Archive for the ‘Endorsements’ Category

Cahiers du cinéma: American Hustle

Monday, February 17th, 2014

This is why I love the Alamo Drafthouse so much. I was sitting in my seat watching the closing credits. The usher/waiter came over and asked me, “Was everything okay? Did you have any issues?” And I told him, kind of jokingly, “The only issue I had is that I can’t get these darn pens to write.” (There’s pens at each seat that you use to write down your order.)

And the guy smiles at me, says “Here. Go see a movie on me.” and hands me a free pass. When was the last time this happened to you?

===

I liked “American Hustle” a little better than “The Wolf of Wall Street” for two reasons. Namely, these two:

Sometimes, what is hidden is sexier than what is revealed.

Ms. Adams is wonderful. As are her costumes. I could stare at her all day long (or at least until she said “Stop staring at my cleavage”) and would happily take her out for the usual cheeseburger and house red.

Christian Bale completely disappears into the role of an overweight balding scam artist, and Bradley Cooper is fine as his FBI handler. “Hustle” is a perfectly fine way to spend a little over two hours. (At least it is fairly efficient in its storytelling, with no digressions about Quaaludes.) It even has a redemptive arc. So why don’t I have warmer feelings about the movie? Idiosyncratic personal reasons, which you can agree or disagree with.

There is a school of criticism that says you should judge the movie based on what’s on the screen, not the background or the subtext or even how closely it sticks to real events, even if it claims to be “based on a true story”. I mostly agree with this school of thought, but as I get older and Hollywood turns out more “based on a true story” movies, I start to think that it is fair to judge a movie that makes that claim, at least in part, on how closely it sticks to the facts. I don’t think that should be the only factor, but I do believe it is fair to say, “Look, the people behind this movie changed X, Y, and Z, their reasons for doing so aren’t convincing, and I think these changes make the movie weaker.”

“American Hustle”, to be fair, does not claim to be “based on a true story”. David O. Russell states up front that “Some of this actually happened”. And it is arguably fair for him and for the writers to deviate some from the real story behind Abscam.

My problem is that I read Robert Greene’s The Sting Man: Inside Abscam last week (in addition to having lived through Abscam) so the real story is fresh in my mind. And I had problems with the choices Russell made.

Specifically, I didn’t buy into the whole love triangle between Richie DiMaso (the FBI agent), Irving Rosenfeld (the Bale character) Sydney Prosser (the Amy Adams character, who starts out as Rosenfeld’s mistress). Other than Sydney wearing dresses slit down to waist level, what is the reason for the engaged DiMaso to fall so hard for her, hard enough to endanger his career? (In the real world, the Rosenfeld character’s mistress was nowhere near as heavily involved in Abscam as “Prosser” was; the Rosenfeld character got her off the hook as a condition for participating in the operation.)

What happens between the three of them sets up a nice twist ending that gives us catharsis; but the catharsis wouldn’t have been needed without that peculiar choice, which seems to have been motivated primarily by the desire to show off Amy Adams’ cleavage. (I won’t give away the twist in case you haven’t seen the movie, but in reality? Nothing even remotely close to it happened.)

Maybe I’m wrong, or maybe I’m being unfair to the movie. But I think Russell could have made just as good a movie by sticking closer to the true story, while still working in Ms. Adams and her spectacular cleavage.

I heartily endorse this event or product. (#10 in a series)

Wednesday, January 22nd, 2014

Echo Sling.

Remember I wrote a while back about the raffle for Bonnie? Matt Rodgers, the guy behind the Echo Sling, was nice enough to donate several of them to the raffle, and to the Squeak or Treat raffle the great and good Erin Palette was running as well.

And I was lucky enough to win one.

Which has been sitting on the gun cabinet since early November, for various uninteresting reasons. (If you want to say “because you’re slow and lazy”, well, that’s a pretty good summary.)

I actually went to install mine last night, and discovered something that would make the late Col. Cooper cry; none of my current long guns has sling swivels installed. (That’s stretching the truth just a bit; my sporterized M1917 Enfield does have sling swivels. However, it lacks sights; I’ve been saving my pennies to put some good glass on it.) I would have sworn one of my two 10/22s had swivels. Or failing that, the Marlin I bought as a car gun. Or some other gun from the arsenal. But noooooooooooooooo! Apparently, this is something to add to the “things I need to fix” list.

So I can’t bring you a review of the Echo Sling, because I can’t review it, because I’m not set up to review it. Yet.

So why am I writing about it and endorsing it, when I haven’t actually used it yet? Reason one: reliable sources say it is an excellent product. And I believe them.

Reason two: because Matt Rodgers deserves some sort of “thank you” for his donations. So call this a long overdue “thank you, Matt”.

Reason three: word through the gun blogger grapevine is that Echo Sling is struggling a bit at the moment, and I’d like for them to hang around until I can pick up at least two or three more Echo Slings. So this is my small way of helping out someone who’s a good guy. (If he wasn’t a good guy, would he have pitched in for Bonnie?)

Look at it this way: the Echo Sling is only $22 – $23 shipped to your freaking door. For that little money, how can you not at least take a flyer on one? You’ve probably spent that much money on a bad lunch, and I promise you the Echo Sling is much more satisfying.

Especially since the Echo Sling is engineered to withstand German Shepherds.

I’ll provide a comprehensive review once I’m able to get it set up and running on one of my long guns, but for now, consider this an official WCD endorsement.

Cause.

Monday, July 22nd, 2013

I haven’t gone crazy since I got the new job. I did purchase a few things: I bought a couple of DVDs during the Criterion 50% off sale. And I bought myself a snazzy new lunchbox, because I really needed one to take my lunch to work in. (I can’t use one of those plastic grocery bags, after all.)

I haven’t bought any guns, yet. (One of our local gunshops had a really nice US property marked Mossberg 44, at a reasonable price. But first I had to leave town, and then I dithered some when I got back, and when I went back Saturday they’d already sold it.)

There are a few other things I have on my agenda, but those may wait either until I get paid or until I empty the change bank. (I don’t really need the money in the change bank that badly, but it has actually gotten so full that the coins in it are interfering with the mechanism and keeping me from adding more coins.)

There’s one thing that I was glad to be able to do before time ran out: donate to the Evict Lyme FUNdraiser.

I don’t know Bonnie of Squeaky Wheel Seeks Grease. I’ve never met her in person, and if I did, I suspect she’d want to punch me in the nose. But she has a problem of the kind that requires expensive and extensive surgery, and she needs help paying for it.

I don’t know Jennifer, of In Jennifer’s Head, either. I’ve never met her in person, and if I did, I suspect she’d want to punch me in the nose. (If you think you’ve detected a theme here, you’re right. I pretty much assume everyone wants to punch me in the nose until proven otherwise.) But I feel pretty confident in saying that Jennifer is a good and decent person. Why? Because she’s running a raffle to help Bonnie out.

Not a charity, a raffle. With some pretty nice prizes. I like that leather range bag from Brownell’s (and I like the fact that Brownell’s donated it; it makes me feel all squishy inside when I think about them. Or that may be the enchilada burger making me feel that way. I can’t tell.) And that’s a swell looking holster from Dragon Leatherworks. (If I don’t win that one in the raffle, I’m planning to order a holster from Dragon soon-ish.)

There’s other nifty prizes as well. Would you like a shot at a pen and a bottle opener made from spent 50 BMG brass? A nice rifle sling? Wind chimes?

Go over and check out Jennifer’s post for rules, instructions, and a full list of prizes.

As I’ve said before, I don’t like using this blog to beg folks for money, so I try to keep the number of charitable solicitations down. I also don’t like asking you to give to a cause I haven’t given to myself, which is why I waited until I had a job and could chip in before posting here. In a way, I kind of feel that being employed now is sort of like being touched by grace, and giving money for Bonnie is kind of a thank-you prayer, or a way of paying that grace forward.

(Yeah, my theology is probably a little messed up. But this is the theology I have, and which is mine.)

I heartily endorse this event or product. (#9 in a series)

Sunday, July 21st, 2013

Texas Saké Company.

These folks are interesting for a couple of reasons:

  • They are making saké in Texas.
  • They use Texas rice to make their saké.
  • If it matters to you, the rice they use and the saké they produce are both organic.

Mike the Musicologist and I went down to their tasting room yesterday and had a flight of the four varieties of saké they currently produce. Their Tumbleweed Saké is a very dry, kind of light tasting saké; it really doesn’t have any kind of assertive flavor, just a kind of dry mouth feel. I believe Mike liked this one the best out of the four. As for me, I think this is an excellent drinking saké, but not a sipping one.

I slightly prefer the Whooping Crane for a clear saké. This has some nice floral notes, and is closer to what I’d consider a sipping saké.

The Rising Star is an unfiltered saké with a very assertive taste. I think this would match very well with food; I’d like to try it with some barbecue, perhaps.

The fourth saké we had was a “double nigori” unfiltered saké. If I remember correctly, not only is that one unfiltered, but they add additional rice sediment in the brewing process. Again, this is another one that I think would pair well with food; the taste is even more assertive than that of the single nigori.

Don’t get me wrong: all four of the sakés we had were very good, and I commend them to your attention. Mike, who is more of a saké connoisseur than I am, commented that they tasted different than what he was used to. Not “bad”, just “different”. I suspect that there are several factors involved; brewing style, perhaps, or a taste difference between Texas and Japanese rice. If you’re not a fan of Japanese saké, the Texas saké may still be worth a try for that reason. In Austin, you can find at least some of them at Whole Foods and Central Market.

And I’d also like to note that the folks at the tasting room – Toji, the head brewer, and the young lady who was helping him – were very nice to us. The tasting room isn’t a big place, and there were quite a few people there, and we didn’t have reservations, but they still went out of their way to make us feel welcome.

Unfortunately, the tasting room is closing down for the summer: it also doubles as the brewery, and apparently it is just too hot to make saké during the summer in Texas. But Texas Saké is having their second anniversary party on September 28th, so you might clear your calendar if you live in the Austin area.

These are swell folks, and they make an excellent product. I’d very much like to see them succeed to the point where they can’t sleep at night because there are too many $100 bills stuffed in the mattress.

I heartily endorse this event or product. (#8 in a series)

Tuesday, April 23rd, 2013

Silvercar.

This endorsement may be of limited utility to most of you, since Silvercar currently only operates in DFW and Austin. But I am hopeful that they will expand to other cities.

What are they? Silvercar is a car rental firm, but they’re different from your normal car rental company.

First of all, they only rent one type of car: silver Audi A4s. That’s not so bad, for reasons I’ll get into in a bit.

Second of all, their prices are reasonable: right now, they’re charging $75/day on weekdays and $50/day on weekends. That’s actually about what you’d pay for anything from Enterprise at the airport. (I just checked the Enterprise site: cheapest is $66.99 for a full-size car, going up to $127.56 for a “luxury” car.) That is with unlimited milage.

Thirdly, the experience is nowhere near as annoying as your average car rental agency is:

  • They pick you up at the airport. You pick your car. You scan the QR code with the Silvercar app on your phone. You drive away with your rental. If you want, they’ll give you a briefing on how to use the navigation and audio systems. If you need help, they have some very pleasant people available to walk you through the process.
  • Unlimited mileage.
  • Fuel is charged based on what you actually use (at prevailing market rate) plus $5 if you don’t return the car with a full tank.
  • They don’t get pushy about the “collision damage waver”. As a matter of fact, I don’t think they have such a thing.
  • Those nice people they have on duty kept asking if we’d like a bottle of water or something while we picked up and dropped off the car. When’s the last time Hertz asked you if you wanted a bottle of water?

And the Audi A4s they rent are fun cars. Yes, they have Bluetooth. They also have WiFi. Seriously. You can use your rental car as a WiFi hotspot while driving. Most of this stuff is your basic Audi features, as far as I know, including the navigation and audio. But it is still really nice to have these features in a rental car, especially at this price.

I should note that I didn’t actually rent the car: Mike the Musicologist came up for a visit and handled the interaction with Silvercar. But I was along for the pickup and dropoff, and from what I saw it was the most friction-free car rental experience ever.

We drove the Audi down to New Braunfels Sunday night to have barbecue at the Cooper’s there (which I liked very much). Then we drove back through the city and stopped at the Buc-ees (yes, the one that won the “America’s Best Restroom” contest – and, yes, it is a darn nice men’s room). Monday, MtM and I drove down to Boerne and had lunch at a wonderful German restaurant called Little Gretel. I want to go back. Actually, what I want to do is take a long weekend, book a motel room in Boerne, and stay for a day or two, eating at Little Gretel, feeding the ducks in the creek across the street, and exploring the surrounding area.

We drove back to Austin by way of Fredericksburg (stopping briefly at the shop for the Nimitz Museum/Museum of the Pacific War) and the Audi never missed a beat. It felt like it was on rails even when I pushed it close to 100 MPH, and we got around 26 MPG for the entire Monday trip.

The one small issue I’d bring up with Silvercar, if they asked me, is that they only provide an iPod connector for the Audi MMI system. It’d be nice to have at least the Audi USB connectors as well. (I was unable to find a USB port in the car: the MMI system does have two SD card slots, though, as well as a SIM card slot.)

So, anyway, if you need a good rental car in Austin (or DFW), give Silvercar a try. And thanks to Mike for organizing this adventure.

Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!

Friday, April 19th, 2013

The weather here yesterday was spectacularly crappy.

Today is beautiful. The sun is shining, the temperature is moderate – a perfect spring day.

For various reasons, including how nice a day it is (as well as some others that I don’t want to touch on just now) I thought it’d be fun to go down to the state capitol and take some photos.

So I loaded up the Honda with shovels and rakes and implements of destruction the big Nikon with the camera bag and lenses, as well as my tripod. Headed downtown to the capitol, got rockstar parking, and went inside to see a man about a racehorse before I started shooting. (Officious guard: “Sir, where are you going?” Me: “CHL holder.” OG: “Oh.”)

(For those who don’t know, the Texas capitol has a separate line for CHL holders that bypasses the metal detector.)

Anyway, get back outside, set stuff down, take out the camera…

…and the GD battery is dead. And, unlike my SD1000, I don’t have a spare Nikon battery.

Oh, well. I’m going to be down in that general area with the camera tomorrow as well, so I’ll plan on taking my photos tomorrow.

(And I stopped by Precision Camera on the way home so I could fix the “no spare Nikon battery” problem.)

(I’ve been meaning to mention this, but Precision Camera’s new store is really swell. Parking is a vast improvement over the old store, there’s much more space to move around and for them to display stuff, and the men’s room would get three stars if I was rating it for the SDC.)

Night thoughts.

Saturday, March 23rd, 2013

Some folks may have noticed that I haven’t been doing as much bread blogging recently. That’s because I haven’t been baking as much bread; I’ve been a little tied up with some family things. Nothing serious, nothing health related, and things are winding down. But it has distracted me a little from the bread machine. I’m going to try to do another one of Laurence Simon’s recipes this week, but I’m not sure which one.

In other news, I’m trying to get back on my bike. I have a Trek 7500 that I bought several years ago, and which sat idle pretty much the entire time I was going to St. Ed’s. I took it in last week and had it cleaned, lubed, and tuned; now I just have a series of petty annoyances I’m working my way through. (I couldn’t find my water bottles, so I bought replacements. You can’t have too many water bottles, anyway. Then I couldn’t find my bike shoes: I can ride the Trek in my normal sort of half-boot half-sneaker shoes, but it isn’t as efficient. REI had some Shimano SH-MT33L shoes on the clearance rack at an incredibly low price, so I grabbed a pair of those.)

(Side note: I bought my bike at Freewheeling Bicycles. Why? Lawrence bought his there. I’m happy I followed his lead. The total bill to get my bike out of hock last week was about $104. That price included $8 for a rear tube, and another $45 for a rear bike rack. I want to start making grocery store trips on the bike, rather than the car, so I bought the rack and plan to sling some panniers over it at some point. Since I bought the bike there, Freewheeling gave me a 25% discount on labor, so the whole thing ended up being much more reasonable than I expected. Consider this an endorsement of Freewheeling.)

(Side note 2: F–k Sun and Ski Sports, the horse they rode in on, and any horse that looks anything like the horse they rode in on.)

As a geek, one of the things I’ve always wanted to when I was riding was to log and track my rides. I have a cheap-ass bike computer with basic functionality: current and average speed, distance on current ride, odometer, and clock. But I’ve always wanted to be able to overlay my ride log onto a map and see where I’ve ridden, as well as getting elevation data. My feeling is that being able to do that gives me a tangible sense of progress, which gives me more motivation to ride. But those capabilities require GPS.

I’m still looking for work so I can’t (and don’t want to) spend $330 on a Garmin Edge 510 or $479 on a Garmin Edge 810. (“Social network sharing”?) If Garmin, or one of my readers sent me one, I’d certainly use it, but I don’t want anyone to do that (even as a birthday present). That kind of money will buy you a decent to nice Smith & Wesson, depending on what part of the country you’re in and what you’re looking at.

Here’s the thing: I’m smart. S-M-R-T. Smart. And not only am I smart, but! I have a smartphone! That has a GPS built in! And that runs apps! And, yes, there are cycling apps available! The big ones on Android seem to be MapMyRide and Strava, but I’ve also seen people say that MyTracks works quite well for cycling applications. And I already have MyTracks installed. And I already take my cellphone with me when I ride anyway, in case of emergency. Now all I have to do is get it properly rigged and I should have almost everything I need. (The last remaining piece is some cycling shorts with pockets. I’ve blown out the waistband on the one pair I have; whenever I put them on, they slide off my ass. This is not good for cycling purposes, or for staying off the sex offender registry purposes.)

(I got into a discussion with a friend of mine about Android/iPhone cycling apps. My friend’s position is that the dedicated cycling computers like the Garmin Edge line are preferable to using your phone for this purpose. His feeling is that running the GPS on the phone and logging data eats battery power, and your phone may run out of juice before you finish the ride. My feeling is: I’m not a high-speed low-drag road biker. I’m usually not out for more than an hour or two. If I start out with a fully charged battery, I feel like I should be able to run MyTracks for at least two hours without worry. We’ll test this theory once I get everything rigged for silent running. If I was doing the kind of thing he talks about doing, such as riding the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route 12 hours a day for ten weeks, I’d reconsider my position.)

Thinking about this some more, I wonder what the market for higher-end bike and running computers like the Garmins is today. Let’s see: I can pay $330 for the Edge 500. Or I can pay $196 for a HTC EVO V 4G Android phone pre-paid (no contract) from Virgin Mobile, get one of those cycling apps, and have two cameras and cell phone service. Or I could buy a cheap-ass used phone with no carrier off of eBay, run the same apps, do everything using WiFi, and not have to worry about breaking my good phone. All cell phones sold in the US are required to connect you with 911 even if you don’t have a service contract, so you’re covered in the event of a real emergency. And if you have a good cell phone you want to take riding with you, mounting brackets are a dime a dozen. Plus, I understand some newer Android phones support ANT+, so you can get cadence sensors and heart-rate monitors that will work directly with Strava or MapMyRide on your phone. No dedicated computer needed, so, again, what’s the market for that $479 Garmin Edge 810? (You can probably even do “social network sharing” from the phone, if that’s your cup of Gatorade.) Yes, you have to purchase the cadence sensor and heart rate monitor separately, but you also have to purchase those separately with the Edge 810: that $479 price does not include either sensor. If you have an iPhone, ANT+ isn’t directly supported, but Garmin will happily sell you an ANT+ adapter for a mere $50, or $40.73 from Amazon..

If any of my readers have experience with cycling apps like the ones I’ve mentioned (or others: I’m still running an Android phone, but iPhone users are welcome too) please feel free to leave a comment, or drop me an email if you’d prefer. Contact information is in the place where it says “Contact”.

Bread blogging: Shiner Bock Cheddar and King Arthur Flour.

Sunday, February 17th, 2013

This time, another bread from Laurence Simon, Shiner Bock Cheddar. And another recipe closely adhered to, even to the point of brushing the bread with butter and sprinkling in jalapenos and sesame seeds.

How did it come out?

(more…)

Travel note.

Wednesday, June 13th, 2012

Should you be planning to head out to Las Vegas for DEFCON, to get married, or any other reason, the Gun Store is offering $5 off any machine gun rental.

(Hattip: Lawrence.)

Followup roundup.

Friday, June 1st, 2012

Looking at site stats this morning, I noticed that my ThinkPenguin endorsement seems to be getting some traffic. I thought I’d bop over to their site and check: yes, they have the new dual-band wireless N USB adapters available. And to tell the truth, I like the design of this adapter better than the one I have.

Earlier this week, I commented on the death of Mack Wolford. Lauren Pond, a photojournalist, had been working with Rev. Wolford for the past year as part of a documentary project on the Pentecostal snake-handling religion. Ms. Pond was at the service where Rev. Wolford was bitten, and sat with him and his family as he died. Some of her photos, and her thoughts about what happened and her obligations, are in the WP.

Noted.

Monday, April 30th, 2012

Dereu and Sons Manufacturing Company (aka Spy-Coins.com), who we have previously endorsed in this space, are having a sale.

The hollow spy nickel is on sale for $19.50 (plus shipping). Add it to your cart and use the discount keyword “springfever”.

The hollow spy Kennedy half-dollar (the 1971 to present version, not the 90% and 40% silver ones) is on sale for $16.25 (plus shipping). Use the discount keyword ”fervent” at checkout.

I have no connection to the company except being a very satisfied customer who thinks their products are nifty. The sale ends May 3rd.

Inside jokes explained.

Thursday, April 12th, 2012

Several years ago, my aunt and uncle came from Ohio to visit us.

Of course, we wanted to show them a good time while they were visiting. The weekend they were here, Fall Creek Vineyards (whose products I wholeheartedly endorse) was having their annual “grape stomp”.

Now, the grape stomp is a family event, so of course they want to have something for the kids. That year, they happened to have a petting zoo.

While we were there, a non-child (I’d estimate his age at mid-20s to early 30s) picked up a little piglet that was running around the petting zoo.

Bad idea. You could hear the piglet screaming for miles around. Ear-piercing screams. And worse yet, the gentleman in question seemed totally oblivious to the fact that this little piggy was squealing at a decibel level only matched by AC/DC concerts.

I sidled over to my aunt and said, under my breath, “Put. The. Pig. Down. And nobody gets hurt.”

From that point forward, “Put. The. Pig. Down.” has become a family code phrase for “Somebody needs to stop what they’re doing now“.

Why do I bring this up?

Clad in a pink jacket and khakis, Young also carried a lamb around for ten minutes of his sermon. “Let’s give it up for the lamb and the lion!” Ed Young said over the bleats of the increasingly agitated lamb.

Put. The. Lamb. Down. Ed.