Thursday, January 31, 2008

Travis Pastrana Defeated by Deer at 2008 SnoDrift Rally

Via Autoblog/Vermont SportsCar

Parking Champions

It's What's for Dinner.

Suggestions on preparing steak:

If you prefer your steak tender on the interior and seared on the outside but don't have access to a 1800 degree oven I have some suggestions to give you a very comparable result with a just stove top and toaster oven.

Assuming you've acquired a nice cut of 8 or so ounces of meat, season liberally with your favorites. I personally like course ground sea salt, course black pepper and course ground dried garlic. The dried garlic is not going to be as good as fresh, but is certainly better than powdered if you have access to it. I suggest doing the top and bottom and using any seasoning that didn't stick to coat the sides of the meat. The point of the seasoning (other than to provide flavor), is to create an additional barrier to be seared without cooking the interior too much. If you use any salt, it also helps remove moisture from the exterior, helping the searing process.

Ideally you'll want to let the cut of meat rest until it reaches room temperature. In the meantime you can preheat your toaster oven. I usually set it to broil at the max temperature (in this case 450 degrees). You should let it heat for at least 10 minutes.

Before proceeding you may want to disable or block off your fire alarm as the next step creates a lot of smoke. Setup a pan (non-stick is probably easiest) on the stove top and put some olive oil in there. Enough prevent sticking but not enough to fry. Set the stove top to the highest setting and wait for the oil to start smoking. The smoke is your cue that the oil is hot enough. Once you've reached the smoking point, gently lay the meat in the pan. Let it cook on each side for about 1.5-2 minutes. This is crucial, we simply want to sear the exterior so that the toaster can continue searing as well as cook the meat internally. If you have the heat too low, or leave the steak in the pan for too long you'll end up cooking it which you don't want at this point. When you get to the point to flip it over, it should be a nicely browned on the edges. Be careful of the hot oil/splashes.

Take the steak immediately off of the pan and put it in your toaster. I don't like using tin foil, only because it stifles the circulation on the underside of the steak. Using just the rack helps cook everything faster and a little more evenly. Assuming you like it medium rare, after abour 10-12 minutes (the steak can be witnessed sizzling at this point), you can remove the steak from the toaster and let it rest for about 2 minutes.

If you cut it too quickly the juices will escape more rapidly which for some people is not preferred. It also gives it time to cool down a little before slicing it up. If you like it more well cooked, you can leave it in the toaster for several minutes more if you please. You could also skip the searing step if you wanted a more well done piece and just toss it in the preheated toaster.

The above is based on suggestions I've picked up from various shows and what has worked for me, so your mileage my vary.

Toothpaste for Dinner


My Flickr page. Images were taken with a combination of Nikon D50, D80 and currently D300.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Nutshell Movie Reviews

Some movies I saw fairly recently in no particular order. You might notice I mention the lengths of these movies. I don't mean to suggest that the length has anything to do with the quality of it, but it certainly figures in there somehow. That is, if a movie feels like its dragging, you're probably not enjoying it and vice versa. Just meant as a relative scale to let you know how much of your life you might regret living by watching one of these movies.

Blades of Glory (2007)- Funnier than I thought it would be; like most movies of this kind I think a lot of the gags were ruined/spoiled by the trailers when it was in theaters. Clocks in short (around 93 minutes) but not in a bad way. Amy Poehler and Will Arnette are a pleasant surprise as the rival team. If you like Jon Heder and Will Ferrell then you should check it out.

Shoot'em Up (2007)- I wanted to see this when it initially ran, but it was open for all of two weeks I think. Basic no brainer action movie however, that is what the director intended. Michael Davis' previous directorial adventure was the direct to Sci-fi channel Monster Man, which was sort of inexplicably bad. Sequences in Shoot'em Up were over the top ridiculous fun, with that it does not disappoint.

3:10 to Yuma (2007)- Another movie I wanted to catch on its initial run but never got around to. 3:10 to Yuma was hyped up by many and yet another remake of a classic film. I think that it lived up to the hype and Christian Bale and especially Russell Crowe's respective performances really sell the film. Though being a remake, based on what others have said of the original film, it manages to expand characters from the original without losing the direction and feel of the original film.

Ratatouille (2007)- Shouldn't be surprised but I was, I liked Ratatouille more than I thought I would. Patton Oswalt does a great job of getting sympathy from the audience as well as a bunch of other tip of your tongue actors/actresses (Brian Dennehy, Peter O'toole, Brad Garrett, Janeane Garafolo et al.). Typical, that is to say good, Pixar quality exudes in this movie.

Rambo (2008)- Between having heard Sylvester Stallone was doing another Rambo and actually seeing the initial uncut trailer, I was skeptical to whether or not he could pull it off. Not having seen Rocky Balboa but hearing he did pull that off, I remained cautiously optimistic. The uncut trailer gives you a glimpse of what to expect. Rather than try to throw a back story with some fictitious place, Stallone wanted to bring to light the genocide in Burma that no one wants to talk about. Politics aside, the movie provides almost a typical action movie formula. Humanitarian group wants to travel to badlands, Rambo refuses and eventually caves and they are captured. Rambo must rescue them with a band of ragtag mercenaries ironically enough hired by same humanitarian group superiors. The violence and gore in this movie is almost astounding, that alone should warrant viewing. Seeing Stallone run around and eviscerate Burmese soldiers is also enough to warrant viewing. The movie does a great job of villainizing the Burmese army and the conclusion comes somewhat quickly, if I had to complain about something. Another short movie clocking in around an hour and half. One somewhat unbelievable aspect is that John Rambo sports a Panerai Luminor Marina which they make a point to show several times. Sly is a big Panerai nut, big enough that they named a model after his movie Daylight and did some variations of their watches as "Sly Tech" pieces. Even still its kind of hard to suspend disbelief that living in the conditions John Rambo has, for that period of time he has one.

I Am Legend (2007)- Another remake based on Richard Matheson's novel I Am Legend, the previous films being the Omega Man and The Last Man on Earth. The film had great potential but I think the shortcoming was how thin the premise is. There was room for it to be more fleshed out, but it seems as though they wanted to keep it true to the source material. The first half to three quarters of the movie is the most interesting, showing Neville's daily routine and search for the cure. The conclusion comes far too quickly and almost as though the original author were either bored or wrote himself into a hole. The CG for the infected humans was unusual and at times suffered from the "rubber" body syndrome.

Death Sentence (2007)- This movie was embarrassingly bad. I was eager to see it in theaters but thankfully missed it. If not for the ending which wasn't really all that special I would have no reason to recommend this. Kevin Bacon ranges from acceptable to down right awful at some points. Generally speaking I've liked him in the movies I've seen but for some reason this movie just doesn't fit him. Typical revenge story that doesn't really kick in until the last quarter of the movie. The action is somewhat realistic though there are a few moments where you must suspend disbelief to proceed. Gang members respective portrayals are extremely corny (pouring 40oz for a fallen comrade) and poorly written. The other problem was that there wasn't really anyone even close to likable in the movie.

The Kingdom (2007)- Surprisingly better than I thought it would be though it begs a lot of questions. A lot of cliches though I don't think they can be avoided with the subject matter. Ending raises some questions as to the intent of the movie. I can't say much more without getting political (which I'm not good at).

Dragonball: The Magic Begins (1989)- AKA "Xin qi long zhu" Chinese live action story loosely based on the Dragonball world. This is easily one of the worst/best movies I've ever seen. I'm not sure I can categorize it as a movie that's so bad its good, I think it transcends that. The version I saw was a 'remastered' edition that had some added CG added for this release. I'm not sure if I can re-iterate what I saw into words, I would suggest if you have a friend who likes or has an inkling of interest in Dragonball, check this out (some alcohol wouldn't hurt either). This movie is really something that needs to be seen to be appreciated. There were moments where I wasn't sure I was watching the same movie and parts where I thought I went momentarily insane. I think both aforementioned parts involved Master Roshi/Kame Senin. Below is a taste of Master Roshi:

Zeiram (1991)- Japanese live action adaptation of anime/manga Iria. Film follows an intergalactic bounty hunter Iria and her partner Bob as they try to capture intergalactic space menace Zeiram. This all takes place on earth. Iria enlists the assistance of two bumbling Japanese electricians to capture Zeiram once and for all. I saw this movie when I was younger on VHS and couldn't appreciate it then. For what its worth, not an awful live-action adaptation. I'd say its a good adaptation considering the year it was made and the source material. Yuko Moriyama does a great job portraying the tough yet feminine Iria. The Zeiram costume is pretty impressive and does the trick of being intimidating/imposing in scale. The special effects were also good for its time, a healthy dose of stop motion and wire maquettes get the job done. The Zeiram head monster is a bit unnerving in its tentacle/phallus-ness. English dub is surprisingly good, they did a great job lip syncing.

Daywatch (2006)- I had heard about the novels this movie and Nightwatch were based on, however not having seen or read Nightwatch, left me very confused. The introduction was very cool, but sort of sets the viewer up for failure. The movie is quite long as well somewhere around 2 hours 26 minutes. Special effects are very well done, the dub was atrocious making the already incomprehensible plot more difficult to follow.

GTI Stage???

A couple weekends back I had some work done on my GTI. Matt at Swift Motorsports helped me get Revo software installed, along with Neuspeed P-Flow Cold Air Intake and Forge Diverter Valve with Blow-off/atmospheric spacer.

Before the modification, the GTI was spirited and already fun to drive. Only real complaint was that at low RPMs (everyday driving between 1500-3000rpms) the response was a little sluggish compared to what it was capable of on the highway.

Total install for all parts including retuning of the ECU took about 3 hours. After installation Matt presented me with a Dyno showing me the baseline HP and Torque compared to the stock Revo software as well as their resulting custom tune. The 2.0T engine is rated by VW at 200hp which we will assume is bhp. Actual whp rating was 180 or so stock, this went up to 209whp with the inclusion of the parts added above and with the custom tune. A rough ballpark estimation would put it around ~230bhp. The torque went from 170-180 ft/lbs to around 275 ft/lbs.
Comparing the stock diverter valve to the Forge replacement is night and day. The stock valve is made of underwhelming plastic with a thin rubber diaphram. Assuredly, the stock valve would expire much more quickly with the increased boost pressure from the Revo software. The replacement by Forge is made from aluminum with o-rings and over-built to withstand the higher boost pressure. Driving home the first thing I noticed was the almost immediate throttle response at low RPMs. Matt said that for the custom tune, they were able to provide a lot more HP at lower RPMs than stock and it felt like it. The P-Flow intake was instantly recognizable as you step on the gas the air rushes in like the engine is breathing (well it is!). The next thing was the Blow-off valve, when letting off the gas, the pressure released emits a "pssshh" which never fails to bring a smile to my face.

Considering the gains in HP and Torque, the cost and time to install I wouldn't hesitate recommending any of the parts or Swift Motorsports for any upgrades for your vehicle. Matt was helpful and eager to explain the modifications as well as explain the Dyno chart for someone new as myself to the upgrade dept. I recall initially going on the GTI test drive and the first time I accelerated it brought a sh!t eating grin to my face. These mods up that and make me feel like that each time I step on the gas.

Guitar Hero 3 (Xbox360)

The fabled Guitar Hero 3. It was with some trepidation that I approached GH3 and purchased it. Having had limited experience with the first game and being pretty poor at it, I was gunshy to try the latest one. In a relatively unrelated note, having tried Rockband made me want to give GH another shot. I purchased and will be talking about the GH3 Wireless bundle for the Xbox360.

An interesting tidbit, the RedOctane/Harmonix duo basically dissolved with the companies being purchased by Activision and MTV respectively. RedOctane retained the rights to Guitar Hero, developed by Neversoft (THPS etc) and as a result Harmonix/MTV developed competitor Rockband.

After configuring and mating the wireless Les Paul styled axe you are treated to an animated epic featuring a generic rocker who will represent you in further cutscenes in career mode. The style of animation is reminiscent of the Guitar Hero commercials that aired where they battled an incoming meteor and that of strangely enough Batman: The Animated Series.

Navigating menus: with the wireless Les Paul you can use with the strum bar to navigate or the directional pad near the 360 button. Confirming is done with the Green (first) fret and canceling or going back with the Red (second) fret.

From the get-go, you have the option to start the career mode, tutorial, quickplay or try multiplayer online.

The Practice mode has a tutorial as well as a practice mode for individual songs. The tutorial is pretty broad but gives you the necessities you will need as well as some advanced techniques like hammer-on and pulling-off.

Beginning career mode you are charged with selecting a difficulty and then selecting your character, you can switch characters later if you choose. As far as I can tell each character seems to play the same, you just will have different "styles" and "outfits" to choose from. I chose Casey:

After selecting your character you can start your first show. The shows are basically your stages with the songs within each being a level. It is not required (at least on easy) to complete all of the songs to proceed. Typically the last song you play (before you proceed) you may be asked to do an encore for more cash or do a Boss Battle.

This is what you'll see when you start a song:

On easy only the first three frets are used (Green, Red, Yellow). The corresponding frets on the screen are from left to right (Green, Red, Yellow, Blue and Orange). As you increase in difficultly more frets are added, except for the hardest difficulty where all the frets are in use but there are more notes to play. On the left side is the score with a clicker tally that keeps track of continuous notes played if you do more than 20 or so in a row. Thus far I've been able to get 50 and 100 continuous notes, a message will also be displayed on screen which is a little distracting when you're trying to concentrate on the incoming notes. On the right side is the ROCK meter. When you play well the meter will reflect that. The more star notes you hit and if you use the whammy bar to extract more star power, you will build up the meter more quickly. Once filled you will be able to use Star Power (tilt the guitar upward to the rock gods) which is just a point multiplier.

I found that this iteration to be a bit more user friendly than the previous iteration, and having extra songs, characters, outfits to purchase an inviting incentive to replay tracks or to proceed further in the career mode.

The songs really run the gamut, and even with some songs that I wasn't necessarily a fan of, I found myself tapping along happily. There are classics on there from Paint it Black to Bulls on Parade. They are glorified covers in most cases, but they're for the most part well done. The intagible fun aspect is there though and I think ultimately if you don't take things too seriously you'll have a good time with it.