Sunday, March 18, 2018

The Lost Army of CambysesThe Lost Army of Cambyses by Paul Sussman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The book held my attention for the first 75% of the book and then fell into the trap that a lot of fiction does. The author had written himself into a corner, placing hte heroes in an impossible to escape from situation - except now he had to find a way for them to escape! Enter Deus Ex Machina! Not once, but twice. A shame because it ultimately weakens character that had been resourceful under difficult circumstances thru out the entire story, reducing them to puppets blown around by forces that really should've destroyed them - except for that darned convenient divine intervention!

Still, I see a lot of promise, in Inspector Yusuf Khalifa. The novel creates an interesting, fully fleshed character, in an Egyptian culture foreign and fascinating. I'm looking for the next novel in the series, I just hope it ends better than this one.

View all my reviews

Sunday, July 06, 2014

California Grilled Chicken

I'm back!  After an absence of a couple of years, I've decided to return to blogging.  Mostly recipes. but occasionally the odd note about the news. I've pretty much sworn off politics - mostly because of my blood pressure, but also because of the incredible stupidity of the average voter

So, I'm mostly going to be putting up recipes, which relaxes me and I cook seldom enough that I really enjoy the few times I do it.  Today's recipe is something I just made up (well, it's a variation of a recipe I can't find, but there's a bunch of them out there.)  At any rate, I call it California Grilled Chicken.

  • Five ounces of Worcester sauce (Lea & Perrins is best; lesser sauces all seem to have sodium benzoate, which seems to have some health concerns associated with it).
  • Some cilantro
  • Four lobes of garlic
  • One large lemon
  • four tablespoons of olive oil.
  • Six large skinless chicken breasts.
Mince the cilantro as fine as you like it - I tend to leave the leaves pretty much intact, but that's only because I like the way it looks.  Mince the garlic.  Using a juicer, juice the lemon and remove the seeds.  Grate some lemon zest.  Put the cilantro, garlic, lemon juice (and the pulp) and zest into a mixing bowl.  Add the Worcester and olive oil. Mix it up!

Marinate the chicken at least four hours.  The way I do this is using large Ziploc bags, three chicken breast to a bag.  Pour half on the marinade into one bag and the rest into the other.  Put them in the refrigerator and let 'em sit.

Fire up your grill.  I use a gas grill as I like to be able to fire it up without messing around with charcoal, lighter fluid, that sort of thing.  Also, I have better temperature control with a gas grill.  At any rate, all grills are different - you want to cook the chicken all the way through without drying it out. I use a low heat and check it constantly.

We cut the cooked chicken into long strips and put it on salad.  Mary likes to put a sesame seed dressing, mandarin oranges, sliced almonds and egg noodles on hers - I prefer Italian dressing, red onion, olives and egg noodles. (I like egg noodles).  

And there you have it.  This a good eat on those blistering days when the temperature is over 100 degrees and you really don't want to turn on the oven. 

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Irish Brown Bread

Well, it's St. Patrick's day, so it's time for another Irish Recipe: Irish Brown Bread.
Generally, when someone refers to brown bread, they're talking about a bread that uses baking soda instead of the traditional yeast for rising. I'll eat this bread anytime (it's really good with soups) but to get the full flavor, you have to eat it still warm from the oven with melted butter and honey.

  • 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 ¼ cups whole wheat flour
  • ¾ cup quick oats
  • ½ cup wheat germ
  • 2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 ¾ cups buttermilk
  • 2 tbsp honey

Heat oven to 425°F. Coat a large baking sheet with cooking spray. In a large bowl, mix flours, oats, wheat germ, baking soda and salt.

Whisk together butter-milk and honey. Add to flour mixture, stir combine until soft dough forms.

Turn dough out onto floured surface. Divide in half. Shape each half into a round loaf. Place loaves 3 in. apart onto prepared baking sheet; bake 10 minutes.

Reduce temperature to 400°F. Continue baking 10 minutes longer or until bread sounds hollow when tapped. Let cool 15 minutes.
And that's all there is to it. Now, Sláinte Mhath!

May your neighbors respect you,

Troubles neglect you,
The angels protect you,
And Heaven accept you.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Swatting: Someone's gonna get hurt

According to Wikipedia, swatting is an attempt to trick an emergency service (such as a 911 operator) to dispatch an emergency response team. The name is derived from SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics), one type of such team.

This is something I've worried about for a while, ever since I figured out that it was possible to use an internet-based phone service to fool caller-ID into showing whatever you wanted it to show. My concern was that unscrupulous telemarketers would pose as someone you'd want to talk to, say your bank, just to get you to pick up the phone. Swatting is much worse...

9-1-1 calls serve as their own probable cause empowering cops to use just about any amount of force to determine what the heck is actually going on. Orange County over-reacted: an actual flesh and blood cop should've investigated the scene before the SWAT teams were called in.

In recent history, we've discovered suicide by cop - let's hope that cops and technology are able to prevent using 9-1-1 to commit assault-by-cop,

SWAT Teams Deployed in 911 Fraud

AP Technology Writer

Doug Bates and his wife, Stacey, were in bed around 10 p.m., their 2-year-old daughters asleep in a nearby room. Suddenly they were shaken awake by the wail of police sirens and the rumble of a helicopter above their suburban Southern California home. A criminal must be on the loose, they thought.

Doug Bates got up to lock the doors and grabbed a knife. A beam from a flashlight hit him. He peeked into the backyard. A swarm of police, assault rifles drawn, ordered him out of the house. Bates emerged, frightened and with the knife in his hand, as his wife frantically dialed 911. They were handcuffed and ordered to the ground while officers stormed the house.

The scene of mayhem and carnage the officers expected was nowhere to be found. Neither the Bateses nor the officers knew that they were pawns in a dangerous game being played 1,200 miles away by a teenager bent on terrifying a random family of strangers.

They were victims of a new kind of telephone fraud that exploits a weakness in the way the 911 system handles calls from Internet-based phone services. The attacks - called "swatting" because armed police SWAT teams usually respond - are virtually unstoppable, and an Associated Press investigation found that budget-strapped 911 centers are essentially defenseless without an overhaul of their computer systems.

The AP examined hundreds of pages of court documents and law-enforcement transcripts, listened to audio of "swatting" calls, and interviewed two dozen security experts, investigators, defense lawyers, victims and perpetrators.

While Doug and Stacey Bates were cuffed on the ground that night in March 2007, 18-year-old Randal Ellis, living with his parents in Mukilteo, Wash., was nearly finished with the 27-minute yarn about a drug-fueled murder that brought the Orange County Sheriff's Department SWAT team to the Bateses' home.

In a grisly sounding call to 911, Ellis was putting an Internet-based phone service for the hearing-impaired to nefarious use. By entering bogus information about his location, Ellis was able to make it seem to the 911 operator as if he was calling from inside the Bateses' home. He said he was high on drugs and had just shot his sister.

According to prosecutors, Ellis picked the Bates family at random, as he did with all of the 185 calls investigators say he made to 911 operators around the country.

"If I would have had a gun in my hand, I probably would have been shot," said Doug Bates, 38. Last March, Ellis was sentenced to three years in prison after pleading guilty to five felony counts, including computer access and fraud, false imprisonment by violence and falsely reporting a crime.

In a separate, multistate case prosecuted by federal authorities in Dallas, eight people were charged with orchestrating up to 300 "swatting" calls to victims they met on telephone party chat lines. The three ringleaders were each sentenced to five years in prison. Two others were sentenced to 2 1/2 years. One defendant pleaded guilty last week and could get a 13-year sentence. The remaining two are set to go on trial in February.

A similar case was reported in Salinas, Calif., where officers surrounded an apartment where a call had come in claiming men with assault rifles were trying to break in. In Hiawatha, Iowa, fake calls about a workplace shooting included realistic gunshot sounds and moaning in the background. In November, a teenage hacker from Worcester, Mass., pleaded guilty to a five-month swatting spree including a bomb threat and report of an armed gunman that caused two schools to be evacuated.

Many times, however, swats don't get fully investigated or reported.

Orange County Sheriff's detective Brian Sims spent weeks serving search warrants on Internet providers before he identified Ellis through his numeric computer identifier, known as an IP address.

Law enforcement hopes lengthy prison terms will deter would-be swatters. Technology alone isn't enough to stop the crimes.

Unlike calls that come from landline phones, which are registered to a fixed physical address and display that on 911 dispatchers' screens, calls coming from people's computers, or even calls from landline or cell phones that are routed through spoofing services, could appear to be originating from anywhere.

Scores of Caller ID spoofing services have sprung up, offering to disguise callers' origins for a fee. All anybody needs to do is pony up for a certain number of minutes, punch in a PIN code and specify whom they're calling and what they'd like the Caller ID to display.

Spoofing Caller ID is perfectly legal. Legitimate businesses use the technology to project a single callback number for an entire office, or to let executives working from home cloak their home numbers when making outgoing calls.

At the same time, criminals have latched onto the technique to get revenge on rivals or get their kicks by harassing strangers.

"We're not able to cope with this very well," said Roger Hixson, technical issues director for the National Emergency Number Association, the 911 system's industry group. "We're just hoping this doesn't become a widespread hobby."

The 911 system was built on the idea it could trust the information it was receiving from callers. Upgrading the system to accommodate new technologies can be a huge task.

Gary Allen, editor of Dispatch Monthly, a Berkeley, Calif.-based magazine focused on public-safety communications centers, said dispatchers are "totally at the mercy of the people who call" and the fact they don't have technology to identify which incoming calls are from Internet-based sources.

Allen said upgrading the communications centers' computers to flash an Internet caller's IP address could be helpful in thwarting fraudulent calls. He said an even simpler fix, tweaking the computers to identify calls from Internet telephone services and flash the name of the service provider to dispatchers, can cost under $5,000, but is usually still too costly for many communications centers.

But because this style of fraudulent calls is so new, and many emergency-dispatch centers receive few Internet calls in the first place, those upgrades are not frequently done.

Swatting calls place an immense strain on responding departments. The Orange County Sheriff's Department deployed about 30 people to the Bateses' home, including a SWAT team, a helicopter and K-9 units. It cost the department $14,700.

They take their toll on victims, too.

Tony Messina, a construction worker from Salina, N.Y., was swatted three times by the gang broken up by the federal authorities in Dallas. He was even arrested as the result of one call, because authorities found weapons he wasn't supposed to have while they were searching the house.

Messina had made some enemies on a party line he frequented to flirt with women. Some guys disliked him and out of jealousy, he says, they started swatting him.

The first time, he was home alone with his two poodles when officers swarmed his backyard at 6 a.m. According to Messina, the callers said he had "killed a hooker and sliced her ear to ear, blood all over the place, I'm doing drugs and if you police come over here I'm going to kill you, too." After a few hours at the police station, he was let go.

Two weeks later, he was detained outside his house. A month later, he was in bed watching TV when he saw someone with a flashlight at his window. He went outside and was handcuffed while deputies searched his house and car.

Messina had been told to call 911 himself if the swatting calls happened again, and when the deputies realized it was another fraudulent call, Messina was let go. He said he suffered bruised ribs that kept him out of work for a month and a half.

Investigators say swatters are usually motivated by a mixture of ego and malice, a desire for revenge and domination over rivals.

Jason Trowbridge, one of the defendants currently serving a five-year sentence, told the AP in a series of letters from prison that the attacks started with the standard fare of prank callers - sending pizzas and locksmiths to victims' homes - escalated to shutting the power and water off and eventually led to swatting.

"Nobody ever thought anyone would get hurt or die from a SWAT call," he said.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Cop News: Supreme Court Expands Pat-Downs for Officer Safety

Being an ex-cop myself (fuzz that was) I'm still keenly interested in all things cop-related, so I was interested to read this Associated Press Story. I also thought it was interesting see to which Justice is quoted, though it's not clear to me if she wrote the majority opinion:

US Supreme Court says passenger can be frisked

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court ruled Monday that police officers have leeway to frisk a passenger in a car stopped for a traffic violation even if nothing indicates the passenger has committed a crime or is about to do so.

The court on Monday unanimously overruled an Arizona appeals court that threw out evidence found during such an encounter.

The case involved a 2002 pat-down search of an Eloy, Ariz., man by an Oro Valley police officer, who found a gun and marijuana.

The justices accepted Arizona's argument that traffic stops are inherently dangerous for police and that pat-downs are permissible when an officer has a reasonable suspicion that the passenger may be armed and dangerous.

The pat-down is allowed if the police "harbor reasonable suspicion that a person subjected to the frisk is armed, and therefore dangerous to the safety of the police and public," Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said.

While the story doesn't expressly state it, I think this represents an expansion of police powers to stop and frisk anyone with no requirement for probably cause, other than officer safety. I'm all for that, of course, but even I can recognize the potential for abuse. Cornell University has a detailed website where you can learn more about the case.

The other interesting item of cops in the news, is this story out of Georgia - Atlanta Woman Uses Taser Gun to Help Officer in Distress:

Tanisha Cross never thought the Taser stun gun she received for Christmas would come in handy so soon.

Cross said she was headed to Wal-Mart in Lithonia with her mother when she noticed a DeKalb County police officer in distress.

"I just told my mom pull over, let's try to help," said Cross.

The 20-year-old mother, who received the taser as a gift from her husband, said she kept it in a diaper bag.

Cross said while others gathered to watch, she sprung into action.

"I went straight for my kid’s diaper bag and I got it and asked it if he [officer] wanted me to do it and he said, 'Yea,'" said Cross.

Cross said the officer had a hard time defending himself because the attacker had taken the officer's radio and managed to rub pepper spray in the officer's face and eyes.

Jolting the attacker, Cross' timing couldn't have been better. Cross said she tasered the suspect in his arms and legs.

Cross said she stunned the attacker to where the officer regained his composure and fought back until a security guard came to their aid.

"He's brave," she said. "He did his best to keep him from his gun. He handled the situation very well. I was just glad I could help him," said Cross.

Cross doesn't consider herself a hero.

"I'm just a bystander trying to help do the right thing," said Cross.

Click here to see the video from WSBTV.

I've got to get me one of these new-fangled tasers. Maybe get a pink taser, for the little woman.

Friday, January 02, 2009

More rumors about an Indiana Jones 5

For a lot of fans, Kingdom of the Crystal Skull wasn't the over-the-top blockbuster they'd hoped for, but given how great the expectations were, maybe nothing could've been good enough. Still, the movie made a ton of money ($783.7 million worldwide compared to its budget of $185 million) and there's talk of doing an Indy 5.

According to Movie Moron (there's a name to inspire confidence) the plan, way back in the 80's was for five movies. But after the third one, there was disagreement over the fourth script and everyone moved on to other projects. So, theoretically, we're owed another movie.

Aside from that moron, there's been other chatter - according to an October 3rd, 2008, LA Times story momentum is building for a fifth movie:

"It's automatic, really, we did well with the last one and with that having done well and been a positive experience, it's not surprising that some people want to do it again," Ford said.

In discussing a possible Indy 5, it looks like Mutt Williams may go the way of Jar-Jar Binks, as an idea that didn't quite work out:

This past May, two weeks before “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” opened worldwide, George Lucas told reporters at the Cannes Film Festival that he already had an idea for a possible “Indiana Jones V,” and that it centered, not on Dr. Henry Jones, but on his son, Mutt Williams (Shia LaBeouf).

Three knife-flipping, tree-swinging, accident having months later and that idea? It’s kind of, well, “Nuked the Fridge,” Lucas told MTV News.

Asked whether he still considered Mutt Williams a strong enough character to drive an “Indiana Jones” film, Lucas was adamant that Indy just isn’t Indy without Indy. Or, to put it another way: No.

“Indiana Jones is Indiana Jones. Harrison Ford IS Indiana Jones,” Lucas said, dismissively adding about a character he helped create that, “If it was Mutt Williams it would be ‘Mutt Williams and the Search for Elvis’ or something.”

In the meantime, I've discovered that there's something of a cottage industry online in fake theatrical trailers for fake Indiana Jones' movies. I thought this one struck the right blend of suggestion and humor:

This one was based on the Legos' Game. While I've never been very big on computer games, this one looks like fun:

Finally, this one is so well made, that I think it really would make a great Indy movie! George, Steven - anyone listening out there?

Friday, December 26, 2008

Indiana Jones 5?

An entertainment blog called Entertainment and Showbiz, is reporting that George Lucas has confirmed that there will be an Indy 5 and it will include Harrison Ford:

Director-producer George Lucas has confirmed that the fifth sequel to the ‘Indiana Jones’ series would see Harrison Ford reprising the leading role.

The creator of the archaeologist-adventurer character ‘Indiana Jones’ revealed that the filmmakers would get behind the lens as soon as they thought of something worth chasing by the character.

“We’re looking for a MacGuffin, which is an object that he goes after. They’re very hard to come by!” the Daily Telegraph quoted George as saying.

‘Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull’, the fourth film in the famous franchise, directed by Steven Spielberg, had been released in May 2008 grossing over 785 million dollars worldwide.

On being questioned if Indy would be joined by his on-screen wife and son, the screenwriter said: “It really depends on what it is Indy goes looking for and then how the story falls out of that, and then how convenient or inconvenient to have the group there.”

The "looking for a MacGuffin" quote should be a familiar one to anyone who waited for Indy 4. It was the reason that Lucas, Spielberg and Ford all gave for the long delay between Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

Whatever they do, they need to get on it. No one's getting any younger!