Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Ulgh...Shangrila Towers, Food Poisoning Edition

Sorry for the slow posting over the weekend - let's just say I'll never eat at the Carving Station Buffet again.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Politics: Is It Over Yet?

Primary season is the dreariest part of the political year. For some reason, intra-party mudslinging is more intense than anything that can be cooked up by the other side of the aisle.

In Florida, we've had a pair of vicious primary fights, with multimillionaire outsiders Rick Scott and Jeff Greene buying ads left and right to malign their opponents. I don't really care for any of the candidates (one of the perks of being a registered libertarian is that you seldom get any mailings for primaries), but I know a good attack ad when I see it. Here are a couple of my favorites:

Of course, these have nothing on the demon sheep ad:

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Movies: Kick-Ass

Costumed vigilantes are a dime a dozen at the cinema these days, and it's getting hard for any particular superhero movie to stand out. Does "Kick-Ass" rise above the crowd?

The story is standard origin-type stuff: Dave is a stunningly average teenager who gets a crazy idea in his head; aside from his lack of superpowers or special training, there's really nothing stopping him from dressing up like a superhero and fighting crime. His first few outings don't go quite as planned, yet his fame spreads far and wide via the power of the Web.

And that's when the real trouble starts...

"Kick-Ass" is helmed by Matthew Vaughn ("Stardust," "Layer Cake"), and as a whole, it's a pretty fun spin on the superhero tale. Unlike "Watchmen," which deconstructed the whole enterprise and drenched it in disillusionment, "Kick-Ass" is an optimistic romp that reinforces all the cardinal lessons of comics: the good guys win, the bad guys lose, and you can indeed stand up for what you believe in.

Though Dave is the protagonist, the movie is anchored by the scene-stealing duo of Nicolas Cage and Chloë Grace Moretz, who play the father-and-daughter superhero team of "Big Daddy" and "Hit Girl." Cage is used to the role of off-kilter father by now (think "Matchstick Men"), but he's positively hysterical when he lapses into an overcooked superhero voice a la Adam West's Batman. Moretz's "Hit Girl" is awesome on a visceral level (nothing like seeing a little girl slice people up), but she brings an unexpected emotional depth to her character's relationship with "Big Daddy."

Rating: 8/10

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Miscellany: Mulliga's Urban Survival Kit, Part 3

While my blog is mainly about escaping the mundane through art and adventure, this series of posts addresses "escape" in a more literal sense. Here, I present my ideas on a lightweight, inexpensive collection of items for surviving an urban or suburban disaster. Part 1 introduced the concept and went into my choice for the survival kit's container. Part 2 discussed some options for your first aid kit. Part 3 addresses the next most-pressing needs: water and food.

-- WATER --

If the municipal water supply breaks down, and the store shelves are empty from panic buying or looting, it may become very difficult to find drinkable water in your city. As such, your survival kit should have a subsystem to address the acquisition, purification, and (most importantly) storage of drinking water.

Pantyhose/Handkerchief/Cheesecloth - In dire situations, you may need to skim standing water off of wherever you can find it - flowerpot dishes, buckets, old tires, truck beds, and the like. A piece of lightweight fabric can be used as a prefilter for your water, keeping out the larger rocks, bugs, and plants from your bottle. IMPORTANT - unless you are critically dehydrated, the strained water still needs to be boiled, filtered, and/or chemically treated.

Emergency Poncho - Rain is the best source of potable water since it doesn't need purification, but catching it requires a little more than sticking a water bottle out the window. The cheapo emergency ponchos sold at big box stores can be used to collect rainwater much more efficiently - just suspend the poncho and direct the water right into your bottle.

Metal Can or Cup - In a pinch, you can carefully boil water in a regular disposable plastic bottle by suspending it over a fire ( that is, if you don't mind the taste of charred plastic). I think it's a heckuva lot simpler to carry a small steel can or cup around. The camping kind with collapsing handles are probably the nicest, but you can improvise one out of any steel can or container.

Water Bottle - There are a lot of options for carrying water, including Camelbak-type reservoirs and the traditional military canteens. I prefer an ordinary screwtop water bottle, whether it's made of steel (Kleen Kanteen), plastic (Nalgene), or aluminum (Sigg).

Each type has pluses and minuses. The single-walled, nonpainted Kleen Kanteen bottles can double as boiling containers in an emergency, but they're also heavier. The Siggs are the most pleasant to drink from, have very durable screwcaps, and look the coolest, but they're usually fairly expensive (look for clearance sales). The Nalgene or Camelbak plastic bottles are indestructible, but their caps aren't quite as bombproof as the Sigg bottles.

Collapsible water bottle - The rigid water bottles are meant to be ready and filled 24/7 so you have water in an emergency. These collapsible bottles are for storing extra water as you come across it. There are several varieties out there - I recommend getting one with a built-in loop so you can attach it to your kit's container (examples: Platypus PlusBottle, Nalgene Cantene). If you're really pressed for cash, grab a few large Ziploc bags, reinforce them with clear packaging tape, and run a couple of paracord loops around and underneath them - instant poor man's Platypus.

Chemical Tablets - When you can't boil water but you don't have the space to pack a filter, chemical water treatment can save your bacon. Both iodine and chlorine based solutions are available. While neither can kill 100% of the nasties in groundwater, both should make the water drinkable in an emergency. Be sure to follow the instructions on the package, and remember that these tablets have limited shelf lives (they go bad in months if the actual package or bottle is opened BTW).


Filters - I don't have a water filter in my kit, but they really excel at getting rid of dirt, algae, and all the other particulate matter that boiling and chemical treatment will leave in your water. I don't view that as a huge issue in an urban enviornment, since even compromised tap water will be mostly free of mud and gunk. For a wilderness kit, though, these are indispensable. The Katadyn/Pur line of filters, specifically the Hiker, are extremely popular and reasonably priced. Avoid the straw varieties unless you are really pressed for weight/space - they have small capacities and you're using your lungs to do the work instead of your hands and arms.

SteriPEN - These devices use UV light to deactivate the reproduction of parasites and other microorganisms. They work quickly and don't take up much space. The major limitation, though, is that the water cannot be cloudy or turbid, as the light has to reach all parts of the water to be effective. For an urban setting, the SteriPEN is a viable option, as most water you'll find in a city will be fairly clear. I don't have one, though, because they're expensive.

-- FOOD --

Food is a low priority in a survival situation, but that doesn’t mean it should be neglected entirely. You may be able to "survive" without food for many weeks, but after a few days of starving yourself, your body doesn’t have the energy to do much of anything - you’ll get tired easily and quickly, and your resistance to illness and injury will start to decline.

Remember, however, that it takes water to digest food. You generally won't be doing yourself any favors by eating dry food without a good supply of water. Here are some of my favorites for M.U.S.K.:

Beef Jerky - Tons of protein, minimal fat. Won't make you feel "full," but will help keep your muscles from wasting away.

Energy/Cereal/Granola Bars - The backbone of your food items. Look for calorie density, physical durability, and taste.

Powdered Drink Mix - A dilute solution of Gatorade mix and water can be used to rehydrate someone suffering from shock. Don't use the proportions given by the package directions; the end product is so cloying that people might throw it up when they drink it.


MREs - The classic survival food. They're not cheap, but they have a ton of calories, are fairly durable, and are readily available online.

Mountain House Freeze-dried Meals - A favorite of campers. Sealed bags make the meals incredibly easy to prepare - just pour boiling water into the bag, wait awhile, and eat directly from the bag. It's not great cuisine - most varieties taste like Hamburger Helper - but it's a hot meal, and it doesn't weigh much. Like most of the listed foods, these are extremely high in sodium, so make sure you have plenty of water handy.

Chocolate - In terms of palatability, sugar and fat content, few food items rival solid bar chocolate. Eating one of these provides a rush that can power you through a strenuous activity, whether it's hiking to an evacuation area or building a shelter. Downside is that these melt like crazy when it's hot - not so appetizing when it's chocolate goo on a wrapper.

That does it for water and food. Next post will feature M.U.S.K.'s clothing accessory subsystem.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Music: Bed Intruder

Okay, here's a news report featuring a (rather energetic) young man calling out someone who tried to rape his sister:

Next came the "AutoTune the News" parody:

And that parody spawned a whole bunch of covers:

The Internet: where one person's crazy situation entertains the rest of humanity.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Due to the release of Starcraft II...

...posting has been a bit slow around here. Fear not, after my Hellion flamethrower buggies have incinerated the Zerg menace, normal activity (along with a full review) will return.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Food: Bad for You Breakfasts, Born in Houston

Empty carbs have been the villain in the nutrition world for some time now, and before that, fat was the big foe of dieters. Here are two eateries, both founded in Houston, Texas, that are guaranteed to bust any diet:

Shipley Donuts

It's a little sad that the worst donut franchise, Dunkin' Donuts, is also the most common one. If you've ever had a DD donut and wished it were a little fresher, a little hotter, and a little softer, than Shipley is the place for you.

Like Krispy Kreme Doughnuts, Shipley locations generally cook their donuts on the premises, leading to better, fresher donuts but necessitating bigger locations and more equipment (Dunkin' Donuts is successful partly because franchisees do not cook their donuts on-site). Unlike KK, who experienced problems with their aggressive expansion, the majority of Shipley Do-nuts locations are in Houston.

They're pretty good donuts, striking a balance between the cakelike feel of a DD donut and the fresh airiness of a KK donut. They're such an institution in Houston, even the Houston Texans Cheerleaders like 'em:

She didn't eat the whole thing, of course - not hard to see why. One last thing...Shipley donuts are best consumed fresh - they lose much of their luster when they've sat for a few days.

(Hot Donuts) 3/4 stars
(Three Days Old) 1/4 stars

Kolache Factory

Kolaches are small pastries that hail from central Europe. The magic of immigration has spread them all over the world, and they're particularly popular in Texas.

That popularity has fueled Kolache Factory, a fast food bakery chain that serves kolaches with various fillings. You can get simple cheese or fruit-filled kolaches, or opt for something heavier, like ham and eggs. Whatever version you get, though, be prepared to loosen your belt a few notches.

In terms of taste, these are pretty run-of-the-mill, mass-produced food items - sort of like eating a sweet dinner roll with stuff inside it. Yet while they'll never compete with a real Czech bakery, the good KF franchises are convenient and addictive, the sort of guilty fast-food pleasure that keeps you coming back. If you visit a bad Kolache Factory location, though, you can expect non-English-speaking service, cold coffee, and old kolaches.

(Good Location) 2/4 stars
(Bad Location) 1/4 or 0/4 stars