Saturday, October 17, 2009

Because prudence demands it...

I'm not always one to cater to the T&A factor for a cheap thrill at a blog post, but all I've heard for weeks is why oh WHY can't we have anything that caters to people who have a fetish for Urban Cowboy and 9 1/2 Weeks?

Don't say I'm remiss in giving it my all for those perverts in need:

I go back in my memories to the time when my little sister had the 45 RPM single for Kylie's rendition of "Loco-Motion," and how horrible a travesty it was upon the music industry.

Sis, I take it all back. Whoda thunk that Australian bubble gum popster would have been such a hottie?

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

George W would have had this hanging in the Oval Office...

The stupid: Piece of right-wing fine art and neo-conservative spank material.

The awesome: Frame-by-frame counterargument for the cognitive dissonance in the original piece.

I am all for an artist putting brush to canvas to communicate their art and message, but must we cater to the PNAC so completely?

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Michelle Duggar must be furious...

Sup, dawg! We heard you like being pregnant so we're going to put another baby in your babymaker so you can deliver while you deliver!

Superfetation: Nature's way of telling others that you still have great sex with your pregnant wife.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Kirk Cameron and Ray Comfort - if you can't debate, obfuscate!

Kirk Cameron and Ray Comfort (of the famous banana argument for evolution) went on several crusades for the creationist/intelligent design side of biological origins. Using it's public domain status, he is giving away 100,000 copies of his version of Darwin's On the Origin of Species to college campuses. Comfort's special edition contains a 50 page foreword where he conveniently inserts the same, tired creationist canards (abiogenesis, no transitional forms, etc.) that have been rejected again and again by evolutionary scientists. The goal is to distribute these copies freely to universities in a way to encourage academic freedom and 'lively' debate. He already revised his foreword in the light of several backlashes for errors, but we assume those inaccurate copies were not retracted.

Not sure I've ever seen a book be so hijacked by inserting an opposing viewpoint in the foreword that deliberately sets out to denounce and in many ways misinterpret the goal of the original work. This YouTube poster went on a rather pointed and I daresay excellent tirade of this book and how it would be if the shoe was on the other foot.

It seems for every success we make in the realm of freedom of speech, some forensic marvel comes along and shows us just how hard it is to make the shit sink to the bottom.I guess in a few years we can just pile these copies of the book into the Failboat along with the Expelled DVDs, float it out to sea and scuttle it.

In a few years, it could become a fascinating artificial reef upon which marine organisms will grow and evolve for millions of years. Then again they may have the good sense to just avoid it like a sunken plague barge.

Funny if you're a gamer...

Some pictures I thought were apropos for those of us who enjoy RPGs.

The d12 dice that you might be rolling every day:

And my de facto response when I see any picture of Christina Hendricks:

Monday, September 21, 2009

It's not your typical Monday...

Times like this, seeing the homages below, I actually have some hope for the future of humanity. I unfortunately do not know the origin of the first picture (the artist for the second has a page here), so eleventy Internets to you both, wherever you may be.

We really, really miss you, Bill. Please come back and save us from the banality of 21st century comic strips.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Ireland's answer to the Antivaxers...

I discovered Dara O'Briain a while back on YouTube, and this is one of my favorite tears he does on the whole homeopathy industry; being in the pharmaceutical industry myself--and not having time now to go into what I think of Jenny McCarthy and the whole [Grumpy Dwarf voice] "vaccines is poysin!" crowd--it's amazing how this stuff makes me simultaneously laugh and facepalm over how many gullible simians we have who buy into this quackery.

I particularly like the bit where he talked about herbalism has been around for thousands of years; yeah, because we tested them all and the ones that worked became MEDICINE.

He also has some wickedly smart commentary on religion and civilization in general.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

I believe the kids would say, "you got served!"

Henry Rollins, bless his Black Flag heart does a monologue/tirade about European techno/club music.

Techno artist Steve Porter (of the classic Vince "Rapchop" fame) drops a plate on Rollins' ass.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Benadryl never slowed me down

This just in from the "as if we didn't know it already": Allergies have an impact on your sex life.

Now I will avoid the obvious joke about something other than my nose needing to be blown, but usually my issues had less to do with performance and more with pillow talk. Sinus drainage at an awkward moment aside, I'm a talky sumbitch when it comes to lovin'. It's hard to really get her into the groove when you're trying to whistle sexy talk like, "oh baby, I wud to be so deeb indide your puddy, led me do you log ad hawd uddil you cub ober and ober."

Friday, September 4, 2009

So Spider-Man, Rogue and Minnie Mouse walk into a bar...

This week the Internets were ablaze with furious anger over the announcement of Disney's $4B acquisition of Marvel Comics--which just happened to celebrate it's 70th year making you believe a man who has spider-powers can shoot webs out of something other then his ass.

Immediately mom's basements everywhere erupted in outrage at the prospect that beloved and edgy characters such as the aforementioned Spider-Man, Wolverine and the Hulk would somehow be pussified and slotted alongside characters such as Mickey, Dopey and Scrooge McDuck.

Now, if Michael Eisner was still running the company into the ground, I would say yes. The man was a blight on the Disney company and it took nothing short of a revolt to remove him. But, regardless of his involvement, Disney has had to a degree a fairly hands-off approach to it's distributed ownings. Disney owns Miramax, and their portfolio does not show any kowtowing to narrow family values-based requirements for their films. Pixar for the most part celebrates a nearly perfect autonomy in terms of creative control over their films, and much like George Lucas did with 20th Century Fox, was able to keep things pretty much under his belt, or simply told them to go fuck themselves while he swam laps through his Pool-Full-O-Money.

Consider too that comics are not the business they were 30, even 20 years ago. The model has changed, the customer base has changed, the industry it ties into the most (namely film) has made it a cottage property which, done right, gives them one big cash register to play around with. The upcoming Avengers and Iron Man movies are just a taste of the potential Disney has to make ginormous profits without (hopefully) compromising quality.

I'm still somewhat torn as to my allegiance between DC and Marvel. Last year, I loved Marvel's Secret Invasion storyline, but felt Final Crisis (aside from the Legion of 3 Worlds mini-series) sucked the big one. The difficulty is in the business plan of the Crossover Series. In short, you have a main series of books--many with alternate (and rare) variant covers. However, to get the FULL storyline they spread it into anywhere from 5-10 other titles. Luckily if they are already on your monthly reading list it's easy, but enough of the backstory was spread out that you pick up books you don't normally read to fill in the gaps. I understand the reasoning: Put bits of a story into a book a customer doesn't regularly read, and they may pick it up.

Marvel just seems to spread itself too thin. Do we really need six different X-Men books, all with basically the same content, mythos and structure? I am one of those rare geeks who isn't all salivating over snikty-snikt Logan, and aside from the all-too-brief Old Man Logan series this year, I don't need five other Wolverine books. In the aftermath of Secret Invasion came Dark Reign, and again all the popular books are taking a snippet of existing stories and putting them into the crisis mode, and a few new books (Mr. Negative, The Hood) are being popped out with little popularity. The only good thing to come out of Marvel this year was more Deadpool books, but even that started getting fan crosstalk about putting out something, anything about the Merc-With-A-Mouth to kick up sales.

My distributor told me one interesting fact: If they order say, 20 copies of a DC book and only sell 15, eventually they can return them to DC to reclaim a percentage of their cost. If you buy 20 Marvel books and sell 15, you're stuck with 15 copies. These may eventually sell on the back table boxes, but more often than not are simply stuck in lost profits. This is reason one why a comic store may carry more of DC than Marvel. This year my only popular DC books are the Green Lantern series and Superman, with a bit of Batman thrown in for flavor. These titles have rarely if ever let me down, and I'm more likely to bite into a series with just enough issues to fill an index card of crossovers vs. a Marvel title that takes a full double-sided page of "issues to get".

Regardless I think Disney will have it's hands full, notably if they choose to keep Marvel's management structure intact. Lots of fans do not like Quesada and his ideas, but having been through a corporate merger or two, I can say that the powers-that-be will usually keep things together until they've had enough time to evaluate them into justifying a reorganization. I for one don't see this as the Dark Day some of the fanboys picture (I for one would love to see a bit of fourth wall breakage with a Disney character showing up in a Deadpool book), but as with anything of this nature when nerd culture intersects with Big Business, there will likely to be some fallout.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Random Movie Rant - Star Trek V

So many years ago someone came up with the Odd Numbered Trek Film Rule, which stated that the only good Star Trek films had even numbers, beginning with #2. While #3 is an odd one out in my opinion, the rule still rings true for the remainder.

On the heels of Star Trek IV's success, William Shatner raised a big stink about having his chance to direct one since Nimoy was successful with #3 and #4. Taking the directorial reins and dealing with a sub-par script turned it into the biggest Failboat ride since the first feature.

Now, this is not to say the basic element of the storyline was bad; in fact it was a common thread in many original series plotlines, that being God is not really a deity but a megalomaniacal, possibly insane superpowerful alien being who sees humans as toys or pawns in a chessgame. It was the one issue that many writers had with Roddenberry, and the character of Q became his last hurrah in the Next Generation series. Even though John DeLancie did a decent job with the character, the annoying, omnipotent entity playing with the crew became very old, very quick.

This feature was no different, with an A-plot surrounding a half-brother of Spock, Sybok, who gave up Vulcan logic to become a sort of evangelist, using his telepathic abilities to isolate and remove emotional pain from people and allowing them to live happier lives. A specific element of this was a seeming form of mind control, in that those he 'cured' were immediately in line with Sybok's goal: To discover Sha-Ka-Ree, a fabled Vulcan Eden where he would ultimately find the one who gave him the original vision, God. Sybok uses his talents to control a group of colonists and ambassadors, and later the main crew of the Enterprise. Eventually Spock and McCoy--their deepest pains uncovered by Sybok--seem to be in alignment against Kirk, who objects to this treatment, seeing the removal of emotional pain as a fantasy and in conflict with the human desire to succeed in spite of odds.

As we do eventually find out (again, the denouement for most of these Roddenberry-like stories) is that God isn't really a god but an insane, violent, non-corporeal entity who thrives on being worshipped, with Sha Ka Ree (a planet kept behind a powerful energy barrier at the center of the galaxy) as a prison designed to contain it. We destroy wannabe God, hug Spock, subdue the Klingons and a good time is had by all. It had almost all the makings of a sexy party. Almost.

Now, the one element in the movie I had the biggest issue with was the singing. Yes, I know that both Nimoy and Shatner released various musical albums that were more tongue-in-cheek than anything else, but the singing around the campfire bit had to be the most awful, cringeworthy bit in the entire run of movies. I would have hoped by the 23rd century we'd have learned ways to refrain from making asses of ourselves.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Charlie and the Childhood Molestation Factory

Movie adaptations of books (especially those the various cognoscenti deem as "classics") are always a difficult enterprise.

Take Lord of the Rings. Beautiful, harmonious, taking the best elements from Tolkien's seminal work and combining it with elegant acting, state of the art CGI and one of the most compelling issues of our time, notably whether someone who does motion capture and voiceover work deserves an Academy Award nomination for Best "Virtual" Actor/Actress. Andy Serkis, you were sorely insulted, my friend. Regardless of how well received it was (despite the 22 endings of the 3rd film), Tolkien purists lambasted it in many cases. You will never make everyone happy, and as one Talkbacker once said on Ain't-It-Cool-News, The reason Jesus Christ hasn't had his Second Coming is that even HE can't live up to the fanboy hype.

Regardless, the topic of this rant is Willy Wonka, specifically the adaptation that Tim Burton made. About 8 months ago, drugged with medication for kidney stones, I watched about oh, 50 minutes of this film. At the time it sounded interesting, and having listened to the audio book of Dahl's original (read pleasantly by Eric Idle), I was pleased that many elements of the original story were in the film. The wiki article and others are quite vociferous in their assessment that Dahl hated the original film and his estate worked closely with Burton on this remake. So, in essence, I guess you have to say that for the film to be better adapted to the book is a good thing, right?

Not exactly. As usual, Burton puts his goofy artist spin on the tale, dragging out yet again his apparent issues with father-son relationships. It was in Edward Scissorhands, in Big Fish and now it's in this one, with Christopher Lee playing Wonka Senior, a humorless dentist obsessed with encasing young Willy's head in gear out of some orthodontical nightmare and at the same time completely opposed to any sweets. Hence we get the impetus of why Willy did what he did growing up. I just got really tired of seeing this storyline brought out yet again.

Secondly, I prefer the original Ooompa-Loompas. In the remake a diminutive Indian named Deep Roy does all the parts, supplanted with various special effects. I was also rather sad to see Geoffrey Holder, he of the amazing "crisp and clean" voice narrating the film, only to find at the end it was just another goddamn Oompa Loompa with a deep voice.

The Elfman songs were catchy, but overall it just got annoying. I missed my old music. To me walking into the Chocolate Waterfall scene and not having Wonka sing "Pure Imagination" was just a letdown. It defined the original film in my opinion and framed the entire character perfectly; Wonka was part morality tale, part magic act, but in the end it was all about the FUN. I never got that clearly with Depp's portrayal, and maybe it's me who misinterpreted the point of the book.

Regardless of the apparently minimalist approach to special effects, I thought the character designs were irritating. Maybe it was the HD video I saw, but everything looked overly made up, overexposed, painted. Wonka looked so fake, like at any moment he'd peel his face back to reveal some hideous visage, and the big chompers made him look more like a predator. I understand each actor does what they can with the character, but even aside from Depp's portrayal none of the child actors had the same impact. Veruca Salt will always be that spoiled little girl with the lovely singing voice, even though they did a solid to Dahl's original with the remake in the squirrel nutcracking scene (one which wasn't possible in the original film).

The musical elements themselves were lacking, and I just felt the heart of the original movie carried it further along. Wilder's singsong Wonka was just unpredictable, and throughout the whole thing, even up to his end-film trickery with Charlie ("I said good DAY, sir!"), you can't help but wonder that the guy is batshit crazy. The Depp Wonka from the outset is just this neurotic, germphobic, anti-child weirdo with daddy issues.

I am sure those who never saw the original (My boys--six and three--LOVE the 1971 film and watch it often) will glom onto Burton's adaptation with glee, but as someone who would look upon something like Sound of Music 2 - Maria's Reichstag Revenge with absolute disgust (and you know some asshole producer somewhere wants to remake Sound of Music with someone like Miley Cyrus or some shit like that, placing it in Torrance instead of Germany), I'll stick to the classic.

Then again, at least it wasn't Marky Mark and the Funky Planet of the Monkey Dudes.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Dude, just let it go...

I'm a Wil Wheaton fan.

Seriously. Not just a Wil Wheaton but a Wesley Crusher fan, which I know puts me on the bottom rung of Star Trek: The Next Generation fans, just right above that mucus left behind by Denebian Slime Devils as they crawl across the ground.

For thems who haven't been out of their cave since the late 1980s, Wesley Crusher was the vicariously youthful representation of Gene Roddenberry on the aforementioned TV show. The child of the Chief Medical Officer (and later paramour of Captain Jean-Luc Picard, winkwink, nudgenudge say no more), Wesley was what producers thought every kid who watched Trek wanted to be - the local Brain Trust, pilot and general plot complication. It worked for maybe 2 episodes, then got silly, then got REALLY silly, then Wesley grew up, got laid, became angsty, then finally a time-traveling demigod and all was set right (at least in the Trek universe).

In reality, I think it was really a way for Gene to write himself into the show as this teenage wunderkind, helping all the incompetent adult officers by saving their collective asses on a weekly basis. Easily fifty of the brightest minds in the Federation Starfleet running the Big-E (not to mention a hideously intelligent android), and the Great Virgin of the Galaxy has to save them by pulling a non-oscillating neutron flow spin resonator out of his butt at minute 42:30.

On the heels of his casting in ST:TNG was the release of the film Stand By Me, based on a Stephen King novella (blogger's note: King's best work is always non-horror fiction--it's true--everyone writes him off as this cottage industry of weirdness, but author fellating aside, King does his best work writing about real people doing real things). SBM put Wil on the map so to speak, and while it was a landmark role for him, reading his blog and books puts forth the premise that even talented child stars who avoid the drugs, crime and general failboat driving still have trouble making it work in the industry as adults.

One common theme I read about in Wil's blogs and articles is his work on SBM. It's there often enough that to me, it gets a little annoying. It's a blog about his life, SBM was a big factor in his life, and I get that but really. It's in there even today, yet another recollection of a) how cool it was, b) what a change it made in his life and career and c) how his sense of wonder about the movie business still resonates with that feeling he had making SBM so many years ago.

Maybe I'm a bit distanced since I'm not an actor. I think back to what I took pride in at age 14 or 15 and it involved little more than rolling a good Dungeons and Dragons character and trying to picture what cup size Julie (the overdeveloped girl in my freshman class) would be in this week. At some point I guess I'd stop being nostalgic and try to use my current expertise to win roles. Reliving Trek on a weekly basis I get completely. It was a much larger chunk of his career, put him on equal footing with arguably one of the best actors of that generation, plus the Wes Crusher character is still topical; it is maligned and castigated to this very day by angry fanboys who feel it cheapened ST:TNG. Yes, going back on old classics is one thing, and I can understand why Scorsese and many others keep going back to films like The Godfather, or why George Lucas will always be judged by the first trilogy he did 30 years ago, but SBM...I don't hold it in the same category. Like the Jay and Silent Bob characters of Kevin Smith, sooner or later you need to let that ship just sail.

And also, not to be a preachy guy, but Wil, dude, count your blessings. Let's just do a rundown of those gentlemen from that film:
  • One died in a drug overdose outside of a nightclub, dead far too young given his talent.

  • The fat kid got skinny and procreated with Rebecca Romijin, arguably one of the hottest women on the planet, and it makes a helluva lot more sense than the Ocasek/Porizkova hookup. Now he's going to become an attorney (we hope) and not in some parallel universe where actors all eventually become lawyers, doctors and politicians.

  • The other two were in a series of teen films about vampires and romance, and both of them were on the rocks for years with drugs, booze, women and lack of options, finally opting out for a hideous reality show that was anything but.
You and Big Jer are definitely at the top of the heap in this one, no question. Roll with that and take pride in your current achievements. We all know what you had to go through to get there.

But then again, maybe I just had to BE there.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

What every nerd cave needs

Top 20 Awesome Computer Desks.

Sweet, merciful Zeus, it's hard to pick just one. The surround sound speaker one looks cool but a bit claustrophobic, but that Lego

Tuesday, August 18, 2009


And now a much less emotional, more light-hearted take on the museum. He sums it up simply: Horseshit.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

CreoZergs, Creation Museums and Dino Saddles, oh my!

For the past 6 years, Minnesota biology professor P.Z. Myers has maintained the blog Pharyngula as a means to communicate his research, but also to establish firmly his perspective on religion, creationism, Intelligent Design and their various incompatibilities with modern science and the phenomenon of "New Atheism." That is, Myers and numerous others (Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, Christopher Hitchens), all respected scientists, journalists and philosophers in their fields are outspoken activists who espouse the state of atheist/agnostic life (specifically the U.S.), criticize the de facto respect that religion seems to expect in light of it's popularity and overall involvement in world affairs, and the objection to various religious groups (e.g., Discovery Institute) who openly and covertly act to discredit science education, influence political lobbies and attempt to control school curricula around science by the election of pro-ID school councils and textbook selection committees.

Dr. Myers' indirect enemy of sorts for many years has been Ken Ham, director of the Creation Museum in Kentucky, notably in a 2007 blog summary of the museum's opening and general public review. A group of Pharyngula-followers, fellow scientists and atheist/agnostics began a crusade earlier in the year to plan a large-scale march on the museum, intended to merely discover the truth of the museum's teachings and to hopefully stage an intellectual discourse around various topics presented there. Earlier blog entries deal with missives back and forth from the museum security group indicating behavioral expectations (all members of Myers' group were required to sign a release indicating they'd follow museum 'rules'). This group, dubbed the CreoZergs (in deference to a powerful, insectoid hive race in the popular game StarCraft) descended upon the museum last week. Their overall journal begins around this post, and continues to the present.

Now, one can begin by saying that the museum is a privately-funded edifice pandering to a specific subset (that being Young Earth Creationists) of Christianity. My mind reels with the possibilities of what 26 million in donations could do for a local museum of science and history, but never underestimate the things Americans will donate money for. It's mission is to present a literal Biblical interpretation of creation, biology and human origins and with the overriding rule that any scientific finding in direct conflict with this is rejected in favor of the Biblical interpretation. That statement alone biases it and makes it "not" a museum in the traditional sense. You can't claim that a certain tenet of science supports your museum's teachings (e.g., their Darwin room claiming that human variation can be explained biblically) when a thousand other points in that same scientific inquiry are in opposition to your fundamental rule. It's cognitive dissonance at best, really bad science at worst.

The question I have is, yes, our American freedoms allow someone like this to build what I consider a monument to the fear of reason and science, but what about something like a Holocaust Denier museum? I am certain they too could find numerous factoids and arrange for interesting, convincing and even Biblically-supported displays that pardon the Nazis for their atrocities in light of "slanted news". People will argue the "lie" of the Holocaust outright even in the face of eyewitness accounts and concise, detailed documentation of the murdered Jews (something we only have fragments of in the creationist argument). Let's back away from the Godwin canard for a moment and give an example of a museum dedicated to white supremacy. An Anti-Abolitionist museum could find numerous accounts and facts arguing the Biblical support of slavery, even in Christian texts and surely enough supporters exist to fund such a place. Would either of these places be given de facto respect with a supposed goal of free speech and their respective curator's interpretation of the facts?

I know people who approach the human origins/evolution question from both sides, and generally the atmosphere is people have the right to agree to disagree. Assuming that Ham's museum continues as a privately funded site not supported by my tax dollars, it's their right to preach their 'facts' to a ready audience. People can go and jeer and poke fun at the (in some cases) ludicrous and outright false claims, but in the end the CM is not for them. I wouldn't say go to the museum to heckle, but rather request of the curator to post some sort of signage indicating that this museum will outright reject certain scientific facts that are incompatible with the Biblical creation. Give me a disclaimer ahead of time so that the scientific treatment of a geology exhibit someone is viewing may not reflect what is in the accepted literature of that discipline. If you're so proud to engage in intellectual dishonesty, at least own up to's the Christian thing to do after all.

Overall, I think the museum is a comforting, silky pillow of safety for people who truly see science as evil, or have some inability to reconcile it with their deeply respected Biblical creation story. The way the museum lays out the subtle iconography (snake symbols for human interpretations, straight lines for Biblical) gives further credence to the overall mindset. My only concern is the take home message. Some of the children will go here with their parents, parents who either home school them or otherwise control how scientific fact goes into their education. In some cases these children will grow up espousing such a mindset, and it's not unlikely that someone who was raised with a "Flintstonian" view of ancient Earth could be elected to office and vote on a piece of scientific funding or a bill that has a specific slant that is in conflict with their worldview. THAT is the concern that I have. Just because I think Cinderella's castle at Disney World is an amazing attraction doesn't make it my default source of information on Medieval fortresses.

Friday, August 7, 2009

So much for that Breakfast Club sequel...

In a surprise event, John Hughes died yesterday of a heart attack, only 59 years old.

It would be a foregone conclusion to say that anyone who was a teenager from 1983-1990 felt his voice in the movies of the day. His amazing fusion of teen issues, relevant music and lighthearted humor made the films poignant, enjoyable and above all, memorable. I recall many Thanksgiving aftermaths, the tryptophan weaving it's magic on our conscious minds, watching two misfits drive the wrong way down an icy highway and giggling our asses off. I remember the Q&A with Macaulay Culkin in Uncle Buck and how Hughes brought out Candy's amazing physical and gregarious humor on screen.

I remember being older and watching She's Having a Baby right after my son was born and having it take on a completely different meaning, hearing the Kate Bush song in my head and thinking how freaked I would be in a similar situation. Then again, I also thought about how cool it would be to name my kid Queeg, Blye, Nargausius, Rolo or Vortiger.

It's sad that he did so little in his later years, his key demographic growing older, going to college, moving past the high school drama that he so eloquently captured. His stars grew up, became adults, parents and in some cases, corpses. The freaky kid who was crapping his pants in Weird Science became Tony Stark in Iron Man. The neo maxi-zum-dweebie bulked up and became a TV psychic based on a Stephen King character. Bueller's sister got a nose job and never looked like herself again. Ed Rooney was convicted as a pederast. I guess as we get older, in the same vein as Allison says in The Breakfast Club, it's not our hearts that die, but rather our heroes.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

It's not the money...

As a child I lived in a world of financial dissonance. I had a mother who loved to spend and a father who questioned every purchase, hoarded every cent. Money was at the root of 95% of family squabbles, and it continues (albeit to a lesser extent now that their kids are on their own) to this day to varying degrees.

I remember being around15 and going with my dad to the local store. I had just seen Back to the Future, and loved the version of "Johnny B. Goode" from the film, the one obviously sung by someone other than Michael J. Fox. This was in the day when a cassette tape was still around $12, and singles of the song were not generally available. I had my gas cutting money/allowance with me, ready to go. My father spent approximately 30 minutes in the car using various reasons to dissuade me from purchasing the album. His contention was that the original version of the song was superior (and free on a copy of the American Graffiti soundtrack LP we already had at home), and it was silly to buy an entire album just for one song. While I tried to explain to him that 1) there was more than one song on that album that I wanted and 2) I actually liked this new version rather than the old one, it nevertheless didn't deter him. At some point, I capitulated and didn't buy the album. I actually never bought it and ended up finding it on a yard sale rack for $1 years later. That cover song remains my favorite version to date, notably because I grew to dislike Chuck Berry over time. I guess you could say in the end I came away $11 richer.

His lesson did not have the desired effect, because for years I would buy CDs for just one song, and once the age of MP3 and iTunes came about, I could easily just buy the songs I wanted. I also realized that his perspective was a combination of growing up poor, undiagnosed ADD and a general cost/benefit analysis to his purchases. If I had chosen to spend the $12 on fishing lures, he would have no doubt applauded my efforts, but would nonetheless try to steer me to the clearance rack. To this day it remains the reason why I refuse to discuss financial matters with him.

His other passion was gun trading. He spent untold amounts of money and time going from show to show, buying and trading shotguns, rifles and pistols. I think my moment of moral relativism came when I found out he had in hand two places selling the gun he wanted, but one was 40 miles more away and was $20 cheaper. He then spent $10 in gas and almost 2 hours getting this cheaper gun, and in the end spent the day applauding himself for saving that money. I guess I only look at it as shortsighted, because to me it was an awful lot of legwork and time to go through for such a meager payoff, and unless it was something you did on a regular basis. I didn't see it as him being a cheapskate, just miserly and very much convinced that it is indeed the principle of the thing, not the money, that brought him the most satisfaction. He should have been a bazaar owner in Marrakech.

If only he could have saved the self-congratulations for his own purchases and let the rest of us fend for ourselves, I think a lot of the financial turmoil in the house could have been lessened.


So most of America has heard the details of the PA Gym Killer, George Sodini and how it was all planned out for at least a year ahead of time. As he indicated, I am certain it will be studied as an example of the thinking process that leads someone to commit mass homicide.

One thing I garnered from reading this is it's hard to get it to fit our relatively rational analysis of the world. Have some of us felt 1 or more of these things in our lives? Certainly: Alone, misunderstood, sexually unfulfilled, angry at parents or religion or the relative 'injustice' of romantic availability? There are some days when these feelings juxtapose and you barely feel like getting out of bed, and I am sure most or all of it never involves the fleeting notion, hmm, someone has to die for making me feel this way.

Whatever we try to do to understand him, it's clear he clearly had an undiagnosed mental disorder, and in many cases they don't make for ease of understanding. Whether someone blames mom, brother, society, religion, well-hung white-girl-loving Blackzillas or 20something teases who wouldn't give the time of day (otherwise belittled their bedroom prowess), many of us have had to deal with one or more of the above issues or prejudices. It's the fact most of us haven't planned on gunning down a room full of women for over a year that separates us from him. The dispassion of his rant also lends to the air of scariness. His written 'struggle' with it, aside from chickening out early on, appears very distanced, almost robotic. Clean, calculating, with just enough emotion to indicate his resolve. He walked a fine line he could have stepped off of at any point, whether with the help of a safe relationship or the intercession of a friend or loved one.

I guess you could call that dividing line morality or sanity. I don't feel pity for this guy, because as someone who was also not gifted with many social graces in his youth, I nevertheless kept my wits about me and never used it as justification for some sort of murderous tirade against society. It's the difference between a misanthrope and a sociopath. The only guys I knew who thought that the fact women were not flocking to him in droves was THEIR problem--not his-- were ones who had a severe case of narcissistic personality disorder, in which case nothing any of us could say would have mattered (we're either wrong our out to ruin him). Sodini had the money and employability to be appealing to someone (even monsters like Richard Ramirez have a wife) but it seems he either chickened out of a real dating situation or sent up to many red flags from the getgo to attract the type of women he wanted (which I think were younger 20somethings who may have been a limited option to begin with).

It will be interesting as time progresses whether his blog was ever public before this, and if so why no one read it or called attention to it. I would assume those who knew him on a personal basis are still shaking their head, and I am curious whether media attention will bring his mother or brother into the fold, under some ludicrous title like "Architects of a Fledgling Killer". Then again, we may never know, and in the end it will just be like Detective Somerset's analysis of John Doe in Se7en: "just his mind, poured out on paper".

Monday, August 3, 2009

Sugar-coated topping...

Apparently the demise of the relationships of today are not due to infidelity or misunderstanding, it's all the fault of the goddamn vampires.

Also, the perfect encapsulation of my thoughts about the Twilight series:

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Fortress of Nerditude Part 2 - The difference between boys and girls and their toys...

One aspect of the M/F dynamic that I did not encounter until I was engaged, nor did I fully realize it's permeation into society until I was deep into my 3rd or 4th year of marriage, was the inherent proclivity of women to disregard the tastes of their men as puerile or socially unfit. Case in point: Take any show where example couple is buying/renting/remodeling their first condo/home. Invariably, regardless of the age of the relationship, most especially if the male has been any kind of committed bachelor, geek or sports fan, it is the primary goal of the female to subsume his decor tastes in favor of her own.

By this I mean gone is the leather couch, the plasma TV, the neon beer signs. Anything the male may regard as valued, sentimental, or personal is often relegated to a) a basement storage area, b) an as-yet-undefined man cave or garage or c) the worst, sell it on eBay or in a rummage sale so she can buy that bronze lion statue that will just perfectly tie the living room together--no the other living room just for show that you can't ever walk or eat or do anything in forever. It's like a perfectly designed dust collecting display. Regardless of how annoying chintz or pastels may be to pretty much, oh, everyone, the cardinal rule is Thou shalt not question the design tastes of thy mate. They don't build Crate and Barrel or Pottery Barn stores because they have amazing Star Wars action figure inventories. Garden Ridge may sell prints with football themes on them, but it's gonna cost you $120 to get it matted and framed before it ever sees a perfectly aligned nail on a wall. This also assumes it goes with the color scheme of the room in question.

There are exceptions, however. A friend of a friend married a fellow lady geek, and she is as concerned about placing their lightsaber replicas in the main sitting area as he is. Their collection of mint-on-card action figures has as prominent a display in their home as baby pictures. Ditto for the younger gothy couples who might prefer Edward Gorey (or one of those insufferably trite Nightmare Before Christmas) prints over Ansel Adams in their foyer. I get away with it to a degree when decorating the rooms of my boys, since one of them shares my love of comic book superheroes, but 99.99999% of what makes my home livable for me goes straight to my basement nerd cave.

My dad did stake his claim back in the day. A mallard duck print here. A mounted largemouth bass there. Even his Carhart overalls hanging in the door frame was a statement that said a workin' man lives here. I don't see this as bitterness, or a yearning for having my say in the design and layout of the home. I KNOW my stuff is nerdy and off-the-wall and in some cases, possibly offensive to the few visitors we happen to get. I know that a photo of a scantily clad model belongs above dad's workbench in the garage rather than a place of prominence above the loveseat where my grandparents may be sitting. It's not even that I would want to complain too much, because the wife and I oddly share a sense of synergy with the decor. While I may be an OCD nut in my office--Green Lantern on one wall, Todd Lockwood dragon poster on another, both mixed in with a variety of comics, cute ladies and fantasy map art--we tend to be minimalists overall. Like any good scientist deciphering the societal and artistic mores of an alien culture, the little differences amaze me. To paraphrase George Carlin, what is the dividing line that makes my stuff "shit" and her shit, "stuff"?

I present another example. I have, via air-pull, approximately 400 DVDs. Many of these are in album booklets, but over 200 are store-bought, hardshell cased videos. They are segregated to a degree: Her movies in the living room, mine in the nerd cave on three bookshelves, one entertainment center and one closed-door cabinet. She has about 150-200 pairs of shoes. Some of these vary only in color and are otherwise structurally and functionally identical. These are disseminated in one main hallway shoe cabinet, one giant box in a main floor closet, and various pairs in her master bedroom closet. On any given day she has 10 pairs of shoes loose on the kitchen floor, usually kicked into a pile by me or the boys after a near tripping incident. Given that I have two LCD monitors on my desk and a TV in my office, I could potentially watch three DVDs at the same time; more often than not I am watching two anyway; one on the PC and another on the TV. She can only wear one pair of shoes at a time. A box of DVDs also doesn't smell like feet unless you've kept them in really weird places. Regardless, this is in some circles a perfectly acceptable situation; shoes, purses, hair and other accoutrements make the lady, whereas my indulgence is an entertainment affectation.

I know in the end this is picking nits, and I of all people should not ascribe the details of a few heavily edited TV shows to the overall relationship dynamics of men and women, but I have enough empirical data to demonstrate it's real. It's a value judgment at it's most basic, one that says "my sense of taste supersedes yours for some reason," or my toys are more practical/aesthetically pleasing. My take is that the men may take more of an interest if the communal household reflected an agreed upon sense of taste and decor and importance rather than implying all of the gentleman's items need to be sequestered away for the good of humanity and Emily Post. The overall purpose of a Mikasa crystal swan vs a Lego TIE Fighter remains the same: Bric-a-Brac. The only difference is I can pretend to shoot down Rebel X-Wing scum with one, and the other I can just flash in the sunlight to make rainbows.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Funny if you're a scientist (and a geek)...

The Periodic Table of Awesome. It amuses me. The only question I have is whether the "Ghost" in the noble races refers to ectoplasmic entities or the covert ops trooper from StarCraft?

Sunday, July 19, 2009

In brightest day?

OK, so thems who know me understand that I am a Johnny Storm-come-lately comic book nerd. I first discovered Superman/Batman in 2002 during a trip to Mall of America; a trade paperback collecting the first 8 issues and I never looked back. After that, having been a Spidey fan from way back (even that hokey live-action Nicolas Hammond monstrosity from the 70s which we won't go into here--as Stan Lee often remarked, "'Nuff said!"), I discovered the trade paperbacks* of J. Michael Straczynski's run of Amazing Spider-Man (ASM). For thems who don't know, JMS created the Babylon 5 series from scratch, and despite my not being a huge fan of it, managed to invent continuity all the way through seven seasons and 4 tv movies that didn't really suck. Many writers of tv, film, and novels have either come from, returned to, or vow never again to work in the comic book industry, and JMS was no exception. Although I will save my "WTF did Marvel do to Spider-Man" rant for a later time, let me say in short that I loved ASM because JMS made him an adult with adult problems, not the always geeky teenager who had to invent webbing in between 4th period gym and 5th period study hall.

Following my immersion in the trades, two local comic book stores popped up, and like any good crackhead, I was addicted. I realized several months and 12 short boxes later that comics are EXPENSIVE and it's not the collector profitable industry it was back in the day. Unless you attend numerous comic conventions or happen to live in a huge metro area that carries copies of the truly rare variants**, your simple issue #1 of Deadpool isn't going to net you much profit (CGC is an option for many, but again, pricey in the extreme). Out of the deluge of comics and almost 20 months of collecting, I managed to net several favorites, one of which I will expand upon here. Other collections may be mentioned in later posts only because I feel they deserve mentioning. To wit:

Superman: Includes both the actual named title, the Action comics original title from the 30s, the Superman/Batman series and various other spinoffs including the recent "World of New Krypton" series.

Spider-Man: Amazing and Ultimate are the only ones in production now, with an occasional mini-series here and there. Although I have not read the Ultimate series, I am told the continuity and characterization were better presented and preserved

Deadpool: I am a late-fan of this "merc with a mouth", who to me adds a much needed sense of humor to an otherwise often hilarity-dense medium. With his new series in 2008 on the heels of Marvel's Secret Invasion saga, I've become a huge fan. Although he's been getting what experts call the Wolverine Overexposure Treatment (Wolverine is currently the most popular series in print today, and at any given time there are 5-10 INDEPENDENT book series running with our favorite adamantium Canuck--how people can invent/reinvent/spin-off a relatively linear character is beyond me), I find I can't get enough.

Green Lantern/Green Lantern Corps: A two-fer series in print now, and the overall subject of the blog today (took me long enough, didn't it?). At it's most basic, the GL/GLC series concerns an intergalactic police force (corps) commanded by a group of immortal, nearly omnipotent beings, the Guardians of the Universe. The Lanterns exercise their authority through the use of Power Rings, which in this case is driven entirely by their will (characterized by the color green) and powered for a finite period through the primary battery on the Guardian homeworld, Oa.

Now, taken in stride, each sector of the Universe is patrolled by two Lanterns, chosen by the Guardians (and to an extent through the planet-sized Lantern, Mogo) for their ability to withstand, overcome or disavow fear (embodied by the color yellow). Obviously the idea of policement wearing greenish/black/white uniforms and controlling hard light constructs based on a ring exercising an extension of their innate willpower seems a bit silly, but this is a comic. In various adventures, common plot devices ensue, mainly that which separates the Lantern from his ring (which leaves him mostly powerless), depletes the energy of the ring or somehow corrupts the mind/will of the Lantern, making use of the ring difficult or impossible.

The main protagonist of the Lantern series has been for the most part, the human Hal Jordan. A test pilot who saw his father die in a plane crash, Jordan became THE Lantern by which all others were judged, but eventually due to a horrible tragedy, the loss of his family and hence his entire city drove him insane. Possessed by an entity called Parallax (which happened to BE the source of the yellow fear energy) he proceeded to slaughter the entire Lantern Corps and most of the Guardians. This was later revised, Jordan was restored to his former glory and the Corps was resurrected, mainly through the actions of another human, Kyle Rayner, who became Ion, the living vessel of the eponymously named green energy entity that competed with the Parallax creature.

Enter into this Sinestro, arguably the most powerful Lantern prior to Jordan, who due to his own sense of superiority and desire for order was cast out of the Corps (and indeed the matter Universe), became a possessor of the Yellow Power Ring and eventually his own "Sinestro Corps." Recruiting agents capable of generating great fear in response to the Lantern goal to resist it, 2007-2008 was the year of the Sinestro Corps War. Geoff Johns who wrote the saga concluded it with the capture of Sinestro, the 'corrupting' of a Guardian and the discovery of other "Lanterns" embodying different colors relevant to the emotions of the universe (orange for greed, red for hatred, violet for love, etc.).

Now enters in the Black Lantern Saga, wherein the corrupted Guardian "Scar" has created a new faction, powered by a black light energy, which essentially resurrects the dead to feed on the living. Lantern Zombies if you will. Now, for most of us, the cliched yet still appealing concept of the walking dead may seem weird but this has a new spin on it, mainly due to the fact that those killed by Black Lanterns can in turn BECOME recruits themselves. This isn't possible for the other colors, since dead to them is essentially dead. Thus, the Black Lanterns have the capability of recruiting the dead from many other Lantern Corps into their ranks, leading into what is being termed "The Blackest Night" and armageddon for the Universe; life becomes death, light becomes dark, and so on.

The interesting twist to this is that there have been MANY poignant deaths in the DC universe, some quite recently in the Final Crisis saga, and it is the herald of the Black Lanterns--the longtime Green Lantern villain, Black Hand--who seeks out these dead to recruit. So far we've noted a few surprising members: The Martian Manhunter, Elongated Man, and (possibly) Batman, but time will tell. Stretching into next year, this looks to be an amazing ride. The Green Lantern series has become one of my favorites over the past few years, if not one of the more graphic series in play (Black Lanterns recharge their rings not through a battery but from the ripped out hearts of living beings--soul power, if you will) and I am curious to see how it all ties in. Johns was quite successful with his treatments to date, and it remains to be seen how Hal Jordan (who now has been a Red, Orange and Blue Lantern) fits into it all.

I just hope it doesn't have a Dean Koontz ending(1)...

(1): Named for the famous horror author, in which a story spanning several hundred pages is neatly tied up in the last 5-10 pages...the literary equivalent of making love to a beautiful woman and just as you're about to climax, she pulls you out and strokes you to completion into a Kleenex.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Fortress of Nerditude Part 1 - The Gender Female

One could say the reams of data on how nerds (geeks, dweebs, dorks, gamers, etc.) interact with the rest of society are underrepresented in print. On one hand you have the sympathetic girlfriend/wife who not only tolerates your nerdity but celebrates it, but these women are as rare as hen's teeth or a flawless diamond. They don't remain single for long, and their overall rate of production and procurement in newer generations is hampered by age of consent laws and travel restrictions. This assumes you're not a bitter, despondent nerd who adheres to Ladder Theory, but let's assume optimism. After all, there's someone for everyone, even if you need a +3 Pickaxe of Thunder to find them.

On the other hand, you have the women who fall somewhere between the innocent bystander and the gamer widow. They knew you were a nerd, but until they beheld the sheer majesty of your Lego Star Wars collection or expansive DVD collection (or happen upon the one not fit for public display) Alice had no idea how deep the rabbit hole went. The responses range from begrudging acceptance (surely I can learn to like/tolerate this), insensitive antipathy (he makes good money and is good to me, so let the dork have his stupid 'wizardry'), the sad epiphany (I cannot continue being around someone who loves his square-headed girl/boyfriend more than me) and finally, abject terror (run, do not walk away from this Asperger-wanna-be pervert).

Despite a lack of empirical data, I would like to propose a Gaussian distribution because I do believe many significant others lie somewhere in the median. As the article states, one person's football widow is another one's World of Warcraft widow. One is just more socially acceptable, more widely distributed and (depending on the degree of fanaticism), somewhat less expensive-- unless season tickets to the Rams appeal to your particular nerd.

At times, the befuddled LOON (Lover Of Our Nerd, to keep it simple) may attempt to integrate themself into the nerd's worldview. It happened to me in 2001 in the last half of Star Trek Voyager's Season 7. The wife wanted to know why I liked the show, so after several hours of patient backstory and watching tapes to fill her in with the gaps, we arrived at the coda of the series, wherein the resident ex-Borg drone Seven of Nine (played surprisingly well by Jeri Ryan) was slowly seduced by the 'humanity' of one Chakotay, the First Officer and Hispanic-playing-Native-American actor Robert Beltran. Rumors abounded for months regarding his distaste for the part, his lackluster scripts (all the Chakotay episodes sucked for the most part), so many fans felt that giving him the role of Seven's love interest was Paramount throwing him a bone to stop a last-minute Tasha Yar-style bailout.

Regardless, my wife oddly began to identify with Seven, and while she was certainly endowed in the bosom department, her stark lack of blonde bun and Borg implants made the correlation a tad bit difficult. I was...patient. She genuinely seemed to be getting into the storyline, sans any focus on the lack of (cough) science fiction elements. You could have knocked me over with a feather when in the last episodes (SPOILERS AHEAD), we learn that not only do the two crewmates fall in love, but in an alternate future where Seven has died, Chakotay dies of a broken heart after they reach home, prompting a then-somber Admiral Janeway to go back and "put right what once was wrong".

My wife is suddenly on her feet, MAD. It was the sum of all the anger and hate, as if Martha Stewart suddenly stopped in the middle of her show, said she was outing herself as a lesbian and hated every aspect of home interiors, cooking and people in general; one can imagine the sound heard thereafter was that of a million housewives crying out in fury. It was a cloud of dismay that could make Satan pee himself. I mean, how DARE they, Seven is better than that! She shouldn't fall for him just because he tickled her ocular implant with his dry wit and obnoxious facial tattoo!

Sitting there, surprised at her displeasure, realizing that this is what happens when the wrong soap opera character gets killed off, I said the words to her that I never thought I would ever utter as a nerd: It's just a TV show. Even the Next Generation episode, "Genesis", the one that took a massive, Apatosaurus-sized shit all over modern molecular biology didn't perturb me that much, I guess in hindsight because I knew what to expect. It kinda scared me, too. Would such a thing happen if I exposed her to Next Generation? Dr Who? Drizzt Do'Urden? I could be the only human being ever to be murdered by a dice bag if I wasn't careful.

In Part 2 of "The Gender Female," we will examine various aspects of nerd life and why it's our world, she just lives in it (pending a DC 20 Fortitude saving throw)...

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

And you thought Jon and Kate had it rough...

Through the miracle that is Wikipedia, I bring you one of the strangest stories I've ever read about reproduction in the animal kingdom: The Deep Sea Angler. It's common knowledge that the females of many species (spiders for example) are much larger than their male counterparts, and in some cases following fertilization the male either dies or is eaten by the female (e.g., praying mantis). This is the first instance I've ever heard of in which the male is merged with the female:
At birth, male ceratioids are already equipped with extremely well developed olfactory organs that detect scents in the water. When it is mature, the male's digestive system degenerates, making him incapable of feeding independently, which necessitates his quickly finding a female anglerfish to prevent his death. The sensitive olfactory organs help the male to detect the pheromones that signal the proximity of a female anglerfish. When he finds a female, he bites into her skin, and releases an enzyme that digests the skin of his mouth and her body, fusing the pair down to the blood-vessel level. The male then atrophies into nothing more than a pair of gonads, which releases sperm in response to hormones in the female's bloodstream indicating egg release. This extreme sexual dimorphism ensures that, when the female is ready to spawn, she has a mate immediately available.
Gives a whole new meaning to the term "joined at the hip".

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Did you know?

It's little tidbits of information porn like this that make my eyes bug out. Enjoy:

What Dungeons & Dragons Class are you?

Not exactly what I tend to choose, but still a neat test:

In secret temples far from bustling cities and priestly hierarchies, orders of esoteric warriors train their initiates in ancient traditions now forgotten or forbidden by most religious organizations. The champions of these orders are avengers—deadly weapons in the hands of their gods, imbued with divine power through secret rites of initiation. In battle, avengers swear to execute divine vengeance, entering a mental state that gives them unerring focus on a single enemy.

As an avenger, you were trained in a monastery, initiated through secret rites, and imbued with the power to smite your god's foes. You might be a disciple of Ioun, sworn to hunt and exterminate the minions of Vecna until you one day face the Maimed God. You could be an agent of the Raven Queen, bringing death to those who would defy your mistress. Or perhaps you serve Bahamut as an agent of justice, bringing ruin to tyrants and oppressors. The organizations devoted to your god might view you as a heretic or a hero, but you answer only to your god and to the vows you swore upon your initiation as an avenger.

Where will those vows lead you? One thing is certain: Doing the will of your god is never easy and never free of peril.

D&D Home Page - What Class Are You? - Build A Character - D&D Compendium

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Indian Cooking 101, Part 2: Lessons Learned

Although I still consider myself a novice, I have learned enough in my travels to avoid the common pitfalls indicative to non-natives who cook ethnic cuisine. There’s always a small part of me that still thinks there is something missing from my dishes that the restaurants have in abundance, but since I don’t have access to their recipes, I’m stuck with what I learn. More often than not, my recipes are a mix of several different types, either due to lack of components or a simple dislike of a particular approach. I tend more towards the onion gravies rather than the yogurt ones, usually due to the fact that I tend to have more onions on hand than yogurt if I get an itch to cook. Below are some of my tips to make your experience in cooking Indian cuisine a good one:

  1. Plan ahead. Although some Indian dishes are designed for speed and efficiency, more often than not a rushed dish is a poor dish. Since I don’t make it on a regular basis, I usually have time to plan for it. On average considering that I make my own spice grinds/mixtures, it takes me about 2 hours to cook a standard chicken curry assuming very little planning ahead. So, if you can, ensure your recipe is set up ahead of time, since you don’t want to find out ¾ the way through cooking that you forgot the yogurt for the sauce. Some Indian dishes require soaking in a marinade, water or brine for either a few hours or overnight in order to season and tenderize the food.

  1. Ventilate. Indian cooking is a very aromatic process, which leaves a smell in the air that can linger for several days if not properly ventilated or circulated through the cooking area. Cumin especially can ensure a lingering smell, since it is often roasted beforehand and used extensively from beginning to end. Utilize the oven hood if you have one, preferably one that pipes the exhaust outside rather than through a filter. My wife particularly dislikes the aroma of Indian food, so to even cook it when she is around requires an outdoor approach. Many small portable burners are available that plug into a standard outlet. Put one of these on an outdoor table or bench and you have an instant cook top.

  1. Balance the spices and ingredients. Like many specialty foods, too much of one particular ingredient can mask or ruin the flavor of the final product. Tomato, as mentioned earlier, can kill the flavor of a chicken curry if added in excess. If your chicken curry calls for tomatoes, I recommend no more than one 14 oz. can per 2 quarts of curry sauce, or less if you’re only wanting the tomato for coloring purposes. Cumin, coriander and cinnamon are similarly strong, and too much cumin makes the entire dish taste like a giant cumin seed (as well as stinks up your home--see #2).

  1. Simmer, simmer, simmer. A good curry takes anywhere from 1-2 hours to simmer, or even longer if you are going for a very tender meal. Obviously the longer you cook, the more items 1 and 2 will come into play. Also consider that most curries are better the 2nd or 3rd day after cooking (if properly stored refrigerated). Some curries are good even after being frozen, but I tend to avoid doing this unless it's a basic rice dish.

  1. Be your own guinea pig for new dishes. My first mistake with Indian food was using a curry powder mix for a dish that I brought to a party. The resulting dish was so hot and spicy that only myself and one other person could tolerate the intensity. Unless you’re making a previously used recipe with minor modifications, do a test run before unleashing it on guests or potlucks. The tongue you save may be your own.

  1. When in doubt, ask an expert. I was fortunate in my initial dealings with this cuisine to consult colleagues and friends of Indian heritage on my experimentation. They provided me with a lot of valuable advice, and I am thankful to them for their assistance.


Below are some books and websites I highly recommend for anyone interested in cooking Indian food. I haven’t yet found one overall ‘bible’ for the cuisine, but the books and websites below are excellent reference points:

Monday, June 15, 2009

Indian Cooking 101, Part 1: The Basics

I wrote some of this a few years ago when I maintained a website, but am reproducing it here with some minor updates. There tends to be a lot of content, so I am going to do it in parts.

Indian food is one of those love it or hate it types of ethnic fares—rarely does one simply tolerate it. The pungent and often earthy aroma, combined with the general prejudice that Indian food and Indians are ‘dirty,’ tends to dissuade most people from trying it. As someone who ate an American “steak and potatoes” diet for most of his childhood and young adult life, I can tell you that my introduction to ethnic cuisine was something akin to an epiphany. You never realize how under-utilized your taste buds are until you’re assaulted by the wonderful mix of flavors in an authentic yogurt curry, plate of Korean bul-go-gi or Japanese hibachi vegetables. By ethnic I mean Indian, Korean, Thai, Mexican, Japanese and the like—the standard Chinese and Taco Bell foods you get are hardly authentic or flavorful, and for the most part are heavily augmented with fats and sugars for the rather immature American palate. Go to any authentic Mexican restaurant and you will find yourself tossing your Taco Bell chicken quesadilla out the window.

Indian food has many properties that go beyond simple flavors. The ingredients and spices are often medicinal, and most of them aid in digestion and proper processing of the nutrients. Turmeric, for example, is a natural antibiotic, while some of the more rarely-used components such as Asafoetida (a gum resin with a rather pungent aroma) aid in gas-relief and digestion. Some spices are known to have anti-cancer or chemopreventive actions against certain toxicants. Overall you can find that a simple change to spices, cooking time or storage (most curries are twice as tasty after overnight refrigeration) makes each dish unique and enjoyable. It’s also a cuisine where combining different aspects of several similar recipes can result in an excellent outcome rather than a disaster.

To properly make Indian food—as with any authentic cuisine—you need the proper ingredients. The standard curry powders in your local supermarket while workable pale in comparison to a genuine or custom-made curry mix, and are generally made for people who want an overall curry flavor to their food and not specifically an Indian dish. I recommend the following as essential components to building a group of reliable Indian spices for your kitchen. Most of these are available at any local world food market, and many larger cities have Indian/Pakistani grocery stores available.

One other common misconception is that Indian dishes, due to their spiciness, are by default hot. This is not the case, unless large amounts of chili seasoning (whole chilies or cayenne pepper) are added. Vindaloo curries are by default full of hot red pepper, while most other curries tend to range from mild to hot.

Ingredients you can purchase at a standard supermarket:

  • Cumin: Used as a base for most Indian sauces and spice mixes. Available in seed or powder form, and like coriander, much more pungent if ground fresh from the seed before cooking. Cumin seeds are roasted prior to cooking in a small pan or skillet, as this activates the pods and adds more flavor to the dish. Ensure accurate measurement and ventilation for your dishes, otherwise the entire kitchen will reek of it for several days.
  • Coriander leaves (Cilantro): These are a major garnish for most Indian recipes, so for true authenticity it is critical to fold in coriander leaves once the dish is nearly complete.
  • Cinnamon: Stick cinnamon is used as a base spice in many curries and rice dishes, and in powdered form is an ingredient in garam masala. As with any spice, too much cinnamon will taint the flavor, so use sparingly based on volume (usually one soup pot of curry or rice requires 1 average sized (1”) stick of cinnamon.
  • Salt: Most Indian dishes call for kosher salt, which is a stronger type and requires less to flavor a dish. Standard table salt is acceptable, but when a recipe calls for kosher salt, add 2X the amount of table salt for equivalency. Soy sauce can also be substituted as a salt source.
  • Peppercorns: Adding whole peppercorns to a dish adds a strong peppery flavor to any curry, and it won’t sour your mouth to bite down on them as with other Indian seed-based spices. I often add 1-4 corns to rice dishes to kill some of the sweetness from the cinnamon.
  • Cloves: Used whole as a base for most curries and rice dishes, but again add sparingly or else it will overwhelm the dish. These are often removed from the dish before serving, although some Indians chew on cloves as a breath freshener.
  • Paprika: Red powder used in many dishes for flavor and appearance. A critical ingredient that gives Tandoori chicken some of its distinctive color. Used also to counteract turmeric if the dish takes on too much of a green/yellow color (Some people may not find the idea of green chicken appealing).
  • Garlic: Minced whole cloves or pre-packaged minced in oil is acceptable. A staple in nearly every Indian dish.
  • Turmeric: Powdered spice responsible for the yellow/green color in curries. Turmeric should be balanced with a reddish spice (such as Paprika) or even red food coloring, since it tends to shift the color of the curry to a greenish/yellow. Turmeric should be as fresh as possible when used, and I've found the older the turmeric, the greener the overall color. Ideal balance should be yellow to orange when combined with paprika.
  • Ginger: Whole fresh root is best, and when grated or minced is a common component of curry gravies. This is also another spice where mincing and accurate measurement is essential or else you get chunks of sour ginger root and a very gingery smelling dish (see Tomatoes).
  • Tomatoes: Tomatoes are a common component in curries, but must be used sparingly, as the acid will remove the flavors of some poultry and meat. I typically use canned, diced tomatoes, with or without additional garlic or onions added.
  • Chilies: Green chilies are often added (seeds removed) to some curries as a heat-enhancer, and are often added as a color enhancer. Use only if a hotter curry is desired.
  • Garbanzo beans (chick peas): These are usually found in the Mexican food section of the grocery store. Garbanzos are legumes with a nutty aroma, and are often used in many vegetarian Indian dishes. Canned varieties are acceptable. I recommend soaking or boiling beforehand with some vinegar to cut down on any 'explosive aftereffects.' :-)
  • Onions: Whole yellow or white onions are preferred. Minced or finely chopped, it is the staple for almost all Indian recipes or gravies.
  • Plain unsweetened yogurt: This is a common ingredient in most cream gravies and sauces, as well as a marinating agent for Tandoori chicken. Use the low-fat yogurt if you must, but it cannot be fat-free.
  • Ghee (Clarified butter): Although vegetable, soy, olive or sunflower oil is acceptable for cooking, most authentic Indian recipes use ghee as the oil base since it is 100% butterfat. Ghee is relatively easy to make using standard butter, as follows:
    • Place 1 pound of salt-free butter in a medium saucepan and cook over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil (takes 2-3 minutes).
    • Once boiling, reduce heat to medium. Foam will soon form up, and will eventually disappear.
    • Once a second foam layer appears, the butter will turn a golden color over approximately 7-8 minutes. Brownish sediments of milk solids will form on the bottom of the saucepan.
    • Pour the mixture into a heatproof container through a fine mesh strainer or cheesecloth.
    • Store in an airtight container. The mixture does not require refrigeration, and will keep for up to 1 month.

Ingredients you will likely need to purchase at an Indian grocery store:

  • Basmati Rice: A long-grain white rice with a unique flavor and nutty aroma. Only available in the larger-chain supermarkets in small bags, but can be purchased in larger sizes (10-20 pound sacks) at Indian groceries.
  • Cardamom Pods: Found in green and brown varieties. The green pods are the most often used, and will swell up and open upon cooking, allowing the seed core to release that distinctive flavor. Gives a very definitive aroma to Indian cooking, but are NOT meant to be eaten. Anywhere from 2-4 pods per pot of curry is common.
  • Coriander Seeds: Yellowish round seed with a very sharp aroma. Also available in ground form, but if ground directly from the seed at the time of cooking, use about ½ the recommended amount due to it’s strong impact—often used to give a sour, bitter, lemony taste to Indian curries and vegetable dishes.
  • Saffron: Essentially the stigma from the iris crocus flower, this reddish and aromatic spice is sometimes added to dishes, as it lends not only color but also flavor. Considered the most expensive spice in the world, as it takes 150 handpicked blooms to obtain just one gram of dried saffron.
  • Garam masala: Meaning “hot spice,” a critical ingredient in nearly every Indian dish. These are not the same as curry powders, but are instead intended as a garnish or to add more ‘zip’ to a dish, sort of like adding Mrs. Dash to a plate of stew. Penzey’s online spice store sells several different varieties, from spicy to mild, and Raja is a common brand in Indian grocery stores. Ambitious cooks can obtain garam masala recipes from the Internet, and if they have a good mortar/pestle or spice grinder, can make their own mixes.
  • Seeds: These include fenugreek, kalonji (black onion seed) and caraway seeds, which while not necessary, can often be used to add color, flavor or texture to dishes. These spices are often components of some garam masala mixes, so they are not critical to purchase separately unless specific recipes call for it.
  • Naan Bread: This flat bread is a common staple of Indian eating. Since the traditional Indian practice eschews utensils, dinner is eaten with the hands, often using Naan as a makeshift spoon to scoop up rice and other parts of the dish for eating. This bread is often available pre-made and refrigerated. I typically either toast the Naan for a few minutes on a high toaster setting, or else brush with butter, garlic powder and garam masala, followed by a minute or two in a broiler. Naan should have a slightly crisp outer crust when done, and should not be wet or doughy in texture. It is not uncommon for the edges or exterior of the bread to be blackened or cracked when done.

A word on pre-mixed curry powders: I have always found these to be hit-or-miss, as most Indian recipes you find online or in books do not use them. Their primary use is to cut down on preparation time and to make your curries consistent in flavor and spiciness. Another issue is that most of the packaging you get from Indian grocers is not in English, and it is critical to determine the proportion of curry powder to dish volume correctly, otherwise the recipe becomes almost overwhelming; I made a curry dish per the box one time and although flavorful, my friend and I cured a cold with the heat from this dish. The additional downside is, of course, that all your curries will taste the same. Penzey's online spice dealership makes a number of curry powders that I have found to be consistently good in my dishes.

Part one ends here. Next time we will pick up on basic preparation techniques and a guide to the more common dishes - rice and chicken curry.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Twenty pounds of awesome in a 5 pound bag

I have nothing but frabjous hetero love for The Sound of Music. Been a fan since I was a kid, and had a crush on Julie Andrews for I don't know how long.

Found this on the YouTube a while back; basically a take on this T-Mobile ad, but done infinitely better in terms of execution, musical selection and theme. Then again, I hate T-Mobile so there's a tad bit of bias.

Enjoy, I know I have.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

He rode upon a terror bird, perchance to spy a lady...

Life would be infinitely easier if I rode around everywhere on one of these:

Monday, June 8, 2009

Haiku of the moment

In honor of #1 son losing his first tooth last week:

The Tooth Fairy smiles
Ten more teeth to complete it
Then Tooth Golem strikes!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Let it begin, let it beginn!!

So, the new gaming group assembled rather well. My colleague and her merry band have begun an adventure in a town of my own creation, Glendathym. Although the town lies within the larger campaign setting of Forgotten Realms, the town and it's denizens are totally my own.

Initially I plan on taking advantage of some of the fine pre-made adventures from Wizards of the Coast, the only difference being that most of them are aligned with their new 'starter town' of Fallcrest, so names and places need to be updated accordingly. I like Fallcrest just fine but I prefer to have a bit more creative control over things.

I have to commend the group for their patience and willingness to learn what I consider a better but still complex set of gaming rules. Those who began playing Dungeons & Dragons as a 'yute' in the 70s and early 80s are encountering a rather different game, one where it's part pen-and-paper D&D, part Magic-The Gathering and part Warhammer (miniature-based play).

So far we were able to develop quite a diverse group. We are hoping to add my friend Amy's nephew to the group and coerce him into playing a healer/diviner character such as a Paladin or Cleric. We cherry-picked ideas from both the 1st and 2nd Player's Handbooks. The party consists of:

Amy = Ariana (Female Eladrin Wizard)
Katie = T'Panya (Female Dragonborn Barbarian)
Forest = Thorlongus (Male Goliath Warlord)
Grace = Saoirse (Female Elf Sorceror) - pronounced "Seer-shuh"
Mitch = Crognaw (Male Elf Rogue)

Being first level characters everything is still fresh and new, so as we advance the party magic will be gathered, butts will be kicked and a very thankful Glendathym will hopefully reward them with power and prestige.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Wherein I give you some biographical information

Name: Michael (a.k.a. Commander Data, Daddy, Captain Nerd of the Dorkazoids, the Dumbest Smart Person I Know (wife's pet name for me))

Age: 38. With the Vandyke/chinstrap beardshaved off I get back another 4 years, but then my goyishe shaifeleh face gets me carded everywhere I go. I tried to hide all the grey for a while but figure it just makes me look more seasoned. And oh yeah, friggin' OLD.

Lifestyle: Married. Two kids (boys, 6 and soon-to-be 3). Rockin' suburbia and avoiding sunlight when I can. Two cars, four gerbils and one extra-large capacity washing machine.

Weight: Fluctuates between 240 and 265 depending on how much I get my ass on the treadmill or bike. I tend to self-insulate in the winter months in an attempt to get back to my hibernating roots.

Location: St. Louis Metro Area. I say "Metro" because while I am not technically someone who would willfully live in Missouri, I prefer not to be lumped in with all the non-family-tree-forking Southern "Illinoyse-yans" that everyone else in the U.S. seems to think the denizens of the Land of Lincoln descend from.

Profession: Used to be a cell biologist/biochemist. Went back and got a computer science degree. Worked for years as a scientist/IT guru, maintaining computer systems for laboratories, but now I do Quality Assurance for a pharmaceutical company. The job entails making sure the guys in the lab do their jobs right so that the drugs we make don't get you sick or kill you (don't worry, it's all a means of avoiding litigation wrapped in a nice, altruistic blanket). Sometimes it's a glorified description for what a Borg drone could essentially do, except I am not worthy of a numerical designation.

Music: I consider myself traditional eclectic--could be Mozart one day then Metallica the next. I am currently on a kick for audio college courses (The Teaching Company, etc.) catching up on such diverse topics as Ancient Egyptology, The History of Science, Darwinism vs. Creationism and so on. I will occasionally knock back an audio book (I found The Da Vinci Code to be a dreadful 'listen', cannot imagine actually reading it) but for the most part aside from twangy country or hardcore gangsta rap (I will however take old Ice Cube over 50-Cent any day) I can listen to anything. I am not much on local music or the 'indie/myspace' scene, but I get it in dribs and drabs when I can.

Likes: I love movies (theater and DVD), anything and everything to do with pop culture and TV shows. Basically take 4 parts Family Guy, 2 parts Robot Chicken, mix liberally with South Park and the Daily Show and you have me in a nutshell. Maybe add a touch of I Love the 80s and that gives it a nice coat. I love to read (again, anything and everything--usually have 3-4 books of various genres going at any given time), and am rediscovering the wonders of Dr. Seuss, insects and wildlife with my boys. I took up a lot of walking and biking in my recent years, and enjoy a long ride on the local trails with the iPod cranked up to 11. I find very little taboo to discuss, the obvious religion (self-excommuniated Catholic) and politics aside (firmly entrenched in the middle-of-the-road--libertarian/green/democrat-lite). I love to cook Indian cuisine, although the smells put many people off, including the wife and everyone in my family. McDonald's French Fries, Girl Scout Thin Mints (frozen solid with a glass of ice-cold milk) and Ranch Corn Nuts are my crack cocaine.

Dislikes: I detest racism, homophobia and sexism. My ears hurt when I hear someone say that this is a Christian Nation, when the Founding Fathers were anything but Christians as they classify themselves today. Hypocrisy in any form just infuriates me, whether it's the idea of mega churches, schools insisting that abstinence be taught but prohibiting access or education about birth control, the usual things that make me wonder how we as a species ever crawled out of the caves. The idiocy of the body-conscious culture in American and Europe never ceases to amaze me. In a culture where girls are taught that a size 12 is 'plus,' and that everyone can be as thin as a Paris or Linsey (assuming they have the 20K for a personal trainer and nutritionist), it bothers me to no end that anti-fat thinking is the only remaining socially-acceptable stereotype. The hypocrisy of poking fun at a fat person whilst simultaneously advertising something as frightening as a McGriddle says something very farked-up about the way we see ourselves.

Image du Jour

Image du Jour