Sunday, November 18, 2012

Food: It's pie time we had some Thanksgiving around here...

Pumpkin pie was the first pie I learned to bake. Aside from making the crust, which takes a little practice (and a lot of patience), it's about as simple as a pie can be. The raw ingredients - flour, butter, eggs, sugar, and spices - are staples that you probably already have lying around your kitchen. From there, it's just a matter of following directions.
I've tried this filling and this crust and obtained good results, but most pie bakers have recipes they swear by. This Thanksgiving, I hope your go-to pumpkin pie recipe serves you and your family well.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Election Day

"The government consists of a gang of men exactly like you and me. They have, taking one with another, no special talent for the business of government; they have only a talent for getting and holding office. Their principal device to that end is to search out groups who pant and pine for something they can't get and to promise to give it to them. Nine times out of ten that promise is worth nothing. The tenth time is made good by looting A to satisfy B. In other words, government is a broker in pillage, and every election is sort of an advance auction sale of stolen goods."

-- H. L. Mencken

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Guns: Son of Frankencarbine!

Going by the whole "two is one, one is none" philosophy, here's a carbine I put together to back up my main housegun, the Daniel Defense AR: 
BCM Complete Upper (16" lightweight barrel with midlength gas system, VTAC ALPHA handguard, BCM bolt carrier group) - Very happy with this upper so far. Completely reliable, accurate, and extremely svelte considering that it has a full 16" barrel.
Spike's Tactical Lower (Zombie receiver, enhanced lower parts kit) - Pretty spendy version of a standard lower parts kit. I like Spike's "Battle Trigger" okay (basically a crisper, lighter pull version of a milspec trigger), but the competition-style units (Geissele) are what everyone uses nowadays, and I'd probably opt for that if I were to do it all over again.
Magpul stuff (CTR stock, BUIS, MS3 sling/ASAP plate) - Pretty standard equipment in the AR world; if you don't have them on your gun, you've probably tried them on someone else's gun. I will note that the MS3 is a way better sling than the old MS2. It's more comfortable (wider webbing) and easier to use (new all-polymer attachment hardware).
Quark AA² Tactical LED flashlight in Viking Tactics mount - I've taken to putting this combo on every one of my long guns that can handle it. It works especially well on the BCM upper: the flashlight is mounted so far forward that almost none of the light is blocked by the barrel.

Tech: XCOM: Enemy Unknown review

Play "X-COM: Enemy Unknown" for any length of time, and you'll bring back some war stories from the battle against the alien invasion:

The rookie was dead. She had charged out of cover to toss a grenade at the corner of the grocery store. Brave, but foolhardy - it had left her exposed to the X-Rays' return fire. Sarge had been shot, too, and was quickly bleeding out against the store's front wall.

The medic who could have helped Sarge was pinned down behind a car. Whether intentionally or not, the E.T.s' suppressing fire had ignited the car's gas tank, and the whole thing was about to go up. If the medic didn't move now, both he and Sarge would be dead.

The sniper raised his rifle, lining up on a shot on the Floater that was suppressing the medic. It wasn't an easy one - right through the windows of the truck the sniper was using for cover - but it was the only chance they had. Hit, and the medic could move and stabilize Sarge. Miss, and...

In the game, you command XCOM, a clandestine organization devoted to stopping the alien menace. Most of the time, that involves sending a team of soldiers to an abduction site or crashed UFO somewhere on the globe to eradicate the visitors. Between missions, you research new technology, build up your secret base, and manage your soldiers.

Firaxis smartly eliminated the annoying aspects of the XCOM series out of "Enemy Unknown," while leaving the core gameplay intact. You're still sending squads of soldiers up against dreadfully powerful aliens, but the game doesn't force you to micromanage fifteen different inventories or spend half an hour searching for the last alien on a level. Instead, the focus is squarely on tactical combat - sending soldiers from cover point to cover point, using skills and abilities effectively, and minimizing your losses when things go wrong.

And things will go spectacularly wrong. Every casualty is a huge blow; once your soldiers die, they're gone for good, and it can take a dozen missions to build up a veteran squad. For maximum pain, you can even play in"Iron Man" mode, which automatically saves your game after every move (thus preventing you from retrying a disastrous mission).

Predictably, "Enemy Unknown" de-emphasizes the global strategy "Geoscape" portion of the original game. You control one XCOM base instead of many, and there's never any question of what you should research or build next to advance the plot. Hardcore XCOM fans may not like how the base portions are now mere prepwork for the ground combat missions, but I think it's worth it when you're getting tense turn-based action in return.

Rating: 85/100

Music: Red

If you had a pulse these last couple of weeks, the campaign was inescapable. TV spots. Radio ads. Interviews on Letterman, "The View," and "Good Morning America."

The election for POTUS? Nah, I'm talking about Taylor Swift's all-out advertising frenzy for her new album, "Red":

I find it weird that some feminists criticize Swift, who has essentially made herself into one of the biggest brands in the country (it isn't that she pushed her album onto Papa John's Pizza boxes, it's that her yearly earnings already equal Papa John Pizza's net income). She's the model for what a 21st century musical act has to be to sell records - self-aware, and relentlessly self-promoting.

Of course, all the publicity in the world wouldn't help if the music wasn't any good. Fortunately for all of us, "Red" is another solid entry in Taylor Swift's diary-spillin', boy-shamin' oeuvre. In the album, Swift uses different musical styles for nearly every song, from U2-style stadium rock ("State of Grace") to sappy middle-of-the-road ballads ("I Almost Do").

The music might change, but the subject matter is still the same - love and break-ups ("And you call me up again just to break me like a promise/So casually cruel in the name of being honest" - ouch, Jake Gyllenhaal). This time around, Swift brings in Swedish pop overlords Max Martin and Shellback to pen her three outrageously catchy tracks, including a surefire No.1 party song, "22." There are also duets co-written with Ed Sheeran and Gary Lightbody, which offer a nice break from Swift lyrically kicking the junk out of her famous boyfriends.