Friday, June 26, 2009

Hunting Tiny Pests Update

Just one day after the awful camelback cricket at dawn incident, and one of the terrible creatures appears around midnight in the living room. I heard him, of all things, and went over to the stairs to investigate. There he was, next to the piano just standing there being a loathsome cricket-spider.

The plan and the tool work. I double tapped him with the Umarex pellet pistol. Wounded, he fled under the piano. Should have got him with the first two shots. but at least I hit him. Nailed him under the piano with a third shot a few seconds later. Ex-cricket.

Instead of a twenty minute misadventure trying to swat him while he repeatedly leaps out of the way, and ultimately gets away (the usual outcome), I just picked up his corpse with a paper towel, and off to cricket Heaven he went.

No drama, no damage to the house. A 30 second evolution and it's done. I even recovered the pellets so they're not laying around. They do bounce around a bit, though. No real telling where they will end up.

The Umarex rocks. The cricket is gone, my back doesn't hurt, I don't have cricket on me, and I get some target practice, albeit at close range. But they are tiny so it's like hitting a real target at 21 feet. It takes the same concentration.

God help any human home invaders. It won't be the Umarex for them.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Hunting Tiny Pests

Woke to screams from Kim at 5.45AM. One of these awful things was standing on her arm. She jumped on me, it jumped under the bed.
It's a camelback cricket, part cricket, part spider. They come up from under the house once in a while if it gets cool at night. They're coming up too frequently lately.

It took me a good while to kill the vile beast. They are good at evading, jumping erratically when you get within five feet or so of them. They have a big hop. Eventually I got him and we were able to go back to bed. But it took way more effort than it should have, so I got one of these today.




It's an Umarex Co2 powered soft air pistol that fires 6mm BBs at 300 feet per second. These crickets just stand still until you get to within about 5 feet of them, so I've been shooting this at that range and it is amazingly accurate for a smooth bore pistol. I can get pretty consistent double taps within an inch of the point of aim (there is no recoil so it's easy).

It's cricket season, but we need to attack them with chemicals as well to get rid of them for good..

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Today's Activities

While there's a lot going on in the world that I might have a word about later, I don't have that word today. I was busy. Here's what today held for me:

Visit with Annabelle. Always a huge pleasure, and her foot is better. Small mercies. We had lunch.

Friendly dispute with the carpet vendor about the new rug for the dining room. We need it to stage the house so it sells this summer. They couldn't bring up the price I had online on their computer. Taught them about cached web pages and there it was; all was well.

Technical discussion with the butcher about the last top sirloin, which was too tough. Bought another, had it for dinner, saved half of it to go cold over a big salad in a day or so, and it was perfect.

Cooler shopping for the miata. Need a way to keep a cool drink cool for more than five minutes with the top down in this hot weather, but it needs to be small and safely accessible while driving.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Food for Miles

Working at home, I can watch TV sometimes, and for a while I watched Mario Batali mid-morning. He showed us all kinds of simple, regional Italian food, and taught that Italian food is all about the ingredients and nothing about technique. That's good news for me, because I am not interested in a brunoise no matter how much I like Julia Child (I do, a lot). I'm fast with a chef's knife, with rustic results.

Here's one my son Miles likes.

Campanelle with Sausage Ragu

large yellow onion
olive oil
white wine
tomato paste
sweet italian sausage
fresh parsley
campenelle, 1 lb
milk, 2 cups
parmesano-reggiano cheese

Slice the onion. Season with salt and pepper. Saute over low heat in some olive oil until it is dark and has the consistancey of marmelade.

Reserve onion.

Remove sausage from casings and saute until well browned. Add reserved onion. Add 2 cups white wine. Reduce wine until it's nearly gone.

Add 1 teaspoon tomato paste and saute until cooked.

Add a cup or two of milk. Reduce, while grating in as much of the parmesano-reggiano as seems reasonable until it is a nice ragu.

Season with salt and pepper now.

Add the properly cooked campanelle to the ragu, mix it up, and serve. Grate more parmesano-reggiano over each plate and sprinkle some chopped parsley on as well.

It's simple and really good.

Tornados, Waterspouts. What's Next?

We had two tornadoes and a waterspout here in the Baltimore area on Saturday. This is pretty unusual weather for us and everyone was surprised.

The most relentless writer about weather I know is Garrison Keillor, and I admire his work. He often writes about the winters in Minnesota, where winter is apparently a serious thing. His Prairie Home Companion radio show became a favorite of mine when I started listening to it and learning about Minnesota winters while driving my first Miata on back roads on Sunday mornings for the fun of it in the fall of 1997, the beginning of what's turning into a life-long love affair with driving a sporty little car on challenging roads.

It's hard to write, and I think a short story is a particularly difficult thing. If you're Melville writing Moby Dick, and you hit a stretch where you don't have much creativity flowing, you can work instead on all the pages of technical stuff about whaling, and hope you get through the wall in a week or so and then get back to writing the story of Ishmael and the Pequod. But if you were me, a high school freshman in 1972 who had to produce a short story every damned week for freshman English, it's rough sledding on Sunday night. Every Sunday night.

But Garrison Keillor writes at least one short story every week, on deadline, and he reads it on his show as "The News From Lake Woebegone". Most weeks it's a truly good short story, other weeks not so good. But he writes it every week without fail and out it goes, and to my mind that is an heroic writing effort.

As bad as it is for us to have tornadoes in Maryland, I wonder about the people like Kim's sister Carol, who deals with the weather in Topeka. I imagine her battling tornadoes every day while still doing her good works.



Me, on my slow moving sailboat, circa 1992. Photo by Doug Lucy.

But tornadoes are more than we are ready for here. And I get a sick feeling thinking about being out on a slow moving sailboat in the path of a waterspout, which is just a tornado over water. This one came out of the Back River area, crossed the bay, and ran out of steam in the Chester River. That's a busy part of the bay for recreational boaters.

But at the end of it all, we can learn from the tornadoes. Terrible things can happen to people, and those things do happen. A a bad person, a car wreck, a tornado can come, and that's it. You're gone. It could happen anytime, and  it's probably a good idea to try to live enough in the moment that it's not too big a deal if it does.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Photography



The church at Pingveller, Iceland

A lot of of the attraction of writing a blog is being able to easily include my photography. I only put my photos on my blog (with one exception). Despite a stint as a professional photographer I don't consider my self a real pro by a long shot. Taking properly exposed photographs is easy, but thinking behind the lens is harder.  I worked in a niche, photographing residential properties for sale, and it was formulaic and the real work was promoting the business. If the real estate market hadn't collapsed, I'd probably still be at it.

So, I'm an amateur photographer at best, and most of my photos are documentary rather than some sort of art.

A while back Bob Richardson bought my uncle Bob Emmons house on Toby Island in Buzzards Bay on Cape Cod. He and my dad and stepmother became friends after that, so I would see Bob once in a while when I visited the cape. He's a great guy.

Bob was director of photography on a bunch of amazing movies where the cinematography is really spectacular and well done. Kill Bill, The Aviator, Snow Falling on Cedars, Nixon, and Natural Born Killers are some of the movies that I think Bob filmed with unbelievable innovation, vision and skill. There are a lot more. I'm a huge fan of his work.

A few years ago, I took an early spring trip to Iceland and took a lot of photos. When I visited my dad shortly after that and showed him my Iceland photos, he insisted we go over to see Bob and show them to him.

Bob took a look and said they were "pretty good".

Kind words, from a man who knows better.

Here's a picture Bob took of me during a family reunion. I think it's pretty good.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Jack: Killer, Cat of Leisure

I shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die.
--Johnny Cash


Kim started feeding a wild black cat a while back. He wasn't completely feral but he was out there with no owner. He hung around our house. Eventually she got him a dog house to sleep in over the winter. He ate the food, slept in the house, and went about his business. He was a strong, big cat, and he had his way with the other wild cats, and took no crap from any of them. Kim named him Jack. Jack the black cat.

I started feeding the birds about the same time, including the crows. Crows are very smart birds, and I like them. I usually have stale bread, so I would throw some out on the lawn for the crows. They became accustomed to eating the bread in the morning when they showed up for their work, which is hanging around in my neighborhood looking for food.

One morning I heard the crows in the yard put up a huge uproar, a cacophony of CAW! like they do when they mob the hawk that lives in the area and are chasing him out. Jack had sneaked up on them while they were eating their bread, and killed one of them, and they were pissed.

Jack didn't care, he was a strong young cat just being a cat. It didn't matter that Jack was well-fed, if you hang around in his yard eating bread he gets to kill one of you if he wants.

Then we put our house on the market in the summer of 2008 (it didn't sell and we pulled it just before Thanksgiving. We'll try again in 09). I'm not a cat person, but Kim is, so I learned that we needed to find a place for Jack before we moved.

We were in Gettysburg, and saw a flyer about a missing cat, and it was Jake, the black cat that had been a fixture at the Wilderness Shop for as long as I've been going to Gettysburg. I said to Kim "Let's bring Jack up and deliver him to the Wilderness Shop as if we had found Jake - they look exactly the same. They'll never know the difference". We had a laugh.

Later in the day we told the story to Cameron, the owner of the shop, and she said bring him up and let's see what happens. We did.

Now Jack lives in Gettysburg at the Wilderness Shop.












Jack's new home is the Wilderness Shop on this stretch of Steinwehr Ave




















Jack in his new home, resting up for a stroll through the store.

Jack is reveling in middle age. He has a comfortable life. He kills nothing. His job is to walk around the shop and let people, especially kids, pet him while not being skittish. He has enough material wealth (shelter, food) to see him through, and he isn't about to be laid off. I think he's set for life.

Jack and I are both middle aged, but my life is not as simple and perfect as his. At least not yet.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Oh Bloody Hell

I sometimes walk in Silver Creek Park. There is a lot of wildlife there, and I like to see the birds and the occasional fish. My usual (safer) exercise is walking on the sidewalk in my neighborhood.












With all the the rain we've had there's a lot of mud, and I slipped and fell on the creek bank. The Samsung Rant went into the creek. It's dead.

I also wrecked my right shoulder some, but I think it just might be bruised.

I'll replace the Rant with a Samsung Instinct. It has a bigger screen than the Rant, and 3-D GPS. I have a good GPS for the car, but there's a real advantage to having a GPS on you when you are walking around in a city. I could have used one when I was in Memphis last year.

I made a promise to myself to try hard to be careful and not to fall down as I grow older, but I did fall, and in a bad place. I need to get into better shape so I fall less and care less when I do.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

On a Lighter Note, Chowder

My blogging has been a bit dense lately, like those oyster crackers we are supposed to put into chowder to thicken it. So let's talk about chowder.

I know of two types: quahog chowder and fish chowder. I like them both, and I make a decent fish chowder. I've never made quahog chowder and David Churbuck hasn't published his recipe. Since he is pretty serious about quahogs and clamming strategies, I would bet his quahog chowder is good. I haven't seen any recipes for quahog chowder that made me want to try. I know a good quahog chowder when I eat one, so I guess I could develop a recipe if I had the time.

I make a fish chowder any time of the year. It's rich and decadent, and  it's a primitive meal, with a simplicity forced on clever colonial cooks by lack of ingredients. Potatoes, fish, milk, salt pork. Stuff that would be available in an 18th or 19th century New England coastal kitchen. Today we add other stuff, but not much beyond those four ingredients. Those settlers would recognize this chowder.

This is a thin chowder, not like the thickened ones you get at Cape Cod restaurants. They're good too, but not right for a fish chowder.

Fish Chowder

1 lb salt pork
milk or half and half. You choose.
clam juice in a bottle. Get two.
potatos
yellow onions
at least 2 lbs cod
thyme leaves
salt
pepper
butter

Quantities don't matter (much) in this chowder. You'll want to make more rather than less, so it's going to be 2 big onions, 4-8 baking potatos, two bottles of clam juice.

As to fish substitutions, don't. Shop like Julia Child: If they don't have good fresh cod, make something else based on what they have that is good.

Carefully chop the salt port into a very small dice. 1/4 inch is right.

In a big tall pot, try out the salt pork at low heat. It should be golden brown, and when it is it's done, there will be a lot of fat in the pot. Ignore other recipes that call for discarding all but 2 tablespoons of the liquid pork fat; keep it all. Take the golden brown salt pork bit out of the fat with a slotted spoon and put all of it on paper towels to drain. Reserve it..

Rough-chop the onions and saute them in the pork fat until they are getting close to soft and translucent. Don't brown the onion.

Skin the potatos. Cut them into similarly sized cube like pieces. Not too small, but small enough to fit on a soup spoon with some fish and onion. Bigger is better than smaller for the potatos Add to the pot. Add the clam juice and enough water to cover the potatos. Simmer for 8 minutes or so until the potatos are tender but not falling apart.

Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add some thyme leaves. Let it sit for an hour for flavors to incorporate.

Add enough milk to fill the pot, leaving enough room for the cod. You shouldn't need much, a cup or so in a big pot. Reheat. Add the cod (whole filets, no need to cut them up). Cover, simmer until cod is just done.

Adjust seasoning and serve in big bowls with a pat of butter. Use your serving spoon to break off big chunks of cod for each serving.

Sprinkle some of the reserved salt pork bits on top and dig in.

You'll need to adjust all the quantities based on the size of your pot, but you can do that.

Here's a good book about cod, by Mark Kurlansky.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Is Waterboarding Torture? Absolutely Yes.

I was an active duty Naval Aviator in the US Navy from 1980 to 1984, flying with Fleet Air Reconnaisance Squadron One (VQ-1) in EP-3's. We collected and processed intelligence. I still have my original Naval Aircrew (NAC) wings which I earned in 1981 and I'm glad about that.

I didn't set out to be a flyer, I just wanted to use my Chinese language abilities in a setting that mattered. I scored too high on the Defense Language Aptitude Battery (DLAB) so, despite being fluent in Chinese at the time, I was assigned to the 52 week Korean language course at the Defense Language Institute (DLI) in Monterey, CA. Spoken Korean was much harder to learn than spoken Chinese, so I'm surprised that Chinese is a category IV language.

It was required that all male DLI students in the Navy be volunteers for aircrew and submarine duty. Women were not allowed to fly or ride submarines back then. Since aircrew are considered to be at high risk of capture I had to attend Level C Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) school.

It was an interesting experience and the most intense training I received in the military. It was extremely realistic training, but despite being confined in a small box for hours, harshly beaten, interrogated using both rough and subtle methods, deprived of sleep, food and contact with my fellow prisoners, I was able to restrict what I revealed to only the allowable name, rank, and service number.

Then I was waterboarded, and I told them anything they wanted to hear to make the waterboarding stop.

One of the requirements of SERE school is that the student experience being broken under interrogation (because you WILL break under torture in the real world) and also that they experience "bouncing back" from being broken. This is as much to contribute to the service members survival as a prisoner of war as it is to prevent information being revealed. The assumption is that a POW will be broken under torture. Since the beatings, etc. didn't break most students, they needed a certain way to break a student. Waterboarding does that handily.

When I listen to all the folks in the news lately talking about whether or not waterboarding is or is not torture I'm astounded. Not a one that I've heard voicing their opinion has been waterboarded. They don't know a thing about the experience. Please.

Waterboarding broke me instantly. Every person I observed being waterboarded was broken. Every person I spoke with after the training who had been waterboarded told me they could not endure it. When I watched people being waterboarded for the second or third time during SERE training, it always took a lot of strong people to get them strapped on to the board - no one went voluntarily once they had experienced being waterboarded.

Because it was torture.

The sensation is drowning, and I was certain that I was going to die. Even though I knew I was in a training situation, I was sure that my instructors had made a terrible mistake and were accidently drowning me. It was utterly terrifying. Because it was torture.

Waterboarding is torture. Cheney is a criminal. As are the lawyers who wrote the "tortured" legal opinions that Cheney used to justify torture.

After 9/11 the Cheney/Bush administration decided to use torture on their detainees. A torture program based on SERE training. SERE training was designed to replicate the torture that was inflicted on US military prisoners in the Korean and Vietnam wars. Torture designed to get prisioners to confess to actions (typically "war crimes") that they DID NOT COMMIT! It was torture used to create raw material for propaganda.

It was not used to gain actionable intelligence, as Cheney claims. He's lying. It was pain inflicted to force a person say what had already been decided would be advantageous, for propaganda purposes, to have said.

For example, to force someone to say that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. Since the real intelligence didn't back this conclusion, Cheney/Bush went to torture to get someone to confess to things that weren't true, because normal, useful, effective interrogation techniques don't elicit specific lies. This to justify the insanely stupid invasion and occupation of Iraq.

Cheney, Bush, and their (informed) apologists, are despicable liars, and belong in prison.

Morons, the lot of them.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Amish versus IslamoChristianity

The Amish are an interesting group.  Since we've been thinking of living in the Lancaster PA area, I looked into our possible future neighbors, and I liked what I learned.


They are members of a proscriptive religion, but one that's different from other similar religions in important ways. Put simply, they aren't about imposing their ways on other people. Their rules are only for themselves, just as it should be.

Even if you are born into an Amish family, you must make an active decision to be baptized and be a part of the Amish religion. And Amish-born people who do not choose the religion are not hated, killed as infidels, consigned to hell (just a different kind of infidel death) or any other foolishness. They remain a part of their family, and are treated as family. Again, just as it should be. The Amish impose their rules on people who want to live as Amish, and are reasonable toward those who don't. That's sensible, because the Amish life is hard, and not for most people.


Compare the Amish with other fundamentalist religious groups: fundamentalist Islam, and fundamentalist Christianity. I'll call them collectively IslamoChristianity a la Frank Gaffney's rantings about "Islamofascists". Gaffney is a well educated right wing crank who ought to, and probably does know better than what he espouses.

Look at the war between fundamentalist Christianity and fundamentalist Islam, called the global war on terror by the Bush administration. Certainly, America opposing and thwarting terrorists has been going on long before the Bush administration fabricated reasons to invade Iraq, and before the 9/11 attack, but Bush's was the first fundamentalist Christian-led U.S. administration to act on their religious beliefs as a matter of public policy. Occupying Iraq with no thinking was a stupid recipe for constant war. Islam has their "death to infidels" policy which is a pretty straightforward call to constant war - there are a lot of infidels and it will take time to kill them all.


Amish are pacifists.

Question:  Who doesn't want constant war?
Answer: The Amish
Rightheadedness Score: Amish 1, IslamoChristianity 0.

This "war" started as a simple argument between two extremist sects, both of whom wish to impose their views on morality on the rest of us. The both of them ignored, and continue to ignore the fact that most people aren't extremists, and are utterly opposed to living under religious tyranny.

Amish don't want to tell anyone what to do who didn't ask to be told. IslamoChristians wish to tell EVERYONE what to do, and kill the ones who won't comply..

Question: Who doesn't want to tell you how to live?
Answer: The Amish
Rightheadedness Score: Amish 2, IslamoChristians 0.

The details of their rules aren't important; the willingness of the IslamoChristians to commit large scale, ongoing acts of violence in ongoing attempts to bend us to their respective visions of how to live is important. The 9/11 attack, and the invasion of Iraq, are two examples of utter stupidity. 9/11 just pissed off a reactionary US Executive branch, and occupying Iraq cost so much it probably will doom the US to second class economic status (or worse) forever.

Question: Who is not stupid?
Answer: The Amish
Rightheadedness Score: Amish 3, IslamoChristians 0.

You can see how this is going. The trend isn't going to change.

The Amish, by necessity, live among people who don't live as they do, believe as they do, or act as they do. They are among us, but apart in ways that are important to them, by choice. They live with grace, tolerance, dignity, and they do it without imposing on anyone.

The IslamoChristians are thugs who are willing to kill innocent people to further their aims.  They could learn a thing or two about how to behave in a civilized world from the Amish.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Chicken Fried Steak

I don't know much about Southern food, and Paula Deen scares me in ways I imagine some people are scared of clowns. So I'm unlikely to learn more from her. I think it's her voice that terrifies me. I don't like Paula, but I do like Southern food, particularly chicken fried steak, just not the way it's served in every restaurant I've tried it in.

It needs to be thin, not a half inch thick. The key word here is fried, not steak. And it needs to be a bit spicy. And the milk gravy should be much better than I've had in restaurants. I stole and modified this recipe from the brilliant David Rosengarten. Credit where due.

My ex-wife's grandfather, a lovely man who served in WWII in the Merchant Marine as a cook, risked his life on repeated voyages on convoy duty in the North Atlantic. When he visited us in Maryland it was my pleasure and privelege to cook several meals for him, and I tried my best. One meal I cooked was chicken fried steak, and he really seemed to like it more than the other stuff I'd put out. He was silent throughout the meal because, as he said later, "that was really good, and I was busy eating". And eat he did, several helpings.

It is really good. But it's not good for you. I reckon you can have this twice in your life without risking your life. Experiment the first time you make it, and get it right the second time, which should be your last.

You will need lard for this recipe. These days, lard is hard to find. You might need to go to an hispanic market to find it. In that case, lard in Spanish is "manteca", pronounced "man tay ka". You are only going to eat this meal twice, so go ahead and fry it in lard. It's worth it.

Chicken Fried Steak

2 lbs lard
ordinary flour
Cholula brand hot sauce
paprika
garlic powder
onion powder
ground cayenne pepper
ground thyme
eggs
Worcestershire sauce
salt
pepper
top round steak
a half gallon of milk

Choulula brand hot sauce is the completely correct stuff for this recipe. You're going to echo the hot sauce through several layers of flavor here, so use Choulula if you can get it. If you can't get Choulula, Louisianna brand hot sauce is an OK substitute. Tabasco is no good here, it's too hot.

Get a lot of top round steak, preferably already cut thin. You're going to pound it out using a meat mallet so that it is as thin as you can make it. Pound it between two sheets of clear plastic wrap. Make each piece a little bigger than a playing card, about 30% bigger. Make it thin. Thin, thin, thin. But don't destroy it by pounding it too thin. You'll get it right after a couple of tries.

Really get a lot. People will eat several helpings of this, and top round is cheap.

Make a dredging mixture of 50% paprika, 25% onion powder, 25% garlic powder, 5% cayenne pepper, 5% ground thyme, and salt and pepper. I know that doesn't add up correctly. That's the southern part of the recipe, sort it out for yourself. Try wearing clown makeup while you mix it up. Put it in a bowl that's large enough for the pounded out top round to be dredged in.

Heat the oven to it's lowest temperature.

Dredge the flattened steaks in the paprika mixture. Set them aside.

Put eggs in a bowl and whisk them with some Choulula hot sauce and a little cayenne pepper.

Put flour in a bowl. Season with salt, pepper and a little cayenne.

Heat the lard in a deep pan. It should be two to three inches deep. You are going to deep fry in this. Be careful!

Dredge a steak in the flour, then the egg wash, then again in the flour. Into the lard it goes. Do another the same way. You should be able to fit two at once.

Fry until golden brown. Take them out, drain on a paper towel, then into the oven to stay warm. Keep frying until they are all done.

Now make milk gravy.

First make a roux. A dark roux is OK. When it's right, add a lot of milk. Reduce and make it a proper gravy. I say that that way because if you are still reading, you know how to make a proper gravy from a roux. Once you are there, season with salt (more than you would think) pepper, and a little cayenne and a lot of Worcestershire sauce. Season carefully, a little at a time until it's right for you. You can't remove salt..

Mashed potatos come already made and they are good. Use them, because this is about the steak, not the potatos.

Let people take a steak, some potatos, and the gravy and go at it. Anybody will eat three or four of these, I promise.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Goodbye David Carradine


David Carradine was found dead in his hotel room in Thailand today.

If you are around my age, you probably remember watching him in the great 1972-1975 TV show Kung Fu where he played a Shaolin priest wandering the old west. I loved that in almost every episode the petty bully or bad guy(s) got corrected by Carradine's character, usually in the form of a Shaolin thrashing in Kurasawa/Peckinpah-esque slow motion. These shows were lovely, small morality plays.

The last thing I saw him in were the Tarantino films Kill Bill I and II, where he gave a nice dignified performance, I thought.

It turns out there are Shaolin monasteries in the United States. I know this because I went through US Navy boot camp in the 70's with a guy named Trusty, who had spent a lot of time training in Shaolin martial arts at one of those monasteries. I still could speak Chinese pretty well back then, and he could too. We had fun with that. But the truly amazing thing was Trusty's physical stamina.

Part of boot camp was physical training, called PT. It was always pushups done to the point of muscle failure. Even though we were Navy I guess they wanted us somewhat physically fit. It was just as Gunnery Sargeant Hartman put it to his Marine Corps recruits in Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket:

"I will PT you all until you f**king die! I'll PT you until your a**holes are sucking buttermilk!"

But Trusty never died and he never sucked buttermilk like the rest of us did. He just kept doing the pushups long after all the rest of us had collapsed and were flopping on the deck like fish, trying to do another pushup. He never was PT'd to anywhere near his physical limits, and eventually they would stop the whole thing despite not being able to break Trusty down.

I think David Carradine would have been proud of my old shipmate Trusty.
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Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Driving Too Fast, and Too Slow

I decided to try videoing a drive through Loch Raven.

Loch Raven is where we get our drinking water from.. It's a dammed up river that floods a small valley. They built a road along the banks of the new "loch", and since the road is on the side of some hills it's twisty and a challenging drive in a sports car. Local motorcyclists like to run this road, as do local Miata drivers. Deal's Gap (possibly the mother of all challenging, twisty roads) it isn't, but it's a fun miniature version, like one scale off the Dragon's tail.

I zip tied a small tripod to the cross brace, put the camera on and took off. This turns out to be pretty fun. I used my Lumix DMC-FX01 which has a proper 16X9 format for both photos and video, so it's wide enough to get a full windshield-wide shot. It's also wide enough to show that I don't know squat about keeping my hands where they belong on the wheel. I shot these at 10 frames per second, and they really should have been at 30 fps, which this camera can do. I wonder if YouTube would degrade that 30 fps video, I'll have to try it.

This run is from Cromwell Bridge Rd North to the dam:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TsRYbHicYm0

This is from Dulaney Valley Rd South to the dam, and I get stuck behind a slow car during the best part of that section:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cCgV-uawX8k

I really like the annotation feature on YouTube.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Kim's Birthday

It's Kim's birthday today. In this diminished economy, we splurged a bit and ate a nice meal at Ruths Chris Steakhouse, an upscale steak place here in Baltimore (Pikesville, actually, a suburb). Of course, it's all about steak so we each had one, and they were almost better than you'd have any right to expect. They didn't have the kind of crazy great service I had at the over the top Peabody Hotel meal I had a while back, but it was damned good service.

Al, our waiter, was from Spain via New York City. When I was a boy, my family would visit our friends in New York City and invariably have a meal at Le Boefe. (Reviewer writes: "It would be so much better if the two owners weren't so rude.") At Le Boefe it was perfect tableside service with not a word spoken by the dense hierarchy or servers, waiters, busboys, just perfect food delivered, well, perfectly. All very formal.

I liked having a small conversation with Al about his life, and my experience as a waiter in college. Better than the Le Boefe experience for me.

I prefer to have a connecton with the people who do work for me, however slim, and I prefer a connection with the people I do work for.

Highway Miles

Driving the Miata home from Houston made me rethink highway travel. I put a lot of highway miles on the old Miata driving back and forth to Annapolis before I realized that all the wind blowing into the cockpit was something I could and should avoid with a windstopper. This is the best of the lot, in my opinion - factory looking and very effective. Made in Germany by Oris with typical German quality.














Here's an improvised windstopper using my luggage and a bungee cord. It worked pretty well for the ride home from Houston but nowhere near as well as the Oris.















The Miata is a great sports car. It has nearly perfect weight distribution, adequate power, outrageous handling with the right suspension, and great handling with the stock suspension. You can do a 200-300 mile day in one and not feel like you've been abused. More than that and it gets a little wearing.

To really pound out the miles (500+ miles a day) in a reasonably priced car, not much beats a Crown Vic P71 Police Interceptor. Mine is an ex-Delaware unmarked car, probably a take home car for some officer. I got it with remarkably low mileage, 58K.

















It's nearly impossible to get a ticket in this car. I have blown through radar traps at 80 mph with nothing more than a friendly wave from the police. People around you drive with much civility when you are near them in this car. Cop suspension is nearly perfect, external coolers for all the hot fluids, better differential, lightened drive shaft, huge cop alternator to drive all the electrical stuff it carried as a cop car. I think this is the best Crown Vic you can get.

If I wanted to spend real money on a highway car it would be a 7 series BMW. But this P71 is pretty good for the money.

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Let's Go to Memphis in the Meantime

Throw some John Hiatt on and off to Memphis. I've been through a few times by car years ago and never stopped. I stopped this time, and stayed in their downtown, right across the street from a the Peabody Hotel, a very elegant place (too exepensive for me to stay at, but I did eat there and watch the parade of ducks. I stayed in the Holiday Inn Express, which was a renovated older hotel and pretty nice, but the Peabody it ain't).

 
The ducks spend their day in the lobby fountain, which was carved from a single piece of Italian marble, and is spectacular even without the ducks.
 I had dinner in the Peabody Hotel's 4 star French restaurant, Chez Philippe. I couldn't resist. There were snails, a tiny grouper ceviche (served in one mouthful on a Japanese soup spoon), frogs legs, lamb, a pinot noir that rocked, and a muscedet that rocked even more. Then a cheese tray for desert with a 20 year old port. It was an utterly perfect and decadent meal.
The view from my plate was this:

And the service was brilliant. I waited tables in a nice restaurant in college and really appreciate it when it's done well.

The Peabody is a unique, extremely elegant hotel with an interesting history, and you should visit it if you are in Memphis.

After dinner I hit Beale Street, home of the blues. The blues give me the blues, so when I heard some Johnny Cash coming out of this place, in I went, and found a great band covering Cash and Bob Dylan. And doing both really well. I stayed for the night and they were great.

 
Memphis was pretty cool. Went to Graceland, and you've all seen the pictures of that place so I'll spare you mine. The Graceland handlers make sure you don't use flash photography, and they make sure there is no visiting any bathrooms in the mansion for fear you might sit on the King's throne.
On to Nashville, and then to the Shenandoa valley. Then Home, probably via Shepherdstown WV and Antietam  NMP.