Saturday, May 31, 2008

Praying

Mels mother is in critical condition in the ICU right now.

They've induced a coma and have her on a ventilator. It seems that she's got peritonitis, and a perforated intestine; a complication from multiple surgeries for an aggressive cancer discovered a few weeks ago. Shes also aspirating waste laden fluid, so there's more going on that they haven't found yet.

The thing is, it wasn't the cancer that put her here. She's had fluid buildup in her abdomen and chest for several weeks now (predating the peritonitis. It's the first thing they checked for weeks ago), and they haven't found the cause. The fluid tests clear, it's not infected seepage.

They keep giving her palliative care (painkillers and draining the fluid) but they haven't done any real diagnostics on what is causing this fluid buildup. Instead, they've transferred her to two different hospitals, discharged her twice (while the fluid was still building up) over the objection of her oncologist... it's a charlie fox all the way around.

Clearly there's more going on, but we haven't found out yet.

At least now they've transferred her to the right hospital. She's at the Arizona Cancer Center at University Hospital Tucson. Mel says the docs there are doing about 10 times the job of her previous two hospitals.

Mel is with her father at the hospital now, while I watch the kids (no young children in the ICU).

UPDATE: Her kidneys have shut down, and her blood sugar is over 340 after having no nutrition for 24+ hours (she wasn't able to keep anything down. The nausea medication wasn't working. They were going to hang a sugar bag after her transfer).

It looks like she's having additional complications from previously undiagnosed diabetes. In this case it's a complication not a causative factor; we still don't know what the root causes here are.

At this point she's had some some heart damage as well, most likely from the diabetes. It doesn't look good.


UPDATE 2: Shes still in critical condition, but she's stable. The doctors think she'll be OK at least for the weekend. They want her to stabilize for at least 24 hours, then she'll have more surgery... most likely Monday morning.

Mel's coming home for the night, then she'll go back on Monday to be there for the surgery.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Asskickers, Shitkickers, and Methodists



Rest in Peace Harvey Korman

On This Planet...

...A gram (mass) is a gram (weight).

So, to my UK readers, I have no idea what the demographics of South Shields are... is it full of stupid drug dealers then?

Laptop Update

Well, I've had the thing two days now; and I don't love it or hate it.

IT'S HUGE.

It's also gorgeous, with great multimedia features; and the performance is spectacular.

...But did I mention how big it is?

Seriously, it is a 17" widescreen, so I expected it to be big, but it just feels "large" in comparison to other 17" laptops I've used. It's not particularly heavy (about two pounds heavier than my 14" machine); it's just got a big and thick footprint.

Actually, I've always wondered what the point of the Asus EEE (and similar micro laptops) was; well now I know, it's for people who already have a big desktop replacement laptop, and want something they can take to the coffee shop with them.

So, the areas I was specifically worried about... Well, it came overloaded with crapware, as to be expected; but otherhwise everythign seems pretty standard.

There are a few gotchas with 64 bit vista vs 32 bit (though I can get a 32 bit media pack if I want for $20) but otherwise, everything is standard hardware, not propietary crap, so driver support is excellent.

Right now, I've got the box dual booting 64 bit windows and 32 bit linux, because theres no 64 bit driver support for the goodies as of yet (video card or wlan).

The fun bit though, is that I've got VirtualBox running on both, accessing a shared data partition, with my work disk image. This way, I can run the same work virtual machine from either operating system; and I don't need to reboot etc...

The touchpad... yeah... it's a touchpad. Nothing to be done there. I may buy a trackball to go along with the thing just to avoid the touchpad, but I've used them plenty in the past, so it's not getting in my way. As touchpads go, it's well positioned; but it's VERY slick, as are the buttons, which I don't care for.

The keyboard is great but for two things:

1. The position of the cursor keys is wrong and inconvenient, relating to ...
2. The right shift key is cut in half, to allow for the cursor keys to be snuggled up in between the full keypad, and the rest of the keys.

This little irritation means that instead of hitting shift as I intend to; much of the time I find myself correcting massive errors because I hit the up arrow instead.

Again, I'll get used to it; and otherwise the keyboard really does feel good. It's got decent key action and feel; and good keysize and keyspacing.

Since I've decided not to chuck it back, I've ordered a spare battery (about 2.5 hours battery life on this on in normal use), the docking station, and a second AC adapter.

Further review to come as I get used to the thing.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Just Because

The Only Cure is to Pass it On

So since Monday night, I've had a song stuck in my head. Predictably, it's a Maiden tune:



"Wasted Years". Now I love the song, but having it playing back to back in your head for 50 hours straight isn't exactly great fun.

So, in the long tradition of earworms, I'm passing it on to you.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

A Day of Celebration

For several reasons. First, my new laptop has arrived; woo hoo!

I haven't even unboxed it yet, so a review is a few days away; but I'll be posting my first impressions later.

Second, and far more important, today I signed my paperwork to convert to a full time permanent employee of the company I have been contracting with for over two years.

Hmmmmm.... sweet sweet benefits and paid vacations.

To top it all off, some great steaks (cuts that we've already run through from our beef co-op) are on sale locally, and tonight is "friend" night; so it's New York strips on the grill to celebrate.

Shared Sentiment


Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Hallowed Be Thy Name



JohnOC and I, along with 84Charlie and a couple of his friends; all went to see Iron Maidens "Somewhere Back In Time" show at the Cricket Pavillion last night.

FRIKKEN AWESOME.

The show opened with Lauren Harris, Steve Harris's daughter; who was competent, but honestly, kinda ho-hum. I mean it was good, but it couldn't grab my attention enough to get me away from reading the novel I was wasting time with on my smart phone. She reminded me a little bit of Lita Ford, but not as kick ass, and with a filthier mouth (and yes, that's saying something).

Lauren played a 30 minute set (basically what's on her myspace page), and then they took a full half hour to turn over the stage; which was kind of surprising.

Maiden hit the stage just after 8:30, and pulled a full two hour set. Every song they played was a Maiden classic. No filler whatsoever, and as the tour companion album notes, the set was taken from the '80 to '89 period, excepting a couple.

I didn't write a full set list down, I'm just going from memory here. I've got all the songs, but they aren't in the exact order except the opener and closer.
  1. Aces High (including the speech)
  2. Two Minutes to Midnight
  3. Revelations
  4. The Trooper
  5. Wasted Years
  6. The Number of the Beast
  7. Run to the Hills
  8. Rime of the Ancient Mariner (a 20 minute version)
  9. Powerslave
  10. Heaven can wait
  11. Can I play with madness
  12. Fear of the Dark
  13. The Clairvoyant
  14. Iron Maiden
  15. Moonchild
  16. Hallowed be thy name
The whole show was played with an INCREDIBLE amount of energy. Bruce was running and jumping all over the place, and climbing all over the multilevel stage. Dave and Adrien were at their absolute best. Nicko and Steve kept it all together and hard charging. The production design was far less "theatrical" than past tours, but still fitting.

Seriously, it was the best show I've been to in a long time. I think BB Kings birthday concert a few years ago was as good, but nothing since then; and it would have to be Ozzfest in '01 for as good a show before that.

Unfortunately, none of my photos worked (my smartphones camera decided that it was out of memory no matter what I did), but this shot from Tokyo has the same wardrobe.


Next up, Judas Priest and Motorhead in August.

Monday, May 26, 2008

To Absent Companions...

... and fallen comrades.

Raise your glasses and cheer, then bow your heads and pray; for today is memorial day.

New Laptop for The Chris


So, I've needed a new laptop for months now; but work has not been forthcoming with the new gear. Last week I learned that it would be at least another couple months until budget was cleared for a new box; in the mean time my battery life is down to 20 minutes, my screen is about as bright as a GI flashlight with a 10 year old set of rayovacs, I'm on my fourth power supply, and my third hard drive.

Now, I run linux on my laptop, and connect to work using a windows virtual machine, with an approved enterprise operating system image, patches, applications etc...

Hell, half the reason I run on a VM, is because it lets me keep backup snapshots very easily; and move them to another machine if I have a problem, rather than losing my ability to work. I make note of this specifically, because in fact I have had MANY problems, and in fact lost my ability to work for more than a day each time. Since I went to the VM system, I haven't lost any work time.

I'm currently working on a three year old ThinkPad T43; a 15" 1280x1024 machine with a single core processor, and 2 gigs of RAM. Generally speaking, that works out reasonably well memory loading wise; but the disk I/O performance is pretty bad, and the CPU isn't that great with the VM running (it's just fine when I'm not running the VM). The video is the standard low end integrated Intel solution, and it's got a DVD drive, but not a recorder. Oh and it's only got a 60 gig hard drive.

Those last three factors are actually more than a bit irritating for me.

Now, what I NEED in a laptop, is a LOT of memory; a fast, multi core processor; a big, fast hard drive; and a comprehensive wireless and wired networking setup (preferably including GigE and wireless N). Importantly, I also need a chipset that has Linux support.

As y'all know by now, I'm a bit of an A/V nut as well; and I've got thousands of movies, dozens of them in HD formats (we're getting close to 100 I think). Blu-Ray of course is now the winner in the HD sweeps; so that's what we'll be buying in the future (though I still have about 40 HD-DVDs).

I'm also a gamer, a photographer, an occasional video and sound editor; and I tend to travel a lot (though not recently). I'm not TOO concerned about travel weight or bulk though; and I don't spend too much time away from power sources.

So, in addition to what I NEED in a laptop, I WANT a big screen and a good video subsystem, with discrete video and plenty of video memory. I also want a BluRay drive, some type of media in and outputs (HDMI would be good), and an HDTV tuner would be nice.

Oh and I REALLY NEED a good, full size keyboard, and a big wrist rest. I type for as much as 18 hours a day, and a substandard keyboard kills a computer for me. I simply cannot use it.

Finally, I have a personal preference for a three button mouse, and a pointing stick. I don't really like touchpads at all; they're imprecise, and they have this iritating tendency to suddenly reposition my mouse pointer or cursor somewhere I didn't want it; either because my palm or thumb hit them, or maybe just for no reason at all (in actuality it's because many laptop chassis flex a bit, and when they do sometimes it makes the touchpad think it's being manipulated).

The reason I like trackpoints specifically, is because I don't need to move my hands from their keyboard position in order to use the pointer, or the three buttons (at least in all recent ThinkPads).

So, as you can tell, I'm pretty demanding. For the last few months I've been tracking on a higher end ThinkPad model, which had pretty much everything I wanted, except for the tv tuner. The only problem is, it would be about $1800, even after a hefty sale price discount (laptops go on sale constantly. If you dont like the price on one today, wait a few weeks).

Well, coincidentally, the same day as I found out I was going to have to wait, I also got a notification about this:


That, is an HP pavilion DV9830US. It's a 1.83ghz core 2 duo, 17" 1440x900 screen (which means I can watch 720p at full resolution, but not 1080p), 4 gigs of RAM, 320gb hdd, BluRay drive with DVD burner, GeForce 8600 discrete video with 512mb of video ram, GigE and wireless N, an HDTV tuner with HDMI (and two different windows remotes, one portable, one for the house), firewire, 4 usb 2.0 ports, a theoretically surround sound system (it's all a software codec, and there's no discrete output, but it will output over the HDMI), an integrated web cam, and what is by all reports an excellent keyboard (with a discrete numeric keypad, which I honestly don't care about. I never use 10key).

Oh, and all that for $1250.

I did the research, and that is the cheapest (and highest specced) "high range" manufacturers laptop with native BluRay, and discrete video. The next cheapest is $200 more, and lower specced. Also, the thing gets great reviews.

Now, my experience with HP laptops has been hit and miss. Some of them have been great, some have been crap. My experience with HP tech support and warranty service is similarly mixed.

So, I'm worried about the keyboard, worried about it being an HP, and I don't care for touchpads; but given all the features, and the uniformly positive reviews, I'm cautiously optimistic.

I should have it in by Wednesday; here's hoping. If anyone has a direct experience with one of these, or a similar model, let me know.

Friday, May 23, 2008

...Yeah... you MIGHT say that...


...You might also say Andre the Giant was a bit bigger than say, Mary Lou Retton.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Agreed

pet

The Mind Boggles

If you keep it under 300 yards


With the right bullet in a hot load OK; though honestly, I'd prefer at least a hot .270 (140gr at 3100fps is a max load, vs 2950-3000 for the same weight from a .308, or about 100 fps lower for either with a 150gr; and it has better sectional density, and better ballistic coefficient with most bullets), or a 7mm mag as a minimum.

The .308 and .30-06 are good for velocity, and great for bullet choice; but worse on penetration in the higher velocity loads, because of their comparatively low sectional density.

Some of the hot 6.5s (the long european, or the short magnums) would be a good choice as well, in the heavier bullet weights (at least at shorter ranges). I don't think I'd go for anything below 6.5mm though. A mid weight or heavy 6.5 gives you a great BC, and a great SD.

UPDATE: A commenter notes that the .30-40 Krag was considered an excellent cartridge for elk up until World War Two (technically til the late 30s I'd say, when high velocity chamberings started becoming popular). Again, I note this is because of sectional density.

The standard .30-40 hunting load was 220gr at about 2200fps, up to a max of about 2400fps; considerably heavier than the standard 150-180gr hunting loads for .308 and .30-06, in the same diameter (though also considerably slower. A typical 180gr load from an '06 is around 2700fps). That's sectional density.

Not to say that I'd take .30-40 over .30-06; for one thing, you can shoot '06 near as heavy, and with a significantly higher velocity; but it does mean that yes, in the right load and at the right range (a short one, because the .30-40 bullets tended to have pretty poor BC) it would take an elk cleanly.

Sectional density is also why the light weight hypervelocity magnums aren't really great for elk. They just don't have the mass or sectional density to penetrate deeply on a consistent basis, on an animal with that much muscle and that deep a chest. They are near perfect for smaller deer species however.

Sectional density means greater penetration for a given energy level. Remember, you can take Elk with a bow an arrow, and the right shot placement, because that arrow is going to penetrate deeply with all that weight behind a small (and sharp) diameter. THAT is sectional density.

Hit the retained energy floor necessary to penetrate deeply (10"-14" is ideal), with the mass, and sectional density necessary; and you're going to take the game cleanly.

...now if there was only a consistent way of figuring out how much energy and sectional density were actually necessary.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Recipes for REAL Men, Volume 26 - Hot Smoke

I am not a "real" barbecue pit master. You know how I can prove it? I'm actually going to tell you how I smoke my meat, make my rub, and make my sauce.

Oooooh.. sacrelige. You may be reading my obituary in a few days when the elite pitmaster hit squads take care of me.

Well, down to business.

Ingredients:
Simple Supermarket Rub
6 cups brown sugar
2 cups kosher salt
1 cup medium ground black pepper
1/2 cup garlic powder
1/2 cup smoked paprika
1/4 cup ground hot mustard
1/4 cup cayenne powder
1/4 cup chipotle powder
1/4 cup onion powder
1/4 cup celery salt
1/4 cup cumin
1/4 cup ground fennel
1/4 cup dried thyme
1/4 cup dried oregano

Costco Special Sauce
2 gallons ketchup (I GREATLY prefer Heinz here)
1 gallon prepared yellow mustard (I like Frenchs or Plochmans)
1 gallon Franks RedHot or Texas Pete (yep, we're cheating)
1 quart KC masterpiece or Texas longhorn sauce (cheating some more)
1 quart A1 steak sauce (and even more)
1 pint Dijon mustard (grey poupon is the convenient choice)
1 pint maple syrup, or dark molasses (optional, depending on how sweet you want it)
1 pint lemon, lime, or pineapple juice (in order of how sweet they are)
1 cup of the rub mixture above
1 cup Worcestershire sauce
Preparation:

Honestly, the whole mythical barbecue cult is hugely overblown. Smoking is no great mystery, it's just a process, like any other:
  1. Get good wood
  2. Make a good rub
  3. Pick good meat (meaning not so great in the conventional sense; but good for smoking)
  4. Tend your fire properly
No special technique necessary, no black magic, just time and patience.

Lots of time, and lots of patience... but that's for later. First let's talk about the rub and the sauce.

I call these the simple supermarket rub, and Costco sauce, because there isn't anything special in them. You can pick all of that stuff up at a local supermarket, and at Costco or Sams club (or if you want to make small batches of the sauce, not even that).

Yes, I can make a better rub, and I can damn sure make a much better sauce, but both require more interesting ingredients, and more time (specifically, brewing your own BBQ sauce can take hours over a stove; and in large batches requires a HUGE pot). These things anyone can throw together at any time, from just about any supermarket, and still make great barbecue.

Oh and you should note, I've made them with entirely even proportions for scaling up and down easily. I like to mix these things in big batches, because when you're smoking a lot, you'd be amazed with how much you use; and because it's actually easier to work with the large quantities (unless you've got a micro-kitchen anyway).

The prep for the sauce and rub is very simple.

First, get a great big bowl, dump all the dry rub ingredients together in it, and thoroughly mix it all together with your hands. Then store it in a large air tight container, with an opening large enough to conveniently grab handfuls out of, with enough headroom that you can shake the stuff up in it (to reduce clumping).

You absolutely need to keep it air tight, or the brown sugar will clump; but if you've got the sugar to spice balance right, in normal usage the stuff wont brick up or oxidize; and the rub can be kept for a few months.

Next up, buy yourself a clean, new, food grade five or seven gallon bucket (you can get them at any kitchen supply place)... or if you're cheap, just take any clean five gallon bucket and clean it with soap and water, and dilute bleach, and rinse the hell out of it. Oh and this recipe will COMPLETELY fill a five gallon bucket.

Dump in your watery liquids, dissolve the dry seasonings into them; then add the rest of the thick liquids except the syrup or molasses, stirring constantly with a gigantic spoon, paddle etc...

Finally, you're going to want to adjust the sweetness to taste, using the syrup or molasses.

It's a lot better if you let the flavors meld overnight; and it's a HELL of a lot better if instead of just mixing them in a bucket, you simmer them in a large kettle on the stove for at least 4 hours; 12 hours if you can manage it.

So, now that the sauce and rub are ready to go, its time to pick your meat.

Ooooooh boy.....

Now this is probably the most controversial topic in the whole of barbecuing... The second most controversial is probably "wet vs. dry", followed by "mustard, vinegar, or neither" or maybe "Molasses or brown sugar"... or maybe "Hickory, mesquite, or other"....

But I digress...

Again...

Most folks meat choices fall into one or more of the following:
  1. Pork ribs
  2. Beef ribs
  3. Pork butt
  4. Brisket
  5. Sausages
Those are certainly the classics; and I confess, I have a strong liking for all of them; but I suggest to you now, that you try other meats as well.

The reason those cuts work so well, is because they all have a fair bit of fat, and connective tissue (though chopped up in the case of the sausages) . The low and slow heat of the smoker melts the fats and softens the connective tissues; which keeps the meat juicy, and tenderizes it. At the same time, the softened fat and tissue absorb the aromatic and flavorful smoke.

Of course it doesn't hurt that in times past, those were also generally on the cheaper side of cuts; because up until recently, barbecue was mostly poor people food (which you might notice tends to be some of the tastiest stuff out there).

Unfortunately, the recent rise in popularity of real barbecue (as opposed to grilling, which uses hot and fast heat, and doesn't break down fats or connective tissues; thus is best suited to more tender, traditionally more expensive cuts) has made even brisket (which was once thought of as a cut only for stews, jews, and sharecroppers) MUCH more expensive.

Now, by extension of the above principles, most any cut of meat with a fair amount of fat and connective tissue can work well in the smoker. That means most meats that you would normally dry roast, or braise, will come out pretty good when smoked. Just make sure when you get yourself a roast, you get it with the fat cap still on; so the meat can self baste in the smoker.

Also, more delicate meats that absorb flavors well, like chicken, and fattier fish (salmon, tuna) take the smoke just fine; though you have to be more careful with your timing and temperature control.

Generally speaking, less fatty cuts don't work as well; because they tend to dry out. You can get around this, and smoke things like scallops, shrimp, and lean tenderloin to great effect, by applying the wonderful magic of bacon.

Mmmmmmmmmmm bacon.

Just wrap the bacon around whatever it is you want to smoke; and it will flavor, and baste the meat over time. Plus, the bacon tastes even better after a few hours bathed in aromatic wood smoke.

Really, everything is better with bacon.

Just last night, we diverged fomr the traditional, and had split (bone in) chicken breasts. Tonight we smoked a leg of lamb, and made lamb pitas (yes, they were VERY good).

Once you've got your meat picked, it's time for the wood.

Yep, another major controversy.

The first question really is what meat you're going to be smoking; because different meats work better with different woods. Generally speaking, the more delicate the meat, the more delicate the smoke you want; by which I mean the pungency of the smoke.

Fruitwoods generally have a lighter, more subtle smoke flavor; and are generally the best woods for fish, and other delicate meats. They aren't generally good as the only fuel for the smoker however.

Nutty hardwoods, like oak, walnut, almond, and pecan; have moderate amounts of somewhat heavier, more intense smoke, depending on the resin character, and moisture content of the wood.

When properly seasoned, the nutty hardwoods burn at a moderate to high temperatures, are easy to regulate the burn on; and when properly regulated, sustain an even burn for a long time, with a solid and long lasting coal bed.

Resinous hardwoods like mesquite produce an intense, thick, and voluminous smoke. Their resinous nature makes them best suited as an accent wood, rather than a primary fuel; and it takes a robust meat to stand up to their intense flavoring.

Softwoods in general are unsuited for smoking; unless they are EXTREMELY well seasoned. Their resins tend to produce unpleasant flavors in smoke (in fact, some are even toxic); and even if they didn't they tend to burn hot and fast, with ashy smoke.

The next question is what works well in your smoker. Some types limit your options, or require you to work around their particular characteristics. I won't go into details here, because every smoker is different.

So, just for purpose of argument, lets assume a baseline of beef brisket, with a sidebox, wood fired smoker.

Yes, there are gas and electric smokers out there if you didn't know; but you still need wood for the smoke (well... there are liquids that you can smoke, but I find them markedly inferior to real wood). Wood fire smoking is of course the traditional way; and if you're gonna need the wood anyway, might was well make it wood fired.

My personal preference, no matter what I'm going to use for a flavor wood; is to make a base fire of hardwood lump charcoal, and a neutral hardwood like white oak.

I use lump charcoal, because briquettes don't burn in as desirable a way; and the binders used in their manufacture can produce off flavors, and ashy smoke. I use the neutral hardwood as fuel, because it adds to the total smoke volume; as well as producing a moderate temperature, longer burning fire than just charcoal. I use the charcoal at all, because it initiates the smoke better, produces a better coal bed, and because it is easier to start and maintain a consistent fire with it.

As to flavor woods, I'm partial to hickory, pecan, and applewood. All have distinctive, but not overwhelming aroma and flavor; and all burn well, and are easy to regulate. In fact, all are suitable for use as the primary fuel wood as well, especially when used with charcoal.

I dislike the highly resinous hardwoods, like mesquite (unless you're going to cook the food in another way, and use the smoke as just a flavor accent); because they overwhelm all the other flavors and aromas of the meat you are smoking. To my mind, you should be tasting the meat, with the smoke as an accent (even if it's a strong accent); not the smoke, with the meat added in.

If you want to have a little something different, throw a handful of green, or lightly roasted coffee beans into the fire in the last 20 minutes or so of smoking. Yes, it smells as good as you think it will; but too long on the fire and it just smells burnt.

What else is there? I'd give you advice on time and temperature, but there are no hard and fast rules. Different meats, and different cuts, respond better to different temperatures; and obviously time and temperature are related. Also, some cuts are great done both hot and fast, or low and slow; producing to equally good, but different, results.

The only recommendation I'll give you here is, for meats or cuts that aren't fatty with a good amount of connective tissues; you want to be smoking to an internal temperature that matches medium rare for the meat. Anything higher, and it will probably dry out a bit more than is best. You can finish cooking wrapped tightly in foil, either in the smoker, or in your oven; and it won't dry out.

Oh and you need to get to an internal temperature of over 167 degrees, and stay there for at least an hour; if you want connective tissues to render out.

Best of luck.

Oh, and just for fun, here's a special bonus sauce for all y'all cajun boys:

Mix up a double batch of the spice rub above, and brew a big'ol (at least 10 6oz cups) pot of extra extra strength coffee (strong as you can make it without ruining it by overextracting or burning).

Put the coffee into a pot big enough to hold twice as much, heat it near to simmering, and then take the second batch of rub and dissolve it into the coffee.

Reduce the mixture to a thin syrup, take it off the heat, and then use that mixture to replace the A1 sauce, and the bottled barbecue sauce in the recipe above (preferably in the variant that involves simmering it on the stove).

If you don't like coffee (foul heathen), you can do the same thing with Coke, Dr. Pepper, wine, beef stock, or even a good dark beer (Guinness is traditional). Any flavorful liquid could do potentially; but I think it's best with liquids that combine some bitterness, with some sweetness, and some acidity.

Of course, if you're going that far, you might as well brew up your own scratch sauce, and skip over the ketchup, prepared mustard etc... Trust me, it's worth it.

And be sure to check out:

Recipes for REAL Men, Volume 25 - That's a Spicy Polpette

Recipes for REAL Men, Volume 24 - It's Meat, in Loaf Form
Recipes for REAL Women, Volume 23 - Some Like it Hot
Recipes for REAL Women, Volume 22 - Full Fat, Full Dairy, All Killer, No Filler
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

Glad To Be Married

Smoke gets in your eyes

Good song, good title for tonight (suggested by an earlier commenter); and in this case factually true.

It hit 110 here today in the valley of the sun, and is expected to be hotter tomorrow; which to me signifies the beginning of "don't use the oven in the house unless you have to" season.

Unfortunately, the grill we bought when we moved in here a few years ago has rotted itself out. Not that I'm complaining. For $90 it did two full seasons of yeoman service; more than can reasonably be expected for a Wally World special.

Anyway, I got a craftsman club email this morning, and Sears had grills and smokers on sale; so Mel and I went down there to take a look.

Frankly, I've been planning on making the charcoal grill last another season, and picking up a decent quality gas grill for the convenience factor; but the old girl is well and truly dead. Not only that, but we've REALLY wanted a smoker for quite a while; especially since we got in on the beef Co-Op (hmmmm.... brisket).

Anyway, I wasn't really impressed with what I saw at Sears. Both the size, and the quality were lacking... of course the smoker they were selling was only $140.

But... the idea was in our head...

So we headed on over to Bass Pro; and quite frankly were disappointed there as well. They used to have a bunch of smokers, of all different types and sizes; but apparently they've cut back. There were only a few, and they were either HUGE (and expensive), or junk.

Finally, we ended up at Sportsmans Warehouse, because we know they had a large variety of smokers (Cabelas is 35+ miles away, and more expensive anyway; though their selection is also excellent), and we ended up with one of these:




That's a Landmann BlackDog 42, sidebox grill and smoker combo; called thus, because it is both a sidebox smoker, and a charcoal grill.

In fact, it's a double smoker and double grill; because you can hot smoke (up to about 700 degrees over the firebox), cold smoke, grill over the charcoal in the main firebox, or grill over the smoke fire in the sidebox.

Honestly, when we started this, we were still thinking about a propane vertical box smoker, and a gas grill separately; again, because of the convenience. I prefer the results you get with a wood sidebox smoker; especially that you have the option of hot or cold smoking; but they tend to be unweildy, heavy, expensive, and they take up a lot of space.

When we saw this one, I started thinking hard again how much I prefer lump charcoal to propane... and how good real hardwood smells... and that's a pretty solid grill, and a good size... and on heavy discount (less than half the retail list. Not the lowest online price, but not much higher; and no worries about shipping).

What the hell, kill two birds with one stone. Less money, less space taken up, more versatility...

Aright, is it perfect? No. It's not a $1500 Pitts & Spitts, or Traeger (yes, that's how much the equivalent Pitts costs); but it's also about 1/4 the price. It looks good, it smokes good, it draws good, it fires good.

The only thing I'm not happy with, is that the welds on the lid aren't great. The frame and firebox welds are clean continuous, and pretty good; but the lids are only welded along every inch in six, and they leak too much smoke (and thus requiring more wood to maintain the right amount of heat, and making it harder to control the burn rate and draft).

That my friends, is why the lord made Devcon high temperature epoxy (1500 degree tolerant, metal filled epoxy). I'd re-weld the things, but honestly, I don't want to grind the paint off and then have to respray it; and I don't have a welder right now...

...and I don't want this to end up as a Steve H. project; where I start off wanting to fix a smoker lid, and end up with a new industrial compressor, a set of air tools, a new welder, and a new 220 drop...

Anyway, we didn't pick the box up til 5, and it took about an hour to get it together; and we wanted to smoke tonight. To keep it quick and simple, we grabbed some large pecan chunks, applewood chips, and oak lump charcoal; and we smoked some chicken splits, and hot links tonight (because they all smoke fast).

I swear to you, I'm a connoisseur of good barbecue, and that was absolutely the best smoked chicken I've ever had in my life. Being able to control the heat, timing, rub, and smoke yourself is absolutely the way to go. Straight off the smoke, onto the hot grill over the firebox for a final bit of char, and then right off the bone (and oh yes, it fell right off the bone).

Why didn't we do this two years ago?

Monday, May 19, 2008

Any guesses?

I've been to Costco twice today, shopping the meat and condiments sections.

Chris is mixing a strange reddish concoction in a 5 gallon bucket. Gallon-sized containers of Frank's, yellow mustard, and ketchup have been emptied.

A mixture of hardwoods and fruitwoods resides on our back porch.

Chris's forearms are covered with soot.

Any guesses as to what Chris bought today?


Mel

Friday, May 16, 2008

Definitively Not



I should note in the "Recipes for Real Men" series, I include both a more traditional chili recipe (though I do put some sausage, and tomato paste in it), and a chili bean stew recipe (which is what you call chili when it has beans in it).

Axis of Brooding

Completely random thing. I was just looking something up on IMDB (even more random, I was looking up how tall Ernie Hudson is - 6', I thought he was taller. Oh and he's a marine) and I noticed it was David Boreanaz's birthday (they have a birthday widget on their front page). So I clicked through to the other birthdays, and hey, it's Pierce Brosnans birthday too.

Two actors famous for having a hawkish, piercing, totally epic "brood" mode.

... I wonder why Brosnan has never been tapped to play a vampire?

It's time to retire the "Disappointed Dyke" trope, please

Why is it that every time you see a lesbian on TV (with admittedly a few exceptions) she's either a super glam lipstick, a donkeyfaced diesel; or what I'll call the "Disappointed Dyke".

What's that you say?

The "Disappointed Dyke" is the storytellers easy cliche of the lesbian who develops an obsession for a particular woman, but hides their lesbianism. Then the character does everything to get close to them, may imitate or otherwise ingratiate herself, and then when she tries to "make her move" she gets rebuffed; maybe gently, but more often with a "get away from me you freak" line. This of course prompts either a total emotional breakdown, and/or a killing rampage.

Well, I've known plenty of lesbians in my time; and often such a scene has played out in their lives (in fact I once sat in a group of a half dozen lesbian couples talking about their first experience, and almost every one of them had a variation of pretty much the same story) up to the point of the rejection... but, amazingly (for how could popular culture lie), not one of them ended up going on a killing rampage afterwards.

I've seen this storyline, I kid you not, 4 times in the last week in various TV shows (most recently watching "Mad Men", the latest "Shark", and an episode of one of the law and orders).

I'm currently watching "The Wire", which has an openly lesbian bi-racial cop as one of its principal characters, and I'm just hoping they don't ruin her character with some stupid crap like that. I'm pretty sure there's no way to work it in, but I can guarandamntee you that a cliche psycho lesbian of some kind will show up (for those of you who have seen all five season, if you can tell me I'm wrong, I'd be thrilled).

I'm slightly less irritated by the other common psycho lesbian cliche; the one who was the lover of another character, and is later rejected, or their lover dies and THEN they go psycho... honestly, I'm not sure which has been done more.

Mrs. Danvers, Hedy Carlson, Roxy and Catherine, Helena Cain, Eve Harrington, Willow (season 6, oh yeah)...

I mean look, you can at least partially justify the "camp" gay portrayal; lord knows there are enough gay men out there who do it just for "queer identity"... and then there's John Waters (that aint an act folks)... but seriously, other than Eileen Wuornos...

And don't even get me started on the lesbian vampire thing. That's so hackneyed, that there are actually double-reverse subversion cliches playing off it. Though yes, vampires are explicitly sexual, and good looking lesbians are always a crowd pleaser... it's just too easy guys.

Ok, yes, I know the cliches are stock storytelling device from all the way back to the Hays code; where the only way they could even hint at lesbianism was by associating it with abberant psychology, and the eventual downfall (and frequently the demise) of the character in question.

... but seriously people, it's 2008. Theres just no excuse for such lazy writing.

Can't writers come up with some better ideas than this? Just maybe once?

This straight man has had enough of the psycho lesbians thank you.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

A continued tale of agressive incompetence

There are some days when I very much wish I could refer to specifics about my job, if only to vent.

Anyone who knows me, knows that I'm a very difficult guy to piss off. I can be irritable, cranky, or curmudgeonly, but actually getting me angry takes a hell of a lot.

Let me just say I haven't been this angry about something at work in YEARS.

Were' talking about a multi-million dollar screwup that's going to affect everything I and my team do for the rest of the year.

I've put my ass on the line and made commitments to the groups I provide service to based on commitments from others. Now, when it comes time to deliver... IN FACT PAST TIME to deliver... those others are telling me they can't do it.

Now I have to go back to my customers, and tell them their projects are going to take the hit. Tomorrow is going to be me explaining to my people and my customers why we can't do what we promised.

In this case though, I've got it in writing. It's not my nuts on the block; in fact I very specifically called up my management after this meeting, and the first thing out of my mouth was "I want somebodies balls on the block for this".

On the block, cut off, dried out, and made into a fucking keychain.

Hobson must be laughing

Comic from Private Murphys Law (a great, if infrequently updated military webcomic)

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Well, that brightened my day

From my email:

Judas Priest with Heaven and Hell, Motorhead & Testament

Live Nation Presale - Judas Priest

Thursday, August 28
Cricket Wireless Pavilion

Presale starts: Thu, May 15 at 10am

I'm sure you're tired of this excuse already...

But I've been dealing with some seriously aggressive stupidity today... You know, the kind of stupidity that actually drive intelligence and wisdom away.

The kind that makes you stupider just for being there.

Mels mom is back in the hospital.

Yes, I know, I need a range trip. That wont be happening for a while.

In the mean time, I've got "The Wire" and "Sports Night" to watch.

Irony, thy name is


Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Gotta Keep The Devil Down in the Hole

Yesterday HBO announced they were becoming an Apple iTunes partner. This morning, having heard good things, I downloaded season one of "The Wire".

It doth not suck.

Monday, May 12, 2008

A military fiction geek out

Ok, this one is going to be for the hardcore military fiction and science fiction readers out there.
  1. Hornblower, Aubrey, both, or neither

  2. What was the "real" last book of the Aubrey Maturin series?
    • Blue at the Mizzen (the canonical last book)
    • The Commodore (Jack becomes an Admiral, and again the story wanders off after)
    • The Far Side of the World (Jack and Steven lose their way for some time after this)
    • The Fortune of War (the natural ending point of the first major story arc)

  3. How about the "real" last Hornblower book
    • The Happy Return (technically the first book published)
    • Flying Colours (the second book published, but many consider it the natural end)
    • Lord Hornblower (the war ends with Napoleons defeat at Waterloo)
    • Hornblower in the West Indies (the canonical last novel; really a series of novelas)

  4. The better Homage to either Hornblower or Aubrey (not necessarily the best books)
    • David Drakes RCN series
    • David Feintuchs Seafort Series
    • David Webers Honor Harrington series
    • LM Bujolds Miles Vorkosigan series (does it even really count?)
    • Other (there are dozens)

  5. Ioan Griffud and Jamie Bamber, or Russel Crowe and Paul Bettany?

  6. Screw that poncy navy crap: Sharpe or Flashman

  7. The "real" last book in the Sharpes series
    • Sharpes Honour: The original end of the series, and Sharpes last true exploits as a fighting soldier in command of soldiers
    • Sharpes Honour, AND the tacked on prequels don't count
    • Sharpes revenge: Sharpe and Harper are out of the army, in the peace of 1814, and Sharps life is ruined... again
    • Sharpes Devil: Sharpe investigating Napoleons death on St. Helena (no seriously), and the canonical last book

  8. What's with all this British Crap: Ken McCoy, Craig Lowell, John Clark, Bob Lee Swagger, Mitch Rapp, Mack Bolan ( I HAVE to include him) or Mike Harmon

  9. Screw all that earthbound war crap... besides, they're called crunchies for a reason : Hammers Slammers or Bolo (pre-sentience)

  10. They don't crunch when they've got powered combat armor, or the equivalent (genetically engineered supersoldier, or born again badass etc...) . "Shines the Name, Rodger Young": Juan Rico, Mike O'Neal, Karl Sten, or Jane Sagan
Note: I don't know of and haven't read, any good revolutionary war or civil war series (excepting various alternate history novels); so I didn't include any soldiery from those conflicts (unless you count Flashman - and I don't) . I'm sure there are some, but I haven't read any. Go ahead and suggest away if you do know of some. Also, I've read the "destroyer" series, but not many other series about WW2 naval combat; so again, suggest away.

Bonus points if you get all the references without looking them up.

I've only included one character in the list above that isn't a major character in a well known series of at least three books; and that's because the single book in question is so influential as to be a cornerstone of the entire mythos of military fiction and science fiction.

I specifically left out several really great characters (I'm lookin at you Mad Mike) because they are side characters, or are not characters in a series (at least not yet. Larry Correia's got one thats going to be a classic once he gets the next two novels published. If you can get your hands on a copy of Monster Hunter International, you should. If not, it's going to be reprinted by Baen in 2009).

Oh and remember, explain your choices.

Knowing my readers, this oughta be fun... Kinda like a knife fight in a phone booth...

... Especially considering at least five of the authors noted above read this page on occasion, as do a couple of other authors who have collaborated with folks on that list (and I'm not tellin. If they choose to make themselves known, s'be't) ...

Friday, May 09, 2008

An Interesting Perspective from John Waters

"We need to make books cool again. If you go home with someone, and they don't have any books... DON'T FUCK'EM"

Sounds like a good idea to me.

I should note, I LOVE John Waters. He has a hell of a sense of humor, he' amazingly intelligent... he's wrong about almost everything political, and a fair bit of moral; but he's right about a lot of everything else. He's always had a hell of an insight into human behavior.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

My Day Approximated

Scribus Interuptus

So, I've written a TON of stuff lately... and finished almsot none of it.

For some reason I've got a BUNCH of ideas going through the brain, and either they aren't flowing out to the fingers; or they aren't coming out in a way I'm satisfied with.

In particular, there's one VERY BIG thing that I really want to write. The concept and points of it are kind of sitting there taking up all my mental room; and it won't come out until it's fully formed, but it's also crowding everything else out.

Sorry for the scarcity of content around here lately, I'm just in one of those occaisonal slumps.

Irritating.

One of the reasons I love Craig Ferguson

It's long, but watch the whole thing:

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

A few random things about ME

Even as fat as I have become, I can still touch my toes, then put my palms flat on the ground. When I didn't have the big'ol gut, I could do the backs of my wrists.

I collect guns, knives, swords, books, flashlights, tools, old computers, and watches. I used to collect coffee mugs, t-shirts, and walking sticks as well.

I have had arthritis in several joints since my early 20s, as the result of multiple severe injuries that have never healed properly.

I have approximately 20/50 vision, and have since I was 13 (I plan on getting laser surgery eventually). I can watch TV, watch movies, and drive without my glasses; though I generally prefer not to because I squint a lot otherwise.

I hate hats; but I wear them because they are both necessary, and practical. I have a half dozen ball caps, and a stockmans hat; which is quite useful actually.

Although I have more (not much, but a bit), the only pieces of jewelry I generally wear, are my wedding ring, and a watch. I don't like extraneous objects on my hands or wrists.

I also don't like my shirt cuffs on my hands or wrists; and I prefer to have my sleeves pushed up or rolled up.

These are long enforced habit from working around things that can snatch up, or light on fire, loose fabric, or loose jewelry.

I TRULY HATE loose threads; and to this day carry a zippo lighter with me, half for just the usefulness of a flame, but half just to handle loose threads.

I was a boy scout. In fact I had completed all my prerequisites and service project for eagle scout; but I left scouting because I had a religious fanatic for a scoutmaster, who made my life hell, because at the time I refused to attend church. I still regret doing that.

I have never lived in one house or apartment for more than three years in a row; and only once for more than three years total (I lived there twice, for three years each time, and three years in between).

I once lived in the house that Matthew McConaughey lived in while he was filming "Rein of Fire" in Ireland (Bray, co. Wicklow). I was the next tenant after him.

The first place I ever lived in Ireland was a 600 year old farmstead turned pub and boarding house, that had once belonged to my family (400 years ago). This was entirely by coincidence, and I only found out about it after doing a great deal of research on the area.

I lived in a geodesic dome for a year.

I'm allergic to onions; but my favorite cuisines are Italian, Mexican, and Thai (all heavy on the onions if for some reason you are not familiar).

The first actual book (not a picture book or the like) I can clearly remember reading is "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthurs Court"; but it was a "childrens classics" version. After that I read some other classics in their full and unabridged versions; but the first contemporary "adult" novel I read was Steven Kings "The Stand", when I was seven.

I met my best friend in the line to get into school, on the first day of second grade. He has been my best friend ever since. Although I now live 2700 miles away from where we grew up, he lives about 15 minutes away from me.

Some Favorites:

My favorite food is definitely pizza; though there is about a 50 way tie for second place.

My favorite color is Red; though I actually prefer black (which is technically an absence of color).

My favorite song is "Stand By Me" by Ben E. King; and has been since I first heard it, in 1982.

My favorite poem is "Stopping by the woods on a snowy evening" by Robert Frost; and has been since I first heard it, also in 1982.

I lied; I actually have TWO favorite songs, and I honestly cannot pick between them. My OTHER favorite song is a neo-celtic folks song; "Wanderlust" by the band "Wyld Nept".

My favorite movie is, without question, "The Princess Bride". I saw it in theaters, and I've loved it ever since. NO other movie is even close; though again, there is about a 50 way tie for second place.

My favorite book... Gods man I don't think I can... There are so many, in so many different genres. I can tell you the book I've read the most is "Pawn of Prophecy" by David Eddings; which I read at least once a year, from when I first read it in 1986, until about 2000. I believe I've re-read the entire series once or twice since then.

I should note: I made a habit of re-reading every book in a series, whenever a new book would come out; so I've re-read every book in the Belgariad, the Mallorean, the Elenium, the Tamuli, The Wheel of Time, Mercedes Lackeys Urban Fantasy series (there are several connected ones), the Mitch Rapp series, the Jack Ryan series, The Corps, Badge of Honor, Brotherhood of Wars, and a bunch of other series; all at least ten times.

My favorite soft drink is actually iced tea with sugar and lemon; but I drink more water, and diet mountain dew; because I'm worried about diabetes (family history). Coffee is my favorite hot beverage, but tea, hot cider, and drinking chocolate, are not far behind.

My favorite coffee mug is 20oz, and made of alternating strips of curly maple, and padauk. Yes, the wood.

My favorite alcoholic beverage is a brown or red ale of some kind; with a strong but not too sweet malt, and medium bitterness.

My favorite hard alcohol is Irish whisky; but my favorite mixed drink is a simple double vodka tonic, tall, with double lime. I find it crisp and refreshing.

Don't ask me to name a bottle, or a vintage; but my favorite wine variety is probably a semillon or sauvignon blanc; or maybe a Pinot Grigio. I personally think that generally Washington and Oregon produce better examples than Bordeaux does (excepting the very best of them). I prefer my whites to be dry and crisp, but fruity; neither overly sweet, nor overly acidic.

I don't care for American chardonnays at all; given that they almost universally eschew any kind of delicacy in favor of massive tannin character (which for some reason vintners seem to believe makes them a "more sophisticated" wine). The French vintages are generally better in this regard; but you never know what way the australians, south africans, or chileans are going to swing. I find Australian and Chileans whites in general to be good, but not up to what I really want.

For reds, I like Pinot Noir (French, Italian, and Oregonian), and Syrah/Shiraz; but I'm not generally a big Cabernet Sauvignon fan, because I feel most vintners overoak their vintages. I generally prefer the shiraz of Australia (barossa valley wines like Penfolds and Wolf Blass especially), to most French Syrah vintages; but the French do better blends (usually with cab sauv - and I should say, I think the Australian blends are good too, just that the Burgundys are better).

My favorite ice cream is chocolate chip cookie dough; but it's not my favorite dessert.

My favorite dessert is creme brulee if it's absolutely perfect; but that's pretty hard to do, and bad creme brulee can be pretty bad. Otherwise I really love strawberry parfaits, apple crumbles and apple crisps, cheese cakes, anything to do with snickers bars or oreo cookies, blondies, brownies, and white chocolate macadamia nut cookies.

I'm not really a big cake fan (except for tres leches cake, which I love), because I don't much like most frosting; or really anything that's mostly sugar. I don't like fudge at all for example; or cotton candy, or rock candy.

My favorite place in the entire world, is the Winaukee peninsula, Moultonborough, New Hampshire; on lake Winnepesaukee. I spent summers (and the occasional, very harsh, winter even) there growing up.

A few random things about my family

I have a bunch of stuff that I both want to write, and don't want to write; because I'm EXTREMELY aggravated, irritated, perhaps even pissed off.

So, instead, I'm just going to do the blog equivalent of randomly blurting things out.

I look just like my dad, only taller. I'm 6'2", but my father is only 5'6", and my mother is only 5'3". My brother is 5'9", and looks just like my maternal grandfather.

I've got very thick, very wavy, dark reddish brown hair on my head and chest; but my beard, moustache (in fact everything below my sideburns and the back of my neck, including my body hair) grow in quite red. My father has nearly black, very thick and curly hair; my mother has very straight, fine, strawberry blonde hair; I seem to have split the difference.

Funnily enough, the men on my mother side tend to go thin but not bald; on my fathers they go grey or white, but don't lose their hair. My brother started thinning when he was about 17, but my hair is actually getting thicker as I get older.

I am related to Herman Melville, Robert Emmet, and Feach MacHugh O'Byrne (the Byrne clan is huge, so a lot of the folks who spell their names that way are at least distantly related. My family goes back directly lineally).

I'm officially Christopher Byrne the fourth. We were all raised in the catholic church, and as was historically the custom; we all took middle names at confirmation, rather than being given them at birth. The feast day for the saint whose name I took at confirmation is the day after my birthday in the eastern church. The feast day of the saint my father took as his name, is the day BEFORE his birthday.

My father is a convicted felon, and has spent approximately half my life in prison. Because he and I share the same name, and have at times shared the same city and county of residence, there has sometimes been ID confusion. Up until recently, most computer systems only entered suffixes up to the third, and often ignored suffixes completely. As a result, I have recieved bills that were his; had tax liens been placed on me that were his; and been arrested on his arrest warrants (among other difficulties).

My father is also a highly decorated viet nam vet; and a master stonemason, with a masters degree in construction management. Currently, he is the general manager of, and partner in, a highly successful architectural, landscape, interior, and artistic stonework company.

As far as I know, he is no longer a criminal; having finally realized that the is too old for that kind of crap anymore. Otherwise though, he hasn't changed his basic personality at all. He's mellowed some, but he's still the rough guy he's always been.

Neither my mother, nor my father, have ever, as an adult, had a "normal" office or corporate job. They have both always either worked for themselves, or been a part of an entrepreneurial enterprise... to varying degrees of success.

My paternal grandfather was a railway engineman for the Irish national railroad Iarnrod Eireann, and his wife worked the Irish postal service. When they moved to America in the mid 60s, they both worked for the post office.

My maternal grandfather was eventually a lawyer, and a politician; but he worked his way through high school, then college (Brandeis), graduate school (masters in education from Boston University), and finally law school (juris doctorate from Suffolk university).

First he worked in a drug store, and a hardware store; then he was in the Army and served in the Korean war (he received a purple heart and a bronze star, but would never under any circumstances talk about the war). When he got back, he was a night road crew supervisor on the first expressway through the center of Boston, then he became a parole enforcement officer (again, working nights, checking up on convicts parole and probation compliance), then once he got his masters he became a high school teacher.

All this was while he was going through school, and supporting a growing family (thankfully, he had the GI bill money to help with his education). By the time he passed the bar in 1963, he had 7 kids, and the 8th was on the way.

His older sister was similarly accomplished. She eventually earned a doctorate in history, and a doctorate in middle eastern languages. She worked for the CIA, where she met her husband (who also had multiple doctorates in history and political science); and then they both worked in the state department, unsurprisingly in the middle east in both cases. After they retired, they became college professors at U. Mass Amherst; her husband retiring as dean of his department.

My maternal grandfathers mother was born in either 1894 or 1896 (there are a couple documents which disagree) and had been married before WW1. All of the rest is assembled from only semi-reliable sources; because she would rarely talk about it, and there are few records.

We believe she had a family of four children in Ireland, that had all died in the great flu epidemic while her husband was fighting in the war. After her first husband died in the Irish war for independence, she moved to Boston in 1923 or 1924 where she met her second husband, and started another family; having two children (my grandfather, and his sister). She lived until 1998, two years after my grandfather died.

Oh and random odd fact: my grandfather knew Leonard Nimoy growing up (most people don't know he's from Boston); though my grandfather was from Charlestown, and Nimoy was I believe from Jamaica Plain.

My maternal grandmother was a novice in a catholic order (yes, she was becoming a nun) when she met my grandfather. She had one kid per year from the year after they were married, until my youngest uncle David (he was 13 when I was born. They had 9 kids, but one died at birth). After David went to grade school, my grandmother went to work as a secretary at John Hancock in Boston. She retired after 20 years in 1987, the senior secretary in the region, to the most senior VP in the region (that used to be kind of a big deal. Things don't exactly work that way any more).

Both my parents are 1 of 8 siblings (and oddly, three of my four grandparents are or were 1 of 14); and I have over 50 first cousins, and over 100 second cousins.

Both sets of my grandparents were married 42 years, before both of my grandfathers died (both my grandmothers are still alive, at 73 and 78 respectively). My mother married twice, and divorced twice. My father married 4 times, and divorced three times. Every one of my aunts and uncles who has been married, has been divorced or separated at least once. Including my mother and father, seven of them have been divorced at least twice.

I have no recollection of ever meeting my paternal grandfather. My father, and his father, hated each other passionately. When my father was 14, his father kicked him out of the house, and he lived on the street for two years until he could lie his way into the army. He was not a U.S. citizen at the time, and earned his citizenship through his service; eventually serving a total of 9 years (through most of Viet Nam) before receiving a medical discharge. After returning from the war, he would not be in the same room with his father until I was born, and then rarely afterwards.

My parents split when I was 18 months old, and I didn't see anyone from that side of the family except my father from then, until I was 2o. In fact, I didn't see my father from my fifth birthday, until Christmas when I was 20. To be fair, more than half that time he was in prison; and while my maternal grandfather was alive he did his level best to make sure we didn't have contact. My father contacted me a few months after my grandfather passed on.

Next up, a few random things about me.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

An Actual Conversation in My House

Mel: Honey, is there a new NCIS on tonight?
Chris: I don't know
Mel: You don't?
Chris: Hon, I don't know when ANYTHING is on. We have a TiVo for that.

Gaaaack irritating day at work

So, all day I've been dealing with an example of truly staggering incompetence, which is going to negatively effect every project I do for the rest of the year.

Separately, I've also been dealing with an extreme example of unprofessional and irritating behavior.

Late in the day I started in on the TVTropes.org website to drown my irritation in pop culture minutae. Warning, that site is about the biggest time suck on the 'net; and that's saying something.

No other writing today; my brain is sucked down the trope trivia whirlpool.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Il Notte Italiano

So 'twas an overall Italian night at the house tonight.

Dinner was tortellini al formaggi con prosciutto; tossed in a salsa fresca of olive oil, balsamico di modena, garlic, cracked back pepper, basil and an aged parmagiano reggiano; served with Pellegrino, and a Peroni(a perfect complement to the sharp and salty aged cheese and meat) .

For entertainment we watched "The Italian Job" (the Michael Caine original of course); and I finished off the night with an espresso (Mel had fallen asleep on the couch, as she normally does).

Funnily enough, none of this Italian theme was intentional; it just sort of worked out that way.

Va Bene.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Critter Pics

For your Sunday afternoon.

Kimber's attachment to the RockBand box.



Springer found the most dog-proof location in the house.



Evidently Kimber has no problem with Jayne's presence, as long as he's not chasing her.



And my personal favorite, the vicious beast being loved up by the girls. Oh, and he is that big.


Mel

Friday, May 02, 2008

Tony Stark... Yeah, He's Iron Man



So I took a couple hours off work today to go see Iron Man, on the biggest digital screen in the state.

How best to sum it up...

At 2:06 it was too short. I can't wait to buy it on Blu-Ray. I can't wait to watch 2 and 3. It blows the Spiderman and X-Men series completely out of the water; then shoots them with repulsors while they're in the air, knocking them into low earth orbit.

Robert Downey Jr. is MADE to play Tony Stark. The performances from Downey, Paltrow, and Bridges (as Pepper Potts, and Obadiah Stane respectively) were all excellent; but this is probably Downeys the best since Chaplin.

I was slightly disappointed in Terrence Howards performance as Jim "Rhodey" Rhodes (Starks Air Force Lt. Col. best friend); but I don't think that was so much his fault, as it was the pace of the movie and the relative lack of material for him in it. Apparently his role was orignally much larger, but over 40 minutes was trimmed from the inital cut (and lord I hope we see an extended version on Blu-Ray).

My only criticism is that there is either too much, or not enough. By which I mean that there is SO much story to cover, and action surrounding it, that the character development is a bit light for everyone except Stark.

Now, if you're an initiate into the Marvel Universe, you already know the back (and side, and diagonal) stories; so that's not AS big a deal, but it definitely feels like there could have been another hour of story in there.

That said, you don't NEED to be a pre-fan for this; the material stands very well on its own. Mel had never even heard of Iron Man before; and has only the sketchiest knowledge of the marvel universe; but she still loved it.

Unsurprisingly, there is plenty of setup for sequels 2 and 3 (already under contract, but not yet in production). Unless I miss my guess, we're going to see War Machine (kind of a gimme given Rhodes presence) and Nick Fury in ep. 2 at the very least.

Oh and as with all Marvel movies, look for the secret cameos; including one from Rage Against the Machine/Audioslave guitarist Tom Morello (who provided music for the movie).

This marks Marvels first in house effort; ending their partnership with the more traditional studio development organizations to take creative control over their movies after the commercial success, but artistic failure of Spiderman 3; and the huge disappointment all around that was X3.

I have to say, I'm favorably impressed. They seem to have spared no effort in getting it right. Great attention was paid to fitting into the Marvel universe; but the story wasn't put on rails either; the creative team were allowed the freedom to experiment. For example, Favreau (the director) moved Stark to the west coast (used to great effect here by the way), and Obadiah Stane was completely moved through the timeline. Also, Favreau and Downey together wrote or re-wrote most of Starks dialogue (also to great effect).

The next release is going to be a new Incredible Hulk (retconning, and having no relationship to the disastrous Ang Lee helmed Hulk movie); and from the trailers looks like it might actually be worth seeing (plus, it's got Edward Norton and Tim Roth, who are both generally very good).

If you look at their in development slate at IMDB... Well, let's just say I'm both excited and worried at the prospect.

So, if you like action, see Iron Man. If you like Comedy, see Iron Man. If you like comic book movies, See Iron Man. Iron Man is made of win.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Update

So my mom's surgery went well, and she's recovering.

Unfortunately, the surgeon found more cause for alarm. Evidently my moms cancer has advanced from one breast, into her stomach. THey were able to surgically remove everything they could find, and are now testing further.

According to the surgeon the size of cancer found takes about 10 years to form, which means my mom has been sick without knowing she had any problems other than high blood pressure.

Now we wait a few days for the results on the new cancer samples to return, and for the oncologist to tell us what the next step is and what our options are.

My dad handled the news very well, much better than David and I expected. It seems he's gone through his coping period, and has bucked up in order to support my mom.

And I'm tired, so very very tired.

Mel

Sound advice from Dr. Spaceman

Timing

My mom's mastectomy is in one hour.

My brother David is flying in a half hour later.

It's a good thing we're headed in the other direction from rush hour. If we're lucky we'll be there before the surgery is over.

Mel