So many words, so little time....

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

A Vermiscious Post...

I was out taking a break with our other coder this morning and some ladies from another office in this building were going on and on about this crow who was working on something out in the parking lot. Their complaints were loud and long about how they were just "flying rats". They had just got into seagulls and pigeons and real rats when it was time to put out their butts and trail off into the rest of their day.

It set me to thinking.

Domestic predators we seem to be able to deal with as long as they're not weird or actually trying to eat us. No one wants a lion in their living room, but as long as the spider doesn't come along and sit down beside you on your tuffet there's a case to be made for letting them be. They are efficiently designed predators in their own little realm and I understand they have a place in the world. Sometimes it's hard to remember that when I open up the shower curtain and find Shelob sitting next to the drain, but we do try.

When it comes to scavengers, it's a whole different story. They have an unsavory reputation. Most people think it's okay to revile them. I think it's ill-founded. They are creatures who live off of the leavings of others. But just as we deal with the spider by remembering all those pests they eat, you need to think about what the scavenger's job is.

All animals make waste. Human kind is particularly good at it. All over our urban areas there is food and other garbage rotting in gutters and drains. And by design or fate our world has a collection of animals who find that eating it or the animals that eat it the easiest way to get their needs met. And all those tons of unmanaged organic litter is fair game.

Much is made of the animals themselves carrying disease. Where do you think they get it? The moon? The pests, parasites, bacteria and viruses that cause those diseases breed in that garbage. Yes, the animals may bring disease organisms from one area to another, but they don't make them. We do. And by their consumption of it, the can drastically reduce the amount of germ-riddled filth.

It's not a perfectly closed system. The animals also make their own waste. And since they live in close proximity with humans, we are confronted with it on our car windshields and even occaisionally on our heads. I'm not saying that I enjoy that. But every white splotch on my car is a mostly sterile and unscented left-over from about a quarter pound of carelessly discarded fast-food and other junk that people leave behind them all over town. And if I had to compare that splotch to that, I'll take the whitewash any day.

Even in the natural world, there are animals whose sole purpose is to clean up after it. It is a process necessary to life on this planet. Earthworms, molds, lichen, and hundreds of kinds of small mammals, beetles and birds do their little bit every day. Their urban counterparts are just as natural. If you look at it, the miracle isn't that they do all this clean up in our cities. It's what they would be doing in undeveloped areas. The amazing thing is they adapt so well to living with us.

The world is a messy place in general. I, for one, am glad to see those feathered rats and all their furred and chitinous friends. They bring life into places that have little otherwise. They help minimize what would be a horrible problem. I feel they provide a necessary function in our increasingly urban and disposable society. Don't look down on scavengers. Just escort them out the door when necessary and otherwise let them do their work.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Jingle Bells! Batman Smells! Robin....

My shopping is partially done, partially wrapped, and I'm not exactly certain if the union of those two sets is zero. The girls were helping me and I think some things got wrapped that shouldn't have been. I have to do some judicious Sherlock Holmes work later this evening.

And what those @)&)q_* elves in the shed did to my Christmas lights over the summer should be forbidden by the Geneva Conventions! There is no way they got this tangled by themselves..........

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

A Proper Pumpkin Pie...

This recipe is not just a list of ingredients. The making of a proper pumpkin pie must follow the proper steps and take the proper time in order for it to be savored.

First, timing is everything. Pumpkin pie must be made at oh-dark-hundred the night before the meal it accompanies. You do not do this at a time when normal humans (or the children) walk the earth. If werewolves aren't howling at the moon, give it another hour. This is for three reasons.
  1. If you make it, they will eat it. Now! Not after the dinner when you want it. The only way to foil them is to bake late and store securely. A decommissioned missile silo works well if available. I get by with a bank vault and a pirate's lair with lots of traps.

  2. You will never have time to do it earlier that same day due to the aforementioned children and all the other dreck you have to get together.

  3. Tomorrow you are going to have a velociraptor taking up the oven for nine hours, remember? I assure you, the only other thing that's going to fit is just enough of your hand to burn the heck out of it while basting.

Second, you must have your kitchen ready. This activity cannot occur in a clean kitchen with counter space. I don't know why. It's a mystery. I just know that I've never had a bake turn out properly if I started out with a spotless kitchen. Besides, with the kids doing the dishes this is a mythological event.

Now you must assemble all your ingredients. This recipe makes four desert pies, and three breakfast tarts. Put the things you assemble into three stacks.

Stack 1
- four cups of sugar, plus an indeterminate scoop because that doesn't look like enough
- 10 grinds on the nutmeg grinder
- a palm of salt
- a palm of ginger
- a palm of allspice
- half a palm-full of cloves
- four palms of cinnamon
- several random shakes and grinds from the spice jars listed above because it doesn't look right
- eight eggs

Stack 2
- 2 large cans pumpkin (not that mix stuff)
- four 12 oz. cans evaporated milk

Stack 3
- four regular pie pans dressed with crust (Pillsbury only if minions have been particularly evil or kitchen in particularly advanced state of higgeldy-piggeldy)
- three of the holes in the mini-loaf pan dressed with crust
- 75 foot roll of Reynolds, of which you only need about a foot right now
- Three beers; two root and one stout
- half recipe worth of banana bread batter

Now it's time to start putting it all together. After you've washed the large mixing bowl from making the pie crust, open a rootbeer and put Stack 1 ingredients into the bowl, dry stuff first, then eggs. Beat sensless with rubber spatula. Add Stack 2. Beat senseless again with rubber spatula. Pour brown mess still left in bowl (not the part that's spattered all over heck-and-gone) into the pie pans and the crusted mini-loaf pans. Cover edges of crust with strips of tinfoil, struggling manfully to not poke it into the mousse-part so it bakes in there like that. Fill un-clad mini-loaf pans with banana bread batter.

Remember you forgot to turn on oven, so read pumpkin can to see temp. Giggle at their dumb theatrics about preheating and that whole one-temp-for-15-minutes-and-then-turn-down gig. Set oven to happy medium and then remember it's witch-tit cold outside tonight so turn it up another five degrees. Put first two pies in immediately on the center rack with a baking sheet on the lower rack to diffuse heat and to make sure any spills are deflected directly onto the heating element while still baking into an evil black metallic object on the sheet. Consume rootbeer, read book, and shoo house-apes back into bed at random intervals for 55 minutes. Spend five minutes trying to find a safe spot to lay down book and figure out what kids did with hot-pads. Remove first two pies carefully from oven and place on cooling rack.

Put second two pies in their place in the oven. Open second rootbeer. Repeat last baking experience, only watch for smoke coming out of oven from baking sheet getting too hot to deal with the spills. Move cooled pies on rack to bank vault. Remove pies and baking sheet from oven. Pies go on rack, baking sheet goes across burners of stovetop where it can properly singe your eyebrows for next step.

Place mini-loaf pan in oven with the banana bread towards the front where the oven is cooler. Open stout. Continue to bake at exactly the same temp irregardless of the directions for half an hour. While this is baking, do dishes and clean up counters and do any other prepwork possible for tomorrow and consume the beer.

Remove cooled pies from rack and place them in pirate's cave (diversification is good in baking, too). Open oven and once you are done wincing away from the steam-burns on your corneas, poke banana bread with toothpick. If done, remove and shut off oven. Place rack across top of loaf-pan, and using a towel to hold it all together, turn as one unit and leave until the tarts fall out. You will be able to see this clearly because the pan is stilted up on the banana bread's tops.

By this time, beer will be done and so will you. Cover three loaves of banana bread and the three tarts with a kitchen towel to decoy the kids in the morning and hit the sack. Set alarm clock for six for humor's sake. Remember, tomorrow's the big day! ;)

Friday, November 18, 2005

Exceeded the US RDA of Emo Angst.... a signifigant margin at my house last evening.

My younger son is apparently in some sort of romantic spot again. I can tell because he's started writing poetry instead of drawing Square-meets-Gary Gygax weapons in his journal. I don't mind that so much, because he at least writes it out longhand and isn't sharing it out somewhere on the Internet for the whole world to see. What I mind is the music.

When he's happy about the whole thing it's not so bad. The usual Angry Young Man Mix comes creeping out into the house from under his bedroom door like a damp, thumping fog. The glass in the pictures in the hallway vibrates along like T-rex is coming up the sidewalk. Typical stuff, really.

When it's not going well things get really drippy. Like bad Good Charlotte balad drippy, and it's played loud enough to melt the walls. And it's the same @)^%#$&' song over and over. And he sings along. Badly. After a while, the mood infects the whole rest of the house. Everyone starts to bark, and before I know it my living room looks like one of those old Tasmanian Devil cartoons - just a cloud of dust with various limbs sticking out of it and comic book cussing floating in the air above.

I don't mind that music so much under normal conditions. In the right state of mind I actually enjoy that stuff. But not when it starts coming in on everything that isn't plastic and I'm dealing with Surly, Jerk-boy, Sybll and Eve.

I made them all watch "Priscilla, Queen of the Desert" before bed. Lightened things up considerably.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Never assume malice...

... when stupidity can explain events. Stupidity and arrogance together are an even more deadly combination.

Star Wars: Episode III, aka "Thank a Gifting God THAT's Over" came out on DVD. We've had a bit of distance to help deal with the emotion and we have the rest of the series there for context. It's a complete work now, and for me it all boiled down pretty simply. To me, it was better than we had any reason to hope from past experience, but that didn't make it good.

The weather was heinous this weekend and the kids decided to watch all six Star Wars movies back-to-back. We own the Episodes 1 thru 3 on DVD, my VHS of Star Wars had eaten it's shorts so we had to rent one of the newest versions, and then my aging VHS versions of The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi were duly found and played.

Taken together, the thing is a mess. The problem is Lucas is a heinous pixel-freak and he always has been. Someone gave him a magic brush, and by God he's got to use it on something. Plus, he's also heard too much of his own press. Star Wars wasn't a success because of his directorial and technical prowess, but because it was a space opera that didn't take itself too seriously combined with a good cast that could actually use his 3rd-grade level dialog writing skills to build effective characters.

If he'd stuck to his guns and his strengths and realized what was important, he would have been all right. There is a pool of good writers currently approved to write books in the Star Wars universe and any one of them would have kicked his ass writing these scripts. He did get several actors that can do this sort of material well this time around too but it was just too badly written. I mean, who would ever believe Darth Tyranus's Double-bubble dialog if Christopher Lee's dark rumble wasn't in his voice? In the hands of a lesser craftsman he would have been laughable instead of merely forgettable.

The story was mis-weighted. Most of the really big events were given short shrift, or were handled so badly they had no impact. The massacre of the Jedi order was accomplished mostly by giant bugs completely in the background in Episode II while Padme was running around getting her shirt ripped off by that kitty-thingy. To finish the job, we're honestly supposed to believe that Samuel L. Jackson was killed by that little punk and a 60+ year old Scotsman in a dress? Can you imagine that anyone would have given Jar Jar Binks enough of the time of day to vote with him in the Senate on that crucial topic that launched the Empire? And that stupid boy was able to walk through the Jedi Temple and they all just went up to him one by one and let him kill them? These guys are generals and trained soldiers and they coordinate together. You cannot tell me that four or five of those guys wouldn't have gotten together and put those kids behind some cover and had them shoot him enough to keep him occupied deflecting blaster bolts while they came up behind him together and julienned him? I don't care how bad a case of the Force Flu Skywalker had, it just don't fly. Oh, and don't even get me started on the frickin' midichlorians....

The worst sin isn't digital, but in the casting. The lynchpin was muffed, badly. For every cat there must be a fine rat, and Darth Vader just flat doesn't work. With that stupid story and hideously bad script in the hands of that vapid unwashed man-cub that we were supposed to believe was going to grow up to be the biggest baddest evil guy the world had ever seen there was just no hope at all.

The basic upshot from the kids was that we'll stick with Episodes IV, V, and VI and we want the original ones. They'd rather have Han be the space pirate he was supposed to be and shoot first. The puppet Yoda has a presence in his death scene that the digital one just doesn't have. Jabba, the Rancor, and Mortimer Snerd and the rest of the rogue's gallery at Jabba's palace (and Jabba himself) are much better latex than pixellated. They much prefer the original Mighty Sarlak (that's the hole in the sand that ate Bobba Fett). The original explosion of the second Death Star felt more real, and the real ghost of Annakin should appear at the end. So we'll stick with my ancient VHS even though the last film is infested with armed teddy-bears that are harder to get past in that format.

Don't get me started on Ewoks in general. They're like the unholy offspring of a mating between a Wookie and a Jawa. I've been playing a Star Wars game called Battlefront II, and I can tell you the very best level takes you to Endor with a blaster rifle and a seemingly inexhaustable supply of the little buggers to use for target practice. That's worth the price of the game right there.