drinking Chocolate, and 1 cup Guittard chocolate chips. It was wonderful and completely and utterly fattening.

We hope these basic recipes and ideas give you the inspiration to raid your grocery store's dairy aisle (or even better, if you can get unpasteurized whole milk and cream from a farmers market) and start making some premium ice cream of your own.

a note: unlike most of the recipes for REAL Women which are written almost entirely by Mel (Chris does some copy editing and writes little add on notes), this one was written by both Chris and Mel. Chris can't bake, and leaves most of the desserts to Mel, but this one is close to his heart... right under it actually, in his stomach.

And be sure to check out:

Recipes for REAL Women, Volume 21 - Forget About the Dough Boy
Recipes for REAL Men, Volume 20 - QDCBS (Quick and Dirty Chili Bean Stew)
Recipes for REAL Men, Volume 19 - Chicken Salmonella
Recipes for REAL Men, Volume 18 - I'll give YOU a good stuffing turkey (1)
Recipes for REAL Men, Volume 17 - REAL Coffee
Recipes for REAL Men, Volume 16 - DTG (Damn That's Good) dip
Recipes for REAL Women, Volume 15 - More Chocolate Than Cookie
Recipes for REAL Women, Volume 14 - Millions of Peaches
Recipes for REAL Women, Volume 13 - Mels 10,000 Calorie Butter Cookies
Recipes for REAL Men, Volume 12 - Lard Ass Wings
Recipes for REAL Men, Volume 11 - Bacon Double Macaroni and Cheese
Recipes for REAL Men, Volume 10 - It's the meat stupid
Recipes for REAL Men, Volume 9 - Labor Day Potatos
Recipes for REAL men, Volume 8 - It's a pork fat thing
Recipes for REAL men, Volume 7 - It may not be Kosher...
Recipes for REAL men, Volume 6 - Andouille Guiness Chili
Recipes for REAL men, Volume 5 - Eazza the Ultimate Pizza
Recipes for REAL men, Volume 4 - Two Pound Meat Sauce
Recipes for REAL men, Volume 3 - Highbrow Hash
Recipes for REAL men, Volume 2 - MuscleCarbonara
Recipes for REAL men, Volume 1 - More Beef than Stew

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Adequately Explained

SO, it's been ,aking the rounds on the far lefty luny blogs and forums for some time now that Bush and company are going to stage a terrorist attack and use it as justification to suspend the elections etc... etc...

This is generally followed by a litany of supposed "crimes and abuses" by the Bush administration, some of which are legitimate, some are blown out of proprtion and context, and some of which are jsut plain lunacy.

Then of course is the requisite rant about how the "right wing idiot sheeple will just swallow whatever lies they are told and give up all our essentials freedoms because they believe Bush is getting messages from god about the rapture" or some other such nonsense.

Bull. Utter and complete, unmitigated bull.

Believe me on this one, real conservatives and libertarians dislike the abridgment of our fundamental rights FAR MORE than those on the left do.

Leftists are almost always willing to accept a tyrant, or tyrannical abuses of power, if they believe it's all in a good cause. Libertarians and real conservatives are not.

Even if you LIKE what the president is doing with the power he has arrogated to himself (and in some cases I think real good is being done; though mostly it's just a stunning example of incompetents given too much power and authority), you don't want them to HAVE that power, because the next guy could be a deranged madwoman.

Oh and for those of you who harp constantly on the "unprecedented disrespect for the American people of the Bush administration", you obviously weren't paying attention from January 20th 1993 through January 20th 2001.

As an Air Force officer, I saw a lot of "interesting" data during the Clinton administration. Believe me, it was every bit as bad as you imagine Bush to be; they were just a lot better at sugarcoating it and/or hiding it. If you don't believe me talk to anyone who did any intel analysis during those years; they'll have a similar story to tell. The Clinton administration lived by the dictum: "Power Corrupts, Absolute Power is really kinda cool".

What is striking isn't how much this administration abuses the power of the executive office; Clinton, Nixon, Johnson, Kennedy, Wilson, and both Roosevelts did FAR worse. What's striking is how utterly incompetent they have been at doing so.

Anti-Government Free Market Gunslinger

Caught this cute little quiz over at Tams place. There ware a couple of questions where I wasn't sure if I wanted one answer or another, so I just went with the snarkier choice of each, and came up with this:

How to Win a Fight With a Liberal is the ultimate survival guide for political arguments

My Conservative Identity:

You are a Free Marketeer, also known as a fiscal conservative. You believe in free-market capitalism, tax cuts, and protecting your hard-earned cash from pick-pocketing liberal socialists.

Take the quiz at www.FightLiberals.com



But I wanted to see what it would have been if I changed over the answers I was iffy on.. I changed just one answer and got this:

How to Win a Fight With a Liberal is the ultimate survival guide for political arguments

My Conservative Identity:

You are an Anti-government Gunslinger, also known as a libertarian conservative. You believe in smaller government, states’ rights, gun rights, and that, as Reagan once said, “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are, ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help.’”

Take the quiz at www.FightLiberals.com



Hmmm.... Anti-Government Free Market Gunslinger... Yeah I can deal with that.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Kommanders New GodBox

So we just finished building Kommander a new computer, and man is it a hell of a box.

He bought the computer in 2002, and hasn't upgraded since 2003 so his box was getting long in the tooth. He couldn't play any of the newer games at more than the minimum settings... or at all in some cases. THe original system was a quite good for the time Alienware PC, but over the course of 5 years, standards change. Memory has gone from DDR to DDR2 (and jsut recently DDR3), graphics have changed from AGP to PCI express, hard drives have gone from IDE to Sata2, even power supplies have changed. Basically, a computer from 2002 can't be economically upgraded at this point, you jsut need to replace everything but the case.

So, he comes to me and says "I don't want to upgrade my computer for 5 years, what should I buy?"

Well now... We went for the most future proof combined with the most bang for the buck, and this is what we came up with.

1. Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600 (4 core 2.4ghz - retail with standard HSF)
2. Gigabyte GA-P35T-DQ6 Motherboard
3. 2x 1 gig 1200MHZ DDR3
4. EVGA GeForce 8800gts wit 320mg of GDDR3
5. Seagate Barracuda 7200.10 500gb SATA2 drive with 16mb cache
6. Antec tripower 650 watt ultra quiet power supply
7. 4x Antec ultra quiet 80mm double ball bearing fans

Originally we ordered what I thought was a motherboard and RAM combo, so I never checked it to see if it was the correct RAM. Unfortunately, it was actually a CPU RAM combo, and we had ordered the wrong memory for the motherboard (ddr2 instead of ddr3, and they aren't compatible), but a quick trip to Frys and several hundred dollars later (DDR 3 IS FRIKKEN EXPENSIVE - but also insanely fast) and we are golden.

Even better, the proc is specced at 2.4ghz and 1066mhz FSB, but with this CPU and RAM, it runs just fine at 1333mhz fsb, and 2.7ghz without even adjusting voltage or raising the heat of the CPU... at all really. Oh and the MoBo utilities let you adjust your overclocking on the fly; including independent adjustment of all relevant speeds and voltages (pci clock, memory clock, memory latency, bus timing, and cpu clock, plus memory, pci, and cpu voltages)

The only things he kept from his original box were the case, the hard drive (to use as a download drive), and the DVD/CD burner . He also grabbed a new Logitech bluetooth wireless mosue and keyboard (that I thought I wouldnt like, but is actually very nice.)

The total cost, including the unexpectedly expensive replacement RAM was just over $1500; and a bargain at that price let me tell you. If you were starting from scratch, it would have been an extra $100 for the case (it's a prety nice case), and $50 for a decent quality DVD burner.

You can buy a similar system from Dell without all the overclocking goodness... for $3000. This, is why I only ever buy low end corporate or grandma computers from the mass market vendors folks.

GOD DAMN this is one fast box. I have never in my life seen a faster windows boot time. Seriously, you go from device config screen to responsive desktop in under 5 seconds.

We did a little testing based on what we had available at the moment (we hadn't hooked the system up to the net yet for patching etc...). I had to actually shoot the screen with my camera since we had no network yet (well, I could have played USB drive games, but I didn't feel like it).

Here's a pic (click for larger) of the box with 5, 250mb DiVX encoded AVIs playing, and the (rather huge) game F.E.A.R. installing off a DVD in the background (onto the same drive the movies were playing off of):

You can see that the average utilization is only 20% or so (actually that was a peak, it was down below 15% most of the time), and that three of the cores are taking all the system chores, while the fourth handles the video rendering. The pagefile usage is negligible for a 2 gig system at 364mb, and the memory loading is quite low, with 1.65 gigs available.

Only after opening 25, 250mg DiVX encoded AVIs (and still installing FEAR in the background by the way) did we manage to peg one core; and the average system load remained around 35-40%, with full responsiveness. The memory utilization was still quite low with 600mb of swap allocated and 1.4gb of RAM available. I could have done all my normal desktop tasks and never notice a performance hit.

We used one application (mplayer classic) for most of the videos, which opens multiple instances, and multiple plugin renderers; but the way it's threaded they all open as children of the first. This means that by default they'll all run on the same processor (you can tweak that, but we weren't going to mess with it).

I've had lots of folks ask me "why would I ever need four cores, or even two. ONe core is jsut fine for what I do", to which I tell them trust me, two cores IS better, even if you don't use applications that will thread across multiple cores, because of multi tasking. If you run a lot of different applications at once, the multiple cores make a HUGE difference.

Just for comparison, I have a single core 2.4 ghz machine with 2 gigs of ram instead of this quad core 2.4ghz with 2 gigs. You can see that this system is only using one core for rendering the video so you would think things would be roughly comparable, excepting the fact that my ram is just DDR, and allowing for processing overhead right?

Not even close... I can open TWO large divx videos before my CPU pegs, all my RAM gets allocates, and my system becomes marginally responsive; because of the constant context switching and thread scheduling and memory games etc...etc.. In a quad core system, the system management load is spread out over the other cpus, allowing the assigned core to spend all it's time on the rendering task. Yay for symmetric multiprocessing.

Now for a plain outrightreal world performance test relevant to gamers, we ran the F.E.A.R timedemo at 1024x768 (FEAR doesnt support 1280x1024 - the max natie of this monitor) with every graphical option maxed out, and every quality setting in the driver tweaked to maximum:

This is the fastest non-SLI F.E.A.R. timedemo I've ever seen. YOu'll see it never dropped below 60fps, and the average was 125. For comparison, my single core 2.4 with 2 gig ram and one of the best of the AGP generation of video cards - a radeon 9800 with 256megs - can't even run the demo at these settings.)

Lord, what this box would do with a real 64 bit OS, 4x 2 gig sticks, and a 6x 500gb raid array on it (which you can do on the MoBo, plus two other drives mirrored together for the OS) ;-)

I don't know why I'm so jealous, I work with multi-million dollar computers every day that are a hundred times faster than this one.... of course I can't install Oblivion on those ones.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

A Change of Seasons

Tonight, JohnOC, Mel, and I are going to see only the greatest prog-metal band of all time, Dream Theater. This'll be the third time I've seen them, and the second time for John.

If you're unfamiliar with them, you're missing something great. Basically, it's four virtuosos and a random singer (they've never had a great vocalist unfortunately. They're on their third one now - James LaBrie) doing their thing.

John Petrucci is easily in the top 25 of all time metal guitarists, maybe in the top ten. Mike Portnoy is one of the top five metal drummers. Jordan Rudess is one of the top five rock keyboardists, and probably the best metal keyboardist ever. John Myung is easily in the top ten of metal bassists... and James LaBrie can sound a lot like a higher pitched Bruce Dickinson when he tries really hard.

Okay, I'm a bit unfair to James, I really just don't like his vocals at all.

What really gets me though, is that the band has sold more than 8 million albums world wide since 1985, and I'd guess 95% of the American population have no idea who they are.

But the 5% of you who are serious metalheads certainly do.

Here's a vid of them doing what I think is their best song, "A Change of Seasons". It's in four parts because the song is almost 20 minutes long... and that's assuming they don't do any riffing or jamming on it... and this is dream theater so that's unlikely (all four parts of this version are about 24 minutes).




And here's a somewhat shorter look at the band as a whole with "Erotomania", which shows Petrucci, Portnoy, Myung, and Rudess off very well:



DT is also famous for their covers, and extended medleys of other peoples songs; where they just go to town musically. In fact, they've done MANY concerts where they will cover an entire album from another band; often while a member of that band is sitting in with them.

My favorite of the single song covers (I like a couple of the extended medleys more) is their version of Deep Purples "Perfect Strangers, unfortunately I can't find anything but crappy rips of it on YouTube, so here's them covering Master of Puppets:



and Panteras Cemetary Gates with Dave Mustaine and Burton C. Bell:



And one of their giganto-medleys (mixed cover and original) REALLY letting the guys jam around:

Monday, July 23, 2007

I Am NOT Looking Forward To Tomorrow (UPDATED)

Tomorrow Emily goes under the knife to have her thyroid removed, and I head downtown to ye old Superior court house for a case conference.

Wish us both luck.

Mel

UPDATE:

Emily is out of surgery and doing fine, although she's in a little pain.

Court wasn't an earth-shattering affair; nothing overwhelmingly good or bad came of it. At least the case is going forward and we now know what the presiding judge expects out of us. Essentially things stay the same with a few more inconveniences.

The Shepard's Prayer (please, Dear God, don't let me f*** up) was definitely on mind all of today. It seems my prayer was answered.

Thanks for all of your thoughts and prayers. It is good to know that we are not alone in this.

Mel

Anatomy of a Catastrophic Failure

First, take a look at this thread over at arfcom: Bye bye EBR (warning, lots of big pics)

Taken a look yet?

Nasty huh...

Though I don't have complete information, this looks to me like a textbook case of an out of battery ignition; one of the worst failures that can occur in a firearm.

An out of battery ignition is when a round is ignited before the weapon is locked and ready to fire. Without the full support of a locked breech and chamber walls, the burning powder expands far beyond the pressure limits of the (usually brass)cartridge case, causing the case to burst. This results in a huge pressure spike in the receiver of the weapon (far higher pressure over a much shorter period of time than in a normal ignition), and against the breechface (in this case the bolt face of the AR).

Generally speaking, when a weapon fires out of battery, that weapon is destroyed; and that is clearly the case here. Thankfully no-one was injured beyond some bruising and being shaken up.

The original poster and several of the commenters are blaming the ammunition, saying it was likely a double charge, or a squib load; but I think it's clear that they are incorrect.

I’ll tell you right now, this failure most likely wasn’t the ammos fault... or at least not completely.

This almost certainly was not a double charge. You can’t charge a .223 with enough powder to cause a failure like that from an overcharge using rifle powder. Rifle powders are fairly bulky (even very fast ones), and the .223 case has a maximum capacity (with a fully compressed charge) of somewhere around 30gr or so of rifle powder; which is only a few grains more than a standard load.

It’s POSSIBLE that there was a squib load which lodged in the throat of the bore, and caused overpressure when the round behind it ignited; but in an AR platform rifle that is nearly impossible. Because of the gas system architecture a squib round would have to travel far enough down the barrel to pass the gas port, and then get stuck. If the following round were then ignited, the resulting overpressure would bulge or split the barrel, and likely damage the bolt.

From the character of the damage I'd say it's clear this did not happen; and I think it’s far more likely that this was a severe out of battery fire, and a weak, poorly made upper.

I’ve examined these pictures pretty closely; and I’m very familiar with the failure modes of the AR platform and it’s ammunition; and here's why I believe this was an out of battery ignition:

You can clearly see the initiation point of the failure is in the barrel extension (where the bolt locks into the chamber). If the failure had been caused by a squib, the rupture would have begun in front of the chamber, and most likely would have been STOPPED by the extension. Then the rear of the receiver would have been damaged by the bolt.

In this case, it’s clear the failure initiated at the barrel extension. This indicates either a massive overcharge, or an out of battery ignition.

The only way you can overcharge a .223 case that much is by using pistol powder; because there isn't enough room in the .223 case for that much rifle powder.

While it is conceivable that a factory reman (ultramax are factory remans) was loaded with pistol powder, it is incredibly unlikely. There was most likely no pistol powder anywhere near the production line this ammo was made on (for safety reasons you dont keep different powders near each other or near the wrong production line. In fact there are ATF regulations against it).

Slower rifle powders will fill a .223 case completely without excessive pressures. If there was a moderate overcharge, as would be the case using a very fast rifle powder and filling the .223 case completely (to a compressed load state); even presuming that round made it through the quality assurance inspection of the line (which is unlikely but possible), the result would have been a case head separation and some damage to the bolt; and most likely the magazine being blown out of the rifle.

In this case, the damage was far more severe and far more radical. There was a complete failure of the upper receiver, with primary failure initiation at the barrel extension radiating though the ejection port; and secondary failure induced by the bolt carrier.

Looking at the pictures of the bolt retail, you can see that the bolt and carrier were thrown backwards violently, however the bolt head isn’t sheared off, nor is the barrel extension. This can only indicate that the bolt was unlocked at the moment of failure.

This incident was clearly an out of battery ignition.

Now, as to cause, that would be more speculative. It is possible that soft primers are the culprit… and in fact I would guess that they are very likely a contributing factor. Most likely however is that the home AR builder used a, heavier, older style firing pin; and when the round had some trouble chambering (either a tight chamber, a dirty chamber, or slightly out of spec ammo) instead of simply failing to chamber and fire (as is the appropriate failure mode), the firing pin traveled forward with enough energy (or was jammed forward by a piece of grit, or by mechanical damage) to ignite the primer (either with or without the assistance of the hammer); and an out of battery ignition occurred.

This is unfortunately not an uncommon failure mode for semi-automatic rifles in general; it's called a slam fire, and it has in the past been an issue with the AR family (though most often with full auto guns), the AK family, and most machine guns (if allowed to wear too greatly, heat up too much in firing, or if not cleaned properly).

In theory, the design of the AR family should prevent slamfires from occurring. The firing pin should not be able to protrude far enough forward of the bolt face (even with the pin at full forward travel) to ignite a round, until the bolt head is at least very close to full lockup. This should both prevent slamfires, and prevent the weapon from firing out of battery.

Unfortunately this is not always the case. All manufactured goods in this world have tolerances, and there is a point at which the intersection of tolerances can cause a failure. The firing pin could be right at the long end of tolerance. The bolt and carrier right at the short end.The cam slot right at the long end. The bolt lugs right at the narrow end. The primers just at the soft end etc... Any two of these factors combined could cause this type of failure; any three would make it likely.

You might say "Oh but thats so unlikely, its a one in a million chance that those tolerances would line up like that"... well, it may be a one in a million chance on a top quality piece with tighter quality control; but not all weapons are made to very high standards... even if they were however, one in a million isn't so much when you consider the fact that between 200,000 and 300,000 AR type rifles are made worldwide every year.

Clearly, the design of the AR, while resistant to slamfires, is not immune as thousands of ARs have slamfired over the years; and at least hundreds have suffered an out of battery ignition.

I would wager that if the builder ever checked a round cleared from the chamber without firing, he would note a slight dimpling of the primer. This dimpling results from the firing pin lightly impacting the primer of the round as it is chambered. This is common to ARs with the heavier firing pin, using commercial grade primers. The problem is, on occasion the primer may be just a bit more sensitive than normal, or just a bit softer, or the weapon may return the bolt with just a bit more force... and then you get a slamfire.

This tendency to slamfire is why the military, and better manufacturers, switched to a lighter firing pin design; and also why they now use MUCH harder primers on military 5.56 ammunition.

I personally use CCI benchrest primers, or CCI 5.56 nato mil-spec primers because they are harder and less sensitive than other commercial primers; specifically to address the slamfire issue.

As to preventing out of battery ignition, my only suggestion is to use quality components, manufactured well within tolerances; and maintain them properly; and the design of the weapon itself should prevent the problem.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

More things I thought I would hate but didn't

It's time for another installment of stuff I surprised myself by enjoying.

1. The Unit: I picked up the DVD set a few weeks back and watched it all in one go. I know a few folks in that world. They get it wrong, but they get it wrong a lot less than just about everyone else.

The production values and quality are among the best of any military show I've yet seen. More importantly, they manage to balance the home, family, and emotional lives of the characters, with their professional military lives... and give proper weight to both sides of the story. No other military show has ever done that as well.

2. The Devil Wears Prada: I thought it was going to be a horrible stupid chick flick. Not even close. Stanley Tuccis speech in the middle is worth the price of admission alone....

... Oh and if Anne Hathaway was EVER a size six (what they said she was in the movie) I'd be amazed. She's 5'8 and I'd guess 105lbs with maybe a 20" waist. She is however both an avowed christian (ex-catholic, left the church because her brother is gay and she didn't like the churches attitude towards that), and a libertarian to boot. Also great name for an actress, really.

3. Burn notice: Bruce Campbell... Nothing more need be said, but I will. I really like Jeffery Donovan. Most folks don't know who he is, but he's about the best deadpan man out there right now. He was quite good in "Touching Evil" a remake of an excellent British series which lasted all of five seconds here in the US.

The show itself... well somebody did their homework; or they have a couple of very good technical consultants. Now, someone needs to feed Gabrielle Anwar a cookie... and make sure sshe never does that horrendous Irish accent again.

Recipes for REAL Women, Volume 21 - Forget About the Dough Boy

This is a favorite recipe from our core group of friends. Emily has been bugging me for months to post it; any time she comes by after I've made biscuits the response is "Oh my God, where are they? Are there any left? Can I have one? Are you making more?"

Making biscuits is also a sure way of making sure EVERYONE stays for dinner.

Now for those of you whose favorite biscuits come from KFC, these are BETTER.... really they aren't even comparable. What KFC calls biscuits... aren't. If you're buying Bisquick (God knows why), these are just as easy to make and only take slightly more time. For those of you who, God forbid, resort to those compressed cans of Dough Boy marketing genius; everything you've been told is wrong.

Good REAL biscuits are quick, easy, and don't taste of preservatives. Bachelors and busy mothers everywhere: put down your cans of vacuum-packed dough, get the closest big bowl and wooden spoon, and follow me.

Despite what you've heard, biscuits are not a complicated, difficult endeavor. Quite the opposite in fact. Biscuits are the perfect failsafe for bacon and eggs without a partner, or a dinner bread within 30 minutes. They are the perfect accompaniment to every meal; breakfast, lunch dinner, and most importantly DESSERT.

So why is everyone so scared of biscuits?

Well.. biscuits are... touchy. If you're hankering for biscuits like Grandma used to make and all you come up with is crumbly bread that resembles hockey pucks, or overbaked mud pies, you are missing one piece of information and experience that Grandma had: when to stop.

Good biscuits don't come from a recipe. Good biscuits come from technique, quality ingredients, and being lazy.

Biscuits, muffins, quick breads, pastry; they all have one thing in common: overwork them and they'll crumble like San Francisco in an 8.9.

The first rule of biscuit making is STOP WHEN YOU ARE DONE. Don't try to make the butter bits all the same size. Don't mix out the last lump. Don't knead until your dough falls apart. The trick to biscuits is to not work hard, and to stop as soon as possible.

In other words, be lazy in your biscuit making and your biscuits will love you. They will be tender and light, instead of heavy and crumbly.

There are as many variations as biscuits as there are bakers. The classic Southern biscuit is made with self-rising flour, lard, and buttermilk. I prefer butter to lard when it comes to biscuits; lard biscuits are tricky for beginners and while they bake up higher they are also more difficult to make right. Also, I don't usually carry fresh buttermilk. I don't use it enough to justify keeping it on hand, but I ALWAYS have powdered buttermilk, because it's useful in lots of baking, and it's shelf stable.

So, here's my personal basic recipe:

Mel's Southern Biscuits

Ingredients:

2 1/2 cups self-rising flour
2 tbsp powdered buttermilk
3/4 cup chilled butter, cut into 1/2 inch pieces for ease
1 cup milk

Preparation:

The amount of flour necessary will change according to the flour, the weather, the milk, etc, but this is the minimum I've found necessary. You'll have a chance to add more flour later on in the process. If you have fresh buttermilk, use it instead of the powder and milk; if you don't have powdered or fresh, just use the milk.

BUT before you attempt the recipe, STOP.

Remember what I said about biscuits being technique, not recipe? The BEST biscuit recipe in the world will break your teeth unless you follow these basic guidelines.

Biscuits of all types follow the same basic procedure:
  1. Mix the dry ingredients together in the mixing bowl, the wet ingredients together in another container.

  2. "Work" the fat into the dry ingredients. Usually this means using your fingertips to crumble or squish smallish bits of the chilled fat into the flour mixture until you don't have any fat pieces bigger than a pea and the fat is fairly evenly distributed. Keep the butter as cold as possible; this is necessary for steam generation and flaky layers.

  3. Add the wet ingredients to the dry/fat mixture, and mix as quickly as humanly possible; but GENTLY. Ignore any small lumps left after mixing for more than 7-10 seconds, and no more than about 10 folds of the mixture.

  4. Place the dough on a lightly floured counter or other cool work surface. Flatten the dough ball out into a rectangle, fold the sheet over vertically, then fold it over horizontally, and flatten it again. If you need to add more flour to keep it from sticking, that's okay. Repeat the folding and flattening until the dough no longer sticks to the counter, or at least 4 times (to make 256 layers). These layers of wet flour and cold bits of fat create the steam pockets that makes for tender yet flaky biscuits.

  5. Pat the dough down and cut into individual biscuits. The shape and size depend on your preferences; I use everything from a drinking glass, crumpet ring, or cookie cutter to cut my biscuits. Lately I've skipped the cutter completely and just cut the dough into reasonably sized squares. Do whatever works for you, but get the most out of each patting of the dough as you possibly can. The biscuits from the first cut are always the most tender because they've been worked the least.

  6. Place your biscuits in or on your pan (or in your cast iron skillet or dutch oven if that suits your fancy) and bake until nicely golden; usually at 400 degrees or so on the middle rack of your oven.
Yes, it's a little bit of work, yes it's a lot of mess. But FRESH biscuits within half an hour is worth the mess any time of day.

These basic butter biscuits are wonderful for breakfast, for lining bowls of stew, for chili, pretty much anything you want. However, if you want to make them better, you can add any of the following to the flour/fat mixture before adding the liquids:

shredded cheese (the stronger the better)
bacon bits
cooked sandwich meats
etc

Now for sweet dessert biscuits, simply add 1/4 cup brown sugar (and maybe a bit of cinnamon or nutmeg) to the dry ingredients, then mix and bake normally. You could add honey or molasses as well, but that changes your liquid to dry balance so it's a bit tricker (best left 'til you've got more experience).

With dessert biscuits, you may want to try these mixins:

Pecans
dates
dried cranberries
dried raisins
Fresh, dried, or stewed apple pieces

Oh and if you want to get really inventive; you can substitute cold bacon fat for the butter. It's harder to work with, and a bit more sensitive to both ingredients and prepartion, but the flavor is incredible. We'll talk about using hot pan drippings in the advanced course later on.

At any rate, the combinations and applications are nearly limitless. If you keep the ingredients on hand, you can do as I do and bake up a batch as the mood strikes you, or as needed for a quick and easy addition to dinner or breakfast.

And be sure to check out:

Recipes for REAL Men, Volume 20 - QDCBS (Quick and Dirty Chili Bean Stew)
Recipes for REAL Men, Volume 19 - Chicken Salmonella
Recipes for REAL Men, Volume 18 - I'll give YOU a good stuffing turkey (1)
Recipes for REAL Men, Volume 17 - REAL Coffee
Recipes for REAL Men, Volume 16 - DTG (Damn That's Good) dip
Recipes for REAL Women, Volume 15 - More Chocolate Than Cookie
Recipes for REAL Women, Volume 14 - Millions of Peaches
Recipes for REAL Women, Volume 13 - Mels 10,000 Calorie Butter Cookies
Recipes for REAL Men, Volume 12 - Lard Ass Wings
Recipes for REAL Men, Volume 11 - Bacon Double Macaroni and Cheese
Recipes for REAL Men, Volume 10 - It's the meat stupid
Recipes for REAL Men, Volume 9 - Labor Day Potatos
Recipes for REAL men, Volume 8 - It's a pork fat thing
Recipes for REAL men, Volume 7 - It may not be Kosher...
Recipes for REAL men, Volume 6 - Andouille Guiness Chili
Recipes for REAL men, Volume 5 - Eazza the Ultimate Pizza
Recipes for REAL men, Volume 4 - Two Pound Meat Sauce
Recipes for REAL men, Volume 3 - Highbrow Hash
Recipes for REAL men, Volume 2 - MuscleCarbonara
Recipes for REAL men, Volume 1 - More Beef than Stew

Aviation quote of the day

"If the wing separates from the aircraft, I'll be telling St. Peter 'That's funny... that never happened before' "

-- Jack McCornack, Ultralight Designer

Friday, July 20, 2007

Where Eagles Dare


Note to J.K. Rowling - You really aren't very good at this dear

... but you get full marks for the effort... and most likely the highest selling novel of all time (the title previously held by "the half blood prince", and by "the order of the phoenix" before that), for which she is reportedly receiving a far better than "the next rounds on me" deal.

I just finished Harry Potter and the Deathly hallows. I grabbed a copy online last night; and it matches the text photographed from the leakers last week, so I'm going to assume it's legit.

Before we continue, a note to any of you concerned about copyright. I own a copy of the book, it was shipped to me yesterday and should arrive tomorrow, thus obtaining a backup copy for my own personal use is within fair use. Now sod off.

I got my full copy last night at almost exactly 11pm, I took a half hour or so for a snack around 3am, and I finished reading at 5:17 am... so a bit more than 5:30 for 748 pages. Rowling definitely knows how to write at a readable novel.

That said, overall the book was a mess. Trying to resolve too many points at once, leaving too many things hanging.. there's never any real coherence or theme or any single clear narrative thread or voice.

The fact of the matter is, from a purely technical standpoint, Rowling is a terrible writer. This is not exactly a revelation; the same structural problems have been with her since book one; though they have been magnified in the last three books as her subject matter has strayed further from the juvenile fantasy mold into more adult themes and storylines.

Thing is though, she's told a terrific story with wonderful characters; and I mean that in every sense. Her characters are in fact full of wonder, and hope, and joy, and pain, and sorrow and fear... They're real people; and they are real people you want to know.

This book however had the weakest characterization of the series; the weakest dialog; and very little character development for anyone but Harry... and perhaps surprisingly for Neville Longbottom, though he receives little time in the narrative...

Actually, that's generally the problem. Rowling tries to weave so many story threads together, that each thread has very little time. This leads to gaping holes in the plotting, and flow of things.

Let me give you an example. It's no spoiler to note that several characters will die in this book (Rowling herself has made that clear); but the passing of a major character is never mentioned directly until BANG!, they're dead with no notice no details, no story... and we as readers find out after the fact. The problem is though, we've been first person inside Harrys head the whole time, and no-one told harry of the characters death; so when we as readers find out, harry should also be just finding out, but instead he's aware of the characters death and circumstances surrounding it etc...

Interesting and tantalizing points are repeatedly raised, and then ignored. Opportunities are left unexplored.

I get the feeling that Rowling wanted to do an even loger book than the 980 pages of the half blood prince, but was told by her editors to cut things out; and rather than simplify her storylines she just removed description exposition, and dialog. It an amateur mistake; falling in love with your outline, and failing to make your story fit.

This is what I mean when I say that technically, Rowling is a poor writer.

Now, all technical criticism aside, what did I think?

Overall, I liked it. It's a decent way to end the series. I like how the story lines turn out for the most part; and I like how hard it was to get from one end of the journey to the other for the characters.

I definitely recommend the book if you like Potter; though somehow I don't think my recommendation or lack thereof would make any dent in Ms. Rowlings next billion dollars.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

The Greatest Invention in the History of Man Kind


That picture poses a very good question; and I for one believe the answer is: You wouldn't.

The founders of the company apparently agree with me:

It’s our dream to make everything taste like bacon.

Up until several months ago, we worked together in a little technology company. While on a business trip together, we had the chance to sit down for dinner and eventually, the conversation turned to our mutual love of bacon. It was then that Justin told Dave and another coworker named Kara about his idea for Bacon Salt™. Kara, who is a vegetarian, loved the idea. Dave, a card-carrying carnivore and Midwesterner, loved it even more. Even the waiter at the fancy restaurant loved it.

And from that point forward, a partnership was struck to turn this bacon-flavored dream into a reality. We asked friends, colleagues and family members if we were completely nuts, but at each turn we got encouragement and more importantly, people who just couldn't wait to eat it. We learned that people were unsatisfied by the bacon flavored products on the market: too smokey, too crunchy and none of it tasted like real, savory, delicious bacon, they said. We smelled a big opportunity (which, ironically, smelled exactly like bacon frying on a Sunday morning).
It's probably full of horrible nitrates, and sulfur, and the essence of kittens and other stuff that makes liberals cry... hell it's even KOSHER. KOSHER Bacon flavoring, YES!

Did I order some?

Considering I wrote this two years ago: "for my money, all non dessert food should be fried in bacon grease. Just for a second or two, but still, everything needs bacon grease. Oh and lots of butter, and cream."

Do you even have to ask? All three flavors baby; because EVERYTHING should taste like bacon!!!

An Appropriate Response I Think

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

A new theme for Kim and company

I've been using the same basic theme on my web sites (with slight tweaks) since 1993.

I chose this theme, because it was UNIX and op-center convention to have a dark screen with light text, and red alert text.

Now, there are two basic conventions in the computing word, the console convention, and the GUI convention. Consoles were originally designed with light text (green, white, or amber) on a black screen, because it was higher contrast with the display devices of the early 70s; and because it preserved contrast vision in a darkened environment (like an operations center).

When newer, more capable, color displays were developed, consoles simply updated their existing convention to incorporate color, with red, green, blue, and yellow alert and highlight text.

The GUI convention on the other hand is based on WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get). That means that GUI designers based their text rendering conventions on the printing world, where black or dark printing on light backgrounds has always been the norm... because it's a hell of a lot easier to bleach paper than it is to make a white ink.

Console people tend to really hate light backgrounds with dark text in their interfaces. Put an EMACS user into a Dark on Light environment and he'll throw a fit... then he'll shut the lights off, gra some mountain dew, hack into the system and change it to the way he likes it.

GUI people on the other hand tend to find Light on Dark to be hard to read, and jarring.

It would be fine if it were jsut a basic matter of preference, but there's also a question of biology. If you have an astigmatism or you're farsighted, reading white text on a dark background can be very difficult and uncomfortable. Basically, it makes your eyes refocus constantly between the light background of the room, and the dark of the screen, and you damn near go crosseyed.

The only way to avoid this problem is to work in a dark room... or to not try and read light on dark screens.

You might be aware that there are more farsighted and astigmatic people in the world than there are people with perfect vision. This is especially true of folks over the age of 45.

Anyway, a lot of folks who would otherwise be regular readers have said in the past that the reason they are not, is because they find my page hard to read. This has come up again today, with Kim saying to me for the I don't know how manyth time that he had to stop reading my page after a few paragraphs.

Well, up to this point I've been too lazy to change my template (it really is kind of a pain to be honest). I really quite dislike back on white, and I couldn't find a compromise that I did like, and that didnt require me to spend hours and hours messing with font and background colors and templates etc...

Today I figured I'd try an experiment.

I've changed my theme to a light background with dark text for my main content sections. I'd like everyone who has an opinion to leave a comment, yea, nay, or other (with suggestions), and Friday I'll see what my readers think.

Oh, and there's one other common reason people cite as why they don't read my site regularly: They think I swear too much.

They're right, I do; but that's who I am, and I'm not changing that one.

UPDATE: Okay, based on the first set of feedback, I've upped the brightness on the main frame a bit, changed the border from black to dark gray, and messed with the text a bit. It's less jarring now, but it's also lower contrast.

It looks fine on my nice crisp high contrast laptop; but I'm worried about how it looks on others displays.

UPDATE2: There just isn't enough contrast here for older monitors or low end LCDs... I've got to try something else. I'mna darken the gray up a little bit and see what I can do with the text.

Scott Baio is 45, and an ass

... but he's an ass I recognize

Ok, a few disclaimers before we begin so you understand my biases:

1. I HATE reality TV
2. I really dislike Scott Baio, and pretty much every show he's been in

The 8 weeks or so I've been going through a severe bout of insomnia. I haven't had more than two hours sleep in a row, or more than 4 hours in a given 24 hour period, since late May (a couple days before the Texas trip). This has generally meant a lot of reading; but on occasion I watch some late night TV (especially history/discovery/learning channel stuff).

Well, tonight I watched the new Scott Baio reality show "Scott Baio is 45 and single"... and this is embarrasing... because I saw one of his ex girlfriends in a promo commercial, and I couldn't remember her name. It was REALLY bugging me, because I'm incredibly anal retentive about stuff that I know but can't remember, so I wanted to see if they mentioned it in the show (they didn't directly mention her in this episode, but she's supposed to be in the next one and her name - Julie McCullough, who was on Growing Pains - was mentioned in the teasers for that episode).

Really, I was reading about the history of Ubuntu (about ten layers deep on a mindwalk that started with a Slashdot posting) and I just had the show on for background noise waiting to see if they said the girls name; but I was half listening to his story, his behavior, his attitudes etc.. and I realized something.

Baio is an ass, but I kinda like the guy... because he's a hell of a lot like my best friend Jim (well, if Jim had been a child star who got to screw supermodels anyway).

He's a fairly typical "I never grew up because I didn't have to" type, and now he's 45 and having to re-assess where his life is at. He's decided that he really loves his girlfriend and wants to be with her, but he can't decide if he can settle down and be married or not. He's cheated on everyone he's ever been with except his current girlfriend, he's slept around at every opportunity, and there have been a lot of opportunities (hey, he WAS a TV star, even if he was a Kinda lame one); and he jsut can't figure out where hes gone wrong with relationships in the past.

So he's hired a "life coach"... most of whom are total scam artists, but this one actually has a PHD in psychology.. so if she's a scam artist she's at least a well qualified one; and she seems to be steering him on the right track so far.

Jim just got engaged to his MUCH older girlfriend, who he's lived with for a little less than a year. He's decided he's going to settle down, try and do something with his life.

He's been a car salesman since he was 18 minus the year he was in the army (only one year because of a medical discharge. His lungs got scarred during ranger school, when he inhaled tear gas while he was not fully recovered from a case of pneumonia); and he's got nothing to show for it, except a mountain of debt, and three kids that he loves desperately but can't ever see because they're with their total psycho bitch mother in New Jersey (I say total psycho bitch advisedly. Shes on 100% disability for her mental problems).

So, I'm looking at Baios life patterns and his actions, and his attitudes; and I see my best friend right there, in that same position. He's a little younger and a lot poorer, but he's basically right there; an overgrown teenager having wasted his life, and now facing the prospect of being a grownup for the first time.

The one big difference though, is that Baios best friend is actually WORSE than he is. He's piggy backed on Baios arrested development, and lived a rather pathetic shadow life next to Baios, defining himself only as "Scotts best friend".

I'm exactly the opposite. I'm the kid who grew up at age 5, left home at 16, and been out on my own ever since. I've been the responsible adult in the family since I was 7; and I've been the stabilizing (and occaisonally rescuing) influence in Jims life that entire time (and I mean that literally. Jim and I have been best friends since we were 7).

Mel was saying to Jim and his finacee the other day "I don't now how you've managed to survive this long"... in response to some ridiculous stunt that he had pulled in his early 20s... and he looked over at me, pointed, and in all seriousness said "You're looking at him right there".

I'm not Jims keeper by any means. I don't run his life. I'm just there for him when he needs me. I don't let him abuse my friendship, I've cut him off before; but he's always brought it back under control, and he's finally starting to turn things around.

In some ways, having me has certainly kept Jim alive, and helped him; in others it's also enabled him to screw up for so long. I try not to be an enabler, but in some circumstances, it happened. Now, Jim has recognized what the problems are, and he's working at fixing them.

So I guess Jim has me, and Baio has his life coach.

Personally, I'd rather just have a good best friend; but Baio is surrounded by enablers. He doesn't have a functioning adult best friend. He needs to pull the sycophant anchor off his neck, and start listening to people who are both his friends, and who are functioning adults; or he's just going to keep going down the same path. He, like Jim, needs to recognize what his problems are, and work at fixing them.

But... never grow up too much OK? Jim wouldn't be Jim if he was 100% grown up, he'd just be some guy. I'm not best friends with some guy, I'm best friends with Jim.

I'd say Baio is the same. He needs to keep the kid in him; but grow up around it.

Not exactly an easy thing to do really...

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

I gots boolits



Specifically, I have 1200 180gr Hornady XTP premium jacketed hollowpoint bullets; which in total cost me about about $40.

Hows that?

Well 1000 of them are from my Hornady L-n-L press rebate, so I only had to pay shipping. The other two boxes of 100 I bought locally for $16 each.

I've got Brass trundling it's way down the road from Kansas to me as of last night; should be here either Friday or Monday. Let me jsut say DAMN 10mm brass aint cheap. I'm paying more for 10mm than .223 brass.

It's better than the loaded ammo price though. Locally, 10mm prices are around $23 for 50 generic, or $20 for 20 premium. $0.46 to $1 per round isn't exactly affordable for a lot of shooting. As it is, the brass is costing me $0.17 per, the powder $0.023 per, the primers $0.02 per, and if I were actually paying for most of those bullets they'd be $0.12 a piece.

$0.33 a piece for premium hollowpoint ammo vs $1... and $0.13 cheaper than even the generic; and that's before I take into account reloading the brass, or the fact that I got most of those bullets as a rebate...

Yeah, I'll take that option there thanks.

Gack, a Canadian Earworm

I've had this damn song stuck in my head since J.D. Frazier mentioned it in UserFriendly a few days ago.



It's just got this infectious syncopation, with unresolved progressions and phrasing that stick in your head.

Plus theres the fact that it was the first top 40 radio hit to explicitly mention underage lesbian lust...

Monday, July 16, 2007

Don't give them what they want

An acquaintance of mine recently renewed his concealed carry permit, and his instructors (both veteran cops), gave a very common piece of advice "the best thing you can do in a robbery is sit tight, give them what they want, and be a good witness".

That can be good advice to a point (I don't totally agree with it, but OK); but that's where most police officers stop.They never qualify their point. Fortunately, these ones did, by following up with "unless things start to get violent, in which case the only thing you can do is try and stop the threat".

What most cops won't tell you, because they don't want you "trying to be a hero"; is that once there has been an escalation of violence in the commission of a crime, the chances of somebody not being killed or seriously injured are very poor.

If you're dealing with what cops call an ODC (ordinary decent criminal), then most likely nobody is going to get hurt; but once things tip over that edge (and it can happen at any time, with no warning), you are effectively a dead man already, unless you act to prevent that from happening.

You should NEVER comply with a rapist, or a criminal who is intent on violence; and ALL rape is violence of the worst sort.

You should NEVER comply with a criminal who is clearly mentally unstable, or grossly impaired mentally by drugs or alcohol.

It should go without saying, that you should NEVER comply with a criminal who has invaded your home, private office, or car; as these are automatically at an escalated level of violence (because they are emotionally violent and risky acts as well as physically).

In fact, if you have effective means of resisting, and are not risking others unduly in the process, I believe you should never comply with a criminal period.

Simply by committing a crime they have demonstrated that they have no respect for the rules of civilized behavior. Why should you expect them to behave otherwise once they have what they want?

That said, perhaps local laws don't allow for effective self defense, or require a "proportionality of response". Or perhaps resisting WOULD unduly risk others, or your means of resisting may not be the most effective (empty handed for example).

Perhaps then you should comply; but sometimes, even then, you must still resist; because of the likelihood that violence will escalate to homicide, or grievous harm.

There are seven “danger signs” for homicidal escalation in the commission of a crime

1. If the subjects use of violence escalates beyond a slap or punch; even if by accident
2. If the subject is extremely nervous, out of control, has violent mood swings or is frantic, etc…
3. If the subject appears to be eager, having fun, or high/tweaked/stoned/drunk
4. If the subject singles out, isolates, personalizes, or sexualizes their interaction with an individual
5. If the subject makes specific threats on a particular individuals life to force compliance from another
6. If the subject physically restrains an individual or group (rope, tape, handcuffs etc...)
7. If the subject attempts to move individuals to an area away from public view, or isolated from others

If any of these conditions is a factor, the probability that the situation can be resolved without death or serious injury is very low. If any two of them are factors, then serious violence is almost a certainty. Any three, and you are a dead man waiting to happen.

Now, a couple of hard and fast rules for dealing with violent crime:

1. Never give up your weapon in a violent crime. If someone says drop your weapon, they are going to kill you as soon as you do. If they say it while holding a gun to the head of someone else, they’re going to shoot the other person after you drop your weapon, THEN they are going to shoot you. If a subject orders you to drop your weapon, before they finish their sentence you should already have shot them in the head.

2. Never allow yourself or others to be cut out and isolated from a group, or from the main area of the location where the crime is occurring. Do NOT be led into the back room or some such; if you are, then you are almost certainly going to be killed.

3. Do not be passive in the face of escalated violence. Once violence has escalated beyond the point of simple assault, you are a dead man waiting for the bullet. Realize that and fight back in any way you can, whether you are armed or not. Remember, ANYTHING can be a weapon.

4. Do not, under any circumstances, allow yourself to be physically restrained in any way

5. Do not attempt to establish any personal or humanizing connection with a subject, unless you are unarmed and in a hostage situation

6. If violence does escalate, respond immediately and decisively. Shoot to stop, use your knife to stop, use your fists, your feet, your teeth, use whatever it takes to end the threat as fast as possible. This isn’t Hollywood, this is your life, and the lives of those around you. You don’t give warning shots and you don’t tell someone to drop their weapon; you shoot them in the head or center chest (or both). If you are unarmed, you must also respond decisively and immediately, but your options are much more limited. Remember though, at this point there is already a high likelihood that you are a dead man if you DON’T do something, so sitting tight and waiting to die isn’t a great idea.

7. The rules change dramatically in a hostage situation, because the power dynamics are radically different; but if you are armed or capable of resisting, DO NOT ALLOW a hostage situation to develop.If one does, expend all possible efforts on either disabling the subject or escaping. The most likely way for you or others to die in the robbery of a public place is if a hostage situation develops.

Let me state absolutely unequivocally one more time, DO NOT COMPLY WITH VIOLENT CRIMINALS; they are likely to kill you whether you comply or not, and compliance only makes that job easier.

I kinda like this one

July 16th, 1945 - 11:29:45Z


"I am become death, destroyer of worlds"
- J. Robert Oppenheimer, quoting the Baghavad Gita

Friday, July 13, 2007

A Grimauld Movie

Well, that was fun. We just got back from "Harry Potter: The Order of the Phoenix", and it was really quite good; at least for those of us who've read the books.

Good intro to the only criticism I have of the movie: too much story to put into two and a half hours. Not exactly an uncommon problem, or one the series hasn't been through in.. well, all the other movies; but it was especially notable here.

The performances were great; what there was of them. I don't think anyone other than Harry Sirius, and the new Baddie (who you will absolutely LOVE to loathe. I wanted to ill her with my bare hands within minutes) had more than a dozen or so lines (even Ron and Hermione).

The pace was such that there was no time for depth of exposition in the plot, or any real exploration character development. This isn't to say it was shallow, there was a lot of "show don't tell" going on, which is a good thing; I just wish they'd had more time for fleshing things out.

Now, for me that's not a problem; because having read the books and seen the movies prior to this one, I can fill in the blanks. It's probably not the best intro to the series however, as someone who doesn't have the background will be completely lost.

Ok, action great, effects great, really good lighting and sound design to set the mood... the movie felt claustrophobic, and at the same time... hollow maybe?

Well, imagine what Harry is feeling here, a teenage boy, faced with enormous pressure, responsibility, fame, persecution, danger... now take that feeling and pour it through your eyes and ears and that's what the movie was like.

Really, it was that effective; and that affecting.

COntradicting what I said earlier about things not having too much flesh; the emotion and personal interaction of this movie was the best of the series so far. In the other movies, often the magic, effects, creatures, and setting seemed to be more "present" than the characters.

This is an issue common to all fantasy actually, because you are presenting the audience with huge new shocking or amazing, or delighting (or all three) things.. they just naturally take your attention away. In this movie however; because the firm skeleton of the story, and setting, are in place; the fantasy doesn't get in the way of the characters, their development, and their story... which as I said is a good thing, because there wouldn't be any time for anything otherwise.

It's not very often that you can watch a 150 minute movie and think "Wow, this really need to be an hour longer".

Overall, I enjoyed it greatly; with the one slight aspect of reservation. I recommend it highly, but I also recommend that you watch the other movies and read the books first.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

OCD - Obsessive Clarkson Disorder

So for the last three days or so I've been deep in the YouTube soup, watching every episode of the "new" (since 2002 anyway) BBC "Top Gear", 9 minutes at a time.

I lived all over euroland for a few years (mostly in Ireland), and honestly one of the things I miss the most is the cars.

Let's face it, other than the pickup truck, and a couple of sports cars; pretty much every American car made since 1974 is shit. Not just objectively shit by todays standards (I mean even a 70s Mercedes is shit in comparison to a Toyota Camry today) ; American cars were shit in comparison to other countries contemporary cars. A 1977 Ford Grenada is even worse than a 1977 Morris Marina (and for those of you who don't know, that's really saying something).

In fact, American passenger cars are so bad, I'd still rather have a 70s Mercedes today than a brand new Ford Galaxie (and isn't THAT a blasphemy against a classic name), or aChevy.. well, anything really 'cept a 'vette.

The shtick of Top Gear, is that it's three real car guys; Jeremy Clarkson, James May, and Richard Hammond; thrashing the hell out of every kind of car their is, from 70s econoboxes (which they usually destroy in fun and funny ways) all the way up to million dollar hypercars.

I absolutely love the show. It's fun, it's funny, it's irreverent... it's brilliant.

...but it has one major problem; they are all deranged America haters, especially Jeremy Clarkson (in fact, Hammond quite likes American muscle cars - he collects them; he just doesn't like America).

Now, I really like Jeremy Clarkson. You know me, I think sarcasm is the highest form of humor; and nobody brings the snark better than Jezza. Thing is though, he has a pathological hatred of America, and all things American. He's actually said, on the air "I absolutely love this car, it's brilliant in every way, except it's American"... and he wasn't joking... or at least no more than anything else he says.

They did a series of episodes in America, and Jeremy pissed people off so much with his nastiness that they were actually physically attacked by a bunch of good'ol boys down in Alabama.

It's kind of sad really, you can see him, any time he actually likes an American car he has to desperately grasp for things to hate about it to outweigh it's good points. Sometimes he just flatout makes stuff up, or contradicts stuff he said in other shows.

Now, often he makes a lot of very good points. American cars, even high end American cars, tend to have interiors that you wouldn't find on a $10,000 micro hatchback made in Germany. Also, we seem to want cupholders far more than we want road feel.

...But heres the thing, American cars feel cheap, because they ARE cheap, at least in comparison to European cars.

Here's an example, look at this Alfa 156:












It's just gorgeous. Every inch of it, even though it's just a mid level managers sedan, is just beautiful. Of course it's an Alfa so it loses 50% of it's value in a year, and compared to other European cars the quality is shite; but it's just amazing, and moving, and sexy, and incredibly fun to drive.

I know, because I used to own one; the earlier model 156GTA that was even sexier actually; though I wasn't stupid enough to buy one new. I bought it for half price 18 months from new; then sold it for 3/4 what I bought it for after a year (I replaced it with an Opel Astra - a big step down).

I LOVED this car; but most motoring journalists thought it wasn't very good... because in comparison to the other European (mostly German) competition, it wasn't.

But in America, this would be it's competition:


That's a Buick Lacrosse, the closest market segment competition to the Alfa that America has to offer.

They have a similar trim level, similar size, similar straight line performance, and they are aimed at the same target market... at least in theory.

The problem is, the Buick is, quite frankly, shit. In fact it really ISN'T competition for the Alfa, because if you were looking at an Alfa, the cars you'd be comparing to wouldn't be American, they'd be German: the Audi A4, BMW 3 series, and Mercedes Benz C-Class.

The Alfa is the slowest, lowest spec, lowest power, lowest quality of the European bunch, and it's still MILES ahead of the Buick.

BUT...

I started off saying American cars were comparatively cheap; and so they are. That Alfa, turnkey cost in the UK today (well, last year. They've just replaced it with a new model, the 159) would be approximately $64,000.

The Buick?

About $25,000.

For $64,000 in America you can buy a Cadillac CTS-V; a much better car than the Alfa (actually, the CTS-V is a spectacularly good car in it's own right):

... and still have enough left over for two years worth of gas and insurance.

Or you could buy the Buick, and another one for your mother, and still have enough left over for a nice sport bike... and two years worth of gas and insurance for all three of them.

So yes, American cars ARE cheap nasty shit compared to the European cars; if I were paying $65,000 I wouldn't want the equivalent of the Buick either (Actually, I very well might buy the CTS-V... but honestly I'm more likely to buy an M3).

But for 16,000GBP you get what exactly?

Wait a sec, that's about $4000 more than the cost of the Buick... what the heck? The problem is, anything cheaper in the UK would be a small hatchback. You don't get very much at all for 13,000GBP.

But, for 16k, you get a Ford EUCD platform car. Over here they've just renamed the larger version which was the Ford 500 (from the old Galaxie 500) to the new Taurus (it's also the base for the much higher end Volvo S60). They sell a slightly smaller version in europe, and call it the Mondeo:

Which is not a bad car actually, but I wouldn't pay that much for it... 'course I wouldn't pay that much for the Buick either (oh and in America, you don't pay that much. The larger Taurus runs right about the same as the Buick here which is one of the reasons why I used it).

The Ford is probably still the better car actually, but that's because Ford interiors are on the whole a hell of a lot better than GM interiors... and because Buicks suspensions and transmissions are set up for 70 year old golfers with a hot coffee in each cupholder and a self imposed speed limit of 45mph in the middle lane with the left blinker on.

The point being, the difference in quality there is relatively small. TO offset the worse interior and suspension the Buick is probably a fair bit faster, though it doesn't handle quite as well; and it has a bit more room... and is a better looking car.

Or, if you want to keep it in the GM family, you can get an Opel/Vauxhall Vectra, which is sold in this country as a Saturn ION and which sells for pretty much the same as the Mondeo in Europe, and pretty much the same as the Galaxie (now Taurus), and the Buick here in the US.

Now, let me just say, I still think American cars are mostly shit. I wouldn't buy that Buick, fully loaded, for $10,000 never mind the $25,000 I could take it off the lot for (which is about $5000 less than list. Car buyers are almost being paid cash to take them off the lots).

...BUT

Dollar for dollar, American cars are just as good as European cars; it's just that our cars cost a lot less dollars than theirs do. The price they pay for an economy hatchback is what we expect to pay for a medium sized family car.

If I were spending $30,000 on a Chevy Cavalier, I'd want it to be as nice as a Volkswagon Golf GTI too... but to do that I'd have to pay for the Golf GTI; about twice the cost of the Cavalier.

So Clarkson, next time you want to start complaining about how awful our cars are, remember the Z06 Corvette is nearly as fast as the Porsche 911gt3 (both in a straight line, and on the track), costs 1/3rd the price, and gets twice the gas mileage to boot (we... if you keep your foot out of it. )

A funny thing though...

Clarkson...

D'ya know what he drove until a few months ago?

One of these:

An American Ford GT; which on numerous occasions he's called the greatest sports car ever built...

...unfortunately though he also called it the most unreliable sports car ever built; because his electrics failed repeatedly... which coming from an Englishman is a bit of a laugh really. I mean after all, this is the home of British Leyland, and Lucas. For those sins alone no Englishman should ever be allowed to complain about a cars unreliable electrical system ever again.