Archive for January, 2016

Roast Beef Oats

January 28, 2016

We don’t often buy prepared meats, but the other day, MJ brought home a packet of roast beef slices to make sandwiches with. The sandwich project fell through for some reason, and we were left with an un-used pack of sliced roast beef. They sat around in the fridge for a while, until she was cooking up a slab of bacon and decided to cut them up and fry them in the pan grease. They fried up nice and black and hard, shrunk down to about the size of a cooked slice of bacon, a little bit like jerky. The flavor was excellent, a lot like those overdone bits at the end of a roast that everyone fights over. We’ll probably buy another pack just to try it again.

That’s all well and good, you say, but how do they taste in oatmeal?

 

Setup: 1/3 cup of stone ground rolled oats, one cup of broth, three or four slices of packaged roast beef, fried to a crisp, two dinner teaspoons of potato flakes, salt. Cook for 10 minutes or so, depending on the exact style of oats. Add the potatoes at the end.

Results: Meh. Not bad, but not great. Oatmeal with chunks of meat in it, and the cooking process had softened the crisp and the flavor so that eating it was no longer a unique experience.

 

Rating: *****

TSA can’t do math. Either

January 26, 2016

There’s a couple of TSA reports over the last year that nobody seems to have linked up, perhaps because statisticians have better things to do than read TSA reports.

Last June, the TSA IG released a report that said that TSA inspectors at airports failed to find 95% of the contraband items (guns, explosives) used to test the system. In November, reports from Congress indicated there’d been no improvement. Perhaps in an effort to get 2016 off on a better PR footing, this month, TSA reported that their seizures of firearms was up 20%, to 2,653 and that 83% of them were loaded. Let’s do some math.

We have 2,653 weapons found. Some 83%, or 2200 were loaded. Now, we know that TSA regularly misses 95% of the weapons the IG tries to smuggle on, which implies that those 2200 loaded firearms represented 5% of the ones that were actually carried on board.

1. Question for the class. How many loaded firearms successfully boarded aircraft in 2015?

Answer:

.05 * X = 2200 = loaded guns found
X = 2200/.05 = 44000 = total guns smuggled
44000 – 2200 = 41800 = guns successfully smuggled

So, 41,800 loaded guns were successfully smuggled onto airliners in the US in 2015. That’s just over one gun every fifteen minutes.

2. Take home question for the class. Of those 41,800 loaded weapons on airplanes, how many were used in hijacking attempts?

3. Critical thinking question: What does this tell you about the real threat?

Memories of my youth: President’s Day Snowstorm of 1979

January 23, 2016

Seeing Washington, DC buried in two feet of snow reminds me of my time in the National Military Intelligence Center (NMIC), deep, as they say,* in the bowels of the Pentagon. The NMIC sits back to back with the National Military Command Center, and, like the NMCC, is manned 24/7/365 with a staff of specialists in all regions of the world. I was a Soviet Command and Control analyst at the time, and regularly pulled shifts there.

The President’s Day Snowstorm of 1979, unlike this week’s pummeling, came as a surprise to all concerned. The storm was supposed to miss DC. I was on the afternoon shift — 2PM to 10PM. Most of us junior officers could only afford housing well outside the Beltway, and there were enough of us living in the Dale City area (45miles south of the Pentagon) that it was possible to form a carpool of NMIC shift workers.

It was a dark and stormy night when the four of us made our way to the small parking lot next to the power plant. If we’d been out in North Parking we’d still be looking for the car. We were probably the last carpool down I-95 that night, and the next morning there was 18″ of snow on my drive, in the street, at intersection at the top of the hill… I called in and said I wasn’t going to make it. Nobody else made it, either.

It was three days before we were able to get a regular shift set up again in the NMIC. During that time, the analysts slept on the floor and emptied out the vending machines all over the building. One could get to the Metro without leaving the building, but there wasn’t anywhere to go, and nothing was open. They put together a scratch relief team from those who lived close enough to the Metro to walk to a station, but mostly it was the unshaven, sleep-deprived half-starved survivors of that same night shift who met us days later.

So, I didn’t have to go through it, but it was a possibility that all of us faced, and it’s one of the things that doesn’t get mentioned very much when they talk about a heavy snowfall in DC closing the government. It does. Just not all of it.

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*In fact, it wasn’t all that deep. If you walked in the entrance on the NE face, and past the guard desk where they shot the intruder in 1987, and down some corridors, you’d come to a set of unmarked doors that were the emergency exit from the watch center. The actual offices where the day ladies worked were on the floors below.

Oatmeal And Wilted Lettuce

January 21, 2016

Remember your elementary school cafeteria, where they’d feed you yesterday’s lettuce soaked in boiling vinegar and sugar, with a topping of nice healthy bacon? Suppose you could recapture those memories at breakfast time, so they come back to you all day long? We had some shredded lettuce that MJ bought for taco making, and you know how fast shredded lettuce goes off, so I helped her use up the leftovers, just like the schooldays.

Setup: 1/3 cup of stone ground rolled oats, one cup of broth, half a cup of lettuce, chopped and loosely loaded, two tablespoons of vinegar, two packets of sweetener (trying to stay healthy here), and three strips of crisp bacon, chopped up, salt. Cook for 10 minutes or so, depending on the exact style of oats. Add the lettuce and the bacon for the last minute. You don’t want it to go all soggy.

Results: Surprisingly good. You’ll have to play with the ingredients to get it to taste the way you like, but it gave a nice, tart start to the day.

Rating: *****

TL:DR — The Muv-Luvs

January 15, 2016

Once upon a time, almost fifteen years ago, there was an adult visual novel called Muv-Luv (マブラヴ, although in one place it’s reported as 真愛, or True Love)* Originally, it came out in three vaguely related parts. Muv-Luv Extra is a straight highschool harem VN. Muv-Luv Unlimited has the protagonist wake up in an alternate world where Earth has been invaded by aliens. Muv-Luv Alternative is Muv-Luv Unlimited with the protagonist sent back in time to save the Earth. Got that? Good. Now ignore it.

We're the girls who play high-school sports

We’re the girls who play high-school sports

We're the girls who fight

We’re the girls who fight

The franchise spun off a bunch of manga, which inspired a couple of anime — Muv-Luv Alternative: Total Eclipse, and this year’s prequel, Muv-Luv Schwarzes Marken (Black Mark, as in blotted your copybook). I started watching M-L:TE because I read the description of M-L:SM which said it was set in the GDR in 1983, and that sounded interesting. Boy, was I wrong.

We're the girls who defend the Earth

We’re the girls who defend Asia

We're the girls who defend the GDR

We’re the girls who defend the GDR

Both are straightforward mecha vs alien anime. In both, the aliens — that look like mecha/monster hybrids — cover the earth from horizon to horizon and are pretty much immune to all weapons except those on the mechas.

<rant>And why doesn’t anyone think to retrofit existing systems with mecha-grade weapons? If armor works on a mecha, it can be bolted onto a tank. And if a mecha can carry a blast-o-matic beam rifle, why can’t one or two of those be stuck on a tank? Or a fighter jet? And another thing. Why aren’t we just using nukes on the screaming hordes of godless aliens? It’s not like there’s anything left once they’ve overrun a patch of ground. And it’s not just these shows. Most mecha combat anime have the same problems.</rant>

The big difference between the two anime here is that M-L:TE is trying to be a romance between the Japanese protagonna, and the Japanese-American assigned to her unit, while M-L:SM is a mystery about a girl who looks like someone’s little sister. Oh, yeah, the Stasi are every bit as much a threat to our protags as the aliens are. In any event, there’s lots of shouting and angst and going off the deep end half cocked. It confirmed why I don’t like these shows.

I watched through seven eps of M-L:TE while waiting, and then one of M-L:SM, when suddenly I realized that I needed to prep for my colonoscopy.
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*The name is a little confusing. マブラヴ transliterates as maburavu, which could be mab love, whatever mab is. 真愛 translates as true love, which is pronounced ma ai. I should note that the original author is notoriously bad at English.

Wakakozake Season 2, The Live Action Drama

January 12, 2016

I loved Wakakozake, the anime short about an office lady and her after-office love affair with food and drink. Two minutes was just the right amount of time to introduce us to the context, the food and drink, and the pshhhhuu!

Season 1

Season 1

In “Season 2” it’s now ten times as long, and it’s live action.* How do they fill the extra minutes? Well, they do two cafe visits instead of one, they show the details of how the food is made, and they are visiting actual cafes, ones that a tourist could hope to find. Outside the food arena, they felt they needed to bump up the “drama” aspects, so we see more of Wakako’s travails at work, and some chef/apprentice interactions, as well as some footage of her walking to wherever she’s going.

Season 2

Season 2

It’s…not bad…but I don’t think I’d continue to watch it if I hadn’t seen Season 1 first. The premise really isn’t strong enough to hold up a 20min show, and pshhhhuu! doesn’t work as well when it’s a real person saying it. On the other hand, one can learn about Japanese cafe etiquette, and there’s some nice short cooking hints on how to dismember a mackerel and respectfully hash a daikon, and who doesn’t need to be reminded how to do that now and then?
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*The manga came first, in 2011. Then Season 1 of the live drama, in January, 2015. The anime ran starting in July of 2015, so the two are essentially separate.

TL:DR — Anime I never finished, Winter 2016

January 9, 2016

One week in, and already I’m trimming the fatuous. Well, after watching Shirobako, I have vowed never to accuse anyone of producing crappy anime again. Everyone, I’m convinced, produces the best possible product they can, within the constraints of time and budget and staff and source material. What I will say is that many studios don’t produce anime that holds my interest, possibly because, as a fat, old, Euro male, I’m not the target demographic. So, I’m trimming the ones that don’t inspire me on first look, and will likely not get a second one.

Active Raid: Jolly band of misfits operate experimental mecha to fight crime. They are called the Special Public Security Fifth Division Third Mobile Assault Unit Eight. So, 3+5+8 = 16 = 4+4+4+4, which in Japanese maps to Die Die Die Die.

We could have done a second season of Twin Tail, but no...

We could have done a second season of Twin Tail, but no…

Divine Gate: Superhuman humans using magical tools called Drivers fight over the Gate to the Worlds Beyond. Super-powerful boy-girl team trains at special school for super people. Emotionally-scarred super-loner with depressing past and even super-er powers gets added to their team. Super.

Too bad it's Divine Gate, and not Divinegate

Too bad it’s Divine Gate, and not Divinegate

Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju: Ex-con decides on a new career as a radio-hall storyteller, just as television becomes popular. Enters into a menage-a-trios with a woman who is also an aspiring ragkugoka, and her dead father.

Oh, I thought you said Joshi Raku

Oh, I thought you said Joshi Raku

Luck and Logic: Superhuman humans using magical tools called Logics fight monsters that come through gates from the Worlds Beyond and take possession of non-super-humans. Non-super humans. Non super…nevermind. Super-powerful boy-girl team trains at special school for super people. Jolly band of super-powerful magical girls cooperate to take down monsters. There’s a little sister. Super.

We are not magical girls. Don't call us magical girls

We are not magical girls. Don’t call us magical girls

BBK/BRNK: Super-loner with depressing past, depressed at having misplaced his little sister, assisted by jolly band of misfits with super-powers based on magical tools called Bubuki (BBK), plans to restart antique super-mecha called Buranki (BRNK) to fight super-oppressive government. Super.

...or is it a Buranki? One hangs down from the roof of the cave, right?

…or is it a Buranki? I can never remember which is which. One hangs down, right?

OilyOats – Artichoke Edition

January 7, 2016

In the mad whirl of party that is our end-of-year tradition, MJ made some dips to take. One such included a jar of artichoke hearts in oil. The other was a salmon-kale mix. They ate all of the artichoke dip, and sent the salmon/kale mix back.  Of course the artichoke oil* was left over, and of course I had to try it in my oatmeal.

There were two experiments. One was to just add two tablespoons of artichoke oil (uninspired, just a slight taste of artichoke); the other involved more oil and more cooking. For the second one, I used all of the remaining oil, about three tablespoonsworth, along with the usual cup or so of (rich chicken) broth. At the end of the ten minutes of normal cooking, and after I added the potato flakes, I turned the heat up to high and boiled off most of the rest of the broth. To finish it off, I let it sit on high, unstirred, for 30 seconds.

Setup: 1/3 cup of stone ground rolled oats, one cup of broth, three tablespoonsworth artichoke oil, two dinner teaspoons of potato flakes, salt. Cook for 10 minutes or so, depending on the exact style of oats. Add the potatoes at the end, and fry for a minute or so after the potatoes have absorbed the broth..

Results: Nothing burned, but there was lots of oatfrags stuck to the bottom of my non-stick pot. The resulting oatmeal was very good. Nutty tasting. Just a hint of artichoke. This is a keeper that I’ll probably be eating every January.

Rating: *****

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* It’s not really artichoke oil, it’s artichoke-infused sunflower oil: Mezzetta Grilled Artichokes in sunflower oil, to be exact.

Perihelion 2016

January 2, 2016

As close as we get to the Sun. Today at 5:49 PST. Right now! Quick, run out and look before you miss it!

My Personal Best of 2015

January 2, 2016

It sometimes seems like everyone on the Internet spent the last week of 2015 writing Best Of lists. I don’t have anything to add to those lists, so I thought I’d write about the best of me. According to my official WordPress report, I published 138 posts this year, and garnered almost 14,000 views, a seventy percent improvement on last year’s total. To celebrate, I thought I’d provide my own personal 10 Best List. That is, the 10 best blog entries I made — sez me. Grouped by category, in more or less chronological order.

Public Affairs
1. Abolish TSA
I got a quick start on the new year by pointing out that TSA’s own numbers indicate that it is incapable of performing its primary mission, and that it should be abolished. Based on Pournelle’s Iron Law of Bureaucracy, this won’t happen.

2. Systems Science and the F-35
This is one of my recurring efforts to use the concepts of Systems Science to inform a discussion of public policy.

3. SpaceX
A color-commentary on the loss of the SpaceX Falcon 9 last June

History
4. WWII 70th Anniversary Retrospective
As someone who considers themselves an I&W professional (retired), I have always been fascinated by the foundations of WWII, particularly the Pacific War. This is the first of a series on the 70th Anniversary of the start.

Personal
5. Memories of my youth
The first entry in my Memories series, about a story I heard from a doctor when I was about ten years old.

6. Cataracts
I had them. They’re gone. The start of a discussion of my personal experience of the experience.

7. Green thumb lessons learned
I keep a garden. In the summer I write more or less weekly about how it’s doing. This entry is worthwhile because it’s an example of one way to learn from notes taken over the course of the growing year.

8. Pumpkin Oats
I like to write about cooking, but I don’t cook a lot (having an old-fashioned sort of wife), and most of the dinners I do cook are one-dish things, eaten standing up over the sink. However, I do cook breakfast daily, and for reasons of health that breakfast is always oatmeal. Herewith, one of my many attempts to make plain old oatmeal, un-plain and new again.

Anime
9. Twelve days of Anime: GaruPan and Shirobako
I’m an unabashed anime fan, although not at the level of an otaku — more of an oataku (that’s a cooking joke). This is not an ani-blog, but I do write pretty regularly. This year I decided to accept the challenge to write one item on anime every day for Advent through Christmas. This link is to the last, and I think best, article in the series.

10. The Wind Rises.
Impressions of Miyazaki’s anime about the inventor of the Japanese Zero fighter. It’s not really a biopic.

So that’s it. 365 days of egoboo, 138 posts, 10 best, 1 list. Like the Lessons Learned gardening post, this will give me something to ponder when I decide what topics to address in 2016.

Anime for the new year: Get in the robot, Shinji!!

January 1, 2016

NGE-EVA01_in_TokyoThe Fall and Winter anime seasons that we are transitioning between right now mark the 20th anniversary of the TV debut of Neon Genesis Evangelion. Our Internet was out over the Christmas break — snow broke the DSL phone line* — so I hauled out the DVDs and did a marathon rewatch. Actually, it was mostly an original watch. I had viewed the first few episodes some years ago, but dropped it because of excessive angst. I also watched the first of the theatrical reboots, Evangelion II.5, You Can(Not) Be Serious, and didn’t bother to buy the second one. Now I am older, with more intestinal fortitude. Also, the snow is hip deep on a tall giraffe, and there’s nothing else to do. Well, cable is still working, so I guess I could have watched the Harry Potter Möbius reruns. But I didn’t.

The 1995 ** series is important in the history of anime because it changed the way we looked at giant robots, red-headed tsuntsuns, and damaged girls with blue hair. There’s been a whole generation of comment between then and now, and there’s nothing new I can add. So I will content myself with recording my impressions.

Just a flesh wound. I've had worse.

Just a flesh wound. I’ve had worse.

Starting with characters, we learn in the first five minutes of Episode 1 that Shinji is an insecure whiner with daddy issues. And after ten hours of alternating robot fights and whining, we get two episodes of pop-psychology designed to drive home the fact that Shinji is an insecure whiner with daddy issues. To top it off, the final four episodes show us that it’s not just him. Evidently, a job skills requirement to work at NERV, particularly as an EVA-insert is that you have parental abandonment issues and deep feelings of insecurity. None of the people involved could have passed the clearance requirements to be groundskeepers at NSA.

From a visual standpoint, even after twenty years, the series holds up surprisingly well. The future technology (2015!) still looks OK** and the robot fights were good (while Gainax had the budget to produce them). The artwork gets a B by today’s standards, which is pretty good for a series that’s older than most people watching it. The animation budget obviously ran out towards the end, and we were presented with minute after minute of stills-with-voiceovers. In one scene, in Episode 22, they evidently ran out of money even for seiyus, so Asuka and Rei stood ignoring each other in an elevator, silent and unmoving in a single still frame, for a timed 51 seconds — an eternity in a 25 minute anime.

I don't know, what do you want to talk about?

I don’t know, what do you want to talk about?

The ending was disappointing. Yeah, Shinji saves the world by grabbing the boy he loves in his EVA-fist and thumb-popping his head off like it was a matchstick, but that was episode 24, and we had two more that were presumably intended to be about the triumphal Human Instrumentality Project and the Third Impact, but instead sputtered out in a pop-psych post-amble. Not only did HIP-3i not happen in the anime, it didn’t happen in real life, either.

NGE should be required watching for anyone who complains about Western films and books appropriating other countries’ culture and symbology. The whole pseudo-mystical reasoning behind the existence of the Angels and the EVAs and the NERV organization and the Human Instrumentality Project is one giant raid that runs through Western religious tropes, looting and pillaging. From the Prophecies of the Dead Sea Scrolls to the Martini Fork of Longinius, director Anno picked whatever sounded good to him and stuck it in. Not that I’m complaining, mind you — sauce for the goose, and all — it’s more feeling embarrassed for him. I guess that’s much the way members of non-Western cultures feel when watching a Swedish actor playing a Chinese detective in a film story by an American from Ohio, or watching the fake kung fu in old David Carradine TV reruns, or listening to Yoda’s fake Asian sentence structure. To top it all off, the sound track is all Western classical music, mostly Beethoven.

To Conclude: I enjoyed the robot fights. I suffered through the mysticism. I gritted my teeth through the angst. But the part that made me smile was five minutes of the last episode, the ones that showed Shinji what an alternative world could be like, with childhood friend Asuka, new transfer student Rei, and sensei Misato. I’d watch a full season of that any day.

Late on the first day of class!

Late on the first day of class!

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*Obviously, it is working again, but it went out on Christmas Eve morning, and the phone company doesn’t work on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, Saturday, or Sunday.

** Also the year that the anime movies Whisper of the Heart and Ghost in the Shell came out.

***Except for the mobile phones and the cassette tapes