Glenn's Junk Chest

An assortment of Glenn's writings, photography, gaming resources, flash movies, and other creative output.

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Family: Bragging about Liana and the Girls

Liana, Ivy, and Rose
It occurs to me that I haven't yet put up a photo of my family, so here they are. This is Liana, my lovely wife, and my two little girls, Rose on the left and Ivy on the right. I'm extremely proud of them all.

Liana is almost exactly my age, and we've been together for 8 years and married for 6. She's got a Masters in cellular and molecular biology, and for the most part, shares many of my interests. She's been doing a great job of the stay-at-home mom, but to help out with family finances, she's recently taken a job working at a gaming warehouse. There may be an employee discount on gaming products involved.

Ivy is five, and currently attending kindergarten, and enjoying it immensely. School has taught her a lot about reading, she now brings home a short book everyday, and while they are very easy and pattern-based, I think she's doing great. At the risk of violating Scholastic's 2000 copyright egregiously, here is the entire text of a book, titled Kevin, that she brought home today and read to her mommy and sister.

"Kevin likes kites. Kevin likes kittens. Kevin likes koalas. Kevin likes kangaroos. Kevin likes ketchup. Kevin likes kites and kittens. Kevin likes many things."

I'm also extremely proud of her math ability. She can add almost any two small numbers all by herself, and I've recently taught her some basic multiplication. All on her own she brought me a piece of paper on which she'd written "4x4=16", and said "Daddy, look what I did!" It was a really satisfying moment.

Rose is three, and is a total chatterbox. She really likes Spider-Man, and is currently "very angry" because we didn't take her to see Spider-Man II in the theater. Now that it's out on DVD (today, I think), we'll probably pick it up as a holiday gift. It is hard, as of yet, to brag about anything other than her language skills and personality, but they're both remarkable, so that's probably OK.

Today I asked the girls what they wanted for dinner, and I gave them three choices, pizza, chicken, or spaghetti. I always find it's better to offer choices rather than simply ask, because if I just ask they'll take forever to decide, and then pick something they have all the time that I can't make.

Whenever I do this, Ivy picks the most meaty thing, and Rose picks the most carby thing. Ivy wanted chicken, Rose wanted spaghetti. I said we couldn't do both, and asked if there was any way they could compromise, saying that if they couldn't, I would have to flip a coin. Ivy thought about it for a bit, and we talked about it, and she said "Maybe we could have some meatballs." So, the kids had spaghetti and meatballs, and I got to feel proud.

Sunday, November 28, 2004

Web: Bookmarklets

There's always some technology for the web or web-browsers that I haven't seen before, and this week it's bookmarklets. Bookmarklets are little in-line javascript programs that execute when you choose them from your bookmarks menu or bookmarks bar. (Or favorites, if you're an Internet Explorer user.)

My goal was to find a way where, when given an URL like:
I could easily get to:
without there being a link on the page and without having to hand-edit the URL.

Bookmarklets allow this. Basically, I wrote two little scripts that pick up the current web page's URL, scan backwards through it until they find a number and then either increases or decreases that number, and loads the resulting page. When you put them on the bookmark bar, it's like having two little extra controls that do exactly what I wanted. Since this probably has no useful number in its URL, you may want to make them bookmarks before you try them. If that sounds like too much trouble, try the "Show Images" bookmarklet, which should show every image on this page in a column.

Here's the one to Increase the current URL.
Here's the one to Decrease the current URL.

In many browsers, you can simply drag the above two links to your bookmark bar. Here are some more that I really liked, written by others. Some of these won't work fully unless you use them from a bookmark.

Look Up currently selected text at
Check Freshness of the current web page.
Translate Page with Google's translation service.
Translate Page with Babelfish.
Show Images on the current page in a column.
Open Images directly linked to by current page.

Saturday, November 27, 2004

Copyright: Anne McCaffrey and Fan Works

I note with approval that Anne McCaffrey has finally relaxed her draconian restrictions on fan art and fan fiction. I'm not a huge participant in the fan fiction scene, but I do occassionally stop by Elfwood, and it always disturbed me that they had to have a special section in their rules just to deal with Anne's lawyers.

In general, I feel that fan fiction ought to be protected by fair use, but I don't think most legal authorities consider it to be. (I don't know to what extent this has been legally tested). Because of this, it's always fallen to content owners to be nice to their fans in this regard, and it always seemed to me a shame that an author whose work I admired kept cropping up as one of the bad guys.

Older Paperback Cover
Anne McCaffrey, in fact, has written my two favorite books in the whole wide world, Dragonsong and Dragonsinger, collectively the story of a young female musician in a world where the musical profession has historically been reserved for men. If I ever want to guarantee that I will feel better after reading a book than I feel before I started it, this is the book I pick up. If you haven't had the pleasure, seek them out. (I really prefer the original Bantam paperback cover illustrations by Elizabeth Malczynski to the ones currently available, however. I'd say try to find used copies with the old cover art.)

Friday, November 26, 2004

Gaming: Spike's Journal Updated

I've written a new entry for Spike's Journal. Enjoy!

(I'll guess I'll have to draw and scan some more art for it, since with this entry I've pushed the last of the artwork off the main page into the archives.)

Thursday, November 25, 2004

Poetry: Rose's Cheer Up Song

Put your arms up in the air,
    Then put them down by your sides.
Put your hands on your head,
    Then put 'em over your eyes!

I'm a little girl,
    And I'm not crying.
They asked me to be good,
    And I'm really trying.

Video Games: Grand Theft Auto

...without the context, that game is “having sex with hookers and killing them” in the same way that “Romeo and Juliet” is just a call for teen suicide.
-- David Thomas,

Every year, there's a list published of video games that someone like the Interfaith Center for Corporate Responsibility considers too violent. They insist this list is important because games are mismarketed, misrated, sold to children despite being rated "M", and generally a bane to civilization as a whole. Questioning how they arrived at the list reveals that they haven't actually played them and that their real motivation is to see all of these games removed from retail shelves and relegated to the tawdry obscurity of porn-like adult-only outlets, regardless of other factors. I scoff at the list, and find the organization's motivations questionable, if not downright repressive, and thus offensive.

CJ and Ryder
Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, however, is an interesting case. It's the newest title in the GTA lineup, and of all the games I own, it's the only one I restrict myself to playing after the kids are in bed. One doesn't have to look very far to see the merits of this policy. It's violent, and encourages disrespect of rule of law. In its attempt to depict urban culture, it's characters unquestionably reveal racism and sexism. The language used by the characters is so profane that I cringe to think of my children hearing it, much less repeating it.

It's also prurient entertainment, giving the player a vicarious thrill by allowing them to do wrong with little or no boundaries. This is the main source of appeal to the game, the ultimate empowerment that makes the game feel so compelling. When you first sit down with it, you feel like you can do anything. Unfortunately, those social and legal boundaries are important for children to learn, and the false sense of security they provide is important for children to feel safe. (For example, they're the only thing that keeps people from entering your house when you're not there. The physical barriers are laughably easy to bypass. Heck, my house has hollowcore wooden front door, no deadbolt, and a picture window in front.)

In short, the game sets a poor example.

Immersive Environments
On the other hand, it does contain a lot of extremelly interesting social commentary, even social satire. It offers a glimpse of the future of computer simulation, creating a rich gameworld where you can go almost anywhere, do almost anything, in essence interact with a fantasy environment and lead a fantasy life, at least for a few hours at a stretch. It's extremely satisfying in that sense.

The protagonist is an African American, and the depictions of racism and sexism in the game make the experience seem more real, and thus the immersion in the fantasy more complete. Something about the interactive nature of the game makes this disturbing, but I can't quite put my finger on why it's ethically distinguishable from, say, reading a book with an urban African American protagonist. Furthermore, since the game is designed for you to empathsize with that protagonist, I'm not sure what the net impact of the title is on the worldview of the player.

I guess for grownups, I'd say the game is probably a guilty pleasure without too much evil attached. For kids whose worldview is still in formation, I'd say keep them far, far away.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Fun: Cool Car Advertisement

Car Robots Rule!
One of the things I really like about the internet is how you can get cool clips of this or that nifty advertisement that you never happen to see on TV, or can't see because it airs elsewhere in the world. This one for the Citroën C4 is breathtakingly cool in that "Gee, I wish it were real" kind of way. Trust me.

(Found courtesy of No-sword, a fascinating blog by an interesting schoolteacher in Japan.)

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Music: Tunes in the Blogosphere

I consider my tastes in music quite eclectic. I like a lot of stuff, and in the past few days I've been to some great new stuff courtesy of people's blogs. Firstly, Ober Dicta, my friend Seth's blog, has been linking to a great amount of music, including two humorous ballads from the point of view of evil masterminds. ("Skullcrusher Mountain" is the better of the two, I think.)

In addition, Claudia Jane recently posted a very flattering link to Glenn's Junk Chest, and I decided to dig a little bit more into her blog and ended up listening to song samples from her CD, Identity Crisis. Some really good stuff there, I especially like "Top Step".

The most interesting thing about this for me is that this is really a pretty big shift in how I find and listen to music. Historically, I listened to the radio, and occasionally bought a CD. While that still happens, more and more I listen to the radio when I'm in my car, and when I feel like listening to something I select, it's often something weird that I stumbled across on the web, like MC Frontalot. His song "Which MC was that?" gives me such a feeling of pure joy when I listen to it that I'll stack it up against anything mainstream.
yo the moniker is MC Frontalot
I got a +1 bag of nerdcore hiphop
and my mail list busted a hundred so I'm famous
it's unbelievable nobody know what my name is
The other nice thing is that a lot of this stuff isn't afraid to get funny, political, or serious, which is something that always seems gimicky on the radio, but seems more genuine here. A lot of Claudia's songs are about fairly serious topics, and Frontalot gets unabashedly socio-political with songs about the war in Iraq, marijuana, and homosexual tolerance. Check them out.

Politics: The President Takes Action

While I was on my vacation Saturday, the President was attending a diplomatic function, and one of his secret service agents became embroiled in a fracas. It seems that the security around the function wasn't going to let them in, and the secret service agent, understandably enough, was insistent that he remain by the President. It was, by CNN's account, starting to turn a little ugly.

The President, heedless of any potential dangers, took direct action. He reached into the fray, grabbed his bodyguard, irritatedly dragged him free, and then headed inside for dinner, secret service agent in tow. After reading this account, I thought to myself, "I can admire that. The Prez said to himself, 'this is bullshit', and solved the problem in a forthright fashion."

Reflecting on it some more, I still think it shows an admirable quality, but I think it also shows why he makes such a dangerous Commander-in-Chief. Heedless direct action is not the friend of diplomacy, and it seems to be the President's answer to questions both large and small.

Friday, November 19, 2004

Politics: The National Debt

The country will now reap what its electorate has sown. People have probably been curious what would come of Bush's famous post-election announcement that he planned to "spend political capital". Well, be curious no longer, what he meant was that he was ready to spend our children's actual capital.

That's right, it's time for us to let the shameful national debt go up again. The Republican-controlled Congress just passed the required bill. This CNN article lays it out in detail, and has some fairly matter-of-fact analysis of what's going on. This is the vote that the Republicans delayed to have fall after the election, so that the Democrats could not use it against the incumbent. The vote split almost entirely along party lines.

Of course, even if Kerry had won the election, the debt cap would still need to be raised today, because it represents the mismanagement of the past year or two, and he wouldn't even be President yet. But, if history is any indication, four more years of Bush mean that the debt will go up another trillion or three.

But wait, you say, the debt has gone up every year for decades, the Democrats are no better than the Republicans! While it is true the debt has gone up, this is misleading. The problem is, our economy is huge, the debt has a lot of upward momentum, and people who are the benificiaries of it put out a lot of pressure to keep the money coming. If you look at this graph you can see that after 6 or so years of Clinton, the debt was starting to level off. (You can also see the immediate impact of W. Bush's 1st term, as the levelling off ceases immediately and the debt begins skyrocketing again.)

However, the Clinton years are still yet better than this suggests, because once inflation is taken into account, it's clear that the debt was starting to go down. (Scroll down to the blue graph). Then take a look at this graph, which compares the debt to the Gross Domestic Product.

As many people have despaired of late, this is what we get from the party that touts fiscal responsibility? I shake my head in fear and wonder, and seek solace in Schoolhouse Rock.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Dining: Bring on the Heat!

Well, I've been enjoying a surge of interest (read: obsession) with spicy food. There's certainly some element of machismo in the whole thing, but mostly I just think it makes the food taste terrific.

The well-publicized reason for this, of course, is that the pain sensations trigger an endorphin release. Like other things like this, this has addictive qualities. Fortunately, it's an addiction that might actually have positive effects.

After a recent trip to the Mt. Horeb Mustard Museum, I acquired two lovely high-heat hot sauces, Dave's Insanity Sauce and Da' Bomb: Beyond Insanity. At 80,000 and 120,000 Scoville units, a single drop of either is enough to make a bowl of chili too hot for most people I know to eat. (Heck, a single drop might be enough to make a whole pot of chili too hot for a lot of people to eat. That's awesome!)

Now that they're in my possession, I'm trying to lure others (you?) to the dark side. While searching around for some information on peppers for a coworker, I stumbled across a collection of stories of spicy stuff gone awry. Everybody has such a story, sure, but some of these are pretty funny, and I decided to share.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Politics: The 2004 Exit Poll Discrepancy

Note: This posting has had some significant updates appended to it.

All over the world, when democracy is put to the test in an election, one of the ways to verify that the election is fair is with exit polls. Exit polls aren't meant to replace voting, but help to support its legitimacy. As you probably know by know, there are troubling discrepancies between the exit polls and the actual vote results in our last election.

What's troubling is not that there are discrepancies. That is to be expected. What is troubling is the exact nature of the differential, and the seeming lack of official response to its existence.

What is somewhat troubling is that the discrepancies are large in the battleground states, and small in the non-battleground states. And not a small difference, in many non-battleground states, the exit polls are off the final results by less than a single percentage point, in some battleground states, the exit polls are off by almost 10%. This suggests that something unknown and unprecendented is happening. Since all of the battleground state discrepencies favor President Bush, the blogosphere is running rampant with cries of "fraud". I'm not ready to make that claim yet, however...

What is very very troubling is that this isn't getting the official or journalistic attention it seems to deserve. These numbers are way off base, and the explanations put forth so far don't seem to hold water. I remain hopeful that a full investigation will be conducted, and that a real explanation will come forth, but until then, I'm am not at all surprised that there are those who question the legitimacy of the election results. In other countries, exit polls discrepancies of this sort have been cause for the U.S. to so strongly question the validity of the election results that we have pressured the winner of the election to step down.

We need to demand, if we want to keep our democracy, that this be investigated and satisfactorily explained.

For more detail, here is an excellent paper on the subject, by Dr. Steven Freeman, which covers the data I have cited above in more detail.

Update: The situation is worse than I thought. One by one, the results of the election in each state are going to be certified. As soon as that happens, the computer memories will be cleared and the paper records of the votes and ballots will be destroyed. In many states, this will start happening as soon as tomorrow. While there are people asking for a recount, there are in many cases large mandatory filing fees.

So, in what I consider a truly bizarre turn of events, if you're as concerned about the integrity of our elections as I am, I suggest you contribute some money to the Green Party's presidential campaign, now that it is over. The Green Party and the Libretarian Party have joined together to ask for recounts, starting in Ohio, since the Democratic campaign seems unwilling to do so.

Update #2: The first official overturning of results due to faulty electronic voting machines has occured. Apparentlly anyone in this Indiana county who voted a straight Democratic ticket got all their votes cast for the Libretarian candidates instead. I'm wondering what will happen if it's found that this is a nation-wide problem, because this might well be the glitch that accounts for the exit poll differential.

Sunday, November 14, 2004

Family: 6th Anniversary Poem

My Perfect Nerd Wife

It's been said, by many a man,
    That women are not quite the same,
They show different moods,
They like different things,
    And sometimes it seems like a shame.

But I know, each day of my life,
    That I'm the world's luckiest guy,
For I have a wife,
A wonderful wife,
    And mostly we see eye to eye.

For every day we spend together,
    We do things we
both think are fun.
She hangs out at cons,
Owns two sets of dice,
    She even likes movies with guns.

There are many games I wish to play,
    Sitting next to the girl I adore.
She plays them with me,
And each passing year,
    I find I enjoy her company more.

Saturday, November 13, 2004

Toys: Wooden Blocks

If you have kids, and don't yet have a really good set of wooden unit blocks, well, check Barclay Blocks out. They seem to have some really nice block sets, including some that are breathtaking in scope. In addition, they seem to have a genuine love for blocks, with pictures of finished block sculptures and buildings for those that need a little inspiration, and unit blocks that you can buy ala carte to complement your existing set.

A few years ago, I acquired a very nice set of wooden blocks from PlanToys, and while they still have some nice unit blocks for sale, they really seem to focus more on colorful wooden toys nowadays.

Friday, November 12, 2004

Dining: Whither Big Bowl?

The Big Bowl Asian Kitchen at Greenway Station is closed, and the big red bowl that sat above the entrance is gone. Anyone know why they closed? When I was there they always seemed to be doing quite well. (My internet searches find only that as recently as Sept 22, they were still looking to hire staff.) Update: It looks like Bill has found the answer, which is that the corporate parent needed to sell it off for its own reasons. See comments for more.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Politics: Beware Systemic Disenfranchisement

My wife referred me to this story about a South Carolina county that wants to ban profanity in schools. And I'll confess, it fills me wtih some concern.

I'll freely admit that I'm against restricting people's free expression across the board, and I'm, generally speaking, in favor of greater rights for children. So I'm probably predisposed to finding fault. On the other hand, I myself am not a big fan of profanity, and certainly understand a desire to keep it out of schools. I have three concerns here, really.

First, it seems like the policy is a little harsh, and poorly defined. That's a bad combination, because it opens the door wide to abuse. Since the punishment (suspension) is so harsh, there's going to be a lot of temptation to spare well-liked kids for infractions, and a lot less pressure to spare those the teachers are not so fond of. Their refusal to even specify what words are banned, or grounds for suspension, seems like they are gearing up for selective enforcement. Our nation, and its schools, have enough of that already.

More troubling for me however, is the specter of systemic disenfranchisement. A little bit of research has shown me that Greenville, S.C., is a place where racial divisions run deep. It's one of only two counties in S.C. that doesn't honor MLK jr day. It is home to Bob Jones University, apparently the only non-tax-exempt University in the country. It has this unique status because the IRS considers their policies to be discriminatory. For instance, it had a policy againt interracial dating that held until 2000. The KKK appears to be still be active in South Carolina. More than 30% of Greenville's population is african-american.

Here's my question. Speaking culturally, are the non-white students of Greenville, S.C. more likely to swear than the white students. If so, we have a problem, because even if there's no selective enforcement of the anti-profanity rules, they've created a situation where they're going to be denying more non-white students their education for no other reason than that they, by habit, culture, or inclination, speak differently. That's called systemic disenfranchisement, and is one of the biggest problems facing our country today. (A lot of people believe that it is the reason that Bush won the 2004 election.)

But what really really concerns me, is that in researching this story, I've found that nobody seems to have raised any concerns about either of these issues. Sadly, nobody seems to have raised any concerns about the plan at all, other than a very half-hearted "I think existing policies against profanity are adequate already." It seems like nobody is giving any thought to possible negative consequences of this plan, caught up in a probably foolish hope that they can somehow get children to stop swearing.

Movies: The Incredibles

You don't have to look very far on the net to find some blogger lavishing praise on The Incredibles, Pixar's latest masterpiece. Suffice it to say that it is grand, and you should go see it.

I have two things I'd like to say about it. The first is that, for many years now, I feel the superhero genre has been at its best when it's eyed from a deconstructionist perspective. This screenplay definitely doesn't forget that, and it's one of the things that makes it great. The second is that this may well now be the Best Superhero Movie. I expected to enjoy it, but it's better than that. I'll have to see it again a few times to be sure it wears well, but it digs into the whole superhero thing with a vengeance, yet still takes time to revel in the wild impossible action potential that the superhero genre allows.

Oh, and Rose really, really liked it. She wants to go "really fast" like Dash.

Blog: Search Engine Woes

Well, as has been publicized elsewhere, Google just did a big reindexing of the web, and they spidered my blog and got it in there, so searches now have a chance to find me. That's good.

Today I got my first ever search engine hit on the blog. That's also good.

It was, of course, for a misspelling. They were searching for information about "Luther's Blues" and spelled it as "Luthor's Blues" instead, which is, of course, how I had misspelled it in my restaurant review of Crescent City.

That's embarrassing. Ah well.

Work: MediaLandscape in Action

My company Clotho Advanced Media, Inc. has been working for several months on a product line named MediaLandscape. The first fruit of that labor is a beta software package that converts a presentation recorded with a MediaSite box into a Flash movie presentation.

Some presentations recorded at the recent Educause conference have been converted using the beta of the tool and are now available on the web to look at. It's very exciting for my company.

            Converted Presentation #1

            Converted Presentation #2

This obviously requires that you have a video-supporting version of Flash installed in your browser. Once the presentation is loaded, try clicking the "thumbnails" tab on the right, and you should get to see thumbnails of all the slides in the presentation, and can jump to that point in the presentation by clicking on the little arrows.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Photos: Crescent City Grill 4th Anniversary

My favorite restaurant had a 4th anniversary dinner last night, and Liana and I had reservations. For the dinner, they got a lot of the chefs from Madison-area restaurants to come and each make a dish, for an eight-course meal. In addition to eight courses of truly delicious food, they also had a paired wine for each course, an amuse-bouche, and three Intermezzos. It took almost 4 hours for the whole meal to be served, and I think everybody had a great time.

Nate Herndon, the executive chef, asked me to take some photos, so I took quite a few more than I normally would have for my own purposes. I'm giving him a CD full of them, and it's possible that they'll pop up elsewhere as a result of that, but here are six I like for my blog.

Yum! Because I wasn't really geared up for full-on studio work, all the photos are taken available light at 1600 ISO, which means that they are a little grainy, but it certainly gives the "dark restaurant" feel to them.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Dining: Whither Chi-Chi's?

Bill noticed that I mentioned off-handedly that Chi-Chi's had closed in my last post, and asked when. The answer is very recently, during October, I think.

The long version is that the restaurant chain has been in slow decline for a decade. After several attempts to revitalize their menu, and to switch to a more lunch-centric offering, with an express lunch bar, they sort of settled into a maintenance pattern of adequate food and a moderately lively bar.

Alas, reliance on cheaper and cheaper ingredients to maintain their bottom line was probably their undoing. They got a shipment of green onions from Mexico, and it was contaminated. The story made the national news, because 600 people got sick with Hepatitis A, and 3 died.

After that, the restaurant limped on for a year, losing about 1/4 of its restaurants nationwide, but I think the brand had become indelibly linked with low-quality food in people's minds. I went there twice during this period, and while the food was still about the same, there simply weren't any people there.

Finally, a few months ago, all 76 remaining restaurants were sold to Outback Steakhouse. A few weeks ago, they all ceased operations. Outback apparently bought only the buildings and properties, not the brand or any of the menu items, and plans to either sell them or convert them to restaurants under the Outback Umbrella. (Outback Steakhouse, Fleming's Prime Steakhouse and Wine Bars, Bonefish Grill, Carrabba's Italian Grill, Roy's Hawaiian Fusion Cuisine, and Cheeseburger in Paradise)

Here's the best news story on it I could find. I'm mostly going to miss the one on the west side because that's where I met my wife, culinarily, it has been supplanted by other restaurants for some time.

In Madison, Pedro's is the obvious choice for people looking for something with about the same feel, but I feel like I should put in good words for La Hacienda on Park Street and Laredo's near West Gate, which have a slightly less corporate style.

Monday, November 08, 2004

Family: How I met my wife.

Note: This is old content that was on my old website, long since abandoned. However, now that I've started a blog, it seemed like I should rescue some of this content before it became forever lost. I've edited it slightly, and added a recent picture.

How We Met

Well, while it might be fun to say that we met on the internet, that's not exactly how it happened. In truth, we were frequent visitors to an IRC channel named "truthdare". On truthdare, the idea was that people played a never-ending game of Truth or Dare. It's good, not-so-clean, fun.

Liana and I in formal dress when we met.
Us Then
Anyway, one day while I was on channel, a truthdare acquaintance of mine named Kathy (IRC nickname "Aure") mentioned that she was coming to Madison. Always eager to meet people in real life that I've met online, I suggested that we get together, seeing as she was going to be in the neighborhood.

Well, she came up to town, and we were going to rendevous at Chi-Chi's, a mexican restaurant, (now closed, alas) and she called to let me know that she would be bringing along another friend who lived in Madison, named Liana. I met them at the restaurant, we had a lovely dinner, chatted about IRC, and it turned out that Liana was a regular on truthdare (IRC nickname "TKDBabe"), but we had never happened to cross paths because of different schedules.

We said goodnight, and they gave me a ride home in the back of Kathy's dad's van, which was full of condoms and sex toys, believe it or not. So ended my first meeting with my future wife.

Disappointed that more romantic sparks didn't fly? Well, they might have, except for the fact that I was in a long-distance relationship with someone else at the time, so I dutifully restrained any impulses I might have had in that direction.

The Second Meeting

animated Mr. X logo
My Old Logo
Well, one night not long after that, I was online (nickname "Mister_X"), and saw that Liana was there. I don't remember why I was looking to do something fun, but I must have been, so I asked her if she'd like to get together for dinner, and she accepted.

I was still involved with this other woman, and Liana knew it, so while we had a good time, it's possible there was a bit of unrelieved tension in the air. We went to the Olive Garden restaurant, had a nice dinner, went back to my place and spent some time online doing this and that, mostly websurfing and IRC. Eventually we got tired, and she went home.

There are two notable things about this second meeting. One, at some point in the evening our legs touched each other while we were using the computer. Both of us remember that, so it must have been important. Two, my apartment was absolutely filthy. I hadn't cleaned it in months, it looked like I'd just thrown everything I owned loose on the floor, and the laundry situation doesn't even bear thinking about. Why it didn't scare her off right then, I'll never know.

The First Date?

Liana sitting in the sun recently.
Liana Now
I don't think we knew this was going to be a date until after it already was. But right from the outset, one important thing had changed. My long distance relationship had come to a abrupt, and apparently irrevocable, termination. Liana called me up to ask me if I'd be willing to come over to her house and help her move her window-mounted air conditioner to the basement for the winter, as it was letting in a draft. I agreed in exchange for dinner.

The appointed hour came, and I went over to her place, and with no small effort, moved the accursedly heavy thing. Dutifully impressed with my prowess, Liana took me to Tumbleweed steakhouse for the promised reward. We had a good time, and this time, commisserated about failed relationships, went back to her place, where we watched movies, played with her computer, and then fooled around. *grin* Within a few weeks, we were together all the time, and I formally moved in with her a few months later. The rest is history!

Friday, November 05, 2004

Dining: Favorite Five Madison Restaurants

For some time, I've been wanting to write some reviews of some of Madison's restaurants, and I figured I'd start out with reviews of my five favorites.

1. Crescent City
Rating: Amazing
Type of Service: Dine-in
Price: High to Very High
Favorite: 5-course chef's tasting.

Crescent City has been my favorite restaurant for some time now, and my wife and I go there often. While there are many excellent menu items, I almost never even look at them, opting instead to order one of the excellent chef's tastings, where the chef selects an array of dishes for you. With the 5-course, this is usually two appetizer courses, a fish course, a meat course, and finally a dessert. As a really classy restaurant, they're typically accomodating of special requests, but if you want to specify everything about your meal, don't order the tasting.

The reason this is my favorite restaurant, however, may not be the excellent food. The place is set up in the basement of Luther's Blues on University Avenue, with a long bar running the length, behind which is the kitchen. If you're going as a couple, definitely try to sit at the grill bar, as you can watch your food being prepared and ask the friendly chefs about what they're doing. When the person who actually cooked your food sets it in front of you and tells you what it is in detail, it enhances the entire dining experience.

If you're ordering a specific dish rather than a tasting, I think that the fowl and lamb dishes are better than the beef dishes, which sometimes seem a bit bland. Most weekday evenings, you can walk in without a reservation, but it's worth getting one if you can, and you often will need one if you want to sit at the grill bar. Occassionally they have special dining events, and these usually require a reservation. Parking in this region can be something a problem if there's an event, but there are some nearby UW parking lots that work well most of the time.

If you stop by, tell them Glenn and Liana sent you.

Update: Sadly, after a short drama early this year involving the building ownership, Crescent City closed. The head chef, Nate, has moved to the Blue Marlin, which is another excellent restaurant, but does not (sadly) have an open kitchen. As mentioned in the comments below, another excellent option would be Muramotos, which has a sort of sushi-style bar you can sit at to watch your food being prepared. It's got a lot more of a Japanese spin of course, but it's excellent. I'll have to do another set of restaurant reviews in the near future.

2. Lao Laan-Xang
Rating: Amazing
Type of Service: Dine-in or Carry-out
Price: Moderate
Favorite: Lunch Special #1

I think this tiny hole-in-the-wall restaurant on Williamson street is the best asian food in Madison. It's not particularly fancy on the inside, and it's so small (only 7 or 8 tables) that if you want to go during peak hours you should expect to either get take-out or wait. But the food pays for all. I typically come for lunch, and have tried just about every one of the lunch items, and every single one of them has been astounding.

The cuisine is Laotian, which is a little like Thai. It can be very spicy, but as is common in Thai restaurants these days, you specify the desired level of spicyness for each dish on a scale: timid, careful, adventurous, or native lao. I'm a notorious spicy-food person, and I usually get the "careful", which is plenty spicy. If you're not into spicy food, I recommend you order off the bottom of the scale and get your food with no spice, or half-of-timid. I occassionally order my food "adventurous", and I'm always surprised at just how hot that is.

The food has a little variance from week to week, possibly from having different cooks in the kitchen on different days, but I usually find this adds to the experience rather than detracting from it. It does mean, however, that if you're really enjoying your food, you should savor it, for you may never get it exactly the same way again. In addition, like most restaurants of this type, vegetarians are easily accomodated with a lot of good options.

3. Wasabi
Rating: Great
Type of Service: Dine-in or Carry-out
Price: Moderate to High
Favorite: Spicy Scallop Roll

I love Japanese food, especially sushi, and Wasabi is nothing short of astounding for a sushi restaurant in the midwest. Perched above State, it's very popular, and often quite busy. The food is all good, but the sushi defintely takes a deserved center stage here. I've had sushi in many places, including Japan, Hawaii, and Florida, and Wasabi's sushi compares very favorably, which is quite a feat. About the only shortcoming is that, since everything needs to be frozen and shipped, the selection isn't quite as broad as near the ocean.

The non-sushi options on the menu are also quite good, and some, like the bento box meal, are excellent, and have a uniquely Japanese feel, but one gets the feeling that these items are mostly here to give non-sushi-eaters something to eat while their sushi-loving friends chow down. Liana compels me to mention, however, that the agedashi tofu appetizer is the best we've had anywhere. In addition, this place is not very good for strict vegetarians, as they use fish flavorings in their sushi rice.

4. Chautara
Glenn's Rating: Amazing
Type of Service: Dine-in
Price: High
Favorite: Curried Goat

This Tibetan/Nepalese restaurant is really a treasure. Sitting on State Street, it has a small lower level and a considerably larger upstairs. The atmosphere is especially nice for dinner, with low lighting and pleasant warm wood tones. The food, which resembles Indian cuisine, is typically very rich, and the menu has a lot of depth. I recommend paying especial attention to the appetizers, which are all excellent.

While there are plenty of meat-based dishes, there are also many top-notch vegetarian dishes available. I've always found the waitstaff to be very helpful in selecting suitable dishes for those who are unsure how to navigate the extensive menu. Chautara is probably not a good choice if you're on a schedule or in a hurry, as I've found that service can be a bit slow sometimes.

5. North American Rotisserie
Glenn's Rating: Great
Type of Service: Carry-out
Price: Low
Favorite: Spicy Puerto Rican Beans.

This restaurant used to be on Fish Hatchery road, and then it closed, and for a year, it was gone. I was devestated. I had come to rely upon it for quick, inexpensive, and delicious food. In fact, given the choice between this and a trip to a fast-food restaurant, it was often hared to find any reason not to eat here.

Fortunately, a few months ago, they reopened on Monroe Street near Camp Randall stadium, and their food and service seems unchanged, perhaps even improved. It's a friendly family-owned and run operation, and the specialty is rotisserie chicken. However, they also have fried chicken for those who favor that, and the sides, derived from various North American regions, are mostly excellent. I personally favor the Puerto Rican rice, Mexican refried beans, San Juan latin corn, and the Sweet potato fries.

But, I have to take time out here to mention the Spicy Puerto Rican Beans, which are the true reason this restaurant is in my favorite five, and are also the reason I was practically in withdrawl while they were closed. True to their origins, they are beans, in sauce, with chunks of ham, potato, and olives, all of which combine to give it a great flavor. However, unlike authentic Puerto Rican beans, these are screamingly spicy, which just makes them taste that much better. I literally can't get enough of them.

There are two other things about the restaurant that deserve special mention. First, since they can't use leftover fried chicken to make the soups and stews, they wrap it up and sell it cold the next day very inexpensively. In fact, you can get a really decent meal of cold fried chicken with a regular side for less than five dollars. Second, they have a special menu for Friday and Saturday nights, when they stay open very late to catch the bar crowd.

They had an official website, but it appears to be down. Update: I checked on 3/23/05, and the site was back up, with some pictures and a menu.

Well, that's it for now. Honorable Mentions to: Weary Traveller, New Orleans take-out, and Fitch's Chophouse. Hopefully I will write reviews for them at some point in the near future.

Click for information on my ratings and price info.

Politics: Courting the Religious Vote

Looking at how the results split the country, the Democrats are considering the obvious: increased pandering to the highly religious members of our society that cost them this election.

"I think that the Democratic party nationally is perceived as being out of step with mainstream values," said Rep. Earl Pomeroy, D-North Dakota. "I want our party to do a better job of speaking to matters of faith and family."

It's obvious, and from a perspective of increasing the power of the Dems, probably makes perfect sense, but it's hard for me as an athiest to get too excited about it. I definitely go left on economic issues, but that's never been the primary reason I favor the Democratic party. If the Democrats stop putting up resistance on the church/state front, I just see too many things that are going to go badly badly wrong.

An anti-gay-marriage amendment to the constitution would seem almost a certainty. Successful appointments of abortion-squelching judges are even more likely. More funds will be siphoned away from public school and, by vouchers or some other means, into private religious schools. More ill-conceived attempts to regulate speech on the internet loom large, as well as an increased mandate for the FCC to continue cracking down on indecency.

It's too early for me to draw any conclusions yet, but if the Democrats really chart this course, they may gain the vote of some of the religious heartland, but they may lose mine.

Gaming: Spike's Journal passes 1,000 visits.

While I've been getting this new blog underway, Spike's Journal has quietly passed 1,000 visits, so I thought I'd throw up a plug for it here.

Spike's Journal is a blog written from the perspective of one of my D&D characters, Spike Alleyspawn, who has found himself, with his companions, trapped in The World's Largest Dungeon. Spike is a fairly amoral sort, and many seem to find his somewhat skewed perceptions of events around him amusing. (He also periodically makes Ferengi-style rules to guide his conduct, and they and the stories behind them are pretty funny too.)

For those who've already read some of Spike's musings, I've added a new entry, and another should be following soon, since we game tonight, and I don't want to fall further behind in my journaling efforts.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Humor: The Bush Agenda

W. Bush as vampire, sucking blood from the neck of lady liberty.I always knew I liked Alex Ross. Obviously a nice piece like this takes too long to have done in reaction to the election. Apparently it was used by the Village Voice for an article in mid-October.

(Click the image to link to the full version on

I haven't yet decided on a ratio between content-linking (like this and the miscegenation post) and original material (like the photos and initial rant) yet. I guess for now I'm aiming for about a 50/50 split.

Photos: Smithsonian Contest-Natural World

There's a photography contest that Smithsonian Magazine is putting on, and I'm planning to enter. Here are the six photos I'm currently considering for the Natural World category. Alas, I can only pick one per category. (Click for big versions).

Any input welcome.