Glenn's Junk Chest

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

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Family: Liana Begins a Blog

Well, my current obsession with blogging apparently wasn't sufficiently terrifying to keep my wife away. I give you a valley, two vines, and a flower. I, at least, am looking forward to her future posts.

Cooking: Glenn's Jambalaya Chicken Soup

Warning: This recipe is still in beta. I was looking for a good way to prepare two dark chicken quarters using other ingredients lying around, so the other night I pioneered this, and it came out great. That said, the proportions below may still require some adjustment.

    • 1 1/2 cups (approx.) Zatarain's Jambalaya
            (cooked according to directions)
    • 2 dark chicken quarters
    • 8 cups water
    • 1 medium yellow onion, diced.
    • 2 tbs. extra virgin olive oil
    • 1 tsp. salt
    • 1/2 tsp. oregano
    • 1/2 tsp. basil
    • 1/2 tsp. thyme
    • 1/4 tsp. black pepper
    • 1 cup dried vegetables
    • 2 cups wide egg noodles
    • 1 tbs. corn starch.
    • 4 oz. can mushroom stems and pieces
    • habeñero pepper sauce (optional)

Prepare a package of Zatarain's Jambalaya according to the directions. (you don't need to add meat.)

Put the chicken in a pot, and add water, onion, olive oil, salt, oregano, basil, thyme, and pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and gently simmer, covered, for 1 hour. Remove chicken to a plate. Add the dried vegetables and continue simmering, uncovered, stirring occasionally.

While the vegetables are cooking, separate the meat from the chicken bones, remove and discard the skin, and cut the meat into small pieces. Add the meat back to the pot.

When the vegetables are becoming soft enough (about 15 minutes), add the noodles, and cook for about 10 minutes. Add the corn starch and mushrooms. Stir until corn starch is dissolved. Add rice a little bit at a time until desired consistency is reached. Cook for 5 more minutes. Salt and Pepper to taste, adding habeñero sauce if desired. Serves 4-6

    • I like using the Zatarain's because it's easy to make in my rice cooker and it's something I usually have around. That said, I imagine any prepared rice would work, including leftovers, and each different type of rice should give the dish a different "spin".
    • I buy bulk dried vegetables for soups, stews and sides at the Willy Street Co-Op. They include carrots, corn, red peppers, and other yummy vegetable bits I cannot currently name.
    • When I add the meat to the pot, I put the bones back in too, figuring that they're easy enough to fish out at the end.
    • As written, I think the recipe needs more salt, but I don't want to risk saying too much until I get a chance to try it again.
    • As always, if you're going to spice it up with Habeñero sauce, I recommend either Da' Bomb or Dave's Insanity Sauce. Remember not to add too much. I'd probably use a single drop for most audiences, but if everyone wants their food spicy, you could probably add 3 or 4 safely. The Jambalaya will add a little heat all on its own, so this is definitely optional.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Fun: Latigo Flint, Gunslinger

I was hitting random blogs, trying to figure out if there was a way to apply my own style sheet to the new Blogger comment system, (there doesn't seem to be) when I ran across the blog of Latigo Flint, the greatest quickdraw the world has ever known.

It recently occurred to Latigo Flint that one of these days he could be called out by some upstart quickdraw looking to make a name for himself - and as the challenger, it would be well within the rights of the little punk to stipulate that the combatants wear rollerblades.

Latigo Flint is the quickest quickdraw the world has ever known. He can slap thigh and shuck iron so fast that Aaron Copland would be inspired to compose again... from beyond the frickin' grave.

But Latigo Flint does not rollerblade. It had never even crossed Latigo Flint's mind to touch a rollerblade, much less strap it to his foot. And this is a potential weakness - Latigo Flint recognizes this with grim clarity. The quickdraw of yesteryear, beyond his prodigious skill with a firearm, needed only to ensure he possessed the supplementary skills of walking, running, crouching, squinting, horseback riding, spitting indifferently and moseying. We live in a very different era now - an era in which the specter of gunfight failure demands I learn to rollerblade.

I was debating the wisdom of including a link to it here, as some of the posts, perhaps, wander just a little over the funny-but-too-offensive line. But then I got to his field dressing post, and after laughing aloud for about 5 minutes, knew I had to share.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

TV: Heat Vision and Jack

Did you like Knight Rider? Do you like Doctor Who? Have you ever wondered what it would be like if those two shows were somehow combined into a freakish amalgamated send-up of 80's action television? Well wonder no more! Everybody's favorite everyman, Jack Black, stars in this never-aired pilot. It's directed by Ben Stiller, and features Owen Wilson as the voice of Jack's talking motorcycle. Not surprisingly, Fox decided to take a pass on this one, but it's very funny, and worth the download if you've got the means.

Liana and I just watched it and really enjoyed it. This sort of thing is always a bit bittersweet for me, because it's good enough that I'd like more, but there isn't any, and probably never will be. Well, at least I can look forward to watching blurry 5th generation videotaped copies of it at Sci-Fi conventions. Kudos to for hosting the Torrent.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to continue downloading an audio recording of The Last Starfighter, The Musical.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Movies: Hitchhiker's Guide Trailer

Marvin the Paranoid Android
Today the first real (non-teaser) trailer for the upcoming Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy was posted as an "exclusive" advertisement on the front page of Amazon. Unfortunately, it's a dinky little Flash version, and can't be downloaded. Here's a link to a much nicer (possibly unofficial) Quicktime version. Personally, I like the look of it, but I'm already seeing in forums that it doesn't make everyone happy. The film's scheduled to be in theaters on April 29th. update: Thanks to, I've updated the links to point to a higher quality version.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Books: Elizabeth Moon

Oath of Swords
Over the years, I've read a number of books that are based in D&D-like universes. In general, I find these acceptable, but rarely exceptional, because of their grounding in a stilted role-playing universe. In recent years, for example, I've found a great deal of enjoyment in David Weber's War God's Own books, but I hardly consider them to be pinnacles of the fantasy genre. (The link is to the free online version of the entire first book, thanks to the always wonderful Baen Free Library.)

My favorites by a wide margin, however, are Elizabeth Moon's trilogy about a female paladin, called The Deed of Paksenarrion. Elizabeth Moon is an ex-Marine, having joined in 1968, and she brings a great sense of versimilitude to all of the routine of Paks's enlistment in a mercenary company, and the lifestyle of drill and training. That realism grounds the books, and sustains the reader as the more fantastic elements of the story begin to creep in, eventually encompassing so many of the aspects of D&D that one can almost envision the race and character class of each and every participant in the story. Somehow, though, she does this without ever slipping into what I've come to think of as "Dragonlance Mode", and the result is a fairly gripping set of books that don't shy away from some fairly harsh realities of war and still deliver a fairly epic storyline. (In a side-note, I'll say that If a D20 sourcebook is ever released, I'm definitely going to buy it.)

Recently, I've begun re-reading them, and it occured to me to wonder if Elizabeth Moon was in fact a gamer. I stopped by the Amazon page for the book, and found an interesting comment.
The Deed of Paksenarrion does, in fact, have its roots in roleplaying, but not in the usual sense. Rather than being written either as a sort of record of someone's favorite character in a game, or as a publicity/demonstration piece for some gaming system or mechanic, Paksenarrion was born (according to an email exchange I had with the author) from bad roleplaying: Elizabeth Moon, not gaming herself, heard some people playing "Paladins" (Holy warriors in the service of a god) and doing so very poorly. Her reaction was of course that "such a person wouldn't ACT like that"... and in thinking about what they WOULD act like, Paksenarrion was born.
The Deed of Paksenarrion
Now, as most people who game with me are aware, I'm a big fan of playing paladins in roleplaying games, and in fact, when I play a paladin nowadays I usually try to model his behaviour on that of Paksenarrion, so I thought this was pretty funny. In fact, I thought it was interesting enough that I wanted to confirm it as fact. (Mostly so I could post about it here.)

So I took an unusal step, and started looking for interviews and essays by Elizabeth Moon. The reason that this constitutes an unusal step for me is that I consider it dangerous. Because I'm a very liberal atheist, I often find it hard to enjoy something as much when I learn that the talent behind it has a very conservative or religious mindset. What I knew about Elizabeth Moon was what was written in her bio on the back of the book. i.e. she was both a Texan and an ex-Marine. Under the circumstances, I had some trepidation about finding out things about her that might sully my enjoyment of one of my favorite fantasy trilogies.

I tracked down her set of pages at I'm still not sure that Ms. Moon and I would see eye-to-eye across the political spectrum, but it turns out that I really didn't need to worry that I'd take an instant dislike to her.
If George Bush had really been willing to serve his country in time of danger, many other avenues of service were wide open in the Sixties....So why didn't he? Why didn't this proponent of patriotism and responsibility and accountability and so on just walk into a recruiting office and say "Send me to 'Nam--I'm willing?" What kind of patriotism--what kind of courage--wants the uniform but not the risk? If even women were willing to serve in the military and risk being sent to Vietnam, what kind of man would choose to pretend he was serving, while not actually serving?

I don't know why. I cannot think of any valid, honest, honorable reason why someone would claim to support the war, and then by his own actions ensure that he himself was not at risk--and by those actions put others at risk.

George W. Bush claims that questioning the validity of his service in the Texas Air National Guard insults the men and women who have served there and been in combat. This is a disgusting perversion of the truth. It is he and other draft dodgers, with the connivance of Texas government (including the governor who wouldn't release the unit to the military and the individuals who jumped Bush over the waiting list to get him in) who sullied the honor of the National Guard here in Texas, and in other states where a politically-motivated governor allowed this injustice to occur. It is he and the others like him who insult and dishonor those who served honorably before and after this shameful period, those who actually put their lives on the line. Because of him and men like him, others were drafted into the service and sent into combat in their place.
But while that made me happy, her point-by-point analysis of the President's record as Commander-in-chief, from her perspective as military authority, made me chuckle aloud. (Heck, check out her interesting commentary on global warming too.)

After you've read all that, try out the Deed of Paksenarrion if you've never read it. (The link is to the first 20 chapters, which are available free online as a sample.) I bet you won't be disappointed.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Web: Inside Google Maps

First off, if you haven't checked out the beta of Google Maps yet, you really should. It's an amazing use of web technologies and provides the most satisfying map-browsing experience I've ever had on the web. It's still got a few rough edges, but even with them unresolved, I expect to be using Google Maps instead of any of the other internet map services. It's just that cool.

But how does it work? If I had implemented such a thing (and I've implemented some similar stuff) I'd have undoubtedly done it in Flash. I would've thought that the obvious other candidates would have been shockwave or Java. All of these provide a robust client-side application development platform on which to do this sort of thing. To be honest, I would've suspected that any technologies built into web-browsers, such as CSS, DHTML, and Javascript, would have been either inadequate to the task, too buggy, or too slow. Not so, it proves, and here (via as simple as possible, but no simpler) is a fairly high-level explanation of how it was done.

Family: Hear the Children Sing

Ivy Sings
Ivy's Kindergarten class (and some of the other kindergartners at her school) sang some songs last night at the a program the PTA put on in honor of African-American History Month. I'd been wanting to get some good video of the kids singing for a while now, so I began by taking this opportunity to shoot some footage of them warming up. We then headed over to the school, where I shot about 35 minutes worth of miscellaneous elementary school programming. However, I tend to find this sort of thing interminable, so I tried to edit it down to the bare essentials of the kindergartner's portion. The result is about 5 minutes of video, which I offer for your enjoyment.

Note:If for some reason the Quicktime video link isn't working, you could try this Flash Version instead. It's non-streaming, so be prepared to wait.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Politics: Failing to Make Tough Choices

A combination of personal circumstances and news articles have caused me to form a new opinion about the United States, and how we do things.

We have a consistent inability to make tough choices, and on some fronts, it's proving to be our undoing. The scary thing about our failure is that it's not rooted in any individual, tempting as it is to blame certain politicians. It's a structural failing. A person can choose to make tough choices, like giving up beef so they can buy more food with less money. A political organization often can't.

They can't, because, simply put, no one has a mandate. With almost every important political contest falling within 0 to 5 percent of the middle, no group can afford to give up any block of votes without getting another block almost immediately to replace it. Even something that clearly needs changing to avert a problem in the future. Take this question that Time poses and answers:

So how would Bush fix Social Security's long-term funding problem?
That remains the big unanswered question. Everyone in Washington knows it would be political suicide to cut the benefits of today's retirees or those about to retire. Absent those options, there are only three ways to bring the system into fiscal balance: cut future benefits, raise taxes or borrow the money, which adds to the debt.

Rather than concentrating on the vexing question of how to fix Social Security, which I don't care to wrestle with right now, I ask you to note the second sentence and think about what it means. There are four possible solutions to the posed problem, and one of them is off the table for all parties. The problem is that it would be off the table even if it were the best solution for the country as a whole, not on its merits, but because it would result in an immediate loss of political power. The group that backed such a solution would lose big in upcoming elections, would fail to accomplish its Social Security goals, and would probably fail to accomplish any other goal the organization had as well.

This kind of problem manifests in a startling array of areas. Global warming is a disaster that's already happening. The glaciers are melting, there were multiple terrible tropical storms last year that wreaked untold personal and economic havok on Florida. Every degree that the temperature rises is adding an incredible amount of energy to the weather systems of our planet.

Clearly the world needs to crack down on emissions that increase greenhouse gasses. There's international agreement on that point. Many nations, both industrialized and not, have an accord to do just that. The U.S., the biggest source of the problem is, of course, doing nothing. It's just too painful for poor old us.

The Kyoto Protocol, an international agreement, mandates cutbacks in such emissions, but the reductions are small and the United States, the biggest emitter, is not a party, arguing that the mandates will set back the U.S. economy.

It's the same problem. If car prices rise, if gas prices rise, if taxes rise, if SUVs become harder to buy, it will be regarded by the voting population of the US as a failure by those political organizations that backed the measure. Even if the resultant money is used to pay for slowing down the damage done to the global climate. Everyone in power knows that it will be seen as a failure, and so they defer the problem to the future.

We are a country that routinely votes "no" on referendums to fund needed improvements at local public schools, even if we attended them and our children attend them. A country that supports useless government programs not because we don't realize they're useless, but because they earn votes from some important constituency, or would cost votes if cancelled. A country that is consistantlly unwilling to have things like gasoline, cigarettes, cars, computers, cell phones and plastic bottles include the actual costs to the nation associated with their disposal or health effect in their purchase price. A country that has a skyrocketing national debt as we continue to borrow from our descendants without apparent concern for the consequences it will bring them.

I'm going to say something atypically nice about President Bush. His social security plan is a sham designed to break the current system. It's clearly a sham and any serious analysis reveals it's a sham. Why is he doing it, then? Because sooner or later someone has to fix social security, but we've become a country that can't take our medicine. Any parent or pet owner will tell you that one of the easiest ways to get someone who doesn't want to take their medicine to take it is to make them think it's something else. I happen to think his plan is a very bad one, but I certainly can see why he feels like he needs to trick people into it.

Is there an answer? I don't know. One solution is to make those in power less accountable. In general I think this is a terrible idea, but it does allow for real tough decisions to be made. For instance Cuba just instituted a public smoking ban, which will unquestionably benefit the entire country, but is probably not a terribly popular move. Similarly, a Supreme Court justice has no need to shy away from unpopular decisions, he has the position until he chooses to quit.

Alternatively, having elected officials serve longer terms buffers the problem a bit. If you've got a position for eight years, a painful decision made at the beginning might actually have time to bear tangible fruit by the end, or at least people might become reconciled to it by the passing of time. If you've only got the position for two years, that's a lot less likely. After the recent "morality push", Tammy Baldwin smells trouble on the horizon. She's begun her fundraising for the next election already. How much is her effectiveness as a legislator compromised by this need to look ahead to the next election immediately after the previous one is resolved?

But in the end, I think the problem needs to percolate down to the individual voter. Voters in the U.S. need to learn that when the price of gas rises at the pump, and the reason it did is so that we can make the world a better place, that they should take their medicine and move on. I just don't know how to bring about such a major cultural shift in a land where everything's been pretty easy for decades.

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Cooking: Glenn's Curry Scrambler Recipe

    • 1 slice of turkey ham, cut in small pieces
    • 2 green onions, chopped
    • 3 oz. mushroom stems and pieces
    • 6 eggs
    • 3 tbs. coconut milk
    • 1/4 tsp. pepper
    • 1 1/2 tsp. green curry paste
    • small pat of margarine
    • chopped leaves from 1/2 bunch of cilantro
    • salt
    • habeñero pepper sauce (optional)

In a bowl, put in ham, green onions and mushrooms. Add eggs, coconut milk, pepper and curry paste. If desired, add a drop or two of habeñero sauce. Mix gently until yolks are broken and curry paste is distributed. Melt pat of margarine in a large non-stick frying pan over medium-high heat until bottom of pan is greased, then pour in the mixture. Use a turner to periodically scramble the mixture in the pan until the eggs are cooked, and then remove from heat.

Plate the eggs as desired, salt to taste, and then sprinkle the cilantro over them. Serve immediately. Serves 2-3

    • Don't use light coconut milk, it's the worst ingredient rip-off I'm currently aware of, as it's just coconut milk diluted with water at almost the exact same price. I don't think water would add anything to the dish, so if you want light, just use less coconut milk.
    • I'm using Thai Kitchen's green curry paste.
    • I'm using McCormick's szechuan style pepper blend for the pepper, but I bet anything would do.
    • The habeñero sauce is mostly about adding the "heat" that I associate with curry dishes of this type, without changing the flavor much. I use Da' Bomb, but I bet Dave's Insanity Sauce would work just as well. I'd stay away from pepper sauces like Tabasco, as I think they would add too much vinegar flavor.
    • I usually use about 1/2 a can of mushrooms, but I bet fresh would work as well, if not better. I also think you could probably replace the mushrooms with more meat instead, if you were so inclined.

Friday, February 04, 2005

Gaming: Spike's Journal Updated

There's a new entry for Spike's Journal. Originally, I was going to try and post an update shortly after each session. I fell behind a while ago, and I haven't managed to catch up yet. I'm doing pretty well at the moment, but that still leaves me about 4 sessions behind where Spike & Co. actually are in the game. I keep telling myself I need to do two updates a week to catch up, but they take a while to write and I haven't been quite that focused. Maybe next week.