Archive for February, 2007

Lines of fire.

Saturday, February 24th, 2007

Am I the only one that daydreams about their office under attack by a madman, or how a firefight would go down in there?

I got the most beautiful chocolate martini evar!1 at Katz’s Deli a while back. I got a couple pics on my cell, and forgot about them until I ran across them today.

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I also ran across this pic I took of the Brown Bar:

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Damngoodalicious

Thursday, February 22nd, 2007

Check this out: get yourself some sweet cream butter, a small wedge of white cheddar with chipotle and cranberries (or any cheddar, but, I mean, damn)*, and a dozen mini challah rolls.

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Take as many of the challah rolls as you want and slice them in half, tops and bottoms. Spread a really thin layer of the cream butter on top. Cut three or four thin, stick-like slices from the cheese for each half-roll.

Arrange thee slices on the roll, put in a pan, and toast at high heat until the edges brown and the cheese melts. Eat alone or with your favorite pasta dish. Or with damn near anything, as far as I’m concerned.

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I ate mine with chipotle pasta carbonara and a dessert of golden raspberries mixed with dried cranberries, because that’s how I roll, and I declared it rapberry-cranberry-chipotle day while nobody was looking. Or listening, for that matter.

*–Yeah, Whole Foods. A buck-fifty for the cheese, of which I used a third on two rolls, and two bucks for a dozen rolls.

Food without dead animals in.

Sunday, February 18th, 2007

Category: Jobs, Work, Careers

I had decided not to eat meat for a month, because I’d already gotten a good start on that anyway without noticing, but I fucked that up last night, so I guess it’s just going to be mostly a month without meat.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not going all granola-bear-hugging. Hell, I killed a squirrel yesterday just so that animals don’t forget that I prefer them dead. I just wanna lose a few pounds before I find myself having to haul said pounds up and down the green belt and Big Bend all summer, and the last time I tried going a month without meat (a year or so ago) I found a lot of vegetarian meals good enough to include in the stone-coldest of killers’ diet.

Anyway, I’ve eaten a lot of good stuff the last week, so I figured I’d give a few shout-outs. In keeping with my lazy-ass habits, none of this stuff takes more than about 5 minutes to make.

1. Whole Foods’ Poblano corn chowder: $7 a quart. Dunk a hunk of their $3 focaccia and you’ve got a couple of damned good meals for $5 apiece. The same goes for their tempeh chili. I wouldn’t say it was as good, but it’s damned sure not bad.

2. Bean and queso tamales from Central Market. They’re $9 a dozen, up from $8, but cover ‘em with some of their spicy pico de gallo ($5 a pound, a little dab’ll do ya) and you’ve got three meals for less than $4 each. If anybody tells you Mexicans don’t eat pico on tamales, tell ‘em you’re from Texas and punch ‘em inna nose.

3. If you look in the consignment shelf near the checkout on the north wall of Whole Foods, you’ll find several things from Austin-local Karma Kuisine that cost $3 each and are hella yummy on the tummy–Nepali pasta, Saag pasta (a little spicy), and samosas, which are Indian fried potato dumplings, and come with a little thing of sweet sauce. They’re all good. A couple of these dishes fills me up.

4. Get fresh basil pesto from Central Market ($9 a pound, but a third of a pound goes a long way). Cook up some penne, then toss with a couple tablespoons of pesto and maybe a teaspoon of butter per good-sized bowl. Damn good, damn cheap, damn quick. Probably not the quickest way to lose weight.

5. The mini cholla rolls from Whole foods ($2 a dozen) don’t make a great meal by themselves, but they work great with the pastas and soups above. I like to cut them in half, put a really thin coat of butter on top, and sprinkle them with garlic salt before toasting them until the edges brown. Now that I think about it, I probably could sprinkle them with a little oregano, too. A couple of rolls are enough to accompany a good meal; they’re rather small, miniature even.

6. Also in the way bread to break, Whole Foods has blueberry cornbread and jalapeño cornbread that are both damned good. The blueberry’s more of a novelty thing, the jalapeño has staying power. All corn bread should have jalapeños in. Central market cornbread isn’t quite as good, but the difference is so minimal it’s not worth going out of your way to get one or the other.

7. Whole Foods sells prepared fettucine with tomatoes that also has some sunflower kernels in. I don’t know what they do, exactly, with the tomatoes, but I suspect they hypodermically inject them with pure deliciousness. It costs about $7 for a meal-sized package, but it’s a damned fine way to fill the ol’ calorie requirement.

8. I haven’t even eaten any of the following this week, but thinking of good things without meat in made me think of them: Bear Creek makes some great dehydrated vegetarian chili and potato soup you can pick up at any HEB. It makes damned good camping food, too. Mahatma makes a whole line of delicious rice-and-seasoning-in-a-bag dishes, but if you cook up the beans and rice (takes 20 minutes, but very little human intervention, just fire and forget) and eat it with corn bread, that’s probably going to be your best bet, right there.

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A thing about noir

Saturday, February 17th, 2007

I’ve been watching a lot of noir and neo-noir-y pictures lately, more out of accident than anything. First there was Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, a comic take on noir conventions starring Val Kilmer as a gay detective and Robert Downey Jr., in a stretch as a small-time crook turned prospective actor. Not the absolute highlight of either man’s career, but an enjoyable picture all the way through.

Then, I picked up Lucky Number Slevin for cheap down at the Hollywood DVD. It’s a movie you can’t help but like, no matter how much it cheats on you. A twisty neo-noir that makes a few questionable decisions, saved by a good-natured performance from Josh Hartnett and Lucy Liu in the perkiest role I’ve ever seen her in.

Shortly thereafter I got Akira Kurosawa’s  High and Low in the mail. Kurosawa’s noir films aren’t as well-known as his other work, but few who have seen them fail to number them among his best. They include Drunken Angel, Toshiro Mifune’s first starring role, and Stray Dog, a tense police procedural that doubles as social commentary on post-war Japan and a great leap forward from anything he did before. High and Low is a complex police story that doubles as a morality play. It is complex and subtle, and I highly recommend it. I also recommend The Bad Sleep Well, Kurosawa’s transplantation of Hamlet to 1950s Japan, and by far the darkest of any of his noir-style films.

And now, tonight, The Departed sits on my coffee table. I think you already know my opinion of that movie.

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As long as I’m writing about movies, I feel compelled to mention Himalaya, the most beautiful movie I’ve seen in many years. It’s about the salt men of the Dolpa region of Nepal. These people live above the tree line, and lead a yearly yak caravan up the mountain to gather salt from a great salt lake, then venture down the mountain to the “grain land”, where they trade the salt for food and other goods with which to survive the winter. This movie is a fictionalization of one such journey, directed by a National Geographic photographer who’s lived in Nepal since 1983, and starring, by necessity and good fortune, Dolpa tribespeople playing characters very much like themselves. One character, an elder former chief, is played by an elder former chief.

That may help explain why performances they give are very rich and unaffected, although if you’ve ever tried to play yourself and make it look convincing on video, you’ll know that it is no mean feat. The woman who plays the mother of the young chief-to-be (the film was originally subtitled l’enfance d’un chef) is especially effective, with eyes that convey pages of dialogue in a glance. Even the yaks in this film exude personality.

The main attractions, however, are the incredible, often stark beauty of the landscape, shot like you’d expect a National Geographic photographer to shoot them, and the sheer disconnect between the world these people inhabit and the one we live in. Until a screw-cap bottle makes a brief appearance halfway through the movie, and in fact in its entirety otherwise, it could have been set any time in the last thousand years or so. I’m sure anything that would locate the story more in the present were intentionally removed from the film, but a survey of Flickr pictures tagged ‘Dolpa’ indicates it probably wasn’t a very hard job.

At one point, the child at the center of the film, who is heading down from the mountain village for the first time, asks his elder brother, a painter and monk, what he is drawing. “A tree”, he replies. The boy asks if he has ever seen one, and his brother, who has lived in the monastery since he was eight, replies, “no, but my master taught me how to draw it.”

That’s the kind of world they live in, and it is not the least of this movie’s accomplishments to afford us a rare, spectacular look into it.

Oh, and while I’m at it, Manohla Dargis can suck my nuts.  That bitch wouldn’t know a good movie if it bit her in the ass.

That one post

Wednesday, February 14th, 2007

Category: Pets and Animals

I was at Whole Foods earlier, buying dinner for tonight and lunch for tomorrow, on account of I decided I’m going to eat healthy for a while, and they had this blueberry cornbread. I bought it. I mean, cornbread with blueberries in? I never even heard of such a thing.

I just finished watching Rome. The whole series. It’s wholly worthy. It was co-created by John Milius, the he-man behind he-man flicks such as Conan the Barbarian and Red Dawn, and the coiner of such lines as “make my day,” “do you feel lucky,” and “I love the smell of napalm in the morning.” It couldn’t help but be good. It’s all stylish sex and violence, which is fitting, because the Romans were very much about sex and violence. And slavery. There’s rather a lot here of historical interest, as well, and the performances, largely by British actors, as this is a co-production with the BBC, are pitch-perfect. I don’t understand why it was so widely panned.

Work has been hella hectic lately. I rolled in at 9:45 today, ate a ten-minute lunch at my desk, and went back to work until 7:30. And it was firefighting the whole way.

I watched Jesus Camp last night. I don’t understand why everybody calls it all even-handed when it’s so clearly polemical. Still and all, though, it’s scary. These people? Scary. There’s this bit with Ted Haggard that is, in light of recent events, fucking hilarious. He comes off as kind of gay in it. It’s a decent documentary. If it’s Oscar-worthy, however, then it must have been a slow year for documentaries.

If you use Firefox (and you should), there’s this plugin you can get so that you can just hold down Alt and click on a word, and it’ll take you to the definition. I find it handy. I think I’m going to do a post that’s just about Firefox plugins.

If you read the Times, and you run Windows, you want to look into The Times Reader. It fits stories nicely on your page, in a multi-column layout (very nice for widescreen monitors) and has a good range of text sizes. It lets you print stories out 3-column style, which is very nice. It’s become my regular lunch time reading companion.

Fuck Valentine’s day.

It’s barley wine season. Sisyphus isn’t out yet, and neither is Old Gnarly Wine, but the 2007 Old Foghorn and Bigfoot brews can be found at any Central Market, Whip-in, Shop-n-Save, Whole Foods, or Sun Harvest near you. Central Market south and the HEB on Brodie also have Sierra Nevada IPA, not often seen in a bottle. It’s a very hoppy beer, but not nearly as hoppy as Dogfish Head 120 Minute IPA, although at 20% alcolhol, it gets a little harder to sort out the flavors.

I wish I had two dicks.

spambox action

Saturday, February 3rd, 2007

Category: Dreams and the Supernatural

How many times did you get unhappy after being shy to take off yourclothes in a romantic moment? 0be-sity does not only affect the way youlook and feel about yourself. It is also dangerous for your health,bringing plenty of health problems in a variety of spheres. And ofcourse feeling shy to take off your clothes on a beach or in bed withyour special one is so saddening.

code (geek)

Saturday, February 3rd, 2007

Category: Dreams and the Supernatural

Codes

I was reading this book Gödel Escher Bach, and a passing mention in the first chapter of how Gödel’s proof of his incompleteness theorem depended on encoding number theoretical statements as sequences of number, and was struck by the thought of how a concept which, only a hundred or two hundred years ago, occupied the greatest minds of their time, could find itself the plaything of an eight-year-old in the deepest darkest country woods of Texas.*

I’m talking about coding, the process of substituting one symbol with another. This process was not part of my initial experience with my first computer, because BASIC, the programming language it understood, did the simple coding required of the programs I wrote behind the scenes.

Pretty soon, however, I saw programs in 80 Micro that were written in “machine language”, the simple instructions that were natively understood by the computer’s microproccessor. The BASIC language I had written programs in before, for instance, was written in this machine language, and in turn provided a simpler and easier to use language for the computer’s user to write programs in.

Because computers only understand numbers, these machine language programs were just sequences of numbers themselves. And although the construction of these programs was an exercise in coding itself (since I had no “assembler” to do this encoding for me), one of the main issues I encountered in the course of writing these programs for myself is down to a simple fact: People don’t only communicate in numbers. In fact, most people regard numbers with a certain suspicion, as if they might at any moment attack and require the victim to multiply and divide and do other things with numbers that many people regard with dread.

So, in order to get computers to operate on letters and words, there must be a standard method for representing letters and words as numbers. My computer was set up so that there a set of memory locations, sort of buckets for numbers, such that for any number in one of the buckets, the computer’s hardware would convert to television signals, that, when displayed, formed a letter, number, or other symbol on the screen.

The coding by which the computer did this conversion is called ASCII (the American Standard Code for Information Interchange), and in modified form it persists in computers to this day. These very words that you are reading are stored in your computer’s memory as a series of numbers, according to these rules.

The rules are simple. Let us begin with a “string,” which is simply a series of symbols, such as letters, numbers, and punctuation, in a certain order. “DEADBEEF” is a string of eight letters, for example, and a sentence like “This is a string.” is a string as well.

ASCII divides a string into its constituent symbols, and then assigns a number from between 0 and 127 to each symbol. The uppercase letter “A”, for instance, is represented by the number 65; uppercase “B” is 66, and so on and so forth until the letter “Z” is assigned the number 90.

Because ASCII is designed to encode these symbols, or characters, for display, it must have different numbers for letters in different cases. Lowercase “a” begins at number 97; “b” is 98, and so on through “z”, which is assigned the number 121.

Because numbers must be displayed to the user in the same manner as text, there are also encodings for each of the decimal digits. “0″ is number 48, “1″ is 49, and so on through “9″, which is assigned number 57.

In combination with the specialized display hardware above, this encoding scheme allows us to display strings to the user. To write the string “This is a string.” on the screen, it is only necessary to store the number 84 (for “T”) in the memory bucket corresponding to the top left-hand position on the screen, and then 104 (for “h” in the next bucket to the right, then 105 (for “i”) to the right of that, then 115 (“s”) next, followed by 32 (which represents a space), and so on to the end of a string, where we store 46, which represents the period at the end of the sentence.

In this way, your computer communicates with you.

In a likewise fashion, every key you press on the keyboard stores an ASCII code for the key you pressed in a memory bucket, or location, which a computer program can later check.

Suppose you were writing a program to print out the total selling price of the user’s carrots, and requested from the user the number of carrots she had. You’re only dealing with whole carrots, and expect to get a whole number from the user.

But how do you verify that this is what the user typed? You can ask a user for any value you want, but you cannot trust the user to give you what you asked for. What if you asked for a number of carrots, and the user, in the grand tradition of lusers everywhere, typed “fifteen”?

When given a string of characters that the user has typed, such as “42″ or “eleventy-one”, it is difficult when thinking only of these characters to think of how to convey to the computer how to check to see if the string represents a number. However, by taking advantage of the encoding, this process becomes a lot simpler, and in fact this is among the simplest of computer programs to write. It all hinges on the definition of a whole number. For our purposes here, we’ll say that a whole number is represented by a string of characters, each of which is one of the digits from “0″ to “9″.

With the benefit of our standard coding, then, we can easily see that this is the same of saying that a whole number is a string of memory locations, each of which contains a number between 48 and 57.

All else we need to write this program is a variable, which is a memory location to which we have given a name. Once we have a name for this memory location, then we can read and write the values stored in it by name, and the program to determine whether a given string that the user has typed in becomes as simple as this:

1. Let the memory location we call IsANumber hold the number 1.

2. For each character in the string, check to see if the number in the corresponding memory location is smaller than 48 or larger than 57. If so, then store 0 in the memory location IsANumber.

3. If IsANumber is still 1 after checking all the characters, then the string is a whole number. If IsANumber is 0, then the string is not a whole number.

Any person with any training in computer programming can readily convert these instructions into a form a computer can understand, without the slightest need of any imagination, since we have already done the imaginitive work in designing the instructions.

As a final example, consider a program which takes some arbitrary string, such as “i am not shouting!” and converts all the letters in it to uppercase. In contrast to the three steps of the program above, this one is even simpler:

For each character in the string, check to see if the number in the corresponding memory location is higher than 97 (“a”), but lower than 121 (“z”). If so, then subtract 32 (which is “a”-”A”, or 97-65) and write the new number back to the memory location.

Following this process will convert “i am not shouting!” to “I AM NOT SHOUTING!”.

The computer you’re using right now runs these tiny little programs, or equally simple tiny programs, billions of times per second. The accumulative effect of all these tiny computations is the sum total of your computing experience.

That’s what I find fascinating about computers: that these tiny, simple building blocks, carefully assembled in their thousands and millions and billions, can enable such fascinating behavior as playing music or allowing lonely, lonely men to send dick pictures to women who post on Craigslist**.

*—i.e., me.

**—i.e., not me. I charge for my dick pictures.