Saturday, December 13, 2008

My Favorite Pixars

My favorite Pixar films in order? I thought you'd never ask:

The Incredibles
Finding Nemo
Toy Story 2
Toy Story
Monsters, Inc.

Cars does not appear on the list because that one just doesn't work for me. At all.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Things I'm thankful for (December 1st edition):

My wife
The freelance life
Our cat
Our guinea pig
The Brothers
Our decision some months back not to put all our dough in the market

Things I'm not thankful for:

The continued absence of my Dad (who passed away in October of 2006)
The hijacking of my political party by idiots, gasbags and flagrant fiscal, social and religious hypocrites
The market crash
The cancellation of "Pushing Daisies"

Monday, November 10, 2008

Here's a picture of a Sea Harrier taking off from the deck of an amphibious assault ship. This is a variant of the plane that helped the British win the Falkland Islands skirmish back in the day.

This is the only VTOL (Vertical Take-Off and Landing) capable fixed-wing fighter in the Western inventory, and has been for several decades. Though it cannot reach supersonic speeds, it has served as an effective close-support weapon for the Navy and the Marines. Its special abilities make it ideal for amphibious operations, allowing it to operate from flight decks on many of the same ships that also transport and land Marines and their equipment. This largely negates the need for these landing forces to be accompanied by conventional carriers or to be within range of land air bases.

I'm posting this mainly to test the placement of images on my blog. And I think it's kinda pretty. 

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Stop the Badness! Revisited

We've elected ourselves a new president, and I feel, right now, that maybe we, as a nation, have done something that could really make a difference. Sure, it's nice that Congress is also weighted to the new prez's party, but history – recent history, at that – has shown that's no guarantee of equanimity between the executive and the legislative. We'll just have to see how that plays out, but the fact remains that history has been made, a rubicon has been crossed, and maybe, if we're careful, we might, as a nation, make something that could genuinely be called progress.

Okay, so the markets didn't calm down after the election as much as I'd hoped…in fact, didn't calm down at all. I remain hopeful.

At least OPEC's latest ploy to keep oil prices above $100 a barrel didn't pan out. I don't imagine those folks will have to cry in their beer for long, but it's nice our pocketbooks get a little relief from the recent succession of hammer blows.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

A Little Signification

One investment I made, 20 years ago, has turned out very well indeed. It was then, at the tender age of 31, that I married Sue, who took me for better or for worse. Brave girl!

Today we made the final installment on a small memento to those two decades, and it looks quite dazzling on Sue's right hand. Whenever we look at it we can remember, in the sparkle, how well those "I do"s have paid off!

Stop the Badness!

As I sit here proofreading the lettering of a volume of manga (part of what I do for a living), I now pause to ponder that eternal question…

What the heck is going on?!

I greatly fear we're about to elect ourselves a new President whose administration will make the Shrub years look like a golden age by comparison. Seriously, whoever gets in office will either have more screws loose than the hardware bins at Home Depot or have to spend so much time defending who and what he is to the willfully moronic press that neither will have any capacity to deal with the very grim prospects confronting our beleaguered world.

Now, it's my expectation that the markets will calm down once the election's over, but there seems little likelihood that the crashing losses of the last several weeks will be recovered anytime soon, if ever. So many houses of cards have fallen in such quick succession that one begins to wonder if there was ever anything solid undergirding Wall Street in the first place. More and more it looks like the foundational mechanisms of investing will have to be reinvented.

OPEC promises new, lower production quotas, which is no surprise at all, since they're now aggressively determined to recapture the $100-plus price for a barrel of oil. Our addiction to cheap oil has, of course, kicked us in the teeth lately, and I just hope that we aren't allowed to forget that pain and return to our willful, My-Right-As-A-'Murikan gas-guzzling ways. In that spirit I find I dare declare, "Bring it, OPEC!"

Well, that's what I got right now. Back to the manga…

Friday, October 17, 2008

Apple Update

At long last I report in, and sad to say my wife's PowerMac G5 was terminal. Oh, it could have been fixed, but for the repair price-plus we just went ahead and got her a new iMac, which includes all the latest bells and whistles and allows her to have dual monitors (her 23" cinema display still works fine). Now we have a dead box to do something with…just not sure what yet.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Woe In ITLand

My wife has been the victim of more than her share of computer related headaches over the past year. First the battery in her PowerBook Titanium G4 fizzled, and the replacement I ordered worked for a while and then fizzled just as thoroughly as its predecessor. Our local Mac tech said there's nothing wrong with the computer, we just need to get a battery that seats properly. Since Apple no longer makes the batteries (and charges a fortune for back stock items), we're left to take another stab at a third party unit with no real confidence it'll do the trick.

Next came the failure of the battery in her APC UPS. This is not such a problem, there are plenty of options for replacement, but it's still annoying.

Now, as she has reported on her blog, Color and Caffeine, her PowerMac dual processor G5 tower has gone on the fritz and is in hospital. I'm confident The Beast will be back up and running anon, but I don't blame her for feeling rather perturbed by this run of tech misfortune.

While we have been using Macs since late 1992, and this is by far the worst spate of trouble we've had in all that time, it does make me wonder, now that she's had her three bad strokes…am I next?

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Talkin' Movies 2

Three movies about food, none of which is Tom Jones:

Babette's Feast – I've only seen this once, but this tale of a French political exile taking refuge in a community of Danish Lutherans features some very toothsome preparations of very simple foods, as well as an amiable yet subtly suspenseful dinner party. I don't believe there's another film in all of cinema history in which the heroine triumphs over her nemesis by simply excelling in the kitchen.

Eat Drink Man Woman – A true don't-watch-this-hungry wonder from Taiwan. The "stunt cooking" alone will make your mouth water, but this robustly romantic tale of a widowed master chef at the end of his professional endurance and the struggles of his three grownup daughters to find their way in the world surprises at nearly every turn.

Tampopo – This first, and most iconic, noodle western from Japan has a wandering spirit, but never strays too far from the main plot of a noodle shop owner and the five men who ride in to aid in her quest to make the perfect bowl of ramen. This may sound altogether silly, but the characters are superbly played and easily convince you that this goal is more than worth the struggle. As for the famous egg yolk exchange scene…well, it simply has to be seen to be believed.

Three Days of Rain in One Week!

Monsoon season as arrived for real here in northern Arizona. After a virtually rainless spring, we've had three major days of rain - July 1st, 4th and today, the 6th. Not sure it's enough to stop the bark beetle, which in the past several years has devastated our stands of Ponderosa pine, but it might be enough to slow 'em down a little. Anyone who thinks it's our famous wildfires that destroy forests around here, sorry to disappoint; the bark beetle is far more destructive, and there is precious little that can be done to fight them…except, perhaps, letting those famous wildfires burn and thin the stands of pines the way nature intended.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Sauce It Right

And here's another tip, for those who wok: prepare your stir fry sauce in a separate pan, to make sure your thickener is thoroughly cooked and the flavor is just how you like it. Then, when the meat and/or veggies are all fried up, add the sauce and stir a few times to mix it in and heat it through. This avoids the often insipid results of pouring an uncooked sauce mixture directly into the wok with main ingredients.

Easy Enhanced Chow Mein

Nissan makes a line of packaged dry chow mein noodle meals that are actually kinda tasty, and certainly convenient. You just tear off the plastic wrap, peel back the paper cover sealing the plastic tray, remove the extra ingredient packets, pour in water to the fill line, add any of the extra ingredients that should be added prior to cooking, close the cover (this part never works well, but usually is of little consequence), and microwave for six minutes. After you let it stand for an additional minute, you add the final ingredients from the packets, stir, and serve.

Flavor and texture can be greatly improved, however, by using canned broth instead of water, and adding fresh veggies – nappa cabbage, bok choy, bean sprouts, green onions, celery, whatever one might fancy – prior to cooking. Takes a little more time to prepare, but no extra time to cook. (Hold the green onions back and add after cooking for extra zip.) And the results are worth it!

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Gettin' Punchy

Subprime mortgage bubble bursts…the U.S. dollar fades against the Euro and other currencies…oil and gas prices rise with stunning rapidity…the stock market stumbles about for weeks like a drunk deacon…

How is it that all of this is suddenly unleashed on America when a looming national election threatens to unhorse the Republican Party, perhaps for many, many years? I know, none of these problems simply cropped up in the past six months, but their cascading body blows to our economy at just this time is hard to dismiss as mere fiscal coincidence. Somebody, frankly, is just flat out not minding the store…or is trying to burn it down.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Scaling Another Culinary Mountain!

Oh yeah! Roasted my first ever leg o' lamb this past weekend! Stuffed it with homegrown rosemary and baked it for the prescribed time plus ten minutes per pound extra due to our underperforming oven. Turned out quite nice, if I and my wife and our neighbors do say so ourselves.

How I Have My Morning Coffee

I've begun writing again. Not just rewriting manga, which I edit for VIZ Media, but real, all-mine writing. Every morning it's out on the front porch or the back patio with a mug of coffee, a couple of pieces of reading matter, and my journal. The hardware of this journal is paper bound between cardboard covers, while the OS is a biro. Didn't realize how much I missed working on things of my own with no electronic assistance.

The reading matter is usually composed of one piece of fiction and one piece of non-fiction. I'm currently tackling The History of the Peloponnesian War by Thucydides and The History of Mr. Polly by H. G. Wells. I'm sure the first is non-fiction and the second fiction, but I have to say that at times I can't quite be sure of that. Good reads, though.

The coffee's brewed up from beans from Costco, usually with Safeway fat free half & half and a shot of sugar free hazelnut Torani syrup. Sometimes I get wacky and grate some nutmeg into it.

Monday, May 5, 2008

What's To Know?

I keep seeing remarks in various online forums, usually among the comments, dealing with each individual's responsibility to know about and pay any and all taxes for which he or she is liable.

I pay my taxes, but I'd like someone to tell me in what universe it's possible to be sure all one's obligations are known, or even knowable. These days even tax professionals are unable to ferret out everything that could impact a person's tax liability. To ask your average individual to have a thorough grasp of the state and federal tax codes is like the medieval Church expecting the average peasant to be intimately conversant with the Nicean Council's Athanasian objections to Arianism. 

"Ignorance of the law is no excuse." Best I can tell this is derived from ancient catholic (as in orthodox) church law, and while it sounds forceful is not in fact anywhere codified in these United States. It may be reasonable for the authorities to stipulate to it concerning traffic laws, since states have programs that at least attempt to educate those who will be using the roads about those laws, but tax codes of every stripe grossly exceed its bounds both as an aphorism and as a viable legal principle.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Menu for Wednesday

Baked a cake today. A sheet cake. Standard triple chocolate cake mix, frosted by melted chocolate chips. Then it was on to dinner: pounded chicken breasts, fresh corn on the cob, and curry green beans.

Nothing remarkable, but it was all my doing. Yes, I am…a husband who cooks! Hoo-ah!

Monday, April 21, 2008

Talkin' Movies 1

Way, way, waaaay back, I saw a movie called Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. I was barely more than a toddler, and I loved it! I was completely unaware that it was to earn lasting fame as one of the worst movies ever made.

I have not seen the movie since then, and I've decided to keep it that way. Why add to the pile of backhanded accolades? Some memories should remain evergreen…and perhaps, for good measure, very, very dim.

On the other end of the spectrum, I saw 2001: A Space Odyssey when I was ten. The film had just come out, and being a space enthusiast all fired up by the Apollo program I was keen to see a movie that looked like it was really taking place in outer space. After that first viewing I had one unequivocal reaction: what a stupid movie! It was slow, boring, disconnected, and made no sense! And that blasted "trip" through the stargate went on forever, with no payoff!

Another candidate for permanent avoidance, right? Right. But I couldn't forget the sheer visual splendor of the thing, and already being a reader of Arthur C. Clarke I decided to give the novel a try. It was good Clarke, if not quite "Childhood's End", and by reading it I realized the movie did make sense – just not the sort of sense you expect out of flicks like The Mysterians or an episode of "Fireball XL5". So, armed with the literary insights thus gleaned, I took in a second viewing and…became a complete convert to Kubrick's unparalleled cinematic vision of man's future beyond the bounds of Earth. I saw it five more times in the theaters, and who knows how man times via VHS (still mulling over getting a DVD edition).

I've rarely given any other movie that much of a chance to change my initially poor reaction, but that was one case where I'm glad I did. As for Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, I've a feeling that a lack of a second viewing qualifies as neglect of the most benign variety.

Flapper Food

Chicken wings. Baked, microwaved, fried…they make life worthwhile. But if you're serious about chicken wings, you can't just cook 'em, you have to be ready to do some serious seasoning and/or saucing. Home cooked is best, as it allows you to flavor them to your taste. And when you bake or microwave, you get a rich dripping that is truly culinary gold. This dripping provides the basis for a sauce that turns a side of rice – preferably with plenty of fresh veggies mixed in – into a taste of heaven. It goes nicely on potatoes too, but rice is best.

Restaurants and saloons just don't have quite the requisite touch, though some do a decent job on good nights. (The local brew pub gets closest, and for the best price.) And you don't get the side benefits of the dripping and, for me personally, the unalloyed joy of munching on the wingtips. 

Chicken wings. Nature's most perfect food.

Naval Gazing

So how's the Navy?

Odd question, perhaps, but that's what a Naval buff like me sometimes asks. And if even the Navy's own highly sanitized (if rather casually updated) site is any indication, it's not in very great shape. Which is a pity, 'cause them big ol' ships are darn purty!

I'm a fan of the ships, I really am. I've got books and books on them, from the Civil War to recent times, and I find them all fascinating (even the support vessels). I am not, however, all that keen on the organization which, like the other sectors of the defense establishment, seems intent on maintaining inadequate force-in-depth. Sure, it mostly has to do with money and politics, but it would be nice if more than lip service was paid to actual military need once in a while.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

The Dawn of All-You-Can-Eat Asian

I love buffets, especially chinese buffets. My first chinese buffet experience was at the Golden Coin, in Tempe, AZ, back during Christmas of 1973. It was housed in a defunct burger joint of unknown provenance, and had a single small serving line that featured fried rice, chow mein noodles, sweet and sour port, a couple of entrees, egg foo yung, and fried wonton chips. My life changed forever.

Fast forward to May of 1977, when I moved from Missouri to Arizona, and started going to the Golden Coin as often as I could manage. Friday was the best, when they had their fried fish. But the place was busy, being the one chinese buffet in the town that also featured ASU and the Sun Devils footfall team. Many a night, while I tucked into my own heaping plateful, I'd espy several college footballers piling small mountains of fried rice and noodles onto their plates and then going back for seconds, thirds, and fourths. It was an amazing sight, and I rather envied their ability to get the most bang for their bucks.

Much has changed in the intervening years. That particular Golden Coin is gone, though one still exists in Phoenix, and chinese buffets have evolved into far more elaborate establishments with many islands and various asian cuisines. I enjoy these a lot, but they'll never quite match the experience that Golden Coin offered.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Gopo Gossum

I'm now getting very close to completing a reading collection of classic Pogo books. These are the ones that Walt Kelly himself edited, more or less, from his famous comic strip. I used to read my grandmother's (yes, my grandmother's!) collection of these avidly when I was a kid, and I'm happy to say that they hold up magnificently today. Many of these volumes contain material that never appeared in the strips, from linking illustrations to bits of poetry to various Cold War and fairytale satires. For a true Pogophile, they're must-haves.

A new series of hardback volumes that are intended to present a comprehensive collection of all Pogo comic strips is in the offing, and that's something I keenly anticipate. But that otherwise worthy goal means they won't have the charming eccentricities that Kelly put into his own compilations. Have no fear, though, the material they will contain is the stuff that made Pogo a legend in his medium.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Waiting For a Download

While I wait for a major download to finish, which will allow me to complete a professional obligation, I suppose I could write a mission statement for Bull Darts. Then again, that would just tie me down unnecessarily, since I sure as heck don't know what I'll likely be blathering about as time goes on. Nothing from nothing, as Billy Preston used to sing back in the day.

I know, I'll start with a haiku I wrote in high school:

Boiled liverwurst
Tastes terrible in sandwiches
Tastes worse with celery

Little has improved since then, as I will no doubt demonstrate, so stay tuned!