The Sledgehammer – Version 2.0

October 30, 2009

A Gentleman’s Walk On a Dark Saturday Evening

Filed under: Holidays — Tags: — Brian Lutz @ 11:57 pm

Saturday, 31st of October

Although lately I have found it to begin getting dark much earlier than it has been, this particular evening seems to have been even more so than usual.  Perhaps this had something to do with  the thunderstorms that have enveloped the skies.  A lesser man might be inclined to spend the evening at home in quiet contemplation, but my physician has instructed me to take steps to improve my somewhat lacking health, and if I am to remain diligent in following his command, I must not let such a minor thing as a howling gale or two deter me from my evening constitutional.  Indeed, as I found as I departed from my quaint little cottage, the evening’s was dark and stormy.  Nonetheless, the walk was largely uneventful.

Granted, I do not seem to recall there being a ladder placed in front of my doorway when I entered the house this afternoon, nor do I recall there ever being any large black cats in the neighborhood, but nonetheless, both of these seemed to find their way into my path as I departed the house.  As I closed the front door behind me, I was unexpectedly greeted by the crash of a shattering mirror, which I also don’t recall being there previously.  I will have to remember to clean that up later on, somebody could get hurt by all of that glass.  With the hour growing late, I made the decision to put this off until morning, and proceeded forth.  As I assessed the weather conditions, I discovered that the storm had in fact somewhat tempestuous.  Not wishing to catch a cold, but wishing to complete the evening’s walk nonetheless, I opted to take a shortcut through the old cemetery, where I found a bit of a commotion.  A number of the graves appeared to have been opened, and their former occupants were wandering about the place, seemingly none too pleased about this situation.   

Far be it from me to speak ill of the dead, but it is my understanding that once one becomes deceased, generally it is required of them to remain in this state for an indefinite period of time.  Granted, it must be dreadfully boring to spend all that time lying quietly with little to do but rot into oblivion, but I find it highly unbecoming for one to rise up out of their grave and shamble about the countryside.  Years of rotting and neglect does dreadful things to one’s personal hygiene, creating a smell that I find to be most offensive.   And don’t even get me started on this whole obsession with brains.  I do suppose that if I hadn’t eaten a good meal in three centuries it is entirely possible that I might be rather hungry myself, but surely it wouldn’t take much effort to find a meal more satisfying than the flesh of the living.  Even a reanimated corpse can clearly see that most of the brains they seek to feast on remain in use, and their present owners would much prefer that their brains not be devoured.  A number of the apparently no-longer deceased gentlemen that I was confronted by seemed to be rather persistent on this subject.  Perhaps if they hadn’t been so thoroughly uncouth in their approach to the situation, it may have been possible to come to some sort of agreement, but negotiation proved futile. 

Although I do not generally advocate the use of violence, I have found that on very rare occasions it may become necessary to club someone repeatedly over the head with their own severed leg in order to get a point across.  This was one of those occasions.  I worry that perhaps I may have been a bit too emphatic about this, but then again, the slightly murderous attitude of these recently undeceased gentlemen made it somewhat difficult to work out a more diplomatic solution.  Regardless, I believe that I made my point clear that unless there is a very good reason, dead people should generally remain dead.  Having had my say, I proceeded on my walk, and made my way home.  I think a few of them may have attempted to follow me, but I suspect it’ll take some time for them to make their way over here.  I’ll worry about them in the morning. 

In spite of my best efforts, it seems as though I may be getting a cold after all.

October 24, 2009

Is the Arcade Dead, Or Did it Just Sell Out?

Filed under: Bellevue, Games — Brian Lutz @ 8:46 pm

As some of you might recall, it was just a couple of months ago that I was lamenting the decline and fall of the video arcade.  At the time, I had no idea that there was anyone out there with the chutzpah to bring an arcade back to the Eastside, much less to put it right in the heart of downtown Bellevue.  But much to my surprise, just a few weeks ago it was announced that Lucky Strike Lanes in Lincoln Square (the Eastside’s only bowling alley with a dress code)  would be expanding to add an arcade called Power Play.  Even more shocking than the very existence of an arcade in this day in age is the price tag, purported to be somewhere in the neighborhood of $4 million.  Of course, when you’re located in some of the costliest real estate in a town that’s getting pretty costly as is, expectations are going to be pretty high for a place like this.  Does Power Play deliver?  To be honest, I’m not so sure.  I’ll elaborate on this, and take a look at some of what passes for arcade games these days, after the jump.

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October 19, 2009

An Evening With Alton Brown

Filed under: Cooking — Tags: , — Brian Lutz @ 11:48 pm

In general, I have never been big on celebrities.  Part of this is because I very rarely watch Hollywood movies or TV shows these days, and part of it is that I just haven’t ever really gotten the whole celebrity thing in the first place.  Someone gets paid big bucks to be in movies, so that means we’re supposed to idolize them?  As a result of this, there are very few celebrities out there who I would have any interest in meeting period, much less going out of my way to meet.  Of course, with my somewhat out-of-the-ordinary tastes in television, it shouldn’t be much of a surprise that one of the very few people on that short list is the host of a cooking show on cable TV.  But this wasn’t  just any random cooking show host.  This was Alton Brown, the somewhat nerdy and sarcastic host of Good Eats on Food Network, and he was in town on Friday to promote his new book Good Eats: The Early Years. Of course, I had to be there.

This actually wasn’t my first time meeting Alton Brown.  Several years ago, he came to town to do a book signing at the Issaquah Costco for one of his I’m Just Here for the Food books, and even then I ended up spending nearly three hours in the autograph line (and if you thought the cookware and cleaning supply aisles at Costco were boring enough already, try standing in them for 45 minutes apiece.)  From that, I got autographed copies of two of his books, and some semi-heplful advice on figuring out the proper ingredient ratios for cooking rice (it turns out he uses a cheat sheet to remember this stuff, so I don’t feel so bad about messing it up so badly for years before I got a rice cooker.)  Over the years, I made extensive use of the first I’m Just Here for the Food book, to the point that I’ve actually managed to wear out the binding on my autographed copy.  The second one I haven’t used nearly as extensively (mostly because it covers baking, and I don’t do a whole lot of that) but it does still manage to come off the shelf on occasion.  Alton’s latest book is a compilation of all the topics from the first eighty episodes of Good Eats boiled down into book form, complete with additions and modifications as needed.  It does tend to cut back on the details a bit when compared to the shows it is based on, but then again as Alton himself pointed out, the book already weighs in at more than 3 1/2 pounds, so there should be plenty in there. 

The event took place at Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park, a place which I had heard of before , but had never actually been to until recently.  I’ll have to go into more detail about it later on (it actually fits well with the whole Malls project I’ve been badly neglecting for the last six months or so) but in a nutshell, the place is something of a miniature Crossroads.  The center that the store is located in was once a small mall (a two-story enclosed space of a roughly similar size to Totem Lake) that fell on hard times, and in an effort to revitalize the property the second story was transformed into Third Place Books and the Third Place Commons, a gathering space with a stage and  a number of local food vendors (a couple of which are also found at Crossroads.) On the first story, a number of businesses (mostly smaller local ones) remain in a remnant of the former mall, as does a King County Library branch.  The remainder of the shopping center outside of the mall is occupied by more conventional businesses, headed up by Albertsons, Rite Aid and an LA Fitness club.  The place seems to be doing quite well, and is the type of place I could see heading for on a Friday night when I’m bored.

Having met Alton once previously, I had a pretty good idea to expect a packed house for this one.  Admission to the event was by ticket only (purchasing a copy of the book from the bookstore was good for two tickets) and by the time it rolled around, tickets were sold out.  Fortunately, I was able to get tickets well in advance, and had no problem getting in.  Prior to the autograph session, Alton spent roughly an hour on stage discussing the book and taking questions from the audience.  If you think Alton Brown is funny on his shows, he’s downright hilarious in person and off the cuff.  He also turned out to be surprisingly snarky at times, taking a couple of good jabs at Food Network and advocating some rather unorthodox approaches to teaching cooking, such as chaining kids to iron bars installed in the kitchen to make them learn to cook.   He also wondered out loud why we never seem to bother eating pandas.  After all, wouldn’t they have both white and dark meat?  I’m sure it’s all meant to be pretty tongue in cheek, but I suspect a few of the thinner skinned audience members might not have been so appreciative (particularly on some of his comments about vegans.)  The vast majority of the audience seemed to enjoy it as much as I did though.  Even my friend who hadn’t even heard of Alton Brown before this seemed to enjoy it.

Following the Q&A session, Alton signed autographs for the rather significant number of fans in attendance.  As could be expected with the number of people in attendance, it took quite a while to get through the crowd, but it was well organized, and only required a short period of line waiting.  On each of the tickets there was a letter indicating when you would line up for an autograph.  I had the letter H, and even though it took nearly two hours to get that far into the line, it wasn’t necessary to line up until that letter was called, and from there it only took about 15-20 minutes to get through the line (including a perfectly reasonable request by Alton to allow people with children under the age of 7 into the line ahead of us so they could get home at a reasonable time.) 

 

In the end, I came away with an autographed copy of Alton’s latest book to join the autographed (and in some cases badly worn) copies of two of his other books, a couple of awkward badly lit photos (yeah, my teeth are pretty horrible, I suspect I’ll be sending some dentist’s kid to college one of these days.)  And no, I have no idea why he needed a can of whipped cream up there.  All in all, it was a pretty nice way to spend a Friday evening, and if I can manage to wade through all 3 1/2 pounds of the book, I’m sure I’ll enjoy that as well.

October 17, 2009

Oh No, Not Turkey Already!

Filed under: Holidays — Brian Lutz @ 11:41 pm

As hard as it is to believe, Thanksgiving is going to be coming up sooner than you might think.  Sure, we’ve still got the rest of October (and Halloween) and most of November to get through before it arrives, but all things considered, it’s just around the corner (or over the river and through the woods, if you prefer that particular version.)  Even so, this might just be pushing it a bit:

Unless there’s gloomy forecasts I’ve not heard about of massive turkey shortages that are going to force most of America to eat Tofurky on Thanksgiving (scary thought) I can’t think of a whole lot of reasons that you’d need to be too worried about getting your Thanksgiving turkeys this early.  If the last, well..  eon or so worth of Thanksgivings is any indication, they’ll most likely be running this same 50% off sale for several weeks leading up to Thanksgiving anyway, and unless you weren’t planning on using half your freezer for the next month and a half, what’s the rush?  On the other hand, nobody’s really bothered to commercialize the living daylights out of Thanksgiving just yet, so we might give them a bit of leeway on this.  Unfortunately, I suspect that the reason for this is because everyone is too busy getting ready to shovel two months worth of wall-to-wall Christmas down our throats the second that the Halloween stuff leaves the shelf.

Somehow I suspect that in this case, that the only thing the early bird is going to be catching is a cold.

October 15, 2009

I See a Taco and I Want to Paint it Black

Filed under: Food — Tags: — Brian Lutz @ 10:58 pm

Let’s face it, if you’re running a fast food taco stand, there are only so many different permutations of things you’re going to be able to make out of the twelve different ingredients that constitute 90% of the stuff on the menu.  Since the stuff is usually pretty cheap, these places can usually get away with a few things like taking their taco, sticking it on a flat tortilla shell instead of a curved taco shell and call it a tostada (and probably even find customers who swear that one is vastly superior to the other,) but in general, customers are finicky, and eventually they’re going to start to get sick of the standard-issue tacos and bean burritos.  The trick is to find ways to make the customers think they’re getting something new and different, without actually having to come up with anything that’s too new and different.  After all, most of the money being made by this type if business is on volume, and bringing in all sorts of extra ingredients for one-off special items gets expensive after a while.  So what  do you do in this situation?

Well, they can always start by messing around with the color pallete.  From Taco Bell, purveyors of (sort of) fine Mexican fast food comes the all new for a limited time Black Jack Taco, by far the darkest taco you’ve ever seen.  The website describes the item thus:

“A crunchy black taco shell filled with seasoned beef, zesty pepper jack sauce, shredded lettuce, and a blend of three cheeses:  Cheddar, Pepper Jack and Mozzarella.”

Aside from the obvious change from the standard-issue taco (we’ll get to that one in a minute) the major innovation here seems to be the inclusion of Pepper Jack cheese and some sort of sauce, which I’d guess is probably the same vaguely sour cream-like sauce that’s somehow managed to find its way into half the items on the Taco Bell menu at some point or another.  Based on that description, I suppose they could call the thing a Jack Taco, but I suspect that a certain pointy-hatted fast food executive would presumably take issue with Taco Bell’s use of that name (I do not believe the name is in current usage, but I do know Jack in the Box has used it before.)  Thus the need to add something to the name, and the need to modify the product to make the name actually (sort of) make sense.

Which brings to this taco’s most, shall we say, distinctive feature.  While thinking of foods that are served black, I couldn’t come up with a whole lot.  I thought of licorice, black beans (an item which might presumably be seen in a place like this but would probably ruin their image by appearing vaguely healthy,) blackberries, black coffee (which is more brown than black really,) blackened catfish and a couple more items that I’ll refrain from listing here in the interest of preserving the appetites of my readers.  Somehow, I don’t see tacos on that list, or anything bearing any resemblance to tacos for that matter.  In fact, I can only think of a few reasons why a taco would need to be black:

  • Taco Bell is trying to find ways to improve their market share with the highly coveted “Goths and Degenerate Gamblers” demographic;
  • Those red Volcano Tacos they were selling last month messed up the Feng Shui, and they needed to add a dark color to the menu to bring it back into balance;
  • This is an elaborate scheme to try to salvage a bad day at the taco shell factory;
  • They needed some sort of Halloween item on the menu, and the name “Taco of the Damned” bombed badly in the test markets.

Anyone got any other ideas what might be going on here?  And while we’re at it, has anyone been foolhardy brave enough to try one of these things?

Might As Well Just Bag the Whole Thing

Filed under: Random Stuff — Tags: , — Brian Lutz @ 8:13 pm

Lately, the ubiquitous plastic shopping bag has become a frequent topic of controversy.  For years now, plastic bags have been derided as a baby whale suffocating monstrosity by environmentalists, and as a result, efforts have been underway to curtail their use for some time now.  These efforts came to a head last year when the City of Seattle attempted to impose a 20 cent tax on each plastic bag used within the city.  Although the Seattle bag tax got rejected by a significant margin by the voters in a referendum during this year’s primary election (apparently even Seattleites have their limits when it comes to taxes, not since the notorious “latte tax” proposed in 2003 and rejected by  nearly 70% of Seattle voters have I seen people that mad about a tax) it appears that bag taxes and outright bans on plastic bags have been imposed in a number of areas already.  Since I make it a point to try to keep this Blog as free of politics as possible (believe me, you do NOT want to get me started on anything political here)  I am not going to bother discussing the arguments for or against this type of policy, but I do have to say that I can at least see where they’re coming from.  Plastic bags seem to be one of those necessary evils that make life easier, but also bring their own set of problems along the way.  In my case, this is the big one:

Yeah, I know.  I really need to stop making posts that involve displaying the contents of the deep dark corners of my apartment, but I’ve never really figured out what to do with these things, so mostly they end up accumulating.  If you just throw the things away, you get yourself tossed into the category of eco-fiends inhabited primarily by toxic waste dumpers, baby seal clubbers and Republican senators.  In spite of the fact that these bags are generally made out of recyclable materials (HDPE, recycle code 2,) for some reason the recycling bins here explicitly say not to put plastic shopping bags into the bins.  Some of the local supermarkets actually have plastic bag recycling bins, but I rarely remember to bring bags to be recycled. 

Another issue that I have with this is that often when I go to the store, I end up using the self checkouts.  As long as the store isn’t too crowded, I find these to be a nice little timesaver, but for some reason, every self checkout that I’ve seen seems to provide nothing but plastic bags.  Given the option I think I’d actually be more likely to use paper bags most of the time, since you can at least put them in the recycle bin without feeling too guilty and theyre generally a lot easier to reuse.

Then, of course, there’s the reusable bag option.  In the past couple of years, reusable bags seem to have become a lot more popular, although I still don’t seem to see a lot of people using them.  In fact, aside from one or two of the big blue bags I picked up from Ikea (which don’t seem to be useful for much more than trips to Ikea) I haven’t ever really bothered with these, but when I went to the new Trader Joe’s in Redmond last Friday when it opened (I’ll have to do a post on this later), they packed the groceries I bought in this reusable bag, one of a number of styles they had on offer.  When I think about it, it actually makes a whole lot of sense.  I could stop accumulating ridiculous amounts of plastic bags that I’ll never reuse, and maybe I could even get myself off the seal clubbers list.   Now I just need to figure out how to actually remember to bring the things with me when I shop…

October 10, 2009

Now I Can Break Things Twice As Fast

Filed under: Random Stuff — Brian Lutz @ 10:09 pm

Yeah, I seem to have been posting a lot about the RC car stuff lately, but I’ve been spending a fair bit of time on the stuff.  Last weekend, my brother (the one who got us all started on this stuff in the first place) came into town so it was inevitable that we would break out the cars and go bashing for a while. 

The big problem with these things is that it’s pretty much impossible to take pictures when you’re driving one of the things, and even if I’m not driving my camera doesn’t seem to like fast-moving objects all that much.  Besides, who would want to be taking photos if you could be doing this?

These things are, of course, a whole lot easier to take pictures of when they’re standing still.  I’m not sure which of these were working and which were broken at the time this was taken (I know my Revo was still drivable at this time, aside from a dead starter battery) but for the most part, we fared reasonably well.  This weekend, not so much though (my Dad’s Savage stripped a spur gear, and I think I might have bent the exhaust header on my Revo again, which was not exactly a cheap part the first time I did it..) 

With Fall setting in, and the weather getting colder, it’s getting to the point in the year when you can’t really run nitro RC cars (the engines are finicky enough to tune in good weather that I wouldn’t really want to try it when it’s really cold, and the electronics on mine aren’t exactly waterproof in the first place.  ) There’s also the pesky little fact that noisy little nitro engines and complexes don’t get along all that well, so with that in mind, I’ve been looking at getting a small electric that I can actually use here, and one which I can use during the Winter.  I was also impressed by the E-Revo VXL my brother got recently (last seen here being driven around a hotel room in a potentially inadvisable manner,) so I decided to pick one up myself.  Mine’s the one in blue.

 

And as anyone familiar with RC cars could probably attest, it doesn’t take long for things to start breaking, and I think I managed about twenty minutes of use before I managed to take out one of the front suspension arms (which, ironically enough, is the first thing I managed to break on my Revo 3.3 when I first got it as well.)  Granted, I was jumping the thing off a curb in front of my parents’ house at the time, but it would have been nice to get a bit more than 20 minutes before it broke.  Fortunately, it’s easy to fix (I’ve already spent more than my fair share of time tinkering with the suspension components on the big one, and a lot of the pieces are very similar) so this should be easily fixed as long as I can manage to find the parts to do it with.  At least I still have something to drive while I’m waiting to get this one fixed.  Oh well, gotta’ break ’em all, I guess.

October 3, 2009

Three Nifty Ones from 1951 – Classic Car Ads

Filed under: Advertising, History, Recycled Newspaper — Tags: , , — Brian Lutz @ 12:16 am

One of the things you notice when you spend a fair bit of time looking through old newspapers is that oftentimes, there are a lot of advertisements for things which just don’t exist anymore, be it companies that are about three mergers removed from their previous form or just plain disappeared three decades ago, brands that have passed (lamented or otherwise) into the dustbin of history, or products whose time has long since passed.  In particular, you see a lot of car advertisements, many for makes of automobiles that no longer exist, especially as you go further back into the archives to the days when a lot more brands of cars existed than you will find now.

Recently (well, sort of recently, I haven’t had much time for this recently) while I was browsing through 1951 issues of the Bellevue American for nothing in particular, I noted the significant concentration of new car ads in those papers, and thought that some of these would be interesting to post.  Generally, when people these days think of Fifties cars, it’s the finned land yachts of the late Fifties that are the first ones to come to mind.  In the early Fifties these designs were still many years away, and in fact many of the products being offered were still incremental changes of pre WW2 models. 

In spite of this ad’s promise of thrilling power, back in these days the Pontiac brand was often advertised more on its comfort and durability than its rubber-burning prowess.   A number of other Pontiac ads that I found in these papers touted cars built to last 100,000 miles (which seems like a lot, but these days it’s not uncommon to hear of cars lasting 200,000, 300,000 or even more miles.)  It wouldn’t be until the mid Fifties that the Pontiacs would be completely redesigned.  The Pontiac brand is expected to be phased out by the end of 2010, a victim of the recent upheavals in the automotive industry.  Nonetheless, Pontiac has managed to outlast a lot of other brands over the years…

Including Studebaker, a longtime poster child for extinct auto manufacturers.  Here we see one of the many different cars to bear the name of Studebaker Commander over the years, and one that shows the distinct yet (in some circles) much maligned Studebaker front end that has inspired many a joke over the years about not being able to tell which end was the front of the car.  Although it’s a bit tough to read here (the photo was a tad blurry) the ad copy touts a victory for the Studebaker V-8 in a contest of fuel economy, which is always a nice thing, but probably didn’t matter quite as much back in the days when a gallon of gas could be bought for 20 cents (which translates to roughly $1.64 in 2008 dollars and a whole heck of a lot less than we were paying for gas back in 2008.)  From what little I know of my family history on my Dad’s side (which has never been all that well documented) my Dad’s grandfather once owned a Studebaker dealership.  There is also an apocryphal story I have heard once or twice over the years of my grandfather getting himself in serious trouble when a policeman came in to buy a Studebaker one day.  The officer then told a story of how he was chasing a speeder, and while he was doing so, my Grandfather blasted by both the officer and the speeder in one of the Studebakers from the lot.  Somehow I doubt the story is entirely true (at least in the form that I remember it,) but I can definitely say that cars do run in the family (as evidenced by the two posts below.)

 

Other brands chose to emphasize victories of a different sort, as is seen in this ad for the Hudson Hornet.  In 1951, NASCAR was still in its infancy, and the Fabulous Hudson Hornets absolutely dominated the series.  Driver Marshall Teague would drive a Hornet to  wins in seven NASCAR races and 27 of the 34 stock car racing events he was entered in that year.  Another Fabulous Hudson Hornet would propel driver Herb Thomas to two NASCAR Grand National championships in 1951 and 1953 (although Thomas started the 1951 season in a Plymouth, and raced in an Oldsmobile as well,) and Hornets driven by a number of drivers were also dominant in 1952.  Unfortunately, the “Win on Sunday, Sell on Monday” theory could only take Hudson so far, as the Hudson brand was dropped by AMC as the company’s various brands were consolidated under the Rambler name in 1957.

I’ve got a fair number of other ads from this era in my archive, and perhaps if there is enough interest, I might make another post or two out of these.  I suspect there would probably be much more interest in ads from the late Fifties and the muscle car era, and perhaps I might revisit those as well.

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