Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Turkey Time

So I recently got into smoking meat. It's fun, and it gets me outdoors, though it provides just as much exercise as watching TV - teehee. So for Thanksgiving this year I offered to smoke a turkey.

My mother said "Nah, it's too much trouble."

I said I'd like to try, we all like store-bought smoked turkey. So she said OK, and so I went off to plan. I have a book I call my 'BBQ Bible', and while I don't agree with 100% of the book, the recipes are great. In the book, the author lists a few things that need to be done to the turkey before smoking - first a 24 soak in a brine because smoking can dry meat, and then a 12 hour rest in the open air of the refridgerator to let the turkey gather itself together and let the cells come to an equilibrium of salt and other compounds.

"Nah, it's too much trouble," my mother said when she heard my plan.

But I continued onward, gathering up the ingrediants for my brine. It was a recipe out of my book, a Maple Sugar brine, sounded good especially mixed with the Maple and Cherry wood the book suggested to go along with it. But the recipe calls for a lot of REAL maple syrup, something that's very expensive around here.

Quoth the mother "Nah, it's too much trouble."

Despite this, I persevered. Of course, we, as a family travel to our ancestral home in Texarkana Arkansas, a 6 hour trip from here, which meant I either had to take the smoker or take a pre-smoked bird. My wife and I decided to take up the pre-smoked bird, so even if it wasn't fresh, it'd still be smoked. My mother however, had already planned to bake her usual Turkey recipe and my smoked turkey wasn't really needed.

"Nah, it's too much trouble," she said.

Still, I wanted to try. So I brined the bird, let it rest, woke up real early the day we were going to drive up and smoked the bird. Here is the result:

Smoked Turkey'd!

I let the bird rest a bit and then put it in the cooler to transport. After putting in some ice and the rest of the food we were taking, we left.

Then Thanksgiving came. The family all gathered together, everyone had their part to play. My mother made her stuffing and managed my father baking her turkey; my Aunt and cousins made the family fruit salad that I love so much. And somewhere in there my turkey got reheated in the oven next to the baked bird.

In the end, my turkey had been totally decimated. My mother's turkey? Nearly untouched. And who kept going back time after time for seconds and thirds and fourths of my smoked turkey? My mother. She's beginning to wonder if I shouldn't start doing the turkey for thanksgiving every year.

Mom has even asked me to do the Turkey for Christmas, too.

"If it's not too much trouble."

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Politics is killing the U.S.

The biggest problem with the United States, I think, is politics, and by that I mean politics for the sake of politics. It seems politicians are more interested in making themselves look good and other politicians look bad than actually running the country.

I don't know how to fix that problem, but I know what I would change. If I could snap my fingers and change the rules, I'd change two things:

First - If you currently hold a public office and are running for different public office, you must immediately resign from your old office. This really only applies to Congressmen and Senators running for President, but it really bothers me when any politician is putting all their heart and soul into campaigning and totally ignoring the office to which they were elected. Call it a pet peeve.

Second - In order to hold the highest office in one of the branches of government (Judicial - Supreme Court Justice, Legislative - Congress or Senate, Executive - President), you must have at experience as a public servant in that branch at the local, state, or federal level more or equal to twice as long as the term of the office for which you are running or 16 years, whichever is shorter.

So you would need to have 4 or 12 years experience to become a U.S. Congressmen or Senator, respectively, as a public servant at the local, state or federal level in the legislative branch. By this I mean you'd have to have been in some sort of committee style body, like a State Congress, Town Council, or even a PTA Board. Any job where you were part of a larger body that worked for or on behalf of the people.

To be President, you would have to have been a public servant serving in an executive capacity for at least 8 years. Such jobs would include Governor, Mayor, Sherriff, or a member of the Armed Forces, Peace Officer, or other Emergancy Personelle where you were in the position to lead; where executive decisions had to be made that affected people's lives.

And of course to be a Supreme Court Justice, while not elected, you would have had to have worked in the Judicial branch as a public servant, meaning either as an District Attorney, ADA, or Judge. Since a Supreme Court Justice is appointed for life, you would need 16 years of experience (2 x 8 years, the next logical progression in doubling terms in office at the Federal level - 2 years Congressmen, 4 years President, 6 years Senator).

How would this change things? The way I see it, at least politicians could start debating the issues more, and talk about experience less. They could still play the game of 'my experience is better than yours', but at least they couldn't play the 'you have no experience game'.

Plus, who knows, we may actually get qualified people in those positions.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

I have seen the future, and it is the past

For those who know me well, they know I am a huge fan of steam locomotives. And they also know that I am a firm believer that the age of steam locomotives may yet return in a big way.

Why? Well, let's look at some of the facts.

First and foremost, our technology available today would allow for a much more well designed and constructed steam locomotive. Parts will be tighter, stronger, with higher tolerances. All of this would allow for higher steam psi and greater torque, all leading to greater horsepower.

And steam engines, unlike other methods of motive power, have no theoretical top speed. A steam engine's top speed is regulated not by the output of power but the point at which the locomotive will break itself apart.

Second - fuel. I need to do some research, but I have a feeling that burning coal, especially with the air filters and scrubbers we have developed, puts out less harmful gasses than burning gasoline or diesel. The majority of that black smoke you see coming off a coal fire is just harmless carbon, and a good engineer can make a classic steam locomotive put out very little smoke - imagine what a modern locomotive could do.

On top of all of that, the United States is to coal like the middle east is to oil. The United States is sitting on the majority of the world's coal supply, and if the world converted large equipment to being coal fired, the US would become a powerhouse of fuel production.

But even if they didn't use coal, a steam engine can be run on anything that burns or gets hot - coal, oil, natural gas, even nuclear reactions. What do the most techological advanced submarines and battleships run on? What does a Nuclear Reactor use to create electricity? That's right, steam power! A nuclear reactor is nothing more than a big, fancy steam engine. Nuclear material is allowed to react by removing the carbon rods that keep the reactions in check, which in turn generates a lot of heat. This heat is then transfered to water which turns to steam, spins a turbine, which in turn creates electricity.

And the other ingrediant to run a steam engine, water, is the most abundant substance on the planet, and running it in a steam engine does not consume it (turned into something else or tainted (read sewage)), it just gets heated up and moved around. And towards the end of the steam era, condensers were starting to be developed that allowed a steam engine to reclaim most of the water it used.

Yes, I firmly believe that we will see steam engines on the rails again in a big way. I have seen the future, and it is the past.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007


I recently received in the mail an invitation to attend my ten year high school reunion. I will not be attending, however. Why?

Well, what are the possible reasons to go to a high school reunion? As far as I can tell there are only three: to find out what happened to those you once knew, impress others with your success (real or imaginary), and to meet Mr. or Mrs. Right-Now.

Well, I happen to be happily married, so there's no reason for me to go looking for a prospective mate.

As far as catching up with friends and aquaintences - I was a social outcast in school. I could count my friends on one hand and have fingers left over. My one, good friend since elementary school I'm still friends with, and we hang out twice or more a month. He was also a grade behind me as he is also a year younger.

Actually I did a lot of hanging out with the younger crowd, mainly because my own grade-level peers ostrasized me daily. The people I went to Elementary school with forgot who I was, and the rest either ignored me or tried to see how much pain they could cause before I started crying. For me, High School was a daily hell that I did my best to survive. Why would I want to find out what happened to those people?

And then there would be the chance to impress. Who do I have to impress? I'm happy where I am, I don't need to lord my modest successes over anyone. One of the greatest nuggets of wisdom my father ever gave me was that there are only two opinions that matter in this world - yours and the opinion of the ones you love.

And I will find no love at that reunion.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Growing Up

I hate growing up. I like being an adult, sure. I love the freedom, my wife, my son. But I hate all the responsibility that goes with it. I especially hate the bills. There's always a bill.

Granted if I was in better financial straights I'd have very little complaint, but I am, so I do.

Perhaps that's why I build with LEGO - I'm trying to put off fully growing up as long as possible. May my inner child never grow old... or up.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Open Letter to Hard-Line Muslims in the US

I'm going to start off by saying what I am about to write may offend. To those who are offended by what I write I say this: it's my blog, get over it.

Many moons ago I was in a Best Buy with my wife, looking to take advantage of a special deal on a DVD player. We didn't have one, and they were offering one for $20, we couldn't refuse.

Well, obviously it was a popular deal, so when we got there there were none left. We asked one of the workers there and he said they had more in the back, and he was going to go get some.

Well a little later, before the worker had come back, a Muslim man, his wife (wearing a head scarf and matching dress) and their daughter came up to where we were, looking for the same DVD players. We overheard the two adults talking to each other, wondering if they had any left. Before I could say anything, the man went out to the edge of the isle, some distance from where we were, to look for someone to help.

OK. You know what? I don't know if they were Muslim, but they looked the part. They fit most every stereotype I know in my very un-wordly knowledge of the universe. He had dark hair, a beard, had very 'American' looking clothes on, where she had the headscarf, and a very long, almost home-made looking, long sleaved (in the Texas summer) dress. Forgive me for being insensitive if they are some other faith.


Not thinking much of it, I told the woman "Oh, are you looking for that cheap DVD player?" I got no response. She didn't even look at me, though she wasn't doing anything but watching her husband.

"Ma'am? We already asked about that DVD player, they have more." Again, no response. Not even a glance in my direction.

"Ma'am? We already talked to a Best Buy associate (I worked at Wal-Mart, 'associate' is in my dictionary now), he's going to bring more out." Again - she didn't even recognize my existance.

Defeated and a little annoyed, I walked away. I figured if she didn't want my help, so be it. I commented about it to my wife later, and she said "Don't you know? She's not allowed to talk to you because you're a man."

Women have every right that a man has in this country of mine. Just because I am a man and she is a woman does not mean that someone can dictate we cannot communicate with each other.

I hereby declare I will discriminate against any and all peoples who live as citizens of the United States of America who act this way - who treat one sex above another, who believe they 'own' their spouse.

You want to own your wife? You want to control her life and what she does in public? Go home.

What's in a name?

I've decided what's wrong with my country, the USA. It's not politics, it's not the media, it has to do with our culture.

And what I've decided is wrong with our culture is a very simple principle that has been totally forgotten by most of the population - the value of your name.

And really, that is the only thing you can ever really own. But in today's society people just don't seem to care about the value of their name. Celebrities, especially, have become indoctrinated into a world where they can just buy themselves out of a situation, and they become more famous regardless of what they do or how badly they act.

I understand how corporations need to write huge contracts to make sure that they don't have any problems, there are a lot of people involved and a lot of processes taking place. But it's getting to the point where regular folk need to have these giant contracts worked up, too. Plumbers, painters, lawn workers. Heck, I wouldn't be surprised if the paper boy came by to have me sign something. When did the handshake stop meaning something?

I, for one, will not let the ideal of a person's name meaning something die off completely. I value my good name as my most precious possession, and I believe in the power of a handshake. I hold people to correct their mistakes just as I accept and do my best to correct mistakes when I make them. I live my life with the knowledge that whatever I do lives with my good name, and reflects upon all of my family who share it.

I know I'm just an idealist, but think of how the world would be if everyone simply valued their name.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Good ol' US of A

Three of the things I love about the United States of America:

1. Freedom to the pursuit of happiness. I can do just about whatever I want if it makes me happy, so long as I don't make someone else unhappy while doing it.

2. Seperation of Church and State. This way the idiots running the country are zealous about taking my money instead of controlling my life. See #1.

3. I won't be shot because of who I am or what I believe. In 60-80% of the other countries of the world, I have the chance of being shot in the street because I'm American or a Catholic. Here in the US, I won't be. Instead, I'll be shot in the street because I have valuable looking shoes, I look funny, or they just because they don't like me. I don't know, I just feel comforted by that.

Monday, August 20, 2007

The books of Faith and Science

I'm rather opinionated when it comes to matters of politics and religion, but I usually keep my opinions to myself.


This is my soapbox, so upon it I shall box my soap.

Now in the interests of full disclosure I am a practicing Roman Catholic, though I do not always agree with what the Vatican says I'm supposed to believe. I have a very scientific outlook on things, so I'm always looking at things in the most logical sense.

From time to time I plan to post my opinions on various religious topics on this blog just to have them written down somewhere. I don't really ever expect my blog to be read the world over, but I've always said I need to get these things written down.


The world seems to operate in extremes. Left or Right, Black or White. There never seems to be any happy middle ground. And that's how I feel about religion and science. Why can't there be a happy middle ground? Why does it have to be just creationism OR evolutionism?

If God created the universe, He created all the rules that govern it too. That's the way it is. If, for the sake of argument we say that God exists and He created the universe, then He not only made everything in it but how it all interracts with each other.

So then why, if God went through the trouble of creating the universe, wouldn't He operate within the rules and boundries he set up for it?

Creationism is the belief that God snapped his fingers and life was created on the earth.

Evolutionism is the belief that life evolved from the most simple strands of amino acids, eventually coalescing into life that become more and more complex.

Well why couldn't God start that whole process? Think about it. There really isn't much difference between the ideas of creating life from dust and primordial soup coalescing. They're both lifeless matter begetting life.

And to illustrate why I believe God works through the rules of the universe, here's a little analogy: When you buy a fish tank, what do you do?

The novice throws rocks, plants, water and fish all in at the same time and hopes for the best. He instantly creates a world and expects all the different factors within that world to successfully interact in the most positive way.

The smart fish owner dumps in the rocks and the water and maybe the plants or better yet plant bulbs, and lets the tank sit. The tank gathers healthy bacteria, chlorine and other chemicals not taken care of when the tank was started either evaporate from the water's surface, are filtered out by the filter, or settle to the bottom beneath the gravel. He changes the filter carbon frequently, and adds things like extra aerators and tank heaters to help regulate the environment, and will probably leave the tank to sit and rest like this for a week or two. Then and only then does the smart fish owner go and put the fish in the tank.

I believe God worked the same way with the earth, too. Before he could place man on earth, he had to have the environment to support him. In order to have the environment to support him, the earth needed plants and animals. But animals need healthy plants and cool temperatures (compared to the rest of the universe), and healthy plants need clean water and rich soil. All of that comes from the creation of the Earth and millions of years of cooling and settling.

Of course the sun is needed for the Earth as well, but you can't just throw the Earth rotating around the sun. If it's too close to one planet or another, bad things would happen. And the Earth needs to be the right distance away from the Sun lest we cook or freeze. Scientists say Jupiter and the other gas giants of the universe, with their high gravity, act as filters for our solar system, sucking in potential problems that could come Earth's way. Pretty convenient if you ask me.

Of course the sun is rotating, too, traveling around the universe in the Milky Way.

The point of all my rambling is that we live in the ABSOLUTE PERFECT environment for our species. For all the billions and trillions of factors that could go wrong, everything here went right. And that's why I believe things weren't just snapped into being. I believe God molded the universe slowly so that life could exist in a stable environment.

Besides, what's more impressive - a god that snaps his fingers to get stuff done, or a god that takes his time and does things right the first time?

The book of Faith and the book of Science have the same author - so why would they contradict each other?

My faith restored... at least a little bit.

Well it looks like Hurricane Dean will be missing us here in Houston *knock on wood*.


Because I went and spent $200 on hurricane readiness supplies. Water, food, hurricane clips and plywood. Murphy's law went into effect as soon as I put further strain on my poor, whimpering credit card.

But something else happened that restored, at least in part, my faith in humanity.

I woke up at the butt-crack of dawn to get to the Home Depot right as they opened Saturday morning so I could get some plywood before there was a run on the stuff. And I wasn't the only one with that idea, either, a good 10 other people, mostly men, were there as well. As the store opened, we quietly walked over to the 'shopping carts' for lumber and stood in line to grab our plywood. They had plenty to go around, so we were all very patient.

However, with the exception of the first couple in line, we were all there by ourselves. Once the couple had placed their plywood sheets on their cart, they hauled it off to check out and the next guy in line pushed his cart up to the stack. But he was by himself and those 4' x 8' sheets of 1/2" plywood aren't light.

With only the slightest hesitation and not a word spoken, the guy behind him in line walked up and began helping him load his cart. And so it went, as the next person in line walked up to the pile of plywood, the guy behind him helped him load his cart. Once full, he'd go check out and the guy who was helping him would get help from the next guy.

No words were spoken, we all just got the job done. It really reminded me of my belief that deep down, most people are decent individuals. There may be hope for our species after all.


I call shenanigans on the Kemah Boardwalk's Joe's Crab Shack.

I recently heard about a $9.99 all you can eat popcorn shrimp deal Joe's was touting. It's no secret that my wife and I are having financial troubles, but we hadn't gone out to eat for a while, and seafood can be expensive, and we don't eat it much. So the deal seemed pretty good.

We had heard that the Joe's on the Kemah Boardwalk had broken off of the rest of the Joe's franchise, and a quick search through the corporate website shown they were no longer listed. So we called the Joe's on the Boardwalk to ask if they were honoring the deal, and they said they were.

But when we got there, nope, they don't recognize the deal. The manager even came by but he wasn't remorseful at all. Since it was late we decided to eat there anyway, but we ended up spending nearly twice what we had planned. $5 extra per person and $2.50 for iced tea... yeah... THAT'S fair.


Trying out the personal blog thing. So...