Friday, June 05, 2009

pickle spears: pro and con

I thought I'd take the opportunity of tonight's blog post to delve into controversial matters, specifically pickle spears: annoying waste of plate space that would be better spent on a larger sandwich or tasty treat of sweet sourness? For those of you who don't know what I am talking about, if you dine at one of the higher-end sandwich establishments (higher-end than Subway or McDonald's, I mean) you will find that it is customary to add an unannounced and unadvertised pickle spear on the plate next to the sandwich. This custom has become controversial in recent minutes, prompting me to try to clarify some of the issues.

First, let us consider the position of the anti-picklers. Those on the anti-pickle side of the isle like to refer to themselves as pro-sandwich, and out of courtesy, I shall use the name that these morons prefer to use for themselves although it is a stupid and deceptive name. I shall also refer to them as strawmen because of their common preference for plastic drinking straws.

The strawman position is that if there were no pickle on the plate next to the sandwich, then the sandwich would be bigger. Another common strawman argument is that the presence of an unadvertised garnish distorts the product, making something other than what was contracted for in the purchase. And finally, the strawmen claim that pickle spears are slimy and icky and that no one wants a slimy icky pickle spear next to their sandwich.

I will address each of the argument individually. The first argument is stupid. The second argument is moronic. The third argument has a kernel of truth, but is aesthetically dimwitted.

Having disposed of the strawman position, let me explain why that pickle spear is a delightful soury little treat. First of all it is delightful, second it is sour, third it is rather small, and finally, it is a treat.

I hope that this balanced review of the pros and cons of the great pickle debate has been enlightening. Tune in again next week for "straws: danger to distracted nostrils or great way to impress a first date by looking like a walrus".

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

fiction: A Hole In the Sky: part 2

continued from part 1:

The purpose of the road was obscure. No one lived in the area, there were no cattle, and there wasn't enough desert growth to justify a fire road, yet the dirt track wound off between the hills as though it had somewhere to go. They meandered through the narrow twisting valleys, leaving a cloud of dust to their rear.

Katrina kept taking pictures with her phone and sending them off to be uploaded onto her blog. Since there was no phone service in this remote area, she was using the satellite uplink. Satellite transmission was expensive and she knew that Julius would be upset when he found out, but he shouldn't have put the satellite relay in the hundred-thousand-dollar jeep if he didn't want it used.

The road did seem to be taking them closer to the storm, or whatever it was, and Matt was obviously frightened. She smiled to herself as he once more cautioned J.C. to slow down. The main reason she had wanted to take the road was because Matt didn't want to. He was constantly putting her down and sabotaging her plans for J.C.'s career so she took her little revenges when she could. Matt was basically a coward. He had had great potential as a super heavy weight, but he took a bad beating in a fight with the national champion and after that he was never the same. After a couple of more fights, he had retired from fighting to become J.C.'s full-time trainer. He had not only lost his chance to be a world champion, but had lost his girlfriend. Shortly after he retired, Katrina had broken up with him and started dating J.C. And the bastard hadn't even acted like he cared.

That last thought irritated Katrina enough that she had to take a dig at him, "What is the matter, Matt? You look a little white-knuckled. You are not scared of a little wind, are you?"

Matt gave her an angry look, "I'm more afraid of J.C.'s driving."

Katrina laughed and leaned dangerously far out the window for her next shot. Suddenly the hills opened up and they were looking at a good-sized valley. The tornado was on the far side of the valley tearing up some kind of structure. The howling had increased in volume to a banshee wail. The cloud had flattened out a bit at the top and now looked more like the traditional funnel cloud. As they watched, several old and rusted-out vehicles were sucked up into the mouth of the tornado. Katrina was able to follow the largest vehicle, some kind of truck, about half way up the funnel until it disappeared from view.

"That's going to hurt whoever it lands on," Matt commented dryly.

J.C. and Katrina looked quickly up at the sky, but it was clear and blue above them.

"Calm down, Matt." Katrina said. "Trucks are not raining down yet."

"Why not?" asked J.C. "They should get sucked to the top and then come down somewhere."

"They probably fell on the other side where we cannot see them." Katrina said.

"All three of them?" asked Matt. "And all the other stuff going up? Corrugated metal, wood, machinery, tanks ... In just a few minutes we've seen lots of stuff go up, but nothing come down."

"And the sky is clear," J.C. added. "If stuff were falling anywhere except the far side, we should have a clear view of it."

"Well, if nothing is coming down, there is no reason to stay in the truck, is there?" Katrina asked. She opened the door and stepped out. Matt made a motion, barely suppressed, to tell her to say inside. She smirked to herself.

Soon, J.C. joined her, handing her a soda from the minifrij and they sat on the hood, drinking their sodas as they watched the wailing destruction below them. Matt used the satellite relay to find the local 911 office, he got out and leaned against the SUV as he waited for the call to go through. When it did, there was some skepticism from the other side.

A business-like female voice answered the phone, "This is nine one one, please state the nature of your emergency."

"Hi, this is Matt Morely, I'm calling from a satellite phone. I wanted to report a tornado."

"Do you know what a dust devil is, sir?"

"Yes, maam, and this is no dust devil. It tore up several buildings and lifted some large vehicles up in the air."

"What county are you trying to reach, sir?"

"Uh, I don't know, it's the one in the northwest."

"Of what state, sir?"

"Of Arizona."

"Are you sure you mean Arizona, sir, and not Alabama?"

"Look, I live in Tucson. I know what a dust devil is and I know what state I'm in. We're just off Highway 93 on the way to Las Vegas."

"North or south of Kingman, sir?"

"North. I've got GPS coordinates."

"Please give me your GPS coordinates, sir."

Matt gave her the information and there was a long wait. Eventually a man's voice came on the line.

"This is Sheriff's Deputy Ron Preason. Please say again the nature of your emergency."

"We just saw a tornado tear up some buildings. We don't know if anyone was inside."

The tornado had by now moved to the edge of the valley and was about to move over a hill to the next valley. They got back in the car and J.C. started down the hill toward the ruined buildings. The generator engine started up automatically to begin refilling the depleted batteries.

"Sir," the deputy asked Matt, "do you know what a dust devil is?"

"Look", Matt was getting a little frustrated, "I'm born and raised in Arizona. I know what a dust devil is. I've never seen a tornado before, but this thing has torn up buildings and lifted vehicles up in the air."

"Please say your name again."

"Matt Morely."

"The fighter?"

Matt was only a little surprised. He wasn't exactly famous, but the fighting sports were more popular among law enforcement people than among the general public. "Yeah, the former fighter. I'm with J.C. Smith and his wife. We were on our way to Las Vegas for the fight with Marvel Mike when we saw the tornado and decided to follow it."

"Sir, do you know that it is a crime to make a false nine-one-one report and that we can get an owner's ID of the phone that you are using?"

"Yes, sir. Please send a car to the coordinates that I gave you. There is an old dirt road to reach the place."

"We know the site, sir." the deputy sounded accusing, "It is a common target of vandals and pranksters."

"Not any more," Matt assured him, "The entire site is gone."

"We have a car on the way, sir. Please stay there until a deputy arrives."

"Sure," Matt said, not mentioning that they were already moving. "When the deputy gets here, have him call us on the CB, channel 9." The deputy thanked him and hung up. Mike leaned over to turn on the CB and switch to channel 9.

When they got to the ruined buildings they could see the tornado's path in both directions through the valley, and it looked perfectly straight.

"Look at that path!" exclaimed Matt. "I thought a tornado would wind back and forth, but this one is going straight as a ruler."

J.C. drove to the center of the broad shallow trench that the tornado had excavated and began following it in the direction of the tornado.

"Hey, Kat," Matt said, "look through your photos for a couple of good identifiable spots where the tornado was. We'll get GPS coordinates of the spots and use the timestamps on the photos to estimate the tornado's speed."

"You can do that?" Katrina asked dubiously.

"It's basic mapping stuff, sweetie." J.C. assured her. "We do that sort of stuff all the time in orienteering."

Katrina found a good shot with the cone centered over a scared red boulder and another with the cone centered over the peak of the hill. They got coordinates at the boulder and then began driving up the hill. At the summit J.C. stopped and everyone got out to survey the tornado's path. Mike used the calculator on his computer and announced that the tornado was moving at about 12 miles an hour. From the regularity of the path ahead and behind, it seemed to be moving at a steady, straight 12 miles an hour.

"What kind of storm moves like that?" asked Katrina.


Tuesday, June 02, 2009

the new story

I'm trying to write a little ahead on "A Hole in the Sky", so I'm not as likely to get in the situation I've had in other stories where I wanted to change something earlier in the story but it had already been "published". Haven't decided how often I'm going to post either, but I'm having fun with this one. I'm planning to make it pretty straight heroic fiction, without all that distracting character and plot complexity. We'll see if I can stick to the formula...

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Hey! That's not Spock!

I just saw the new Star Trek. Can't say I agree with the rave reviews. The guy who plays young Spock comes across as something of a humorless prig rather than stern and hard like Leonard Nimoy did. The difference is subtle, but it's there. Nimoy was in the movie as the old Spock and he wasn't very good either. It may be mean to say it, but the truth is that Nimoy has aged so much that he now looks too feeble to play a Vulcan.

The movie makes sure you know that Kirk was a rotten rebellious kid, a rotten rebellious young adult, and a rebellious but just so darn brave slightly older young adult. They passed silently over the question of how someone who was so defiant of authority managed to get through Starfleet Academy, and with such high ratings that just three years later he was made first officer of the fleet's flagship during a major emergency, and then when he performed well in that event he was made captain of the fleet's flagship. I'm sorry, but it just beggars the imagination that a 23-year-old with a few days of experience would be made captain of any big ship, must less the flagship of the fleet --especially a 23-year-old with a juvenile criminal record and a history of defying his superiors.

It might be great cinema, but I'll bet in real navies, they aren't actually impressed with loud-mouth kids who won't follow orders because they just know that they're right and everyone else is wrong --even if said loud-mouth kid gets lucky and turns out to be right.

On the other hand, Uhura was a babe in this movie and there were some very good, very funny moments that remind you of the original series. The guy who plays the young McCoy is pretty good but doesn't have quite the comedic sense of his predecessor. The young Sulu is passable. The young Chekov and the young Scotty are very funny.

The bad guys are very good. I mean good bad guys, not good as in good guys. The special effects are up to modern standards; that is, they would have been awesome a few years ago.

And, people hate it when you pick on science errors, but the cosmology of the movie is every bit as ridiculous as it was in the series. There was a super nova that was close enough to vaporize a planet but far enough away that light didn't reach the planet for several days after the explosion and that replacing the star with a black hole was going to leave the planet safe. And no one could predict how long it would take for the light to get that far, apparently. A different planet is consumed by a black hole, and its moon (which was just referred to as another planet, but had to be as close as the Earth to the Moon from what they showed) was apparently in no danger.

fiction: A Hole In the Sky: part 1

Highway 93 between Kingman and Hoover Dam was untypically empty in the early morning light. Probably it was because it was midweek --not the peak time for traffic between Phoenix and Las Vegas. That was very good because in this area the barren hills were steep and rocky, and the 2-lane road wound cautiously between them, leaving only short areas for passing the tour buses and RVs --not to mention the boat trailers bound for Lake Mead. In other sections the hills were not so steep, and the road, emboldened by their gentle slopes, would climb to the summit of one after the other. The vallies between were shallow and bowl-shaped, giving the effect of a miles-long, and not very thrilling, roller coaster.

The radio was on a local station that played an unusual mixture of country, pop and R&B, and lots of Gordon Lightfoot who didn't really fit in any of those categories. But the mixture worked for Julius Caesar Smith who was driving the big SUV. He was a slim, tall man with a persistent grin below a nose that had been broken more than once. His name had been chosen by his father, John Smith, and his mother who was born Mary Jones. Both had felt that a child should have something unique and memorable about his name. Over his childhood, Julius Caesar had developed his own opinion on the matter, and since his thirteenth birthday had been going by the name J.C. In one sense it was too late by then since his habit of getting into fights was already well-ingrained --and his nose had already been broken once.

J.C. glanced over at his passenger who was deeply involved in whatever was on the laptop computer. Matt Morely had been more fortunate in the name department, but had still managed to rack up a couple of broken noses. Matt was a bit taller than J.C. and had the build of a weight-lifter. Feeling J.C.'s eyes on him he said, "They don't want to cancel the fight but they want to reduce the size of the purse based on the expected reduction in the gate."

J.C. scowled, "J.C. does not approve." he said, "J.C. will not fight unless they keep their end of the bargain."

Referring to himself by name and never using contractions was an affectation that J.C. used because his wife had convinced him that it would make him more noticeable in the fight circuit. Matt thought it made J.C. sound like a dork, being more appropriate to an actors in professional wrestling than to a genuine athlete in mixed martial arts. But Matt was just his trainer. J.C. let his wife, Katrina, pretend to be the public relations manager.

"Let's find out what the deal is before we say no, J.C.," Matt cautioned him. "You really need the money, and it's not like it's their fault that terrorists decided to attack a flight into Las Vegas."

"Yeah," a sleepy woman's voice chimed in from the back, "After you spent like a hundred thousand dollars on this damn jeep you really need the money."

"This is not a jeep, Sweety. This is a 6-wheel drive all-terrain super-flex-fuel serial-hybrid amphibious military scout vehicle with custom luxury outfitting. Or a Scout GT-E if you want a shorter way to say it." Then he leaned over to whisper to Matt with a sly grin, "And it cost a hell of a lot more than a hundred grand."

Matt grinned back, "It's a sweet ride, all right."

"What did you say?" Katrina's face appeared between the bucket seats. She was tall and slim, with an elfin face and with hair so blond that it was almost white. It contrasted fetchingly with her dark eyes.

"I said it's a sweet ride," Matt answered.

"No," she said, "Katrina heard Julius whisper something to you." She used the same speech affectations as her husband in order to help him keep in practice. It was a point of contention between her and Matt that Matt refused to go along also.

J.C. looked worried about Katrina finding out how much he spent, but Matt was a quick thinker, "He said you were going to look like a chipmunk since you slept in your makeup".

Katrina gave J.C. her patented wide-open-mouth look of surprise and shock as he sputtered, "J.C. did not say that, Sweetie, honest..."

Katrina punched him in the arm and slammed back in her seat, arms folded to announce a pending sulk. But she ruined the effect by immediately opening her bag to search for a mirror.

Matt laughed and then pretended to relent, using his most sincere voice, "I'm sorry, Kat, he really just told me not to say anything about your makeup until you had a chance to fix it."

"And so of course you had to say something," she snapped, examining her face in a small mirror. "It is not even messed up, Katrina looks fine." But she took something out of her kit and began touch ups anyway.

"And you went and hit poor innocent J.C.," her husband said plaintively. "J.C. is fighting Mike Marvosa tomorrow and now J.C. will be going into the cage with a bruised arm."

"Katrina is sorry baby," Katrina said, playing along. She leaned forward to kiss the spot that she had just punched and patted it gently. "Katrina will give J.C. a nice massage tonight to make up for it."

"Aw." Matt joined in, "Isn't that just sickeningly sweet."

"And Baby," Katrina said, ignoring Matt, "Can we just dump Matt out the door here? They say that many people abandon unwanted dogs along this road and Katrina believes that Matt fits the category nicely".

"Yes, they may do it, but it is illegal." J.C. answered seriously. "You wouldn't want J.C. to get a ticket, would you?"

"Hey, look at that!" Matt suddenly interrupted the conversation, pointing to the right and slightly ahead. "Is that a freaking tornado?"

"Where?" Katrina asked, shifting to look out the front, "It cannot be a tornado in Arizona, probably just a big dust devil ... Wow!" She stopped talking as she stared at the dark swirling cloud.

"J.C. cannot make it out," J.C. said, ducking his head around to try to get a look in brief glances as he kept his eye on the narrow road."

"J.C. does not look until J.C. pulls over and stops." Katrina said firmly. "You want to get us all killed?"

J.C. didn't pull over, but he did slow down to about twenty miles per hour as he tried to get a look at the cloud. "It does look like a tornado!"

The object of their interest was a twisting tunnel of dust and debris rising up to the clear skies. There was no particular funnel shape to it, but it was obviously much more powerful than the swirling whirlwinds of dust that spring up on hot, gusty Arizona days.

"It's too big and too dark for a dust devil," Matt said, "and the weather is too cool for dust devils anyway."

"But tornados do not appear on clear days, do they?" Katrina asked. "Where is Katrina's camera?" She was suddenly digging in her bag again.

"Hey, this road is going in that direction." J.C. said. He turned onto a small dirt track that intersected the highway.

"Wait, wait!" Matt said causing J.C. to slam to a stop. "We don't know how far away it is or how big it is. It could suck up this 6-wheel drive super-flex-fuel serial-hybrid military scout vehicle with custom luxury outfitting and spit it out a thousand feet up in the air."

"You forgot 'all-terrain' and 'amphibious'." Katrina said absently as she tried to frame the swirling cloud in the screen of her camera phone. After a moment of silence she looked up to find both men twisted around in their seats to stare at her. "What?" she asked, "It is not like Katrina has not heard J.C. give that description a thousand times."

The men looked at each other and then sat back to look at the cloud again.

"You mean," J.C. said after a moment, "You have been calling J.C.'s Scout GT-E a jeep all this time just to irritate J.C.?"

"Do not expect Katrina to be polite about the other woman in your life," Katrina said as she took a couple of shots with her camera phone. "Let us see if we can get closer."

J.C. looked at Matt. "Don't look at me," Matt said, "I've just been operating under the assumption that she's a dumb blond who doesn't know a jeep from a halftrack."

Katrina ignored him as she dialed her phone to send the pictures to someone. J.C. put the vehicle into gear and they started forward with just the sound of the six tires on the dirt road. The Scout's batteries were fully charged and at this slow speed, only the electric motors were running. When Katrina rolled down her window to get a better picture, they heard the distant howling of tortured wind. They slowly approached the ominous swirling cloud.

continued at part 2